Monday, October 22, 2007

The Master’s Touch

Mark describes for us one of the many healings that Jesus performed during His Galilean preaching tour. Mark 1:40-42 reads:

And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth [his] hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed.

Leprosy was perhaps the most dreaded disease of the ancient world. Today leprosy is commonly called "Hansen's Disease"; named after the Norwegian doctor who discovered that the disease was caused by bacteria (Mycobacterium leprae), not by heredity, a "curse", or someone's sin. In Biblical times it was also assumed that the disease caused the flesh to rot and limbs to be deformed. That is not entirely correct. Hansen's disease damages the body's nervous system, and "acts as an anesthetic, bringing numbness to the extremities as well as to the ears, eyes, and nose." Untreated lepers become so disfigured because the body's warning system of pain has been destroyed. The loss of sensation in the extremities increases the risk of injury. Inadequate care causes infection of open wounds. Gangrene may also follow, causing body tissue to die and become deformed. The disease mostly affects, but is not limited to, the hands, feet, eyes, ears, and nose. The disease was a painless hell, and the horror was not only physical but emotional as well.

It is difficult to imagine the humiliation, isolation, and desperation that this man felt. Lepers were ostracized from their communities and forced to live in leper colonies because the people of antiquity feared this disease and were ignorant of it. Whenever someone approached a leper he had to cover his mouth and shout "Unclean! Unclean!" How would you feel shouting this whenever you came in range of another person or whenever you entered a public area?

That was the life of the leper. The wretched man of this text had not been able to feel for years, and according to Luke 5:12 his body was "full of leprosy." His body was mutilated from head to foot; rotten, stinking, and repulsive. It is important, however, that Mark has not detailed this visit for sympathy's sake. Leprosy was used in scripture especially as a symbol of sin, and the healing of it as deliverance from sin. Leprosy is a powerfully vivid illustration of man's depravity. The destructive and ultimately ruinous condition of the disease pictures the spiritual state of every human being.

This is what the image is meant to teach; though, unlike the leper of Mark 1, many are often unconscious of their pitiful condition. In his capacious biography of George Whitefield Arnold Dallimore recounts the story of Lady Huntington who invited her friend the Duchess of Buckingham to hear George Whitefield preach. The proud Duchess did not enjoy the sermon. She remarked:
It is monstrous to be told that you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl the earth. This is highly offensive and insulting; and I cannot but wonder that your Ladyship should relish any sentiments so much at variance with high rank and good breeding.

Worse than being a leper is being ignorant of your leprous condition; there were no such illusions in this leper's life as to his identity and condition. This is why the clear, consistent, and charitable proclamation of the gospel must be our primary focus, and this is why when sharing the Good News we must alert people to their condition. Only people who are aware of their leprosy can come to the only One who is able and willing to cleanse them of their leprosy.

This leper came to Jesus and humbly prostrated himself before the Lord. He was fully aware of his hopeless condition, yet he believed that Christ could heal him. He said, "If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." I do not know if this reveals a little hesitation on the leper's part, or if this is just his humility shining through. Whichever the case, we may be certain that Christ will make you clean.
  • Mark 10:45"the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."
  • Luke 19:10"For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.2
  • Peter 3:9"The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."
  • 1 Timothy 2:3-4"For this [is] good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth."

As Mark is wont to do, he provides detail that the other gospel writers fail to mention. In this case we read that Christ was "moved with compassion" at sight of the leper. The word compassion is a powerful word which means "to be moved as to one's bowels, hence to be moved with compassion, have compassion (for the bowels were thought to be the seat of love and pity)". This compassion transcends mere pity and sympathy. The Lord does not just sympathize with your leprous, sinful condition. He felt the full weight of your sins on the cross. The Lord Jesus is not a distant dispassionate deity. He is acquainted with our infirmities; in every respect He has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Not only did Jesus heal the man, but He healed him with a touch. He touched him. He transformed him. Forever after he identified him with Himself. You can be certain that not since he became a leper had anyone touched this man. This man had been unable to touch anyone, and no one wanted to touch him. He must have longed for a touch.

Do not underestimate the importance of a touch. Listen to this story told by Kent Hughes in his commentary on Mark:

I once counseled a lonely man who was not a Christian. He had no family that cared. He belonged to no church. In describing his loneliness, he said that he had his hair cut once a week, just to have someone touch him with no misunderstanding.

A church will never affect others as Christ did unless there is contact and some level of identification. We have to be willing to take the hand of those whom we would help. We must have right doctrine. We must be careful in our theology, but we need to lay our hands on some rotting flesh in our neighborhood, in our workplaces, in our town. This is not just the job of those who are called to the mission field or full time ministry. This is a job for all of us.

As I've mentioned before the word "eutheōs" is a favorite of Marks, and he used the word 40 times. Twice as much as the other synoptics combined. In our text the word is translated "immediately." Mark tells us that "as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed". His healing was sudden and complete. Stubs which had passed for hands and feet were made whole. Back came his hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes. Under his hair were ears, and on his face a nose. A body covered with lesions, many of which were no doubt infected, was immediately purified. No long painful surgery. No protracted-convalescence. No extended course of treatment. No therapy or drug treatments needed!

Salvation is the same way. When you come to Christ in repentance and faith your regeneration is instantaneous, miraculous, and eternal. As John wrote in 1 John 1:7, "…the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin."

No comments: