“So He went into all of Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. Then a man with a serious skin disease came to Him and, on his knees, begged Him: “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched him. “I am willing,” He told him. “Be made clean.” Immediately the disease left him, and he was healed. Then He sternly warned him and sent him away at once, telling him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go and show yourself to the priest, and offer what Moses prescribed for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Yet he went out and began to proclaim it widely and to spread the news, with the result that Jesus could no longer enter a town openly. But He was out in deserted places, and they would come to Him from everywhere.” (Mark 1:39-45 HCSB)
As a child, bathing was a nightly ritual around our house. I can vividly remember my mother sending me to take my bath and then calling out, “Did you clean behind your ears?” Does a five year old ever get truly clean? Especially if he’s doing it himself? I seriously doubt it. In fact, when a five year old is in the bathtub I think he is thinking about playing much, much more than getting himself clean. I mean, what’s the point? You’re just going to get dirty again the following day. Right? Besides, there are lots of other things you can use bath bubbles for other than making yourself clean. You can make pirate hats, Santa beards, all kinds of soap bubble animals and hairdos. Who has time to get clean when you can play?
In a similar way, I don’t think we take spiritual cleansing very seriously. At least, we don’t take it seriously when we are spiritually immature like a five year old. We play at it and splash around in the pool of God’s grace. Perhaps you’ve never even tasted God’s amazing grace. Trust me, one taste and you’ll want more. So much more…
In this week’s focal passage, we encounter a man who is physically and religiously unclean and socially outcast but he desperately wants to be cleansed and restored. Not just with his friends and family, but also with God. He has realized that the deep needs he has far outweigh the momentary embarrassment of facing his condition and seeking Jesus’ help.
While it is assumed that the disease cited is leprosy, the biblical term covered a host of infectious skin diseases that would cause the person infected to be ostracized and forced to live outside the physical, religious and social relationships of the community. He needed love and relationship with man and God, but had neither. Doesn’t that describe us, too? Isn’t that what we seek? Aren’t we just people who just want to be loved and to live in harmonious relationship with one another and our Creator?
I must confess, I’m fascinated by his statement to Jesus: “If you are willing, You can make me clean.” Notice, he doesn’t ask Jesus to heal him, he asks Him to cleanse him. He is clearly aware of Jesus’ power, authority and ability to heal. But that’s not what he’s seeking. That’s not what he wants. He has absolutely no doubt as to Jesus’ ability to heal him, he only questions His willingness to cleanse Him. Maybe you aren’t catching the point, so I’ll clarify because it strikes at the very heart of what I shared with you last week. We often seek physical health and success while completely missing the real purpose in life, intimate relationship with God. There’s a reason why every people group that has ever existed on this planet has had religious tendencies, needs and some form of worship of God, we were made for relationship with our Creator. We often get it wrong, but we were made to worship God.
Maybe his question has plagued you, at times. God, are you willing to cleanse me? You see, instead of seeking the cleansing of God we seek healing from our physical problems and diseases. Instead of seeking healing of those things, we should be seeking cleansing so that we are restored to our true purpose, fellowship with and worship of God. I mentioned two weeks ago that the spirit that possessed the man in the synagogue was labeled as unclean and not evil. That’s because being evil is the result of being unclean and not vice versa. You might need to let that one sink in, a bit. People aren’t out of relationship because they are evil, they are evil because they are out of relationship with God. Put another way, you aren’t sinful because you sin but rather you sin because you are sinful, unclean and out of relationship with God.
So, when the man stated: “If you are willing, You can make me clean”, he got that part right! Jesus was willing because the man sought to be cleansed. One thing you may not have noticed, the transition from verse 39 to verse 40 is so smooth that it seems very, very likely that this man approached Jesus either while He was in a synagogue or shortly after Jesus left a synagogue. That might surprise you given the nature of the man’s illness. But there was a provision for a leper to attend synagogue as long as he/she was physically separated and shielded from the others by a screen divider. So, he may very well have been in synagogue desiring and seeking cleanness and relationship with God. At the very least, he knew what he needed as fell on his knees before Jesus begging for cleansing and the restoration of his relationship with a pure, holy God.
Next, note that Jesus had compassion on him and reached out and touched him. Some later biblical manuscripts have that Jesus was indignant towards him and touched him. While I think the earlier manuscripts are more trustworthy and correct, the idea of being indignant is not really problematic. I believe Jesus would have been indignant towards his condition, not him. Jesus is always indignant towards the destructive nature of sin upon our lives, both spiritually and physically. But, the focus here is that Jesus “touched” the man in his unclean state. Not only had this man been deprived of physical touch by those whom he loved, he had also been denied God’s touch by the Jewish religious establishment.
We can stay isolated in our own little world, far away from those who look down us, who consider us unworthy of God’s love and too dirty for His cleansing. Safe. Silent. Alone. Far away from the judgmental religious hypocrites and, unfortunately, far away from God. Forever missing the compassionate touch of God’s healing hand, the breath of His life-giving Spirit blowing through our souls, and the joy of His overwhelming love poured over us. Or… we can venture out. We can take a risk on encountering Jesus. We’ve heard what He has done for others. Would He be willing to do the same for us?
That might not seem significant to you, but if you recognize that God reached out and touched a man who was impure, unclean and sinful but who deeply wanted to be cleansed then it can transform your view of God and your relationship with Him. He states, “If you are willing, You can make me clean.” God responds, “I am willing. Be clean. Immediately the disease left him and he was made clean!” You see, we have this mistaken idea that for us to come to God we have to get things cleaned up, straightened up, everything in order and presentable before we can approach Him. What this story shows us is that we have it completely backwards, we don’t have to be clean before we try to approach God, we just have to deeply desire, long for and seek His cleansing. You and I can approach God in the same way. “If you are willing, God, You can make me clean.” I promise you, He’ll respond: “I’m willing, BE clean!” Jesus was moved with compassion for him and his uncleanness and He’ll be moved with compassion for you and yours, too. Just bring it to Him, turn away from your uncleanness (repent) and turn towards Him and confess your need for His cleansing.
Finally, Jesus sends him to the Temple to show himself to the priest and to make the appropriate sacrifices to God for his cleansing. He also charges the man to remain silent regarding his healing. It appears that Jesus desired to squelch the natural tendency to publicize these healings because of the apparent results Mark notes, “He could no longer enter a town openly.” The people’s focus was on the physical healing and not on the restoration of relationship with God, their spiritual cleansing and it inhibited Jesus’ ability to achieve His purpose, as noted in last week’s lesson. He couldn’t openly enter a town and preach the Good News and the arrival of God’s rule and reign in the lives of men.
Sometimes we do the same thing. We obscure the truth with the hype. We become so focused on our personal rights, needs and longings and our desire for happiness that we completely miss relationship with God. Or we become so focused on “church growth” that we ignore spiritual health and our uncleanness before a Holy God. In other words, we are more interested in the miracles, attention and notoriety than we are in God’s cleansing presence and power. Like the folks in John 6, we are more interested in bread in our stomachs than we are in the Bread of Life transforming our entire existence.
The last thing I want to note, this week, is Jesus’ insistence that the man go and show himself to the priest and present the appropriate sacrifice at the Temple “as a testimony to them.” Who is “them”? A testimony to whom? It isn’t clear in the Greek which “them” Jesus could be referencing. It could be the unidentified group who have ostracized and harassed the unclean man. It could be his family, friends and peers who need to be assured of his new state of cleanness, physical healing and lack of infectious disease. In other words, he needs the blessing of the priest to restore his place among his peers, in society and with his family. That seems the most grammatically correct in that it refers back to those he was not supposed to tell (i.e. “say nothing to anyone”).
However, it could also refer to the priest and the Temple officials. He’s been told to go show himself to them and to offer the appropriate sacrifice as a testimony to them – the priest(s) and religious leaders. In other words, they’ve declared you unclean and unfit for worship and relationship with God. Now go show them, offer the sacrifice so that they can see and affirm what God has done – He has cleansed you! It was believed that healing leprosy was as difficult as raising the dead and could only be achieved by direct intervention by God Himself. In my opinion, this fits more cleanly with Mark’s theme and message – Jesus IS God. The religious establishment may have declared the man unclean but God has made him clean and restored him to fellowship and worship.
God can do the same for you. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or how unclean you consider yourself or how unclean society or your peers claim you are. God is capable of cleansing and restoring you to faith, fellowship and worship. Listen to Mark, just come to Christ as you repent and confess, “if you’re willing, you can make me clean.” Then listen, because you’re going to hear God reply: “I am willing, BE clean!”
If you experience His cleansing, leave me a note on this post so I can rejoice with you and encourage you.