Compassion Fueled Jesus’ Ministry- It Should Also Fuel Ours. Mark 1:40-45

Posted: November 13, 2012 in Mark, Sermon Manuscripts

(In somewhat different form, this sermon can be listened to here.)

In February of 2003 my Army Reserve Unit was given notice that we had been activated for deployment overseas and needed to report to active duty by the end of the week. I think I got the news on a Tuesday, leaving me just a handful of days to cancel college classes, cancel my cell phone, get my affairs in order, pack up, say goodbye- all that fun stuff. You can imagine the whirlwind those three or four days were. I didn’t really have time to think about the fact that I was going to Iraq, that I was leaving home for the next year, that I might not make it home. I was too busy getting ready to leave.

After reporting to duty at my reserve unit I noticed throughout the day that my chest was becoming increasingly agitated- what had begun as an itch progressed into misery, and so I finally took a look to see why in the world I was itching so much. Come to find out I had broken out into the crazy huge hives- angry red welts on my chest. The stress of the past few days had caught up to me, and I was a mess.

I had time to go sit in my car and call my mom. And I don’t even know how the conversation went- I just remember finally breaking down and just sobbing. The fear, anxiety, the stress- I let it all out. And when the call was over, when I went back to the chaos of the reserve center, my hives were gone. Just being able to let go of everything that had been pent up fixed me. It was a welcome relief.

We like getting healed, don’t we? I know that none of us are fans of surgery, or medication that makes us feel even worse than we did before taking the meds. We don’t care for shots, but we love getting well. Being unhealthy creates misery, and Jesus understands that. We’ve spent the last several weeks watching as Jesus heals people left and right. If you’re new to us, we’re walking through the Gospel according to Mark. Mark breaks Jesus’ ministry up into four primary sections; his preparation period, his ministry in Galilee which we’re in now, followed by his time in Jerusalem, and the Passion Week. But everywhere we turn people are asking Jesus to heal them, or to heal someone close to Him.

But this week we’re going to meet a man who’s at the end of his rope. We’re going to meet a guy who is in need of supernatural healing. We’re going to meet someone who asks for Jesus’ help, knowing full well he might not get it. We meet a guy who can’t just call mom and get better. He can’t go to the temple and be prayed over. There are no hospitals that can fix him. It’s Jesus or it’s nothing, and there’s a part of him that doubts that Jesus will give him the healing he needs.

You ever been there? I think there’s some of you there now, where you have got such a burden, this life-altering thing that you’re dealing with, and you’re sunk if Jesus doesn’t get involved. Or perhaps you know full well that only God can heal whatever mess you’re dealing with, but you’re too scared to approach Him and ask.

As we pick it up in Mark chapter one, verse forty, Mark tells us that “a leper came to Him,” “him” being Jesus. Now we gotta stop and unpack that so that we grasp everything that Mark is telling us. So to do that we have to have an understanding of this leprosy. While it’s true that the Bible uses the word we translate as “leprosy” to cover a variety of skin ailments, it’s also true that the Bible uses the same word to denote our modern day concept of leprosy, what we call “Hansen’s Disease.” I think it’s pretty obvious from the contextual clues that this is what we’re looking at here. That, and Dr. Luke tells us that he was “full of leprosy.”

Put simply, leprosy is a bacterial disease that attacks a person’s nervous system.  Mildly contagious, it is spread by repeated contact, or through coughs and sneezes. And what it will do is first begin to show itself as skin discoloration, because it attacks the skin and peripheral nervous system first. Then it works its way down into the hands, feet, face- even one’s earlobes. Tumors will begin to form on the skin, ears will thicken, and the optic nerve will often deteriorate- it was nasty, life-long disease that had no known cure.

It wouldn’t kill you, but it would maim you. As your toes and fingers lose sensation, it becomes easier to injure them without even knowing it. In third world countries where there is little healthcare available, infection would quickly set in and limbs would rot off or be amputated.

So there you are. Your body is an oozing, reeking mess. Your vision is failing or gone. The older you get, the more crippled you become…and here’s the worst part- you’ll suffer alone. Over a thousand years earlier as God was developing the nation of Israel, one of the things He did to protect His people was instill laws of cleanliness. And a good thing, too- when you have several million nomadic people camping together in the wilderness, it would be incredibly easy for disease to spread among the people. Because of that, people suffering from any form of leprous skin disease were removed from the community- exiled to live alone or with other lepers.

It meant saying goodbye to your children, your husband or wife. You couldn’t hug them goodbye. You’d never risk passing on your disease. Besides that, if they touched you they would be unclean until sundown. You certainly couldn’t kiss their sweet face one last time. It meant you’ve lost your job, leaving your spouse and family to fend for themselves. It meant you couldn’t go to the temple, or the synagogue. You’ve lost your ability to worship God with His people. You’re simply known as a filthy, cursed leper.

No family, no money, no friends, no community, no place of worship. Nothing but you begging for food and watching your body deteriorate before your failing eyes. By now I think we have a sense of the desperation this leper must have felt as made his way to Jesus, as he fell down on his knees, begging, saying to Him “If you will, you can make me clean.”

Now get that- this Leper doesn’t for a second doubt that Jesus is able to heal him. But he knows that it might not be God’s will for him to be healed. He’s looking at Jesus and saying “Lord, I know that you can heal me. I know that you can make me clean, that you can restore everything that I’ve lost. I know you can give me my family, my job, my health- you can do all if that if you want. Please, will you?”

And then Jesus does the unthinkable. Marks tells us that “moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’” Now remember, at this point Jesus is going through Galilee and preaching in all the synagogues. I have no doubt that on this day there were scribes and Pharisees present that knew that leprosy was incurable. It had only happened one other time a thousand years earlier with a man by the name of Naaman- a Syrian soldier who was healed by God as an object lesson to Israel.

No sooner had Jesus touched this man and declared him clean, Mark tells us that “immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.” We have to understand what happened here, because according to the Law of Moses, Jesus shouldn’t have touched this Leper. But here’s the difference; when Jesus touches the unclean, He doesn’t become unclean- they’re made clean. The simple act of touching this man attested to the divinity of Christ. Jesus was saying to him, “I am willing to become what you are- a man under the judgement of the Law. The Law cannot save you, it cannot make you clean, but I can. I will.” He identified Himself with this man and removed the curse of leprosy from him.

I hope you’re starting to see the Gospel of Jesus Christ in action right before our eyes. It might not surprise you to know that several times in Scripture the effects of sin are compared to leprosy. In fact, the Jews saw leprosy as a sign of God’s judgement to be inflicted on the worst of sinners.

But we see that Jesus doesn’t simply throw out the Law of Moses. If this man wants to be declared clean and rejoin his family, to have his life back, he’s got to go through the proper channels. Jesus “sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.’”

In the event a leper was cured, they were to meet with the priest outside of the camp, away from the temple, and the priest would determine if the man was healed. If it truly appeared as though the leprosy was gone, two birds would be gathered along with a bowl of fresh water. One of the birds would be sacrificed; it’s blood drained into the bowl. The second bird, along with some cedar wood, a scarlet piece of yarn, and some hyssop, would then be dipped into the bowl containing the blood from the first bird. The same blood would then be sprinkled seven times on the leper.

Upon doing this the priest pronounce the leper “clean,” and the live bird would be set free. His cleansing could only come through the shedding of innocent blood. It was a miniature version of the yom kippur, the national Day of Atonement for Israel where two goats would be presented. The nations sins would be pronounced over the goats- one would be sacrificed, the other lead out into the wilderness. It was the declaration that sins have been paid for, sins have been removed.

Starting to sound familiar, church? The payment for healing leprosy, the payment for healing sin- they both took a sacrifice.

After a week of celebration, the former leper would again show himself to the priest. If indeed the leprosy was still gone, the priest would sacrifice three lambs as three offerings. You can read Leviticus fourteen if you want more details here, but ultimately one of the lambs was sacrificed as a guilt offering. It was an offering of compensation. It wasn’t an offering to remove sin, it was an offering of “I owe you.”

From this slain lamb the priest would take blood and put it on the right earlobe, the right thumb, and the right big toe. In effect the priest was saying you belong to God. Listen to Him. Serve Him. Follow Him. This is exactly what Paul was communicating in Romans 12:1 when he said “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” It only makes sense to live for God in light of His grace.

Ironically enough, the healed Leper only partially obeys Jesus. No doubt he went to the priest, because apart from that he couldn’t join society again. But Mark tells us that “he went out and began to freely talk about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.’”

We find an interesting dynamic in play here. We know that Jesus’ mission was to seek and save the lost. Last week we saw Jesus telling his disciples, “Hey- we’re going to leave these people looking for miracles and continue into the next towns so that I can preach the Gospel of the Kingdom.” His plan was to preach in the towns, and so He warned this guy, “Don’t tell people.” But he does, and now Jesus is so slammed with healing requests that He can’t even enter the cities anymore.

Even knowing that this Leper was going to destroy His plans, even knowing that he would disobey Christ, Jesus still heals him. I draw great comfort from that- I see it in my own life. When God saved me, He forgive my sins. He gave me a new heart, and reviving of my spirituality. And how do I repay him? With disobedience. I’m so glad that our obedience isn’t what motivates God to love us. I’m glad that God saved me knowing that I would still fail repeatedly to live a life that reflects His character.

So why does this matter to us some 2,000 years later? Because we’re the Leper. We’re the Leper. No, we weren’t born with leprosy, and to my knowledge known of us here have ever contracted the disease, but we need to think on a spiritual level. We don’t come into this world healthy and perfect. We come into the world spiritually dead through the effects of Adam and Eve’s rebellion.

But we can’t blame them, because just as soon as we can, we’re going into the voting both and when we look at the ballot and the options of choosing Christ as Lord or me as Lord, we pick ourselves with no reservations. You know this is true. Every time we rebel against God, when we entertain those thoughts of jealously, malice, envy, lust, hatred, when we act out against one another and steal, gossip, lie, cheat- it’s who we are at birth, and it’s even more debilitating than leprosy. Leprosy costs you your health- sin cost you fellowship with God. Leprosy separates you from friends, family, and community. Sin separates you from the love of God for eternity in Hell. God is infinitely holy, infinitely just. To break His law results in infinite guilt with infinite punishment.

God created us for fellowship and with arms wide open He said, “I have created you for myself. Let me show you me.” Our response by nature is to say “That’s ok, God. I prefer my way. You mean it’ll cost me an eternity separated from you in a place called Hell? Ok…no problem.” Paul told us in Romans 1 that creation itself screams the existence of a supreme, all powerful being. But instead of seeking out this creator, we would rather devise for ourselves gods of our making, worshipping the creation rather than the creator. Worshipping ourselves as Lord of our lives. By our words, thoughts, and deeds we have said “No thanks, God. I would rather go to Hell than submit to you.”

And He could have left us in that mess. He could have said “Ok, have it your way. Suit yourself.” Paul tells us in Ephesians two, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” It took the sacrificial blood of birds and lambs to provide cleansing for a leper. It took the blood of bulls and goats to cover the sins of the Jewish nation- God’s people, but even this coving was temporary, more symbolic than sufficient. The writer of Hebrews tells us in Hebrews 10:4 that  “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

If a human being was guilty of breaking God’s law, then the punishment needed to befall a human being. And because we’re all guilty of breaking God’s law, I can no more cover your sins than you could mine! While only God is capable now of keeping God’s law, only a human could receive God’s punishment in the place of another, and that was the mission of Jesus, God’s anointed one, the Redeemer.

When He walked this earth some 2000 years ago, He message was this: “I have come to save my people. Come to me.” Living a life of perfect voluntary obedience, He equally voluntarily allowed Himself to be arrested, falsely condemned, and nailed to a Roman cross. Paul tells us in Romans 5:8 that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

On the Cross, Jesus bore the wrath of His Father against every sin that ever was, is, and will be committed any anyone trusting Christ as their Savior. That means you, if you’re trusting Him to save you…it means you if you’re wondering whether or not Jesus can save you.

This wasn’t some sick sort of cosmic Divine child of God. This was Jesus willfully becoming the Lamb of God that took away the sins of the world. Jews, Gentiles, Americans, Middle-easterners- there is no people group on the face of this planet that cannot and will not be reached with the Gospel. Jesus died for all kinds of people.

He was then buried in a tomb and three days later walked out on His own feet, proving to the world and to His people that everything He said was true. Salvation had come.

So if you’re sitting here this morning and you’re like this leper, if you know that you are hopelessly, helplessly, separated from God and you’re wondering if Jesus will save you- He will. You can believe on Him. Our band is going to make their way forward and create some space for reflection. If you need someone to talk to, someone to pray with you, Walt and I are here for you. Don’t walk away from this Gathering wondering if Jesus can heal you. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.

But church, this message isn’t just for those in need of salvation. I believe it speaks volumes to us as the Church, as the bride of Christ. If we are truly the embodiment of our Savior, what do we learn from this? That part is easy, and it’s our Journey Marker: “Compassion fueled Jesus’ ministry- it should also fuel ours.” Let me clarify that a bit. Jesus’ mission was to seek and save the lost. Our mission is to Spread the Fame of God through multiplying disciples, multiplying Community Groups, and multiplying Churches in our spread of the Gospel. Jesus’ motivation, and our motivation, is to glorify our Father above who was gracious enough to save us from our sins.

But everywhere He went, Jesus’ compassion drove him to act. He healed this man knowing that the Leper was going to disobey Him and make His work harder. He saved us knowing that we would never deserve it or live perfect lives in response. We as His followers should be willing to sacrificially give our time, energy, and money to help those around us. That’s why we’re doing our Angel Tree ministry again this year. Next Sunday we’ll have the names of some sixty people who we can minister to compassionately through gifts and visits. There are 26,000 children under the age of 18 who die every day from starvation and hunger-related diseases- perhaps God is calling you to sponsor a child through organizations like World Vision or Compassion International.

There are so many ways that we can change our world, that we can love those not loved by anyone. As we sit here in this time of reflection, imagine what this world would be like if we all loved like Jesus did. If we all acted with compassion like He did. How is God moving you? How will you respond?

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