Matthew 8:1-4 — Lord, If You Are Willing…Operating from a State of Grace Rather Than a State of Demand

Posted: November 3, 2015 in Gospel of Matthew
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Matthew 8:1-4
Jesus Heals a Man with Leprosy

After concluding the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus clearly demonstrated his deep understanding of Jewish culture of the day, his understanding of the Law and the will of God for our lives, and as a result showed his authority to say such things. After coming down from the Mount, so to speak, he immediately is approached by and heals a leper. This scripture passage reads as follows:

1 When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. 2 A man with leprosy[a] came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. 4 Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

In this short four (4) verse passage of Scripture, there is an amazing amount to be learned and applied to our daily lives about Jesus and about ourselves in relationship to him. The things that I see that are important from this passage are:

1. Jesus’ willingness to heal even though that are considered untouchable
2. The humility of the leper as he approaches Jesus and his trust in Jesus’ power.

Like I said, these short four verses are packed with energy. Though short in verse length, it packs power just as a peach tree is small by the measure of many trees but yet it yields an amazing amount of tasty fruit.

Let’s begin with Jesus’ willingness to heal and, not only that, heal a person considered untouchable. Let’s remember that Jewish law forbade touching lepers (Leviticus 5:3) and even quarantined them from the rest of society as noted in the requirements of Leviticus 13:45-46. Jewish common law of the day, religious leaders’ interpretations of the Law of Moses even indicated that a person’s house and family could be defiled by allowing a leper to enter your household. Thus, according to the culture of the day, the fact that Jesus compassionately touches this man to begin with would have caused quite a cultural stir. Some would consider by this act that Jesus was breaking “the Law of Moses.” Now, you kind of get the context of this touch and how it’s not just the touch, it’s the touch in context. It is similar to, in our day, Jesus touching an AIDS patient back in the early to mid-1980s when AIDS phobia was at its apex, before we truly understood how it was passed from one person to another. Even today in 2015, in this age where we consider ourselves so advanced and tolerant, people with full blown AIDS are often shunned and ostracized by society. Leprosy was socially treated like people of today with full blown AIDS are often treated. Leprosy was the AIDS of the First Century. So, as you can see, this touch was more than a simple touch. It was in fact a major statement. Thus, when the leper basically says, “Jesus, I know I have this dreaded disease that makes me a social outcast, but if you are willing, please heal me.”

The question arises then if the Law of Moses instructed us to set these people aside, then why did Jesus touch him and, apparently, subvert the Law of Moses. First, we have to remember the Laws of Moses were given to a people to help them bring order to their lives in a very fearful time to be alive. The Law was given to help God’s chosen people survive in many different areas of life. They did not have the technology of today. So, many of the health rules laid out in the Law of Moses were to help God’s people survive and flourish such that when the time was right, Jesus would arise from this chosen people. The Law against touching lepers was given so that the disease would be prevent from spreading from person to person. Quarantining was to help prevent the disease from spreading and wiping out the entire Chosen People. What the Jews forgot and many of us forget is that we still must minister to those who have something unsavory about them according to our cultural standards. Jesus ministers to this leper. Jesus ministers to the unsavory of our world. Jesus, by his touch, also demonstrates that he is no average man. The Law was promulgated for us average men. Jesus by his touch is saying that He is more than mere mortal. He is saying that he is the Son of God, part of the Holy Trinity.

This touch also demonstrates Jesus’ love for all. Jesus is willing to heal us of our transgressions. Jesus is demonstrating through this touch that there is NO ONE who has sunk so low, there is NO ONE who has done something so bad, there is NO ONE that has been shunned by society for what they are, there is NO ONE beneath and out of the reach of his love. As we sit here in the 21st century in the church that Jesus inspired, this is a lesson to take to heart. We must remember Jesus’ touching the leper. We must remember that Jesus came to Earth to set up his training camp for the world he wants us to create after his death and resurrection. We are to minister to the lost. We are to minister to the downtrodden. We are to minister to the less fortunate. We are to minister to the sick. We are to minister to the lost. We are to minister to the lonely. We are to minister to those that society has kicked to the curb. We are to minister to the unsavory. We are to minister to sinners. We are to minister to prostitutes. We are to minister to skid row bums. We are to minister to more than just a clique of people of like mind, of like circumstance, and sit in this very church. Jesus said himself in Mark 2:17 that “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Jesus’ willingness to touch the leper drives this point home in spades. Not just because this person had some dreaded skin disease, but rather that this disease accorded him a life of miserable existence through Jewish interpretation of the Law. A leper was at the bottom of the social barrel of the day. Jesus says there is no one so low that they do not deserve my touch – my love, my compassion, my going out of my way to help them, my tossing social convention aside to do so! Should we, Should I, not see the world in this light?

Wow…this is good stuff is it not! The Bible is so amazing. Jesus, being the Son of God, deliberately chose each step, each stop, each statement to make a statement that resonates through the centuries that He is our saving grace. He is our example. From this powerful passage, we also pick up on another important point. That point being the utter humility with which the leper approaches Jesus. Again, this is a message that resonates through the centuries. In Matthew 8:2, we see it says that the man with leprosy “came and knelt before him”. Again, let’s take this in context. Some 21 centuries later, we know of Jesus’ rightful place in this world. We can easily bow before him. However, the leper did not have this advantage. Sure, I am certain that the leper had heard of a coming Messiah. However, in that day at that time, it took a giant leap of faith to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. As the IVP New Testament Commentaries state,

“Bowing down before another person was a great act of respect for the other’s dignity, especially for a Jewish person. The leper not only shows physical signs of respect toward Jesus; he acknowledges that Jesus has the right to decide whether to grant the request. To acknowledge that God has the right to grant or refuse a request is not lack of faith (8:2; compare, for example, Gen 18:27, 30-32; 2 Sam 10:12; Dan 3:18); it is the ultimate act of dependence on God’s compassion and takes great trust and commitment for a desperate person.”

Thus, through kneeling before Jesus, the leper is saying that I have made that leap of faith. I believe you are the Messiah and I bow myself low before your majesty and power. I do not come to you demanding my cleansing. I come to you to humbly beseech you to, as the leper says, “if you are willing, you can make me clean”. Humbly, he is asking Jesus to make him clean. He does not demand. He recognizes that he is dependent on Jesus’ willingness to “take him in”, to cleanse him. Second, in this sentence too, there is the belief that Jesus can make things right. The leper firmly believes, has faith, that Jesus can cleanse him of his sickness. Faith was just as hard to come by back then as it is now. The lack of belief, the lack of faith that Jesus was the Messiah, the easy way out to say that it is not real, is what got Jesus killed. If we all had the faith of this leper, Jesus would have never been crucified. Thus, with the luxury of knowing these Bible passages and having heard them all of our lives, we fully expect the leper to have faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the cleanser of all things. How hard is it for you to fully believe and depend on the willingness of Christ to take us in, to take away the stains of our bad choices? And more personally, how hard is it for me? Many of us today treat God as though He were our puppet and we get angry at Him in the manner we prescribe. How often are we demanding in our requests to the Lord? We need the humility of this leper. He does not demand. Sure, he was tired of being a leper and the social stigma that it caused him, the poverty that it caused him, but what comes out of His mouth? It is not a demand. It is request that only if it were the Lord’s will for Him to be healed that He would do so.

Kneeling and basically begging Jesus to cleanse his sickness is the ultimate humility. It is the recognition that I cannot fix this myself. It is saying Lord you are the ruler of all things. Only you can make me clean. Do we all need to be this leper? Do we all need that humility? Do we all need to kneel before Jesus? Do we all not need to see that all of our dirty little secrets, all our lack of compassion, all our lack of service to our fellow man, all our self-centeredness….all of the things that bring the scales of the leprosy of our own sin nature, truly condemns us to hell! As Richard Pryor once said, “we are all going to hell on the Hell Express.” Thus, we must kneel down in the humblest of humility and say to Jesus, I know that I do not deserve your grace, but if you are willing – if you are willing – you can make me clean before God and give me access to the wonderful eternity with you. The tears are welling up in my eyes as I write this. I do not deserve Heaven on my own merits. My sins are great and many in these 48 years. But, as I kneel in complete and utter despair and humility, and recognize the power and authority of Jesus as the one true authority over my life, crying the cry of the damned, Jesus reaches down. He is willing. He touches me and makes me clean. Glorious day! Oh Glorious day! I am clean. Through Jesus and only Jesus I have new life.

Let’s not forget that! Only Jesus saves. We do not save ourselves. We are outcasts from God’s grace. We have the sin disease that separates us from God. Our scaly skin of sin covers us and prevents us from being in God’s presence. Our scales of sin disfigure us from the image of God in which we were formed. We are ugly in our sin. We are white-washed graves, beautiful on the outside but an ugly wasteland of dry bones on the inside. We do not deserve grace. Think about it! If God is perfection, purity, and sinlessness, then that which is impure by any measure cannot exist in His presence. One impurity, one sin disqualifies us from the get-go. Just one. That’s all it takes to disqualify us. It is not a matter of doing more good than bad. The mere existence of a sin in our lives at that moment disqualifies us. You can erase impurity once it has been created. Just think of adding creamer to coffee. It is forever changed. You cannot uncream the creamer in your coffee once you’ve added it. That is the way sin is in our lives. Once it exists, there is no take backs. Then, you add to that the lifetime of sins that we commit. We are on the Hell Express my friends. We don’t like to talk about it in these terms usually. But the reality of hell and only one sin is enough to destine us there is a reality that we need to understand. Add to that our daily sins and our resume for entrance to hell is sealed.
Our only hope is in kneeling. Our only hope is saying Jesus, I can’t do this on my own. You are my only hope! I am nothing before you. Our only hope is in the grace your perfection can extend to us. Our only hope is in the love that you showed us by being willing to sacrifice yourself on the cross as the punishment for what we deserve. In knowing that I am a prisoner rightfully sentenced to hell for all my sins, you are my redemption from eternity in hell where there is burning flesh and gnashing of teeth. I know that I do not deserve your grace. Think about it. We don’t deserve it. We cannot do enough good to offset the impurity of even one sin much less a lifetime’s worth. There is the humility that we need. We do not demand our salvation. It is granted to us. It is a gift given to us knowing that we do not deserve it. It is grace my friends. It should give us the mind of the leper here in this passage. Jesus, but, Jesus, only if you are willing….

Jesus, if you are willing….reach down….touch me….cleanse me…make me new. May we always have this perspective on our salvation! It should make us a people that have joy! Always we should operate from a place of joy. Even in the worst of times that will come, we have the joy of our salvation. Undeserved grace! Freedom from the gallows that is undeserved. Come to Him if you are still seeking! Know this joy! Operate in the grace of Jesus Christ! He will set you free! No longer condemned. Set free! Amen and Amen.

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