These words struck me in my devotions this morning:
- And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. (Mark 1:40-42)
Leprosy was an infectious skin disease that had a devastating impact on a person’s life in the ancient world. In the Old Testament, we are told that someone with leprosy had to live outside the camp – eventually, groups of lepers would live in leper colonies. Any time you were out in public, you had to shout “unclean” to ensure that no one would accidentally get close and touch you. Because of this, leprosy was one of the most painful reminders of our sin and how it makes us unclean before God in the same way that the disease makes one physically unclean.
An understanding of this disease makes the scene from Mark 1 shocking. Rather than being repulsed by the leper as many would be, Jesus is “moved with pity.” Our Lord has deep and heartfelt compassion on those who are suffering. But his compassion is not just a passing feeling; it leads to action. Though he heals him with a word (“I will; be clean.”) he does something astonishing – “he stretched out his hand and touched him”! Imagine that instead of leprosy, we are talking about someone who is quarantined with COVID, and you will get a sense of just how shocking it is for Jesus to touch this man.
Yet, that is exactly what he does. This man may not have been touched by anyone since the day he got sick – maybe years had gone by – and now the Lord deliberately, knowingly, touches him. And the result is that “immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.”
What a beautiful picture of the gospel! In the same way that Jesus touches this man, healing him of his sickness, he comes to cleanse us of our sin. The infinite, eternal, unchangeable God, the one who dwells in unapproachable light – he became a man and lived in a world where he was constantly sinned against by those he created. And more than this, he then went to the cross, taking our sins upon himself, bearing “our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pt. 2:24). And he did this in order to make us clean. Paul explains this in scandalous terms: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
I hope this passage helps you to see just how offensive our sin is in God’s eyes. But don’t stop there; because its only when you see your sin in this way that you can fully appreciate the love and grace of God in our salvation. The Father loved lepers like us, so he sent his Son to redeem us, by becoming a curse for us in order to reconcile us to God and to make us clean (Rm. 8:32; Gal. 3:13; Ps. 24:4). Only when we see the ugliness of our sin, can we begin “to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:18-19).
Take a few moments to reflect on the truth of this passage, that it is in our deepest sin and suffering that our Lord chooses to draw near to us in love. No matter who you are or what you have done – no matter how dirty or defiled you feel – Christ is still willing to reach out and touch you to make you clean. Come to him, trusting in his words: “I will; be clean.”