Jesus Heals the Leper

Three out of the four gospels records the miracle when Jesus heals the leper.  These account can be found in…

  • Matthew 8:1-4
  • Mark 1:40-45
  • Luke 5:12-16

From this inspired and inspiring miracle we can see the compassion of Jesus.  We can also learn that just as Jesus was the answer to this man’s physical illness, so also is Jesus the answer to our spiritual malady.  


Let’s begin by briefly looking at some background information in reference to leprosy.  

If you go back to the Old Testament, you will find instructions on how to deal with those who have leprosy or those who potentially have leprosy in Leviticus 13.  In this chapter we learn that the diagnosis of leprosy was actually determined, not by a doctor, but by the priest.  

According to Leviticus 13.43,44, a man has a sore.  He goes to the priest and is diagnosed.  If it is determined that he has leprosy, he was to be treated in a very specific way.  In the next verse we read about what was to happen to this leprous man.

Leviticus 13.45:  "Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, 'Unclean! Unclean!'” 


The leper is to tear his clothes.  This is presumably so that others can see from a distance that his clothes are torn and identify him as a leper, and keep their distance.  He was to shave his head, and shave his eyebrows, so that his head is bald and his forehead is bald.

According to these instructions that were given by God, if an individual had a sore, he was to go to the priest.  If the priest diagnosed him as having leprosy, then he was to make it known to all around that he was unclean both by the way that he looked in terms of his clothes and his shaved head and forehead, and he was to be removed from society.  

He could not participate in any of the social activities.  He could not gather together with friends and family, sit around the dinner table and share a meal with them.  He could not go into the city and offer sacrifices at the temple.  He could not go and receive comfort from his wife or his children.  As long as he was unclean, he was to live and exist outside the camp and in isolation and watch his body deteriorate by the ravages of this disease.  

This was the kind of man that came to Jesus seeking to be made clean.  What we can see is the kind of feelings Jesus had toward this suffering man.  We can see that Jesus was compassionate.  

Let’s read about the miracle from the gospel of Mark.

Mark 1.40-45:  Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, "If You are willing, You can make me clean."  Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, "I am willing; be cleansed."  As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.  And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once,  and said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."   However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction.

Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, "If You are willing, You can make me clean."  

Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, "I am willing; be cleansed."  As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.  He was then strictly warned, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."

Instead of keeping this to himself, this man went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction.



Jesus Heals the Leper
The Context Surrounding This Miracle

In the surrounding verses, we find Jesus is on a mission.  Jesus was doing what He came to do when he encountered this leprous man.  

There is a book that I’m sure most of you know.  Some of you may have even read it.  It is titled, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey.  One of those habits is to have a written, refined, personal plan or mission statement for your life.


Jesus had a Mission

I don’t know if Jesus ever wrote it down.  But I do know that Jesus had a personal plan or mission statement for His life, and it goes like this…

Luke 19.10:  “For the Son of Man has come to seek and save that which is lost”

Jesus says that His mission, His purpose is to help others get to heaven.  That mission statement and purpose can be seen in those verses surrounding this miracle in Mark 1.

When we go back a few verses to Mark 1.32, we find that Jesus had healed a great many people.  In fact, these people did not want Jesus to go, but begged Him to stay.  (Mark 1.32-37)

Watch the purpose of Jesus as stated in verse 38: 

Mark 1.38:  “But He said to them, "Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth.”

He spent the day helping people, healing their sickness, and casting out their demons.  The very next day Jesus goes for some quiet alone time to pray.  When Simon finds Him, he tells Jesus that the people are looking for Him.  Jesus says that He wanted to go somewhere else.  Why?  It was because He wanted to go preach.  Why did He want to go preach?  Because that was the purpose for which He had come.

Jesus came to help people get to heaven.  In order to accomplish that, He went from city to city proclaiming a message of salvation that will save someone from their lost condition.  So you can see the purpose of Jesus that is moving Him to travel to the next location when He encounters this leper.

So when we come to Mark 1.40, this leper comes to Jesus falling on his face and worshipping Jesus, begging Him to save him from his leprosy and make him clean again.  

Jesus had a mission, and He is going from place to place, city to city, fulfilling that mission, but He puts His mission on hold for just a brief moment to help a man who is in misery.  That’s the background.



The Historical Context of Leprosy

Here is a man that comes to Jesus and begs to be made clean.  Jesus said, “I am willing”, and then He reaches out and touches this leper.  This leper probably had not been touched by another human being in who knows how long.  

Because of what we had read in Leviticus 13 in reference to lepers being required to live and exist outside of the camp, lepers were grossly mistreated and were handled with extreme prejudice.  You think your own society has a problem of social division and mistreatment of others because of race, class, or economic circumstances, you have never experienced anything like a leper experienced in Bible times.

The Hebrew word “leper” means literally, “stricken down”.   The Jews looked at a man or woman suffering from leprosy as someone who was being punished by God.  According to secular Jewish history, Pharisees would pray, and in their prayers, they would thank God for not being born a gentle, a woman, or a leper.  There was no one who was separated and isolated from society more than a leper. 

That is the historical background behind this man who had leprosy.  This is the kind of lifestyle and treatment to which this man was subjected.  He came to Jesus and begged Him.  Jesus said that He was willing, and He reached out and touched the leper healed him.  Why would Jesus do such a thing?  Because according to Mark 1:41, He was moved with compassion.

Mark 1.40,41:  “Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, ‘If You are willing, You can make me clean.’  Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’”

If we were to study the miracles of Jesus and look for those words, “moved with compassion,” we would fine this phrase repeatedly.  Jesus had compassion for the hungry, and He fed them.  Jesus had compassion for the sick, and He healed them.  Jesus had compassion on those whose bodies were deformed or not functioning, and He gave them back the full use of their legs, their arms, the eyes.  



Jesus Heals the Leper
The Miracle Itself

We have just read about the compassion of Jesus.  As Jesus was on His way from one town to another to preach salvation as was His mission, a man comes to him with a terrible disease.   Instead of chastising this man and sending him back outside the camp where the Law of Moses commanded for a leper to live, Jesus showed compassion, reached out and healed the man.  


The Trauma of the Leper

Now let’s give some attention to the miracle itself.  As we examine the miracle, let’s look at the three gospel accounts where this miracle is recorded and see if we can learn something from each of them.


Matthew’s account identifies the condition of the man simply stating that he was a leper. 

Matthew 8.1:  "And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.’”

In Leviticus 13, God provides instructions on how to diagnose the disease.  If there was a spot found on the skin such as a scab, swelling, or a bright spot, the priest would examine the hairs on and around the troubled area, and if the hairs were white, and the spot seems to go deeper than just the surface of the skin, then it was leprous.  

When someone was diagnosed as having leprosy, he was pronounced unclean and was isolated from the rest of the congregation.  It is worthy to note that with  all the descriptions of leprosy, not once is there mentioned any cure or treatment other than by miracle. 

Do you realize that 95% of all mankind are immune to the disease of leprosy.  This man was unfortunate enough to be among the 5%.  


Mark’s account describes the petition of the man.

Mark 1.40:  "Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, ‘If You are willing, You can make me clean.’”

It is important to note that the difference in each of the accounts does not imply a contradiction.  Instead, the Holy Spirit guided the hands of each writer to include details that were important to their respective audiences.  When you put all accounts together, you get a full, detailed picture.

In Mark’s account, it says that this leprous man came “imploring Him.”  The word “imploring” comes from the Greek word Parakaleo.  Looking at the word closely, you see that it is a compound word.

  • “Para” means “by the side.”
  • “Kaleo” means “to call”.

This man came to Jesus and called him to the side asking for help.  He came “kneeling down”.  When we read Matthew’s account it says that he came and worshiped Jesus.  When we read Luke’s account it says that he came and fell on his face before Jesus.  We put these three accounts together and you have a man with this rare, painful, and often times deadly disease coming to Jesus taking Him off to the side, kneeling down before Jesus, falling on his face and worshiping Jesus.  

In all three accounts it records this man saying, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”  You’ll find in the context that Jesus had already been involved in healing.  This was a man who was unclean.  He was an outcast socially.  It was an outcast ceremonially.  He was an outcast physically.  So he came to Jesus because he wanted to be made clean.  Thus was his petition to Jesus.


Luke describes the severity of his condition.

Luke’s account is of special interest.  Remember that Luke was a physician.  Luke is going to tell us something that you will not find in Matthew or Mark.  When we turn to Luke’s account he described this man as being “full of leprosy”.  

Luke 5.12:  “And it happened when He was in a certain city, that behold, a man who was full of leprosy saw Jesus; and he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.’” 

Here is a man who was wretched and miserable dealing with the advanced stages of leprosy that would not quit.  He was full of leprosy.  It hadn’t just begun to develop with a small white patch.  It hadn’t just begun with a small sore or a red spot.  It had spread to his entire body.  This is a man who approached Jesus, and as Jesus looked down at this man on his knees, Jesus saw one whose skin had deteriorated and had been eaten away by this ravenous disease.    

Luke also tells us that this man had made his way to the city.  Matthew and Mark’s account did not include that detail.  Remember that Lepers were removed from society.  They were quarantined and could not have any social interaction with the rest of society.  Jewish tradition stated that you could not come within six feet of a leper, and if you were downwind from a leper, that distance was increased to fifty feet.  And here is this leper falling on his knees right in front of Jesus.


Jesus Responds to the Leper

Here is a man in desperation.  He is totally consumed by an illness that has ravaged his body, an illness that has removed him from society making him an outcast.  He breaks Jewish tradition and comes into the city, comes to Jesus, and falls on his knees and he literally begs Jesus to help him. That’s the trauma of this leper.


Jesus was moved with compassion.

Mark 1.41:  "Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’”

The word “compassion” is a word that has as its root, the word “spleen”.  This is not a word that describes someone that just feels sorry for another.  This is not a word in which there is a bit of pity.  This is not a word where you voluntarily express sorrow for another’s situation or condition.  This is a word that is more about that feeling that you get deep down inside to the very pit of your stomach.  

It does not say that Jesus felt sorry for Him.  It says that Jesus was moved with compassion.  This was not a voluntary act where Jesus looked at him and expressed sorrow as in the word sympathy.  This was a man that was so wretched and miserable that when Jesus looked upon him, He got this feeling deep down in the pit of His stomach, and it moved Him to feel this man’s pain.  And this moved Jesus to do something that is absolutely incredible.


Jesus touched the man with leprosy.

Mark 1.41:  Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’”

There are two different Greek words that are translated as “touch”.  One of those words means to reach out and grasp, to take hold of.  And that is the word here.

Jesus did not just reach out very carefully with only the tip of His finger keeping contact to a minimal.  Jesus reached out and took hold of him.  He grasped him wrapping His hand around this leper’s deteriorating, infectious skin.  

Jesus saw a man whose body, whose life had been overtaken by this disease.  Out of compassion, Jesus reached out and grabbed a hold of this man and said, “I am willing, be cleansed.”  Jesus was willing to become unclean by touching this leprous man all because He had compassion on him.

Just as Jesus was willing to be compassionate toward the leper, Jesus is also willing to be compassionate to you and me and make us clean from sin.  For that we are to be thankful.  More than that, we need to learn that we need to be someone who shows compassion.  



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