Last week, I preached a short sermon on Mark 1:40-45 at my church. If you’re interested in having a listen, here’s the download link: Who Can Bring a Clean Thing Out of an Unclean?
Here’s a short excerpt.
Our text today introduces us to a person who Luke, in his account, describes as “a man full of leprosy.” (His account is found in Luke 5:12-16). It’s important to emphasize the word full, because in Leviticus 13, we are confronted with an entire section of God’s Law devoted to teaching Israel’s priests how to identify different kinds of leprosy, and how each kind of leprosy is to be dealt with according to the Law. Leviticus 13:2-3 tells us that:
When a person has on the skin of his body a swelling or an eruption or a spot, and it turns into a case of leprous disease on the skin of his body, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests, and the priest shall examine the diseased area on the skin of his body.
It is the Law of God which the priests would use in their examination of the person’s possible outbreak of leprous disease. If the person was found to be a leper, then, according to Leviticus 13:45-46
“The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.”
The Law reveals that the leper is unclean, and cannot dwell with God’s people, in the place where the Lord has promised He will walk. As we read in Deuteronomy 23:14, God tells the children of Israel that they are to place their all unclean things outside the camp because
…the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and to give up your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you.
God does not say it’s okay for one or two indecent/unclean things to exist within the camp of Israel. No. He says that He does not want to see any unclean thing. The command is directed against all forms of uncleanness. And the reason is given by God: God is holy; therefore, Israel is to be holy, free from uncleanness of any kind.
In Numbers 5:1-4, the Holy Spirit reminds us of this face, saying:
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the people of Israel that they put out of the camp everyone who is leprous or has a discharge and everyone who is unclean through contact with the dead. You shall put out both male and female, putting them outside the camp, that they may not defile their camp, in the midst of which I dwell.” And the people of Israel did so, and put them outside the camp; as the Lord said to Moses, so the people of Israel did.
As we just noted, while there are differing varieties of uncleanness they are still unclean and are, therefore, completely unacceptable to God. Whether male or female, leprous or contaminated by the dead, they are to be put out of the camp.
Notice how Mark reports the event, starting at verse 39:
And He went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.
And now observe the opening words of verse 40:
And a leper came to Him…
Only several verses earlier in the text, our Lord God is being baptized in the Jordan river, anointed for His priestly and prophetic ministry, and God speaks from heaven, declaring to Him: “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” Christ is clean, completely holy. And now we are told that He is approached by one who is unclean, outside the camp, the source of contagion and sickness and shame and death.
The leper is not unaware of his uncleanness before Jesus. The text tells us that he implored (or begged) Jesus, and knelt before Him. And Luke’s account tells us that in addition to imploring and kneeling, the beggar “fell on his face.” The man knew his condition, and he knew Jesus’ identity. Christ is the Holy One of God; the leper is not only physically unclean, but spiritually unclean as well – a sinner approaching the sinless One.
As Spurgeon notes:
“In himself [the Leper] had no shade of confidence. Every delusion of that kind had been banished by a fierce experience of his dis-ease. He knew that none on earth could deliver him and that by no innate power of constitution could he throw out the poi-son. But he confidently believed that the Son of God could, by Himself, effect the cure. This was God-given faith—the faith of God’s elect and Jesus was its sole Object.”
The leper, then, prays: “If you will, you can make me clean.” A simple faith that recognizes the Sovereignty of Jesus Christ over life and death, sickness and health, cleanness and uncleanness. Christ is not dependent on the man’s faith, nor is He dependent on the man’s request. Note the leper’s words again: You can make me clean. There is not uncertainty in his mind about who Jesus is and what He is capable of doing. Rather, the leper’s concern is whether or not it was Jesus’ will for him to be made clean. A popular teaching today is that God is kept from healing us because of our lack of faith. Yet the leper knew better, by God’s grace. His plea was not faithless, and yet it implies that despite the fact that the man had faith Christ could have chosen to not make the leper clean. The leper does not demand to be healed, as some television teachers would tell us is the right way to pray. The leper does not believe that he is already healed because he has prayed in faith, and faith, like a magical amulet, forces God to do whatever man desires Him to do. The tv preachers who teach such blasphemies are, again, confounded by a single sentence uttered by a man who was full of leprosy, and yet filled with faith. He says:
“If you will, you can make me clean.”
These words are a clear declaration that our Lord Jesus Christ is God Almighty in the flesh. For as the title of the sermon today, taken from Job 14:4, asks us: “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” This is a rhetorical question; a statement implying its own answer. And the answer? Only God can bring a clean thing out of an unclean. Only God can remove the uncleanness that plagues this leper, only God. Jesus can clean the leper. Therefore, the leper’s words are a declaration of his faith in Christ as God Almighty in the flesh.