MS Week #4: Cleansing the Leper

Brad Libolt speaking on Mark 1:35-45. He spoke about Jesus’s sacrifice that makes unclean people clean. Encouraging us to have a devotion to prayer that reflects the model Jesus demonstrates for us.


  • Let’s say you are going to wash a car. You rinse off your car with water, then you take a bucket filled with soap and water and use a sponge to scrub your car to get all the gunk off. As you scrub your car your car gets clean, but what does your sponge look like? It gets dirty, right? The dirtiness of the car gets transferred to the sponge so that the car is now clean. That is what is happening in this passage with Jesus and the leper.

35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.

  • The main point of this passage is to wake up early! Just kidding. But it is very important to note Jesus’ devotion to prayer. He gives up sleep, rest, and comfort so he can spend time with the Father. Jesus sees prayer as so important that he will get up early in the morning to do it. Not only does he get up early, but he goes away. He goes to a desolate place where there are no distractions. He would give up physical comfort in order to spend time with God.
  • So there are a couple applications here that Jesus is modeling for us when it comes to prayer. He is showing his devotion to prayer by getting up early and is going somewhere where there will be no distractions. 
  • Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to get up early and pray, but we definitely could. It’s asking what are you giving up to spend time with God? How important is prayer to you? Is it so important that you would give up some sleep, and a bit of comfort to spend time talking to your creator and savior? How devoted are you to prayer?
  • And it also doesn’t mean you need to go out into the wilderness every time you pray, but there are other ways to limit distractions. You can shut the door to your room, you can go outside, go on a walk, go somewhere or do something so that the distractions around you are limited. When we pray, we want to give our full attention to God because we recognize who we are speaking to.
  • So there are a couple really practical applications for prayer here in this one verse on Jesus praying. But why was Jesus praying? He is God and has a perfect relationship with the Father, so why does Jesus need to pray?
  • He tells us in the next verse.

36 And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, 37 and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons. 

  • The four disciples go looking for him, wondering where he is, and they say that actually everyone is looking for him. He responds by saying, “Let’s go to the next towns, so I can preach there also, for that is why I came out.”
  • Jesus tells us and the disciples the reason he went out to pray. He did it because he was getting ready to go to the next towns and preach. Jesus was preparing for ministry by praying.
  • Jesus is God, but he is also human. He recognizes the power of prayer, and he also recognizes that he is on the earth to fulfill the will of God the Father. So before he goes on to the next towns to do ministry in, he is praying to God, probably asking for strength and aligning himself to the will of the Father. I don’t want to speculate too much on what exactly Jesus was praying, but he was probably praying that his message would get through to people, that the kingdom of God would be furthered by the preaching that he was going to go do.
  • We need to do the same thing. Whenever we are going to do ministry, we should pray in preparation. Every Thursday night, before you guys get to the Barn, your leaders pray for the night. They pray for you, they pray for the teaching, for the worship, for the night as a whole. They get together and they pray, because they recognize that no ministry can get done unless God is working, so we ask him to work.
  • So figure out what kind of ministry you do. Maybe you are sharing the gospel with someone, maybe you are in or helping lead a small group, maybe you are serving at church somehow. Whatever ministry you are doing, prepare yourself and the people you are coming in contact with by flooding that scenario with prayer. We stretch before we go on a run, study before taking test, clean our room before friends come over. We prepare for things we think are important, how much more should we prepare for ministry?

40 And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.”

  • As Jesus is preaching in these other towns around the region of Galilee a leper comes up. Now pause for a minute. This man is a leper. Leprosy was a really nasty skin disease that would kill your nervous system, so you wouldn’t feel pain in your fingers or nose or toes, and eventually those parts of your body would start to rot away or get eaten away by rodents. It was really nasty. And if you were a leper, you were an outcast. You were cast out of the city, out of the temple, and you were no longer welcomed anywhere that there were people.
  • This man with leprosy would have lost his friends and his family. He wouldn’t have eaten very much, he wouldn’t have been able to go to the temple so he lost his worship community. This man would have known suffering. He would have been suffering physically, relationally, emotionally, and spiritually.
  • The fact that he even approaches Jesus is wild, but clearly this man believes that Jesus has the power to heal him. Look what he says: “If you will, you can make me clean.”
  • He recognizes the power of Jesus. He recognizes that he has the power and the ability to cleanse this man of his leprosy. But, he also recognizes his sovereignty. He says I know you can make me clean, but only do it if you will.
  • A lot of times we recognize God’s power, but we forget his sovereignty. A situation will come up in our life where we want to see God’s power. We want him to heal a loved one, draw a non-believer to him, take away the suffering in our life, but then when he doesn’t do it, we get angry or upset at him. We get angry because even though we believe God is all powerful, we forget that he is sovereign as well. It’s God’s decision whether or not he heals our loved one, draws someone to himself, or takes away our suffering. God is sovereign over the circumstances in our life, and we have no place to tell him what he should or shouldn’t do. God is all powerful, but he is also sovereign. The leper recognized it, and we need to also.

41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.

  • After the leper makes his request, it says Jesus is moved with pity. Now initially when we read this we might think that this pity is showing Jesus’ humanity. But I think that it is actually showing Jesus’ divinity. Pity is having sympathetic sorrow for someone who is suffering. We see throughout Scripture God expressing sorrow for people’s suffering. God is not happy about sin, or the effects that sin have on the world. God looks at the world and the sin and the death and the suffering and he is sorrowful.
  • Jesus looked at this man, saw his suffering, saw the uncleanliness because of sin that this man was experiencing him, and he was sorrowful. Jesus doesn’t like sin or suffering, because he is God, and God doesn’t like sin or suffering.
  • So, moved with pity, look what Jesus does. He stretched out his hand and touched him. Jesus touched the leper. This is huge. For Jesus to do this was unthinkable. You don’t touch unclean people. If you touch an unclean person, you also become unclean. So, by touching the leper, Jesus himself became unclean. Jesus traded his cleanliness for this man’s uncleanliness, and took it to the cross.
  • Something else to notice, is that this man had probably not experienced physical touch in years. He had not been given a hug, high-five, pat on the back, or a handshake. This would have been part of his suffering. With no relationship, no human contact, he would have not experienced the physical touch of another human in a long time. And that may have hurt more than the skin disease.
  • Jesus didn’t have to touch this man. Jesus could have just spoken without touching the man and he would have been cleaned, but instead Jesus chose to touch him. He saw the man’s suffering, not only the physical pain, but the emotional, spiritual, and relational pain that this man was feeling. And he addressed all of it. He touched him.
  • So what is your suffering? Are you suffering below the surface in some way that people don’t see? Are you suffering emotionally? Spiritually? Relationally? Do you feel lonely? Outcast? Unclean? My guess is many of us do. But there is good news, because Jesus sees you. He sees your hurt, he sees your pain, and he doesn’t stand at a distance and say “Be clean”, but he comes close, and he touches you. He gives you comfort, he gives you healing where you truly need it. Jesus knows where you’re hurting, and he cares.

43 And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 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.”

  • After the man is healed and made clean, Jesus gives him a command. He sternly charged him to go to the priest and offer for his cleansing what Moses had commanded, for a proof to them. We will get to that in a moment, but notice that the leper doesn’t do what he is supposed to. He goes out and starts telling everyone even though Jesus commanded him not to.
  • So Jesus makes this man clean, then gives him a command, and he immediately disobeys the command. Did the man get leprosy again after he disobeyed? No, he didn’t. The man’s cleanliness wasn’t dictated by his ability to do what Jesus commanded him to do. The man’s cleanliness was dictated by the word of Jesus. And the same goes for you and me. Jesus has made us clean, but we continue to disobey. We disobey and it feels like we are unclean again. But that’s not how it works. We are clean, no matter what, regardless of how many times we disobey God and fail to do what he has commanded us to do, we are clean. Believe that.
  • Now let’s talk about what Jesus wanted the man to do. He told him to go to the priest and offer to him for his cleansing what Moses commanded, for proof to them. We find this ritual in Leviticus. When a leper was cleansed, before he could be welcomed back into the city or into the worship community at the temple, he had to offer all these different sacrifices. He had to do the burnt offering, the grain offering, the guilt offering, and the wave offering, which are all very important. There was this great big long process so that this man could be brought back into the community, but then there was this other offering that was very interesting.
  • The priests would take two birds. They would kill one of the birds, and let its blood go into this jar of water. Then they would take the other bird, still alive, dip it in the blood of the other bird, and let it go free. This is a little weird right? But what is Jesus saying by wanting this man to go do these things?
  • All these offerings and the whole ordeal with the bird and everything was all so that this man could be welcomed back into the worship community, back into the camp, back into normal life. So Jesus is affirming that sacrifices need to be made in order for an unclean person to be made clean and be welcomed back into the worship community. He is saying that definitely needs to happen, just like it did in Leviticus, but he is also saying that he is going to be those sacrifices. Jesus is going to be the sacrifice that allows unclean people to be brought into the kingdom of God.
  • Think about that bird offering. Jesus is the bird that is killed, and the leper is the bird that is let go. It is dipped in the blood of the dead bird, and set free, declaring the man clean. We too are washed with the blood of Jesus and freed from our uncleanliness and our suffering, being welcomed into the kingdom of God, the community of God’s people, where we can worship him forever.
  • Jesus is affirming that sacrifices need to be made for this man, and for you and me, to be clean, but he is also saying that he is going to be that sacrifice. He took our uncleanliness to the cross, where he was killed for our sake. And now we are washed in his blood, coming out clean and in a relationship with our creator who so desires to see us be made clean.

45 But he went out and began to talk freely 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.

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