A synopsis of Sunday’s Message- Encountering an Outcast – Mark 1:40-45

In this text we will be gleaning from Jesus’ encounter with a societal outcast – someone who has been pushed to the edge of a stable life in the city.

Listen to this unusual story:

Mark 1:40-45
40 ¶ And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 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. 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.” 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.

Introduction:

In an ancient society, there was probably no disease as dreaded and hated as that of leprosy. Though we know much more about it today and can even cure it, in the past lepers were avoided with fear and later were placed in leper colonies. We know that through the use of various Hebrew terms in the Bible that…

…leprosy was prevalent, and variously described as “blotches,” “scars,” “eruptions,” “whiteness,” “bright patches,” and “ulceration”; it had many forms, most of which can be only approximately identified in the Hebrew terms. Despite the ignorance about germs, the danger of contagion was realized and isolation enforced. Detailed religious rites of “purification” from leprosy’s “uncleanness” were elaborated.

Lepers were scary people who were pushed to the fringes of society.

This is a very unusual and courageous act for a leper to leave his isolation and come publicly into Jesus’ presence, casting himself at his feet. Most people would have run from the presence of a leper!


  1. Jesus is approachable even by really scary people.

We normally avoid people who make us uncomfortable. It may be the young person with multiple rings in his eyebrow, ears, and tongue who transgresses our sense of cultural propriety. It may be those who flaunt their transgression of God’s standard of sexual morality. It may even be that one who’s suffering from a dreaded illness like cancer, which seems to threaten our own sense of well being. It may be that person of another culture whose difference of color, language, or even someone’s smell that threatens our safe and secure world.

Who is it that makes you uncomfortable? Possibly, had this leper fell on his knees at our feet we would have walked around him and kept going? No! We would have run!

This is why we find Jesus so attractive! Scary people can come to Jesus! For him there are no scary people. Those that are on the periphery of society feel comfortable coming to Jesus – whether it’s crooked tax collectors like Zacchaeus, or adulterous women like Mary Magdalene, or a Paul, who murdered Christians – Jesus is the friend of sinners. Scary people can come to Jesus!

Actually, all of us are like lepers because of our sin. If we could see each other’s hearts there’s enough there to scare anyone. Listen to Isa 1:6.

Isaiah 1:6 From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness– only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil.

This verse and Romans 3:10-23 describe the spiritual condition of every human being. We are all scary people whom Jesus welcomes! ! Scary people can come to Jesus!

2. Jesus is moved with compassion at societal outcasts. 41 Moved with pity…

I prefer the translation – “moved with compassion” which offers some interesting and perplexing insight into Jesus Christ.

In theology God is sometimes described as impassible. The idea is that One who is perfect in every way must not be susceptible to feelings and emotions. Certainly it is a mystery as to how an immutable and Sovereign God – “I am the Lord your God. I change not.” – can be affected in any way by human circumstances. Some even think of God as cold, hard, unfeeling, and purely deterministic – unmoved and unchanging in regard to human suffering.

The image that some have of a Sovereign, immutable God is His standing unmoved by the bedside of your suffering child or unmoved at the bedside of your father suffering with cancer. Can an impassible God be moved emotionally by my suffering?

In reading the Bible we get a much warmer picture of God. For instance as the people of God are suffering as slaves in Ancient Egypt God calls a man, Moses, to deliver them and says to him:

I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey (Ex 3:7-8).

Throughout the Old Testament we find that God is One who sees suffering and responds because of His compassion. This was the hope of the Psalmist when he suffered – that God would show compassion.

13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him (Ps 103:13).

Yet, with all of the evidence of God’s display of compassion throughout history, God still offers weak and doubting humans a clearer, concrete demonstration of His compassion in the incarnation of Jesus, God the Son. As you read the gospels and see God in human flesh interacting personally with a suffering world, you are moved by the deep emotion in which Jesus responds to human suffering. The cross of Jesus Christ screams “I love you, I care for you. I am moved with compassion at your desperate and helpless struggle with sin and death.”

As Hebrews 4 says: “he is touched with the feeling of our infirmities.”

This leper covered from head to toe with a cancerous, disfiguring disease falls on his knees at Jesus feet and begs him for deliverance. Jesus is affected by this appeal. The Greek text says very clearly that Jesus was “moved with compassion.” Normally, this verb when applied to Jesus is in a passive tense, indicating that some other agent other than himself is causing this action.

Whether it’s the multitudes that are as sheep without a shepherd, or a hungry crowd of 5,000, or blind men by the roadside, or crowds filled with sick people, Jesus is moved with compassion.

His compassion for suffering sinners runs so deep that in the gospel he actually takes on him the defilement and sin of humankind that he might deliver us – “He who knew no sin is made sin for us.” Using the image of the story before us – he takes on leprosy in order to deliver lepers.

Your suffering – whoever you are and regardless of what you’ve done – moves Jesus.

3. Jesus touches with power and cleanses the unclean.

Were you to live in 1st Century Palestine, you would have often heard people crying out, “Unclean, unclean.” It was the obligation of every leper to warn those who came near him that he was infectious. Imagine having to live your life always acknowledging your contagion – a life where your communication with others was limited to warning them about how scary you really are.

The Law of Moses provided for the examination and ritual purification of a leper but held no power to rid one of leprosy. We don’t know how many times this leper had been to a priest only to be told that he was still infected by leprosy. Jesus does what the Law cannot do! This is the futile plight of religion – it can expose human failure and sin but offers no power to deliver.

The way that Jesus heals this leper is a sign and parable of his ways with mankind. He’s not afraid of our sin. The most horrible things that cause others to shrink back from us pose no obstacle to Jesus. He takes on our humanity and moves into our world that he might touch us reach us, and cleanse us. Actually, in violation of the religious law, Jesus touches a leper. For Jesus, He is not under the law; rather the law is in his hands. For Jesus the law of love is a higher law. Jesus is in the business of touching those whom no one else will touch and cleansing them – and he does so without rubber gloves.

A novel way of looking at the church is that the church of Jesus Christ is a community of lepers that have been cleansed. Look around you today at lepers (scary people) who have been cleansed. Don’t forget it! Let’s give to others the same mercy that we have received.

Why does Jesus reach out and touch us? He wants our healing. He wants our wholeness. He wants our deliverance. He wants our restoration.

Conclusion:

The leper’s response to Jesus instruction poses an interesting dilemma for us. The leper is instructed to tell no one about this miracle because at this point in Jesus’ ministry notoriety would not be an advantage. The leper is also told to go to the priest for the ritual cleansing that would affirm for society’s sake that he was truly free of leprosy and would also be a witness to the priests of Jesus power. This was a difficult command to obey. How can one be silent about the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to him?

The cleansed leper does neither of the things Jesus commands. He cannot restrain telling others what Jesus has done for him. He is sincere in his desire to give tribute to Jesus by telling others, yet his sincerity is still immature disobedience. His disobedience is not rebellion but more like the inability of a child to restrain his emotions.

If his command was difficult, ours is easy. We are instead told like the demoniac at Gadara (Mark 5) is later told – “Go home to your friends and show them what great tings God has done for you.” His command to us today is the opposite of what he told the leper. He tells us – go and tell the world. He grants us the freedom to express the joy we have experienced at His powerful deliverance. What do we tell the world?

  1. Tell the world that Jesus is approachable by anyone regardless of whether they are socially acceptable or outcasts.
  2. Tell the world that Jesus is moved with compassion by their desperate plight.
  3. Tell the world that Jesus has power to cleanse and transform them.

This is the Jesus we need to get to know better and this is the Jesus we proclaim to a sinful world! Jesus is a friend of societal outcasts.

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On September 10, 1970 I came to understand the great love of God for me, a sinner and a rebel. That evening I received God’s forgiveness and a new life through Jesus Christ, who died in my place and rose again to offer forgiveness and new life. I have been senior pastor for over 30 years planting two churches in Buckingham, PA and Queens, NY and serving two other churches in Brooklyn, NY and Roslyn, PA. I am currently the lead pastor at Grace Church of Philly.

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