Title: The Messiah’s authority over defilement
Scriptures to Read: Read Mark 1:40-45; Matthew 8:2-4; Luke 5:12-16
No Jew had been healed of leprosy since the completion of the Mosaic law
This is the account of the healing of the Jewish leper. Although he has done quite a few miracles since he went public at the first Passover, the healing of the man with leprosy is something that is really unique. Now to understand why this is such an important and significant miracle keep this in mind: from the time that the Mosaic Law was completed there was no record of any Jew ever being healed of leprosy. In the case of Miriam, that was before the completion of the Law. And in the case of Naaman, he was Syrian and not Jewish. And while rabbinic writings have many cures for many different diseases, and we will be looking at one of those a bit later in our study, in rabbinic cures there was simply no way to heal a Jewish leper.
A Jewish leper was considered to be under God’s divine judgement
God, in the Mosaic Law, said that one of the ways he will punish Israel is by means of leprosy. We see this in the history of Israel. For example, when king Uzziah tried to burn incense God struck him with leprosy; and when Gehazi, the servant of Elisha lied, God struck him with leprosy. The feeling by first century Israel was that if a Jew contracted leprosy it meant that he was under a special divine judgement, and therefore no Jewish leper will ever be healed until the Messiah comes.
The Law of Moses and the declaration of a Jewish leper
Moses spelled out in great detail what the priesthood would have to do in the case of a Jew being healed of leprosy. In fact, Moses devotes two lengthy chapters of his Law to the subject: Leviticus 13 & 14. Both chapters are 50 verses long, so he spends more than 100 verses dealing with the issue of how to confront and deal with someone who had leprosy, and especially if he was healed of leprosy. In the Mosaic Law, only the priest had the authority to declare someone a leper. Once he declared someone a leper, on that day the declared leper would have to tear his clothing, from now on walking around in torn clothing. He was ostracized from Jewish society. He had to live in a special area of town reserved for lepers only. He had to keep his face covered from the nose down. And he was not allowed to enter the tabernacle or temple compound and he could not receive the spiritual benefits of the tabernacle or temple services. If he happened to be walking down the road and saw someone approaching he would have to warn the person, not with the words “leper, leper”, but with the words “unclean, unclean”. He was morally unclean from the day he was declared a leper. From that day on no-one could touch him. Anyone touching him would also himself become unclean.
The Law of Moses and the healing of a Jewish leper
Then Moses also spelled out some details if a Jew was healed of leprosy. He had to go before the priesthood and say, “I was a leper and now I am healed of my leprosy”. And on that day the priest would have to offer up two separate birds. One bird was killed by shedding of blood. The second bird was dipped in the blood of the first one and then set free. Then came a seven-day period of intense investigation for the purpose of answering three questions.
1. Was the man a declared leper? Since only the priests had the authority to declare a man a leper, there would be a record of it.
2. If the answer was yes, then the second question was: was he really healed of his leprosy? Every day for seven days his whole body was carefully investigated. His whole body was shaved of all hairs, including his eyebrows.
3. Again if the answer was yes, the third question was: What were the circumstances of the healing, to determine if it was legitimate or not.
If all three questions were answered satisfactorily, the eighth day was a day of ritual with four different types of offerings:
1. A Trespass Offering
2. A Sin Offering
3. A Burnt Offering
4. A Meal Offering.
During the ceremony they would take the blood of the Trespass Offering and apply it to three parts of the man’s body: his right ear, right thumb, and right big toe. They did the same thing with the Sin Offering. The blood was applied to the three parts of the body. And then the ritual ended with the anointing of oil on the same three parts of the body. Only then was the person allowed to return to live among the normal part of Jewish society.
Three types of Messianic miracles
As we shall see in this study, whenever Jesus performs a Messianic miracle, the Jewish reaction is very different than when he performs so-called ordinary miracles. And the first of these three special miracles will be the healing of a Jewish leper. So keep in mind that from the Jewish context of the first century Israel, anyone healing a Jewish leper by so doing would be claiming to be the Messiah. Also, understanding that point we will see why things happen here the way they do.
This Jewish leper was riddled with full blown leprosy
Now Mark and Matthew simply mention that the man was a leper, but Luke being a doctor is always a bit more detailed. So in Luke verse 12 he says he was a man full of leprosy. The point he makes is this: At this point of time the leprosy was fully developed, it would not be that much later that it will take this man’s life.
Jesus was willing to heal this unclean Jewish leper
This Jewish leper comes to Jesus. He does not say, in Mark verse 40, “if you will, you can heal me”, but “if you will, you can make me clean” because he was unclean, untouchable since the day he was declared a leper. It is the will of the Messiah to heal him, and in verse 13 of Luke’s account “He stretched out His hand and touched him”. Now as we have seen previously already, he does not need to touch someone to heal him. This would be the first time that the man was touched by human hands since he became a declared leper. It was a touch that causes instantaneous healing.
Jesus sends this clean man to the Jewish leaders
And notice what Jesus tells him to do in Luke’s account in verse 14: And He ordered him to tell no one, “But go and show yourself to the priest and make an offering for your cleansing, just as Moses commanded, …” and why? “as a proof to them.” Who are the them? The Jewish leaders. He now sends the man directly to the priesthood to begin the process of the cleansing of a leper in accordance with Leviticus 13 & 14. He wants to force them to begin taking his messianic claims seriously. And so when this man came before the priesthood and said “I was a declared leper and now I am healed of my leprosy”, on that day they offered up the two birds. And then came seven days of investigation when they answered three questions
1. Yes, he is a declared leper.
2. Yes, he is healed of his leprosy, but
3. It is a man named Jesus of Nazareth that did the healing. And again, from a Jewish context, the fact that he healed a Jewish leper meant that he was claiming to be the Messiah.
Jesus was a man of prayer
Also notice the crucial point in Luke verse 16: he withdraws himself into the desert and prayed. And contextually he was praying regarding what was about to happen next.