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Mark 1:40-45 and Mark 2:1-12

This is a transcription of two sermons given by Pastor Al Ebeling, pastor of the Waltham congregation of the Worldwide Church of God, given on 12 & 19 February 2000.

Mark 1:40-45. "A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, 'If you are willing, you can make me clean.' Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. 'I am willing,' he said. 'Be clean!' Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 'See that you don't tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.' Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in the lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere." This is quite a powerful story here in the pages of Mark, one that catches our sensitivity and emotions. This Scripture is talking about a couple different things. Leprosy and healing. This account brings to mind a story that is somewhat parallel to this in the book of 2 Kings 5:1-15. This is the story and account of Naaman. He was the commanding general of the Syrian army, and he had leprosy. One of his wife's servants was a Hebrew and Naaman's wife through talking with this servant came to the realization that God could intervene for Naaman and heal him of his leprosy. This account goes well beyond what we're going to talk about in the book of Mark, but it is similar in many ways. Naaman, at first, didn't believe Elijah's instructions about going into the Jordan 7 times would bring about his healing. He thought it was a bunch of bunk, so he stormed off. [Eventually he followed Elijah's instructions and was healed by God, right after he did.] Now there's a description of the type of leprosy in this magazine I'd like to read to you, the type of leprosy that Naaman had. "Naaman suffered from a disease traditionally designated leprosy. The range of the Hebrew word, which includes conditions of effecting clothing (which is from Leviticus 13) and buildings (from Leviticus 14). You know the clothing couldn't come in contact with anyone else. If a leper went into a certain building, no one else could go into that building. So the range of the Hebrew word makes it clear that the word denotes more than Hansen's disease, which is Hansen's disease, which is the modern terminology for leprosy, which is caused by the micro-bacterium lepri-baccilus and effects humans exclusively. So this particular disease is only known to humans. Naaman may have been suffering from, in addition to Hansen's disease, lupus, scoriasis, small pox, skin cancer, vertigo or a nutritional deficiency such as polagra, etc. And so here Naaman is a hurting guy. No matter how you look at his particular health situation, he was hurting. Finally, probably in utter fatigue he goes and dips himself seven times in the river and comes out clean. He doubted initially that he could be healed. Especially, he doubted that it could be that simple. He would rather have seen some waving arms, some chants, maybe a few sacrifices here and there, maybe some gold or silver offered to idols, anything but what was required, and that was faith, of simply going into the river 7 times. It is curious how this leper in Mark 1:40-45 approaches Christ, and he simply says to Jesus, "If you are willing, you can make me clean." Jesus didn't wave his arms, he didn't chant, he didn't offer sacrifices, he didn't do any of those things. What Jesus did was he just tenderly and lovingly reached down and he touched the leper. Jesus did the unthinkable thing. He touched something unclean, only to make it clean. Jesus put himself at risk by touching something so unclean that it was anathema to society. And his loving care and his grace extended healing.

You know, ironically enough, the verse here, verse 41, that says, "Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand", that particular phrase among scholars today is argued. There are some who say that rather, that translation should be "Filled with anger" instead of "filled with compassion"--"with anger" Jesus reaches out and touches that individual. And the reasoning is, they believe this, because the tone Jesus uses when he's sending the leper off. When he says, "Now don't go and tell anyone what I've told you--don't tell anyone who you see what I did for you." And their thinking is that Jesus is so upset with the way humanity has to live, that his anger came to the surface rather than his compassion. But nonetheless, his strong warning, because of what he did to the leper, Jesus had to alter his ministry, and wasn't able to just walk into a community from that point forward. Without, it says, throngs, multitudes of people waiting for him to enter that city so that they could be healed. And I'll tell you what, brethren, today if there was one person, two, three or more people, that could walk anywhere and all they had to do is touch you and you would be healed, you couldn't keep people away. People would come to that individual by the scores. Jesus knew that. And he asked the man not to tell anyone. But, for whatever reason, the leper didn't heed that advice, but rather went and told everyone.

Now I want to change gears. When Jesus came here to earth, he did so because he had something to tell us. He came with a purpose. He came with authority. And as a result of the authority that was given him to come here, he spoke with authority. He lived with authority. He was God. But more than that he was God in the flesh. And when Jesus walked this earth during his earthly ministry he effected people's lives. Their lives were never the same as a result of an encounter with him. And I want to ask us that same question. Are our lives any different because we know Jesus Christ than if we didn't know Jesus Christ? Are our lives different? Many people listened to what Jesus had to say. They even sensed his power. They even sensed his authority in everything that he said. But even though they did, they did not necessarily believe what he said. They liked what he said. They appreciated what he said. They reaped the benefit in some instances of what he said and did for them. But did they believe him? You know, the point is, Jesus' word produces results. All he has to do is say something and there are results. There's never not a result. You and I have the responsibility to bear, or as bearers of his Word to make sure that this Word is heard among a society that doesn't want to listen. Now, what society do we live in? Many people today suffer from something called loneliness. And I know you can relate to it. I know without a doubt you can relate to it. I can relate to it. You don't have to be a certain type of person to relate to loneliness. If I were to ask for a show of hands of people in this room, right now, in this room who are or who have experienced loneliness I venture to say that we would all raise our hands. I venture to say that, that we have either experienced it or are involved with it. But more than that, some of us live in loneliness. Some of us live in loneliness. And we can sight various reasons as to why we do. The society that we live in today, the mechanized society by many instances lives by computers, where we're isolated at work from any other human beings because we're on our computer. We're isolated at home for the same reason at times. We have beepers in our possession to be in touch with people, we have pagers to find where someone is. There's a certain degree of loneliness that can be involved in that. There's also the lonely feeling of being abandoned by a mother, by a father, by a spouse [ouch!], and that in turn creates an empty spot in our hearts. Human situations like divorce, disease, or deformity also separate us from society. Some of us experience isolation and rejection from others, as though we're not accepted--we don't fit in--and so we withdraw. And we also can experience death, the death of a spouse, death of a child, death of a parent. Either of those can catapult us into loneliness that almost seems inescapable. This past week I talked to my sister who is just a few years older than me. And she just found out that she has a blockage to her heart. She's going to have to have some surgery. And in talking with her, she said, "You know, I've come to a realization." I said, "What is that?" And she said, "Life is too short." And I said, "Well, I agree with you there. Is there anything I can do for you?" And she said, "Just something that you're already doing." And I said, "What's that?" And she said, "Keep praying for me." Loneliness is a painful existence. Any one of us can find ourselves in it for awhile. As we examine the life of this leper, we find that loneliness is a way of life with lepers. It's a way of life. This passage includes a lot of information. But between the lines of this man with leprosy coming to him and begging on his knees and saying "If you're willing you can heal me", between the lines there we can realize that this leper lived a lonely life. He didn't wake up in the morning and go to work and get that simple pat on the back from someone. He couldn't look forward to a handshake by someone who is able to touch. He couldn't look forward to the warm embrace of a friend or even family, emotions that you see were missing from his life as a leper. He was excluded from society, from all corners. He couldn't wake up or look forward to a hug from his wife, or his child, or his family. You see, we touch one another every day, not physically sometimes, but just by being around people we're touched by people. You know that studies have shown that newborn babies who even if they're provided food and drink, but are minus human touch will die. That's sad. When we experience an event that isolates us, there is no doubt that we go through many, many emotions. Some of them being anger, denial, hatred, bitterness. They're all emotions that you and I go through when we experience loneliness. Can you imagine what it would have been like five or ten years before we were introduced to this leper? What was it like in his life before he came to Jesus? Can you imagine the very first days when he began to get those little signs that leprosy was within his own frame, where he began to realize that these sores that were appearing on his skin weren't going away? And that there was definitely something wrong with him, something wrong that he didn't want to face. Eventually these sores would break open and bleed and cause all kinds of difficulty for him healthwise. You can imagine living with his fear, the torment that he was going through, and the apprehension as he looked at what the future was going to hold for him. Imagine what it must have been like for him the first time his own child must have said, "I can't touch you, Dad. You're unclean." That was the law. What was to follow was a life of banishment, a life of banishment, of isolation, a life without that familiar touch from someone like a wife, a child, a brother or sister, a friend, a neighbor--a life of others constantly staying away from you. Mothers, as he walked down the street, would grab their children, to keep them away from him. People would suddenly turn around and walk the other way. Each day this man would have to cover his skin to keep the sores isolated. And then finally the day came when he would have to go to the High Priest. And he knew what the High Priest was going to say. The High Priest was going to declare him unclean, and banish him from living within society. And his life of isolation and loneliness would be heightened. Now while we don't have leper colonies today, we still do build walls around us, and often times we are stuck behind them. If you are not the run-of-the-mill, the normal, the traditional, you often wear a label. You might be a drunk, or your parents might be divorced, or you are divorced. You may be handicapped, and often if you're deaf you're labeled as dumb, stupid. You may be crippled, you may have cancer. Sadly our attitudes sometimes say "We have places that we can put people that are in this condition. And we don't have to deal with them." "There are others that will deal with them." Many of these type of individuals live in voluntary exile, knowing that they are going to be isolated from society and certainly often are. And they don't term themselves normal anymore. Then there are those who are marginalized by society--those considered the outcasts of the world. It seems as though these are the people that Jesus was drawn to, those outcasts, those people who were kind of pushed to the side by society. That's who Jesus came to. That's who Jesus said "I am here for you." And yet those considered normal are repulsed by these outcasts, repulsed by this type of person. If we honestly examine the message of Jesus we come to realize that he came specifically to the marginalized people of society. If you'll turn with me to Luke chapter 4 I'm going to read verses 17 through 19 where Jesus says:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has annointed me to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Jesus said that he came to those people--all the outcasts, all the misfits, all the geeks that came to him. There is not one person that would want to associate themselves with a group like this. People with money often don't want to be around people who are poor. Those that are criminals we want as far away from us as possible. Don't we have institutions for the blind? Most of society can't be bothered, at least until it happens to you or somebody you know. And then perhaps your interest may be peaked. When we begin to think in physical terms we make a serious mistake. I want to say that again. When we begin to think in physical terms we make a serious mistake, and we prevent the full understanding of grace and it's effects on our minds and hearts. Most of us grow up with the "be good and you'll be rewarded" mentality. I can't tell you how many times I heard my parents say that one over the years. You know "If you're good, good things will happen to you." "Pick up your room and you won't get in trouble." "Do this and that will happen." And I find myself sometimes saying the same things. And I'm misrepresenting something that God so much wants to demonstrate to us as human beings. "Be good and you go to heaven." How often have we heard that? We relate this concept to the idea that if we receive physical blessings, then God must be happy with us. And if we don't receive physical blessings, then God must be upset with us. How many times have we thought or felt that way? How many times did this leper look up into the sky and say "Why me?!?" How many times have you and I shouted the very same words, because we're looking at our physical predicament, and we just can't figure it out. This is not a New Testament teaching. Christians make a mistake when they equate their physical stature in life with God's grace. Jesus pronounced very boldly, as he often did because he had authority, that the age of grace was upon human-kind. That's what he said, that's what he pronounced. In fact, he said, "The year of the Lord's favor is here." That's what he said, referring to the age in which would be known as the Messianic Age. Jesus Christ came and demonstrated by his power, by his healing, physically to show what the eye cannot typically see, that humanity itself needs the spiritual healing touch of Jesus Christ--the touch that heals more than the body, more than the limbs--that reaches inside and it touches our hearts and our souls. When we look at this particular account of the leper, or the woman who was taken in adultery [John 8], Jesus' grace was not limited to "good people." Jesus reached out to the "bad people" and extended them grace [unmerited pardon] without any hesitation. In fact, when the young man came to him and said "Jesus, what good things must I do to receive eternal life?", the response that Jesus gave him was the keeping of the commandments was not sufficient for eternal life. He pointed out that a complete abandonment of what this life offers, and that an intimate relationship with him--that is Jesus--was what was necessary for eternal life. He said, "Unless you are willing to leave everything and come and follow me," the very same thing he said to the fishermen, the very same thing he says to you and me. Can you give up physical for spiritual? That's a very hard thing to give up, isn't it? That's a very hard thing to look at, that's a very hard reality to come to. And it's a mistake for Christians to view the physical condition of people, or their financial status as having anything to do with blessings or cursings. I know so many times someone will say to me "I can't understand why that person is blessed." "They don't go to church, they don't do this"--and what they're saying is--"I go to church, I pay my tithes or my offerings, I do all these things. Why is it not happening to me?" What are they looking at? What am I looking at? What can I say to someone like that? You know, I know the success of life is upon Jesus Christ. That person doesn't. Will they have to be taught it? Yeah. I know that Jesus Christ is my personal savior. I know that I have been saved as a result of his extending to me unmerited grace. I know that. And so many times we forget it. We do no live under the old covenant, a covenant that was done so long ago that people forgot that Christ came. That was "the age of blessings and cursings." But we now live in the time of grace, the time of grace, where we have received every spiritual blessing. Let's turn to Ephesians chapter 1. Ephesians 1:3, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ." Every blessing we have is in Christ. Being in Christ has nothing to do with our behavior but with the finished work of Christ on the cross, and his gracious extension of eternal life to all of us, to all of us.

This leper represents the ultimate outcast. The person in society that no one wants. In your mind's eye conjure up a person that no one wants, and it's represented by this account of the leper. He's an outcast, who didn't accept his condition, but believed that there was to be a restoration and redemption. He believed, as an outcast, someone put down by society, that he could be healed. That's the dichotomy of this little story. Christ is what every jot and tittle of the Old Testament pointed to, every one. He is the fulfillment, and is more than sufficient to save us, to heal us, and to touch us. God touches us. His sufficiency extends beyond salvation to being righteousness for us. You know it's funny because we are called God's workmanship. Every law of the old covenant, every Holy Day, every prophecy pointed to the Messiah, and the age of grace that only he could bring, and only he could fulfill.

In preparation for his encounter with Jesus Christ this leper had to go on a specific route. He had to go on the route that would prepare him to be an outcast so he could be accepted by Christ. It's not an easy route, is it? It's a route though that we all walk if we want to be accepted by Christ, because we have to realize that society is without him. When Christ came over the hill that day the leper jumped out. Let's turn back to Mark 1. The leper jumped out, and begged him on his knees. He could not walk along as normal people do and talk to Christ. He could not be counted among those that easily blend in with the crowd. You know, this leper had to strategically position himself so that he could have an encounter with Christ. And so he waited. And when Christ came over the hill the leper jumped out. You see, if you're an outcast, you don't have to worry about much do you? [tape reversal missed some]...

...[To] my sister-in-law that I would be praying for, I said, "I'll get on my knees and pray for you." And she said, "You don't have to pray on your knees!" I said, "You're right. I could pray standing up, lying down, sideways, anyway." And maybe you pray a lot of different ways too. There's probably some pretty extreme ways that we found ourselves praying but whatever it is that you do, whatever it is that you pray each week, I want you to open your heart and ask him to show you how you can reach out and touch someone else, even if it is only one person, that's a person who needed to be touched. And as we drive away and as we drive home this afternoon, I want you to look at people you pass along the road and ask yourself, "Do I want to be that person, or am I glad that God is using me?" Because God is glad he is using you. There is no one else that God will use in your situation than you.

Let's pray. "Eternal God, we thank you so much for opening our eyes and our hearts. We ask Father that as we look at ourselves this coming week that we are able to see you in more dramatic ways than ever before. We ask that you help us to see those who are hurting and lonely, those who, Father, need your assurance and need your touch. It's not easy to overcome loneliness, but Father we know that you can make it happen. We have to come to you when we're lonely. We have to come to you when we're hurting. We have to come to you when we're isolated. We have to come to you and ask you Father to help us. And you said that you would, and we thank you. And we ask for your will to be done in our lives. And so Father we here collectively thank you for all that you do for us. And we ask for your inspiration and guidance, for your blessings, and Father for your will to be done. Help us to be able to touch those who are out in this world, Father, needing to be given that hope that we have, that's a part of us because your Son lives in us. We thank you Father for your Son Jesus Christ. Amen."

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