The Joy of Cleansing
Intro – In the movie, Ben-Hur, set in the time of Christ, the hero, believes his sister and mother have died while he’s wrongly imprisoned. But he finds they’ve become lepers and are living in the Valley of the Lepers. In a touching scene he visits them, but without touching or even seeing them – hiding behind a rock. Leprosy was literally a death sentence.
Thus leprosy in the Bible fittingly depicts sin. It was the worst thing that could happen to a living person. Leprosy was a debilitating, disfiguring, disease consisting of cancerous sores that ate away at the flesh, leading to loss of body parts. It caused numbness that left the victim helpless against rodents and insects he or she could not feel. Lepers were unclean according to Lev 13:14-15. They were excluded from society. If anyone approached them, they were required to cry out, “Unclean, Unclean.” It was a hopeless, helpless slow death.
That’s the man who approaches Jesus today. He came hopeless, yet minutes later is completely whole. His condition symbolizes the human condition. We are not lepers physically, but we are spiritual lepers. Left unattended, our condition will eat us alive and we will die still separated from the God who made and loves us. No problem you will ever face in life begins to compare with that sin problem. It can be solved; it can be solved instantaneously, like the leper was cleansed instantaneously --but in only one way. Like the leper, we must bring our hideous condition to Jesus and do 4 things he did.
I. Conceded that He Was Diseased
V. 12, “While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy.” Why did he come? Because he had leprosy – Luke says he was full of it. Imagine the despair in his life. He had a problem he could not solve, so he came to Jesus. Had he not come, there would have been no cure. Had he been in denial, he would not have been cleansed. Spiritual salvation requires the same confession.
Many scoff at that notion. They say everyone makes mistakes. We are all in the same boat; it can’t be so bad. They’re right that all are in the same boat – but wrong that it’s not so bad. It could not be worse, and all we have to do to maintain the problem is – nothing. Sin is a horrendous problem. It is blinding; debilitating; deceitful and hideous. It eats away at the soul just as leprosy eats away the body. And it touches every part of our being.
Physically – Sin causes physical problems. The book None of These Diseases, documents how ignoring God’s commands leads physical issues. Worry leads to ulcers and colitis. Dishonoring father or mother leads to shortened life. Our bodies suffer from excesses we harbor. And, worse, death awaits! Why? Because God told Adam, “In the day you disobey, you will die.” He did and we will. Death is the direct and very physical result of sin.
Emotionally – Sin brings mental problems. Look at it this way. Sin moves us from reality. Reality is God. Reality is accountability. Reality is life lived in accordance with God’s laws – physical, emotional and spiritual. Sin is the denial of accountability -- a movement away from reality. Move far enough and mental illness results. Sin and guilt drive people crazy – sometimes literally, but always in that they build a world without accountability to God. Reality is the day of accounting is coming! Meantime – anxiety, depression, guilt, fear, bitterness and other emotional problems are the result of sin.
Spiritually – Sin destroys a relationship with the God. Psa 66:18, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear me.” Sin leaves us without spiritual resource. Outside Christ we are “dead in trespasses and sin.” What would happen if you stuck a pin in a corpse? Absolutely nothing. Dead people don’t respond to physical stimulus. Neither do the spiritually dead respond to things of God. If you have no response to the Word of God, to the person of God – no desire for God it a sign you are spiritually dead.
The Bible says in Rom 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death.” God is speaking there of eternal separation from God that the Bible calls the second death. Rev 20:14-15, “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Is your name written in the book? Not unless you concede your devastating sin problem.
The good news is Jesus paid the penalty for our sin. Romans 6:23 reads, “For the wages of sin is death, BUT the gift of God is eternal life – through Jesus Christ our Lord.” When we repent our sin we get eternal life. The 2nd death will not touch such people. Rev 2:10-11, “Be faithful (full of faith, always believing) unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’” There is hope, but only for those who admit, like the leper, that they have a deadly problem. Sin kills.
II. Confessed that He Was Unclean
V. 12 “While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” He not only conceded his disease – but he acknowledged it left him unclean. He doesn’t cover, deny or ignore. He does not claim his case is not as bad as someone else’s. He doesn’t profess he’s only partially infected. He owns his unclean condition.
This man was “full of leprosy”. Had it head to toe. But even one small spot would have condemned him. He still would have had to holler, “Unclean, unclean.” He still would have needed Jesus to cleanse him. It would never have done to say, “I am the cleanest leper I know. Better than any of my friends.” It would never have done to say, “I’m 90% clean.” One spot was fatal. Are you only 1% sinner? Then you are unclean; you need Jesus.
We may look good; the world may find us ideal people. But we forget who we deal with. It doesn’t matter how we stack up against the next person. It’s not a matter of majority opinion. The standard is Him. The rules are His. Right and wrong are decided by Him, not us. The verdict is in. Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Leprosy was all or nothing. God’s standard is all or nothing. God says in James 2:10, “ For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” Is there one failure in our past? Even one? Then we have leprosy. And unless we have offered heartfelt repentance, our soul is ridden with the cancerous sores. Our condition is fatal; no solution – incurable – unless and until, like the leper, we unreservedly confess our guilt.
God has made us so that sin produces guilt. Guilt tells us we are unclean. Our culture tells us that most guilt is a crock. That we are not at fault. That our parents or grandparents or society or some 4th grade bully or religion is responsible. So we spend billions of dollars and years of time trying to erase a guilt that simply will never go away. And it won’t go away because most of it is real; it is the voice of God calling us to confession and repentance.
R. C. Sproul asked a bunch of college students, “What would you say if you met God and He asked why He should allow you into heaven?” Typical was this: “There are people out there that are worse than me. I mean that might be the basis of my belief. There is always someone worse. He can’t keep everyone out. If there is a heaven, you know—he will let me in.” That poor young man is tragically betting his eternal destiny on the hope that God will let him in because someone else is worse. Really?! That will never do. To gain eternal life we must confess ourselves to be unclean.
III. Cast Himself on Jesus’ Mercy
Mid v. 12: “And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 13) And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him.” What wonderful words – “I will; be clean!” This man is humility personified. He says, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” What a combination of faith and submission. He knows Jesus can heal him. He has heard, and he believes. But will He? He’s about to find out just how willing Jesus is! Some commentators say this man was so humble he never really asked forgiveness. But that is not true. He not only asked, he begged. It says so right there. He fell on his face and begged him. The Greek word (δεομαι) is found 22 times in the NT – half the time translated “beg” and the other half “pray.” He is asking, but in an amazingly undemanding way. He is wonderfully submissive to the will of God. He is begging for cleansing, but only if you will.
What really grabs me is he doesn’t ask for healing; he asks to be clean. He wants all vestiges of leprosy gone. Some of us want salvation, but we’d like to hang on to some favorite old habits. But that is not saving faith. This man, having confessed his uncleanness, now casts himself on Jesus’ mercy. He wants to be clean. That is accepting Christ. Many believe coming to Christ is a bargaining session. Just fix my marriage and I will accept Jesus. Just fix my financial problems and I will accept Jesus. Just destroy my enemy and I will accept Jesus. That is not what it means to accept Jesus. To accept Jesus is to embrace Him with no strings, no conditions, no demand but to be clean.
Turn to Luke 18.9: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt (this is most church people): 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ (I’ve got a lot to offer, Lord. Thanks for accepting me). 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ No holdbacks there -- no conditions, no negotiating, no demands. Just a plea for mercy. Who was saved? Jesus says, “14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Theologian and hymn writer, John Berridge wrote, “Christ will either be a whole Savior or none at all. And if you think you have any good Service of your own to recommend you unto God, you are certainly without any interest in Christ: Be you ever so sober, serious, just and devout, you are still under the Curse of God.” Our religion kills us. J. I. Packer writes, “Stop trusting to your religion, your prayers, your Bible-reading, all your little pieties; they will not save you, and until you cease to trust them Christ will not save you either, for you do not yet truly believe upon him.”
Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress,
Helpless, look to thee for grace.
Faith abandons all personal merit and comes to Jesus empty handed. Such is the faith that saves. That’s what the leper did; that’s what we must do. Don’t you want to hear Jesus say, “I will; be clean”? Then you must bring Him nothing but your sin and throw yourself on His mercy.
IV. Confirmed Himself to be Cleansed
Here’s a point we often ignore. V. 14, “And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” Fascinating. Why this prohibition? Jesus was not interested the excessive popularity associated with a healing ministry. Mark tells us the man ignored that request in Mark 1:45, “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.” Miracle-seekers distracted from His primary ministry of preaching the gospel. But there is a greater reason hinted at here. The law required an 8-day process described in Lev 14 to evidence cleansing. Jesus sends the man to do that. Why? End of v. 14: “for a proof to them.” Jesus wants this healing to be a proof to someone – but whom? At first glance it seems He has the priests in mind – but note that he did not send the man to “priests” plural, but to a priest (singular).
A broader audience is in view. With a priestly bill of health there would be substantive proof of this man’s healing – a testimony not only to the priest and his companions, but to the populace at large. In other words, prior to this man giving testimony to his own healing, Jesus is suggesting that he get credible evidence – then his personal testimony would have added weight.
And the same applies to those who are spiritually cleansed. Jesus does not muzzle us. In fact, He delegates us to be witnesses. But He expects our claim to be accompanied by evidence. And the evidence is “good works” – deeds done for the glory of God. Matt 5:16, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” We often underplay good works. We fear giving the impression that good works save. They do not. But the Bible is clear that they are the evidence of true salvation. Jesus gives the world the right to judge our genuineness. They render their verdict by whether or not they glorify God as a result of what they see in our life. We have a great challenge, do we not?
James says in 2:18, “I will show you my faith by my works.” That should be the mantra of every true believer. We earn the right to speak by doing. Faith is confirmed by what happens afterward. Is it real, or is it fake? Does anything show a changed heart? The June 6, 1994 issue of the Wall Street Journal featured an amazing account of the conversion of Dr. Marvin Overton – one of the finest brain surgeons in the nation and past president of the Texas Association of neurosurgeons. In 1992 he began attending a small church in Burnet, Texas. Through a series of events this one-time skeptic and rationalist came to the realization that “naturalism was bereft of answers to the big questions” and gave his heart and life to Jesus Christ. He says concerning his life before Christ, "I was a good surgeon, but I was course. I could not shed a tear. My attitude toward patients was tough." Now he writes encouraging notes to friends and patients, quoting Scripture to comfort them. He typically asks patients, "If something does go wrong, are you comfortable that you know God and that you will go to heaven?"
Prior to Christ, his god was wine – a 10,000 bottle collection including every important vintage made between the late 1700s and 1930. Overton says, "Wine had become my idol. I worshiped the God Bacchus – I was an excellent heathen." After receiving Christ, Overton sold his collection and gave much of the money away. Evidence of conversion! One of his associates, Dr. Michael McWhorter, chairman of the American Association of neurological surgeons science Board says, "Something changed his life." Beloved, that should be true of every believer – not just a claimed faith, but a confirmed faith. Just like the leper, cleansing is verifiable by life. So if you claim Christ this morning my question is, what is the evidence of the change?
Conc – There are two reasons people don’t come to Jesus to have their leprous souls made clean. Some deny the disease. Like the man in Luke 18, their good is good enough. They think the Father will overlook those little pock marks on their soul. But Titus 3:5 assures us, “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy.” Don’t you want to be cleansed? It is a joyful thing to be clean before God.
The second reason people don’t come to Jesus is that they think their sin is too bad. They think that God could never forgive what they have done. Their case of leprosy is incurable, they think. Will you notice, however, what Jesus did with this man who Luke assures us was full of leprosy. V. 13: “And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him.” Do you see what Jesus did? He touched him. No one in that society would ever have touched that man. You can almost see the crowd gasp as Jesus reaches out his hand to touch him. That man had not felt a human touch for decades – not since the day he realized he had leprosy. Not only was he ceremonially unclean; he was contagious. But Jesus touched him. Because you see, when Jesus touched him, the leprosy didn’t go to Jesus, the healing power from Jesus went to the man. Jesus power was greater. Luke is showing us something here. He is showing us that the grace of God far exceeds any sin. When sin and grace climb into the ring together, it’s no contest! Grace wins every time. Jesus on the cross didn’t pay the penalty for all except your treachery and betrayal and debauchery – whatever it may be. He took the penalty for all sin for all time.
You say, “It can’t be that simple.” And you are right. It was anything but simple. It cost Jesus His life and it cost God His Son. It is not simple – but it is done. Forgiveness and cleansing awaits. No one is beyond the reach of Jesus. No one is beyond His touch. You will not infect Him – but you will find that He will cleanse you if you will let Him. But you must ask. Like the leper you must say, “Lord if you will, you can make me clean.” And you will hear Him say, “I will; be clean.” Don’t you want to be clean? It brings far more joy than anything else you will experience in this life. Let’s pray.