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Mark 1:40-45



        A missionary in the Hawaiian Islands who had worked for 11 years among the lepers of Molokai wrote a letter to the Christians back home.  He urged them to pray for the poor souls with whom he labored.  As he penned the words, "The lepers here are so needy," he suddenly stopped as if paralyzed.  He noticed for the first time a small white spot on his hand which signified he had contracted the disease himself!  With deep emotion he crossed out the word "The" and wrote, "WE lepers."  Not until that moment did he truly enter into the mental agony of those who were suffering so much.  Sustained in his own tribulation by the Holy Spirit, he took up his work among the afflicted people of Molokai with greater sympathy and effectiveness than ever before.

        If there was anyone who has ever ministered to humanity with great sympathy and effectiveness, it was Jesus Christ.  In His life and ministry on earth, He demonstrated the tremendous compassion of His Father, Jehovah God.  The missionary in our story had his ministry to lepers enhanced through personal experience with leprosy.  Jesus likewise could minister to lepers with sympathy and effectiveness because of His personal experience with the leprosy of sin.  Let's explore the narrative where Jesus displays God's compassion to a leper.  Would you please turn with me to Mark 1:40-45?  Would you follow along with me in your Bibles as I read this passage aloud for us?

(Let's continue with the narrative format that we have been using to explore narratives.)


Jesus was going into the synagogues throughout Galilee preaching and casting out demons.  This is the normal ministry routine of Jesus Christ.  Jesus was always concerned about people and spent His life ministering to them.

        What is your daily routine?

(We have the circumstances, so what about:)


(In any narrative, there is usually a protagonist, or hero, and an antagonist, or villain.)

1.      The Protagonist.

The protagonist is Jesus Christ.  He is portrayed as such by the direct description of the storyteller:  He was moved with compassion.  He is portrayed as such by the other character's responses:  the leper appealing to the willingness of Jesus for healing; and the leper spreading the news after the healing.  He is portrayed as such by His own words, "I am willing; be cleansed," and by His instructions in verse 44.  He is portrayed as such by His actions:  He stretched out His hand; touched him; cleansed him; and warned him.  We shall cover these in more detail in a moment.

2.      The Antagonist.

The antagonist in this story is leprosy.  Leprosy was a dreaded disease of Bible times that was a picture of sin.  Therefore, sin is the pictured antagonist in this story.

(By looking at the characteristics of leprosy, we will be able to see some characteristics of sin that prove sin to be the antagonist to the whole human race.)

(1)     Leprosy is a recurring disease as sin is a recurring disease.

Because we have the sin nature in us, without salvation, we habitually sin.

        With Jesus in our lives, we do not sin habitually, but we still commit inadvertent, random acts of sin.  Until we are free from this body of flesh, sin will be recurring:  because we are sin sick!

(2)     Leprosy usually begins with a nodule on your face.

Leprosy is visible to the whole world.

        Sin is also visible to the world.  Sin cannot be hidden for long periods of time.  What is done in darkness will come to light!

(3)     Leprosy causes a loss of sensation or feeling.

Sin will also make you hard and callous.  (Ex. murders, rapists, adulterers, etc.)

(4)     Leprosy ends in terrible deformities and death.

Sin also ends in terrible deformities and death.

Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death..."

(5)     Leprosy was a dreaded disease.

Leprosy was so dreaded that, in Jewish society, you were separated from the rest of the people until you were healed or died.  The disease was communicable and so frightening that lepers had to cry out, "Unclean, unclean," when they saw people approaching.

        Even as leprosy is communicable, sin is communicable.  This is why we are instructed in the Bible not to fellowship with or marry unbelievers.  And even though we are not frightened of sin, we should be!

(6)     Those who had leprosy were buried in separate burial sites.

Sin also leads to a separate destiny.

        Did you notice that there are six outstanding characteristics of leprosy?  Six is the number of man under the influence of Satan!  And Satan exerts his greatest influence on man through the disease of sin!

        What is sin?  Sin has a broad definition.  There are eight Greek words used for sin in the N.T.  These eight words explain to us the extensive definition of sin.

[1]     Missing the mark.

[2]     Overpassing a line or boundary.

[3]     Disobedience to a voice (Christian and sinner).  The Christian should listen to the internal voice of the Holy Spirit.  The sinner should listen to the internal voice of conscience.

[4]     Non-observance of the Law (Mosaic Law, Law of the Spirit).

[5]     Ignorance of what one should know (Christian and sinner).

[6]     A falling when one should have stood.

[7]     A diminishing of what should be rendered in full.

[8]     Discord.

Conclusion:  Sin is a leprous cancer.  Sin will devour you little by little.

(But I am getting ahead of myself, so let's consider:)


This is a miracle story and a witness story.  This is the story of a miracle, but the miracle serves as a witness to the true identity of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

        The suspense of this narrative is built around our curiosity as to how Jesus will respond to this man with leprosy.  It is important to understand the fear and dread of the disease in the time of Jesus.  Leprosy in the New Testament was as dreaded as aids is in our day.

        This was a moral test.  Morally how should we treat people with dreaded/infectious diseases like aids?  We should treat them with compassion!!!

        This was also a spiritual test.  Spiritually how should we treat people with the dreaded, infectious diseases like aids?  Obviously, we should treat them with compassion!!!  But an even greater question is, "How should we treat people with the dreaded, infectious disease of sin?"  We should treat them like our Lord treated them!  We should treat them with compassion!!!

        It is easy, once you have been cleansed from the leprosy of sin, through salvation, to treat those who are still in sin with a measure of distain.  We should not run with sinners, but neither should we run from them!!!

        Jesus had a choice and, once again, He made the heroic choice.  He could have chosen to respond to leprosy like the whole cultural world in which He lived, but He chose to do the loving thing; He chose to do the compassionate thing!

        What are you going to do when you face a person with aids?  What are you going to do when you come face-to-face with a hardened sinner?


        In a Time magazine interview, a 28-year-old AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) patient stated, "I'm scared to die as such a young man.  I'd like a little more time.  If only God would give me a break."

        Called the leprosy of the 1980s, this disease strikes fear and contempt in the hearts of millions who do not suffer from it.  Because it often results from an immoral lifestyle condemned by the Bible, many people feel little compassion for AIDS victims.  Some see it as God's special curse.  Others disagree with this view.  Regardless of how we see it, the fact is that any sin exposes us to the social and biological consequences of breaking God's moral laws, and we are all guilty of that.  Condescending attitudes block what is most needed by someone with AIDS--caring, help, and above all, Christ.

        What is to be the Christian's response?  Without for a moment condoning sin, we should treat AIDS victims as we would anyone struggling with a terminal illness.  We must be willing to visit them and help them with simple tasks.  They tire easily.  We should listen to their fears.  Most of all, we should help them find the forgiveness that everyone so desperately needs.  Would Jesus do less?

        Although this is certainly not the attitude of the multitude, we have had compassionate people in this church minister tirelessly to people with aids.  What pictures of Jesus Christ these people are!!!  Those who minister to the terminally ill with Christ-like compassion are my heroes!

(We have considered the circumstances, the characters, and the conflict, we are now ready to consider:)


felt compassion 4697 splagchnizomai "to have the bowels yearn," "to be moved in the inward parts," "to feel compassion."

splagchnizomai is from

4698 splagchnon "an intestine."

splagchnon "b. the bowels were regarded by the Hebrews as the seat of the tenderer affections, especially kindness, benevolence, compassion; hence equivalent to our heart, [tender mercies, affections, etc.]."[1]

compassion splagchna "The verb gives the oriental idea of the bowels as the seat of compassion."

Compassion is "a deep feeling for and an understanding of suffering with an accompanying desire to relieve that suffering"  (Webster's Third New International Dictionary).

        Jesus had compassion for this leper.  Jesus had a desire to relieve the suffering of this leper.  Jesus was willing to heal this leper.

        Jesus is also ready to heal everyone of us who is sin-sick.  Jesus is willing to stretch out His nail-scarred hand and extend to us His healing touch.  He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.  If you are not saved today, it is not because of the unwillingness of Jesus, but because of your own unwillingness.

        So, Jesus touched this leper and healed him.  What a miracle of love divine!!!

        Jesus warns him not to broadcast what had happened.  Probably because Jesus knew that the crowd that would gather would make it almost impossible for Him to continue to minister.  But the leper was so impressed, that He went out and told everybody.  His response started a chain response of people seeking for Jesus.  Why?  Because His dealing with the leper was so outstanding.

        When you realize that you are a sin-sick sinner and Jesus touches you, you can never be the same.  You have to run and tell somebody:

I was shackled by a heavy burden, 'neath the load of guilt and shame-

Then the hand of Jesus touched me, and now I am no longer the same.

He touched me, O He touched me, And O the joy that floods my soul!

Something happened, and now I know He touched me and made me whole.

        This reminds me of another leper, Naaman, who dipped in the Jordan river seven times and came up clean.

What can wash away my sins, Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

What can make me whole again, Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

O precious is that flow that makes me white as snow.

No other fount I know, Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

        Jesus had compassion for those who had leprosy, and His heart-felt compassion is illustrated in one outstanding detail of this narrative.  This detail is the fact that Jesus touched the leper.  Not only was it dangerous to touch a leper, the Levitical law forbade a Jew to touch a leper.  Did he need to touch him?  No!  Then why did He touch him?  Compassion!!!  Jesus gave this leper the personal touch!!!


        Someone has written:  "When a man ain't got a cent and is feelin' kinda blue, and the clouds hang low and heavy and won't let the sunshine through, it is a great thing, O my brother, for a fella just to lay his hand upon your shoulder in a friendly sorta way."

        There is something therapeutic about a touch!

Skin-to-skin contact to have important effects on attachment.  Skin-to-skin contact bonds and stimulates life in people.  Fathers are often advised to remove shirts so that both the warmth of the body and the magic of skin contact can communicate `ownership' and affection to the infant.  The effects of this naked contact on parents are predictably powerful.  We have only begun to discover the powerful effects of touch on enhancing body chemistry and tendency to thrive, in premature babies and in the disease-ridden elderly, for example.  We have to acknowledge this principle:  You will become attached to whatever you touch!

        (12 hugs a day in this community).  Remember, you should check with people before you hug them!


        "...touch is the language of physical intimacy. ...touch is the most powerful of all the communication channels...."  Because of this, touch is governed and protected by many unspoken (but visible) rules.  There are five categories based on role and relationship.

1)      functional-professional touches, when touching fulfills a purpose, and the person touching fulfills a special role: doctor, barber, tailor.

2)      social-polite touches, used for greeting, appreciation, and cordiality: business associates and strangers.

3)      friendship-warmth, express concern and caring:  extended family, neighbors, work mates.

4)      love-intimacy touches show affection and caring between close family members and special friends.

5)      sexual-arousal touches, in an erotic context.  Cultures have differing rules about touching.

Ours is a low-touch culture, where we seldom touch in public (portions of The House of the Lord are notable exceptions.).  Also affecting the rules are differences between men and women.

        But did you know that people who touch comfortably are also more cheerful, outgoing, and nonconforming.  Those who touch less tend to be less stable emotionally, and socially withdrawn.

        There is also a correlation with self-esteem:  people who touch a lot are more self-confident, secure about others, and have less stress and anxiety.

        Touch is also related to status; high-status individuals feel freer to touch low-status individuals than the other way around.

        "...research shows that it is harder to say no to someone who makes a request when it is accompanied by a touch."

        Only in sports activities, is touch universally acceptable and practiced freely.

        I am not saying the physical touch is all-important, but very important.

        "Close encounters" by Stephen Thayer.  Psychology Today, Mar. 1988.  Pages 31-36.


        Dr. Sidney Jourard sat in coffee shops all over the world and counted the times he saw one person touch another.  His results were startling.  In Puerto Rico he counted 180 touches in an hour; in France 110; in the U.S., only 2.  In England, none.  The author suggests touch to bring emotional healing and to communicate acceptance.  It breaks down barriers.  "It's almost impossible to feel at odds with someone you are touching."  Touching must be used sensitively, however.  Some people do not want to be touched.  They will usually give off visible clues.

        "Touch: the forgotten sense" by Cathy McBride.  Ministry, Nov. 1988. Pages 16, 17.

       We should have learned from Jesus Christ that compassion, personal touch, and ministry are extremely important in life.  Those who have dreaded diseases, as well as those with the dreaded disease of sin, need both compassion and the personal touch.

       The people's overwhelming response to these elements highlight their admiration for Jesus and their admiration for anyone who ministers in like motive and manner!!


(Now is the day of Salvation.  Come to Jesus, now!)


Call to Discipleship


[1] Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Nineteenth Zondervan Printing 1978, pp. 584-585.

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