Faithlife Sermons

Jesus Cleansing

Mark: The Suffering Servant-Savior  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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Jesus Christ mercifully cleanses the unclean.



Give us an understanding of Your will for us in Your Word.
Grant us wisdom to apply this knowledge to our lives.
Ignite within us a desire that burns for You and Your Word.
Help us enjoy Your Word, today.
And change us from the inside out
as only You can do by the power of Your Spirit.


How many of you have had to read Shakespeare at some point in your life? For me, it was in high school. I remember having to read through several of Shakespeare’s plays for one of my English courses. Romeo & Juliet stands out painfully in my memory as one of those plays that I loathed! It wasn’t necessarily the Shakespearean language that gave me fits, but more the plot. As a teenage boy, I imagine it was the romance that nauseated me! So, I was put off by Shakespeare early on in high school.
But then I took a class my junior or senior year called “Drama as Literature”. Initially, I enrolled in the class because I thought it would be an easy grade, which was true. I entered the class with little to zero knowledge about drama and a lack of enthusiasm for Shakespeare! However, by the end of the semester, I left the classroom with an appreciation for plays and musicals, and with a new found fascination with Shakespeare. And that’s because I was introduced to what would become my favorite Shakespearean play, MacBeth.
Now, MacBeth probably became my favorite at the time because the title itself was taboo in the “Drama as Lit.” classroom and not to be uttered in the auditorium! It wasn’t until this past week, when I reread the play, that I truly understood why I was so captivated by it. MacBeth was like a mirror that showed me my own nature. If ever there was a play or piece of literature that revealed the ugliness and depravity of the human heart, MacBeth would be it.
If you aren’t familiar with MacBeth, it is truly one of the darker works of Shakespeare. It’s a tragedy about power, ambition, deceit, murder, and guilt. Bear with me as I give you the abbreviated, and much abridged, cliff-notes.
MacBeth is a Scottish war hero, returning home from the battlefield when he encounters three witches. These witches prophesy that MacBeth is to be the future king of Scotland. At first, he is incredulous, but once the prophecy begins to unfold, he is filled with thoughts to take the throne by violence from the current king, Duncan. MacBeth resolves himself not to think treasonous thoughts and arrives home where he relays the prophecy to his wife, Lady MacBeth.
While MacBeth still had his reservations to commit murderous treason, Lady MacBeth had no reservations. Knowing that her husband was too kind of heart and would only wish to acquire the throne righteously, Lady MacBeth begins to plot the demise of King Duncan.
An opportunity presents itself for her plan when King Duncan comes to visit the MacBeth castle to congratulate MacBeth on his military victories. During this visit, Lady MacBeth persuades her husband to seize his destiny. In the evening, she supplies the king’s guards with strong drink and they drink themselves to sleep. After which, MacBeth steals into the king’s chambers and accomplishes the bloody deed.
Paranoid that the guards would awake and somehow discover the truth of what happened, Lady MacBeth goes off and kills them with the same weapons her husband used to slay the king. When Lady MacBeth returns to her husband, MacBeth is looking at his blood stained hands and says:
“What hands are here? Ha! They pluck out mine eyes.
Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
clean from my hand? No, instead my hands
will stain the seas scarlet, making the green waters red.”
To which Lady MacBeth retorts:
“My hands are as red as yours, but I would be ashamed
if my heart were as pale and weak.”
With Duncan murdered and others framed for the treason, MacBeth is crowned king of Scotland. But, the treachery and murder doesn’t cease with Duncan and his guards. MacBeth would go on committing murder after murder believing that it would all one day give him peace. Instead, justice would come for MacBeth before the curtain closes.
Meanwhile, Lady MacBeth, who in the beginning of the story was more ruthless and more ambitious than her husband, descends into madness. Just as her ambition was more fervent than MacBeth’s, so her guilt would become more unbearable than his. She is seen sleepwalking throughout the castle, rubbing her hands as if trying to wash them. And then comes, in my opinion, the best line in the entire play:
Still rubbing her hands, Lady MacBeth, imaginatively speaking to her husband, cries out:
“Out, damned spot! out, I say!--One: two: why,
then, 'tis time to do't.--Hell is murky!--Fie, my
lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we
fear who knows it, when none can call our power to
account?--Yet who would have thought the old man
to have had so much blood in him.”
Lady MacBeth was filled with remorse. She was unable to wash her hands clean of the blood she imagines still stained her skin. Presumably, she takes her own life unable to cope with her guilt.
MacBeth and Lady MacBeth were both stained with guilt and remorse. Both of them knew they were stained and wanted to be cleansed, but they didn’t know how to get clean from their sins.
I promise, I’m going somewhere with this! Turn with me now in your Bibles to the end of Mark chapter 1, verses 40 to 45.
Mark 1:40–42 ESV
And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.
Mark 1:43–45 ESV
And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 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.” 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.
Just like MacBeth and Lady MacBeth, this leper saw that he was not clean and knew he needed to be clean. But, unlike MacBeth and his wife, this leper knew how to get clean.
Do you know how to get clean?
The leper’s encounter with Jesus Christ demonstrates to us how we sinners can get clean. We can be cleansed from our leprous spots of sin because:
Theme: Jesus Christ mercifully cleanses the unclean.
The leper knew of his need, was confident that Jesus could address his need, and so he approached the Lord, implored Him, and knelt before Him humbly to request the Lord for mercy.
It’s my desire that we would all learn from this leper today and remember that the Lord is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
With the remaining time that we have we are going to spend it in verse 40 where I want to outline three basic lessons from the leper that teach us how to get clean. What we need to wrestle with is how unclean sinners, such as ourselves, become clean like this leper.

1. Be honest that you are not clean

The first basic lesson that the leper teaches us about how to get clean is to be honest that we are not clean.
This leper was honest; he knew the truth about himself.
Mark 1:40 ESV
And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.”
The word in this verse that should leap off the page is the word “leper”.
In the ancient world, nothing was more feared or more revolting than leprosy. Now, in some cases leprosy was rather mild and symptoms could go away over time. But, in the most severe cases, leprosy began with skin discoloration, then progressed to ulcerous growths all over the body. The leper would experience hair loss; their vocal cords would be altered making their voice sound raspy; they’d have trouble breathing; have severe nerve damage; their muscles would waste; tendons would contract curling their fingers into what looked like claws; and some lepers would even lose fingers, toes, and eventually a whole hand or foot. And this could last for decades of a leper’s life, resulting in a slow death, where a leper would literally die by inches.
If that wasn’t bad enough, there were also social consequences that added to a leper’s misery. Rabbis referred to lepers as “the walking dead”, so they were marked unclean and to be avoided just like a dead corpse. It wasn’t so much that people feared getting leprosy, although it could be contagious, but more so they feared becoming ceremonially unclean by coming into close proximity with leprosy. Lepers then, according to Mosiac law, were to be cut off from society, quarantined away from the general populace and their loved ones; and were given a mask to cover the scabs on their faces. (We can somewhat identify with the quarantining and masks!) Lepers weren’t allowed to live in their homes until they were declared clean by a priest. They were to live on the outskirts of the city. But, if for any reason they had to go into the city, they were to warn people to keep their distance by shouting, “Unclean! Unclean!” Life was terrible for a leper. It was a life full of suffering and loneliness.
With that in mind, consider this leper who came to Jesus. Mark doesn’t tell us how severe this man’s leprosy was, but Luke does. Dr. Luke reports his diagnosis in Luke 5:12, saying that this man was “full of leprosy”. He is in the most advanced stages of leprosy, it appears. He knew full well that he was unclean.
In the Bible, while leprosy was a literal physical condition, it is also a graphic picture of sin. There are many parallels between leprosy and sin, which I don’t have time to outline exhaustively. But, I’ve included a condensed list under the small group questions which I hope enlightens you.
Overall, like leprosy, sin renders a person unclean before God and God’s people; sin infinitely more so than leprosy, actually. Sin truly is a matter of cleanness. We are unclean because we are sinners. And uncleanness has to do with the inside of us, not the outside. It’s a matter of the heart. That means you won’t ever get clean unless you first know that you’re not clean. That’s why we need God’s Word and God’s Spirit. We need to be honest with ourselves and with God that we are not clean.
There are many ways that we try to hide our uncleanness though, isn’t there? We attempt to hide our uncleanness from God, from others, and even from ourselves! In fact, that’s exactly what Adam and Eve did in the Garden once they sinned. They sewed fig leaves together to hide their nakedness from one another. Then they attempted to hide from God. And finally, each of them tried to remove the guilt from themselves by casting the blame on another! Eve blamed the serpent. Adam ultimately blamed God! But, no matter what they did, they could not hide their uncleanness and guilt from God.
We’re also prone to make comparisons. There’s always someone else more unclean than we are, right!? “I may have a porn addiction, but at least I’m not like my neighbor who has a drug addiction!” “My sin is secret and isn’t hurting anyone, but that person’s addiction is ruining their life and family!” We try to somehow cheapen the seriousness of our sin through comparison.
Other times we have a tendency to exalt and praise our good qualities, while suppressing or blindly ignoring our negative qualities. The prodigal son’s brother, for instance, prided himself that he has always been faithful to his father, yet missed that he was full of jealousy and self-righteousness.
The question you need to consider is: Are you willing to be honest that you are not clean? This leper was willing to be honest, wasn’t he. His life depended upon him being honest that he was not clean. He wasn’t in denial about his condition. What help would that have been for the man! Instead, the leper was honest with himself and was honest before the Lord about his problem and his need. Essentially, he made an open confession to the Lord. “Lord, I’m a leper and because of that I’m unclean. I know that I need to get clean.”
Honesty is always one of the first steps on the road to recovery. It’s practically the first thing an addict needs to do if they want to get clean. They must first admit they have a problem: A drinking problem, a drug problem, a porn problem, or whatever else they are addicted to. They must be honest with themselves and with others if they are going to really recover. The addict won’t cease doing what they are addicted to unless they come to grips with the truth that they have a serious problem that is hurting themselves and others around them.
The same is true for the sinner. That’s all of us here, by the way, myself included! We need to honestly admit that we are sinners who are unclean. We’ll never get clean if we keep blame casting or living in denial. What good did that do MacBeth? What good will that do the addict? What good will that do us sinners? No, we must be honest with ourselves and with the Lord. That’s what true confession is all about. Confession, in short, is agreeing with God about your sin. It is agreeing with God that you have a sin problem that needs to be addressed.
Maybe you can relate to Lady MacBeth. You keep seeing the dreaded spot. You’ve desperately tried to wash those stains of sin and guilt away many times, but nothing works. The spot remains. You see that you’re not clean and you want with all your heart to get clean. But do you know how to get clean?
Will you be honest with yourself and with God about your condition? Take a second and really consider, have you ever honestly confessed to the Lord, “Lord, before Your holiness I’m unclean because I am a sinner. I admit that I need to get clean.” If ever you would be cleansed from the sins that stains the waves of your heart red as crimson, then you must be honest about your sin and uncleaness. That is because, as the apostle John wrote,
1 John 1:8–10 ESV
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
So, the first lesson to learn from this leper is to be honest that you are not clean.

2. Believe that Jesus can make you clean

The second lesson that the leper teaches us in verse 40 about how to get clean is that we must believe that Jesus can make us clean.
The leper exercised remarkable faith in his request to the Lord. He was honest about not being clean, but honesty alone would not make him clean. He believed that Jesus could make him clean. Listen to what he said again:
Mark 1:40 ESV
And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.”
Note carefully what the leper does not say to the Lord. He did not make any demands. “Jesus, I demand You cleanse me!” This isn’t some early form of the “name it and claim it, health and prosperity gospel” that the leper was practicing.
On the contrary, the leper humbled himself reverently before the Lord. He falls to his knees. Luke says he “fell on his face”. Matthew goes a step further and used the Greek word for worship. This man is submitting himself to the Lord’s will, not bending the Lord’s will to get what he wanted. He was convinced in his heart that Jesus could cleanse him.
The leper says, “If you will...” Basically, what he is saying to Jesus is, “I believe You have the power and authority that no one else has to make me clean. Yet, not what I will, but what You will. You are the Lord. I am the leper. I’m in no position to make demands.” He had faith that Christ could make him clean if the Lord willed.
Besides honesty, unbelief is one of the largest obstacles we must hurdle if we are to get clean. Imagine again the addict. The addict is willing to be honest that they have a problem. But what good would their honesty be if they were not willing to believe they could recover and overcome their addiction? Honesty about their condition without the belief that they can recover and be better would only paralyze them in fear, despair, and hopelessness. They’d never kick their addiction!
It is one thing to know that you have a problem. But it is quite another thing to believe that their is a solution to your problem. Where there is faith there is hope.
Really, it is just pure unbelief to think that your sin is greater than God’s grace and mercy; to think that you are too unclean to get clean; to think that the stain of sin runs too deep to be bleached. That’s just pure unbelief.
Maybe your problem today isn’t that you don’t know you are unclean. That fact could and should be obvious to you. Maybe your real problem is that you don’t believe God could ever cleanse someone like you. You’re too unclean. Your sins are too great, too numerous, too heinous to be washed away.
You read a passage like 1 John 1:9 where it says, “God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” but you put an asterisk next to the word “all” because you simply can’t believe God would cleanse you from ALL of your uncleanness. You think that there are one or two spots that not even God could wash away. But if you believe that, then you really don’t know who God is. Have you not read that “the LORD, [is] a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex. 34:6-7)?
Friends, we must believe, you and I must believe, that there is One who can make us clean. And He is Jesus Christ the Righteous. The leper believed Jesus could change his spots! How often do we sing:
Jesus paid it all, All to Him I owe; Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.
But, brothers and sisters, do you believe that to be true or not? Did Jesus pay it all on the cross or didn’t He? Does not the LORD declare, “Come now, let us reason together, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool”? Does not the Lord cure and cleanse the leper? Does not the Lord raise the dead to life?
The fact of the matter is: Jesus’ cleanness is greater than your uncleanness. His holiness is more pervasive than your unholiness. His power is more overwhelming than your sin. He has more forgiveness to give than you have sins to be forgiven. Our sins, they are many, His mercy is more!
This was the leper’s faith. Jesus’ mercy could swallow up his uncleanness. That must be our faith, too. You must believe that Jesus can make you clean.

3. Go to Jesus to get clean

And then there’s a third lesson for us to learn from the leper. We must go to Jesus to get clean. The leper came to Jesus to get clean. Had he stopped at honesty about his condition he’d be left hopeless and despairing. Had he stopped at only a mental assent that Jesus was the only one who could cleanse him, he’d have kept his distance from the cleanliness of Christ. But, what does the first clause of verse 40 say he did?
Mark 1:40 ESV
And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.”
It was because this leper was honest and because he had faith that he went to Jesus to get clean. His confidence in the Lord’s capabilities and his conviction that the Lord would cleanse even him compelled him to come to Christ.
What a scandalous thing for a leper to do! Surely those who were witnessing what transpired thought and whispered to one another, “How dare such an unclean person draw near to such a pure Person! Doesn’t the leper know he’s supposed to keep his distance?” They would have been horrified as they watched this spotted leper approach the Lord. Envision how much more shocked they would have been as they saw the Lord stretch out His hand and touch the unclean leper! While everyone else was recoiling from the leper to avoid him, there was Jesus reaching out and drawing near to the man.
The leper may have been ashamed of his leprosy, but he was not ashamed to come to Jesus just as he was. The leper didn’t have to clean himself up to go to Jesus. How senseless would that have been? An unclean man trying to make himself clean before coming to the only One who could make him clean! Nonsense. He came as he was. Unclean, full of leprosy, yet full of faith and humility.
Many of us have the desires of this leper, “to change our spots and strips”. But how often do we want to change on our own terms. That way we can still feel as if we have some measure of control over our lives. Sure we want our sin and guilt removed, but maybe not all of it. We’d like to keep a sliver for ourselves to enjoy once in a while. Or maybe we want to keep our dignity intact. We would do anything for the Lord, but when we learn we must come to Him on His terms we shout, “But I won’t do that!”
This leper could not get from Jesus what he desperately needed without sacrificing whatever dignity he had left. This leper, you’ll note, put everything on the line. He didn’t save face. He came to the Lord, breaking every ceremonial and societal expectation, imploring the Lord while on his knees in the dirt. He came to Jesus lowly, humbly, proclaiming he had a need, and believing only Jesus could supply it.
That is precisely how Jesus wants sinners to come to Him. He requires sinners be honest about themselves and humble before Him holding out our hands for His mercy. Jesus taught in His Sermon on the Mount:
Matthew 5:3 ESV
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
In other words, Jesus does not ask that you come to Him all high and mighty, all clean and shaven, and dressed in your Sunday best. Come just as you are, He says.
Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched, Weak and wounded, sick and sore; Jesus, ready, stands to save you, Full of pity, love and power.
Come ye weary heavy laden, Bruised and broken by the fall; If you tarry 'til you're better, You will never come at all.
Let not conscience make you linger, Nor of fitness fondly dream; All the fitness He requireth Is to feel your need of Him.
Are you too proud to come to Jesus? Are you willing to come to Him on His terms? If only you knew that Jesus is more willing to cleanse you than you are willing to come to Him, then you’d waste no more time and fly to Him at once! You would run singing with Augustus Toplady:
Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling; naked, come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace; foul, I to the fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die.
That was the leper’s cry, wasn’t it? Wash me, Savior, or I die! He had such confidence to come to the Lord. How much more so do we?
Hebrews 10:19–22 ESV
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Go to Jesus to get clean.


So, what happens to the leper when he came in faith asking the Lord to cleanse him? We read:
Mark 1:41–42 ESV
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.
Jesus willingly, immediately, and totally cleansed the leper. “If you will,” the leper asked. “I will,” the Lord answered.
It’s tempting to close our Bibles after that verse. But don’t miss the ending of the account.
Mark 1:43–45 ESV
And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 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.” 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.
Do you see what happens once Jesus cleanses the leper? Effectively, the Lord and the leper trade places. In the beginning, the leper was the outcast, the one living out in desolate places because he was unclean, separated from the land of the living. By the end, the leper is going around proclaiming Christ’s mercy to all, albeit disobediently; the Lord commanded him to be silent. But who could keep such a thing as this silent? Still, because the leper did not obey the Lord, as we shall see beginning in chapter 2, Jesus is now going to meet repeated resistance from the Jewish leaders who don’t like His words or works one bit.
Yet, don’t miss where Jesus is at the end of chapter one. Jesus is the one out in desolate places now. Jesus will be reckoned as an outcast. Jesus, although He doesn’t become unclean by touching the leper, will nevertheless be reckoned as One who is unclean by the Jews.
Really, the ending of Mark chapter one is a grand foreshadowing of what would take place at Golgotha. On the cross, Jesus would trade places with sinners. Although He never sinned and was not a sinner, on the cross Jesus was reckoned by God the Father as if He were a sinner; as if He were One who was unclean. He who knew no sin became sin for us. The LORD laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was stricken, smitten, and afflicted; cut off from the land of the living. Yet, it was the will of the LORD to crush Him. Jesus poured out His soul to death and on the cross was numbered with the transgressors. Yet, He willingly bore the sins of many and makes intercession for the transgressor (Isa. 53).
This is the most mysterious and glorious exchange in all of history. He exchanged with us His cleanness for our uncleanness. He gave us His righteous robes and took on our wretched rags. He became a curse for us so we could become blessed. The Shepherd was smitten so that the sheep would be saved.
Ultimately, Jesus Christ mercifully cleanses the unclean by His precious blood which is like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. Behold the Suffering Servant-Savior! Suffering; Jesus takes the place of the sinner on the cross. Servant; Jesus cleanses the sinner of all uncleanness. And Savior; Jesus rescues the unclean sinner from perishing.
Would you be clean today? Then be honest that you are not clean; Believe that Jesus can make you clean; And go to Jesus to get clean.


Rock of Ages,
If You will, You can make us clean.
We pray that You would do that for us.
Wash away our spots of sin;
Cleanse us fully from within.
Christ have mercy.
Lord have mercy.
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