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Last Sunday of Epiphany
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Mike Moffitt, February 14, 2021

He Was Willing, and Still Is

Text: Mark 1:40–45

I have been very blessed to have had really good health for most of my life. I had most of the childhood diseases like measles, mumps, and chickenpox and broken bones from sports and fighting but nothing of major importance. Actually, the worst thing that I ever had was poison oak and that was my own fault. On a Boy Scout hiking trip, I pitched my tent in a patch of the stuff. Considering we were taught how to tell the difference; it was doubly stupid.

Because of this I never really gave much attention to germs and bacteria because it wasn’t a part of my life experience. I knew a few people that had heart disease, and occasionally I heard of someone who had cancer or diabetes, but it wasn’t that common. If someone got sick they went to the family doctor who seemed to be able to fix most anything, so I didn’t concern myself with illness.

As I’ve grown older, I’m more aware of the need to pay attention to what I eat and how much I eat, and I exercise on a regular basis. Still, I don’t feel concerned about health issues even though not a day goes by that that I don’t read a headline about Covid-19, the new strain that has infected millions around the world. I’ve read that there are several different strains of it and there’s some concern as to whether or not the vaccines will work on all of them. Now nearly everyone that I talk to has some health concerns, whether major or minor.

We live in a culture where a large percentage of the population is fixated on health. The truth is that this isn’t a totally new problem. I read a statistic that there are more than 300,000 over the counter (OTC) medicines, and that the average American spends $442 a year on OTC medicines alone—not including the prescription drug industry where in 2018, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Americans spent $335 billion dollars. Germs are a major concern and now it’s not a matter of over-emphasis or paranoia but a legitimate reality of life.

Again, this is not a recent development and in one way or another, it has been a consideration for as long as there has been civilization. Today many Americans seldom consider that billions of people around the world live in abject poverty and squalor thereby facing many chronic diseases. As I mentioned, I’m not the type who is overly concerned about germs, but I’ve shared with you before how overwhelmed I was on my first trip to Africa where I daily dealt with people who had little concerns about sanitation. For the most part they weren’t being negligent, they just didn’t know. Missionaries encounter this reality on a daily basis in many Third World countries in Asia and Africa.

Our church had an on-going relationship with Gahanga, a small village in Rwanda, and we sent teams there twice a year for two or three weeks each time, helping them establish water a recovery system and schools. In the capital city of Kigali, most people seemed much like you would find in most developed countries. When you journeyed out to the small towns there was severe poverty, disease and a chronic shortage of clean water. There were rules that we needed to follow concerning drinking water and even bathing because of bacteria that our bodies were not used to. We learned to not eat peeled fruit and vegetables because they were likely washed in water that was unsafe to us.

On my first time there and I found the people to be very relational, and they loved to touch and hug. Wherever we went they wanted to hold my hand and the children wanted me to get down on my knees and hug them. I continually reprimanded myself for being so squeamish, but in truth, I was more uncomfortable than I had ever been in my life. I remember praying for God’s protection from disease and to let me see the people through his eyes. I sensed the Lord asking me to imagine how Jesus would have dwelt in their midst and I tried to focus on that.

I encountered a little nine-year-old boy who was brain-damaged from a beating his father gave him. I didn’t know his story at that time, but for some reason he fixated on me and grabbed a hold of my hand and just chattered away happily as we walked down the road towards the town center, which was a large dirt place on the side of the road. He was very dirty and I no idea what he was saying to me but when we got on the bus, he followed me but the local priest that we were working with pulled him away. I was so glad because he was so filthy, and frankly, he smelled terrible.

I can still see the dejected look on his face as they pulled him away. Within my heart I kept hearing the question, “how would Jesus have handled that?” I knew exactly how he would have handled that. He would have stayed and caught the next bus and sat down in the dirt and held the little fellow lovingly letting him know that he was loved and important. He would have shown his love by choosing to focus on the child for a while and he likely would have prayed for the child, healing the damage to his brain. Didn’t I know that I had the power to pray for the little fellow asking God to heal him in Jesus' name? Hadn’t I taught that to others? Yes, but I was more interested in getting away from the filth that covered the child than I was in loving him like Jesus. I knew that my heart had been exposed and I felt very ashamed of my reaction. Over the next month I cried out to change me to be more like Jesus.

This week as I considered our gospel and Old Testament readings, I thought of that scene from Rwanda in 2008 as I considered the stories of the man who had leprosy but found healing through the mercy of Jesus.

Let’s first consider our Gospel passage and read Mark 1:40–42,

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.

Leprosy was one of the most feared diseases in the ancient world due to the belief that it was highly contagious. It has since been discovered that it isn’t very contagious when caught early before it develops skin eruptions and it’s now treatable with medication. It is still found in areas where poverty and chronic unsanitary conditions exist. It’s reported that there are around 15 million people today infected in areas of India, China, and Africa. Mother Teresa ministered in Calcutta for many years taking care of those with Leprosy, HIV/Aids and tuberculosis. She gave her life to show the love of Christ in a tangible way. She loved and treated countless people who could have given her their disease, but the love of Christ compelled her. God blessed her by allowing her to see the poor and the ill through his eyes.

In the ancient Middle East, the physical suffering, although terrible, was likely not as bad as the social stigma. In the Old Testament there were strict instructions in God’s law as to how to deal with those who had leprosy (Leviticus 13–14). Lepers had to be quarantined and examined by the priest every seven days to see if it was spreading or just some other type of skin reaction. If it were finally determined that it was a leprous disease, there would be skin eruptions and the person was considered contagious. That being the case they had to dress like those who were in mourning for the dead because they were considered “the living dead.” They had to warn people whenever they drew nearby crying out “Unclean, unclean.”

David Guzik in his commentary on 2 Kings wrote that in the time of Jesus, the people went even further than the word of God:

“…they thought two things about a leper: you are the walking dead, and you deserve this because this is the punishment of God against you. Jewish custom said that you should not even greet a leper. Custom said you had to stay six feet (two meters) from a leper. One Rabbi bragged that he would not even buy an egg on a street where he saw a leper, and another boasted that he threw rocks at lepers to keep them far from him. One other Rabbi didn’t even allow a leper to wash his face.”

Someone who was considered unclean, whether from a skin disease like leprosy or like the woman who had chronic bleeding in Mark 5, was forbidden to attend synagogue or temple to worship. These were where almost every social event was held, so basically if you were considered “unclean” you were a complete outcast.

That was the situation of the leper in our reading. Mark doesn’t say whether the man came to Jesus under cover of darkness or maybe he found him alone in prayer, but either way he was taking a serious risk in coming to him. No doubt he had heard the stories about Jesus’ ministry in Capernaum and Galilee, how he had healed many who were sick and cast out demons from others. So, he came to him in humility hoping for mercy instead of rejection—hoping for healing from the one person who seemed to reveal the power of God. Either way, there were no other options, if Jesus wouldn’t remove this disease the man would die dejected and alone—an outcast.

As he knelt at the feet of Jesus he spoke in faith, “If you will, you can make me clean.” In this statement the leper showed who he believed Jesus to be. There was no known cure for leprosy and rarely did anyone just get better without a direct healing from God. His greatest need was not just to be healed of the physical consequences of his disease, he needed to be made clean.

Jesus knew the man's situation and instead of being repulsed and jumping back in alarm, he felt compassion and reached down and touched him. Jesus healed many people and he often chose unique and personal ways to do so. Sometimes he just spoke the word and they were healed, sometimes he touched them, and at other times he healed from far away by speaking a word of healing instead of traveling to where the person lay ill. Either way, Jesus established his authority over sickness and the demonic and at the same time restored the dignity of one who was excluded from society.

How long had it been since anyone had dared touch him? He may have been a leper for a long time and not only were people forbidden to touch him because of Jewish law, nobody would want to. Most likely no one had given him a hug or caressed his face and put their arms around his shoulder in loving affection for a long time. Lepers were made to live separately from others so there could be no contact. One of the greatest needs that human beings have is the loving touch of another human being and Jesus knew that very well. In touching the man, he was declaring that he had value and he mattered, so he responded with a touch and the assurance, “I will, be clean.” I can’t imagine what that moment was like for him but verse 42 says, “and immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.”

Jesus had not merely healed his body of a hideous, disfiguring and painful disease but he restored his life as a member of the community and of his own family. Even more importantly, he restored him to the place of dignity and hope that God offers us.

Let’s read Mark 1:43–45,

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.

In order for the man to be legally restored to normal life in the synagogue and social settings he would need to go to the priest and show that he had indeed become clean. Jesus told him to do this first to honor the law of God, but also as a testimony to the priests that an incurable disease had been cured. They had most likely never seen a case of leprosy cured and possibly needed to look up in the Levitical law the ceremony for cleansing.

The elements used in the Levitical ceremony for the cleansing of a leper (cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet) are the same elements used in cleansing someone who was defiled by a dead body (Numbers 19:6, 19:13, 19:18 and Leviticus 14:4–7). In essence, the man was returned from the dead and the priests, if they would only pay attention, would realize the sign that Messiah had come.

I think it interesting that Jesus told the man to tell no one what had been done for him but to merely go and show himself to the priest. Can you imagine being silent about what Jesus did? Everything changed and his life was restored. The darkness of his life was gone, and the light was turned on. There was hope again, anything was possible now. I can only imagine that the first thing on the man’s mind as he left Jesus was, “I’ve got to tell somebody!” How could he keep the fact that he was made clean a secret? Even though he meant well, his talking freely did serve to hinder Jesus’ ministry, and his ability to move freely throughout the cities. It’s true he should have done what Jesus asked, but I get why he couldn’t resist. For those who by faith have encountered Jesus Christ and have through repentance been rescued and set free from sin and death, how can they not want to tell somebody what has happened?

We don’t have time to fully develop the story from our Old Testament passage in 2 Kings 5:1–15 but I would like to briefly compare this story with our Gospel reading. Let’s read 2 Kings 5:1–3,

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman's wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

As recently as the days of Ahab and Jehoshaphat, Syria had fought and won against Israel. Naaman’s position and success made him a great and honorable man, and personally he was a mighty man of valor. According to Jewish legends, it was Naaman who shot the arrow that killed King Ahab in 1 Kings 22. For all of his success over Syria’s enemies and in spite of all the honor and glory bestowed upon him as a military hero, he was a leper. It would seem likely that at the point in our story that his disease had not yet progressed to the point where he was unable to function, but he knew that in time he too would be an outcast.

Upon finding out about the prophet in Samaria, Naaman goes to the king asking for permission to go to Samaria. The king gives him a letter to the king of Israel and Naaman takes 10 talents of silver, 6000 shekels of gold and 10 changes of clothing. The present-day value of this is approximately $1.5 million. Naaman really wanted to be healed and his king really needed him well.

Now you will notice that it says the Lord had used Naaman to defeat Israel and give victory to Syria. God had used an enemy of Israel to bring judgment upon them for their unfaithfulness. So, when Naaman goes to the King of Israel the king panics, tears his clothes, thinking that the King of Syria is trying to pick a fight. The king of Syria most likely assumed that the prophet operated at the behest of Israel’s king, but it never occurred to him to call upon Elisha because Israel no longer served or worshipped God faithfully. They were blind to the things of God. Elisha hears about this and chastises the king saying,

“Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha's house.

Naaman was expecting Elisha to come out and make a big production of healing the leper. Naaman assumed that Elisha would respect his position as a great military commander and a conqueror of Israel. He came to bring a great reward for the prophet as well, but instead, Elisha sent his servant to Naaman to tell him to go and wash in the Jordon River seven times. Naaman was insulted and furious at such disrespect and stomps off. It’s a servant that came to Naaman and basically reasons with him by pointing out that what the prophet has told him to do wasn’t that unreasonable. What could it hurt? So Naaman goes and dips himself seven times in the Jordon and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, he was clean. He returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he stood before him and said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel.”

Naaman had found out that leprosy was no respecter of position and that all the money in the world didn’t matter when his life was in jeopardy. When he came to Elisha for healing, he was coming in his vulnerability because he had no way to defeat this enemy. When he returned healed from dipping himself in the Jordon River something major had changed, he had encountered the living God, creator of Heaven and Earth, and had been restored.

The characters in our two stories this morning were likely very different in social position but they each found themselves without hope, humbled, in need of cleansing and healing. They each encountered the living God who was able to restore them physically but more importantly they found that he was willing to.

God made it very plain to Israel that he had raised them up to reveal to all the nations that he alone was God and to invite all to come to Him by faith and obedience. They had refused, but God was not to be deterred from his plan. He would raise up their enemies to discipline them and, in the process, reveal his power and glory to the enemy. Naaman went back to Syria as a testimony that, “there is no God in all the earth but in Israel.” I wonder if he went back and told everybody that he met about the God in Israel? How else could he explain his healing?

In Mark 1, the leper who was cleansed by Jesus left that day knowing that the Messiah had come and that he had just met him. He just couldn’t shut up about something so wonderful and I get that.

I know that many of you this morning have encountered God in powerful and wonderful ways, and I pray that you will never tire of telling the story of how Jesus has changed your life. I love the way that Psalm 42 begins, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.” God wants to meet us here today and bring healing and cleansing in such a way that we simply have to tell someone. Frankly, it has never more important that you do.

A deep darkness has descended upon the minds and hearts of many in our country. We see the results of just how dark it is by the things that they embrace. They have embraced the killing of the unborn child even after they are born. They would protest loudly if you did the same thing to a baby seal or probably most animals. Without knowing it they are seeking to destroy the image of God. This darkness has the handprint of Satan all over it. They have embraced a level of sexual immorality that should embarrass and shame those who practice it. Instead, they celebrate their wickedness and seek to pass laws that require that our children be taught how to practice and embrace these perversions. These practices would have previously been unthinkable, unlawful and anyone practicing such things would have been arrested and imprisoned. They speak of bringing freedom of sexual expression, but it will surely bring them misery and a hatred of life because it has become godless. Satan would celebrate the suicidal results of many of those who buy into this lie.

Many of our elected officials proudly embrace these lies and insist on everyone submitting to this demonic thinking and call it “hate speech” if they protest. They seem committed to dragging this country down into the pits of Hell along with them and many assume there is nothing we can do until the next election in 2022. By the time 2022 comes around they will have laws that nullify an honest and fair election. You can know that is true because they have already successfully done it.

Forgive me for seemingly going off on a tangent but in closing, I want to consider what brought Naaman the Syrian to Elisha the prophet. It was a young girl from Israel who had been carried off during Syria’s battle with Israel. She was the missionary who told of the prophet in Israel who could cure Naaman of leprosy.

Naaman was being used by the Lord to bring discipline upon Israel for their unbelief and idol worship. At the direction of the word of the young girl this great man of valor returns to Israel to find healing. He is a pagan warrior and an idol worshipper who had been used to conquer Israel and bring them into captivity. When he finds Elisha and finally follows his instructions he is healed of an incurable disease. Naaman didn’t merely claim that the Lord was more powerful than the Aramean gods. But something far more radical: “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel…”

God in his sovereign plan used a little girl to accomplish his purposes in bringing a pagan warrior back to Syria with the testimony that there is only one God and his name was Elohim, the very same God who created the heavens and the earth.

Whether or not we really want God to bring revival to America will be shown by his people’s willingness to fervently pray and to tell everybody that there is only one God, and he is only known through his son, Jesus Christ. That is the only remedy for this present darkness. If the Light is to shine, then those who are the light bearers must pray fervently and step out in faith proclaiming, “There is only one God in all the world and the only way to him is through his Son, Jesus Christ!”

Let’s pray.

©2021 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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