When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said.“Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
With this passage, we enter into the next section of Matthew’s Gospel (8:1-9:35). Before we jump in, let’s take stock of what we have seen so far. Back in chapter 4 our author told us that Jesus had gone forth proclaiming the Kingdom after His baptism by John and testing in the Wilderness. Where Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom, certain amazing things would take place, but as of yet, Matthew hasn’t told us in detail about them. In chapters 5-7, we read exactly what Jesus was teaching in these sessions proclaiming the Kingdom, and we discovered a revolutionary new kind of life for citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. In chapters 8 and 9 we are going to see exactly the kinds of things that were going on when Jesus proclaimed Kingdom and taught His new way of life. We will see ten miracles in this section, miracles that demonstrate the power, authority and divinity of Jesus, along with the healing power of the Kingdom that He embodied.
In the passage above, Jesus heals a leper. The healing of a leper was a big deal for several reasons. First, there was no cure for the disease, second, it made a person “unclean” in the ceremonial sense of the Law which meant that they were not permitted to touch anyone or participate in the religious life of the community, and in that sense, they were also cut off from the worship of God. In an apocalyptic sense, to be a leper is like being a sinner; to be healed of leprosy is symbolic of being redeemed from sin and restored to fellowship with both Man and God. Thus, when Jesus healed a leper, we have a “type” of His cleansing us from our sin.
In this story, we would do well to keep special note of two things: First, the man came to Jesus in faith: “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” The only question in the man’s mind was whether or not Jesus was willing to save him, not whether or not Jesus could save him; oh that we should have such faith!
Second, after Jesus had healed the man, notice that Jesus admonished him not to run around telling everyone about it. Jesus wasn’t doing this sort of thing to make a name for Himself as our world would understand such things, for He already had the Name that is above all names. Then, Jesus instructs the man to go to Jerusalem and offer the prescribed sacrifice at the Temple, as a testimony of his healing and redemption. In doing this, Jesus demonstrated that He was among men to do the work of His Father, and that in due course, He Himself would be the sacrifice that would redeem all Mankind from their sin, restoring humanity to fellowship with God.
Next time, we will see if only Jews can place their faith in Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven…