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J.E.S.U.S. His Life. His Mission – Jesus Isn’t Afraid Of Our Mess, Mark 1:40-45

Jesus Isn’t Afraid of Our Mess
Mark 1:40-45

Demi Lovato has been transparent about her battles with depression and addiction. At the 2020 Grammys, she gave her first performance in a year and a half. In July 2018, she was treated for an apparent overdose after six years of sobriety. Just four days before her overdose, she wrote the words:

I tried to talk to my piano, I tried to talk to my guitar
Talk to my imagination, Confided into alcohol
I tried and tried and tried some more,
Told secrets ’til my voice was sore
Tired of empty conversation,
‘Cause no one hears me anymore
A hundred million stories,
And a hundred million songs
I feel stupid when I sing,
Nobody’s listening to me
Nobody’s listening, I talk to shooting stars
But they always get it wrong,
I feel stupid when I pray
So, why am I praying anyway?
If nobody’s listening

Viscerally she cries into the microphone:
Anyone, please send me anyone, Lord, is there anyone?
I need someone, oh,
Anyone, please send me anyone
Lord, is there anyone?, I need someone

When an interviewer asked her about these lyrics during an interview, she said:

I definitely feel that you can use things to cope in life. And music has been a huge coping mechanism for me. It’s been very therapeutic for me. But there’s only so much that music can do before you have to take responsibility and you have to take the initiative to get the help that you need.

Desperation. It can make you do some crazy, or humiliating, or unhealthy things. Desperation is just one step shy of hopelessness. Desperation is the FEAR that nothing we do matters. Hopelessness is the BELIEF that nothing we do matters. Desperation is the last ditch effort to change the way things are going before hopelessness sets in. When we’re desperate, we’ll try almost anything, turn to almost anyone to give us hope.

At the end of the first chapter of Mark, we encounter a man who was desperate. And for him, desperation was probably an improvement, because he situation was really hopeless. Hopeless, that is, until he heard about Jesus, a powerful new rabbi who taught with authority, healed with compassion, and before whom the powers of darkness had to flee. Turn with me to Mark 1:40-45.

The word “leprosy” struck fear in the hearts of people in the ancient world the way the word “cancer” does today. And for them, the word was used to describe any number of highly infectious skin diseases. They didn’t have the ability to see, and so couldn’t conceptualize, tiny bacterial, fungal, and viral microorganisms the way we do, so disease wasn’t identified by it’s cause, it was identified by it’s effect.

Today, what we call leprosy is also known as Hanson’s Disease. It’s caused by a slow-growing bacteria that affects the nerves, skin, eyes, and the lining of the nose, and because numbness of the affected area is one of the symptoms, infected areas are susceptible to significant damage because the person doesn’t feel pain in those areas. Eventually, highly diseased people whose infections have progressed experience the loss of digits and parts of limbs.

And in the ancient world, people with this disease would have been diagnosed with leprosy, as would people with a number of other skin diseases. Today, we can treat it, and if detected early it can be cured. In Jesus’ day, that wasn’t the case. Their methods of dealing with contagious skin diseases, which could quickly ravage a population, was preventative … catch it quickly, isolate the people who had it and stay away from them.

In Jesus’ day, people in smaller villages who had leprosy could still live in their homes, and could even attend synagogue, provided that synagogue had a screen that could be set up to isolate the diseased person from the healthy population. In larger cities and walled cities, they were still forced to live outside the city on their own.

Imagine someone living in the 1st Century, with 1st Century medical knowledge. Now imagine living in that society with a deadly AND highly infectious disease. Everyone in the community knows he has it. His body is full of it. For years he has had to live outside of the town. His family leaves food out for him but stays well away when he comes to get it. If he must come into town, he must cover himself, cover his face, and yell “unclean, unclean” over and over again so that no one comes near him. Even touching the hem of his garment can render you ritually unclean, and will likely give you his disease as well. If you’ve been in the same confined space as him, like a room in a house, you’ll be considered unclean until the authorities are certain you don’t have it now too. He’s gone for years without ANY human contact. No tender caresses. No pats on the back. No hugs. Nothing. No contact, period.

While working in India, Doctor Paul Brand, who pioneered the modern treatment of leprosy, once laid his hand on a patient’s shoulder. Then, through a translator, Brand informed the man about the treatment that lay ahead. To his surprise, the man began to shake with muffled sobs.

Doctor Brand asked his translator, “Have I done something wrong?” The translator quizzed the patient and reported, “No, doctor. He says he is crying because you put your hand around his shoulder. Until you came here, no one had touched him for many years.”

Now, look carefully at V. 40. This man is desperate. Jewish rabbis taught that it was as difficult to heal a leper as it was to raise someone from the dead. In the Old Testament, in 2 Kings 5:7, the king of Syria reads a letter from the mightiest of his warriors, the captain of his army, who now had leprosy, and the king himself tore himself and cried, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy?” Healing someone of leprosy was on the same level as raising someone from the dead. In the entire Bible, prior to Jesus, there are exactly two stories of someone being healed of leprosy. So yeah, this man was desperate. But he was no longer hopeless, because he’d heard about the strange and powerful things Jesus was doing.

So desperate, in fact, that he ignores the rules he’s had to live by for years. Maybe decades. It’s been up to him to identify himself as a leper, as unclean, as a pariah. He’s been required to keep his head uncovered and his clothing torn, the actions of someone in mourning. He was to act as if he were in mourning all day, every day for the rest of his life. His head may be uncovered and his clothes torn in mourning, because his diagnosis was a death sentence, but he doesn’t cry out “Unclean, unclean!” covering his face with his arm as he approaches, avoiding close contact with anyone. In desperation, he draws close to Jesus, kneeling before him, begging for healing.

And there’s no doubt in his mind that Jesus CAN heal him. He doesn’t say, “If you CAN, you can make me clean.” He says, “If you WILL, you can make me clean.” He knows Jesus can. He just doesn’t know if he will. And that’s where the rubber meets the road in our faith. Because we know Jesus CAN. We just don’t always trust that he WILL. Because sometimes, he DOESN’T. At least, not in the way we want him too. St. Paul begged in desperation to be healed too, and the answer to him was no. In 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, he writes, “A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

My power is made perfect in weakness. Jesus sometimes refuses to fit into our boxes and will NOT be led by us. We follow him, he does not follow us. Regardless of whether this man kneeling, begging, desperate, in front of Jesus is healed in the way he wants to be healed, I can guarantee you this – his life is about to be forever changed.

Now, look at Vv. 41-42. Jesus didn’t come just to heal. He didn’t come to be another miracle worker. He came to spread the good news that IN HIM, God’s kingdom had broken into the cosmos, and ultimately, Jesus himself would open the gate to that kingdom through his death on the cross. He didn’t come just to encounter a desperate man with leprosy somewhere in Galilee. He came to inaugurate the kingdom of God.

But his heart is moved with compassion. With pity for this desperate man. The word Mark used is actually way stronger than compassion or pity. It actually means “indignation.” But what is he indignant about? Is he indignant about being bothered? About being stopped by this man on his journey from town to town? About the fact that this man, this leper, approached him without the requisite warnings? No. He’s indignant because he is, once again, coming face to face with the impact that our sin and brokenness have had on his beautiful creation. He is indignant at the ravages caused by sin, disease, and death. He is standing face to face with the impact of sin on HIS creation, and he is indignant.

And moved with compassion, he reaches out and TOUCHES this desperate man. BEFORE he is healed. Psychologists tell us that the need for human touch is one of the most significant needs we have, and this leper had been deprived of that for years. No touch at all. Think about the role of touch in your life. Think about the human contact you and I experience every day. Hugs, handshakes, embraces, a kiss, a light touch on the arm. Much of human communication takes place in gestures like that. For the first time in years, maybe decades, for the first time since he had been declared unclean, this man experiences human contact. Jesus reaches out and touches him, and he is healed. Jesus could have healed him without touching him. But he didn’t. He knew what the man needed. He needed healing. But he needed more than that. He needed restoration. He needed acceptance. He needed human contact. And Jesus reached out and touched him.

And then he spoke, and the man was made clean. And then Jesus instructed him to do what the law of Moses required for the restoration of someone made clean from leprosy. It was quite the process. He had to have a priest come to him out in the wilderness, wherever he lived, and then that priest would have him travel to Jerusalem to be pronounced clean by a priest there and then he was to offer the requisite offerings.

But here’s the thing I want you to see. Leprosy was treated like death itself. It was a primary source of uncleanness the same as a dead body. Touching someone with leprosy was the same as touching a dead body – it rendered the toucher unclean in the eyes of the people, until they could prove, over time by not developing disease, that they hadn’t been infected. And we’ve already seen that healing from leprosy was as rare and difficult as raising someone from the dead. To touch someone with leprosy was to touch death itself, and when Jesus touched this man, he touched death, and brought him back to life. Jesus didn’t have to touch lepers. He could have been just as effective from a hundred yards away. But he touched them. Jesus isn’t afraid of our messes.

Now look at Vv. 43-45. Jesus tells the man not to tell anyone what he has done for him. Why the secrecy? Because Jesus didn’t come to be popular. He didn’t come to be powerful in this world’s eyes. He came to be effective in his purpose, which was to announce the coming of the kingdom of God and then open the door to that kingdom, and he IS that door. That’s why he came. Early in Jesus’ ministry, he was popular. Why? Because he touched the untouchable and healed the unhealable and delivered the undeliverable. He brought hope to the most hopeless of cases. But if all we focus on is what Jesus does for us in this life, we’ll fall away, turn our backs on him, when life gets tough. Jesus often viewed popularity and the adoration of the crowds as a hindrance.

But there’s something even more significant happening here. Notice the end of V. 45. When this encounter began, Jesus was on the inside, on the well-worn paths between villages and cities, and this man was out in the wilderness. But after Jesus touched the man with leprosy, he was now with people, restored and whole, and Jesus was out in the wilderness. He couldn’t enter a city without being mobbed by desperation. And yes, the people found him there. Jesus is probably exhausted at this point because he can’t seem to find solitude. But there’s a foreshadowing here too, in the great reversal, as the leper is healed and moves back into community, and Jesus is forced out into the wilderness.

JESUS TOOK HIS PLACE. Ultimately, that’s what Jesus does for all of us. He takes our place. He dies our death. Jesus wasn’t overcome by leprosy, but in a foreshadowing move he takes the lepers place in the wilderness, and the leper takes his place in the community.

Truth is, we’re all lepers. We just don’t see it, because our leprosy isn’t physical. Yes, Jesus has compassion on us in our human suffering and he does offer healing and hope and grace. But eventually, death catches up with us all. You see, there is a deeper disease, a deeper leprosy, that every one of us carries within us. We just don’t know that we have it.

Reminds me of the old TV show Gilligan’s Island. You know, you’ve got a really smart professor, a cute country girl, a beautiful movie star, a bumbling first mate and a steady ship’s captain, and of course the millionaire and his wife. Truth is, they’re all in the same situation – marooned on a deserted island. But the millionaire couple are still running around acting like they’re millionaires. Truth is, they don’t have any more than any of the other castaways. They have nothing, they just don’t realize it.

And to me, that sounds like a lot of us. We’re running around like we’re millionaires, and really, deep down, we’re in the same desperate straits as the man with leprosy, without Jesus. We just don’t realize it.

Earlier I told a story about Dr. Paul Brand. Here’s another one. In her book Ten Fingers for God, Dorothy Clarke Wilson writes about Dr. Paul Brand who worked with leprosy patients in India.

Sometimes they would all gather together in fellowship. One evening, Paul joined them, and they asked him to speak.

Dr. Brand had nothing prepared, yet he willingly stood up, paused for a moment and looked at their hands, some with no fingers, and some with only a few stumps. Then he spoke: “I am a hand surgeon, so when I meet people, I can’t help looking at their hands. I would like to have examined Christ’s hands. With the nails driven through, they must have appeared twisted and crippled. Remember, Jesus, at the end, was crippled too.”

The patients, on hearing this, suddenly lifted their poor hands towards heaven. Hearing of God’s response to suffering had made their suffering easier. The good news of Jesus is that we are, or can be, healed, fully restored, deep in our souls, of the sin that forces us away from God and from one another. And Jesus takes our place. He isn’t afraid of our mess. Let us pray.