Power to Make Clean

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Matthew 8:1-4 (The man with leprosy)

INTRODUCTION: Today we start a new series from Matthew 8-9 on ten miracles of Jesus. These ten miracles in Matthew chapters 8-9 immediately follow Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7 and the two sections are connected.

If you take the whole of it together, Matthew 5-9 is a section of Scripture emphasizing the power and authority of Jesus. Chapters 5-7 present Jesus’ authoritative teaching through the Sermon on the Mount. Chapters 8-9 then present ten miracles demonstrating Jesus’ power

Matthew 4:23 summarized Jesus’ ministry this way: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” (Matthew 4:23) Notice the emphasis here is on teaching, preaching and healing.

We have already looked at Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7. In this new series we will now look at ten examples of Jesus’ miraculous powers in chapters 8-9. These ten miracles demonstrate Jesus’ power over sickness, suffering, Satan, nature and sin.

Now it’s not all just miracles in these chapters. The ten miracles are interspersed with four dialogues Jesus has with various people: with two would-be disciples in 8:18-23; with the Pharisees in 9:9-13; with John the Baptist’s disciples in 9:14-17; and with Jesus’ own disciples in 9:35-38. The miracles focus on Jesus’ power. The dialogues all have to do with discipleship.

So together these ten miracles and four dialogues present Jesus as the authoritative Son of God who not only preaches the good news of God’s kingdom but demonstrates it through his miraculous works and calls us to follow him as disciples. (Read Matthew 8:1-4 and pray.)

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When Jesus came, he came preaching the good news of the kingdom. God’s kingdom refers to God’s rule, and God’s kingdom or rule extends over every realm, as demonstrated by Jesus’ power in his miracles over sickness, Satan, suffering, nature and sin.

Jesus’ miracles were never done for his own benefit but only for the benefit of others. We find a threefold purpose for Jesus’ miracles in Scripture. First of all, Jesus’ miracles demonstrated his compassion for people as he healed them and delivered them from Satan’s power. Secondly, his miracles also revealed him as the Messiah in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies which spoke of the miracles the Messiah would perform when he came. And thirdly, Jesus’ miracles also taught spiritual truths, as each miracle was designed to teach us something about sin and salvation and our relationship to God.

The first three miracles Matthew describes here in chapters 8-9 are all healing miracles, and all three are healings of very unlikely types of people. In these first three miracles Jesus heals a leper, a Gentile and a woman. Lepers, Gentiles and women were all disdained by the Jewish people of the day. Lepers, Gentile and women are all examples of people who were not allowed to participate fully in worship at the temple. And yet all three of these were recipients of God’s gracious and miraculous power as Jesus healed them from their illnesses.

Today we will look at the first of these healing miracles, Jesus’ healing of the man with leprosy.

I. Jesus has the power to make clean (Matthew 8:1-3)

So what is today’s miracle about in particular? The healing of the man with leprosy especially shows that Jesus has the power to make clean.

   A. Large crowds follow Jesus down the mountain (1)
      – cf. Matthew 4:25, 5:1

Let’s start with verse 1 where we read: “When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him.” (Matthew 8:1)

Today’s passage takes place immediately after the Sermon on the Mount. We learned back in chapter 4 that large crowds followed Jesus before the Sermon on the Mount. Now we read that large crowds continued to follow Jesus when he came down from the mountainside.

However, you need to understand that Jesus doesn’t just want large crowds. He wants disciples. He doesn’t want people who will just follow him around. He wants people who will follow him as Lord and Savior. Jesus’ teaching on the Sermon on the Mount should have made that clear. But now Jesus will continue to make that clear through a series of miracles demonstrating his power and through this series of dialogues explaining the true meaning of discipleship.

   B. The leper submits himself to Jesus’ will (2)
      – Leviticus 13:45-46; Deuteronomy 24:8

In verse two we meet the leper for the first time. Matthew 8:2: “A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’” (Matthew 8:2)

The word used for “leprosy” in this verse is a word that covers a whole variety of skin diseases. So this leprosy may be different from what we call leprosy today. But either way this man was suffering greatly.

Leprosy not only affected you physically, but also socially and spiritually. The Old Testament law was very clear about anyone with any type of infectious skin disease. We read in Leviticus 13:45-46: “The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ 46 As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp.” (Leviticus 13:45-46) Moses instructed the people in Deuteronomy 24: “In cases of leprous diseases be very careful to do exactly as the priests, who are Levites, instruct you. You must follow carefully what I have commanded them.” (Deuteronomy 24:8) This was both to protect other people from contamination, but also to teach the people about sin and holiness and uncleanness.

So this man was in a very desperate situation. Physically the leprosy disfigured his body and face. Socially the leprosy isolated him from other people. Spiritually he was unable to participate in the religious community. Many people viewed leprosy as a punishment from God. There was no cure for leprosy, and it was considered as difficult to heal from leprosy as to raise someone from the dead. And so this was truly a hopeless situation for the leper apart from Christ.

And in the midst of this hopeless situation the leper comes reverently to Jesus and submits himself to Jesus’ will. Notice his reverent posture: he kneels before Jesus. Notice his reverent language: he addresses Jesus as Lord. Notice his humility. He does not presume upon Jesus but simply submits himself to Jesus’ will. Notice he doesn’t even ask specifically for healing. He just makes the statement: “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Matthew 8:2) He has no doubt at all about Jesus’ power to heal. If Jesus wills it, it will happen. And so the leper comes boldly, reverently, humbly, confidently to Christ for healing.

It’s also interesting that the leper says, “You can make me clean,” rather than “You can heal me.” Either would have been correct, but leprosy was a defiling disease, and so healing was defined in terms of cleansing.

Finally notice that the leper comes specifically to Jesus for cleansing. His was not a general faith in God, but a specific faith in Jesus. “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Matthew 8:2)

   C. Jesus shows compassion and the ability to heal (3)

The leper submits himself to Jesus’ will, and Jesus’ response to the leper is so beautiful as he shows compassion and the ability to heal. Look at verse 3 with me now: “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean.’ Immediately he was cured of his leprosy.” (Matthew 8:3)

The priests often ran the other way when they saw a leper approaching. Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. The man was full of leprosy, but Jesus was full of compassion. Jesus could have just spoken words of healing, but he chose instead to touch the leper.

Think about that for a moment – touching a leper. Nobody touched a leper. First of all you were deathly afraid of catching the disease. But secondly touching a leper would make you ceremonially unclean, and nobody wanted to be unclean.

What do you think the leper thought as Jesus reached out his hand to touch him? He had probably not been touched since he contracted the disease. What about the crowd? They must have thought, “What is Jesus doing? He’s going to become unclean!” More importantly, what did Jesus think as he reached out and touched the man? He saw a person in need, and he showed his compassion and ability to heal.

I think it’s significant that Jesus did not cleanse the leper first and then touch him. He touched him while he was still a leper and then cleansed him. It’s the same way with our sin. Jesus doesn’t require us to be clean first before he touches us with salvation. Jesus reaches out and touches us where we are, with all of our sin, all of our uncleanness. He saves us first, and then he makes us clean.

Touching the leper should have made Jesus unclean, but with Jesus it goes the other way around. Instead of Jesus becoming unclean, the leper is made clean instead. Jesus is perfect, holy, sinless and divine. He cannot be corrupted by sin. When Jesus reaches out and touches us, there is no danger of him being contaminated by our sin. Rather we are cleansed by his holiness.

Jesus responds to the leper with two brief sentences, each of which are a single word in the Greek: “I am willing. Be clean.” (“θέλω, καθαρίσθητι.”) Notice how Jesus’ words mirror the leper’s words. The leper said, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus responds, “I am willing. Be clean.” I like the way J.B. Phillips translates Jesus’ response. In Phillips’ translation the leper says, “If you want to, you can make me clean.” And then Jesus responds, “Of course I want to. Be clean!”

And that’s exactly what happened! When Jesus reached out and touched the leper, immediately he was cured of his leprosy. The gospel of Luke tells us this man was covered with leprosy. (Luke 5:12) And yet immediately he was healed. Think of it! His feet, legs, midsection, arms, neck, and face – the leprosy was all gone in an instant. That is the power of Christ demonstrated in this miracle. Jesus has the power to make clean in an instant, absolutely clean.

II. Jesus honored the law (Matthew 8:4)

So that’s the first thing we learn from this passage today. Jesus has the power to make clean. Secondly, I want you to notice how Jesus honored the law. Look at verse 4 now: “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.’” (Matthew 8:4)

   A. Jesus instructs the leper to go to the priest and offer a gift
      – Leviticus 14:1-32

Immediately after Jesus heals the leper, Jesus instructs him not to tell anyone but to go to the priest and offer a gift. The man may have been cleansed of his leprosy, but he was still ceremonially unclean until he went to the priest.

This was part of the Old Testament law as recorded in Leviticus 14. The man had to go to Jerusalem for this inspection. This healing took place up near Capernaum, so Jerusalem was about 100 miles away on foot. Once the leper arrived in Jerusalem the priest would examine him to make sure he was clean. Then there was a specified ritual involving two birds, one which was killed and the other released. The man would need to wash his clothes, shave off all his hair and bathe with water. Then there was an additional cleansing ritual on the seventh day, and then on the eighth day he would bring three animals for sacrifice – one for a guilt offering, one for a sin offering and one for a burnt offering.

Now that is a lot of work. Why was it so important for the man to do all this? It was important because it was the only way for this man to be restored to his community. Even though he was already healed, the priest still needed to examine him and pronounce him clean before he could go back to his family and friends. It was also part of the ceremonial law for Israel. Jesus was often accused of breaking the law, but this was a testimony that Jesus honored the law and encouraged others to honor the law, too.

   B. The ceremonial law had not yet been fulfilled (not until the cross)

Now you might wonder why it was important for Jesus to honor the law when we no longer follow the ceremonial laws in the Old Testament today. We no longer offer sacrifices or engage in these Old Testament rituals. So why did Jesus honor these commands?

You have to remember, when Jesus did these things, the ceremonial law had not yet been fulfilled. The ceremonial law would not be fulfilled until Jesus went to the cross. All the sacrifices, all the rituals pointed forward to the ultimate sacrifice Jesus would make on the cross when he died for our sins.

This is actually one of the reasons why Jesus instructed the man not to tell anyone about the healing. Jesus often told the people he healed to keep quiet about it, because he was avoiding confrontation with the Jewish leaders until the time was right. He was guarding against premature conflict with the authorities. He had to wait for the specified time to go to the cross.

In the gospel of Mark we learn that the man went out and told everyone anyways. Figures, right? Jesus tells the leper to be quiet, and he goes out tells everyone. Jesus tells us to go out and tell everyone, and too often we remain quiet!

   C. Jesus fulfilled the whole law of God (Matthew 5:17)

The Bible tells us that Jesus fulfilled the whole law of God. We read these words of Jesus in Matthew 5:17: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)

Jesus kept God’s law perfectly in all of its respects. He obeyed the moral law, and he followed the ceremonial aspects of the law as well. Jesus honored the law that he might fulfill the law as a perfect sacrifice for us on the cross.

So that’s our second point from the passage this morning. Jesus honored the law.

III. Jesus has the power to make us clean from sin

1) Jesus has the power to make clean. 2) Jesus honored the law. And then finally, 3) Jesus has the power to make us clean from sin. Once again, remember that all of Jesus’ miracles had a spiritual meaning as well. Leprosy is a symbol of the uncleanness of sin. Like sin it disfigures, like sin it contaminates, like sin it spreads, like sin it isolates and like sin it is not curable by man.

We are powerless to clean ourselves, but Jesus has the power to make us clean from sin. Jesus offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for us. When we trust him as Savior, Jesus presents us to himself as perfectly clean in him. Christ is both priest and sacrifice, and we are the recipients of his grace.

   A. Jesus gave himself up for the church to make her holy
      – Ephesians 5:25-27

The Bible tells us that Jesus gave himself up for the church to make her holy. We read in Ephesians 5: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:25-27)

Just as the leper obeyed the ceremonial law and went through the ritual washing and cleansing, so Jesus washes us clean spiritually to present us to himself as a radiant church, without any stain, wrinkle or blemish.

   B. The blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin
      – 1 John 1:5-9

The Bible tells us that the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin. We read in 1 John 1: “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all…. If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:5-9)

Just as the leper was full of leprosy, so we are full of sin. And yet just as the leper was made clean of all his leprosy, so the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin. The price Jesus paid at the cross was more than sufficient to pay for all your sins. If you confess your sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive your sins and purify you from all unrighteousness.

   C. Nothing impure will ever enter the gates of heaven
      – Revelation 21:27

And then finally the Bible tells us that nothing impure will ever enter the gates of heaven. We read this about heaven in Revelation 21:27: “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:27)

Just like the leper, we cannot clean ourselves. Only Jesus has the power to make you clean from sin. Only Jesus has the power to make you clean for heaven.

CONCLUSION: The leper was full of leprosy, and you and I are full of sin. The only question remaining is, “Will we come to Jesus for healing just as the leper did?”

Like the leper our situation is hopeless apart from Christ. The leper believed Jesus could heal him personally. Do you believe Jesus can forgive your sin? Not just forgive sin, but forgive you? And not just forgive you, but make you clean, to cleanse you from all unrighteousness, to make you completely clean in his sight?

Jesus has the power to make clean. And when you come to Jesus in faith believing, he will never turn you away. When you come to Christ saying, “If you want to, you can make me clean,” Jesus will respond every time: “Of course, I want to! Be clean!” And then, miraculously, you are! That is the power and love of Christ for you and for me.

Click here for more messages from the book of Matthew.
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