Jesus’ miracles also show us spiritual truth; they tell us something about Jesus, and point the way toward eternal life. He offers the same miracle to us in our souls. He is not dismayed by your sin and your failings. He knows your ugliness, but it won’t stop him. He knows your sin.The holiness of Jesus is so powerful, and his sacrifice on the cross so profound, that when we invite him in, it doesn’t make him dirty – it makes us clean.
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Download Matthew Part 25
Matthew #25 . 8:1-4
When He came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. Right away a man with a serious skin disease came up and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Reaching out His hand He touched him, saying, “I am willing; be made clean.” Immediately his disease was healed. Then Jesus told him, “See that you don’t tell anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses prescribed, as a testimony to them.” (Matt 8:1-4, HCSB)
Let’s do this a little differently this week. I want you to imagine yourself into the story. Play along with me. Sometimes really getting into the sights, sounds and feelings of the bible can be very helpful. Sometimes we need to disconnect the analytical thinking for a little while in order to get at a heart-and-soul truth.
So, imagine you are a Jew living in ancient Roman Palestine. When you were twenty years old, just a year or two after you got married, you noticed some spots on your skin. They didn’t hurt, but they looked ugly and scaly and white on your olive-tinged deeply tan skin. Your spouse was very concerned (make it husband or wife, depending on your gender). You both suspected what it might be, but you both knew what it would mean if it was what you thought it was, so you waited. However, the white patches grew, and you had a little toddler and there was no way you wanted to put your child at risk. So you and your family went to the priest. The priest looked at you carefully, and then said, sternly, “You have leprosy. You are a leper. Unclean!”
You couldn’t even hug your spouse or your child goodbye. Immediately, you were banished from contact with any healthy person. That was twenty years ago now. You’ve only seen your spouse at a distance since that time. You little baby has grown into lovely woman who was married five years ago. You could not be at the wedding. You haven’t even met her husband. You don’t even know your own grandchildren.
Most of the time, you live in a kind of rough camp with other lepers. Though you can be around them, you generally avoid contact with each other, because one of you might make the other one worse. You can’t work in the fields, or raise animals because no one wants food touched by a leper. The same goes for any kind of craftsmanship. You can’t even be a common laborer, because you would be too close to healthy people. This means you are dependent upon your relatives and kind strangers. They place food and water and other necessary goods for you and the other lepers at a place several hundred yards from the camp. Sometimes people go out and beg by the roadside. They get contempt and insults about as often as they get food or some other necessary item. Money is useless, since merchants would refuse to touch coins that had been handled by a leper.
When you leave the camp, whenever you come within earshot of another person, you need to scream “Unclean! Unclean!” to warn them that a leper is near. It feels like you are swearing at yourself. Children run away when they hear it. Others back off. Sometimes adolescent boys throw stones at you, like you’re a rabid dog or something. Everyone reacts with revulsion at the sight of you. Leprosy has no cure, and it is your fate to live like this for the rest of your life.
One beautiful spring day, some rumors come into the camp about a Rabbi, Jesus, who seems to have miraculous powers. You go out into the countryside looking for him, and then you see a big group of people going up a steep, tall hill. You follow at a distance, and circle away from the people until you are behind the man, away from his followers, but you can hear him speak. What he says makes a deep impact upon you. This is no ordinary man. Desperation rises within you and combines with a tiny seed of faith.
When he leaves, you run ahead, and with your heart in your throat, you kneel on the ground and call out to him. Many lepers do this while they beg, but you call out something different. You don’t ask for food. Instead, you say “Lord, if you want to, you can make me clean.”
The sun is warm and the breeze is fresh on your diseased skin. A moment passes and seems like forever while Jesus pauses and looks at you. He doesn’t turn his face away like everyone else. There is no revulsion or disgust or contempt in his eyes. It’s something else, something your remember from long ago. It looks almost like…love; compassion. He starts walking towards you. You tremble. No healthy person has knowingly approached you for two decades.
What is he doing? He is reaching out his hand. Is he insane? You can’t help shrinking back a little. No one touches you. No one is supposed to touch you. What is he thinking? He might catch the disease himself. Even if he doesn’t, he’s going to make himself unclean, and he’ll have to go through a huge rigmarole before he can eat or associate with other people. But his hand grasps your shoulder. There are tears in his eyes.
“I do want to,” he says. “Be clean.”
He steps back a minute with a little half-smile on his face, like he’s waiting for something. You stare at him a minute, and then he jerks his head a little, as if he’s saying “take a look.” You slowly look down at your arms. They are clean and brown, with no leprosy on them anywhere you can see. You pull up your sleeves. Also clean. You turn back to Jesus, and then he is here, lifting you to your feet, hugging you, and both of you are crying and laughing at the same time. Behind Jesus, hanging back several yards, some of his followers are staring at him.
“Now go on,” he says. “Go to the priest, according to the Torah, so that you can be officially and properly welcomed back into your community. And do me a favor – don’t tell anyone that I did this.”
Now come back to yourself, but not quite all the way. Picture this – we all have a kind of leprosy called sin. It eats away at us in various ways. It separates us from God and from each other. It might help you to name a specific sin or weakness to yourself, to admit some of the things that you fail at pretty often. Picture how that sin keeps you from really being close to others. Imagine that damage it does to your soul, like the damage leprosy does to your body. Acknowledge how because of this, you are actually distant from God in some ways. You’ve tried to get rid of it, but there’s really no cure.
Now picture Jesus. If it helps, form a picture of him physically walking by. He’s the only hope of a cure. Call out to him. You know he can take care of this. Ask him directly to take care of it. Pause, as he turns to look at you. He is not disgusted or revolted. He does not turn away in contempt or fear. He sees who you are, what you are, and he keeps coming toward you. He reaches out his hand, and lays it on your head.
And now, hear his words. “I do want to make you clean. Be clean!”
And now look at your sin-riddled soul. See what Jesus sees – YOU ARE CLEAN!
Feel him lift you up, feel him hugging you, laughing in delight at you. Know his love for you. He says, “Now go and check with the Bible, and see for yourself that what I have done here is real and true. (“You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” – John 15:3. Also 1 John 1:7-9, Titus 3:4-7, and many, many more!)
“Also, tell some other followers of mine about this,” he says, “so that they can help you continue in faith, and you can help them, and you all can be in close community together.”
Brothers and sisters, this is real. Jesus truly and really healed the leper. But his miracle was about so much more than that. John calls Jesus’ miracles “signs.” They are true miracles that actually happened, but their purpose was greater than simply the healing of a body that eventually died. His miracles also show us spiritual truth; they tell us something about Jesus, and point the way toward eternal life; that is one reason he did so many miracles. I believe the leper was healed of leprosy. But I also believe that this text in the bible is an invitation to us. Jesus offers the same miracle to us in our souls. He is not dismayed by your sin and your failings. He knows your ugliness, but it won’t stop him. He knows your sin. But the holiness of Jesus is so powerful, and his sacrifice on the cross so profound, that when we invite him in, it doesn’t make him dirty – it makes us clean.
Jesus looks at our condition the same way he looked at the leper. He has the power to make us clean. He is willing to make us clean. Do you want him to do it? If so, be like the leper, and ask him to. Picture Jesus physically reaching out and touching you, lifting you to your feet and embracing you. In Him, you are clean. Receive that in your soul, right now.
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