Mark 1:40-45

The Heart of Jesus

One of the themes that has been emerging as we study the gospel of Mark is the authority of Jesus.  One example, when Jesus stood up to preach in the Capernaum synagogue, the people are astonished and ask among themselves, “What is this?  A new teaching with authority!”  I’ve made the case that there is no place that the authority of Jesus does not reach.  It extends from the highest of heights to the lowest of lows and everywhere in between.   This ought to encourage us as we examine our lives and remember that Jesus can speak to any issue or trial we face.

But perhaps there is a lingering question in the back of your mind.  You would say, “Yes I believe that Jesus is able to accomplish anything that he desires but I am not sure what he desires to accomplish.”  In other words you don’t question the ability of Jesus but the willingness of Jesus.  I know he can do it – but will he do it?  This is the very question that the leper we find in this week’s passage has for Jesus.

And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.”     Mark 1:40

To be a leper epitomized what it meant to be an outsider in the Jewish world of Jesus’ day.  Leprosy as recorded in the Bible is different from the leprosy (i.e. Hansen’s disease) that we know today.  The term leprosy described not one but any number of skin diseases, and once a priest had determined that the ailment was in fact leprosy the consequences were dire.  In Leviticus 13:45-46 we read this:

“The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.”

The leper was declared to be unclean and as a consequence he was cut off.  He lived alone – outside the camp.  First century Jewish historian writes of lepers that it was “as if they were in effect dead persons (Antiquities 3.11.3).”

And so this “dead” person approaches Jesus and rather than crying out “unclean” as the law prescribed he asks instead to be made clean.    He doesn’t ask just to be healed – he asks to be made clean.  He asks to be restored.  He has faith in Jesus’ ability to make him clean but remains uncertain as to whether or not Jesus is willing to do so.  He says in effect “I know you are capable of restoring me – I have not doubt about that – but are you willing?”

This man is in a desperate situation.  In Luke’s rendering of this account, he describes this man as one who was “full of leprosy (Luke 5:12).” Luke who was a doctor is perhaps providing us with a diagnosis.  Here is a man who does not have merely a few spots on his skin but one who is “full” of this awful disease.  He has perhaps suffered for some time.  The disease perhaps has spread.  His situation is desperate.

Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.”    Mark 1:41

So many things are remarkable about this response.  First, Jesus is “moved with pity.” The Greek word that is used here is splagchnistheis (impress your friends with that one!) which can be literally defined as “to be moved in one’s bowels.”  This is that ‘pit in your stomach’ feeling you have when your whole body responds when someone is in great need.  And so Jesus feels great compassion for the man but what comes next would have been absolutely astonishing to any Jewish bystanders.

Jesus intentionally stretches out his hand and touches the man.  This leper who perhaps could not remember the last time he felt the warmth of a human embrace is touched by Jesus.  Jesus didn’t have to touch this man.  In the very next verses of Mark, Jesus will heal a paralytic without touching  him at all.  Jesus seeks to restoration – not just to heal the disease but to restore the man.

42And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44and 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.”      Mark 1:42-44

In an instant the man is made clean.  Jesus gives him two instructions: 1) Don’t tell anyone and 2) Go show yourself to the priest.  We’ll see in a moment the importance of the first instruction; the second instruction was aimed at the full restoration of this man.  Jesus demonstrates through this action that indeed he has  not come to “abolish the law”(Matthew 5:17) but rather to fulfill the law.   The man is sent to the priest to provide evidence of the reality in which he is already living.  He is restored.

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.      Mark 1:45

Jesus succeeded in silencing the unclean spirits but did not succeed in silencing this unclean man.  Apparently full of joy this man could not keep this event to himself and shared freely what Jesus had done for him.  The result is that Jesus is unable to freely go about inside of a town but had to remain outside of town in desolate places.   The leper who was once an outsider becomes an insider while Jesus who was an insider becomes and outsider.


The leper in this story is in many ways a picture of us as sinners before God.  Consider these similarities.

1. As with leprosy sin progressively dominates our life.

We cannot dabble in sin.  Apart of God’s grace sin would overcome us.  God says to Cain “Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it (Genesis 4:7).”  James warns of the progressive nature of sin: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death (James 1:14-15).”

2. As with leprosy sin cannot be hidden from God.

We may fool ourselves but we cannot fool God.  The author of Hebrews reminds us that “no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:13).”

3. As with leprosy sin shuts us out from fellowship with others and with God.

Apart from the mediating work of our Savior sin separates us from God “for our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).”  Paul tell us plainly in the opening lines of Romans that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Romans 1:18).”

4. As the leper was restored only by the touch of Jesus so our sin is cleansed by the touch of Jesus.

The gospel reminds us that our own efforts no matter how sincere are altogether insufficient to save us from our sin.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).”

Where are you experiencing the weight of sin in your life?  Where do you, like the leper in his passage, need to experience the compassionate touch of Jesus?  May the compassionate heart of Jesus stir great hope within your soul this week!

Discussion Questions

  1. What risks did the leper take in approaching Jesus?
  2. How did Jesus demonstrate compassion in this passage? (How did Jesus respond to the leper’s total needs?)
  3. What risks did Jesus take in responding to the leper as he did?
  4. Where or with whom do you struggle to be compassionate?  How does this passage speak into your situation?
  5. What 2 commands did Jesus give the man in vv. 43-44?
  6. Why the command to “say nothing to anyone?”
  7. Jesus sent the man to see the priest.  What does this demonstrate about Jesus’ view of the law?
  8. In what ways does Jesus become an “outsider” as result of the man’s disobedience?  In what ways does Jesus become an “outsider” for us?
  9. Which one the following similarities between sin and leprosy do you most need to be reminded of? 

    As with leprosy sin progressively dominates our life.

    As with leprosy sin cannot be hidden from God

    As with leprosy sin shuts us out from fellowship with others and with God.

    As the leper was restored only by the touch Jesus so our sin is cleansed by the touch of Jesus.  


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