The Lord and the Leper

Sermon by William Mikler on

Lessons from a leper and his faith

“And Jesus, moved with compassion, put out His hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I am willing; be cleansed” (Mark 1:41 NKJV).

Mark 1:40-45

In the Ancient world leprosy was the sure sentence of a slow, horrible, and disfiguring death. So unless the Lord intervened with a miracle the leper we read of in Mark 1:40-45 was doomed to die. Moreover, because leprosy was an infectious disease that forced quarantine on those who suffered from it, the leper’s death would take place in devastating isolation from those he loved. Unless healed, he would not live. Unless healed, he could never go home.

But wait! The leper had somehow heard about the miracle worker from Galilee. As a result, hope and faith arose in his heart and inspired him to seek an audience with Jesus. With difficulties we can scarcely imagine the leper made his way to Jesus, fell at his feet, and made his petition. “If You are willing,” he implored, “You can make me clean” (Mark 1:40). His plea rent the heavens. Jesus heard his plea. Jesus was willing. The leper was cleansed in an instant.

I believe the healing recorded in Mark’s Gospel truly took place as Mark described it. But it’s not physical healing that I want to concentrate on in this message. Instead I want to focus on cleansing from sin.

Leprosy, you see, is a lot like sin. Leprosy kills nerve endings; sin kills conscience. Leprosy disfigures bodies; sin disfigures souls. Leprosy condemns men to quarantine; sin drives men to lives of isolated despair. Leprosy leads to physical death; sin leads to eternal death. Leprosy was a death sentence back then; sin is a death sentence in every generation. But just as the leper found in Jesus the remedy for his disease, so may the sinner find in Jesus the remedy for his sin.

The leper had faith, so must a sinner. The leper came to Jesus, so must a sinner. The leper besought the Lord for cleansing, so must a sinner. The leper and his faith have much to teach us. So let’s look into his story.

My outline will explain itself as we go.

I. The Leper’s Woeful Condition

Let us first consider the leper’s woeful condition, a condition that brought on two horrors, one physical and the other emotional.

Physical horrors

Physically the leper suffered from an infectious, degenerative disease that killed nerves and caused tissue degeneration. With leprosy, disfigurement was almost certain and the loss of fingers and toes was quite possible. Blindness could also occur. Modern medicine can cure leprosy, which is caused by bacteria, but there was no medical cure for leprosy in the ancient world.

Emotional terrors

Emotionally, the leper suffered in abject loneliness and abandonment. Because the disease was infectious, lepers lived in quarantine that forbad contact with normal people. However much a leper might have longed for the kind and gentle caresses of a loved one, such a thing was not permitted. The leper was, horror of horrors, an untouchable. I don’t know which was worse for the leper, the physical or the emotional trauma. Together, both gripped him in a gruesome vice from which there was no escape.

Summing up

So we see that the leper we meet in Mark 1:40-45 suffered from a woeful condition that afflicted him both physically and emotionally. But however horrible leprosy is, sin is worse. Leprosy killed the body and damages the soul. Sin threatens to kill both body and soul.

II. The Leper’s Hopeful Faith

Despite his woeful disease, the leper had in his favor a hopeful faith. How faith came to him we do not know. But it is a safe guess to say that it came to him when he heard of the Healer from Galilee. Someone, or some group, from a safe distance beyond the quarantine perimeter, told him about Jesus. Hearing, faith was created. And it was that faith that inspired the actions that ultimately led the leper to Jesus’ feet. It is this faith we must look into now.

The elements of the leper’s faith

The leper’s faith focused on Jesus of Nazareth, whose words and miraculous works were already spreading his fame throughout the region. Focusing on Jesus is what true faith does. Unlike the counterfeit faith of the self-help movement that focuses on human capacities, true faith focuses on the person and capacities of Christ Jesus. True faith, like human sight, looks outward—and the Person it sees is Jesus. The leper had faith. He “saw” Jesus for who and what he was. It was that faith that guided and empowered his way to Jesus.

While true faith focuses on Jesus, it is also rational. It assesses human need in the light of Christ. False faith averts its gaze from human need or pretends that it doesn’t exist. But true faith looks reality in the eye and sizes it up. It embraces reality and deals with it. The leper didn’t need faith to know he was sick—his mind and body made that fact painfully clear to him—but his faith enabled him to reckon with his illness by pointing him to the one who could heal it. Brethren, the faith that focuses on Jesus is rational about human need.

Faith also possesses a strong element of hope, for it sees in Jesus the cure for human frailty.

But faith does more than point to and focus on Jesus; it does more than make for rational assessments of human weakness; it does more than gender hope for remedy; it also does this: It moves a person to Jesus. Doing so, it marshals human strength and resources that enable a seeker to come into Christ’s presence. It was with faith that the diseased leper made his way to Jesus. Depending on how far advanced the disease was, the journey may have been physically demanding. It was certainly demanding emotionally. After all, the laws of quarantine demanded that lepers avoid human contact, not seek it. Fighting through the invisible walls of quarantine could not have been easy. But faith marshaled what physical and emotional resources the leper had and enabled him to draw near to Jesus.

In the presence of Jesus, faith inspired the leper’s appeal. In Jesus’ presence, the leper’s body language and words speak volumes. He knelt before Jesus. He placed his need in Jesus’ hands with a heartfelt plea. After he made his appeal he trusted the Lord to act. False faith stands arrogantly; true faith bows. False faith declares its self-sufficiency; true faith declares its need. False faith tries to fix the unfixable; true faith trusts the Lord to do that. False faith argues its point; true faith rests when its petition is heard.

So we see that the leper’s deeds reveal his faith. His faith was focused on Jesus. It was rational. It was hopeful. It enabled him to marshal his dwindling human resources to draw near to Jesus. It prostrated him before Jesus in humility and worship. It made its appeal. It trusted.

No magic carpet rides

I think that some people have the mistaken idea that faith is some sort of magic carpet ride that ferries a human from need to provision. It is not. Faith operates in and with the human condition and empowers human action. It reveals itself by works. Indeed, faith is the font and power of those works. Faith never inspires passivity, for passivity never gains a reward. Faith works, and it works in and with human capacities. As one sage put it, “When faith goes to market it always takes a basket.”

Faith brought the leper to Christ, body and soul. That is what true faith does for everybody who has it.

Letting sinners know

Someone told the leper about Jesus, and the telling created faith. Then faith did its work. Faith comes by hearing. May God grace our lips to create hope in the hopeless.

III. The Lord’s Compassionate CUre

The appeal made, Jesus responded with compassion. Writes Mark, “And Jesus, moved with compassion, put out His hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I am willing; be cleansed” (v. 41). From our Lord’s heart: compassion; with his hands: a touch; with his words: the cure. The effect was instant. Writes Mark, “As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed” (v. 42). Let’s think about these things.

Compassion’s well

The thirsty pilgrim goes to the fountain to slake his thirst. Reaching the fountain he turns on the spigot and waters flow. Then he drinks. The leper’s faith brought him to the fountain and turned on the spigot. When he did the compassion of Jesus poured out.

The humane touch

The Lord’s compassion expressed itself first with a tender touch. A touch! A healthy human being had not touched the leper since the moment he was diagnosed. Driven from the society of men, the leper found himself beyond human touch. Jesus’ touch changed all that. Jesus’ touch not only transcended the commandments of the law (which forbad such contact), it also gave something to the leper that he had not experienced since his expulsion from society, namely, a humane and tender physical connection with another human being. For Jesus, the leper wasn’t an untouchable. No leper or sinner who comes to him in faith ever is.

Word & Cure

If You are willing,” the leper had petitioned on bowed knees, “You can make me clean.” Touching the man, the Lord responded with the words, “I am willing; be cleansed.” At that, the leper was immediately cleansed of his leprosy. Christ’s touch comforted, his word healed—and all because Christ’s compassions make him willing to cleanse the one who comes to him with faith.

Cleansing the ‘leprous’ sinner

When he approached Jesus the leper likely fulfilled the law by crying out, “Unclean! Unclean!” (See footnote 2) But when he fell at Jesus’ feet he asked to be cleansed. Likewise, the sinner comes to Jesus confessing that his sin makes him unclean. But he comes to Jesus to be cleansed of that sin. He approaches Jesus as an untouchable, but Jesus touches him. He comes sin-diseased, but the word of Jesus cleanses him. We may have confidence that Christ’s compassions will cleanse the sinner who comes to him in faith.


Let’s now sum up by looking briefly at the rest of the story and then repeating (for emphasis) some points already made.

The rest of the story

There was more to the story. Much more. Verses 43-45 tell us that Jesus commanded the cleansed leper to say nothing until he had showed himself to the priest “offering those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (A priest’s certification of healing was necessary for the leper’s restoration to society.) But the cleansed leper bypassed the system and instead went about declaring to any and all who would listen that Jesus had cured him. The result? Jesus could no longer openly enter any city because (by implication) the press of the enthralled crowds would make such an entry unsafe. So Jesus was obliged to set up shop in deserted places, and there received the many that sought him out. There is an irony here: After he healed the leper, Jesus traded places with him. The leper went back to town, but Jesus was consigned to operating in the wilderness. 

The unspoken hero

The unspoken hero of this story is the person (or persons) who told the leper about Jesus of Nazareth and his power to heal. It was that testimony that the Holy Spirit used to plant faith in the leper’s soul. We must in like fashion speak the truth about Jesus to people who the leprosy of sin is destroying. The Lord Jesus is the Super Hero. But he calls upon us to be the unspoken heroes that point sinners to him. There will be no awakening in our day until an army of unspoken heroes tells sinners about Jesus!

Getting the ball rolling

What gets the ball rolling, you see, is testimony about Jesus. It is only after the sinner hears about Jesus that he begins to believe that Jesus can cleanse him from his sin. When faith rises in his heart, tiny though it may be, it empowers him to make his way to Jesus to find remedy for his sin-disease.

Let’s get the ball rolling. Let’s tell sinners about Jesus.

The sinner’s journey

But notice: Jesus didn’t go to the leper. The leper went to him. The thirsty man must go to the fountain to take a drink. The sinner must go to the Savior to obtain his mercies. The journey may not be easy. Often it will require the seeker to press through physical liabilities and emotional barriers. Therefore, brethren, we must encourage our sinner friends to make the journey of faith no matter what it costs them in pain and pride. Again, there are no magic carpet rides. We harm the sinner if we let him think there are. But we can promise the sinner that, if he makes the journey of faith to Jesus, he will be cleansed from his sins.

Going back home

Cleansed from leprosy, the leper went home. When a sinner—any sinner—is cleansed from his sin, he can go home too. Wrote St. Augustine of Hippo, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” The way home—the way to rest—is to and through Jesus.


I can think of no better way to conclude this message than with the great Charlotte Eliott hymn, “Just As I Am.”

Just as I am, without one plea,  

but that thy blood was shed for me,  

that thou bidst me come to thee,  

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.   

Just as I am, and waiting not  

to rid my soul of one dark blot,  

to thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,  

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.   

Just as I am, though tossed about 

with many a conflict, many a doubt,

fightings and fears within, without,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.   

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;

sight, riches, healing of the mind,

yea, all I need in thee to find,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, thou wilt receive,

wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;

because thy promise I believe,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, thy love unknown

hath broken every barrier down;

now, to be thine, yea thine alone,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come. 

Charlotte Elliott wrote this hymn in 1835. I imagine the cleansed leper sang something much like it for the rest of his natural life. May our witness add many to the great choir of cleansed sinners. Amen.


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