Dead Man Walking
Text: Mark 1:35–45
Main Idea: Complete cleansing and restoration are found in Christ alone.
I. A Kingdom Lesson (Mark 1:35–39)
II. A Gospel Picture (Mark 1:40–45)
III. A Curious Conclusion (Mark 1:43–45)
Main Idea: Complete cleansing and restoration are found in Christ alone.
A Kingdom Lesson (Mark 1:35–39)
The Frantic Search
Now, just imagine that you are Simon, Andrew, James, or John. Only last week you were a hardworking fisherman, your entire livelihood hung on your ability to maintain production. As the old proverb says, “Make hay while the sun is shining”—which simply means, make good use of the opportunity while it lasts… And as the disciples looked around that morning, opportunity was everywhere. But, Jesus was nowhere to be found and Simon, Andrew, James, and John launch into a frantic search.
They are not merely looking for Jesus. The Greek verb behind “searched” in verse 36 (καταδιώκω) denotes a vigorous pursuit or hunt. They are hunting down Jesus just like they used to pursue schools of fish in the sea of Galilee. The crowds are gathering and as Simon finally locates Jesus excitedly chastises him come on its time to get back to work, “Everyone is looking for you” (Mark 1:37).
In his mind I am sure that Simon is saying, come on Jesus, don’t blow this, this is our ticket to the big time. But, Simon, Andrew, James, and John need a lesson in Gospel Ministry.
The Priority of Gospel Preaching (Mark 1:38)
Jesus came to build the Kingdom of God not a platform for personal ministry. The disciples want to establish a base of operations BUT Jesus knows the good news cannot be bound to a static location forcing people to come and hear. NO. The good news is a message that must be proclaimed far and wide because it is the only path to peace with God and the only way that spiritually dead humans can be raised to new life in Jesus Christ. And few healings depict this glorious reality more than Jesus’ encounter with the leper in verses 40–45.
A Gospel Picture (Mark 1:40–42)
A Dead Man Walking
Leprosy one of the most dreaded diseases in the ancient world.
On one hand, apart from God’s merciful intervention,the disease was wholly incurable. No Chemotherapy like cancer. No, dialysis like kidney failure. No, anti-viral therapy like HIV/AIDS. No antibiotics like Malaria, Syphilis, or Typhoid fever. Once infected, the leper was doomed to a slow, debilitating, and painful death.
But on the other, the true horror of Leprosy is that diagnosis was a physical, social, and religiousdeath sentence because they were ceremonially unclean.
Religiously, in that Lepers were forever banned from the Temple precincts, corporate worship, and prospective worshipers because they were ceremonially unclean. And this ceremonial uncleanliness could be spread through casual personal contact… like a simple shoulder bump or a hand shake.
On account of this ceremonial uncleanliness, they were wholly ostracized. Husbands, wives, and children alike were instantly ejected from their home and forced to live in isolation on the fringe of society. Forbidden to touch their loved ones ever again because to the religious Jew touching a leper was just as bad as touching a rotting corpse. And this was not an area where the Jews were misinterpreting God’s commands.
Leviticus 13:45–46 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.’ 46 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. (Cf. Numbers 5:2–4)
It didn’t matter who you were before: how important you were, how much money you had, what you did for work, or how large your family was. Lepers lost EVERYTHING. Lepers had NOTHING. No birthday parties, No family reunions, No ability to attend your children’s weddings, No ability to attend your parent’s, your spouse’s, or children’s funeral, No ability to celebrate the great festivals that commemorated God’s faithfulness, and NO ability to bring offerings and sacrifices in worship.
The utter hopelessness of Leprosy is clearly captured by Jewish Rabbis in the Babylonian Talmud, in that, they refer to Lepers as “the living dead,” because the possibility of cleansingand restorationwas just as impossible as raising a dead corpse to life. Lepers were nothing more than dead men walking. Dead men and women who were simply waiting for their daily experience to become reality…
A Monumental Expression of Faith
What I want you to see in this is that the Leper does not question Jesus’ ability or willingness to cleanse him—with eyes of faith, he humbly kneels before Jesus and declares, You are more than able to make me clean.
The Leper does not approach Jesus as a prophet who must intercede with God on his behalf. The leper is affirming his steadfast belief that Jesus is fully able to do something that onlyGod can do.
A Virtual Resurrection
But, at this very moment, when we see the very power and heart of God, we need to address an apparent textual conflict between the NIV and the ESV (NASB and KJV).
Mark 1:41 (ESV) Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.”
Mark 1:41 (NIV) Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”
So is Jesus angry with the Leper OR is he moved with pity? Well, the difference between the NIV and the ESV is not translation but the Greek text itself. If we looked through all of the manuscripts of Mark’s Gospel that exist, we would find that most of them say Jesus “felt compassion” (σπλαγχνισθείς), while a few read that Jesus was “angry” or “indignant” (ὀργισθείς).
If we look at the numbers alone, it seems like an easy answer. But, that does not answer why the NIV translation committee selected a minority manuscript for this verse. Well, it’s not a conspiracy. It’s an Christ-centered attempt to identify the and embrace the earliest manuscriptsbecause the earliest texts are closest to the original documents… I do not want to bore you with the numerous criteria that scholars consider when comparing these manuscripts. But to drastically oversimplify a very complex process, the hardest reading is often the earliest version becauseover time Scribes and copyists’ tended smooth out and clarify difficulties in the text.
Now let me demonstrate why the difference between the ESV and NIV does not undermine our confidence in the Bible. Jesus radiates overflowing compassion in both manuscripts.
It is far more likely that, in the NIV, Jesus is expressing holy anger at the ravaging effects of the disease and (especially) of the social and religious ostracism that it caused.
Jesus does not berate the leper. He does not send him away. He doesn’t turn in contempt, disgust, and self-protection. NO. Jesus closes the physical gulf himself. He willingly stretches out his hand to touch the repulsive, unclean, and untouchable Leper AND with a simple, authoritative, two-word command changes the man’s life forever—“Be clean!”
This is probably the first human touch he has received in years. And for this man, his supernatural cleansing is nothing less than resurrection from the dead! If this is not compassion nothing is!But, unlike an ordinary person or rabbi, Jesus—the authoritative Son of God—is not polluted by the leper’s disease. Rather, the leper is wholly cleansed and healed by Jesus’ contagious holiness… and in this we see a glorious picture of the gospel.
Throughout this short encounter leprosy is not depicted as an illness or a disease but utter and complete uncleanness that needs to be cleansed—not healed. Leprosy was a purity issue before God that completely disqualified the leprous individual from a relationship with God and his people.
In many ways, leprosy is was a functioning symbol or parable for the uncleanness of sin. It was an outward sign and picture of mankind’s internal corruption: corruption that bars us from fellowship with God, corruption that often poisons those who are closest to us, corruption that no one can cleanse but God alone.
Isaiah 64:6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
Psalm 51:7–10 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. 9Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. 10Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
David is not presuming upon God’s mercy—just like the leper in Mark—he is proclaiming the able effectiveness of God’s cleansing power. When David declares, “I will be whiter than snow” he is not merely declaring the purging effectiveness of God’s forgiveness. He is saying if you will purge me I WILL BE what I cannot be in my own power, I will be truly clean. Just like snow by its very nature is white and pure, I will be pure and the shameful record of my Sin will be no more!
Psalm 103:12 As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
And just in case anyone is tempted to think they can earn God’s forgiveness God himself tells us:
Isaiah 43:25 “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
And in this we see that God cleanses lepers and undeserving sinners alike, for the fame of his name and the sake of his glory alone!
A Curious Conclusion (Mark 1:43–45)
Why does Jesus bind the leper to silence?
Well, I think it the same reason that he refused to set up a healing ministry theme park in Capernaum.
First, Miracles do not awaken faith, gospel-centered preaching awakens faith. If miracles were enough, Israel would walked right into the Promised Land and walked in perpetual faithfulness to God and Jesus would have amassed and maintained thousands of disciples. But, when all is said and done, only 120 trembling disciples remain at the beginning of Acts. (Faith comes by hearing and hearing through he Word of God).
Second, Jesus didn’t come to heal people of their diseases and merely cleanse them on the outside. To quote Dr. Meyer, “Jesus came to show that our real problem is not a skinproblem, but a sinproblem. We are all spiritual lepers, but unlike physical lepers, it is not as obvious to ourselves and those around us.”
Why does he send him to the priest?
Some scholars say that Jesus wanted to restore this man to his family and Temple worship as soon as he could. And that meant that a priest needed to examine him and declare him clean. Others say that Jesus is demonstrating that he did not come to abolish the Mosaic Law but fulfill it.
I think Dr. Meyer offers a better and less speculative answer when he says, “I think the emphasis is probably more on the link between the cleansing of leprosy and the cleansing of sacrifice.”
The Levitical requirements to restore a leper to fellowship and worship are very detailed (Leviticus 14:1–31). The healed person was instructed to present two birds, one of which was killed in the temple in Jerusalem. The other bird was dipped in the blood of the slain bird and released. After a waiting period the healed person further brought to the priest three lambs, one a sin offering, one a guilt offering, and one a whole offering (Leviticus 14:10–11)… to make atonement for sin!
Leviticus 14:20And the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the grain offering on the altar. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean.
Jesus came to atone—bear God’s wrath against—our sin so that we might be forever cleansed and restored to fellowship with God. Intimate fellowship as his very sons and daughters not as guests or complete strangers. And all of this because Cleansing and complete restoration are found in Christ alone.
Contact with Unbelievers does not necessarily Contaminate
Yes, bad company corrupts good character. Yes, blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, or walk in the way of sinners. But, at the same time Paul chastises the Corinthian church:
1 Corinthians 5:9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.
Contact is not the problem. Compassion is. More often than not, Christians don’t pursue meaningful interaction with unbelievers because it is socially awkward or because they belong to a group we consider to be untouchable social outcasts.
Oh, we should hear the rebuke in the lepers disobedience. He didn’t run to the priest. He didn’t run home to his family. He didn’t run into town to get clean clothes, a haircut, and good meal. He became a preacherhimself, in that Mark describes this man’s “telling” with the very same Greek verb rendered “preach” in verse 38. He was commanded to silence. We are commanded to tell.
Jesus can Cleanse and Restore the Dirtiest Outcast
No one is too far gone for the gospel. We are all forgiven and restored the same way, by grace alone, through faith in alone in Christ alone. (Titus 3:4–7)
Titus 3:4–7But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
“The Greek word behind ‘looking for’ (ζητέω)occurs ten times in Mark, and in each instance it carries negative connotations. Its first two occurrences refer to interference of Jesus and obstruction of his ministry (1:32; 3:32); its next two refer to disbelief and faithlessness (8:11; 8:12); and the remaining occurrences refer to attempts to kill Jesus (11:18; 12:12; 14:1; 14:11; 14:55);” (James R Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002], 66–7).
The OT records three such instances (Exod 4:6–8; Num 12:9–15; 2 Kgs 5:1–27).
Flavius Josephus, Ant.3.264.
Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 69.
Mark L. Strauss, Mark, vol. 2 of Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 112.
Jason Meyer, https://bethlehem.church/sermon/unclean.
Jason Meyer, https://bethlehem.church/sermon/unclean.