“While He was in one of the cities, behold, there was a man covered with leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.’ And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ And immediately the leprosy left him.” Luke 5:12-13 (NASB95)
The vile skin disease of leprosy was designed by God to be a picture or a parable of human sin. John MacArthur calls it an “irresistible analogy” of sin. The leprosy of sin has infected all mankind to the core of our being. All our faculties—our minds, our hearts, our wills, our consciences—have all been diseased by spiritual leprosy. Because of that, we all stand in need of cleansing from that great fountain that is the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, we must come to him alone for cleansing, and we must come to him in precisely the way that this leper comes.
Consider five observations from the scene in Luke 5.
1. The Sinner’s Contamination
A leper, unclean and potentially dangerous to others, had long been commanded to live in isolation according to the law. Because of that, a leper was often a stranger to the comforts and pleasures of any sort of companionship. In some cases, he would struggle to remember what it felt like to touch another human being. The man in Luke 5 who approached Jesus would have been an outcast, a castaway. Not only was leprosy defiling and isolating, it was also eminently shameful. A leper's uncleanness became his identity, as he was required to cry, “Unclean!” signaling his uncleanness to any passersby.
As we consider the awful corruption of leprosy, we must see ourselves in this leper. How appropriate is the picture leprosy is of the corruption of sin that afflicts each one of us by nature. Like leprosy, sin is defiling. Isaiah 64:6, "For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment." Like leprosy, sin's defilement is totalizing. Our entire constitution is infected with sin. Like leprosy, sin isolates. It makes man unfit for fellowship with God. If physical uncleanness couldn't dwell alongside the manifestation of God's presence and people in Israel, how much more does our spiritual uncleanness alienate us from the very presence of God himself?
The shame of our sin, if we could truly see it as God sees it, is unbearable. Our sin is an abomination. It is abhorrent and repulsive. It is a stench in the nostrils of holiness.
In our sin, we have belittled His glory. We have preferred filth over beauty. Nobody should want anything to do with us, least of all the thrice Holy God of the universe. We are outcasts, fit only for the depths of hell itself. If we had any sense of ourselves at all, we would cry out in grief over our betrayal and for mercy from Him who we betrayed.
2. The Sinner’s Contrition
We can do nothing to rid leprosy from our bodies. Still less can our filthy rags rid the sinfulness from our souls. But the leper in Luke 5 sees Jesus. And when he saw him, verse 12 says, “He fell on his face and implored him."
This is total brokenness, total humiliation. This man knows who he is. He knows he is undeserving, and so he takes the posture of humility, of reverence, even of worship, as he says in the next word, "Lord." This man does not try to soft-sell his condition. He doesn't say "Yes, sure. I've got a little leprosy, but on the whole, I think I'm a pretty healthy person." We certainly hear much of that mindset today as sinners flatter and deceive themselves, convinced their sinfulness isn't as foul and vile as the Bible says it is.
The leper comes in full confession and acknowledgment of his uncleanness, just as the truly repentant sinner must come to Christ, not making excuses for his sin, but openly confessing that he is totally corrupted, recognizing that he has no hope for forgiveness apart from the mercy of God. And so he falls down, bowed in abject humility, and begs God for undeserved grace.
3. The Sinner’s Confidence
But in one sense, this is not supposed to happen. According to the law of Moses, this leper shouldn't be approaching anyone, let alone a rabbi. What drives his holy recklessness? Consider the sinners' confidence. Verse 12, "He fell on his face and implored him saying, 'Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean."
This man knows he's an outcast. He knows he belongs nowhere near Jesus. He feels the pain of his defilement, isolation, and shame so intensely. He recognizes that he is totally undeserving. He is desperate.
People who are truly sensible of their need, whose afflictions have bowed them to the dust, who have this holy desperation, this holy abandon, that says, "I know I'm not supposed to! I know I've got no claim to his mercy! But I've got to go to him! I've got to bring him my uncleanness!”
Dear sinner, you and I must come the same way. Perhaps you've been taught to think that the filth of your uncleanness ought to prevent you from coming to Jesus. But no, if you come to him in humble contrition, bowed to the dust, and moved by a holy desperation, fueled by the confident faith that Jesus Christ is the Son of God our Savior, let every custom and every caution be thrown to the wind! Come to Christ for cleansing!
4. The Savior’s Cleanness
How does the Lord respond to the sinner's contamination, the sinner's contrition, and the sinner's confidence? In the Savior's perfect cleanness, verse 13, "He stretched out his hand and touched him."
Not a single person in Israel, and certainly no rabbi would have ever gotten within striking distance of a leper (Lev 5:3), but Jesus doesn't draw back. Jesus stretches out his hand and touches this man.
It is because of Jesus' holiness, purity, and cleanness that when he touches the leper, the leper becomes clean. The lepers' uncleanness does not contaminate Jesus' purity. Jesus infects this man with the contagion of heaven, and the touch of the Savior's cleanness overcomes the sinner's defilement.
Jesus is not repelled by uncleanness—not from one like this leper, who is ravaged by the effects of the fall, who is humbled by it, and who begs for mercy because of it. No, Jesus is repelled more by the arrogant leper who doesn’t feel his shame, who doesn’t come for cleansing, but who trusts in his own power to cleanse himself. But to the despairing sinner aware of his inability? Jesus draws near to that one. Even in his defilement.
And so if you feel the pain and shame of your sin, that’s good! You should! But don’t let that keep you from Jesus.
Let the pain and the shame of your sin drive you to Jesus, because the cleanness of his righteousness
overcomes the uncleanness of your sin.
That is what the gospel is about. Jesus takes your defilement upon himself (2 Cor 5:21) and then takes up residence inside you (Eph 3:17). God the Son traverses that infinite chasm between heaven and earth, between divine and human by assuming to himself a full and genuine human nature. He lives the perfect life of obedience that you were commanded to live but failed to live. Then he goes to the cross to bear your uncleanness in his own body (1 Pet 2:24).
This Savior does not zap your spiritual leprosy away from the safe spiritual harbors of heaven. No, he has skin in the game. Literally! He comes up close. He embraces you, sinner, and your sin, into his very arms. He lays you as a sheep upon his shoulders, and he himself suffers the law’s awful penalty for your uncleanness, in such a way that he—and you as well, united to him—come out clean on the other side.
What a Savior we have! He gave himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify—to cleanse—for himself a people for his own possession.
5. The Savior’s Compassion
When this leper comes to Jesus, begging him to be cleansed, Jesus could have healed this man from a safe distance with the command of his voice. Why does he touch him? Luke doesn't mention it here, but the parallel account in Mark 1:41 says, "Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him."
This sinner falls on his face before the fountain of all cleanness, the one whom this man believes can make him clean, if only he was willing. In a beautiful display of compassion, Jesus initiates the human contact that this man would have ached for.
And the Lord expresses that compassion with not only a touch but also with this glorious reply, "I am willing, be cleansed." And what tenderness must have been in Jesus’ face as he said that! Think of how your own heart, as sinful as it is, nevertheless swells with compassion for the afflicted. Imagine, then, what compassion welled up in the Savior's holy heart as he looked upon this miserable creature, and smiled, and said, "I am willing."
Believers have no need to doubt Christ’s willingness to rescue us from our uncleanness. He is willing; he is full of compassion for sinners. If you will come to him the way this leper came to him, humiliated, desperate, ashamed of your sin, but confident in his power to save, he will receive you.
And so to the unbeliever, the spiritual leper, you who still labor under the burdens of your sin, I call you to come to Christ, the fountain of cleansing, for your salvation. The leprosy of your sin required your isolation, your banishment from the presence of God. Jesus endured that banishment in the place of his people, that we might be accepted, welcomed, and restored. He still looks sinners in the eye and smiles, and says, "I am willing." He still speaks and all creation obeys. What could keep you from such a kind and compassionate and glorious Savior? Bring your sin to the one who is willing and able to cleanse you.
And to the believer, to you who know your leprosy has been cleansed but who, like me, so often return to your uncleanness: I call you to come to Christ, the fountain of cleansing, again and again each day. As we sin afresh, we must betake ourselves to Christ afresh. And, praise God, he receives us.
He came near to you when you were full of leprosy. How much more now that you only bring the remnants of sin? How much more does he say, "I am willing," after the definitive cleansing has already taken place? This is the Savior who welcomes sinners.
And so go to him, every morning, in full acknowledgment of your leprosy, and tell him, "Lord, here I am again. I've defiled myself again, I've shamed myself again, but Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." Our Christ, he is not just benevolent. He is not just compassionate. He is willing and able.
And that boundless compassion—rooted not in any sentimentalism, but in his own blood-stained cross—that ought to make us want to root out every vestige of remaining sin in our lives. We can’t live in the sin he died to free us from. We must be driven, by his own loveliness, to make war on our sin. What a motivation to holiness is a compassionate Savior!