Session #062 Make Me Clean
Scripture Matthew 8:2-4
Summary Matt 8:2-4 records the first miracle account as Jesus moved from mountain to multitudes. At a glance, we see a physical healing but there is more to this than meets the eye. Henson brings an understanding of clean and unclean, both in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament, before drawing lessons from the leper’s approach and Jesus’ response.
And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” Matthew 8:2–4
Matthew 8:2-4 records the first miracle account as Jesus moved from the mountain to the multitudes. At a glance, we see physical healing but there is more to this than meets the eye. Before drawing lessons from the leper’s approach and Jesus’ response, we need an understanding of clean and unclean, both in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament.
An Understanding of “Clean & Unclean”
God is holy, and those who approach Him must also be holy, clean and pure. Uncleanness is a barrier to holiness. In God’s presence of perfect holiness, there is only death for the unclean. katharizo is Greek, meaning to clean or to purify, with the root word from katharos, pure. God’s people had to learn how to purify themselves. Hence, the laws were provided.
The duty of priests is to distinguish between clean and unclean, holy and unholy (Leviticus 10:10–11). Levitical Laws laid these out in chapters 11 to 16. For skin diseases, God gave specific instructions in chapters 13 and 14 for each of the skin conditions. Anyone suffering from a polluting skin condition remains unclean until it clears up. In general, a short-term human uncleanness may be cleared by waiting a day and washing in water. When a condition causing long-term uncleanness clears up, the sufferer has also to offer a sacrifice so as to become ritually clean again (Leviticus 14).
The leper in Matthew 8:2-4 falls into this category of uncleanness. Leprosy is (lepra) from lepis or ‘scales’, from lepo, to peel or to flake (used to describe fish scales). It is a skin condition or disease that may or may not be referring to modern-day leprosy. There is a loss of pigmentation causing white patches. It may affect nerves as well, resulting in loss of flesh, toes or fingers, causing paralysis and even blindness. There can be mould or fungus which can affect garments and houses.
Thus, this is not just a personal consequence but a corporate consequence too. This is not just physical cleanliness but spiritual and moral too. Leviticus 18 records that incest, adultery, homosexuality and bestiality will pollute those involved and the land. God may cut these off from the land. Idols and idolatry are also things that defile the person and the land (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2–5; Ezekiel 20:7, 18).
Murder is another sin that defiles the land (Numbers 35:33–34). The uncleanness caused by these sins is so serious that only the death of the sinner suffices to cleanse it. The Old Testament Prophets addressed these sins of spiritual harlotry, or spiritual and moral apostasy constantly.
Generally, the law exemplifies God vs Sin as God is holy, perfect, and gives life. By being holy and living in accordance with His ways will bring life. The law exemplifies Life vs Death as sin does not bear God’s mark which brings death. Living apart from God and His ways through disobedience and self-loving ways will bring death. The law also exemplifies Holy vs Unclean, as God calls His people to be holy as He is holy (Leviticus 20:26). Israel was to obey God’s laws because they were His chosen people, to live distinctly different from the other nations (Gentiles). They were to be an example of holiness, separateness and cleanness. The Law reminds Israel of this special and privileged position.
The New Testament
Jesus goes straight for the heart (Matthew 15:1-20), “for out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” Matthew 15:19. You can keep the laws on the outside and still be unclean on the inside. You can serve, look and talk like a Christian and still be unclean on the inside (Matthew 23:25–28). Adherence to the Law does not save, but grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:21).
Epistles are letters written to churches that are supposedly saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. So are we not already clean then? As Israel was saved and set apart that they may live in holiness, it is the same with the church.
Jesus’ ministry and teaching provide a foundation for outreach to Gentiles and abolition of food laws. This can be seen in Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10:28 and15:20. Paul who is trained in the Law upholds this same position in 1 Corinthians 8:8 and 1 Timothy 4:3–5.
The New Testament writers, like the Old Testament prophets, also addressed uncleanness by mentioning it alongside issues of idolatry and sexual immorality in Ephesians 5:3, Colossians 3:5 and 1 Corinthians 6:9–10. Uncleanness most associated with sexual sin because sexuality and sexual acts involve life (Romans 1:24, Galatians 5:19, 1 Thessalonians 4:7).
Jesus makes us clean. And yet we are reminded to cleanse ourselves (2 Timothy 2:20–21). Believers are to be dealt with through church discipline, and excommunicated, if unrepentant (1 Corinthians 5:9). Why is it harsh? We are God’s special possession, a holy nation, a royal priesthood. We are to be holy as our God is holy 1 Peter 1:15-16.
Make Me Clean
Cleanness is more than just physical healing or restoration. It is a restoration of the right relationship with God. It is a restoration into God’s kingdom community.
It was Radical on the Leper’s Part
An acknowledgement of uncleanness
The leper knew something was not right. He acknowledged his position and plight. Some faith teachers teach that we must only confess positive things. To acknowledge means to admit and curse ourselves further. There is no denial on his part.
There is no record if it was genetic or personal sin. In the Old Testament, leprosy was sometimes a consequence of personal sin or pride, resulting in divine judgment as seen with Miriam in Numbers 12:10-15, Uzziah in 2 Chronicles 26:19-21 and Gehazi in 2 Kings 5:27.
But sin is not always the cause as seen in John 9:1–3 where the man was born blind.
A desire for restoration
The leper had to stay outside the camp, away from family and friends. He had to shout “Unclean. Unclean.” He had to endure rejection, stones thrown at him. He could not worship, as he was considered ritually unclean.
A level of desperation and courage to approach Jesus
He had to brave the scorn and rejection of the multitudes. It was very dangerous for him as he could have been killed while trying to get to Jesus.
A heart of worship, of faith, as well as submission
He was not presumptuous or arrogant. He bowed in worship and humility and addressed Jesus as “Lord”. He knew Jesus could heal and cleanse as he just makes the statement, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” (Matthew 8:2). He has no doubt at all about Jesus’ power to heal. If Jesus wills it, it will happen.
It was Radical on Jesus’ Part
Jesus ‘broke’ the law by touching the leper (Leviticus 5:3). It did not matter to Jesus because His love extended to the outcast of society. Jesus demonstrated the law which is Love by touching the leper (Mark 1:41). Love fulfils the law as Love must be demonstrated. Jesus demonstrated the law. It was not just a physical restoration, but also a restoration into God’s kingdom community.
We are not to align with uncleanness. But we do not have to be afraid of uncleanness.
Jesus upheld the law by asking the ex-leper to present himself to the priest as sacrificial laws were still in place (Leviticus 14). There were two birds, one was killed, and one was released.
Today because Jesus has become the ultimate sacrifice once and for all, there is no requirement of sacrificial laws (Hebrews 10:14).
To tell or not to tell?
And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” Matthew 8:4
Did Jesus not want God to be glorified? By presenting himself to the authorities, an inspection would be made and glory would have been given to God. It would have been obvious to all, and Jesus did not need the additional pat on the back. He was content doing the Father’s Will.
Jews were seeking signs but Jesus was not content with just giving them signs for the sake of signs. Jesus wanted to avoid sensationalism as miracles and healings can be misunderstood and can even cause some to miss the point. The biggest sign was the cross, and the Jews totally missed it.
The ex-leper’s ‘disobedience’ caused problems for Jesus’ ministry (Mark 1:45). There was confusion and expectation of Jesus’ Messianic mission. This increased in popularity later which resulted in the people wanting Jesus to be King on their terms, to overthrow Romans and establish the kingdom. They might have prevented Jesus from dying on the cross which is His true kingdom assignment (cf Matthew 16:20).
Learning from the Leper
There was an Acknowledgement of Uncleanness or need. He had a desire for restoration with a level of desperation and courage to come to Jesus. He had a heart of worship, filled with faith and submitting to Jesus.
Is physical or spiritual uncleanness keeping you from God or from God’s kingdom community? Have you faced rejection and are in need of restoration? Do you believe Jesus can heal, cleanse and restore? Would you brave the multitudes to come to Jesus?
Do we need some cleaning up in our own lives?
Are you complacent, thinking you are already clean so you can live as unholy or as unclean as you like? Are you presuming upon the grace of God?
Learning from Jesus
Have we allowed the letter of the law to keep us from ministering in the spirit of the law? Do we need some cleaning up in the way we minister? Are we clean only on the outside, but not inside? Would we be willing to admit that, often, we are no better than the Pharisees?
In our bid to remain ‘clean’, are we afraid of the unclean? Have we only talked about love but failed to demonstrate love? Do we only hang out with people we like? Do we choose the assignments that we like and reject those that take us out of our comfort zone? Are we willing to move with compassion as Jesus did?