Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him (5:13 NIV).
As we study the Gospel of Luke, we should understand that he did not write it in a chronological order, but according to his thematic purposes. In the section 5:1-6:16, Luke presents Christ as the One who is worthy and able to call people to follow him, with an emphasis on the Twelve Apostles, whom he would send out to preach the good news. (An apostle is a “sent one” or as we might say a “missionary”. The Twelve would become Christ’s special missionaries to establish the newly formed church.)
Luke chose two healing miracles to demonstrate the power and worthiness of Jesus. Both were major miracles, actions impossible for mere humans to perform. It answers questions about why the fishermen ought to have left everything to follow Jesus. Was it misguided enthusiasm? No. For Jesus proved what he is able to do for people.
The first miraculous sign pointing to Jesus’ greatness was his ability to cure leprosy. You can read in the footnotes of modern English Bible translations that it was a catch-all term for various skin diseases. All under this term were considered incurable. Under the law covenant, the person who had leprosy was considered unclean and was required to keep themselves separate from all others in Israel. I think there were only three people cured of leprosy in Old Testament times: Moses, when he did his miraculous signs before Israel (Exodus 4); Miriam, seven days after God had punished her with it for opposing Moses (Numbers 12); and Naaman, whom Elisha cured (2 Kings 5).
Anyone in Israel with leprosy was banned from contact with others, including going into the towns of Israel. Yet the leprous man in our text did just that. Clearly, he was desperate, because he broke God’s old covenant law to seek healing. Somehow, the man had heard about how the Lord Jesus had healed others (Luke 4:40). News like that travels fast. For this reason, the man with leprosy took a risk and approached Jesus in town. He acted contrary to the law of God in the hope of receiving mercy from God. Would God be merciful to such a person?
The man had confidence in the ability of the Lord Jesus to heal him. He said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” (5:12b NIV). Though he believed in Jesus’ power to cure the incurable, he doubted if Jesus would. Was it because of the illegal way he came? Was it because of being a social outcast he wondered if Jesus would care about such a person? Was it some other reason, like his sinfulness (and we are all sinners, Romans 3:23)? The Bible does not psychologize the man, like modern Americans love to do. The focus of Luke’s account is not on the leprous man but on the Lord Jesus. What does Luke want us to learn about Christ?
- We should learn how Christ exhibits God’s mercy in telling his willingness to show mercy. None of us can deserve either healing or forgiveness from God. We might even be in situations that would seem to disqualify us from grace. But grace is simply grace, God’s undeserved favor toward those who deserve wrath. Jesus is willing!
- We should learn that Christ has the power to do the humanly impossible. He immediately healed the man completely. He is able to do much more than we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
- We should learn that Christ honored God’s word. Though the man had transgressed the law covenant, Jesus did not. His touch of healing brought purity or cleanness to the man. He ordered the man to do what the law required. He wanted the priests to experience what God could do. Did the man obey? We are not told. Again, the focus is on Jesus Christ, not the man.
The outcome of the incident was that the news of Jesus’ greatness spread even more. Now crowds began to gather to hear him and to have their sick healed. The four fishermen and other disciples witnessed these events. They had made a wise choice to follow Christ.
As for the Lord Jesus, he was not deflected from his relationship with his Father in heaven. Though much more busy, he remained prayerful. Luke wants us to imitate Jesus in being people who pray.
Grace and peace,