God Sees The Less Privileged Differently
And Honors Them With Accountability
Jesus is often referred to as a personal Savior but you have to break that down to understand what it really means. Saying He is a Savior is one thing. Calling Him personal is another.
The Savior part isn’t that difficult to understand. He died for our sins, all of our sins, a price we could never pay ourselves. That sacrifice makes salvation from eternal condemnation possible.
But what about the Personal part?
We could say “Personal” means He’s interested. His sacrifice was motivated by concern for us. The Bible clearly says that His death was an expression of love (Romans 5:8). What that means is He really cares about the individuals He saves. He not only saves them, but He also wants them to be saved.
He’s disappointed when they don’t get saved and elated when they do.
He’s spiritually and emotionally involved.
The caring part shouldn’t be assumed. There are many people whose work involves saving people from calamities: lifeguards, Firemen, EMTs, police, and more. Lifeguards are required to be strong swimmers. Caring about the people they save from drowning is an added benefit but isn’t required.
Jesus did, however, care. He was emotionally involved and His caring is evident as the following story indicates.
Matthew 8:1-4 NIV – When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and (worshipped Him or) knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said, “Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
On the surface, a leper approaching Jesus and kneeling in an act of worship isn’t strange. It seems quite normal. People worship Jesus publicly all the time today and in many parts of the world. Worship is normal to us but in this case, it was anything but.
It’s important to point out that being in the presence of Jesus is not the same as worship. Jesus was surrounded by large crowds. The only one referred to as worshipping was the leper. Even the disciples were more mystified on this occasion than worshipful.
Some might suggest that this leper’s motive was healing not worship. He did say very honestly that he wanted to be healed. But there are a few reasons to suggest this was not his primary motive.
One, Healing wasn’t guaranteed
Jesus can heal anyone and had healed many but there is nothing in the Bible that indicates He will or does heal everyone. There were many lepers in Israel. If healing was guaranteed, why didn’t they all show up?
The Apostle Paul had an eye disease and prayed for healing several times. The answer to his prayer: it was the express will of God that he not be healed.
Two, Worship was dangerous
There were many people who followed Jesus but they were very careful to stay hidden in the crowd. They were curious about Jesus not committed. They did nothing to stand out. From the early stages of Jesus’ public ministry, He was perceived as a trouble maker and people were generally wary of getting too close personally. Only the very resolved would do so.
In His hometown, Nazareth, the people had attempted to throw Him over a cliff after He made His first public claim to be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. The religious leaders hated Jesus from the very beginning and their violent intentions became more apparent as His public ministry developed. They eventually threatened any person who recognized Him publicly.
One blind man, healed by Jesus, was publicly interrogated and reprimanded for being healed of his blindness (John 9).
Jesus’ family was afraid of Him and for Him. They doubted Him and on one occasion tried to interfere. They felt the pressure of His public ridicule.
People were willing to be entertained by Jesus but were hesitant to actually worship Him. Recognizing Jesus was dangerous and being healed by Him was no less dangerous.
This leper hoped to be healed but his actions indicate he was determined to worship, even in the face of danger, and this is what set him apart from thousands of others who were ministered to physically by Jesus.
Jesus healed hundreds of people but for most of them, there is very little in the Bible to indicate they believed in or worshipped Jesus before or after they were healed.
Third, this man never demanded healing
The Leper said:
If you are willing you can make me clean,”
The classic if/then statement. It was conditioned on the will of the Savior, not the positive assertion of the supplicant.
The man acknowledged both God’s power and God’s will. He knew Jesus had the power to heal him but he made no demands.
God never uses His power to manipulate our will – do this and I’ll bless you with that – and we should never use our need to manipulate His. The Bible refers to that as testing God (Matt. 4:7).
The Leper understood that the best relationships could never be forced. He wanted to be healed but it was not a condition of his worship. He wanted God with or without the healing.
Honesty, not desperation, is what drives worship.
We can learn an important lesson about worship from this leper. We usually see him as pitiable but that is missing the point. He stood out only to his human counterparts.
The crowd saw him as a stigma. Jesus saw him as no worse off than anyone else.
Yes, he was desperate but desperation wasn’t the thing that defined him. It made him noticeable, it didn’t define him as more spiritually needy than any other person.
The truth is, everyone is desperate. We’re all sinners. The sin of some is more obvious than the sin of others but it isn’t less damning in anyone.
In the eternal sense, sin doesn’t have a scale. We are all equally in trouble.
The good news is Jesus is equally capable and willing to save. His ability to save isn’t influenced by your perceived desperation.
At 13, I was not addicted to alcohol or drugs. I was just an innocent kid but I was just as needy and desperate as a hardened criminal. The only thing that separated me from the worst of the worst was honesty. I knew I was a sinner and gladly admitted it.
The same is true for the leper. He wasn’t deluded. He knew he was desperate. He was convinced Jesus was the Savior and he acted on his faith. He trusted and worshipped.
HOW DID JESUS RESPOND?
Jesus did two things in response to this man.
One, He touched him
Touching can be a very superficial form of interaction. To touch someone does not necessarily mean you are interested in them but to touch a leper was a very selfless thing to do and was very affirming for the leper.
It was rare that any leper was ever touched. The Bible gave specific instructions for lepers to avoid human traffic and the community obeyed this command obsessively. Lepers were rejected and when someone did touch one it was either accidental or intended to drive them away, but not this time.
This touch was an expression of acceptance. Jesus didn’t have to touch anyone to perform a healing. In some cases, He didn’t even know or see the person who was healed. On this occasion, Jesus was making an important point. Jesus accepted this man’s worship and his person. His touch was equal to an embrace.
It wasn’t easy for this man to acknowledge Jesus publicly and no one expected Jesus to acknowledge him in return but those are the conditions under which a real connection with Jesus can be made. Later in this Gospel, Matthew quotes Jesus as saying…
Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. Mt 10:32
This leper moved from the realm of non-worship into the company of those who stood out in their worship of God and Jesus honored him for it. The crowd did nothing to encourage or stop his worship. They were neither for it nor against it. There were some who were interested in Jesus and many who were not.
I think it is safe to say their attitude was generally more negative than positive. The equivocation of the crowd, however, could not stop this man from worshipping.
And the truth? Jesus cannot ignore genuine worship. The believing heart cannot withhold it and Jesus cannot ignore it, in public or in private.
When Jesus touched this man He was making a statement about Himself and the leper. It was the most convincing and even dramatic way to express acceptance. Lepers were untouchables. It was only under the most extreme circumstances that anyone would get close enough to touch one. Jesus not only allowed this man to intrude upon His personal space but, in order to demonstrate He had the power to save and heal, He touched him.
If He could heal a body of a most dreaded disease miraculously, not medically, then He also had the power to save a soul, a completely non-medical event.
Jesus was not insecure about this man or his disease and He honored him in the same way He had been honored by him.
A second thing Jesus did was encourage accountability
The first thing Jesus said was “don’t tell anyone!” Why would He say that?
This is contrary to everything I’ve been told since the first day I was saved. Tell people, say something, witness, share your faith, speak to the issue. The implication is we should open every conversation with a word about Jesus.
Not according to Jesus.
Instead, there was nothing radical in the advice Jesus gave this man.
Jesus had just healed him but rather than make a noisy scene about it, He told the man to keep his mouth shut.
Don’t tell anyone. Instead, go to the locally recognized authorities (the priests), submit yourself to the normal procedures followed when anyone was healed of leprosy, and have the priests verify the healing.
In other words, instead of confessing your own healing, let someone else say it for you. This is a hard lesson to learn and it doesn’t only apply to lepers.
Observation: it’s better to show your faith than to verbalize it
We love to talk about what God does for us. It’s normal. We are elated and can’t wait to share the good news but hold on just a minute. According to the advice of Jesus, it is better to let others see the evidence before you talk about it.
The leper’s experience illustrates how it should work.
Leprosy was a serious public health hazard and needed to be handled in a responsible way even when it was healed miraculously. No short cuts were allowed. Jesus did not expect this man to be reintroduced into society without going through the normal procedures. Jesus did miraculous things but never at the expense of the mundane.
Jesus was not suggesting he keep this thing a secret. That was impossible.
Jesus was saying don’t become a braggart or obnoxious or arrogant or boisterous or mouthy because you have been healed. Healings make you humble, not haughty and he really wouldn’t need to tell anyone anyway. How can you hide a healing of this nature? All the people who knew him before he contracted leprosy would also know he was healed and would be inquisitive as to how this came about.
That’s how it’s supposed to work. People ask us about our faith because of what they see in our lives and then we have an opportunity to share. Peter, the Apostle who was very mouth-first, actually taught this.
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Pet. 3:15)
I’m sure there were many people who had questions for this leper and he wasn’t alone in his testations.
The crowds also could verify this healing. They were there when it happened. They saw it with their own eyes.
Some probably did not like the fact that Jesus healed the man but they couldn’t lie about it. Even the priest whose job it was to pronounce him clean would more than likely have a few questions.
The truth is, when Jesus really touches your life you won’t need to tell anyone. The touch of Jesus changes you, makes you more responsible, and enables you to be held accountable even when you are labeled as underprivileged.
Accountability is self-evident. What you do makes a stronger statement than what you say. Jesus was telling this man to speak with his actions, not his words. If you’re going to make a noise, that’s the best way to do it.