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Rev. Miersma is pastor of the Loveland Protestant Reformed Church in Loveland, Colorado.

And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. 

And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will: be thou clean. 

And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed.

Mark 1:40-42

Our Lord Jesus Christ had just finished His wonderful sermon on the mount and was in the process of descending from His mountain pulpit. All about Him the crowd was milling. And, in spite of whatever law the Jews might have had to cover such cases, a leper ventured to join himself to this large crowd.

He had heard about Jesus and His wonderful power to save and, in his dreadful condition, had sought Him earnestly. And now, at last, he had found Him on that mountain preaching the gospel of the kingdom. Patiently he had waited until the Lord had finished His discourse. Then he made the most of his opportunity and, outcast though he was, made his way through the multitude, prostrated himself before Jesus of Nazareth, and besought Him most fervently: “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.”

Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth His hand, touched him, and said: “I will; be thou clean.” And the man was immediately healed.

This was no little miracle. This man had leprosy, one of the most terrible and loathsome of all diseases. One who suffered from this disease was barred from the cities of Israel and, when approached, had to shout: “Unclean! Unclean!” This was not due to this disease being contagious, for it was not, but for religious reasons. God intended to reveal to His people their true misery and to foster a desire for purity of soul and reconciliation with the living God. This deeper significance we will see shortly.

First, let us look at the disease itself. Its symptoms first became manifest on the skin of the individual. Very small spots would appear, almost invisible, especially on the victim’s face. Gradually these spots would become larger and more numerous, until finally the entire body was covered with white, scaly scabs. Although it first appeared on the skin, it was not essentially a skin disease. Rather, it was deeply embedded in the whole body, in every bone, muscle, and organ. As such it was very deadly, similar to our cancer of today. It might be in one’s system for many months, and one would not be aware of it; but when the symptoms became pronounced, the disease had already taken a firm hold on the entire body.

Most dreadful! Slowly but relentlessly it gnawed its way through the body until every member and organ lost its vitality and the whole body disintegrated. It was a dying inch by inch. A person with this disease was nothing but a walking sepulcher. And, as far as human efforts were concerned, it was incurable. That some were healed was because of a miracle by Jehovah, Naaman being an example.

Such a leper we have here. Luke says that “he was full of leprosy.” Thus, he was a walking sepulcher, a loathsome, repulsive, incurable outcast in Israel. Patiently and believingly he had waited for the opportune moment to present himself before the Great Physician of body and soul, our Lord Jesus Christ. At last that time had come.

Kneeling before Jesus he beseeches Him fervently, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” He completely ignored the multitude that milled about Jesus, many of whom must have shied away from him and pulled up their noses at the very sight of him. Like a little child he looks up to Jesus with childlike faith and humility. Surely he was a child of God, a reborn sinner. He calls Jesus “Lord!” More than likely he did not know much about doctrine. However, he recognizes in Jesus the living God Himself, and he ascribes to Him power and authority that belong to God alone.

He had faith. He had a disease that no man could cure. Yet he does not hesitate to say: “Thou canst make me clean!” With unwavering confidence of faith he stands before the Lord, knowing that Christ has power and authority over life and death, even over this disease.

Then the miracle. No earthly means were necessary. Jesus simply touched him, and by the power of His word alone the Lord cured him of this dreadful affliction. Truly proof of the eternal Godhead of the Lord Jesus Himself. A sign, we must remember, is always a representation of something deeper. A miracle is a demonstration, in the realm of the visible, of that same power of God that is working to redeem the world, in the remnant according to election, which is the church, from the entire yoke of the curse of God, and to bring it to the glorious heights of eternal life and glory with God. There is gospel in a miracle.

The question before us then, is this, What is the gospel in this particular miracle of the cleansing of the leper? This leper represents every child of God as he is by nature. Leprosy symbolizes sin in all its horrifying essence and results. Sin is deeply imbedded in man’s inmost heart, and from there it involves man’s entire being from the spiritual-ethical point of view. Sin brings nothing but misery. Like a cancer it devours the victim until he is consumed by the terrible wrath of an eternal God. Sin makes one entirely loathsome in the sight of God, who cannot behold sin without becoming for us a consuming fire. Finally, it is like leprosy in that it is incurable. There is nothing in man or of man that can even begin to accomplish anything toward deliverance from this spiritual disease. “Thou must save, and Thou alone!”

This is why the Levitical law barred lepers from the fellowship of the people of Israel. It was a picture of the lost sinner in Israel. It was to proclaim visually, pictorially, the truth of Scripture as found in Psalm 1:5, “Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.” And in Psalm 5:4, “For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee.” That means that this leper is a picture of you and me, by nature. We are loathsome, dead, incurable lepers in the sight of God. We are guilty, with nothing to offer in the way of atonement. There is absolutely nothing we can do in the way of cleansing.

As leprosy is a sign, so is the miracle. It signified the cleansing of spiritual lepers and the lifting up, in and through Christ, of a leprous world to the eternal glories and perfections of heaven. That is the purpose of a miracle. It represents the breaking through of the grace of God unto salvation. It tells us: the same power, the same Immanuel, is working mightily to save and cleanse and glorify the world forever. A blessed gospel!

Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, there is healing for everyone who can pray this prayer as uttered by the leper. It does not matter what is his record, nor what are his memories of past sin—even adulterers and murderers and persecutors of the church of Christ. This is true of anyone who learns to pray this prayer from the heart. By the heart—for never does man, or can man, come to the point where he desires to be delivered. So deeply imbedded is sin in the innermost recesses of the nature, that it has also completely contaminated the mind and the will. If sin were merely a skin disease, something outward, while the heart, will, and mind remained basically sound, this would be different. Then man, of himself, might long to be cleansed.

But by nature this is not the case. The whole heart is sick (dead!), along with the whole mind and will. We are conceived and born in sin; thus all men are lepers, but not so that it grieves them. The leprosy of sin is man’s sole delight, and therefore he never wants to be delivered from it.

The prayer of which we speak is possible only by grace. To desire deliverance, one must know his sin and loathe it. That is given by grace. That is part of the healing. Then, not before, it becomes our prayer: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” “God be merciful to me, the sinner.”

If you pray this prayer, you are cleansed, you are in Christ. Your sins are forgiven and you actually are born again. Only life can pray for life; only light can desire light. Only when we are in principle cleansed can we pray for more cleansing. All is of God. Nothing is of man.

And the answer to his prayer will always be, “I will; be thou clean.” Christ tells us in John 6:37, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” Always the earnest “Thou canst make me clean” finds the answer “Be thou clean.”

O, did we not say that this was a blessed gospel?! Christ has regenerated us and has taught us to pray. Then He points us to His Word, which assures the penitent and praying sinner that his penitence and prayer are the evidence that he is saved already.

Therefore, He continues His work, begun by Him, until this wonder of cleansing is consummated in the new creation. Presently the work will be finished. Then we will be cleansed from all the leprosy that still clings to us. Then we shall possess in perfection what we now have in part. Then this word of the Lord will be perfectly realized: “Be thou clean.” Then we shall render forever our sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise to the Lord of our salvation, and be holy, as the Lord our God is holy.

That will be heaven! That will be glory!