“Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” (Matt. 8:1-4, v. 2)
Many would say that it was his greatest sermon. I know I would. Everything that he’d taught that day, he would begin to live out; model. Jesus was a doer. I think the greatest sermons are the ones where truth is spoken and then lived out. Acted on. Modeled. He spoke of hope and promise. “Blessed are they”, he said. “Blessed are the poor in spirit. The Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as them.” “Blessed are those who are pure in heart. The pure in heart shall see God.” “The merciful will receive mercy in return.” “Peacemakers shall be called sons of God,” he said. “Those who grieve will again find joy.” He talked about the dangers of anger and adultery and retaliation. Such things destroy relationships. Those who heard him speak heard the challenge to love their enemies and pray for those who wish you harm and speak out against you. “If you love those who love you, or do good only to those who do good to you, what benefit does that bring? Even the pagans do that.” What the crowd heard that day they had not heard before.
And so, they followed. Great crowds. Matthew’s gospel tells us that by any estimate they were large in number. They wanted to hear more and see more from this one “who was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” (Matt. 7:29, ESV)
It was on the mountain that he had spoken. Now he would come down to the plain. He would now begin his journey; a journey that would end on another mountain. God’s holy mountain, Zion. The cross on Calgary’s hill awaited him. He knew that. The crowds didn’t. Those who would closely follow would be unaware. He chose, for now, to keep it that way.
Shocking! You’d have to say it was. When “the intruder” suddenly appeared. Shocking! Unthinkable! Why, the very idea! The one they called not by name, but by circumstance. “Leper!” “Unclean one!” He had broken out.
The Law forbid this. It was well documented. No guesswork on what was required. The Law said that the priest was to have examined the diseased area on the skin. He would make the call. “Clean” or “Unclean”. The unclean were to wear torn clothes. Their hair was to “hang loose”. Their upper lip was to be covered. They were to shout to those passersby; “Unclean, Unclean!” They were to live alone, shunned. Their dwelling outside the camp. (Leviticus 13, paraphrased)
This one, whom the priest had determined to be “unclean” boldly broke through. He had been forced into separation by every form and measure. By his race. By his religion. By his community. An outcast! Ugly! Detestable! Sinner! Condemned! That’s what the Law said. So, that’s what the people in the community said. They followed the Law of Moses. And when this one approached, the one with no name, the one of unfortunate circumstance, the great crowds gasped. “Back away,” they cried! “Don’t touch him”, they shouted! They couldn’t take the risk. That’s how they saw it.
But Jesus, the man of grace, saw it differently. Compassionate eyes see from the heart. When all others saw this one through eyes of shame and detestation, Jesus saw one who had courage. He saw one who had hope. He saw one who had faith. He saw one who sought to break the bonds that bound him. Jesus saw one who was willing, at all costs, to take him at his word. This one, the one the world called “unclean”, now knelt before the King of Heaven. He had to take the chance! A chance to be healed. A chance for restoration and renewal. New life. Shackled and chained no more.
“Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” With his words he spoke these truths. "Lord, only you can heal me.” “Only you can restore my life”. So, that was his request. Perhaps it’ should be yours. Perhaps it should be mine.
For like the leper, you and I can find ourselves confined, roped off, excluded, alone, and forgotten. The leper’s wounds were on the surface of the skin. Yours and mine may be deeper, below the surface, not visible on the outside. Sometimes the bindings that constrict us are from our past. Hurts and pains of yesterday are the chains that enslave us, open sores that continue to ooze and remind us that we are not whole yet. You and I may be bound by deep regret. Something we did. Something we didn’t do. We find ourselves marooned on the “Island of REGRET”. The languages we speak there are “I wish Ida” and “If only Ida”, or “They shoulda”. We’re lost in the wilderness of “what might have been”.
Perhaps our chains are fashioned out of our grief. Our grief is too deep. Too painful. The chains seem to be made of steel. When we’ve lost one that we’ve loved so deeply, we struggle with a pathway forward. How do we break loose?
Or, maybe it’s anger that imprisons us. Perhaps it’s guilt. Whatever it is, we need him to break the chains. We can’t do it ourselves. Just as did the leper, we can take the risk, go boldly, and stake the claim. “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”
And he who heals with grace unimaginable does the unthinkable! He stretches out his hand and touches the “unclean” one. And with a soft voice Jesus says, “I will; be clean”. Astonishing!
It didn’t take seven days to be clean. No forced confinement for weeks or months or years. No waiting for the priest to declare. “Immediately his leprosy was healed.” “Go now and present yourself”, Jesus says. (Matt. 8:3, ESV)
When Jesus heals, he heals immediately. With grace that is sufficient and immediate. Whatever may be the “dis-ease” that binds us, Jesus cleanses. He’s readily available. Don't let the crowd stop you. Just come boldly, kneel in contrition, and ask him. Astonishing!
It’s All About Grace!