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May 6 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 4, 2014 – Mark 1:35-45

Restoring God’s “Likeness”

In the early morning, while it was still dark Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. Simon and his companions searched for Him; they found Him, and said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You” He said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” Mark 1:35-39

Intro: This section begins and ends with Jesus in a secluded places

The first scene takes us to a village on the shore of Galilee
– the gospels refer to it as the “Sea” of Galilee,” but to us Californians, it is more like a lake
• thirteen miles north to south, seven miles wide, and bounded by mountains on three sides
• walking the shore in the early morning and evening, you are calmed by the rhythmic music of ripples
– one morning, before sun rose over the peaks beyond eastern shore, a solitary figure moved in darkness
• Jesus went looking for an out of the way place to pray
○ he did not have to go far to be completely alone
○ besides, making his way through the rugged terrain in the dark would be difficult
– the Bible sometimes hides the best parts
• wouldn’t it have been fascinating to sit nearby and observe Jesus in prayer?

Daylight broke over Capernaum, waking Peter and his friends
– Jesus was gone – so they went looking for him
• soon they came clamoring into his solitude
○ they could not restrain their excitement
○ Jesus is gaining popularity, “Everyone is looking for you!”
– but Jesus is ready to move on
• attracting large crowds is not what he “came for”

V. 40, We’re not told when or where  Jesus was met by “a leper”

I am guessing it was along a road between villages
– victims of this disease were not allowed in towns or cities
– leprosy in the Bible is not usually the disease we know by that name (Hansen’s disease)
• it was used of a variety of skin infections and could be a rash, eczema, psoriasis, etc.
• in the Old Testament Law, these cases were brought to the priests
○ after examining a person’s leprous condition, the priest would “pronounce him unclean” (Lev. 13:15)
○ the leper was then quarantined and required to follow a specific protocol:

“As for the leper who has the infection,
1. his clothes shall be torn, and
2. the hair of his head shall be uncovered, and
3. he shall cover his mustache and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ . . .
4. he shall live alone, his dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Lev. 13:45)

– if the condition cleared up, there was a specific ritual for the person’s re-entry into society

We tend to misconstrue the biblical perspective on leprosy
– at first, Leviticus makes it look to us like a medical condition
• it’s easy to confuse “clean” with hygiene
• but germs and bacteria were unknown to the ancient Hebrews
– some commentators have assumed that leprosy belonged to a moral category
• leprosy had to do with Israel’s purity code
○ words like “pure,” “impure,” and “defiled” sound like moral conditions to us
○ but there is nothing immoral or sinful about childbirth (Lev. 12:1-7)
– some preachers imagine that leprosy belongs to a theological or spiritual category
• but leprosy was not a punishment for sin or a symbol of sin
(except in cases in which a prophet or poet clearly used it as a metaphor)
– the Old Testament treated leprosy as a religious challenge
• it had to do with a person’s eligibility to participate in sacred rituals
• “uncleanness” was normally a temporary condition
○ in most cases it could be resolved through a sacrifice of “atonement”

But all this background doesn’t help us get inside the mind of this leper kneeling before Jesus
– we are aware of psychological dimensions of diseases
• regardless of what others tell us, we feel responsible for our physical ailments
○ enforced isolation feels like rejection
○ exclusion from normal activities feels like I’m flawed
○ being labeled “leper” feels like I am defined by that word
– this condition had a fundamental effect on the leper
• made it impossible for him to lead a normal life

He came to Jesus in faith, but also with an “if”
– this is why, in spite of his leprosy, I see him as a beautiful person
• he has no doubt that Jesus can clear up his skin
○ for him, it is not a question of Jesus’ capability, but simply his willingness
• later on, a father will bring his afflicted son to Jesus and say:
“But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” (Mk. 9:22)
○ Jesus seemed offended and threw his words back at him, “If You can?”
– but why would the leper question Jesus’ willingness?
• why would anyone question the Lord’s willingness to heal and cleanse?
• because a sense of unworthiness typical attaches itself to our condition

There’s a difference between saying, “I have leprosy” and saying, “I am a leper”
– we can take disease into our person so that it becomes our identity
• “I’m a diabetic,” “I’m a chronic worrier,” “I’m overweight”
○ no, you’re not! Those things do not define you!
○ you were made in God’s image and cannot be reduced to a label
• perhaps someone tagged us with a label long ago and now our minds can’t rise above it
– we must remind ourselves not to take labels too seriously
• we’re more than that – a part of us is derived from God

At any rate, the leper is willing to leave the decision up to Jesus

Vv. 41-42, The shift to Jesus: two movements

An internal movement — “Moved with compassion”
– the language here refers to a deep stirring of feelings
• how do we know what went on inside of Jesus
• we’re told that our words comprise less than eighty percent of our communication
○ the rest consists of body language, facial expression, and vocal intonation
○ everyone there could discern the deep compassion of Jesus in his eyes, his hands, his voice

An external movement – “Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him . . .”
– by touch and speech, Jesus revealed his “willingness”
• the law was clear, to touch a leper resulted in contamination
• but when Jesus touched the leper, a miracle occurred – or, “miracles”
– leprosy carried something like a negative energy
• it could drain positive religious energy from others
• but Jesus had such a positive energy, he was not only protected, but transferred it to the leper
○ and immediately “the leprosy left him and he was cleansed”

There are certain things Jesus, always willing to do
– he is always willing to touch and to be touched
– and he’s always willing to restore a person to his or her true self
• Genesis tells us we were made in the image and likeness of God
• the second century theologian, Irenaeus,  said that in the fall humankind retained image, but lost the likeness
○ the work of Jesus is to restore likeness of God in us
○ he restores us to our true self, in which the family resemblance to our Father is again visible

Vv. 43-45, The strange ending to this episode

Jesus’ instruction to the leper seems impossible to obey, “say nothing to anyone”
– even still, it was Jesus who suffered the consequences or the leper proclaiming freely what happened
• Jesus was forced to trade places with the leper, for it was now the Lord who “could no longer publicly enter a city, but stayed out in unpopulated areas”
– the leper had been cleansed, but not made perfect
• and we also continue to carry our brokenness
○ and that is where Jesus continues to meet us

Conc: Now what can we do with what we’ve learned from this story:

We have been constrained by our condition–and even more so by our labels
– but we want to meet up with Jesus
• so first of all, we need to discern this present moment:
Has Jesus come looking for me, or do I have to go looking for him?
– this alternating rhythm of pursuing and being pursued is described by two words in the Bible: “wait” and “seek”
• sometimes we are told to “wait on the Lord” — he is coming to us, so we must quiet ourselves in faith (Isa. 30:15; 40:31)
• other times, we are told to “seek the Lord” (Ps. 105:4)

When Jesus finds us, we are broken, labeled, and lost in our false self
• he grieves the disparity of what could be and what is (cf. Lk. 19:41-42)
– moved with compassion for us, if we give him the opportunity, he is willing to intervene
• with a touch and a word, he recovers our true self and restores the likeness of God in us

You do not have to live under the delusion of a label
You do not have to carry the burden of a degraded self-perception
You do not have to be defined by something that separates you from Jesus, from others, and from your true self

Jesus is willing — be cleansed

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