This is a message that I preached back in 1998. It was part of a series that I did as preparation for Easter. The five bullet points about the leper came from a message that Emil Turner preached at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in March 1998. As we enter this season of celebration, I thought it would be appropriate:
And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” (Mark 1.40-41, ESV)
Jerusalem (JP) – At approximately 9:00 a.m. Friday morning, Jesus of Nazareth was nailed to a cross outside of our capital city. He was declared dead at 3:00 p.m. Friday afternoon by the Roman soldiers supervising his crucifixion along with two others. The Jerusalem coroner confirmed his death, granting permission to women who followed the religious teacher to embalm him after the Sabbath.
He was buried in a tomb owned by well-known Jerusalem businessman and religious leader, Joseph of Arimethea. A detachment of Roman soldiers was assigned by governor Pontius Pilate to guard the tomb against tampering by Jesus’ followers.
Many feared an uprising by the people in support of the popular religious leader, but their fears proved to be unfounded after Jesus was found guilty of blasphemy by Israel’s highest religious body, the Sanhedrin. In fact, Caiphas the high priest himself went personally to Governor Pilate to move for an execution.
Upon Jesus’ arrest, people at the scene said Jesus’ followers fled in fear, although it was reported that two of his inner 12 were seen at the trial.
Shortly before press time Saturday evening, one of the Roman soldiers guarding Jesus’ tomb said, “Things are under control here. Jesus is gone for good, and his followers are finally silent. They are not sharing their ‘faith’ anymore.”
Despite the Romans’ confidence, people in Jerusalem tonight are uneasy as a result of the unexplainable earthquake yesterday just as Jesus breathed his life. “It was a coincidence and coincidence only,” said an official at the Jerusalem Seismographic Institute. Religious leaders are using the same explanation for yesterday’s temple incident. members of the Sanhedrin returned from the crucifixion yesterday to discover the temple veil had ripped from top to bottom. Temple servants testified to reporters that it occurred roughly at the same time Jesus breathed his last. “Although no one was seen leaving the inner courts, there were numerous people in and around the temple yesterday. Temple security is interviewing suspects,” a leading Pharisee said.
None of Jesus’ disciples could be located for comment. Presumably, they have left the city, scared, disillusioned, and uncertain about their future.
Although this is a fictitious news report, it does help us capture the confusion and consternation that gripped Jerusalem. What were the disciples doing between Christ’s cross and His crown? Because of the absence of sources, we know more of what they were NOT doing.
- They were no longer actively witnessing. They thought Jesus was dead, so they no longer had a gospel (good news).
- They were not inviting anyone to their gatherings. For them, Jesus was still in the tomb.
- They were not out ministering to the needy – they were too wrapped up in themselves – their own fears, worries, and feelings.
- They were not fixing broken relationships. Their pride had been hurt because Jesus didn’t do what they had hoped he would do.
- They would not have publicly admitted that they believed in Jesus as Messiah. He was dead.
If it had been up to them, Christianity and its leader would have stayed in the tomb. Unfortunately, we see churches full of the same inactivity today. Does it mean that what we REALLY believe is Christ was not raised?
We can’t learn from the 11 this morning about Christ’s power and love. We must go to a leper. We must go back to the beginning of Christ’s ministry.
- The leper had a proximity to Jesus. The leper closed the distance. We want to be close enough to enjoy the benefits of Jesus, but not close enough for life transformation.
- Availability to Jesus. “I want to be cleansed. But it’s what you want.” Jesus saw His own attitude in that of the leper (not my will, but yours). I can’t do it.
- Sense of humility before Jesus. The leper was shameless in his approach of Christ. Arrogance will keep the lost lost, and spiritual pride will keep Christians cold, dead, and lifeless. Humility results in God’s touch. (2 Chronicles 7.14)
- Desire for purity. He understood his need was for cleansing, not for healing. (Leviticus 13.45-46 – lepers were outcasts of society.)
- Intensity. The leper continued to call upon Jesus (“imploring”). It was a breach in the security team. He got through. He should not have been allowed through. He was impure.
Is there intensity in you for for the touch of Jesus? A desperate longing for purity and righteousness? Jesus had no checklist on what the leper had to to do to merit His touch. It was compassion that motivated Him, just as it is His love today that touches you.
Does your life look more like the 11 or more like the leper? Their faith died between the cross and the crown. The leper didn’t want a crown; he just wanted to be clean. Faith is the difference.
Although we can learn a lot from the leper, the thing that should concern us today is not when Jesus last touched the leper, but when was the last time He touched you?
Information on Easter
I would highly recommend the reading of this article about Easter. It traces the history of the Christian observance of Christ’s resurrection.