Preachers notes Sermon 01 Jesus and the Leper

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1 1 INTRODUCTION This morning we're starting a 4 part sermon series called The Jesus I never knew. People s ideas are shaped by the many pictures we have of Jesus: the black Jesus, the stain-glass-window Jesus, the aloof and gloomy Jesus, the funny cartoon Jesus, the BBC Jesus, the dying Jesus, and even saintly baby Jesus. We are going to look into the real life interactions that some people had with Jesus and allow that to inform our understanding of Jesus. The first one is an interaction with a leper. Instead of reading the passage this morning we are going to watch a word for word acting of our passage for this morning according to the NIV version in the pew in front of you. THE JOY OF RESTORATION I want to pick out a couple of things from this passage this morning about what it would be like to meet Jesus and really know him: attractive, kind, willing. 1. ATTRACTIVE I know that sounds a bit creepy, but there was something about Jesus that people loved and that they could not get enough of. And it continued all through his life. Again and again Jesus is swamped by the crowds and again and again he has to get away from them to rest properly and recuperate. At the end of our story Jesus basically tells the Leper to keep the event to himself (READ Matt 8:4). Why? Because he knew that his ability to perform miracles was going to attract a crowd. And you could say, well that explains his popularity who doesn t follow a miracleworker But there was a large crowd following Jesus before he performed the miracle (READ Matt 8:1) What was he doing on the mountain? For the last three chapters he has been speaking the very direct and uncomfortable truths of the Sermon on the Mount. He had been teaching some very hard things: True blessing: Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you (5:11); True chastity: anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart; (5:28);

2 2 True love: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (5:44); True peace: do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself (6:34); True salvation: small is that gate and narrow the road that leads to life (7:14); True obedience: But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand... And the response of the crowd is counter intuitive: they are drawn in, not repelled, they are fascinated not offended, they engaged and not deterred. The passage actually says: Matthew 7:28-29 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. The truth that he spoke was mysteriously attractive even though truth can be uncomfortable, there is something reassuring about the truth. Illustration. And that is true in general of all Christ s ministry: the truth he speaks, even though it is uncomfortable and hurts sometimes, resonates with the human soul so deeply that it is attractive. There is a rightness about it because he is more than just a human he was the Creator speaking life and hope into his creation. KIND It is hard for us to get a picture of what it was like for that man with leprosy. The disease which we today call leprosy generally begins with pain in certain areas of the body. Numbness follows. Soon the skin in such spots loses its original color. It gets to be thick, glossy, and scaly... As the sickness progresses, the thickened spots become dirty sores and ulcers due to poor blood supply. The skin, especially around the eyes and ears, begins to bunch, with deep furrows between the swellings, so that the face of the afflicted individual begins to resemble that of a lion. Fingers drop off or are absorbed; toes are affected similarly. Eyebrows and eyelashes drop out. By this time one can see the person in this pitiable condition is a leper. By a touch of the finger one can also feel it. One can even smell it, for the leper emits a very unpleasant odor. Moreover, in view of the fact that the disease-producing agent frequently also attacks the larynx, the leper's voice acquires a grating quality. "His throat becomes hoarse, and you can now not only see, feel, and smell

3 3 the leper, but you can hear his rasping voice. And if you stay with him for some time, you can even imagine a peculiar taste in your mouth, probably due to the odor." 1 People s reactions to him were not unlike It is not unlike the response of those New Yorkers to homeless people. He was an unnoticed inconvenience at best, and a shunned, hate threat at worst. One of the Rabbis in the Talmud said, When I see a leper I throw stones at them lest they come near me. But more than that you were also ceremonially unclean. Imagine that was your social status, your daily experience of other human beings degraded, ruined, sub-human. Imagine the shame and fear: socially ostracised. You were contagious so you could never hold your child again, hug your wife, have a beer with your friends. You live in a stigmatised, cut-off community. But Jesus was kind and his joy overflowed into this leper s life. He did the forbidden and unthinkable: he touched him! He was not scared of stepping into human pain, rejection and suffering and bringing his supernatural healing. Now you can say, well that was easy for Jesus because he was the Son of God and he could perform a miracle. To which I would say, Exactly. That is the purpose of this story: that we would see the supernatural power of Jesus as he steps into human pain and brings healing. That is the kindness of God he is not scared off by your pain, the hurt in your life, your brokenness, the way sin has disfigured your life... WILLING You may ask, why would Jesus not be willing? The point is that Jesus is never not willing. The Leper was saying, I believe you have the power to heal me Jesus, but I am not sure that you are willing. Imagine knowing that wholeness, healing, restoration, redemption is within your grasp, but you don t think you can access it. The leper is humble, but full of faith. But notice how the depth of his sense of need (awfulness of his disease and need for healing) propels him into action (despite fear) Jesus is never not willing: he reaches out, touches, and heals the man. And the Leper is completely overwhelmed. He has no words, just dancing and embrace and spontaneous leaping. His life has made a complete u-turn renewed and restored. What picture do you have of Jesus (black, white, cartoon, austere, aloof)? Rolling on the ground, laughing, full of joy and delight in the restoration of a human being. 1 L.S. Huizenga, Unclean! Unclean!, [Grand Rapids: 1927], p. 149; as cited by W. Hendriksen in The Gospel of Matthew [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1973], p. 388

4 4 MEANING OF THE MIRACLE The miracles of Jesus were not for miracle s sake. It certainly wasn t to draw a crowd or bring attention to himself he in fact wanted to avoid that. It was to show his unrelenting love and care for human beings who are hurting. In Matthew 8-9 there are 11 miracles recorded: 8:3 heals a leper 8:13 heals a sick servant 8:15 heals Peter s mother-in-law 8:16 cast out demons and heals sick 8:26 calms storm 8:32 cast our demons 9:6 heals paralytic 9:22 heals woman with issue of bleeding 9:24 raises dead girl It is interesting that Jesus touches the people he heals. But more than that they are the outsiders: an ostracised leper, a gentile slave, a woman, a child. These miracles say something about who Jesus is. But it also came to show us his mission: in the miracle of the healing of the paralytic Jesus challenges his detractors with the statement: Matthew 9:5-6 Which is easier: to say, Your sins are forgiven, or to say, Get up and walk? 6 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. So he said to the paralyzed man, Get up, take your mat and go home. What is the point: of course it is easier to say the words (like just say it) your sins are forgiven. So I will do the more difficult to show that I will also do what appears to be easier and he heals the man. Jesus reveals his power of disease because leprosy is like sin: it separates, make you feel ugly, tends to ostracise, painful and hurtful. So Jesus was saying, in the same way that I can bring complete restoration for leprosy, so I can heal your heart of the separation and pain of sin. And that is the end of Christ s life: his death on the cross. He absorbs in his body on the cross the pain and separation of sin; the right judgement of God against sin; so that we could be spiritually cleansed and healed. CONCLUSION The story is written for us so that we would know the kindness and willingness of God. There are plenty of reasons that man could have stayed away from Jesus: everything from fear of rejection

5 5 to, criticism of the crowd, to anger that God had allowed this in his life. But he doesn t he comes in faith to Jesus. And in the same way each of us: there are plenty of reasons why we could stay away, but if we recognise our need and God s kindness and willingness we will also come in faith. And we will find the joyful, warm (roll on the floor) embrace of God.

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