“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.’ And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.’ But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.” – Mark 1:40-45
Leprosy was, and is still, a hideous disease that essentially causes the skin to rot and decay. William Barclay writes,
The physical condition of the leper was terrible; but there was something which made it worse. Josephus tells us that lepers were treated “as if they were, in effect, dead men.” Immediately when leprosy was diagnosed, the leper was absolutely and completely banished from human society. “He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:46). The leper had to go with rent clothes, disheveled hair, with a covering upon his upper lip, and, as he went, he had to cry: “Unclean, unclean” (Leviticus 13:45). In the middle ages, if a man became a leper, the priest donned his stole and took his crucifix, and brought the man into the church, and read the burial service over him. For all human purposes the man was dead. [i]
Leprosy is the perfect outward picture of the inward assault of sin upon our souls. We are all born with a sinful nature that begins to “ulcerate” our inner being. Slowly, and progressively, sin permeates our minds and hearts gradually “killing” us. In essence, our inner being dies a slow death. Ray Stedman writes, “Leprosy was a symbol of the evil and sin of man, and God used it as judgment, at times, in order to bring out in vivid, visible form what evil and sin is like in us.” [ii]
If this were the end of the matter, what a horrible state mankind would find himself. But here’s where the Good News enters this chaotic mess. Jesus came to pronounce over sinners, “Be clean!” This happens the moment a person repents of sin and believes in Jesus for salvation. Notice that this leper came to Jesus and implored Him to be made clean. Then Jesus touched the leper and declared, “I will; be clean.” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. This is exactly what happens when a sinner repents. Jesus makes him or her clean, and sin has no choice but to leave. In that moment, the sinner, no matter the egregious nature of his sin, is made perfectly and forever clean. The prophet Isaiah declares, “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness (Isa. 61:10). Hallelujah! Praise the Lord for He has been good to me!
[i] William Barclay, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/matthew-8.html, dated October 8, 2019.
[ii] Ray Stedman, Commentary on the Gospel of Mark, Lesson 5: The Healer of Hurts, p. 3.