“If You Are Willing, You Can Make Me Clean”

(Mark 1:40-42 – February 7, 2021)

Mark 1:40-42 – 40Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” 41Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” 42As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.

Dear Redeemed, who have been healed for eternal life in the name of Jesus Christ,

A fellow pastor once related an experience in his ministry having to do with so-called faith healers. A member of his church had become paralyzed and was bedridden in a nursing home. One day, people from a church that emphasizes charismatic gifts came to her room. They told her it was Jesus’ will that she be healed. They prayed over her and told her to rise from her bed; but when she tried, she fell flat on her face. After the faith healers helped her back into bed, they explained that she had not been healed because her faith was lacking. Later, when her Lutheran pastor visited she was in despair, feeling that surely she lacked true faith in Jesus.

Such faith healers claim that God does not want His children to be sick or have physical problems. They emphasize that Christ came to heal the whole person. Just as much as He wants to forgive your sins, He wants to heal your body – even this side of heaven. So we should lay hands on the sick and pray for healing with the same certainty that we proclaim the forgiveness of sins or preach the resurrection. If you fail to be healed, the problem is with your faith. It leaves you wondering if your faulty faith has kept you from being healed in your soul as well!

Certainly as in our text, Jesus used miracles to show His divine power as the Savior. After ascending to heaven, He enabled His apostles to perform miracles like healing the sick and raising the dead to show the Gospel’s power. But He never promised that such signs always would accompany His Gospel on demand. Scripture warns that even false prophets do miracles by Satan’s power to deceive people away from Christ (Matt. 7:22-23; 24:24; 2 Thess. 2:9-10).

Miracles and healings do not confirm a messenger of God. We must examine his message in light of Scripture. What is the mission Christ has given His church? It is to preach the Gospel – calling sinners to repentance, and pointing them to Christ who has gone to the cross for us. Our central message is always to preach Christ crucified for us, and to declare in Jesus’ name: “Your sins are forgiven. You are healed for eternal life.” So we point sinners away from themselves, and the sufficiency of their own faith or anything in them; we point them to the all sufficiency of their Savior. And what happens when we preach the Gospel? Their faith is strengthened.

Is God able to heal today? Of course! This is the basis for our prayers in behalf of the sick. Normally, God works His healing through means such as doctors and medicine. But is it always His will to heal this side of heaven? No. But it is always the will of God to strengthen the faith of as His children; and He makes His strength perfect even in our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9).

As we turn to our text, the prayer of the leper reflects such faith. He does not expect healing on demand in reward for his faith but prays: “If You Are Willing, You Can Make Me Clean” (vs. 1). Let us apply this account to our own situation and see how our Savior truly heals us all.

1) Jesus is willing

When this man came to Jesus, he fell on his knees and begged Him for healing. He was in a desperate condition. Luke’s account says he was “full of leprosy” (Luke 5:12). He was in advanced stages of this ugly, painful, and contagious disease. Listen to a description of leprosy:

It appeared… in the form of whitish spots which spread in the flesh. The malady attacked one member after the other, and finally the very bones were consumed. It was attended by a burning fever, sleeplessness and night-mares, without much hope of eventual recovery. The leper carried death in his bosom, and yet his mentality was unimpaired. As a result of the exceedingly contagious character of this disease, the leper was excluded from all intercourse with his family and with his fellow men…. As a rule, the lepers lived in colonies at specified distances from settled communities (2 Kings 7:3; Luke 17:12)…. They… were compelled to remain at a distance, if any one approached, and to give notice of their condition by exclaiming: “Unclean, unclean!” (Lev. 13:45). (Ylvisaker, The Gospels, 294-295)

I don’t know which would have been more painful – the physical disease itself, or the separation from loved ones and fellowship with God’s people. Under Levitical Law, a leper was unclean; and to touch him would make you unclean, as if you had touched the dead. Leprosy was considered God’s scourge on the sinner. It was an object lesson of what sin does to people.

This is why the leper, in seeking a cure, put it in terms of asking Jesus to “cleanse” him: “If You are willing, You can make me clean” (vs. 40). It is a remarkable prayer, considering his desperate condition. He has no doubt that Jesus is the almighty Son of God, able to heal him. The only question is whether Jesus wills to do so. He does not demand or assume he has this gift coming to Him as a reward of faith. He begs for mercy and leaves the “if and when” in Jesus’ hands.

Here, Scripture teaches us to make a distinction in our prayers. When praying for that which is necessary for salvation, we should ask unconditionally; we know it is His will to grant such requests. When praying for temporal gifts, we should ask that God grant them if it is His will.

This is how Jesus taught us to pray when He faced His own cross and suffering: Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” When the apostle Paul prayed three times for a thorn in the flesh to be removed, he prayed in the same spirit. But though Paul himself had healed others, it was not the Lord’s will to heal him; for as God’s strength was made perfect in his weakness, it would make his ministry more effective (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). So we pray with the leper, “If You are willing,” knowing it may not be God’s will to grant our temporal wishes and make our lives more comfortable in this world.

But when it comes to those things necessary for salvation and eternal life, we may pray unconditionally; for we already know from Scripture that it is God’s will to answer in the affirmative. When we pray to our Father in heaven to strengthen our faith by the Holy Spirit, is it His will? Yes! Jesus said in Luke 11:13: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” Again, when we pray to our Father in heaven that He would forgive our sins for Jesus’ sake, is it His will? Yes! For we have His promise in 1 John 1:9: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

It is good for us to know that our God and Savior will always answer our prayers in the way that is best for our spiritual and eternal good. It is good to know that He will always answer our prayer with His cleansing forgiveness, and heal our souls unto eternal life.

Let us put ourselves in the leper’s place, as he comes to Jesus with his desperate condition. For our sinful condition is in some ways like malignant leprosy. Our skin may not be covered with a hideous disease that eats away to our very bones. But sin covers our lives with an even more hideous uncleanness. It infects our hearts with unclean desires. It shows ugly symptoms in unclean words and deeds. Even when we try to be on our best behavior it is still true: “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).

Humanly speaking, our sinful condition is incurable. We have inherited this condition as fallen children of Adam. The sinful nature is the ultimate cause of every physical problem and disease; it is the reason death comes to all (Romans 5:12). If left to ourselves, sin would result in eternal death and separation from the fellowship of God and His people. Since we cannot heal ourselves, we must cry out: “Unclean, unclean!” There is only one who is able to heal us for eternal life. Like this leper, we can only fall on our knees and ask Jesus for His cleansing.

It says: “Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I am willing'” (vs. 41). The Levitical Law said that touching the leper made Jesus unclean. Yet the Savior’s love superseded the Law. The word used for Jesus’ compassion tells us it was a “gut wrenching” experience for Him. He took the man’s condition personally, treating it as His own. For the Savior who took up our sins, also took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows which are caused by sin (Isaiah 53:4).

As we fall on our knees before Jesus confessing our sinfulness, imploring His cleansing forgiveness, is He willing? Most definitely! It is always His will to heal us for eternal life. This is why He came into the world – to touch us, to identify with sinners; and in touching us, He takes the leprosy and uncleanness of our sin upon Himself and bears it all away to the cross. His blood cleanses us of all sin; and in exchange His holiness, His health, and His life flow to us.

2) Jesus cleanses you

As Jesus touched the leper, He said: “‘Be cleansed.’ As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed” (vs. 41-42). It does not say anything about this man’s healing depending on his strength of faith. It depended on Jesus’ almighty Word of promise, which instantly cleansed the man of leprosy.

The healing Jesus gives us is the same. It does not depend on our strength of faith, but on His almighty Word of promise. In fact when we still had no faith, when we were spiritually dead and rotting away in the leprosy of sin, that is when God performed the greatest miracle of healing. In love, God sent His Son to the cross to take away our sins, to cleanse us by His blood. Long before we had any faith, apart from any boast in our own strength or merit, God provided the cure. As Jesus cried out on the cross, “It is finished!” God declared us cleansed of all sin. Since Jesus took our sin and death away, He rose from the grave to give us His perfect health in eternal life.

A cure will not do a soul any good unless it is applied personally. Jesus has brought His cure to us personally by His powerful and healing Word. We did not muster the faith to receive His healing; He gave us faith by His Gospel’s power (Romans 1:16). By His Gospel in Word and Sacrament, He said: “Be cleansed.” And like the leper in our text, immediately we were healed.

Jesus applies the cure He won for us in Baptism, washing our sins away and uniting us to Himself in eternal life (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6). Through baptism and faith, He restores us to fellowship with Himself and with each other in His Body, the Church (Ephesians 4:5 ff.). Jesus continues to apply the cure He won for us in His Holy Absolution. As we come to Him burdened with sin and guilt, we need not wait until we feel strong to hear His forgiveness. As we confess our sins, He says: “I cleanse you of all sin!” Again, He applies His cure to us in His Holy Supper. We come as weak and weary sinners to receive His Body and Blood, once sacrificed on the cross for us; and at His gracious Word of promise, we go forth cleansed.

We can be thankful that Jesus’ cleansing does not depend on our strength of faith, but on the power of His gracious Word. As the leper approached Jesus confidently despite his weakness, we can approach God’s throne of God’s grace in prayer, confident that we will receive mercy to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Even if God does not answer with a temporal cure, already we are cured for eternal life. Spiritually speaking, as God looks upon us, He sees us baptized into Christ, alive with His Son, as His cleansed and holy children. He sees us filled with His Holy Spirit, whom He has sent into our hearts as a guarantee of our heavenly inheritance (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13-14).

And even though we bear sicknesses and infirmities in this life, our status does not change. We belong to Christ, the Physician of our soul, the Giver of eternal life. Even the moment of temporal death, we will see Him who has loved us all the way and carried us in our weakness by His almighty strength. And at last in heaven, we will experience perfect health in body and soul; and we will rejoice together in His loving presence forever and ever.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.