“Thou Canst Make Me Clean”
Of all diseases known in the East the leprosy was most dreaded.
Its incurable and contagious character, and its horrible effect upon
its victims, filled the bravest with fear. Among the Jews it was regarded
as a judgment on account of sin, and hence was called “the stroke,”
“the finger of God.” Deep-rooted, ineradicable, deadly, it was looked
upon as a symbol of sin. By the ritual law, the leper was pronounced
unclean. Like one already dead, he was shut out from the habitations
of men. Whatever he touched was unclean. The air was polluted by
his breath. One who was suspected of having the disease must present
himself to the priests, who were to examine and decide his case. If
pronounced a leper, he was isolated from his family, cut off from the
congregation of Israel, and was doomed to associate with those only
who were similarly afflicted. The law was inflexible in its requirement.
Even kings and rulers were not exempt. A monarch who was attacked
by this terrible disease must yield up the scepter, and flee from society.
Away from his friends and his kindred, the leper must bear the curse
of his malady. He was obliged to publish his own calamity, to rend his
garments, and sound the alarm, warning all to flee from his contaminating
presence. The cry, “Unclean! unclean!” coming in mournful
tones from the lonely exile, was a signal heard with fear and abhorrence.
In the region of Christ’s ministry, there were many of these sufferers,
and the news of His work reached them, kindling a gleam of hope. But
since the days of Elisha the prophet, such a thing had never been known
as the cleansing of one upon whom this disease had fastened. They
dared not expect Jesus to do for them what He had never done for any
man. There was one, however, in whose heart faith began to spring up.
Yet the man knew not how to reach Jesus. Debarred as he was from
contact with his fellow men, how could he present himself to the Healer?
And he questioned if Christ would heal him . Would He stoop to notice
one believed to be suffering under the judgment of God? Would He
not, like the Pharisees, and even the physicians, pronounce a curse upon
him, and warn him to flee from the haunts of men? He thought of
all that had been told him of Jesus. Not one who had sought His
help had been turned away. The wretched man determined to find the
Saviour. Though shut out from the cities, it might be that he could
cross His path in some byway along the mountain roads, or find Him
as He was teaching outside the towns. The difficulties were great, but
this was his only hope.
The leper is guided to the Saviour. Jesus is teaching beside the lake,
and the people are gathered about Him. Standing afar off, the leper
catches a few words from the Saviour’s lips. He sees Him laying His
hands upon the sick. He sees the lame, the blind, the paralytic, and
those dying of various maladies rise up in health, praising God for their
deliverance. Faith strengthens in his heart. He draws nearer and yet
nearer to the gathered throng. The restrictions laid upon him, the safety
of the people, and the fear with which all men regard him are forgotten.
He thinks only of the blessed hope of healing.
He is a loathsome spectacle. The disease has made frightful inroads,
and his decaying body is horrible to look upon. At sight of him the
people fall back in terror. They crowd upon one another in their eagerness
to escape from contact with him. Some try to prevent him from
approaching Jesus, but in vain. He neither sees nor hears them. Their
expressions of loathing are lost upon him. He sees only the Son of God.
He hears only the voice that speaks life to the dying. Pressing to Jesus,
he casts himself at His feet with the cry, “Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou
canst make me clean.”
Jesus replied, “I will; be thou made clean,” and laid His hand upon
him. Matt. 8:3, R. V.
Immediately a change passed over the leper. His flesh became healthy,
the nerves sensitive, the muscles firm. The rough, scaly surface peculiar
to leprosy disappeared, and a soft glow, like that upon the skin of a
healthy child, took its place.
Jesus charged the man not to make
known the work that had been wrought,
but straightway to present himself with
an offering at the temple. Such an offering
could not be accepted until the priests
had made examination and pronounced
the man wholly free from the disease.
However unwilling they might be to perform
this service, they could not evade an
examination and decision of the case.
The words of Scripture show with
what urgency Christ enjoined upon the
man the necessity of silence and prompt
action. “He straitly charged him, and
forthwith sent him away; and saith unto
him, See thou say nothing to any man:
but go thy way, show thyself to the priest,
and offer for thy cleansing those things
which Moses commanded, for a testimony
unto them.” Had the priests known the facts concerning the healing
of the leper, their hatred of Christ might have led them to render a
dishonest sentence. Jesus desired the man to present himself at the
temple before any rumors concerning the miracle had reached them.
Thus an impartial decision could be secured, and the restored leper would
be permitted to unite once more with his family and friends.
There were other objects which Christ had in view in enjoining
silence on the man. The Saviour knew that His enemies were ever
seeking to limit His work, and to turn the people from Him. He knew
that if the healing of the leper were noised abroad, other sufferers from
this terrible disease would crowd about Him, and the cry would be
raised that the people would be contaminated by contact with them.
Many of the lepers would not so use the gift of health as to make it a
blessing to themselves or to others. And by drawing the lepers about
Him, He would give occasion for the charge that He was breaking down
the restrictions of the ritual law. Thus His work in preaching the
gospel would be hindered.
The event justified Christ’s warning. A multitude of people had
witnessed the healing of the leper, and they were eager to learn of the
priests’ decision. When the man returned to his friends, there was great
excitement. Notwithstanding the caution of Jesus, the man made no
further effort to conceal the fact of his cure. It would indeed have
been impossible to conceal it, but the leper published the matter abroad.
Conceiving that it was only the modesty of Jesus which laid this restriction
upon him, he went about proclaiming the power of this Great Healer.
He did not understand that every such manifestation made the priests
and elders more determined to destroy Jesus. The restored man felt
that the boon of health was very precious. He rejoiced in the vigor
of manhood, and in his restoration to his family and society, and felt it
impossible to refrain from giving glory to the Physician who had made
him whole. But his act in blazing abroad the matter resulted in hindering
the Saviour’s work. It caused the people to flock to Him in such
multitudes that He was forced for a time to cease His labors.
Every act of Christ’s ministry was far-reaching in its purpose. It
comprehended more than appeared in the act itself. So in the case
of the leper. While Jesus ministered to all who came unto Him, He
yearned to bless those who came not. While He drew the publicans,
the heathen, and the Samaritans, He longed to reach the priests and
teachers who were shut in by prejudice and tradition. He left untried
no means by which they might be reached. In sending the healed leper
to the priests, He gave them a testimony calculated to disarm their
The Pharisees had asserted that Christ’s teaching was opposed to the
law which God had given through Moses; but His direction to the
cleansed leper to present an offering according to the law disproved this
charge. It was sufficient testimony for all who were willing to be
The leaders at Jerusalem had sent out spies to find some pretext for
putting Christ to death. He responded by giving them an evidence of
His love for humanity, His respect for the law, and His power to deliver
from sin and death. Thus He bore witness of them: “They have
rewarded Me evil for good, and hatred for My love.” Ps. 109:5. He who
on the mount gave the precept, “Love your enemies,” Himself exemplified
the principle, not rendering “evil for evil, or railing for railing:
but contrariwise blessing.” Matt. 5:44; 1 Peter 3:9.
The same priests who condemned the leper to banishment certified
his cure. This sentence, publicly pronounced and registered, was a
standing testimony for Christ. And as the healed man was reinstated
in the congregation of Israel, upon the priests’ own assurance that there
was not a taint of the disease upon him, he himself was a living witness
for his Benefactor. Joyfully he presented his offering, and magnified
the name of Jesus. The priests were convinced of the divine power
of the Saviour. Opportunity was granted them to know the truth and to
be profited by the light. Rejected, it would pass away, never to return.
By many the light was rejected; yet it was not given in vain. Many
hearts were moved that for a time made no sign. During the Saviour’s
life, His mission seemed to call forth little response of love from the
priests and teachers; but after His ascension “a great company of the priests
were obedient to the faith.” Acts 6:7.
The work of Christ in cleansing the leper from his terrible disease
is an illustration of His work in cleansing the soul from sin. The man
who came to Jesus was “full of leprosy.” Its deadly poison permeated
his whole body. The disciples sought to prevent their Master from
touching him; for he who touched a leper became himself unclean. But
in laying His hand upon the leper, Jesus received no defilement. His
touch imparted life-giving power. The leprosy was cleansed. Thus it is
with the leprosy of sin,—deep-rooted, deadly, and impossible to be
cleansed by human power. “The whole head is sick, and the whole
heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no
soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores.” Isa. 1:5, 6. But Jesus, coming to dwell in humanity, receives no pollution.
His presence has healing virtue for the sinner. Whoever will fall at His
feet, saying in faith, “Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean,”
shall hear the answer, “I will; be thou made clean.” Matt. 8:2, 3, R. V.
In some instances of healing, Jesus did not at once grant the blessing
sought. But in the case of leprosy, no sooner was the appeal made than
it was granted. When we pray for earthly blessings, the answer to our
prayer may be delayed, or God may give us something other than we
ask, but not so when we ask for deliverance from sin. It is His will to
cleanse us from sin, to make us His children, and to enable us to live
a holy life. Christ “gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver
us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our
Father.” Gal. 1:4. And “this is the confidence that we have in Him,
that, if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us: and if
we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the
petitions that we desired of Him.” 1 John 5:14, 15. “If we confess our
sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from
all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9.
In the healing of the paralytic at Capernaum, Christ again taught
the same truth. It was to manifest His power to forgive sins that the
miracle was performed. And the healing of the paralytic also illustrates
other precious truths. It is full of hope and encouragement, and from its
connection with the caviling Pharisees it has a lesson of warning as well.
Like the leper, this paralytic had lost all hope of recovery. His disease
was the result of a life of sin, and his sufferings were embittered by
remorse. He had long before appealed to the Pharisees and doctors,
hoping for relief from mental suffering and physical pain. But they
coldly pronounced him incurable, and abandoned him to the wrath
of God. The Pharisees regarded affliction as an evidence of divine
displeasure, and they held themselves aloof from the sick and the needy.
Yet often these very ones who exalted themselves as holy were more
guilty than the sufferers they condemned.
The palsied man was entirely helpless, and, seeing no prospect of
aid from any quarter, he had sunk into despair. Then he heard of
the wonderful works of Jesus. He was told that others as sinful and
helpless as he had been healed; even lepers had been cleansed. And
the friends who reported these things encouraged him to believe that
he too might be cured if he could be carried to Jesus. But his hope fell
when he remembered how the disease had been brought upon him. He
feared that the pure Physician would not tolerate him in His presence.
Yet it was not physical restoration he desired so much as relief from
the burden of sin. If he could see Jesus, and receive the assurance of
forgiveness and peace with Heaven, he would be content to live or die,
according to God’s will. The cry of the dying man was, Oh that I might
come into His presence! There was no time to lose; already his wasted
flesh was showing signs of decay. He besought his friends to carry him
on his bed to Jesus, and this they gladly undertook to do. But so dense
was the crowd that had assembled in and about the house where the
Saviour was, that it was impossible for the sick man and his friends
to reach Him, or even to come within hearing of His voice.
Jesus was teaching in the house of Peter. According to their custom,
His disciples sat close about Him, and “there were Pharisees and doctors
of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and
Judea, and Jerusalem.” These had come as spies, seeking an accusation
against Jesus. Outside of these officials thronged the promiscuous multitude,
the eager, the reverent, the curious, and the unbelieving. Different
nationalities and all grades of society were represented. “And the power
of the Lord was present to heal.” The Spirit of life brooded over the
assembly, but Pharisees and doctors did not discern its presence. They
felt no sense of need, and the healing was not for them. “He hath
filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He hath sent empty
away.” Luke 1:53.
Again and again the bearers of the paralytic tried to push their way
through the crowd, but in vain. The sick man looked about him in
unutterable anguish. When the longed-for help was so near, how could
he relinquish hope? At his suggestion his friends bore him to the top
of the house and, breaking up the roof, let him down at the feet of
Jesus. The discourse was interrupted. The Saviour looked upon the
mournful countenance, and saw the pleading eyes fixed upon Him. He
understood the case; He had drawn to Himself that perplexed and
doubting spirit. While the paralytic was yet at home, the Saviour had
brought conviction to his conscience. When he repented of his sins,
and believed in the power of Jesus to make him whole, the life-giving
mercies of the Saviour had first blessed his longing heart. Jesus had
watched the first glimmer of faith grow into a belief that He was the
sinner’s only helper, and had seen it grow stronger with every effort to
come into His presence.
Now, in words that fell like music on the sufferer’s ear, the Saviour
said, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.”
The burden of despair rolls from the sick man’s soul; the peace of
forgiveness rests upon his spirit, and shines out upon his countenance.
His physical pain is gone, and his whole being is transformed. The
helpless paralytic is healed! the guilty sinner is pardoned!
In simple faith he accepted the words of Jesus as the boon of new
life. He urged no further request, but lay in blissful silence, too happy
for words. The light of heaven irradiated his countenance, and the
people looked with awe upon the scene.
The rabbis had waited anxiously to see what disposition Christ would
make of this case. They recollected how the man had appealed to them
for help, and they had refused him hope or sympathy. Not satisfied
with this, they had declared that he was suffering the curse of God for
his sins. These things came fresh to their minds when they saw the
sick man before them. They marked the interest with which all were
watching the scene, and they felt a terrible fear of losing their own
influence over the people.
These dignitaries did not exchange words together, but looking into
one another’s faces they read the same thought in each, that something
must be done to arrest the tide of feeling. Jesus had declared that the
sins of the paralytic were forgiven. The Pharisees caught at these words
as blasphemy, and conceived that they could present this as a sin worthy
of death. They said in their
hearts, “He blasphemeth: who
can forgive sins but One, even
God?” Mark 2:7, R. V.
Fixing His glance upon
them, beneath which they cowered,
and drew back, Jesus
said, “Wherefore think ye evil
in your hearts? For whether is
easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven
thee; or to say, Arise,
and walk? But that ye may
know that the Son of man hath
power on earth to forgive sins,”
He said, turning to the paralytic,
“Arise, take up thy bed,
and go unto thine house.”
Then he who had been
borne on a litter to Jesus rises
to his feet with the elasticity
and strength of youth. The
life-giving blood bounds
through his veins. Every organ of his body springs into sudden activity.
The glow of health succeeds the pallor of approaching death. “And
immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all;
insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We
never saw it on this fashion.”
Oh, wondrous love of Christ, stooping to heal the guilty and the
afflicted! Divinity sorrowing over and soothing the ills of suffering
humanity! Oh, marvelous power thus displayed to the children of men!
Who can doubt the message of salvation? Who can slight the mercies
of a compassionate Redeemer?
It required nothing less than creative power to restore health to that
decaying body. The same voice that spoke life to man created from
the dust of the earth had spoken life to the dying paralytic. And the
same power that gave life to the body had renewed the heart. He
who at the creation “spake, and it was,” who “commanded, and it stood
fast,” (Ps. 33:9), had spoken life to the soul dead in trespasses and sins.
The healing of the body was an evidence of the power that had renewed
the heart. Christ bade the paralytic arise and walk, “that ye may know,”
He said, “that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins.”
The paralytic found in Christ healing for both the soul and the body.
The spiritual healing was followed by physical restoration. This lesson
should not be overlooked. There are today thousands suffering from
physical disease, who, like the paralytic, are longing for the message, “Thy
sins are forgiven.” The burden of sin, with its unrest and unsatisfied
desires, is the foundation of their maladies. They can find no relief until
they come to the Healer of the soul. The peace which He alone can
give, would impart vigor to the mind, and health to the body.
Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil.” “In Him was life,”
and He says, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might
have it more abundantly.” He is “a quickening spirit.” 1 John 3:8; John 1:4; 10:10; 1 Cor. 15:45. And He still has the same life-giving power
as when on earth He healed the sick, and spoke forgiveness to the sinner.
He “forgiveth all thine iniquities,” He “healeth all thy diseases.” Ps. 103:3.
The effect produced upon the people by the healing of the paralytic
was as if heaven had opened, and revealed the glories of the better
world. As the man who had been cured passed through the multitude,
blessing God at every step, and bearing his burden as if it were a feather’s
weight, the people fell back to give him room, and with awe-stricken
faces gazed upon him, whispering softly among themselves, “We have
seen strange things today.”
The Pharisees were dumb with amazement and overwhelmed with
defeat. They saw that here was no opportunity for their jealousy to
inflame the multitude. The wonderful work wrought upon the man
whom they had given over to the wrath of God had so impressed the
people that the rabbis were for the time forgotten. They saw that Christ
possessed a power which they had ascribed to God alone; yet the
gentle dignity of His manner was in marked contrast to their own
haughty bearing. They were disconcerted and abashed, recognizing,
but not confessing, the presence of a superior being. The stronger
the evidence that Jesus had power on earth to forgive sins, the more firmly
they entrenched themselves in unbelief. From the home of Peter, where
they had seen the paralytic restored by His word, they went away to
invent new schemes for silencing the Son of God.
Physical disease, however malignant and deep-seated, was healed by
the power of Christ; but the disease of the soul took a firmer hold upon
those who closed their eyes against the light. Leprosy and palsy were
not so terrible as bigotry and unbelief.
In the home of the healed paralytic there was great rejoicing when
he returned to his family, carrying with ease the couch upon which he
had been slowly borne from their presence but a short time before. They
gathered round with tears of joy, scarcely daring to believe their eyes.
He stood before them in the full vigor of manhood. Those arms that
they had seen lifeless were quick to obey his will. The flesh that had
been shrunken and leaden-hued was now fresh and ruddy. He walked
with a firm, free step. Joy and hope were written in every lineament
of his countenance; and an expression of purity and peace had taken
the place of the marks of sin and suffering. Glad thanksgiving went
up from that home, and God was glorified through His Son, who had
restored hope to the hopeless, and strength to the stricken one. This
man and his family were ready to lay down their lives for Jesus. No
doubt dimmed their faith, no unbelief marred their fealty to Him who
had brought light into their darkened home.
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