How does a sinner approach the Lord in order to obtain mercy?
“And it came to pass, when he was in a certain city, behold a man full of leprosy: who seeing Jesus fell on his face, and besought him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And he put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will: be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him. And he charged him to tell no man: but go, and shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, according as Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. But so much the more went there a fame abroad of him: and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by him of their infirmities. And he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed.” (Luke 5:12-16)
Piecing together the accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke, it appears that this event took place just after our Lord had finished his Sermon on the Mount. — “The people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” When he came down from the mountain, great multitudes followed after him. And this one man full of leprosy made his way through the crowd. He came through the great mass of men, crying, “Unclean, unclean.” When he got to the Savior, he fell down at his feet and worshipped him, saying, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” “And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean.”
Here is an unclean leper seeking mercy from the hands of Christ; and he obtained the mercy he sought. The Lord made him whole.
When I read about this leper and the mercy he obtained from the Lord Jesus, I think to myself, “If one has been made whole, why not another? Does God forgive sin, then why not my sin? Does God justify the ungodly, then why not me? Does Christ receive sinners, then why not me? Is there mercy with the Lord for the guilty, then why not for me? Did Christ die for sinners, then why not for me? Does God save the unrighteous, then why not me?”
If we would obtain mercy, we must seek mercy like this poor leper, from the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let every saved sinner, as he reads again of God’s free, saving grace in Christ, remember and rejoice in what the Lord has done for him by his matchless, free and sovereign grace in Christ Jesus. Let every poor, lost soul, whose uncleanness before God causes him to crave the cleansing that Christ alone can give, look to the Son of God by faith.
Deep Sense of Need
This poor wretch came to the Lord Jesus with a deep sense of his need. We do not read anything else in the Bible about the history of this man. We do not know who his parents were, where he was from, how old he was, or what became of him. He seems to be set before us for one reason only, and that is to show us how a sinner must come to the Lord Jesus, if he would obtain mercy. And the first thing is this: — If we would obtain mercy from Christ, we must come to him because we need him. No sinner will ever come to Christ in faith until God the Holy Spirit creates in him a sense of his need. No one seeks mercy until he needs mercy.
You are familiar with what leprosy is and what it represents. Leprosy was a loathsome disease, common during the days of our Lord’s earthly ministry. It was a disease so peculiar that it was always considered a mark of divine displeasure on those who were afflicted with it (Numbers 12:10; 2 Kings 5:27; 2 Chronicles 26:19). Because they were ceremonially unclean, lepers were not allowed to walk in the company of others, or come into the house of God.
Leprosy fitly represents the plague of sin with which sons of Adam are diseased. It is to the body what sin is to the soul. W. M. Thomson, in his famous work, “The Land and the Book,” describes lepers in Israel as follows.
“The hair falls from the head and eyebrows. The nails loosen, decay and drop off. Joint after joint of the fingers and toes shrink up and slowly fall away. The gums are absorbed and the teeth disappear. The nose, the eyes, the tongue, and the palate are slowly consumed.”
The leper was a loathsome, miserable, outcast creature. He was walking death. Leprosy, like sin, was a loathsome, unclean disease. Leprosy, like sin, was (by human means) an incurable disease. Leprosy, like sin, was a consuming disease. Leprosy, like sin, was the sure forerunner of death.
The man here held before us by the Spirit of God had a keen sense of his desperate need. Here is a man whose body was covered from head to toe with leprosy. His disease was always before him. There was no hiding it. His body was covered with ulcers oozing with a liquid of sickening smell. His body was racked with pain. Luke tells us that he was “full of leprosy.” He knew that he needed help. He needed supernatural, merciful, divine help. He needed the help of God. Without it, he would surely die.
This is the very reason men and women do not come to Christ. — They do not have any sense of need. They do not know their need of Christ. But when the plague of sin in a man’s heart causes his very soul to burn with fever, when the sinners knows he is lost, helpless, unclean and doomed, that without Christ he must surely die, he seeks him.
Christ the Healer
Christ alone has power to heal our souls. The cleansing from leprosy was portrayed in the ceremonial law (Leviticus 14); but it is the gospel that reveals the cure. The cleansing of grace is found only in Christ (Ezekiel 36:25; 1 John 7-9). His blood alone can cleanse the leprous soul. His mercy alone can save. Christ alone can make the unclean clean and righteous before God.
Those who know their need of mercy will soon obtain mercy.
“All the fitness he requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.”
And it is the work of God the Holy Spirit that makes us know our need of Christ. Robert Hawker wrote, “This poor creature, which came to Jesus, is the representative of every poor sinner, when convinced of the leprosy of sin, from the teaching of God the Holy Ghost. Such an one is convinced of Christ’s ability, because God the Spirit hath taught him who Christ is, and what Christ is able to perform.” Joseph Hart gives us the same thing in one of his great hymn...
“What comfort can a Savior bring
To those who never felt their woe?
A sinner is a sacred thing;
The Holy Ghost hath made him so.
New life from Him we must receive,
Before for sin we rightly grieve.
This faithful saying let us own,
Well worthy ‘tis to be believed,
That Christ into the world came down,
That sinners might by Him be saved.
Sinners are high in His esteem.”
This leper came to the Lord Jesus in utter humiliation. Matthew tells us he came “worshipping.” Luke says that, “Seeing Jesus, he fell on his face.” Mark tells us that he came “kneeling.” That is just the way sinners must come to the Savior, kneeling and falling on their face at his feet, worshipping! The sinner must come down, down from his pride, down from his self-righteousness, down from his self-sufficiency! He must come down in his own eyes, down, down, down, all the way down to the feet of Christ (Luke 18:9-14).
If ever we see who and what we are, we will come down. You and I are poor sons and daughters of Adam, full of uncleanness, cursed, condemned and ready to die. We are utterly helpless and completely unworthy of God’s slightest notice.
If ever we see who Christ is and what he is, we will come down. He is holy, righteous and true. He is a God full of mercy, love and grace. He is a God able and willing to save. He is a Fountain opened for cleansing. He is God, whose glory it is to forgive sin.
And God knows how to bring sinners down to the feet of his Son. Psalm 107 is a song of praise to God for his wondrous work of providence, by which he brings chosen sinners down. But providence alone will not cause sinners to seek the Lord. God brings sinners down by causing his holy law to enter their hearts, exposing their sin, pronouncing their uncleanness and declaring their guilt (Romans 7:9). And God brings sinners down by the gospel, by revealing Christ to them and in them (Zechariah 12:10; Galatians 1:15-16).
Do you feel your desperate need of Christ? Has your heart been broken and humbled at the feet of Christ? Are you sweetly compelled, like Job, to cry, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6)?
Great and Weak Faith
This poor leper came to the Lord Jesus in very weak faith, but faith that obtained great grace; and that makes the weakest faith great faith (Hebrews 11:6). I do not know how he came to have faith in Christ. Perhaps he had heard our Lord preach. Perhaps he was familiar with the Old Testament prophets. Perhaps he had heard the fame of our Lord from others. But this much is certain: — He knew who Christ was. He believed his claims. And he came to the Savior in faith, because God the Holy Spirit had given him faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8; Colossians 1:12).
The leper came to the Lord by himself. Others had been led to Christ by one of his disciples, but not this man. Others were picked up and brought to the Lord, but not the leper. Others, who could not come and were not brought, were blessed by a visit from the Lord himself, but not this leper. Everyone had given this poor man up as a hopeless case. He was a lonely, isolated man. No man cared for his soul. No one could or would take him to the Savior. But it is our Lord’s delight to save the hopeless, the helpless and the friendless.
This leper came to the Lord Jesus against many obstacles. He had no precedent to follow. No leper had come to the Savior before him. He had no promise of cure. He was not invited to come. And he had no legal right to come. Yet, the leper came to Christ confessing faith in him. He worshipped the Lord Jesus Christ as God. It appears that he believed him to be the very God by whom others like him were healed in days of old. He bowed to and worshipped Christ as his Lord. He knew the Christ had it in his power to make him clean and whole. And he confessed his faith in Christ in his own words. He did not merely repeat a prayer someone else told him to say!
In all those things this man’s faith appears to be great and remarkable. Truly, it was. Yet, he displayed a great weakness of faith. Though he had no doubt that the Lord Jesus was able to heal him, he doubted whether he would heal him. He said, to the Lord Jesus, “If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.”
All God’s children in this world know by experience what it is to come to the Lord Jesus with such weakness of faith. Where is the saved sinner who has not come to the throne of grace, seeking mercy and grace in time of need, while very greatly in doubt that God would give the mercy and grace needed? God forgive our unbelief!
It was in just such weakness of faith that this poor leper came to the Savior. But such is the greatness of our Savior’s grace, such is the character of our God “who delighteth in mercy,” that the weakness of our faith does not restrain his arm of grace! The Lord Jesus was moved with compassion toward this poor soul (Mark 1:41). “And he put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean” (v. 13).
This leper came to the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing his need of him, in great humiliation and in faith. And he came to the Savior in total submission. He recognized that the whole issue was in the hands of Christ. He cried, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.”
He understood what few understand. Grace is God’s prerogative alone. Salvation depends entirely upon the will of the Lord our God, who has mercy on whom he will have mercy. Christ alone has the right to save and the power to save; and the whole matter of salvation is according to his own sovereign will (Romans 9:16, 18). Recognizing the sovereignty of Christ’s power and the sovereignty of his will, the leper submitted to the Lord with joyful hope. He simply threw himself upon Christ. And we must do the same. — “Lord, if you will, you can save me.”
Yet, he had hope. The Lord had never refused such a request before. And there is hope for us. God never has yet turned away one seeking, believing, submissive sinner. It seems likely, therefore, that he will not turn any away now.
“Perhaps He will admit my plea,
Perhaps will hear my prayer;
But if I perish, I will pray,
And perish only there.
I can but perish if I go,
I am resolved to try;
For if I stay away I know,
I must forever die.
But if I die with mercy sought,
When I the King have tried;
This were to die (delightful thought!)
As sinner never died.”
The leper could not be worse off, even if he had been rejected. And if it were to happen that you sued for mercy or obtained it not, what would be your loss?
But that was not the case. This poor leper obtained the mercy he desperately needed. — “He put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean.” The Lord Jesus was moved with compassion toward him. And being moved with compassion toward him, he healed him immediately and completely.
Yet, there is more. The Lord Jesus healed this poor leper by touching him. Imagine that! Infinite, spotless purity reached down and touched utter corruption! The spotless Lamb of God took into union with himself our nature. He became one of us that he might save us poor, leprous sinners from our sin and make us clean by the sacrifice of himself. Upon the cursed tree, our Lord Jesus Christ was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). He who is altogether holy and pure, clean and righteous was made unclean before his own holy law, just as the priest who burned the red heifer with her dung was made unclean by the sacrifice required in Numbers 19:7. The Lord Jesus was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. He died for his elect, the just for the unjust, because there was no other way he could make us just!
An Important Lesson
When we read verses 14 and 15, we will find a very important lesson taught by our Master.
“And he charged him to tell no man: but go, and shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, according as Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. But so much the more went there a fame abroad of him: and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by him of their infirmities” (vv. 14-15).
This cured leper’s disobedience to the Savior’s express command is here recorded by divine inspiration for a reason. The Holy Spirit is here showing us that there is a time to be silent about the things of God, as well as a time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:7). Our Savior says, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matthew 7:6).
I realize that this is a matter to be dealt with carefully; but sometimes we serve the cause of Christ better by silence than by speech. It is best for us to be silent when the cause of Christ cannot be served by us speaking. We do not serve the cause of Christ by trying to cram our doctrine down the throats of those who oppose it. It is best to leave such people alone, until God opens the door to minister to them. It is best for us to be silent when those around us have no interest in hearing the good news of God’s grace. It is best for us to be silent when those around us only quibble and scoff at the things of God. And it is certainly best for us to be silent when we are supposed to be doing something else. It is a rare thing for an employer to pay a man wages to teach others the things of God.
No doubt, this man was sincere, and blazed the matter abroad, because he wanted all around him to know what great grace he had experienced. But the result was “that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city.” There is a zeal which is “not according to knowledge.” Such zeal causes much harm. I would not attempt to prescribe to any when he should be silent and when he should “blaze abroad” the things of God. Yet, I do know that there are times when we serve our Savior and the interests of his kingdom far more effectively in silence than in other ways. Commenting on this passage, J. C. Ryle cautions…
“The subject is a delicate and difficult one, without doubt. Unquestionably the majority of Christians are far more inclined to be silent about their glorious Master than to confess Him before men — and do not need the bridle so much as the spur. But still it is undeniable that there is a time for all things; and to know the time should be one great aim of a Christian. There are good men who have more zeal than discretion, and even help the enemy of truth by unseasonable acts and words.”
May God give us the Spirit of wisdom, that we may serve and not hinder his cause in this world, that we may serve our Savior with good sense. We must never be fearful to confess Christ before Pharaoh, as Moses did, or before Herod, as John the Baptist did. Yet, we must not cast the pearls of his grace before swine to be trampled beneath their feet with contempt.
Still, there is more. Not only did the Savior command this healed leper to “tell no man,” he also said, “but go, and shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, according as Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.” He told him to go and show himself to the priest, specifically “for a testimony unto them.” He was told to go to the priest, so that the priest would pronounce him clean, as a testimony to the priests, either a convincing testimony to them that the Lord Jesus was the Son of God and true Messiah, or a standing testimony against them forever.
Certainly there is still more in this command. For all grace and mercy we should, first and foremost, show ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ, our great High Priest and Almighty Savior, the Author and Giver of all. He is to be eyed and acknowledged first in all things. In all things let us live before him and unto him, not before men and unto men. As Paul puts it, “Do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
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