Leprosy is a word that according to Leviticus 13 & 14, could be used of several types of skin diseases like eczema, or even house mold. But the disease of this man who comes to Jesus to be healed more than likely has the real and frightening disease we think of as leprosy, or what we call Hansen’s Disease today. Luke 5:12 describes this man as “full of leprosy”. It is a disease that we think of as one of the worst – so untouchable that we would send someone with it to a leper’s island to die on their own in isolation and so incurable that priests said it was as hard to heal a leper as it is to raise the dead.
This is where it gets really interesting. To prevent the spreading of it, according to the Law (Lev. 14), men who had it had to dress in such a way that they looked disheveled and unkempt and they had to cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” as they went about the streets. When they cried out they had to “cover their upper lip,” meaning they had to wear a facemask, to keep it from spreading. A leper walking through a crowd of people would be like Moses walking through the Red Sea. If a leper was upwind of someone, they had to stay 100 cubits upwind. A cubit, by the way, is about 18” – like from your elbow to the tip of your longest finger. If they were downwind, they had to stay 4 cubits downwind from someone.[i] Now do the math: 18 inches x 4 is = 6 feet. Sound familiar? Guidelines say 6 feet. Also, it was illegal to even greet a leper at the time. Our greetings have been hampered. And to top it off, if they wanted to go to synagogue on Sunday, they had to sit behind – guess what! – a screen![ii] They had to have some sort of screen between them and the congregation, just like our cashiers these days sit behind a screen. It is very likely Jesus met this man in synagogue What’s old is new!
Now here’s the thing about leprosy. Leprosy is more symbolic of sin than maybe anything else in the Bible. Like leprosy, the “separating sickness” as it’s been dubbed, sin isolates us from God, foremost. Like leprosy, which attacks the nerves and causes loss of sensation, sin also has a numbing effect on us, making us insensitive (lepers are at greater risk for injuries because they can’t feel as much pain). Like leprosy, sin is also deadly. Josephus summarized lepers as corpses. And like leprosy, sin makes things fit for burning. Anything lepers touched was to be burned and sin, if not dealt with, will result in a burning in the second death and isolation in the lake of fire for eternity.
Spurgeon described hell as, “a place of absence from God, a place where there is never sleep or rest or hope. It is a place where a drop of water is denied, though thirst shall burn the tongue; a place where pleasure never breathed, where light never dawned, where anything like consolation was never heard of; a place where the gospel is denied, where mercy droops her wings and dies; a place of fury and of burning; a place the likes of which imagination has not pictured. May God grant that it may be a place which you shall never see whose dread you shall never feel. When you die, sinner, flight from hell becomes impossible.”[iii]
Those who do not acknowledge their sinful “leprosy” and humbly look to Christ to be saved from it, will spend eternity in a painful quarantine experience. The good news is that just as Christ was able and willing to heal this leper, He is able and willing to heal those who come to faith in Him as well. “He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” the Bible says (2 Pet. 3:8-9). Jesus even bridged the isolation this man has felt for years by reaching out and touching him, which was not necessary for Christ to do in order to heal him.
Folks, if we are without Christ this hour, we are far worse off than any man with Hansen’s disease OR coronavirus. The most important healing anyone needs is not the temporary physical healing, but spiritual healing through faith in the One who took on flesh and became sin for us so that we could become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life."
[i] Hughes, Mark: Jesus, Servant and Savior (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2015), 55.
[ii] William Lane, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: Mark (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1974), 85.
[iii] Randy Alcorn, We Shall See God (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2011), 232.