February 12, 2012

Jesus Knows What He's Doing - Feb 12, 2012

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“I hope you know what you’re doing”.

Have you every said those words to somebody? It’s kind of a risky phrase.

We use this phrase when someone is about to do something that we think is a bad idea. But, we also think this person is no dummy. So we wonder, “Does he know something I don’t know? Maybe I should just keep my mouth shut.” But for one reason or another we can’t, so we throw out this little questioning statement, “Ahhhh, I hope you know what you’re doing.”

In today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark, we find a couple of times that the people surrounding Jesus may have wanted to say, “Whoaaaaa Jesus. I hope you know what you’re doing”.

Mark 1:40-45 (NKJV)

40 Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.”
41 Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” 42 As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. 43 And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
45 However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction.

The Leper who threw himself at Jesus’ feet was in a terrible condition. There was no cure for leprosy back then. Because of the progressively degenerative effects that it had on the body, people called leprosy, “the living death”. Many thought that this disease was so horrible, that it HAD TO BE a direct judgment from God because of some sin the person had committed.

This same incident is recorded in the Gospel of Luke. Being a medical doctor, Luke reports that this man was in the later stages of leprosy. Luke’s account says that he was “filled with leprosy” (Luke 5:12).

While we are not given a point by point description of his appearance, we can assume that his flesh had been eaten away in places and his skin was scaly and raw. No doubt sores covered much of his body.

One of the most terrible things about leprosy was that it left the leper’s mind relatively unaffected. The leper got to consciously observe as their body degenerated further and further, with nothing they might do to stop it.

In Jesus’ day, the leper’s social condition was also as good as dead. The Old Testament lays down the following regulations in connection with this disease:
“45“The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ 46As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:45-46 NIV).
Contracting leprosy meant alienation from your family, separation from your friends and quarantine from the healthy.

Leprosy then also meant separation from the Temple of God and from worship services. A leper was a constant reminder of all that is rancid, sinful and evil. Regardless of his character, a leper’s condition rendered him ceremonially unclean and thus forbidden to enter the Temple of the Holy God.

All of these details make Jesus’ reaction to the leper astounding. Falling down before Jesus the leper says,
“…If you are willing, you can make me clean” (Mark 1:40 NKJV).
And what does Jesus do? He reaches out HIS HAND toward the leper…

This is where the record skips, the background music cuts out and someone from the surrounding crowd says, “Ahhhhh, Jesus? I hope you know what you’re doing.”

I mean seriously. You’re gonna touch this guy? He’s full of leprosy. You touch him and you’re gonna be ceremonially unclean. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What if you get what he’s got? There’s a reason why they have to warn everyone on the road by saying, “Unclean! Unclean!” I’m just sayin’ you might not want to touch this guy.

But Jesus knew what He was doing. He knew that this man wasn’t used to people entering his personal space. Jesus knew that this man’s first reaction to someone touching him would probably be to shrink back, not wanting to give his leprosy to someone who didn’t know better. Oh, Jesus knew what he was doing.

Jesus understood that touch was what this poor sinner needed. Touch which communicated the compassion that Jesus felt for him. Touch, and a word of compassion, “I am willing, be cleansed”.

And as we’ve seen before, Jesus’ compassion was followed by an effortless flexing of his almighty power. In an instant, the living death is gone. In the blink of an eye, the leper’s nightmare has come to an end. The leprosy is gone. His flesh restored.

This is Jesus: compassionate and powerful.

But let’s rewind for a moment and see the leper again. This time let’s look beyond his disease and see his soul. Mark tells us quite a bit in the first verse of his account.
“40 Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean” (Mark 1:40 NKJV).
This man had watched his death approaching at a snail’s pace for a long time. His situation had grown desperate. This was his last hope.

He knew what other people thought. That leprosy was God’s judgment on the really bad sinners. No doubt his mind must have poured over his life in search of that sin. What great sin had he done that God was punishing him for? Was there anyway to make amends?

Sifting through his life, he must have found what we find when we examine our lives in the light of God’s commands. We find a life full of broken promises. A life of unkind words and unclean thoughts. The life of a sinner. Maybe we’re not any worse than the next guy, but when we compare our thoughts, words and actions with God’s high standards, we have to admit that we have fallen tragically short of what God expects.

Luke tells us that the leper fell on his face in front of Jesus. He didn’t have anything to offer. Nothing to barter with God for his life. He knew that God didn’t owe him anything. And so he simply appeals to God’s grace. He says, “If You are willing, You can make me clean”.

He doesn’t say, “I’ve tried to be good”. He doesn’t say, “I’m better than my next door neighbor”. He doesn’t say, “I promise to ______________, if you heal me.” He just says, “I know you can heal me if it is your will to do so. You have the power to make me clean again”.

It was an expression of simple faith.

This is how WE aught to pray. Knowing we are sinners who cannot heal ourselves. Knowing we cannot escape hell on our own. Conscious of the insults we spit at God with every evil thing done and every good thing left undone.

We aught to pray like the leper. Kneeling before God. Acknowledging that He doesn’t owe us anything for. But also believing God’s promise to cleanse all who ask forgiveness in the name of His Son.

Yeah, Jesus knew what He was doing when he reached out to that poor leper. He was showing him that God forgives sinners. He was showing him that where you find the Son of God, you find forgiveness and healing.

In the first half of our sermon reading, Jesus shows himself to be compassionate and powerful. In the second half his whole tone changes. Let’s read those verses again. Verse 43
“43 And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
45 However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction” (Mark 1:43-45 NKJV).

This time it wasn’t someone from the crowd that might have spoken up, it was the cleansed man. This time Jesus’ hand wasn’t slowly extending toward the leper, it held up before his face in that familiar gesture that says, “Shhhhhhh. Be quiet!”

And this is where the record skips again, the background music cuts out and the leper says, “Ahhhhh, Jesus? I hope you know what you’re doing.”

I mean, why should I be quiet about this? Shouldn’t I tell everyone that you can heal leprosy? I mean obviously you’re the fulfillment of the Isaiah prophesies. You know, Isaiah says the Messiah will be a healer of all sorts of physical ailments (Isaiah 35:4-6). I’m just sayin’ maybe it’s a better idea if I share my story with everyone that I meet on the way to the Temple.

But Jesus knew very well what he was doing. He turned from compassionate and gentle to strict and stern *snap* just like that. And it was because he had a plan.

Jesus wasn’t trying to keep this healing a secret indefinitely. He was already known as a miracle worker, and with the way that he had been openly healing diseases and casting out demons in Capernaum, he obviously didn’t mind being known as a miracle worker. (Mark 1:32-34)

What Jesus wanted was to save more sinners by bringing them to rely on Him. One group of people that were particularly hard to convince were the Temple priests. Jesus figured this cleansed leper was just the right preacher for them.

Jesus wanted the man to keep quiet about how he was healed - for now. He wanted him to go to the Temple in Jerusalem, and go through the procedure for being declared clean from his leprosy. This procedure is found in Leviticus 14 if you want to read about it. But basically, it amounted an eight day period at the Temple during which the cleansed leper would be examined by a priest, would offer certain sacrifices and finally be declared cleansed and free to enter society and worship once more.

If Jesus’ plan had been followed, the man would have spent eight days at the Temple. And only AFTER this time, when he was declared clean, would the priests have found how he had been healed. That it was JESUS who had healed him. And that would have been a powerful “testimony to them” that He was the Messiah sent from God.

But the leper thought he knew better. Why keep quiet? Jesus can’t be right. The best thing to do is tell everyone what just happened.

Uhhhg. Doesn’t this sound familiar. Don’t we do this ALL THE TIME. We wreck Jesus’ perfect plans for us by thinking we know better. By out-planning the almighty God.

Like Eve in the garden of Eden we think, “I know that God said about this tree, but I think it’ll be better if I just have one little bite…

Like Peter in the garden of Gethsemane we think, “I know that the Lord said this had to happen, but it doesn’t fit with my plans, so I think I’ll take a swipe at this guy with my sword.”

The know-it-all Christian has a bad habit of wrecking Jesus’ plans by adding his own ingredients to the recipe or leaving out others.

Instead we aught to just keep it simple.

First, believe the promise God makes: Trust in My Son. In Him your sins are completely forgiven. You stand cleansed.

Second, do what he says. Not more. Not less. Let’s just follow the simple map he lays out for Christian living.

“I hope you know what you’re doing”.

When we say those words to someone, we usually get one of two responses. We either get rewarded, “Oh, yeah, thanks for reminding me. I should shut the electricity off before messing with these wires.” Or, we get that one-eyebrow-raise that means, “Seriously? You’re going to ask me if this is safe or not? I’ve been an electrician for 40 years. Of course I shut the power off first.”

When it comes to Jesus, we ought to know better than to say, “I hope you know what you’re doing”. He loves us. He is the all powerful Son of God. He is smart, knowledgeable, wise and shrewd. The Bible lays out example after example of his compassion, his power and his wisdom.

Yeah, Jesus knows what he is doing. May God give us faith to trust wholly and completely in the most trustworthy man who ever lived. God give us faith to trust the man who suffered and died for us, taking the punishment for our sins away forever. And may God give us faith to live our earthly lives according to His direction. Amen.

The peace which rises above all human wisdom and understanding will guard your hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus.

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