Matthew 8 tells the following story: When Jesus had finished teaching his famous Sermon on the Mount, large crowds followed him down.
A man with leprosy came and knelt before Jesus (v. 2). Lepers throughout Israel were considered unclean and had to keep a certain distance from others. If a leper touched you, you would become ceremonially unclean.
Kneeling before Jesus, the man with leprosy begged, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” He was not afraid to approach Jesus. He knew others would be angry—perhaps even Jesus' own followers. It was a risk. But for this man, leprosy was a life sentence, and he had nothing to lose.
When the leper asked Jesus for healing, he probably was hoping for a word of healing. Jesus often healed with just one word. And Jesus did speak: “I am willing. Be clean!” (v. 3).
But that was not what the sick man needed most. See, a man with leprosy in the first century, being totally isolated from society, would go years, even decades without human touch. Jesus could have healed with just his words, but that’s not what he did.
“Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man” (v. 3).
When Jesus touches the sick and lonely, he doesn’t become unclean. The sick and lonely become clean and whole.
Immediately the man was cleansed of his leprosy. He had felt the compassionate, healing touch of Jesus. “Go and show yourself to the priest,” Jesus told him, in keeping with tradition for restoration to community (v. 4).
Jesus doesn’t just make us a little bit better. He doesn’t improve our already-pretty-good health and spirituality. We were condemned, lonely, and unclean, and Jesus made us righteous, whole, and clean—able to stand before priests and kings without fear.
Jesus doesn’t stand off at a distance from us, offering laws and principles and healing without touch. He could have healed without touching the leper, and he probably could have redeemed us without leaving his heavenly throne. He certainly could have saved us without being born in a dirty stable and growing up poor.
But that’s not the Jesus of Scripture. Jesus Christ entered our dying, broken world. At the heart of redemption, Jesus identifies with us—touches us in our moment of total uncleanness—and invites us into an encounter with him, to a real relationship with him.
“When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.””
Matthew 8:1-4 ESV
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