Tag Archives: Power

Lessons from a Leper

If you had been there, you would have ridden an emotional roller coaster.  The Sermon on the Mount was over.  The large crowds were so blown away by  the authority of Jesus’ teaching that, when He walked down off the mountain, they just had to follow Him.  They could sense it; they were in on something big.  Jesus was going to be really famous and popular. But then:

A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Matthew 8:2-4)

It’s hard for us to appreciate how jolting it would have been for the people following Jesus, to suddenly discover a leper in their midst.  People with leprosy were so horribly disfigured that they were severely ostracized and shunned.  They were considered unclean, spiritually dangerous to be near.  And here comes a leper, right up to Jesus.  It was shocking and revolting.  But then Jesus touched him, making Himself  unclean by the rules of their day, and risking catching the disease.  Jesus went from being the grand winner of “Galilee’s Got Talent” to making Himself unfit to be near.  You can imagine how the crowd’s emotions were tossed back and forth.

Before anyone could recover from the shock of those two things, the leprous man was instantly healed!  Fear and revulsion would have suddenly turned into amazement and awe!  Let’s sound the trumpets!  Jesus can stand up now and loudly proclaim His Divinity.  He can bask in the glory of His great power.  The crowd would have gone wild…

But that’s not what He did.  Jesus told the man not to tell anyone.  Instead, He said, he should follow the customary procedure for someone who was healed – get checked out by a priest and bring an offering.  Why would Jesus tell this man to keep it a secret?  Why would He set it up for the priests to get the credit?   Confused?  So were all the people in the crowd.  Jesus didn’t say why and Matthew doesn’t tell us.  He just let them ride the roller coaster.

Maybe you have felt a little like the leper – too much like damaged goods to be able to get near Jesus.  Maybe you see all those Christians crowding around Jesus and think, “I’m not like those people; they wouldn’t want me to come in and ruin the celebration.”  Maybe you are wondering if Jesus would reach out and touch you, if He would heal you from whatever kind of moral, spiritual or physical “leprosy” that afflicts you.  If so, carefully consider three things about how he brought his request:

1.   First,  he kneeled before Jesus and called Him “Lord.”   Mathew used a word for prostrating oneself as an act of wholehearted worship.  The leper approached Jesus with humility and reverence, with a deep sense of how needy he was and how Holy Jesus was.

2.   Secondly, he acknowledged Jesus’ power and authority.  He said “… you can make me clean.”  This was a profound statement of faith.  “You can do it.”  Trusting Jesus means believing He is able.

3.   Finally, the leper accepted that Jesus would only heal him if He was willing.  He left the decision up to Jesus.

We would do well to remember these three attitudes whenever we bring a request to Jesus.  Remember his attitude of humble reverence before the “Lord,” His faith in Jesus’ great power, and how he submitted himself to what Jesus willed.   Jesus, Himself modeled these 3 attitudes in the Garden of Gethsemane.

“Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

When you approach Jesus, don’t come with the crowd.  They can be easily confused.  Instead, come with the leper.  He knew what to do.

The Source of Power in Faith

There is a commonly held, new-age idea that belief – belief in anything – in and of itself, does powerful, good things for you.  Sounds nice, but it is nonsense.  A buddy of mine believed he was a magpie (Ahh, yes — remember the 70’s?).  His belief was confusing but it was not powerful.  But there is something powerful going on when God uses faith to interact and connect to humans  (See: “Loud and Clear”).  But how is that faith any different?  Where does the power come from?  Faith is a necessary ingredient, but it doesn’t do the work.  God does.

It’s sort of like this: If I want to start using Facebook, I can’t just do it because my computer is not automatically equipped for it. First, I have to ask the folks at Facebook to send me a download of software or an “App.”  I receive it, install it, and then my computer is enabled to make that connection. Something similar goes on when God connects to people by faith.  It is a powerful something, something that is rarely explained, even by Christians.

Before any connection to God is made by faith, a “download” is necessary.  But it isn’t software God gives you, it is something alive – Someone alive –  the Holy Spirit.  God comes and lives in you, by His Holy Spirit.  Really!   It starts when someone has an “Aha!” moment of understanding that Jesus is God, Who has come to us in understandable human form (See: “One Plus Two Equals One”).  When a person crosses that threshold of faith, their natural response is to want to draw closer to God, to communicate with Him.  God connects interactively with people who believe like that.   But it isn’t the act of believing that makes the connection happen.  It’s the “download” from God, the Gift from God that powers it up. Here’s how Jesus said it.

 “If you [really believe in Me] I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.  (John 14:15b -17 – with my added clarification )

This is the key. This is how and why  faith connects us.  God gives us His Spirit and by that Spirit, He lives within us. Really!  It’s so fantastic, so unexpected, that Jesus practically stood on His head to explain it.  He said:

Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.  (John 14:19-20)

Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.  (John 14:23)

 

This process of receiving  (downloading and installing!) the Holy Spirit is so crucial, that, after His resurrection, Jesus told His disciples to wait for the Spirit before they tried to do anything.

“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…   But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…”  (Excerpts from Acts 1:4-8]

When God gives His Spirit, as a response to faith, and therefore lives in a human soul, that soul becomes alive in a powerfully new and full way.  God’s Spirit is “born” in him or her.  That is why Jesus told a religious teacher he must be “born from on above” (commonly translated as “born again” – John 3:1-3).  He said that physical birth is not enough for complete life, for truly connecting to God:

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’  (John 3:5-7)

It starts with faith.  Faith is how we reach out to God to receive His Spirit.  But God’s Spirit makes the connection and brings the new life.  Therein is the astonishing power in faith.