Mark 1: And touched the man

Application

As we open the book of Mark, we find ourselves thrust immediately into the thick of things. With Mark, there are no preliminaries, no Christmas story, no word about Jesus’ childhood, etc. Just as though we were watching our favorite show on DVR and skipping all the commercials, we start with John the Baptist, and it’s all action, all the time, from that point on. In chapter one alone, we cover John the Baptist;, Jesus’ baptism; the temptation (in two sentences, no less!); the calling of Peter, Andrew, James and John as the first disciples; the start of his public ministry in Capernaum; the initial response to his ministry; and his resolve to spend time alone with God, even in the midst of his meteoric rise to fame. To be certain, each and every one of these moments of Jesus’ life merits a blog post in and of themselves, and perhaps someday I will have the chance to write about them. But for the moment, I want to focus on the last scene of this action-packed chapter: the one where Jesus heals a man with leprosy.

Even today, the word “leper” carries with it a terrible weight. Even if we don’t understand the historical application, every time we’ve heard the term, it was in a bad context. We instinctively understand that a “leper” is someone that you don’t want to be around, and we will go out of our way to avoid them at all costs.

In Jesus’ day, it was even more extreme. For the better part of two thousand years, the Jews had been taught that, if someone had leprosy, which is what they called pretty much any kind of skin irritation or disease, they were unclean. To be unclean had a profound impact on one’s life. You couldn’t participate in any form of Jewish worship. You couldn’t even live in town. Every time you walked down a street where anyone could possibly be, you would have to yell at the top of your lungs, “Unclean! Unclean!” so that everyone knew to avoid you. And there was exactly zero chance that you would ever be allowed to touch someone – or they you – ever.

Think about that for a second. No physical touch. Ever. That means no kissing (which is a big deal if you like to kiss your husband or wife, kids, etc.). No hugs. No comforting arm around the shoulder or even reassuring pats on the back. In fact, even handshakes were absolutely out of the question.

Now, I suspect that right about now, you’re thinking that this wouldn’t be a huge deal. If you, like me, aren’t really a touchy-feely person, you’re probably even thinking it would be a good thing. But think about how often we use a simple act of physical touch to communicate something every day. In the morning, I wake my wife by placing my hand on her side. During the day, I shake an untold number of hands and sometimes even give a hug. And every night, I place my hand on my son’s head and tell him good night and give my daughter a kiss and tell her the same thing. In each instance, the act of touch communicates far more than a few words can: I love you. I value you. I feel for you. I bless you. I am pleased with you. And the list goes on and on and on.

Without that touch, though, none of that gets conveyed. At least, not nearly as effectively.

In Mark 1:40-45, Jesus encountered a leper. In fact, the leper came to him, begging on his hands and knees to make him “clean” (aka to heal him of leprosy). For years, probably, this man had been compelled by society to a life of exile. He had been forced to proclaim himself unclean in the eyes of God and men. And he had never, ever been touched. Talk about a pitiful, lonely existence! But then, in vs 41, Jesus did something amazing. We are told here that, “filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.” Let me say that again. Jesus “touched the man.”

The significance of that simple act cannot be overstated. This guy’s skin was white with disease. Parts of his body may well have been missing. And yet, even before Jesus healed him, He reached out and touched the man. Not the leper. Not the leprosy. Not even the unclean sinner. He touched the man. And then Jesus healed him with five words in the English which are rendered from only two in the original Greek. Two words. Why? Because the words didn’t matter.

Jesus knew that this man would never remember what he said. But he would never forget what he did. Jesus reached out and willingly, lovingly, warmly, without reservation or condition or condescension, touched the man.

In the closing verses of the chapter, Jesus told the man to show himself to the priest so he could be officially declared clean but to not tell anyone else what had happened, but I suspect our Lord knew there was no way this guy could possibly keep this quiet! Jesus had touched him! And in that moment, the unclean outcast, ostracized by society for what seemed to him to be an eternity, knew that he had value. He was loved. He was more than his disease. No, there was no way this guy could possibly keep this one to himself.

Sometimes, as Christians, we have all the right words to say. We know all the right things to do. But how often do we cringe or flinch or shy away when it comes to reaching out and actually touching someone? I know I’ve done it. In fact, I will never forgive myself for a time a member of the church who was a mechanic came to my door, shook my hand with his grease-stained hand, and I looked down without thinking to see if my hand was still clean! A MEMBER OF OUR CHURCH!!!!

Now, I’m not saying that we need to touch everyone we meet on the street. But I am saying that we need to be willing to get close to them. To share the situation with them. To get dirty for them. To enter their life, show them the love of God, and make an impact on them where they are. And note that, to make an impact, you must first touch!

Remember, there is a reason that Paul called us the hands and feet of Jesus. We are how He touches people now. Won’t you give someone you meet the chance to know the joy of Jesus’ touch? Won’t you give someone you know the chance to sing, in the words of William Gaither’s familiar song “He Touched Me,” that they were…

Shackled by a heavy burden,
‘Neath a load of guilt and shame –
Then the hand of Jesus touched me,
And now I am no longer the same.

He touched me,
O He touched me,
And O the joy that floods my soul;
Something happened, and now I know,
He touched me and made me whole.

Since I met this blessed Savior,
Since He cleansed and made me whole,
I will never cease to praise Him –
I’ll shout it while eternity rolls.

He touched me,
O He touched me,
And O the joy that fills my soul;
Something happened, and now I know,
He touched me and made me whole.

Notes

  • (1) Mark wastes no time outlining the thesis for his book. This is the gospel, the good news, about a man named Jesus who was the Hebrew Messiah (Christ), born to save the world. But Jesus was more than just the Messiah, He was the Son – of the same essence – of the Most High God. This statement, then, was not just a simple introductory sentence. It was, indeed, the gospel of Mark in a nutshell: the very Son of God came to earth to save mankind, and His name was Jesus. Talk about good news!
  • (2-3) According to vs 1, this was the beginning of the gospel account, but vss 2-3 set out to prove that it was not something which Mark had pulled out of thin air. By pointing back to the prophets Isaiah(40:3) and Malachi (3:1), Mark bases his gospel on centuries of prophesy and expectation. This wasn’t something which God did out of the blue. He had been working on it since the beginning of time; it just now was being revealed and realized before our eyes.
  • (4-8) The messenger of vss 2-3 took the form of John the Baptist who, true to form, foretold of another “one.” In an interesting play on words, John says that this one would (a) be more powerful than he and (b) baptize with the Holy Spirit, which was a far cry superior to there mere water John baptized with! John would be the first witness to Jesus, the Messiah.
  • (9-11) When Jesus came to be baptized by John in a symbolic passing-of-the-torch act, two supernatural signs appeared. The first, a dove which lit on Jesus, and the second, a voice from heaven, were understood to be clear messages from God. God the Father and the Holy Spirit, then, are the second witness to Jesus, the Messiah.
  • (12-13) Mark, who has already established a staccato, action-oriented tone, doesn’t go into much detail about the temptation. But three things do stand out. The first is that Jesus was tempted, or tested, and for forty days. This was a real trial; not just something that Jesus breezed through. And it didn’t go away in an instant or even overnight. He was in it for 40 days straight. The second is that it was truly a precarious situation. He was in the desert, where the conditions were extreme and the dangers of dehydration and starvation real. And he was “with wild animals” such as lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!).
  • (14-15) Jesus’ message is summarized here. What is interesting about it, though, is the contradiction which the Jews would have noticed. The first statement, “The kingdom of God is near,” would have gotten their attention for sure. They would have understood this to mean that Israel – the kingdom of God – was about to rise up and overthrow the Roman oppressors. However, the second statement, “Repent and believe the good news,” would have puzzled them. Repent means to turn away from a course of action. From what did the Jews have to repent? And believe was starkly contrasted to the “rise up!” that they probably expected. Already, Jesus is changing their expectations from an earthly kingdom created by military conquest to a heavenly kingdom identified by holiness applied to real life.
  • (16-20) Mark’s abbreviated style makes it seem as though Simon (Peter), Andrew, James and John were willing to just follow some stranger, out of the blue. Fortunately, we discover from the other gospels, we learn that Andrew had actually seen Jesus when he was baptized and followed him there, and that was likely the catalyst for this calling. They had seen and heard Jesus, and they were primed to respond already.
  • (22) Already in his young ministry, Jesus is wowing people. Notice, though, that the first thing that amazes them is not his ability to call down fire from heaven, speak in angelic tongues, or wield the awesome powers of God to heal the sick and raise the dead. They were amazed at his teaching. Why? Because he taught as one who had the authority to back up what he said.
  • (23-24) When we are ministering, opportunities will be provided to demonstrate the power of God and thus verify the gospel which we present.
  • (25) Why would Jesus tell the demon to be quiet?
  • (26) It strikes me that this occurred inside the synagogue. How many people in our pews are possessed by evil spirits? And how often do we, like the Jews in Capernaum, just go about our business without ever noticing? Would they have noticed had this incident not occurred? Would we?
  • (29-31) Did Jesus heal her so she could serve them, or did she serve them because Jesus healed her? Just asking.
  • (29-31) On a more serious note, this would have been the Sabbath, when it was unlawful for a Jew to do any form of work, including healings.
  • (32-34) Since the Sabbath ended at sunset, people could carry the sick and lame, etc., to Jesus only after dark. Imagine how late it must have been before Jesus was able to sleep!
  • (35-37) Even after a late night, Jesus woke up “very early in the morning, while it was still dark,” and went off to spend time alone with God in prayer. It is important to note that he would not have had written Scriptures, but that a key part of prayer would have been praying the Scripture that he had memorized since childhood.
  • (38-39) Jesus could not allow Capernaum to have a monopoly over his time and message. Clearly, they were already more interested in his ability to heal than anything else. So he had to go somewhere that people would listen to what he had to say.
  • (41) I never caught this before, but it occurs to me that Jesus touched the man that was unclean, before he was clean again. Leviticus makes some very specific prescriptions for this type of uncleanness, and touching a leper was a most definite no no. But Jesus did it. Intentionally. Deliberately. And the message of that touch, for the leper, was undoubtedly far more significant than anything that Jesus could say or even do.
  • (44) Once again, Jesus tells someone to remain quiet about what he has done for them. Why? Could it be that Jesus would rather us keep quiet than get the message wrong by telling about and focusing on the amazing miracles he has done rather than the life transformation he would do in our lives?
  • (45) I wonder what happened to the former leper. Jesus told him to remain quiet, but he told people anyway. It was, after all, the greatest thing that had ever happened to him, and the most profound thing anyone had ever done for him. But was this disobedience, or was it Jesus demonstrating a point: you will not keep quiet about the greatest news you’ve ever had, even if someone tells you to tell no one?
  • (45) Drawing a crowd has never been a problem for Jesus or the church. The problem was that these people were there primarily for the miracles Jesus did rather than the gospel he shared.
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