And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.
Throughout the first chapter of Mark, we see first John, and then Jesus, meeting the needs of the people. And every step of the way, Jesus and John point to deeper spiritual realities and needs: John’s water baptism points to one “who will baptize [them] with the Holy Spirit” (v.8); Simon, Andrew, James, and John are tending to the business of fishing, but Jesus calls them to leave their work and follow him. As the chapter progresses, the practical and spiritual natures of Jesus’ ministry become entwined as he drives out unclean spirits and demons so powerful that they can convulse their hosts.
Why did Jesus come? In verse 15, he begins his public ministry with this proclamation: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” In John 3:16, he tells Nicodemus that God sent him “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus came to call sinners to repentance from their sins and to faith in himself. Jesus introduced “...a better hope...through which we draw near to God.” (Hebrews 7:19).
As we come to the end of the chapter, beginning in verse 40, we read of Jesus healing a leper. This man would have been physically separated from his people, including his family, because under the law of Moses, his disease rendered him unclean, and therefore unfit to bring his worship to the Lord; and on top of that, anyone who came into physical contact with him would also be considered unclean for a time. This man’s leprosy alienated him from his people, and more significantly, it kept him from drawing near to God in temple worship.
And here we see Jesus granting what he asks. He heals the man of his leprosy, and instructs him to go and be cleansed according to the law of Moses. Why? The immediate context tells us that Jesus was “moved with pity.” But the larger context of the chapter, and indeed of the entire Biblical narrative, tells us more. The unclean spirit in verse 24 calls Jesus “the Holy One of God.” Peter will later confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. In John 8, Jesus identifies himself by the name God gave Moses to tell the Israelites when they asked who had sent him. Jesus is God—the Word made flesh. Moved by pity, Jesus heals this leper of his physical condition, but in so doing, he testifies both to the man’s greatest spiritual need and its fulfillment: the Christ, the Savior—Jesus himself. Jesus’ call to the people of Galilee, to his fisherman-disciples, to the unclean and demon-possessed, to the lepers, and to us, is the same: repent, and believe in the Gospel. Believe in Jesus, because in him there is life—because in him, in the Son, we can at last draw near to God.