"He is Willing"
(Delivered Sunday, July 10, 2005 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
Hebrews 4:16 gives us a wonderful invitation. After speaking of the role that Jesus serves as our faithful and sacrificial High Priest - a High Priest who understands our failures and sympathizes with our weaknesses - the writer of Hebrews says,
Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
I love that invitation from God's word; don't you? In fact, I NEED to hear that invitation. There are many times when I am in need of God's mercy and grace to help, but feel utterly unworthy of asking for it. And yet, in this verse, I'm given the invitation to come boldly to the throne of grace and receive the mercy and help that I need - anytime; anywhere; for any situation or circumstance!
That invitation is open to all of us who are in Christ. We may come boldly; because the One who sits on that throne is our greatest Friend - Jesus; the One who loved us and gave Himself for us. Because of this invitation, we can be sure that, when we come before His throne and seek His help in times of need, we will not be turned away - even though we are so often unfaithful and unworthy. We can rest assured that we will always be welcomed by Him, and granted an endless supply of His abundant mercy and grace in our time of need.
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Following this morning's message, I'm going to invite that - as a church family - we come together to that throne of grace. You'll notice that there's a chair positioned at the front of the sanctuary. After the message, I'm going to invite that whoever among us has a need - whatever that need may be - come up, and sit in this chair, and share that need with the church family.
That "need" may be because you are suffering from something physical or from an illness that wont seem to go away. It may be because there's a failure in a relationship that is causing you a great deal of sorrow and grief. It may be because there's a sin in your life that you are not seeming to gain the victory over. It may even be because you have come to realize, over the time that you've been with us, that you have no personal relationship with Jesus Christ by faith - that you are a lost sinner under the wrath of a holy God, that you are in desperate need of salvation today, and that you would like to enter into that relationship and be saved.
Whatever the need might be, I will ask you to take the bold step of coming forward, sitting in this chair, and sharing that need with the church family. And then, after you share that need with us, I'm going to ask that we all pray as a church family for you. You may wish to get up from the chair and kneel, if you are physically able; or you may wish to remain seated. I'll leave that up to you. But I'm going to ask that some of our leaders, and others from the church family who feel led to do so, come forward, gather around you, and lay hands on you; and that several of us lead out in prayer for you and your need. I'm going to ask that, together, we very consciously and concertedly approach the throne of grace for you, and bring your pressing need - together with you - to our High Priest, Jesus.
You might be thinking that this is going to take a lot of courage! And perhaps it will. But if the Holy Spirit is speaking to you today to bring your need to Jesus, I plead with you not to let anything stop you. Allow us to approach the throne of grace together with you. Let's be bold together, and courageously take your need before Jesus, our High Priest - the very One who sits in heaven upon the throne of grace for us - and seek His mercy and help for that need.
What will happen as a result? I don't know. That's something that we must leave in the hands of our Lord. But I know that we can't fail whenever we humbly bring our needs - whatever those needs may be - to Jesus. We even have an invitation from God's own word: "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
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Now, I have felt confident to ask that we do this today because of this morning's passage. I would like to share it with you before we pray for one another, in the hopes that God will particularly use it to encourage some of us today with pressing burdens and needs. This morning's passage reminds us that Jesus is alive, and active, and powerful to meet every need brought to Him; and what's more, that He is very willing to meet those needs if we will but come to Him in genuine faith.
This morning's passage tells us the story of someone that I believe should be considered one of the Bible's great heroes of faith. We don't know the man's name. In fact, we don't know anything about his background. The only way that he's been identified to us in the pages of the Bible is through his need. All we know for sure about him is that he was a man in a desperate condition; and that he humbly brought his need to Jesus; and that Jesus gladly received him and completely met his need. His story teaches us one of the most basic and crucial lessons we could ever learn: that Jesus is willing respond to the need of anyone who comes to Him in faith.
This man's story is found for us in Matthew 8:1-4. It occurs, according to the Gospel writer Matthew, immediately after Jesus finished preaching the Sermon on The Mount. Matthew tells us;
When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean." Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, "See that you tell no one; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them" (Matthew 8:1-4).
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Even though this poor leper proved to be a great hero of faith, I don't believe the spotlight is meant to be on him. His story of faith is an outstanding one simply because of the One in whom his faith was placed. The spotlight is meant to be on Jesus.
And the first thing that we should notice about Jesus from this story is that . . .
1. HE RECEIVES ANYONE IN NEED WHO COMES IN FAITH (vv. 1-2).
I believe that Matthew was very deliberate in placing this story immediately after the Sermon on The Mount. Jesus, after all, had said some very strong things in that sermon.
Think of it. He said that if our righteousness does not exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, we would by no means enter the kingdom of heaven (5:20). He talked about the Law of Moses point by point; and showed that a true understanding of the intent of God's commandments reveals that all of us have failed to keep them (5:21-48). He spoke of the dangers of hypocrisy in our good deeds (6:1-4), or in our prayers (6:5-14), or in our acts of religious devotion (6:16-18); and He revealed that this hypocrisy exists in every one of us - no matter how 'holy' we might seem in the eyes of others. He said "Judge not, that you be not judged" (7:1-2); and having said that, He has made guilty sinners out of all of us, because we all "judge" unrighteously. He warns that we are fools if we hear what He says, but do not do what He says (7:24-27); and yet, that's what we have so often done.
If we truly hear what Jesus says in the Sermon on The Mount, we certainly wont come away feeling good about ourselves. We will realize that we're all condemned by His words; and that we all stand before God as guilty sinners who are deeply in need! There is much in the Sermon on The Mount that shows that us that all of us - no matter who we are - are in great need of God's grace and of the compassion of a great High Priest.
And that's why I'm so grateful that the Holy Spirit led Matthew to place this story immediately after Jesus' great Sermon. It shows us that the One who preached it is a merciful Savior to those who feel the condemnation of their sin, and who come to Him for mercy and grace in their time of need. It lets us know that He will not turn us away; but instead is very glad to receive us and help us.
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Matthew tells us that, "When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him." "Great multitudes" had already been following Him before He went up the mountain as well. Earlier in his Gospel, Matthew tells us;
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of diseases among the people. Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them. Great multitudes followed Him - from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan (Matthew 4:23-25).
The sight of this great multitude was what prompted Him to go up the mountain and preach this sermon to His disciples. Clearly, many of these same people also followed and heard. And when He had come down, a great multitude of people was all around Him - perhaps even pressing in on Him.
And then, as they surrounded Jesus, I picture in my mind that some kind of commotion broke out within this great multitude. People within the crowd suddenly began breaking apart from one another and open up a pathway - making a wide space between them as this poor, pathetic man came groping and dragging his way through them to Jesus! There might have even been some cries and shouts and angry murmurs. His sudden presence rudely interrupted the scene. No one wished to be near him; because he was a dreaded leper.
I read something that the famous Scottish Bible teacher William Barclay wrote about this man's disease. He wrote that "There never has been any disease which so separated a man from his fellow-men as leprosy did."1 He described different forms of the disease in this way:
It might begin with little nodules which go on to ulcerate. The ulcers develop a foul discharge; the eyebrows fall out; the eyes become staring; the vocal chords become ulcerated, and the voice becomes hoarse, and the breath wheezes. The hands and feet always ulcerate. Slowly the sufferer becomes a mass of ulcerated growths. The average course of that kind of leprosy is nine years, and it ends with mental decay, coma and ultimately death.
A leprous man would be the closest thing we could think of to "the walking dead". The Old Testament commanded that if a man contracted leprosy, ". . . His clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, 'Unclean! Unclean!' He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp" (Leviticus 13:45-46). He was shunned by society. People hid themselves when he came wandering into town begging for food. One rabbi even boasted that he threw stones at lepers to keep them away.3
And because a leprous man was declared to be ceremonially and socially "unclean", leprosy has aptly been seen as an illustration of the curse of sin. In fact, some people in the Bible were even cursed by God with leprosy as a direct consequence of sin. Moses' sister Miriam, for example, was struck with leprosy because of her rebellion against God's authority through Moses (Numbers 12:10). The prophet Elisha's servant Gehazi was struck with leprosy because he sought to abuse Elisha's ministry in order to gain material wealth for himself (2 Kings 5:27). King Uzziah was struck with leprosy when he pridefully disobeyed God, and sought to make an offering in the temple that was only right for the priests of God to make (2 Chronicles 26:16-21).
Luke, who was a doctor, tells us that this particular man was "full of leprosy" (Luke 5:12) - that is, covered with it from head to toe! Whether or not the poor man in our passage was leprous as a direct result of sin is something we can't know. We can say, though, that his leprosy was just one more manifest product of the sin of our first father Adam. It serves as a vivid picture of "uncleaness" before God because of sin. In fact, this man's leprosy was a very realistic picture of the complete defilement of sin!
This man's outward defilement is only an illustration of the much more real and substantial defilement that we all experience because of our sin before a holy God. He simply looked on the outside like what we look like in our spirits before God. And so, what a shocking thing it was that he would grope his way through the crowd to try to come to Jesus. People would have been appalled at his presence; and would have immediately moved away from him, lest they be defiled by him.
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But come he did! And that's what makes this poor man's faith so outstanding! Look carefully at what Matthew says about the demonstrations of his faith.
First, notice that the simple fact that the man "came". And I think that's remarkable! I believe that he had heard about Jesus - that He had healed "all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people" (Matthew 4:24), and that people had brought to Him sick folks who were "afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics"; and that Jesus had "healed them" (v. 25). And hearing all this, if I may put it this way, he completely forgot about himself. He ignored all the reasons that might keep him away - the shame and humiliation he might feel, the public rejection he might experience, the sense of propriety he might violate - and he "came" to Jesus anyway. No one brought him. No one encouraged him. He came all alone. But nothing was more important to him than that he come! If I may put it this way; he 'importuned' himself and made his way to Jesus boldly - even though others might feel he didn't belong there - because he knew that Jesus had the power to heal.
Second, he came reverently. The Bible tells us that he came and "worshiped" Jesus. The word that Matthew uses (proskune§) is one that literally describes the act of "kissing toward". It meant to do "reverence" or "homage" to someone - perhaps by, symbolically, kissing the hand or foot. The word itself doesn't say so; but I have dared to wonder if the man actually fell before Jesus and literally sought to kiss His hand or foot in reverence and worship! In any case, the man came to Jesus with a genuine sense of reverence.
I see this further in the fact that he called Jesus "Lord" (i.e., kurios). That would be the normal word for "master"; but in this case, we can't help but see that the word had a special significance (also see Matthew 7:21-22). After all, the man was coming to Jesus for healing from leprosy! Would he come to a mere man for something like that?
In the Old Testament, a leper was once sent by the king of Syria to King Jehoram of Israel for a miracle of healing. He was hoping that Jehoram would send him to the prophet Elijah. But Jehoram didn't understand; and he was outraged, and declared, "Am I God, to kill and make alive, that this man sends a man to me to heal him of his leprosy?" (2 Kings 5:7). Even Jehoram recognized that only God could heal a man of leprosy! And yet, think of it: This poor leper comes to Jesus for healing; even falling before Him and calling Him "Lord". Clearly, this leprous man knew Jesus to be more than simply "master" in a merely human sense. This man knew Jesus to be the Son of God in human flesh; and he worshiped Him as such!
Third, the leprous man acknowledged Jesus' power. He said, "Lord . . . You can make me clean". That's how a healing from leprosy was described - as being made "clean", because the one who had it was ceremonially and socially "unclean". And by acknowledging this, the man was saying that it was in Jesus' power and authority to completely heal him and make him "clean" - not only physically, but also ceremonially before God and man. That, too, is a demonstration of the greatness of his faith.
But finally, also notice that the leprous man left the matter to Jesus' will. He said, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean." It was only if Jesus was "willing". The leper didn't come 'demanding' a healing of Jesus; because he had no right to demand one. He came boldly, and reverently worshiping Jesus and acknowledging His power; but he also came humbly - leaving the matter of his healing to the Savior's sovereign will.
And I suggest to you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that this man is giving us a picture of the kind of approach to Jesus that is described for us in the first four of His Beatitudes:
God is showing us, through this man's story, how to bring our need to Jesus. And He is also showing us that, when we come in this way, Jesus gladly receives us. He will never turn anyone away who comes to Him in the faith of this simple leper!
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A second thing we can learn from this story about those who bring their needs to Jesus in humble faith is that . . .
2. HE IS WILLING TO MEET THEIR NEED (v. 3a).
Jesus welcomed and received this poor man who came to Him by faith. And He demonstrated that receptiveness to him in a remarkable way. Matthew tells us that, when this leper approached Jesus by faith with his need, "Jesus put out His hand and touched him . . ."
That is a remarkable thing! In those days, no one touched a leper! I imagine all the people standing around Jesus when this happened. They were already shocked by the fact that this leper would break into the crowd and approach Jesus. But then, to see Jesus reach out and touch the man - ! I can almost hear the collective 'gasp' from the crowd; can't you?
And did you know that the Old Testament warns that, if someone were to even accidentally touch an unclean person, such as a leper, he would himself become unclean and guilty? Leviticus 5:3 says, ". . . If he touches human uncleanness - whatever uncleanness with which a man may be defiled, and he is unaware of it - when he realizes it, then he shall be guilty." And yet, here, Jesus reaches out and touches him knowingly and deliberately!!
Now, how could it be that Jesus would reach out to touch an unclean man and not fear to become guilty and unclean Himself? I suppose the answer would have to be that, once He touched the man and healed him, he ceased to be unclean! But an even greater question than that is why Jesus troubled to touch the man at all! After all, our powerful Savior certainly didn't need to touch the man in order to heal him! Jesus would go on to prove - in the very next story that Matthew tells (Matthew 8:5-13) - that He is able to even heal a man from a distance. He could have healed this leper just by speaking a word! But instead, Jesus went out of His way to touch this man. It might have been the first human touch the man had received in years. And the reason is because Jesus loved him. When Mark told this story in his Gospel, he said, "Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him . . ." (Mark 1:41). He touched him because He was moved with compassion for him. What a picture of love that is!
I believe that God is letting us know in this that, if we will come to Jesus' 'throne of grace' in the same way as this humble leper came - no matter how deplorable our condition, no matter how great our need - we will be coming to Someone who loves us greatly, and will receive us with great compassion. Coming to Him, we will "obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need"; because Jesus turns no one away who truly comes to Him on these terms! He receives everyone who comes to Him in such sincere faith - and receives them warmly, and tenderly, and fully, and compassionately!
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It's wonderful that Jesus is willing to meet our needs when we come to Him. He knows about our needs, and is concerned for them. The Bible even tells us, "Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:6-7). But ultimately, what good would it be to bring our needs to Jesus if He cared about us and was willing to do something about our need - but was unable to? "Willing" and "able" are two different things.
Well; as we read on, we see that He is not only the One to go to with our need; and not only is He also willing to do what is needed; but He is able to do more than simply be 'willing'! We can see this in the very simple response He gave to the man when He touched him. He said, "I am willing; be cleansed."
Those are just two words in the original language. The first word (thel§) is an expression of fact: "I am willing"; and that was certainly something that the poor leper needed to hear. But the second word (katharisthŃti) is a command: "be cleansed". One word expresses our Savior's attitude toward the man's need - that He is truly WILLING to meet it; and the other word expresses His authority and power - that He is able to DO the thing that He is willing to do.
That leads us to a third thing we need to know about those who bring their needs to Jesus; that . . .
3. HE IS POWERFUL TO MEET THEIR NEED COMPLETELY (vv. 3b-4).
Matthew tells us that, after Jesus touched the man and spoke these words, "Immediately his leprosy was cleansed" (v. 3b). Immediately! There was no gradual, progressive healing involved. The man didn't simply "begin" to get better. Nor did Jesus tell this leper - as He would tell the ten lepers on another occasion (Luke 17:11-19) - "Go, show yourself to the priest first"; and then heal him while he was on the way. No; He healed this man completely and fully on the spot - and before the eyes of all who saw it!
It was only after the man was healed that Jesus said, "See that you tell no one; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them" (v. 4).
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By the way: Why did Jesus tell the man not to speak to others, but to go directly to the priests? I believe that there are at least four reasons. A first reason would be out of reverence to His Father. Jesus - even in doing so remarkable a thing as healing the man - was still careful to stay true to God's law.
The law of God given through Moses states that, when a man was healed of leprosy, then he was to go to the temple and show himself to the priests. And if, upon examination, the man indeed was healed, he was to undergo a ceremonial ritual of cleansing (Leviticus 14:1-20). Only after this ceremony had been completed by the priest could the man then be restored to the social life of his people. God taught the Jewish people, "Take heed in an outbreak of leprosy, that you carefully observe and do according to all that the priests, the Levites, shall teach you ; just as I commanded them, so you shall be careful to do" (Deuteronomy 24:8). And Jesus did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).
Jesus was careful to obey all of His Father's commandments - even when healing this man. And He insisted that this man obey God's commandments as well. It may be that, if he had gotten all caught up in telling others, he might have failed to do as the law commanded. And so, that's surely one reason why Jesus sent the man directly to the priests.
A second reason would be out of concern for the man himself. Jesus wanted to legitimize the man's healing and show that it was genuine and complete. If the man had simply wandered away without going to the priests, there's a sense in which the man's healing would have been 'incomplete'. In that case, no one would be able to say, in an official sense, that he truly was healed and could be welcomed back into society. There would always be a question about it. But once the priests had examined him according to the law, and once he had offered the gift that Moses commanded for his healing, then the matter would be settled in every respect.
A third reason would have been out of concern for the priests. Jesus wanted for the man's healing to be a witness to the priests themselves. He told the man to do this "as a testimony to them". We have no record anywhere in the Bible before this time that the ceremony for the cleansing of a leper had ever been performed. And if this man were to then go to the priests - in accordance with the law of Moses - and require them to perform that Old Testament ritual for his cleansing, the priests would have realized that something outstanding and unprecedented had happened in their midst! This would surely have testified to them that the Messiah had come, and was now at work upon the earth! Isn't it wonderful that Jesus was concerned that even the priests receive this testimony?
And we would have to say that a fourth reason would be out of concern for Jesus' own ministry. He wanted to keep His own ministry from being hindered. Jesus, you see, didn't come to this world to heal people of their physical ailments. He was certainly willing to do so; but that wasn't His primary calling. His primary calling was "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). And if He didn't focus Himself on His primary calling, He would have literally been healing people twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week!
In fact, when we read Mark's account of this story, we see that that's one of the primary reasons Jesus gave him this command. Mark tells us, "However, he [that is, the leper] 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 1:45).
Now let's admit: It's true that the leper disobeyed our Lord; but I don't feel that he did so out of badness. He simply couldn't contain himself! He had just been healed of a very dreaded disease by the Son of God; and was now well. Jesus had given him his life back! I find it very hard to blame this man for his disobedience. I'm not sure I could have done any better.
And by the way: Jesus had told him to keep quiet - and yet, he blabbed it to everyone; but now that Jesus has died for our sins and is alive from the dead, He has commanded us to tell everyone about Him - and yet, we keep quiet. Who then are we to point a finger at this man's disobedience? Frankly, I like his disobedience better than I like yours and mine!
And as we read on, we find that Jesus was up late into the evening healing people that were brought to Him. "They brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: 'He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses'" (8:16-17). And isn't this a testimony that, when Jesus met the need of the leper, He met it completely - just as He did to all who came to Him with a similar faith?
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I believe we will meet this leper in heaven. He will no longer be a leper, of course; he will be a glorified saint. And he will forever be a reminder to us of just how good our Savior is - even to a poor, needy leper. And as for us today - in our time of need - he serves as a reminder that (1) Jesus receives anyone in need who comes to Him in sincere faith; (2) that He is willing to meet their need; and (3) that He is powerful to meet that need completely.
How shall we put this to use, dear brothers and sisters in Christ? I have a simple answer: "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).
1William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), vol. 1,, p. 296.
2Ibid., p. 295.
3Ibid., p. 296.
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