Matthew 8:1-4 “Jesus Heals A Leper”
When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
The story of Jesus healing the leper is packed with so much truth and perhaps more than we see at first. Jesus heals a leper, a man with a skin disease that would have caused him to be an outcast in the society of the time. Jesus having healed the man tells him to head for Temple to show himself to the Priest and present the offering that Moses commanded. This was to be a testimony to the priests in Jerusalem and he was to go straight to the temple without speaking to anyone, so that the priest couldn’t prepare for or prevent his arrival.
Let’s put ourselves in the place of the priest at Jerusalem’s temple. As a priest you’ve studied the law of Moses and you know all about the offerings and the various degrees of complexity in administering these. The difficulty is this, you may have carried out most the various offerings that we can read about in the book of Leviticus but the offering for the cleansing of the leper is both complex and unusual. In fact, as a priest you may never have seen this offering and to suddenly be asked to complete the offering would be a extraordinary event.
I’m a Welfare Benefits Specialist and those that work in this field will understand that you tend to be an expert in the areas of familiarity. I’ve been on numerous training courses relating to certain areas of the benefit system but unless I’m working in these areas on a regular basis its very easy to forget and then I need to go back to my manuals. My job demands that my advice is accurate and its always worrying when your faced with a new issue that you’ve rarely advised on before.
In a similar manner the priest would have suddenly been confronted by a man claiming to have been healed from leprosy who was asking for the offerings prescribed in the book of the law. The priest would have been forced to get out the book of the law to investigate the process. This is something he had to get right and having never completed this ritual before he would need to take time, read the law well and probably seek the help of other priests for advice and guidance.
So lets have a look at the process that is detailed in Leviticus Chapter 14
The healed man would first be checked outside the city walls but it’s likely that our man had to approach the temple as the priest might have considered this healing unlikely and refused to go out of the city.
The priest shall give orders to bring two live clean birds, cedar wood, scarlet string and hyssop for the one who had been healed.
One of the birds would be slain in an earthenware vessel over running water. The other live bird, along with the cedar wood and the scarlet string and the hyssop shall be dipped in the blood of the bird that was slain over the running water.
The priest must then sprinkle seven times the man who has been healed from the leprosy and shall pronounce him clean and shall let the live bird go free.
The healed man shall then wash his clothes and shave off all his hair and bathe in water and after this he may enter the camp, but he shall stay outside his home or other living accommodation for 7 days. On the seventh day that he shall shave off all his hair: he shall shave his head and his beard and his eyebrows, even all his hair. He shall then wash his clothes and bathe his body in water.
On the eighth day he is to take two male lambs without defect, and a yearling ewe lamb without defect, and three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering, and oil
The priest who pronounces him clean shall present the man to be cleansed and the two male lambs, yearling ewe lamb, fine flour and oil before the LORD.
Then the priest shall take the one male lamb and bring it for a guilt offering, with the oil, and present them as a wave offering before the LORD.
Next, he shall slaughter the male lamb in the place where they slaughter the sin offering and the burnt offering, at the place of the sanctuary–for the guilt offering.
The priest shall then take some of the blood of the guilt offering, and the priest shall put it on the lobe of the right ear of the man healed, and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot.
The priest shall also take some of the oil and pour it into his left palm; and the priest shall then dip his right-hand finger into the oil that is in his left palm, and with his finger sprinkle some of the oil seven times before the LORD.
Of the remaining oil which is in his palm, the priest shall put some on the right ear lobe of the one to be cleansed, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot, on the blood of the guilt offering; while the rest of the oil that is in the priest’s palm, he shall put on the head of the healed man.
The priest shall next offer the sin offering and make atonement for the one to be cleansed from his uncleanness. Then afterward, he shall slaughter the burnt offering. The priest shall offer up the burnt offering and the grain offering on the altar.
Well are you confused? This wasn’t a quick one-off process and the whole process took over a week. We’ve got a priest who must go on a crash course to get the ritual right and this would have drawn in many if not all of the other priests to witness these offerings. We’ve also got a man healed of leprosy who has had full body hair removal spending 7 days outdoors whilst waiting for the final acts of the priest on the 8th day.
This was a massive spectacle and testimony to the people in Jerusalem. I work with a team of 11 other advice workers and the difficult cases tend to get shared around. I expect the priests would have drawn lots for the next occasion of a healed leper and just imagine, as Jesus continued to save and heal, this whole process would have become a regular event in Jerusalem.
If you’ve ever wondered why the ritual, established thousands of years before Jesus arrived, was so complex, then consider the wisdom of God who set the stage for the greatest spectacle in the experience of the Jerusalem Temple. Gods always has a plan and purpose which may seem to us unexplained but in the plan of God its always essential.