Jesus’ earthly ministry was anything but predictable. Religious leaders were often rebuked for their hypocrisy while the hurting were healed supernaturally. But it is in the unexpected that God often teaches us some of the more profound truths about His nature and character. This is also true of Jesus’ ministry.
In Luke 5:12-16, Luke records that “While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy” (vs. 12, NIV). Interestingly, Luke, a practicing physician, omits the name of the town in which this healing would take place but does report the severity of this man’s condition, namely, that he was “covered” with leprosy.
Known today as “Hanson’s disease,” leprosy was a terminal and shameful disease with no known cure at the time. According to Old Testament statutes, anyone with leprosy would need to live outside the towns where other Israelites lived, thereby preventing contagion to others. To have leprosy meant being cut off socially from all family and friends.
This man approached Jesus out of desperation and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” (vs. 12). Luke records that Jesus responded by reaching out His hand and touching the man. As He did, Jesus said to him, “I am willing, be clean” (vs. 13). We are told that immediately his leprosy left him.
At this point, one would expect this man to joyfully follow Jesus and tell others what Jesus had done for him. One could also envision Jesus utilizing such a person’s testimony during His ministry to others. Unexpectedly, however, Jesus told this man to go show himself to the temple priest rather than follow Him afterwards (vs. 14). In so doing, Jesus teaches us at least three important lessons about the character and work of Christ.
The first thing we discover about Jesus is that He wanted His identity as Israel’s messiah to be confirmed according to Old Testament laws rather than by mere popular appeal. Here’s why: the Old Testament permitted someone suspected of having leprosy to follow certain prescribed treatments in hopes that the Lord would work through those treatments and heal them. After a certain amount of days, they would present themselves to the Temple priest who would confirm whether or not they had been healed. By confirming that this man had indeed been healed, there would have been a public record in the Temple to verify that Jesus had really healed this man. If this had happened, one could not dispute that Jesus was acting under God’s power and was therefore who He claimed to be, namely Israel’s messiah.
The second thing we discover about Jesus is that He had a higher purpose in mind beyond that of simply bringing physical healing to this man. Now, this man’s physical condition was dear to Jesus and Jesus healed him completely. But Jesus’ greater purpose was in finishing the work His heavenly Father had given Him, namely, that of proclaiming the fact that He had come to bring forgiveness and cleansing from the greater of mankind’s problems, that of sin. To merely cater to the fickle emotions of the crowds, Jesus saw His greater purpose in fulfilling His Father’s will.
Third, we learn that for Jesus, prayer was more important for advancing His Father’s plans than the mere emotions or even physical needs alone of the crowds. The gospels record that crowds often followed Jesus more for what they could receive from Him than out of any desire to trust and follow Him (see John 6). But Luke reports that “…news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and be healed of their sicknesses” (vs. 15).
Jesus, we are told, “…often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (vs. 16). Prayer for Jesus was communion with His Father and was of vital significance to Him in discerning and carrying out His Father’s will. Often we make the mistake of confusing numbers and results with the sometimes more subtle and hidden desires of the Lord. This is not to say that God does not do the spectacular among many. It is to say though that as we seek to follow the Lord’s will for our lives personally we must include time of quiet and prayerful listening to the Lord’s Spirit for guidance.
We have seen that Jesus’ highest calling was to carry out His Father’s will and fulfill all that His Father asked of Him. Our doing so today means that we must seek the Lord’s will for our lives through prayer along with the singular focus of pleasing Him.