If we were to ask a teen-age boy or girl to describe beauty to us, we would likely be shown a picture of healthy young model with chiseled features, perfect complexion, a pleasant smile that reveals perfect teeth. Likely, none of us would argue with that image representing beauty. However, as we mature, we learn that our vision of beauty may broaden to include some features and people whose beauty may have been missed in the youthful portrayal of beauty. Some of us may allow that beauty goes beyond the outward physical appearance. Yet, we all agree that certain outward features are more pleasant to our eyes than others.
In the Bible, we are introduced to the image of a grotesque, disfiguring disease. The disease of which I speak is leprosy. As we read about leprosy in the Bible, we may not fully understand what it is other than some disease. The disease in the Bible may include the modern understanding of leprosy as well as other skin diseases. It is a progressive disease caused by a bacterial infection. It affects the skin tissue, nerves in the extremities, and the mucus lining of the nose and upper respiratory tract. It will disfigure, cause severe pain and blindness. There is nothing pleasant about the disease.
It is a contagious disease that had no known cure until fairly recently (early 1900’s), those infected were isolated and not allowed within the community. There are still some leper colonies in exitance today. Left untreated, leprosy is a progressive disease that may result in death. It is mostly known for disfiguring the patient.
People with leprosy, especially those in advanced stages of the disease, would be the opposite of the image of beauty as we mentioned earlier. We find several cases of leprosy mentioned in the Bible. This morning we will look at two cases where the infected were cured. We will note their reaction.
Let’s first turn to 2 Kings the 5th chapter and begin reading in verse one.
Now Naaman, captain of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man with his master, and highly respected, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man was also a valiant warrior, but he was a leper. Now the Arameans had gone out in bands and had taken captive a little girl from the land of Israel; and she waited on Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “I wish that my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! Then he would cure him of his leprosy.” (2 Kings 5:1-3 NASB)
Let’s pause here to establish a bit of background information. The king of Aram was Ben-Hadad II. There had been an on-going war between his country and Assyria. He had tried to pull Israel into the battle as an ally. This never materialized so he made several incursions into Israel. As noted in our text, during one of these incursions, a maiden girl was taken captive. Naaman learns of a prophet in Samaria who could cure him of this disease.
So, he goes tells Ben-Hadad and tells him about the young girl’s comments and Ben-Hadad puts together rich gifts and writes a letter to the king of Israel in hopes that Naaman could be healed.
Let’s drop down to verse 7 and continue reading.
When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man is sending word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? But consider now, and see how he is seeking a quarrel against me.” (2 Kings 5:7 NASB)
Jehoram, the king of Israel is in a no-win situation. He has been asked to have Naaman cured of an incurable disease. He is not able to effect the cure and failure to heal Naaman could start a war with that king.
It happened when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, that he sent word to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Now let him come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So, Naaman came with his horses and his chariots and stood at the doorway of the house of Elisha. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will be restored to you and you will be clean.” But Naaman was furious and went away and said, “Behold, I thought, ‘He will surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.’ Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So, he turned and went away in a rage. Then his servants came near and spoke to him and said, “My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So, he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child and he was clean. (2 Kings 5:8-14 NASB)
Naaman is clean and free from this dreaded disease. What is his reaction?
When he returned to the man of God with all his company, and came and stood before him, he said, “Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel; so please take a present from your servant now.” (2 Kings 5:15 NASB)
He is grateful. He is offering the king’s presents to Elisha. He acknowledges the one and only true God. God, through His prophet, has cured Naaman of this disease and made him clean. His skin is like that of a child. The ugly disfigurement has been removed and Naaman is grateful.
In the New Testament, we read about another case of leprosy that is cured. This time it is by the hand of Jesus. Let’s turn, in our Bibles, to Luke the 17th chapter and start with verse 11.
While He was on the way to Jerusalem, He was passing between Samaria and Galilee. As He entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; and they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When He saw them, He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they were going, they were cleansed. Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19 NASB)
Jesus is making His way to Jerusalem for the last time before His crucifixion. Once more, we see Him reach out to the socially outcast. He is near the border between Galilee and Samaria. There are some leprous men gathered in a group maintaining their distance and warning people as the approached. They were following the protocol of the Law of Moses.
As was characteristic of Jesus, He heard their cry and had compassion on them. As we read, we learn that at least one of the men was a Samaritan. Jesus tells them to go and present themselves before the priest as required in Leviticus 14.
The ten start off to present to the priest and the are cleaned as they are traveling. Only one returned to thank Jesus for the healing.
We have looked at two cases of leprosy being cleaned and the gratitude expressed by those healed. What is the lesson for us? Is there a significance that we may apply to our lives this morning?
Perhaps we need to understand that leprosy is an analogy for sin. Here are a few ways in which leprosy and sin are similar.
First, leprosy damages the sensory nerves in the skin and those a person with leprosy might be burned without feeling the fire. In cases, they have been bitten by rodents and not feel the bites. In similar manner, sin deadens our feelings of right and wrong. The longer we persist in our sins, the less we feel any pain for those sins. We become calloused to the impact of sin.
Second, leprosy is a progressive disease that left untreated will result in death. In like manner, sin is progressive and leads us to disastrous consequences and ultimately death (Romans 6:23).
Third, leprosy will eventually be very visible. It may be hidden during the early stages but it will be visible as it progresses. Sin, in like manner ma be hidden for a while. The progressive nature of sin will bring it to light for all to see.
Fourth, leprosy produces outcast. Those who are infected are segregated from society and are outcast from their families, friends, and the community. Sin will make us outcast from those who are following Christ. The norms of a civil society do not have a place for those who fail to live by the general rules of that society. When we pause to reflect on those rules, we will have to admit that those rules are couched in the teaching of the Bible.
Leprosy is a contagious disease and sin, when allowed in the community, will likewise, spread to others. Just as leprosy mars the beauty of person, so sin mars the beauty of the soul.
The good news is that Jesus cures that leprosy of the soul.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 NASB)
We have all sinned and thus we have the disfigurement on our soul. We have leprosy, in the spiritual sense (Romans 3:23). But the sentence does not end with verse 23. Listen.
being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:24-36 NASB)
Our spiritual leprosy has been cured. Just as surely as Jesus cured the ten lepers we read about. Which of the ten are we? Are we like the nine that went away as if our healing was no big deal? Do we see our sin as a disfiguring lethal disease that Jesus took away? The way we view sin determines how grateful we are.