Lessons from the Outsiders: Part 1 of 2
by John Lowe
And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”
August 25, 2005
Magicians and power-lifters sure are fun to watch. They can do some pretty cool stuff, like cutting people in two and ripping apart phone books. Neither of which can do much for you in the world, but they are still cool things to see. We watch the magician and ask, “How did he do that?” We watch the strong man and say, “There’s just no way!” Jesus is not like a magician who uses smoke and mirrors or sleight of hand. He is the living God who creates out of nothing through the sheer power of His will. He is not a steroid induced athlete that is able to do things to open the eyes and amaze everyone in the stands. Today, we are going to take a look at the power of Jesus. We will wonder at His miracles. We will cringe at the raw power in His words. We will bow before His mighty hand that fed 5,000 and cleansed the temple.
In the October 1993 issue of Life magazine, a photo shot by Scott Threlkeld shows three teenage boys who have jumped from a thirty-foot-high cypress branch toward a dark Louisiana pond. Threlkeld evidently climbed the tree and shot from above the shirtless, soaring young men, for in the picture we look down on the boys and the pond. There is something inspiring in the picture. The lanky boy on the right shows the least confidence, jumping feet first, knees bent and legs spread, arms flapping like a bird preparing to make a crash landing. The middle boy dives head first, arms spread stiffly straight and perpendicular, like the wings of a small aircraft. His head is slightly ducked and to the right. He is no doubt in a hurry to reach the water. The third boy also dives head first, but he isn’t in a hurry. He is floating. His head is up. His body is in a relaxed arch, both knees slightly bent, legs slightly apart. His arms are nonchalantly straight, hanging from his shoulders in an upside-down V. Poised and self-assured, he knows exactly where he is. No matter what their sense or style is, each of these three boys did a challenging thing: They took a scary leap.
Granted, high dives in country backwaters aren’t always wise, but sometimes to follow God we must take a similar leap of faith. When we do, like the three outsiders in our text this morning we will learn some pretty valuable lessons about the Lord and His Kingdom. Listen to what God has to say in Matthew 8:1-17.
1 When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him.
2 And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”
3 Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
4 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.”
5 Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him,
6 saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.”
7 And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
8 The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.
9 For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
10 When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!
11 And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.
12 But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And his servant was healed that same hour.
14 Now when Jesus had come into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother lying sick with a fever.
15 So He touched her hand, and the fever left her. And she arose and served them.
16 When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick,
17 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “He Himself took our infirmities And bore our sicknesses.”
We’re looking here at three stories: a leper, a centurion, and a woman. They are all so different, yet they belong together since none of them belong. They are outsiders, all of them. It should not be surprising for us to find them lumped together here in Matthew’s book. Matthew knows what it is like to be rejected. Matthew also knows what it is like to follow Jesus and be used by God. He tells their stories not because the raw details are so interesting, but for another reason. There are lessons that we can learn from these outsiders that are important for us in the church today. What are those lessons that we can learn? Let’s take a look again at these three people.
1. THE LEPER!
Why was the leper considered to be an outsider? It was because of this disease he had. The word “leper” literally means “to peal”. Leprosy is a disease that also migrated to leather, pottery, and even walls. It was highly contagious! It caused reddish white sores to pop up all over the body that would fester and spread. It would often eat away at the limbs of the people who had it. A leper was considered to be a human scab. They were to live in colonies outside of the city. They were to announce their coming whenever they entered the presence of people, who did not have the disease.
You can imagine what it must have been like for this man. He was shunned from his church! He was forced to leave his family! He had no dignity! He had no self-respect! Under these circumstances, it is amazing that the leper even approached Jesus. No other rabbi would have shown interest at all in this man, but Jesus did. This fellow knowing that there was no other way went to the very one who could make a difference.
What lessons can we learn from the leper? I want to point out two things.
First, just like the leper, we need to courageously approach Jesus! You see, just like the leper, we have all been cursed with a horrible disease. That disease is sin. Sin doesn’t cause us to have sores all over our bodies. However, it does cause us to carry around wounds in our:
Sin gives us the feeling of being beaten down. You know what is unfortunate in all of this is the fact that there are Christian people who act much the same way the Pharisees did. We take a look around us and we see the lives that are marred by sin, and instead of helping those lives we comment to one another about:
- The broken marriages
- The ignored kids
- The scars of alcohol and drug abuse
And what do we do? We turn our backs. We figure if someone is not able to make it in this country, then it is their own fault. However, Jesus didn’t look at people that way. We see people the way they are right now, with all of their bad habits and sinful characteristics. Jesus saw people for what they could be.
Secondly, just like the leper, Jesus is the only person who can make us clean! Leprosy of that day was much like aids is in our day. There really was no cure for it. The people figured if someone could be healed of leprosy, then God’s hand must have been on them. The only place in which the leper could have been healed was in the presence of Jesus. The Bible tells us that there is no other name under heaven by which men can be saved. It is only in Jesus Christ that we have the hope of being cleansed from sin. For all of those people who have been beaten down by the lifelong effects of sin, the leper challenges us to courageously approach Jesus. He is the one who can make a difference. Listen to what Hebrews 4:16 says.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.