About a year ago, we had a praise and prayer service here. It was a great time to mix things up on Sunday morning to focus our attention upon actively worshiping the Lord. We gave opportunities for expressions of prayer and praise. Rather than one long sermon, we had two shorter sermons. Darryn spoke on "Enjoying His Grace." Phil spoke on "Extending His Glory."
I distinctly remember Darryn's talk. He chose two stories from the gospel, both pertaining to lepers, how they were cleansed by Jesus, how they responded, how they enjoyed the grace of God in their lives.
It was during that message that I first thought about preaching through Leviticus. As Darryn was preaching, I was thinking about Leviticus 13 and 14. These are the chapters in the Bible that talk about leprosy. And it came to me you can preach through these obscure chapters in the Old Testament (that aren't directly applicable to us today), by preaching them and showing their implications in the lives of those in the New Testament. In other words, look to the Old Testament laws about leprosy, and then bring gospel and application through New Testament narrative. And I was so blessed by Darryn's words, that I started thinking about the blessing that Leviticus might be to us.
And so, we have been working our way through the book of Leviticus. It's message to us is the theme of the book. "You shall be holy." And if there is any fruit from our time in this book, my hope and prayer is that this would be it. That we would be a holy people, set apart by God for God.
Well, this morning we come to chapters 13 and 14, which talk about "Leprosy." Or, more precisely, "skin disease" or "skin abnormality." Here are some of the many skin abnormalities that we encounter today: Acne and rashes and blisters. Freckles and burns and boils. Hives and warts and athlete's foot. Chicken pox and measles and moles.
If you haven't done so already, I invite you to open in your Bibles to Leviticus 13. And before we dig into this chapter, I again want to remind you of how these chapters fall into the whole of the book of Leviticus. The first five chapters (1-5) give instructions to worshipers; these chapters tell the worshipers of the sacrifices to offer. The next five chapters (6-10) are focused upon the priests. How they should deal with the sacrifices. How they should be set apart for service. The next five chapters (11-15) address the matters of cleanness and uncleanness.
Two weeks ago, from chapter 11, we saw how eating the wrong foods would make you unclean. Last week, from chapters 12 and 15, we saw how discharges from your body would make you unclean. And this morning, we are looking at chapters 13 and 14, talking about uncleanness from leprosy.
Now, one of the problems that we immediately face this morning is the definition of "leprosy," because, when we hear the word, we think of Hansen's disease. This is a bacterial disease that attacks the nervous system, particularly in the skin, where the patients lose sensation, particularly the sensation of pain. So, burns and fractures go unnoticed and greater damage takes place. And the result is deformed hands and feet that have been rubbed away without notice. Most of you have seen the pictures.
It's a rare disease in America, as simple hygiene seems to ward it off pretty well. Furthermore, its treatment is relatively easy. Six months to two years of antibiotics, and it's gone. But, in foreign lands, leprosy is a bigger problem.
My father is a physician and studied leprosy in medical school. During his days of medical training at Cook County Hospital, he had see the type of leprosy that affects the skin in the face, often referred to as "lion face." But, he doesn't recall seeing leprosy in the extremities, which is what we typically think of as "leprosy," until he went to Nepal with me in 2006.
When we took our trip to Nepal, my father had a picture taken of himself with a believer near Chitwan. This man had leprosy in his extremities. As I recall, he was anxious to get this picture, as the disease is relatively rare today, even in Nepal. This is mostly due to the efforts of Green Pastures Hospital, which was started and funded by Christians in 1957, It was one of the first Christian organizations to get into Nepal. This hospital helped to show Nepalis the heart of Christians across the globe, to minister to people's physical and spiritual needs. This hospital specializes in the treatment and rehabilitation of leprosy. They saw some 120 new cases last year.
Anyway, the problem with Leviticus 13 and 14 is that it's probably not talking about "leprosy" as we know it. It's probably not talking about Hanson's disease. This is likely true for several reasons, the first being that, "leprosy" is a broad term. In verse 29, the disease might be upon the "beard." In verse 47, you can see that leprosy can occur in "a garment." In verse 48, you can see that leprosy can occur in "anything made of skin," blankets, sheets, covers, tents, tarps, bags, sacks. In chapter 14, and verse 34, you can see that leprosy can occur in a house.
This all speaks to how broad the disease is. It's translated "leprosy," mostly for historical reasons. The Septuagint used the Greek word, "lepra," to translate from the Hebrew. They had simply kept the translation as, "leprosy," though, in fact, it's not leprosy.
This is similar to the word, "baptism." Rather than translating the Greek word with "dunk or immerse," most translators simply leave it as "baptism."
The best translation from the Hebrew for this skin disease might be, "scales" or "flakiness." Or, as Gordon Wenhem says, "It seems likely that the Hebrew term denotes a scaly skin disease." 
A second reason why this isn't Hanson's disease is because there's no archeological evidence of leprosy (as we know it) from before the 5th century A. D. In other words, the deformity of the bones that we see in Hanson's disease simply isn't found in the bones that have been uncovered,. This is mostly derived from Egypt, where burial practices helped to preserve the body and bones).
Thirdly, none of the descriptions in these chapters match exactly what we know today as Hanson's disease. The descriptions match other diseases better. In fact, let's see this in my first point, ...
This is what chapter 13 is all about. It's all about diagnosing the disease. Let's pick it up in verse 1, ...
The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, "When a person has on the skin of his body a swelling or an eruption or a spot, and it turns into a case of leprous disease on the skin of his body, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests, and the priest shall examine the diseased area on the skin of his body. And if the hair in the diseased area has turned white and the disease appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a case of leprous disease. When the priest has examined him, he shall pronounce him unclean. But if the spot is white in the skin of his body and appears no deeper than the skin, and the hair in it has not turned white, the priest shall shut up the diseased person for seven days. And the priest shall examine him on the seventh day, and if in his eyes the disease is checked and the disease has not spread in the skin, then the priest shall shut him up for another seven days. And the priest shall examine him again on the seventh day, and if the diseased area has faded and the disease has not spread in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him clean; it is only an eruption. And he shall wash his clothes and be clean. But if the eruption spreads in the skin, after he has shown himself to the priest for his cleansing, he shall appear again before the priest. And the priest shall look, and if the eruption has spread in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean; it is a leprous disease.
This pattern is pretty typical throughout all of chapters 13 and 14. One with a skin abnormality comes to the priest (verse 2). The priest examines the diseased area (verse 3). If there is obviously a disease, then the priest pronounces him "unclean" (verse 3). But, if there's doubt, then the priest shall send him away for seven days, after which he comes back for another examination (verses 4-5). If the disease has not spread, then he is declared, "clean." If not, he is declared "unclean." Sometimes, the priest may send him away for another seven days.
This is the pattern all throughout chapters 13 and 14. In verses 1-8, the priest looks for swelling or an eruption on the skin (verse 2). In verses 9-17, the priest looks for white swelling that has turned the hair white, or, perhaps raw flesh is showing (verse 10). In verses 18-23, the priest is looking at a spot where a boil is healed. He's looking for white swelling or a reddish-white spot (verse 19). In verses 24-28, the priest is looking at a spot where there is a burn. He's looking for a reddish-white or white spot (verse 24). In verses 29-37, the priest is looking at hair that is yellow and thin (verse 30). In verses 38-39, the priest is looking for white spots on the skin. In verses 40-44, the priest is looking for reddish-white areas on a bald head. All of these types of diseases, the priest is looking for.
These descriptions can be summed up in three different skin diseases that we know of today: Psoriasis, Favus, and Leukoderma. The first two, Psoriasis and Favus, make a man unclean. But the third, Leucoderma, doesn't make a man unclean.
And there's good news for some of you older men who are losing your hair. Look closely at verse 40, "If a man's hair falls out from his head, he is bald; he is clean." It's always good to be clean, is it not?
But, I focus your attention upon verses 45 and 46. These are the key verses for us this morning. Because, you aren't a priest. You won't ever be a priest. You don't have to be an expert at identifying skin diseases. We don't need an in-depth lesson on dermatology this morning. But, to understand your Bibles, verses 45 and 46 are important for you.
The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, 'Unclean, unclean.' He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.
In other words, the one with the skin disease was to be an outcast. He was to acknowledge his pain and distress. He was to show sorrow for the consequences of his illness. He was to go into mourning. That's the idea of tearing your clothes and letting down your hair and covering your mustache. You do these things in times of great anguish!
When Jacob's brothers came back and told him that a [supposed] fierce animal that had devoured his favorite son, Joseph, and that he was dead, "Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days" (Genesis 37:34).
When Israel was about to follow the counsel of the ten unbelieving spies, Joshua and Caleb were in distress. They knew that God had told them to take the land, and that anything less would bring His wrath upon them. So, they tore their clothes (Numbers 14:6) and told Israel, "the land which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. ... do not rebel against the LORD. ... Their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them" (Numbers 14:7-9).
As a parable to Judah, the LORD took the life of Ezekiel's wife. He prohibited him from mourning. He said, "Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men" (Ezekiel 24:17).
But, if you were diagnosed with a skin disease, you were to mourn. You were to mourn your own death! Because, you would be away from your people. You would live alone. You would dwell outside the camp. And lest anyone touch you, you must cry out, "Unclean! Unclean!"
And none of this was your fault. We may know the cause of some of these skin diseases today. But, like many diseases, you get them because you have come into contact with the bug. And if you caught it, you were cast out from the camp.
Can you imagine how terrible this would have been for anyone? Basically, you are banished from society, and separated from your loved ones. Away from your family. Away from your friends. No phones or Facetime or Facebook to keep up with your friends. You would be totally cut off.
This has been used as political punishment: banishment! Remember the apostle John. He was exiled to the island of Patmos. But, it's worse than this, because you couldn't live in any settled area. You couldn't "start all over" and integrate into a new culture. No, your destiny is to live away from the people, "outside the camp," in an unsettled area.
But, it's worse than this. Being a leper carried with it a stigma. We know today how helpful it is to be encouraged by others. To be lifted up. To be commended for a job well-done. But a leper would have to cry, "Unclean! Unclean!" wherever he went. Such couldn't have helped your psyche. It would only work to tear down any feeling of purpose in his life.
But, it's worse than this. There was little hope of recovery. Remember, the priest isn't a doctor. You didn't go to the priest to be made well. You went to the priest to be confirmed that you were sick! He didn't tell you to "take two aspirin and I'll see you in the morning." He told you, "Get away, out of town, and stay there unless your skin gets better." And we know that there were only a few who ever experienced cleansing.
Consider the words of Jesus when He was preaching in His home town of Nazareth. He was talking about Elisha. He said, ...
And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.
Do you catch what this means? It means that during Elisha's days, only one person was cleansed. Naaman the Syrian. Elisha's ministry spanned about 30 years, during the years of several kings of Israel. And none of the lepers from Israel were healed, for decades! There wasn't much hope for a leper.
At least you could throw away a garment. Verse 57 says, "If [the disease] appears again in the garment, in the warp or the woof, or in any article made of skin, it is spreading. You shall burn with fire whatever has the disease." But, when it comes to people, you can't really throw them away. Or can you?
Because, that's about what happened when you had one of these skin diseases. You were "thrown away," cast out of the camp.
And by way of application, this is the spiritual condition of all of us before God. Last week, we looked at the things that come out of our bodies. And some of those natural functions defile us! And in our humanness, we are unable to approach God. And this speaks the same thing. Because of our sin, we are diseased in God's sight. And apart from Jesus cleaning us, we might as well go around saying, "Unclean! Unclean!" Because, that's who we are in our nature. As I said last week, we are sinners by nature and by choice.
Fundamentally, all of us are lepers. We are outside the camp. But, the good news is this, Jesus came out to get us. He cleansed us through His blood.
So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.
It's through Jesus that we can be sanctified and washed and cleansed. He came out to get us! He came out to cleanse us! He came out to bring us near! Ephesians 2:13 says, "In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ." Do you feel the weight of being welcomed back into the camp?
And these lepers that are outside the camp are simply a picture of what we are apart from Christ. Now, in the case that the leprosy did get better, the priest would bring you back into the camp through sacrifices and washings.
This is my second point. We have seen the Diagnosis (chapter 13). We come to the ...
Note that I didn't say here, "Cure." Because, in fact, that's not the case with those with skin disease. They didn't come to the priest to be cured. Rather, they came to the priest for cleansing. The priests weren't doctors. They could only cleanse you and bring you back into the camp after you were already healed.
And chapter 14 contains the ritual....
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "This shall be the law of the leprous person for the day of his cleansing. He shall be brought to the priest, and the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall look. Then, if the case of leprous disease is healed in the leprous person, the priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two live clean birds and cedarwood and scarlet yarn and hyssop. And the priest shall command them to kill one of the birds in an earthenware vessel over fresh water. He shall take the live bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease. Then he shall pronounce him clean and shall let the living bird go into the open field. And he who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes and shave off all his hair and bathe himself in water, and he shall be clean. And after that he may come into the camp, but live outside his tent seven days. And on the seventh day he shall shave off all his hair from his head, his beard, and his eyebrows. He shall shave off all his hair, and then he shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and he shall be clean.
"And on the eighth day he shall take two male lambs without blemish, and one ewe lamb a year old without blemish, and a grain offering of three tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, and one log of oil. And the priest who cleanses him shall set the man who is to be cleansed and these things before the Lord, at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And the priest shall take one of the male lambs and offer it for a guilt offering, along with the log of oil, and wave them for a wave offering before the Lord. And he shall kill the lamb in the place where they kill the sin offering and the burnt offering, in the place of the sanctuary. For the guilt offering, like the sin offering, belongs to the priest; it is most holy. The priest shall take some of the blood of the guilt offering, and the priest shall put it on the lobe of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. Then the priest shall take some of the log of oil and pour it into the palm of his own left hand and dip his right finger in the oil that is in his left hand and sprinkle some oil with his finger seven times before the Lord. And some of the oil that remains in his hand the priest shall put on the lobe of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot, on top of the blood of the guilt offering. And the rest of the oil that is in the priest's hand he shall put on the head of him who is to be cleansed. Then the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord. The priest shall offer the sin offering, to make atonement for him who is to be cleansed from his uncleanness. And afterward he shall kill the burnt offering. And the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the grain offering on the altar. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean.
"But if he is poor and cannot afford so much, then he shall take one male lamb for a guilt offering to be waved, to make atonement for him, and a tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering, and a log of oil; also two turtledoves or two pigeons, whichever he can afford. The one shall be a sin offering and the other a burnt offering. And on the eighth day he shall bring them for his cleansing to the priest, to the entrance of the tent of meeting, before the Lord. And the priest shall take the lamb of the guilt offering and the log of oil, and the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before the Lord. And he shall kill the lamb of the guilt offering. And the priest shall take some of the blood of the guilt offering and put it on the lobe of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed, and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. And the priest shall pour some of the oil into the palm of his own left hand, and shall sprinkle with his right finger some of the oil that is in his left hand seven times before the Lord. And the priest shall put some of the oil that is in his hand on the lobe of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot, in the place where the blood of the guilt offering was put. And the rest of the oil that is in the priest's hand he shall put on the head of him who is to be cleansed, to make atonement for him before the Lord. And he shall offer, of the turtledoves or pigeons, whichever he can afford, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering, along with a grain offering. And the priest shall make atonement before the Lord for him who is being cleansed. This is the law for him in whom is a case of leprous disease, who cannot afford the offerings for his cleansing."
We don't have time to work through all the details of these sacrifices. But let me point out a few things.
First of all, there is a sacrifice that takes place here that is unique to the book of Leviticus. The priest takes two birds. One of them is killed. The other is dipped in the blood of the first bird. The leper is sprinkled seven times with this blood. And then, the bird is released and set free! Next week, when we look at Leviticus 16, the Day of Atonement, we will see a similar sacrifice taking place. Only it is not with birds, but with goats.
The symbolism here is clear, the leper is set free. He doesn't have bear the burden of his disease. He is released! All is restored! He can come back into the camp! He's like a freed prisoner! Where once he was away, now he can come home! He's like a cancer patient that has gone through treatment and goes home fully healed.
But, it's even better than this. Not only does he come home, but he is fully restored to society.
Do you remember back in Leviticus, chapter 8, when we looked at the ordination service for priests? They had blood placed on the lobe of their right ear and on the thumb of their right hand and on the big toe of their right foot. The same is true of the cleansed leper (verse 14). Do you remember how the priests were anointed with oil? The same is true of the cleansed leper (verses 15-18).
Now, the cleansed leper isn't coming back as a priest. But, he's coming home with blessing. He is coming home with full privileges. His sin is forgiven (verse 19). He is anointed with oil. And he is reminded to hear the word of God (right ear), and to do the will of God (right thumb), and to walk in the ways of God (right big toe). The aim here is for a life of holiness.
Notice here how his holiness didn't save the leper. God cured him and saved him. He saved him for a pure life.
This is the gospel. Those who come to know Christ and His cleansing touch are called to follow after Him. Fully brought back into the people of God.
Can you imagine the joy? Back with family. Back with friends. Back with God! He could now enter the tent of meeting and meet with God!
And so, I ask you, what sort of attitude may this man have? Happiness. Joy. Thankfulness. Realizing every little blessing.
Do you remember the joy of the leper that Jesus healed? He came back and couldn't help but to speak of Jesus. Turn with me to Mark, chapter 1. I want to read verses 40-45, ...
And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, "If you will, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, "I will; be clean." And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.
I trust that you can see some of the elements that we have looked at this morning: leprosy (and its implications physically, socially, and spiritually) and the need for cleansing. But, there are some that are unique. The leper approached Jesus. He acknowledged Jesus' ability and submitted to Jesus' authority. Jesus healed him, doing what no priest could ever do. The authority of Jesus!
It wasn't the unclean one that made the clean one unclean. Rather, it was the clean one that made the unclean one clean. How like our sins! We come polluted and defiled to Jesus. Rather than polluting Him, He cleanses us! All is restored -- physically, socially, and spiritually.
Then, Jesus came with the instructions:
And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them."
But, when people are given a new life, they can't help but talk about it. I've seen it over and over and over again. When people are helped, they will speak. When people are impacted by a particular book, they are excited about the help that it has brought them, and they can't help but want to share their enthusiasm with others. When people come out of some life-threatening situation, they feel like they have been spared death, and want to tell others of the experience that they had.
And so likewise here.
But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.
This leper was given a new lease on life. You couldn't have shut him up if you had tried. There is much that we can learn from such a man. Has Christ so impacted you that you can't help but to speak it to others?
This sermon was delivered to Rock Valley Bible Church on
February 8, 2015 by Steve Brandon.
For more information see www.rvbc.cc.