12 While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 13 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. 14 And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”
The leprous man expressed his faith by coming to Jesus and falling on his face before him. In response, Jesus reached out his hand to touch him. Normally this was prohibited because anyone touching a leper would become unclean. In this case, the opposite happens, the leper becomes clean. Christ’s ability to cleanse the leper was greater than any power the leprosy had to make Christ unclean.
Then Jesus sent him to the priest. There was an offering specified for those cases in which a leper was cured, by which the priest would declare him clean. The biblical definition of leprosy seems to have been broader than ours, so we need not conclude that people were constantly being healed what of we would call Hansen’s disease today. The offering, however, is instructive for us regarding the cleansing work of Christ. We find it in Leviticus 14:3-7.
3 …Then, if the case of leprous disease is healed in the leprous person, 4 the priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two live clean birds … 5 And the priest shall command them to kill one of the birds in an earthenware vessel over fresh water. 6 He shall take the live bird …, and dip … the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. 7 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.
It’s a fascinating parallel. One bird is killed, the other is dipped in the slain bird’s blood and then released. As Cyril of Alexandria once said it,
We may see then, in the birds, Christ suffering in the flesh according to the Scriptures … That the one bird was slain, and that the other was baptized indeed in its blood, while itself exempt from slaughter … For Christ died in our place, and we, who have been baptized into his death, he has saved by his own blood. *
Each of us is a lot like this leper. We are unclean because of our sin. Jesus touches us, but never becomes unclean or sinful himself; he makes us clean instead. Christ’s ability to cleanse us is greater than the power of sin, by which we make ourselves unclean.
* Found in Arthur A. Just Jr., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003, 91.