Key Verse: Matt 7:7-8 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Have you ever felt rejected? Did you ever feel not welcome? Does it seem sometimes that no one really cares?
A broker told me once about a couple asking him if he could possibly help them out. They were hoping to spend all of their money before they would die, so that their kids would not inherit one cent. When the broker inquired why such a decision, he discovered that the couple’s children were so selfish and uncaring. No way did their parents want to leave them anything after they died!
When I was young, my first girlfriend would let me wait for her for hours while she had fun with her friends. I thought this was completely normal, as my own parents weren’t any different. As you can imagine, the relationship didn’t last very long!
It seems sometimes that we live in a world where people only care for themselves. It can be quite lonely to be a citizen of this planet! Ask the elderly in a nursing home. They long for a visit, even from complete strangers. They hope to feel the touch of a caring hand, which doesn’t always happen that often. Their own family is too busy to visit them on a regular basis and when they come for a visit, they always seem be in a rush.
How many people out there long for the touch of a caring hand! We as human beings need to be touched. We even relate our relationships as being either distant or close. I read somewhere that marriages ended most of times in divorce if often both husband and wife did not express their love through physical touch. Oh to feel the touch of a caring hand!
Some people though are declared unfit to be touched, like the untouchables in India. It is sad, but every society has their own untouchables. Think about those affected with AIDS. Untouchables! We ourselves have felt as untouchables at different stages of our life or in certain settings.
The following story is the story of an untouchable who had been plagued with an incurable disease. No one would go near him, even less touch him. But then someone did and changed his world upside down. This is also the story about our world which has been infected by a deadly disease called sin, but then God touched it. This is my story as well as yours.
The man in this story had leprosy. In the first century A.D. anyone who had this disease was avoided like a plague. No one would talk to someone like that, even less touch them! This disease was devastating to anyone infected by it. It started generally with a sense of dullness and pain in the joints. Then discolored patches and sores would appear. When they ulcerated, the stench would be intolerable.
One of the worse physical consequences of this disease was the loss of any sensation. Rats could gnaw at a leper’s toes while he was sleeping and he wouldn’t even feel it. He would wake up the next morning and notice parts of his toes gone. He could even stick his hand in a fire, and not feel any sensation of pain! This is why lepers wore rags around their wounds.
Once diagnosed with leprosy you were a living dead! As soon as the priest pronounced you unclean, your wife, children and even your friends would reject you as unfit for company! You had to wear a bell around your neck, to warn others of your presence. No one would stay put when hearing your bell. Streets were deserted and you found yourself constantly being avoided and alone.
Memories would linger in your mind of the last touch you ever received; your wife touching your face in concern. Not even your own children would run away from you. You were unwelcome! You would long to feel someone touch you, but that dream would never be fulfilled!
Being a leper also carried a moral stigma. It was assumed to be a curse from God, probably occurred because of your horrible hidden sins. Disease could be healed, but leprosy had to be cleansed. Lepers were not just ill, they were also “unclean”!
The religious leaders of the first century were practicing the strategy of isolation. Lepers were not the only ones to be avoided! So were the gentiles, the uncircumcised, the tax collectors and even women! Rabbis refused to eat with them, to talk with them, to work with them or even to look at one of them. The idea behind this strategy is that sin and suffering are contagious!
The sad fact is that “religious” people throughout centuries have practiced this same attitude of isolation: let us avoid sinful people and live in religious isolation! The consequences were terrible as it developed a sense of “us” versus “them”. Pride and self-righteousness soon developed and love quickly died out.
You can imagine how you would feel if you were a leper in the first century. You would feel abandoned by all of your loved ones, rejected by anyone of sound mind and looked down by your religious leaders. Feelings of unworthiness and sin would plague you. You would try anything to be accepted again, but nothing you did could bring back the loss of friendship and love. Soon feelings of excruciating anger would fill your soul. This was so unfair! Was there anyone out there who really cared?
Now, how would Jesus, the Son of God react towards you if you ever had the opportunity to meet him face to face? Would he be like the religious leaders and criticize you, looking down at you with despise? Would he run away like all the others? What would be His reaction?
Let us find out:
Matt 8:1-4 “When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
Can you imagine being that leper? For years everyone and anyone had been running away from you. You had not felt the touch of a caring hand for such a long time. Now that you have the opportunity to be face to face with Jesus, you are astounded that He isn’t running away from you. No word of contempt is even pronounced from his lips. You look into His face and all you can see are moist eyes of compassion.
All of a sudden Jesus reaches out to you and touches you! Why would he do such a thing? His touch didn’t “cleanse” you. The text is quite clear on that: “”I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy.” His words are what cleansed you. Why would he touch you? Is it to heal you from your loneliness? Is it because He can identify with what you went through? He touched you while you were still unclean! He accepts you the way you are! He welcomes you in His presence, no matter your past! He is approachable and wants you to be His friend.
How different is His attitude compared to the “isolated” religious leaders of your time. Jesus is approachable! He cares! A touch from Him turns your world upside down! People start to accept you in their midst. Your own wife welcomes you back at home. Your own children come running into your arms. You have been touched by the Master and He brought you back to life! The unbelievable happened. You are cleansed!
Jesus constantly drew sinners to Him. It didn’t matter if they were tax collectors, murderers or even prostitutes. They were all welcome and all could feel His gentle touch of acceptance. Matt 9:10 “While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples.”
You may wonder why the “religious” leaders you know act so differently compared to Jesus. Is it possible because they don’t know Him personally? Anyone touched by Him can’t help but reach out to the less desirables of our society and love them the way Jesus would. 1 John 4:16-17 “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him.”
The Gospels are filled with stories of people who were looking for ways to touch Jesus: little children, the prostitute who poured perfume on Jesus’ feet, the woman suffering from hemorrhages, Thomas who doubted of Jesus’ resurrection…
Unlike all of them, the leper didn’t even try to touch Jesus. However, Jesus touched him! And Jesus is willing to touch you as well. You are worth the price Jesus paid for you on the cross! You are important to Him! Sin cannot separate you from Him, unless you let it. Approach Jesus and life will start to stream through you. You can never leave His presence unchanged! His love fills every emptiness you may have.
Question 1: Have you ever experienced rejection and/or uncaring attitudes? Share an experience or two.
Question 2: In what ways were lepers rejected by their society in the first century?
Question 3: Why do some “religious” adapt the strategy of isolation?
Question 4: How did Jesus react when confronting an “unclean” leper?
Question 5: How would Jesus react if meeting you in the street? Why?
God Knocking at my Door
I knew something of the upside and downside of glory. I grew up a Chicago Cubs fan in the late 1960s. Their entire infield made the all-star team one year. Randy Hundley, the catcher, was a personal favorite.
One day the phone rang. A neighbor, a girl in my class at school, got my mother on the phone.
“Mrs. Ortberg, you’ll never guess what. Randy Hundley is at my house! I told him John lives next door. He wants to come to your house. Wants to see John.”
Then something went terribly wrong.
My mother did not know who Randy Hundley was. Like the Pharaoh who “knew not Joseph,” she had never heard of him. She thought he was some kid I went to school with, who wanted to come over and play. My mother said:
“Johnny is at piano lessons. You’ll have to tell Randy he can come over and play some other day.”
My mother was a pea-brain.
When I got home, my mother told me somebody named Randy Hundley had been next door, had wanted to come over, and she told him maybe some other time.
I wanted to call the social services people. Take my mother away.
That afternoon I was in a deep depression. Around 5:00 there was a knock on the door. When I answered it, there stood Randy Hundley. Major league baseball player. All-star. I beheld his glory-the glory of a professional catcher, full of power and a strong right arm.
He had stopped by our neighbors’ before a speaking engagement, which is when my friend called. After he had finished speaking, although he was a major leaguer with a busy life, he decided to make a stop before he went home to Chicago.
He came all the way back to our neighborhood. He tracked down my house. He knocked on my door. “1 didn’t want you to take it out on your piano teacher,” he said. He encouraged me to keep following Christ. He gave me an autographed baseball. (Which my mother seems to have thrown away, probably to make room for my sister’s rag doll. At any rate, I can’t find it.)
To a ten-year-old kid, the glory of Randy Hundley wasn’t that he had a Howitzer for an arm. It wasn’t that he caught Ferguson Jenkins and Kenny Holtzman, or that he hit long home runs off Bob Gibson and Nolan Ryan. Glory was that someone as important as he was would take the time to come to the home of a little kid. Glory was that one day he laid aside his glove and bat and came knocking on my door. One day, he came just for me.
“The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory,” John wrote. We beheld his glory when the Lord of all voluntarily submitted to his mother and father in all things. We beheld his glory when the Maker of heaven and earth used a saw and a hammer and nails to fashion chairs and benches. We beheld his glory when the Lord of hosts girded himself with a towel and carried a basin and washed the feet of his followers. We beheld his glory when the Author of life died on a cross. We beheld his glory when death could not hold him, the tomb could not imprison him.
We behold his glory still when he comes to ordinary, fallen human beings. For the glory of God is not just his power and might and majesty. His glory is that he would come to this corner of the universe, to this insignificant planet, to a ragged people he could not bring himself to discard. His glory is that one day he laid aside his majesty and bliss and came knocking at your door. One day, he came just for you.
Ortberg, John. Love Beyond Reason. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998, p. 210-211.
Assignment: Meditate on the following verses:
Heb 13:5-6 “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
Ps 37:4 “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
Reflect why Jesus was willing to leave heaven just for you. Why was he willing to die just for you? Why does he want to be your friend? What motivates Him to make Himself so accessible to you?