04 Feb 2024

You Can Make Me Clean [ Leviticus 12-15]


Leviticus 12-15 seem rather bizarre to some. Why is menstruation, or childbirth or bodily discharge considered unclean? But just like Leviticus 11 about kosher and non-kosher food, these are instructional tools from God to teach Israel about being clean and unclean, and how the clean can draw near to God, whilst the unclean cannot. This passage also speaks about leprosy- an infections skin disease. Leprosy renders a man unclean, turns him into an untouchable, and pretty much condemns him to lifelong misery and alienation. It is often used as a symbol of sin or the judgment of God against sin, as seen in the cases of Miriam, Gehazi & King Uzziah. But the narrative arcs of leprosy and even excessive menstruation find their solution in the Lord Jesus Christ. "He can make us clean" was the confidence of those whom Jesus healed. And Jesus today can also make you and I clean from our sins, and lead us back to God.

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As a church, we're going through the book of Leviticus, and this is the fifth sermon in this series. As I was saying in the prayer, this is an obscure or even tedious book for some. And if you'd like to catch up on the previous messages, please do so. It's available freely online.

When I was growing up as a teenage boy or teenager, I was rather dirty and unhygienic. Every day after school, often after basketball, after soccer, I'll be sweaty, but I would immediately turn on the air con and plonk myself on the bed. Not bathed, not changed. And I'll sleep in my bed just like that.

But everything changed after I got married, because my wife, like every other girl, she does not appreciate being near a dirty pig. So ever since I got married, almost always I will bathe before getting onto bed. Because only the clean can get onto the bed, the unclean cannot get near.

The book of Leviticus is a book about drawing near to God. And amongst many things, we learned last week that God made a distinction between the clean and the unclean. And only the clean can draw near to God. If you're unclean for whatever reasons, you need to be clean before you can draw near.

Now this clean and unclean concept is very powerfully taught and communicated via food. So last week, we learned about kosher and non-kosher food, or clean and unclean food. There is nothing really wrong with unclean food in and of itself. But God allowed that, or made that distinction, to communicate and to impart the importance of understanding clean and unclean. Food is something you eat every day. Food is something everybody eats everywhere. And so, in a very powerful way, the concept is communicated.

But as if that is not enough, Leviticus 12 to 15 tells us that there are many other things in life that God would use to communicate the concept of clean and unclean. Some of the things that we read this morning is menstruation, something that women go through once a month. Childbirth, something that women go through a few times, or one time or a few times in their lifetime. Leprosy, a kind of skin disease that we will look at in detail later on, and bodily discharge.

So God uses food and these things to communicate clean and unclean. We're going to look at all these things in a little detail today, but I want to tell you in advance, this is not just an exploration of what these little details are, but to bring us to that blessed message of the Bible, the central message of the Bible. And that is, even though God is communicating the concepts of clean and unclean, thereby telling us that sinful men cannot approach the Holy God, the Bible tells us of the message of cleansing. That God can make you and I clean. This is where we will head towards as we journey through this chapter.

So let's look at some of these verses. At, at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. So the woman who is having her period is considered unclean in the Mosaic law, in the Levitical law. Then we read also, if a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. But if she bears a female child, she shall be unclean two weeks. Please don't ask me why. I do not know why female or baby girl makes you unclean longer. The Bible also goes on to say, if any man has a discharge from his body, his discharge is unclean.

So the question you will have naturally is, why is menstruation, childbirth, bodily, bodily discharge considered unclean? Well, just like last week, I asked, why is lobster unclean and sea bass clean? Well, we don't really know. There are some theories, like the sickness theory, the symbolism theory, the sacrifice theory, but really none of the explanations really can be universally applied to all the foods.

So I think God is simply arbitrarily setting apart these two categories to be an instructional tool to teach clean and unclean, and how the clean alone can draw near to God. So when it comes to menstruation, childbirth, and bodily discharge, it's very hard to find a consistent reason why these things are unclean. Menstruation is part of normal female physiology. Childbirth is certainly not something that is morally wrong.

So I think the best answer I could venture is to say that these are just instructional tools to teach Israel the concept of clean and unclean, and how the clean alone can draw near to God.

But again, there is a kind of a hope, there's a kind of a, a healing hinted, because there are days of purifying, there are washings, and atonement that could be done to render a previously unclean person now clean. Again, I'm saying this is a kind of foreshadowing of how we as sinners are unclean, but there can be cleansing for us, as the Bible later on will describe.

Now from these weird stuff, like menstruation and bodily discharge, we go to this disease called leprosy. What is leprosy? Leprosy is a dominant, uh issue in these four chapters. Chapters 13 to 14 is all about leprosy, but what in the world is leprosy? I used to study medicine, and so when you tell me leprosy, the first thing I think about is Hanson's disease. Hanson is the man who kind of discovered leprosy. Hanson's disease is a specific disease caused by a mycobacterium, called mycobacterium leprae. That's why you call it leprosy.

Uh, you may not be so familiar with leprosy, but you will be familiar with tuberculosis, TB. Heard of it? I'm sure you have. In fact, in Singapore recently, there was an outbreak in Redhill. TB, tuberculosis, is also caused by a mycobacterium, mycobacterium tuberculosis.

So in a similar family of microorganism, there's this mycobacterium leprae that causes leprosy. This microbe infiltrates the nerves. It goes along your nerves. It attacks the soft tissues in your body, your mucosa, you know the inside linings of your nose and your mouth. It goes to your cartilages. So, when someone has leprosy, a lot of his nerves are destroyed. So you would see that their fingers and their toes can't quite feel because they are the furthest away, most likely to be damaged.

And so they end up with very deformed hands and feet and knees. And a lot of their fingertips are gone or lost. Why? Because if you can't feel, you do not know you have hurt yourself. And so a lot of it is cut off, chipped off, damaged. And just like that, you have deformed hands, feet. You have this typical appearance. We call this the leonine facies. You, you look a, you look a bit like a lion because the bacteria invades the various parts of the soft tissues and it, it causes thickening of the skin.

When I was a secondary school boy, my friend invited me to do some charity work in a leper's home. So I went there. It's at Yio Chu Kang. I'm not sure if you all know about it. And there I got to see a lot of ex-lepers. The leprosy, the bacteria is cured, but the physical stigma and appearances stay with them. So, this is what I think of Hansen's disease when I think about leprosy in today.

But when I read Leviticus, I read Leviticus and I see that, hey, maybe the leprosy we know of today is not quite the same as what it was in those days. You see, the word can mean different things in different times and cultures.

So let's look at leprosy in Leviticus 13. Leprosy in Leviticus 13 speaks about this skin disease that manifests with swelling, eruption, or spot. Not quite like Hansen's disease. And it goes on to say that it can become a boil, a kind of a blister. Not quite Hansen's disease. It is also possible to be like a burn, a kind of excoriation, a, a ulceration of the skin. It causes a white, whitening of the skin. In fact, it can be white as snow and it also causes your hair to be white. These are some of the manifestations of leprosy.

We also see that leprosy develops rather quickly. The priest shall shut him up for seven days. This is a, kind of a quarantine to see whether this person has leprosy or not. You have some rash, some spot, some eruption, you're not so clear. So to be safe, you put him aside. You wait for seven days and see what happens after seven days. If the disease, if that spot spreads after seven days, Ah! jialat leow。 You have leprosy.

And if it does not spread, then it is just the scar of a boil. It is not leprosy, the person is not unclean.

Now, Hansen's disease does not develop so quickly. It takes months. So for all those reasons, let me say, what is leprosy? Well, today we think of leprosy as Hansen's disease, causing all, all the disfigurement, the numbing of the fingers, a change of appearance, a destroying of the joints. But when I read the leprosy of the Bible, it does not quite fit Hansen's disease today.

So number one, symptoms in Leviticus 13 are not typical of Hansen's disease. Typical symptoms of Hansen's disease are also not found in Leviticus 13. Number three, the disease progression of what we see in Leviticus 13 is weeks, seven days, whereas for Hansen's disease, it's months. And number four, Hansen's disease, uh no, Leviticus 13 disease can spread to clothes and to walls. In fact, we read about the description of the clothes, the garments turning green and red, and the walls turning green and red. Well, that's yucky, right? But that's leprosy for you in Leviticus 13.

Now, I used to preach, I have preached before, leprosy in the Bible as Hansen's disease. But today I repent of it. I change my view of it, I think the evidence sways, and that is also what I found in the research in Scripture, and I also ask my dermatologist friends. Uh, I don't think it is.

Now, are you a heretic if you say it's Hansen's disease? No, it's fine, but to be precise, I think we cannot know for sure what it is. I don't think it's Hansen's, but I also cannot tell you what is that medical description for this disease. Some people think it's a collection of different kinds of skin disease. We do not know, but we can probably say it's an infectious skin disease that can spread to clothes and to walls. So today you go home, I hope you don't paint your walls green or red. Not very nice, huh.

Alright, there are some people in the Bible who are very famous or infamous, notorious for having leprosy. Can you name some of these people? So leprosy is first described here in Leviticus 13. Actually, yah, and then we're going to see that leprosy taking a prominent place in some people's lives going forward. Who would some of the people be? Naaman, yes, Naaman is probably the most famous. Miriam, Miriam is also stricken with leprosy. Anyone else? King Uzziah, you saved the whole congregation. You are absolutely right. Give yourself a round of applause. I will check the third service and see how they fare, huh.

Alright, so you have Miriam. She was defiant and stood against Moses, challenging his authority. And even though she's the sister of Mir.. of of Moses, she was stricken with leprosy and her skin, the Bible says, turned as white as snow. Not quite Hansen's disease, right? Then the most famous guy, Naaman. I don't know whether he looks like this, but it's the whitening all over. He's full of leprosy. The third person, obscure figure, Gehazi. He lied to Elisha, his master. He committed CBT, criminal breach of trust, and personally pocketed the gifts. And he was stricken, he lied, and he was stricken with leprosy. And then the most famous guy is Uzziah as well. He was king of Israel, but he was not satisfied to be king. He wanted also to be priest, and this was, of course, punished by God with leprosy.

So leprosy is likely an infectious skin disease that can spread. And God often uses leprosy as a picture of sin, or at least a judgment against sin. So what we are learning in the Bible is a kind of development of how this condition represents sin. Leprosy also makes a person unclean and renders him unable to draw near to God. This is made very explicit in Leviticus 13. He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He's unclean, he shall live alone, his dwelling shall be outside the camp. Sad case, can't be with friends, can't play soccer, can't have a meal, got to stay outside the camp, all alone, cannot draw near to the tabernacle. So he's cut off spiritually, socially, he will lose his job for sure.

The Bible also tells us, the leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose. This is quite a graphic scene. I, I watch a lot of Chinese Kung Fu shows. You know, when someone loses the battle, he's so pek chek ah, he's so upset, he will loosen his hair, you know the pig tail, he loosen it all and then he swing over. Aargh! We call that in Chinese, pi tou san fa. His hair fly over the place, just to show how tragic it is.

In the same way, the leper purposely is called to wear torn clothes, pi tou san fa. And he walks around with this, uh, this, last time no N95, so got to use your own hand. Covers his upper lip and says, unclean, unclean! They have to practice safe distancing know. I'm told about two meters and if the wind is blowing this direction towards you, 45 meters. So this guy is like the plague of the town. Nobody wants to be near him, he looks pathetic, he's cut off, no one can get near.

However, a leper, if he has any hope of normalcy of life, he must be healed. There's no other way. There's no other way he can return, there's no other way he can worship and fellowship until he is healed and cleansed. The problem is, it is very rare. Healing for leprosy is extremely rare. I know that, because the king of Israel, when he was told to heal or to bring healing to someone, said, am I God to kill and to make alive that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? He's saying, who in the world can cure a leper except God? And the power to heal a leper is akin to a power to resurrect. That's how difficult it is.

Jesus Himself would say, there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian. So leprosy is almost like a death sentence, isn't it? You're like a walking dead. You can't live your life normally and there's virtually no cure for you.

So in summary, a leper is unclean. He cannot get near to God, His tabernacle. He cannot get near to people. He is considered an untouchable, an outcast, and he is pretty much condemned because there is no cure for him. This, I think, is a reminder of sin and God's judgment upon sinful people like as we are.

So for thousands of years, think about this, for thousands of years, there is no universal, effective cure for leprosy. And when a man (inaudible), can you imagine the anxiety you have, if one day you wake up and you see a spot? Jialat, xiao liao. Don't you think so? You'll be, you'll be really afraid that this spot, boil or burn or itch or eruption will one day spread and turn to be leprosy. Your whole life is ruined. You have to leave your family, leave the camp, you lose your job, you're condemned and there is no one who can save you. And God uses this disease to communicate how sinners are ruined and cut off and miserable.

So for thousands of years, it's just darkness, it's just misery until one day, someone did something amazing. The Bible tells us Jesus, He, He went into one of the cities and as He got there, there came a man who was full of leprosy.

Now the writer of this is Luke, he's a doctor. And when a doctor says he's full of leprosy, it's different from a man who says, wah, very jialat. Because I think a doctor probably sees more. And so Dr. Luke says, there's this man who is full of leprosy, probably all over the body, it's boils and eruptions, why, I do not know, but it must be gross.

I was brought to remind, to remember, some years ago, I went to US and I suffered a horrible case of bed bugs. And I was bitten all over my body, under the neck, everywhere, just full of red spots. I am not exaggerating. Hundreds of bite marks, hundreds of red dots all over. I felt like a leper. This man is full of leprosy.

He wears torn clothes, his hair is unkempt, he has to shout, unclean, unclean! But this man came. He came with great courage and desperation because we are also told that there were great crowds around Jesus at that time. So for this man to come near is crazy, because people may just stone him to death. You're not supposed to come near! But he is so desperate that he came and indeed, not just that he's desperate, I think he's absolutely confident. He's confident that if he comes to Jesus, Jesus can heal him.

So he came to Jesus, with great desperation, with great courage, with great confidence and he knelt before Jesus. The word kneel in the Greek is the word proskuneo, which refers to someone kneeling and lying flat. Maybe someone who looks like this, lies flat on the ground. And this word proskuneo is also, in elsewhere, translated as the word worship. It's the same exact Greek word.

My point is, I think this man came in a posture of reverence, humility, submission, maybe even worship. He recognises that this Jesus is no ordinary man, but God, the very God, the very Son of God.

We are told by Mark that he fell on his face, so pretty much accurate description of what that proskuneo would look like. And he begged Jesus saying, Lord, if You will, You can make me clean. Most of us would probably skip and say, alright, he calls Him Lord, but there is, I think, some significance to, to the word Lord here.

The word Lord in the Greek can refer to a very general title or general recognition that the other person is your master, your owner, your king, your prince. General word, Lord, as we know it in the English. But in the Bible, the word Lord is also sometimes used to be a title of God. We don't call God's Name, but we call Him Lord in the Bible.

So, this is significant because later on, you read about 10 lepers who came to Jesus, and the 10 lepers only called Jesus Master, which is the first meaning of the word Lord, but the second meaning of the word Lord, which is God, is missed out in the word Master.

So I'm suggesting to you that this leper is not just coming to Jesus recognizing Him as owner or Master or King, but he might very well believe that Jesus is God, the Son of God. That's why he would proscuneo before Jesus. That's why he would ask Jesus to do something that only God can do. So he says, if You will, You can. No one else can. No priest, no doctor, only You can. You can make me clean.

And the Bible tells us, moved with pity, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him. Now, Jesus didn't need to touch him. I think Jesus can just do a snap of the finger and he could be healed. Or Jesus could just say, be healed, and he will be healed. But Jesus touched him. No one else has touched the leper, but Jesus did.

Isn't Jesus afraid of being contaminated? Oh, no. The Bible tells us, He said, I will be clean, and immediately the leprosy left him and he was made clean. So the leper did not make Jesus unclean, like everyone else, but Jesus made the unclean leper clean. There is hope. Someone can make the leper clean. Someone can make you and I clean.

So leprosy, like food, like menstruation, like bodily discharge, like childbirth, is an instructional tool to teach Israel, only the clean can draw near to God. If you're unclean, you can't. But there is Someone who can make you clean, and that is Jesus. And the message, I think, in Leviticus 13, that kind of projects us into the New Testament is to show that Jesus alone can cleanse us from our sins.

That's why we sing a song. Jesus paid it all. The lyrics go, Lord, now indeed I find Thy power and Thine alone, can change the leper's spots and melt the heart of stone. Jesus paid it all. When He went to the cross, when He suffered and died, He was not there for His sins, He was there for your sins. And on the cross, He says, it is finished. The debt is fully paid.

So we sing, Jesus paid it all. My sins, all my sins, past, present, future. He paid it all, all to Him I owe. I could not pay a single thing for my sin. Sin had left a crimson red stain, but He washed it white as snow.

This healing of the leper is no fluke. Because we read later on in Mark 14 that Jesus went to the house of Simon the Leper. Interesting, right? He's now known as Simon the Leper. He's probably so leprous, so diseased, that when people see him, they just call him Simon the Leper. Not, not Jason Lim, but, not Pastor Jason, but Jason the Leper, for example.

But I think this leper, Simon, is probably healed. Because he now comes to Simon's house. No one can come to a leper's house. I mean, you wouldn't want to go to a house with red and green walls, right? So he's probably healed, and he's expressing his gratitude to Jesus by hosting Him. Jesus must have healed Simon.
And then another encounter Jesus had was the encounter with the ten lepers. Very interesting story. The ten lepers saw Jesus, cried out to him, Master, Jesus healed all ten of them. Nine of them went on their way, and only one of them turned back and gave thanks to Jesus, praising God. The rest of them were so happy that there are now no more lepers. They kind of rejoiced in the healing, but not in the Healer.

But the one who turned back, the one in ten turned back, praised God, and Jesus said to this one man, Rise and go your way. Your faith has made you well. Now, I take this to mean not only is his leprosy healed, but his sins are forgiven because he recognizes Jesus for who He is. The other nine just kind of, was glad a miracle healer came, but they did not recognize who Jesus was.

And it's really ironic, isn't it, that the nine who left were Jews, and the one who came back was a Samaritan. The reject of Israel is now accepted into the Kingdom of God. You see, God does not save according to our race, or our heritage, or our background. It's really by grace. Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles, leper or no leper, Jesus pays it all, cleanses us from all sin.

Are You the One who is to come? That's the question John the Baptist once asked. And Jesus answered, Go and tell John what you hear and see. The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear. What is Jesus saying here? Jesus is saying, you're asking if I am the Messiah, the promised Savior? Let me show you My credentials. My credentials are these. No one could do these things except the Messiah, the Son of God.

So, leprosy is first brought to our attention in Leviticus 13. But it has a long-range expectation to the day Jesus comes. And how He's going to reverse leprosy, how He's going to heal and cleanse, because God intends for leprosy throughout the ages to teach us about our sin and how forgiveness of sin is found in Jesus Christ.

Just one more story before we end. Does anybody know what this story is about? I've been talking about men. The leper, the ten lepers, Simon the leper, all men. So the ladies feel a bit, why the Bible all men one? There's one story here about the ladies. The woman who has menses for a long time, correct. So she came to Jesus, tormented with a disease, understanding that if she just touches the hem on Jesus' garments, she will be healed.

So Mark tells us, there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for 12 years. Now we call this menorrhagia in medicine, okay. It is a continuous, excessive menstrual bleed. Now, this is particularly troubling, because not only is this deeply inconvenient, it is also very weakening. Imagine you're losing blood every day. You're going to be very weak. We've seen women in hospitals where their blood levels or hemoglobin levels go very, very low. They are breathless, they are pale, they are weak because they are bleeding like crazy. This woman has suffered that for 12 years.

So she is probably very sick, very unwell, unclean, cannot get near the tabernacle, cannot worship God. And she has suffered much under many physicians. She has been to Mount E, Novena, Tan Tock Seng, and no one could help her. She has suffered much. Maybe poke here, poke there, try this, try that. And she has spent all that she had. She pour all, I mean, she's so troubled, she doesn't need all the money. If she could give up all her wealth, to get herself well, she would do it. But the irony is that she was no better, but grew only worse.

So when she heard the reports about Jesus, she heard of how He preached, what He preached. She heard about how He healed, how He brought the lame to walk again. She knew, I think, that He is the Messiah, the chosen, the promised Savior God has spoken about in the Bible. And she said, I need to come to Him. So she came up behind Him in a crowd, touched His garment, because she said, if I touch even His garments, I will be made well.

And so, immediately, the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of a disease. I think the healing is not just that the bleeding stopped, but her hemoglobin level got topped up. The red blood cells instantly multiplied. Blood transfusion, the supernatural way. She, she could feel the vitality and vigor back in her body, I think.

Daughter, Jesus said to her, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your disease. I think this statement reminds me a lot of what Jesus said to that one Samaritan leper. She believed Jesus for who He is, and she's likewise healed.

So, Leviticus 12-15. Yes, a lot of weird stuff. Menstruation, childbirth, leprosy, bodily discharge. But they are not the end in and of itself. They are meant to be a platform, a background, a context, to show us how Jesus can make you and I clean.

You know, the beautiful thing about the Bible is that these people who came to Jesus, they were healed. They don't have to show themselves worthy. They don't have to prove themselves. They don't have to cleanse themselves. They can't. They are full of this disease. But one thing they did, they humbled themselves and came to Jesus. And Jesus cleansed them all.

Today, you can come to Jesus. You don't have to prove how great you are. You don't have to show how worthy you are. And today, you may be filled with sin in your life. The beautiful thing about the message of the Bible is grace. It's God's unconditional love for sinners who will repent. Will you be clean? There's someone who can make you clean. Jesus Christ. Let's bow for a word of prayer together.

The Bible, therefore, speaks about a solution for your sin. No man can cleanse himself, no man can deserve eternal life himself, but God sent His Son absolutely to save you from your sin. You can come like a leper, you can come like the woman tormented for 12 years, but come to Jesus today, for God promises cleansing, forgiveness, and eternal life to those who will come.

I pray this morning, you will not be hardened against God, and if you today are living under a, a burden and a load of sin, oh, there is cleansing for you in the precious blood of the Lamb. Jesus is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. He died and rose again. He proved that He is the true Messiah, He is the Saviour, the Conqueror over all sin. The Bible says, whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved. I pray you will this morning.

And to my brothers and sisters in Christ, I think about Simon the leper, he's healed, he's grateful, and he served Jesus at home. I think about that Samaritan leper who was healed. He was grateful, and he came to praise God. If you today are forgiven of your sins, you are a child of God, can I urge you, out of the gratitude of your heart, live for Jesus, for He has cleansed you from sin and given you access to God who made you. May we live worshipful lives, sacrificial lives, dedicated lives, because God first gave His Son for us.

Father, we thank You this morning, we can hear Your Word, and as we soon also remember the death and sacrifice of Your Son, by means of the Lord's Supper, we pray You will help us remember Jesus. May we believe in Him, and may we serve Him. Bless Your church, we pray in Jesus' Name, Amen.


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