(It gets personal…)


“While He [Jesus] was on the way to Jerusalem, He was passing between Samaria and Galilee. As He entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; and they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they were going, they were cleansed.” (Luke 17:11-14)

This miracle reflects God’s love and mercy for all types of people, the lepers as well as the priests to which the ten lepers were to show themselves. Why were the priests a part of Christ’s communication to the lepers? Let’s check it out—but I’ll warn you: it gets personal!

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Leprosy as we know it today (Hansen’s disease) is different than the leprosy we find in the Bible. Leviticus 13 describes it as a progressive disease causing scabs and crusts on the skin, which leave white patches, turning hair white and causing bald spots. Under the Old Testament law, individuals with leprosy were required to live outside the regular community, call out “Unclean!” to those passing by, wear torn clothes and cover the lower part of their faces (Leviticus 13:45). If anyone made physical contact with a leper, they themselves were regarded unclean and unable to participate in religious activities for a set period of time.  It was, inarguably, a humiliating and miserable way to live.

The Levitical priests, on the other hand, were on the other end of the social spectrum. They were the religious elite. If a priest was truly fulfilling all ministerial duties, he must not only be spiritually cleansed through observance of the law, but free from physical defect (Leviticus 21:17-23).

* * *

No matter which group you most identify with, the far-reaching touch of God is ready to move into your personal space—as it powerfully did for the lepers AND the priests affected by Jesus’ miracle. 

* * *

The Levitical law contained specific requirements before someone with leprosy could be officially deemed healed and free to mingle with the rest of Jewish society. These legal requirements were officiated through the priests.

Since lepers weren’t able to enter villages, the men Jesus healed likely found someone to contact the priests on their behalf. The priests would then have gone out to where the lepers would “show themselves”, the first step in the lengthy process of being declared ceremonially clean (Leviticus 14:2).

* * *

The time in which these priests ministered wasn’t easy. Spiritual upheaval had occurred in recent years. A man the people viewed as a prophet had been miraculously conceived in His parents’ old age; “John the Baptizer” (Luke 1:57-66, 3:1-3). The priests and religious leaders were unable to verify his credentials or squelch his bold message that everyone repent of their sins before God (John 1:19-27). John, they likely felt, was meddling in the spiritual affairs of the nation; their turf! Then he declared a non-Levite from Nazareth, Jesus by name, as the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Absurd!

To make matters worse, this Jesus was thrilling the people with miraculous works. His teachings, they said, surpassed those of the religious leaders. Priests and Levites were clearly vexed over growing talk about what new thing Jesus had said or done.

So now we find the village priests in front of ten men bursting with joy and talking over one another as they shared they’d been completely healed of their leprosy. Can you envision the lepers pointing at themselves and each other’s flawless skin in delight and awe? “Look! Just look at us!” they may have cried.

In all probability, a crowd of excited onlookers was growing larger and louder by the minute.  Imagine!

* * *

Priest “Jacob”, whispering to those closest to him. “This is getting out of control.”

Priest “Benjamin”, under his breath: “I have a bad feeling about this. Any minute, they’re going to say it was that Nazarene who healed them!”

* * *

I suspect the lepers explained how Jesus, who they’d seen and called out to as ‘Master’ for help, told them to come and show themselves to the priests. And as they went to comply, their leprosy miraculously disappeared!

Perhaps a gathering crowd began exclaiming, “Did you hear that? It was Jesus! Jesus healed them!”

People may have been laughing and gleefully clapping their hands while the healed lepers egged them on in shameless abandon. It’s possible some or all of the priests’ awe over the miracle was evaporating as jealous confusion over this man, Jesus, gripped them.

* * *

The law of cleansing a leper is detailed in Leviticus 14 , including the responsibilities of the priests, on the day of a leper’s healing. If examination showed the infection healed, the priest was to order the taking of two live, clean birds, cedar wood and a scarlet string, and hyssop for the person to be cleansed (Leviticus 14:3-4). Needless to say, “supplies gathering” ensued that day; the priests would need twenty birds, ten cedar planks with scarlet strings, and hyssop.

For each individual leper, a priest was to give orders to slay one bird in an earthenware vessel (more supplies, please) over running water. The live bird was to be taken by the priest (along with the cedar wood and scarlet string and hyssop), and dipped in the blood of the bird which was slain over the running water. It was public, detailed, and messy. Next, the priest was to sprinkle the one who was to be cleansed from leprosy seven times, pronounce him clean, and let the live bird go free over the open field (Leviticus 14:4-7).

The priests, healed men, and onlookers all would have watched a blood-dipped bird loosed from its scarlet string and bloodied cedar plank to fly away in freedom. Ten times!

God’s tapestry is beautiful. The priests repeatedly carried out this act which foreshadowed Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice for sin. He would be nailed to a wooden cross and shed His scarlet blood for the sins of all mankind (Luke 23:33, I John 2:2). When crucified, Jesus was offered sour wine on a branch of hyssop (John 19:29). The living bird dipped in the blood of the bird which had been sacrificed was set free “out in the field”. Believers in Christ are cleansed and made free through His atoning blood, which was shed outside the city (I Peter 1:18-19; Hebrews 13:12).

God’s love for the “unclean” and methodology for their cleansing was couched in dramatic, physical acts which symbolized the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, who would be offered as a sacrifice for their spiritual salvation. God also required the priests to carry out the messy, symbolic procedures required for the lepers’ cleansing for the same reason. They each needed a Savior and He loved them.

But it gets even more personal…

After the above requirements of the law, lepers had instructions for the next seven days (Leviticus 14:8-9). On the eighth day, a healed leper was to meet the priest at the doorway to the tent of meeting, before the Lord, with specific animal and grain/oil offerings, depending on his means. Regardless of his resources, there would in part be a guilt offering (of one or more lambs) and a log of oil. After the priest slaughtered the lamb(s) for the guilt offering, he had to first take some of the blood and put it on the lobe of the right ear, the right-hand thumb, and big toe of the right foot of the leper to be cleansed and apply the oil similarly (Leviticus 14:10-28).

Question: If you ever had this done to you, do you think you’d ever forget it?

* * *

Shockingly, our priestly friends were following procedures which had once been performed on themselves. Overlapping requirements existed within the law for the consecration of a priest and cleansing of a leper!

Exodus 29:19-21: “Then you shall take the other ram, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the ram. You shall slaughter the ram, and take some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear and on the lobes of his sons’ right ears and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the big toes of their right feet and sprinkle the rest of the blood around the altar.”

Imagine the memories and emotions flooding those priests while they applied the blood of the guilt offering to the cleansed lepers, just as a senior priest once did for them! Every thought, aroma, and sound they experienced during their ordination surely came back to them in sharp detail.

 And the perceived gulf between them and the “unclean” suddenly evaporated.

The far-reaching touch of God came alive through the old, Levitical law, lovingly entering those priests’ personal space through the God-Man Jesus. God always intended for the law to live in their minds and hearts, preparing them for the cry of John the Baptist:

“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”

* * *

All of us are helpless to spiritually cleanse ourselves before a holy God. What we can do, however, is trade our sin for Christ’s righteousness, through His shed blood (Romans 5:6-11).

Then, like a bird set free, we can fly in God’s grace and thrillingly declare:

“Look! Just look at what Jesus did!”




People Lover. Author. Blogger. Speaker. Forgiven Much & Wild About God. Learn about June's latest book on her website.


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