The apostle Paul prayed the following prayer for new believers in Asia Minor:
Let them see the full extent of Your power that is at work in those of us who believe, and may it be done according to Your might and power. Friends, it is this same might and resurrection power that He used in the Anointed One (Jesus Christ) to raise Him from the dead and to position Him at His right hand in heaven. There is nothing over Him (Ephesians 1:19-20).[VOICE]
Today our world is in crisis. The impact of this current crisis will be felt for months and possibly years. As we look at the global mess, political infighting, and atrocities inflicted on innocent people, we will find despair and discouragement to be ready partners for us. What can we do? What can I do? The powers at play are so big and so overwhelming. But, we are in no more discouraging place than the people to whom Jesus came in the first century. Like them, we need to realize that the power of Jesus' resurrection is unleashed every time we ask Jesus to enter our world and empower us through the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:14-21).
So, what are we to do?
We must not get so lost in the global events that we forget our immediate neighborhood and the people God placed at our fingertips! Jesus reminds us of the power he has for us to enter the broken world around us to do ministry in his name.
I want to introduce you to a man we will call our Fellow Isolated Wanderer. He was a man who had leprosy. He was never identified by name. We will call him Fellow Isolated Wanderer because we want to humanize him and realize that he was a real person, not just a diseased person in a Bible story. His journey begins before we find Mark's account of his story. We can envision the horrible beginnings of his story something like this:
Our Fellow Isolated Wanderer held his breath, trying to hold on to hope for a few last seconds before the priest revealed the expected bad news. In that nanosecond of waiting, his mind raced through the worries of the past few days.
"If the priest says that I have it, then my life is over! There's nothing left but to choose a few things to wear and find a mat I can use for sleep and sit on to beg. I will lose everything else. I will have to give up my house, family, friends, and synagogue. I will lose my job and my ability to provide for my family. I will lose my identity and my place in the community. I will lose the loving and familiar touch of my friends, family, children, and wife. I will be a living corpse awaiting the inevitable.
Please, God, don't let it be so! Please, God, spare me the indignity, isolation, and waiting around to die alone. Please save me from being worthless to my family, a burden to myself, and left out of any life worth living. O God, hear my cry as I pray that I don't have to live in the putrifying stench of my own body as it decays and rots with infection. Please, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, hear my cry for help!"
The priest's response roused him from his internal dialogue and prayer. "Yes," the priest said, " I'm sorry, but it is leprosy."
The priest's words bore a hole through his heart. Our Fellow Isolated Wanderer knew what the priest would say next. "I'm sorry, my brother, but we must put you outside the community. You must physically isolate yourself from everyone. It is for the good of the community, and it is the will of God. That is what the Torah tells us must be done!"
For our Fellow Isolated Wanderer, the first days of being an outcast ran together while his nights never seemed to end. The stench and the rot of his own flesh would always be with him. Often, however, they were overwhelmed by the tidal wave of constant hunger, fever, and pain. However, being forced into a sub-human existence on the fringes of life was his worst pain.
The Isolated Wanderer couldn't help but wonder, "I bet those who throw me their discarded bits of moldy and stale bread don't know how badly it hurts to be alone, left untouched until I die?"
Such thoughts brought tears to our Fellow Isolated Wanderer's eyes, and they rested like a heavy burden upon his heart. Hope was hard to find in such deep despair.
Little could our Isolated Wanderer have imagined that one brief interchange with Jesus was about to change everything.
At first, our Fellow Isolated Wanderer saw only a tiny stirring of dust on the horizon. Then he heard mingled voices in the distance. He overheard Jesus teaching his disciples as they approached the outskirts of his small village.
He had heard of the Nazarene, Jesus, the one some called the Messiach, the Christ and God's Messiah. Now he would be able to see Jesus for the first time. If he was lucky, he might get Jesus' attention as he passed. And maybe, just maybe, he might get something more!
Long before this day, our Fellow Isolated Wanderer had given up the Law-mandated warning he was required to give to folks as they approached. He assumed that his filthy rags called clothes, the stench of his decaying body, the grotesque changes in his appendages, and his isolation outside the village said all that needed to be said: "Leper! Leper! Leper! Steer clear of the unclean leper! Stay far away from me; I am unclean, and you must avoid me!"
On this day, he would utter no warning. Our Fellow Isolated Wanderer saved his energy to take a few steps forward toward Jesus and then speak one burst of words to implore the Messiach to have mercy on him and choose to be willing to help:
Leper:"If You want to, You can make me clean."
Jesus was powerfully moved. He reached out and actually touched the leper.
Jesus:"I do want to. Be clean."
And at that very moment; the leper was cleansed and made whole once again.
Our Fellow Isolated Wanderer was as shocked as he was delighted. Everything happened so quickly and so simply. He asked, and Jesus granted him more than he knew to ask.
Of course, The Isolated Wanderer was delighted to be healed. He rejoiced as life returned to a physical form once failing him. He celebrated as wholeness immediately returned to his body rotting with decay. He was overwhelmed with relief and anticipation, knowing he could return home to his family and to his way of life.
But the touch happened so quickly, so naturally, and so tenderly. And, it happened before he was healed. It was our Isolated Wanderer's first touch after being avoided and shunned for so long. That touch was a moment of grace, a bridge built by Jesus for our Fellow Isolated Wanderer to cross and leave his isolation. Jesus' touch was a simple and personal gesture of grace from God's Messiach. It gave our Wanderer back his identity and significance before he received his healing. Jesus' touch RAISED this death-destined man back to life!
To everyone else, Jesus' touch was shocking! Such a touch was unlawful! It was supposed to be corrupting to the "toucher" because of the uncleanness of the one touched. However, Jesus reached out and actually touched the leper. Miraculously, Messiach reversed the polarity of holiness and uncleanness. The touch of Jesus cleansed the unclean instead of corruption of the unclean defiling Jesus. The Messiach's touch brought life, cleansing, and hope to an unclean man caught in the grip of fleshly decay — a body with leprosy destined to die.
Jesus' Passion should mean something similar to you and me. In the middle of our mess, our decay, our isolation, our self-loathing, our doubts and our incapacities, Jesus reached out and touched us. He shared our humanity. He entered our world of unfair and brutal power. He absorbed the evil of it all and bore the brunt of our broken world to make God real and reachable. Jesus made true and eternal life accessible to us.
The Holy Spirit used the followings words to describe Jesus touching us through his Passion and raising us back to life:
Since we, the children, are all creatures of flesh and blood, Jesus took on flesh and blood, so that by dying He could destroy the one who held power over death — the devil — and destroy the fear of death that has always held people. ... He had to become as human as His sisters and brothers so that when the time came, He could ... help us when we are tested (Hebrew 2:14-18).
He emerged victorious, without failing God. So let us step boldly to the throne of grace, where we can find mercy and grace to help when we need it most (Hebrews 4:15-16).
Our world is caught in the dark specter of the abuse of raw power inflicting death on anyone in its way. Jesus has been here. He endured its brutality, absorbed its malevolence, and entered its death. But, God didn't let the Son be captured by the dark specter of evil's power. Instead, he used Jesus' suffering to liberate us when he raised Jesus from the dead.
Despite this eruption of evil and darkness in our world, we can still celebrate Jesus, our Messiach! He has touched us in our brokenness through the cross and the stone-covered tomb. He has given us new life and raised us from death and decay through his resurrection. Our hope for God's future, our being healed, and the reclamation of our lost lives are redeemed. We are liberated from futility and loss just as much as the man with leprosy was. Our world has received the touch of Jesus. We have felt his touch. We have been comforted by the presence of God among us. We have been raised back to life by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. The polarity of sin and death have been reversed so that evil power, corruption, and decay are swallowed up in the promise of life.
As dark as they seem, these days are destined to be as short as they are harsh. The touch of Jesus has come to our broken world and brought us hope! No matter how deep the darkness, light is coming. No matter how real the evil and the presence of death, we have been RAISED, and our lives and futures are protectively joined to Christ and guarded for us in the presence of God. His glory awaits us.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade (1 Peter 1:3-4).
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4)
Now that we are RAISED, one question remains: Will we touch the isolated wanderers near us and raise their hopes?
Finding Jesus' Heart for Ministry Series: