When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean." Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus *said to him, "See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." (Matthew 8:1-4 NASB)
Before Jesus went up to the mountain to teach ‘The Sermon on the Mount’ He was going throughout the area preaching repentance and also healing the sick and serving the people. As it is has been said here before the way Jesus did ministry was to serve the community and to preach hard on repentance. It seems in American Christendom we have lost balance. In the fundamentalist church we find a intense emphasis on preaching repentance and the fact that ‘faith cometh by hearing’ and service is neglected. Or service is not neglected, but is merely reduced to a way to get an audience to preach to. On the other side the ‘emerging church’ is focused on service and justice to the point where they neglect the message of repentance unto faith. The message of repentance is too hard and abrasive for the emerging church so they focus entirely on service. Christ existed in the middle of these extremes. Christ loved people and served them out of love for them, and at the same time He preached incredibly difficult words of repentance and even judgment.
In the case of Matthew 8:1-4 it is important to realize that Christ just got done teaching a very intense message, especially the end of it. He references the destruction of those who are not truly converted, He references judgment based on mere anger and lust, He speaks of a required righteousness and the overarching theme could be said to be repentance. Notice the very first thing He does after the teaching... it is to serve the very least of society, the leper. It eliminates the possibility that Jesus’ was at all mean spirited, but it does not negate the difficulty of His teachings on the mount. Again, Jesus ought to be the model for all our ministry, it is Christ who is all compassion, and at the same time it is Christ who makes unwavering calls to repentance and purity.
Now it is critical to notice the leper in this passage and how he approaches Christ. “Lord...” there is an immediate recognition of Authority. This cannot be overlooked, everyone wants Jesus to give them their ‘Best Life Now’ but nobody wants to come under His authority. At the same time, a mere saying of ‘Lord’ means very little unless it is an actual recognition of His Lordship. In the case of this leper it is clear that it is genuine recognition of Lordship. “...if You are willing, You can make me clean.” In this statement the leper is fully recognizing that he is not in some position to ‘name and claim’ his healing. Quite the opposite is true, the leper knows He is at the mercy of the will of Jesus Christ, and that it is only if Christ is willing that he will be healed. Of course this type of obedience and submission to Christ is honored by Christ and He indeed is willing and He cleanses the leper.
The final part of this passage is seen in various other healings as well... “See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” After the leper is healed Jesus gives Him a task to go present himself to the priests with the proper offering as a testimony to them. Recall that the people were under Roman control, there have been few prophets in the land, it had been 400 years since Malachi had prophesied, the reality of the presence of God must have seemed missing. Why else would so many flock to John the Baptist, or even to Christ? Of course the priests would have recognized this phenomenon as well so Jesus sends the leper to them to verify that God was truly at work, and He sends the leper not as a rebuke but actually has the leper fulfill what the law requires. This leaves the priests with no legitimate recourse against Christ.
Again, it is so important to realize that the leper came under the Lordship of Christ and was in full submission to the will of Christ and knew that his state of being was dependent upon Christ’s will.