Transferring the burden to Him

Published 9:53 pm Friday, February 26, 2016

By Dr. Thurman R. Hayes Jr.

“And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, ‘If you will, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus…said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone…’ But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter” (Mark 1:40-45).

The first thing we notice about this incident, which takes place early in the ministry of Jesus, is that the leper is not supposed to be there.

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In the world of the first century, this skin disease was considered to be both contagious and ritually unclean. Therefore, lepers had to live outside the towns and cities, in desolate places. They could not come within 50 paces of a person without leprosy, because touching a leper made one ritually unclean.

Therefore, as terrible as leprosy was physically, it was even worse psychologically and emotionally, because it isolated the person from human contact.

But here is Jesus intentionally making contact. He could have healed this man without touching him. He could have just spoken the word, and his leprosy would have disappeared. But Mark tells us that Jesus “stretched out his hand and touched him.”

Max Depree, in his book, “Leadership Jazz,” tells about the birth of his granddaughter, a little girl named Zoe. Born prematurely, Zoe was so tiny that Max could slide his wedding ring up her arm to her shoulder. She was given only a slim chance to live.

Zoe’s father had checked out during the pregnancy, so a caring nurse in the NICU said to Max, “You are like the surrogate father to Zoe, so here is what I want you to do. I want you to visit her every day, and gently caress her with the tip of your finger. And as you are doing that, I want you to tell her over and over how much you love her. She has to be able to connect your voice and your touch.”

Jesus, in compassion, gives this man his voice and his touch. He does the same for us.

He gives us the Bible, which is his voice. It is his love letter to us. He gives us his touch, which we find in the church, in our brothers and sisters in Christ, and in the Holy Spirit, who constantly reassures us of God’s love.

Notice how Jesus and the leper trade places. At the beginning, the leper has to live outside of town, in desolate places. But after he goes out and tells everyone, Jesus has to live outside of town, in desolate places.

Jesus has relieved the leper of his burden, but he has placed a burden on Jesus.

This is what Jesus has done for us. At the cross, he took the burden of our sin on himself, so that we could be relieved of it. On the cross, Jesus died outside the city gates, so that he could bring us inside, to the presence of the Father.

Dr. Thurman R. Hayes is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.