Sunday, February 17, 2008

Leviticus 14:1-9 - Cleansing of the Leper


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Opening thought:

Since Ash Wednesday we have been in the season of Lent, a time in the traditional, mainline church calendar of 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday, a preparation of hearts for Easter, Resurrection Sunday.

Traditionally people give up something for Lent. They fast something. The Presbyterians say that the Episcopalians give up liquor, and the Methodists give up gambling, and the Presbyterians just give up chocolate.

Somebody asked a college friend of mine once, “What are you giving up for Lent?”

“Sin,” he replied. He was a smart aleck. But that’s what today’s lesson is about. Giving up the filth of sin for cleansing.

Over the next several Sundays of the Lenten Season, I will be preaching a series through Leviticus on pictures of Jesus’ Redemption and power to lead us up to a glorious Easter Sunday. Let’s start our journey today with a leper who is cleansed. By the end of this message, I pray you will see clearly that 1 Corinthians 15:17.

Pray and Read: Leviticus 14:1-9

Contextual Notes:

The lesson of leprosy here is a literally about cleansing from skin disease, but it is also symbolic of death and life in sin without Christ. Leprosy itself is a ‘parable of death.’ The horrible stench of it. It is loathsome, contagious, incurable, etc. The leprosy caused the man to be shut out from the camp and from the sanctuary. There was a double process in the cleansing rite, restoring to each.

We find this ceremony among a number of cleansing ceremonies for the Israelites. Notice that verses 1-7 give the ceremonial method of cleansing which symbolizes the cleansing of the sinner by Jesus Christ, and verses 8-9 show us the process of sanctification that the man must then cut off all the connection with carnality and worldliness.

A clearer picture of how Christ cleanses sinners is hard to come by than the image of the cleansing of the leper here in Leviticus 14. Today we will look at this ceremony that proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ

Key Truth: Moses wrote Leviticus 14:1-9 to teach the Israelites the regulations for cleansing of lepers and to point to Christ’s cleansing of sin through the symbolic nature of the elements of the ceremony’s elements.

Key Application: Today I want to show you what the Bible says about how you can be cleansed of your sin through Jesus Christ.

Sermon Points:

1. Sin separates us from God (14:1-3)

2. Christ cleanses us from our sin (14:4-7)

3. We must turn away from sin (14:8-9)

Exposition: Note well,

1. SIN SEPARATES US FROM GOD (14:1-3)

a. Leprosy requires a little explanation. It was an infectious skin disease found in persons, in garments, in houses. Leprosy is symbolic of sin acting in the flesh. If the raw flesh appears, he is unclean; the strength of the flesh is at work. If it spreads from the one spot, we have the symbolism of sin overtaking him. If he is covered in leprosy, it is symbolic to our lives today that sin has taken control of him. The leper’s (and the sinner's) most important first step is for him to confess under full spiritual discernment (meaning with another believer whom he trusts), and to confess the God's discipline which has brought to light what was acting in his nature to destroy him. Because of the leprosy, he had no participation in the assembly of God, though he was part of it. He is put out, without the camp.

b. As to purification, the leper was first considered as being outside the camp, not belonging to it;. If the activity of the disease was stopped in him, he was healed, but not yet purified. In terms of symbolism, the flesh is arrested in its activity. The enjoyment of a recognized relationship with God then needed to be re-established [1].

c. Note that the leper does nothing. Romans 4:5: 5However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.; John 6:44: No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

d. Note also that the Priest seeks the leper, not the other way round (Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.")

e. APPLICATION: This picture applies to church discipline. The offending brother has been cut off from the church. Today we want everyone in the church and happy and settled down. That was never the case until the last 75 years in the church. Up until then, if you did not behave as a Christian, then you couldn’t call yourself a member of the church, and in church conferences there were people who had fallen into sin, they had gone through the entire process of Matthew 18, and the congregation held a higher value on the purity of the church rather than the fullness of the pews. Now look at the church we have nowadays. It is full of sin. It is lifeless. It is powerless. We all look about the same or perhaps a little worse than the unbelievers out there in the grocery store this morning or four-wheeling or riding horses or at the lake. We look a little worse because we want to sit here and do our religious duty because we’re Christians and we’re good and then leave here and go live however we jolly-well please the rest of the week just like the unbelievers. There is no accountability. There is no hereafter. We can’t tell people that what they’re doing is not right. We can’t make people mad. We can’t get people upset. They might quit giving in the offering. They might quit their leadership positions in the church. They might even drop out of church. Then what would we have? I’ll tell you what we’d have. We’d have a purified church.

f. The issue is that years ago, despite the crazy idea of church discipline, churches stayed full. Why? How could that have happened? Because the churches and church members of years ago were different from the world and people were motivated to be a part of it. They wanted to be in church because it said something about their character. Church membership was a privilege for them, not a right.

g. Now I’m not talking about being mean-spirited in the church toward sinners in any degree. If we apply it to the spiritual leprosy of sin, it implies that if and when we withdraw from those who walk disorderly, that they may be ashamed, we must not count them as enemies, but admonish them as brethren, 2 Thessalonians_3:15. Matthew Henry gives wisdom on this issue back in the 1700s when churches actually held their membership accountable to a standard: “And also that when God by his grace has brought those to repentance who were shut out of communion for scandal, they ought with tenderness, and joy, and sincere affection, to be received in again. Thus Paul orders concerning the excommunicated Corinthian that when he had given evidences of his repentance they should forgive him, and comfort him, and confirm their love towards him, (2 Corinthians_2:7-8: 7Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.) And we are entrusted by our Master with the declarative power of loosing as well as binding: both must be done with great caution and deliberation, impartially and without respect of persons, with earnest prayer to God for directions, and a sincere regard to the edification of the body of Christ, due care being always taken that sinners may not be encouraged by an excess of lenity, nor penitents discouraged by an excess of severity. Wisdom and sincerity are profitable in this case."[2]

2. CHRIST CLEANSES US FROM OUR SIN (14:1-7).

a. Here's the image of the cleansing. The priest was to have one of the birds killed into an earthen vessel with fresh, living water (water drawn from a fountain or brook), that is, slain so that its blood flowed into the fresh water in the pot, and mixed with it. He was then to take the (other) live bird, together with the cedar-wood, and hyssop, tied all together with a scarlet thread, and dip them (these accompaniments) along with the bird into the blood of the one which had been killed over the water. With this the person cured of leprosy was to be sprinkled seven times (see Lev_4:6: 6 He is to dip his finger into the blood and sprinkle some of it seven times before the LORD, in front of the curtain of the sanctuary.) and purified; after which the living bird was to be “let loose upon the face of the field,” i.e., to be allowed to fly away into the open country.[3]

b. The significance. Note the beautiful imagery of the cleansing ceremony. Note the sad suffering of the one sparrow. (Hebrews 9:19: 19When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people.)

i. Two live clean birds, lit. sparrows (Hebrews 9:22: 22In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Matt 6:26: 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?)

ii. Scarlet yarn (Num 19:6: 6 The priest is to take some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool and throw them onto the burning heifer.)

iii. Cedar wood, resin a preservative and (Ezekiel 17:22: "'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain.; 1 Kings 4:33: He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. – this cleansing covers all)

iv. Hyssop (Exodus 12:22: Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning. Psalm 51:7: Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. John 19:29 Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth.)

v. Fresh water in clay pot: (The earthen vessel typifies the humanity of Christ, as the running water typifies the Holy Spirit as the "Spirit of life" John 3:5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 2 Corinthians 4:7: 7But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.)

vi. Living water with blood added, i.e. cleansing by sacrifice. ‘By water and by blood.’ John 19:34: 34Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water; 1 John 5:6: 6This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. Rev 22:17: And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.

vii. One killed, the other dipped (1 Peter_3:18: 18For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit,). (Rom_4:25) "He was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification.") Romans 6:2-4: How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? 3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

viii. The sevenfold sprinkling: a complete cleansing (Psalm 51:2: 2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 2 Kings 5:10: Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, "Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.").

ix. The freed bird. The restored leper. The leper, identified with Christ in death is also identified with Him in His resurrection. Rom_8:2: John 12:32: And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.[4]

  1. ILLUSTRATION: saying, as the leper that came to Christ, "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean", Matt 8:2 Mark 1:40; and it is grace to allow them to come near him, and amazing goodness in him to receive and cleanse them.[5]

3. WE MUST TURN AWAY FROM OUR SIN (14:8-9).

a. Wash clothes, shave off hair, come into the camp, shave all hair, wash, and bathe with water. Your clothes, that is, everything about your life, the places you go, the things on your TV and on your computer, the things in your refrigerator which do not belong to Christ must go. Your hair, that is, everything that comes out of you, your words, your actions, your attitudes that are carnal must all go. You must wash in the cleansing water of the Presence of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, dwelling in His cleansing presence. Then the leper was clean. Then you will walk in cleansing. (Zechariah 13:1: "On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.)

b. Matthew Henry: “Thus those who have the comfort of the cleansing of their sins, by the sprinkling of the blood of Christ upon their consciences, must with the utmost care and caution cleanse themselves from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, and thoroughly purge themselves from their old sins; for every one that hath this hope in him will be concerned to purify himself.”[6]

Invitation:

(Hebrews 4:12-16: 12For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens,[a] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.)


[1] John Nelson Darby, Synopsis of the Old and New Testaments, “Leviticus 14:1-57.”

[2] Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Leviticus 14:1-9.

[3] Johann (C.F.) Keil & Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Leviticus 14:5-7

[4] Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, Leviticus 14:1-7, 308.

[5] John Gill, Exposition of the Entire Bible, Leviticus 14:2.

[6] Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Leviticus 14:1-9.