In Mark 1:40-45, Jesus makes a leper clean, and in a way that may surprise you.

Here’s a man with leprosy, a skin disease, and the Old Testament says that he has to declare himself “Unclean, unclean!” This leper is in exile. He’s an outcast. No wonder he calls upon Jesus: “You can make me clean.” So Jesus makes him clean.

But then something curious happens. Jesus instructs the former leper not to tell anybody about his miraculous healing. Jesus says this sort of thing all throughout the book of Mark. Why? Because Jesus knows that if everyone starts publicizing what he’s doing, the miracles will become a distraction. Worse, they will get the wrong people’s attention at the wrong time. The Jewish leaders will notice him (even more). They will get jealous (even more). Everyone will be confused (even more) about what sort of Messiah Jesus is. And the constellation of all this confusion could lead to Christ’s premature death–before all has been accomplished. That’s why Jesus instructs the leper not to say anything.

Nevertheless, the healed leper, ignoring Jesus’ exhortation, goes out and starts telling his story. And sure enough, the crowds hear about, people start flocking to Jesus, and he can no longer openly enter a town. Just like he thought, the miracle has become  distraction, a diversion, and possibly a danger. So the episode ends with Jesus out in desolate places.

Do you see what has happened? The leper, who was an outcast, comes to Jesus so that he might be cleansed. Jesus gives him his cleansing and restores him to community. He has a new life. But after this great miracle where do you find Jesus? He’s alone. He’s out in desolate places. He’s become an outcast. The leper and the Christ have traded places: the outsider is brought in as the Chosen One is cast out.

This is how sinners enter the family of God. Because the Son was forsaken by his Father, we can join the household of God. For us to be made made clean, Christ had to be reckoned unclean for our sakes. Jesus didn’t overlook uncleanness; he conquered it. And he didn’t just conquer it; he traded places with it.

For lepers–of every kind.

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10 thoughts on “How Jesus Traded Places With a Leper”

  1. Wesley says:

    One of the many beautiful pictures of Christ’s supreme redemption that i had not yet considered and i pray i will spend the rest of my life discovering. This helped me worship today, bro.
    many thanks –
    W.

  2. anaquaduck says:

    Reading the old, then the new, certainly makes me scratch my head at times seeking to understand the significance of some things. As far as advertising goes it would have been great yet something more is at stake.

    It raises a few questions regarding yesterday’s post too. Who would Jesus meet with, only the middle class, or working class with their identifying cultures. Jesus certainly challenges the heart & calls us to consider how things are measured in heaven no matter our circumstances.

    Immeasurable mercy & sacrifice… Psalm 103

  3. ATB says:

    Thanks for this one, Kevin! Especially profound.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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