Total Depravity: Leprosy, Sin, and Jesus

Think about the job of the Old Testament priest.  As if he didn't have enough to do he had to do the occasional skin inspection.  We read about it in Leviticus 13. The first thing that the priest had to do was figure out what he was dealing with, had the hair on the skin turned white and how deep was the infection.  Sounds like fun.  However, the fun was just starting. If the priest was unable to determine these things the person was quarantined for seven days and then re-examined.  If the leprous spot appeared to have spread, the person was pronounced unclean.  

The second test is a bit more graphic. It had to do with raw flesh resulting from the leprous condition. This person is obviously unclean. The third case had to do with boils. The fourth case had to do with burns, which followed the same pattern as the boil. The fifth case involved a sore on the head or chin. The sixth case involved a skin rash, which if dull white was taken seriously.  And the seventh case had to do with skin disease on the scalp resulting in baldness. Baldness resulting from reddish white sores rendered a person unclean.

Now, these are the cases. But the obvious question has to do with relevance. How did this OT form of leprosy have any relevance to their spiritual wellbeing?  And for that matter, what does OT leprosy have to do with us? Some scholars understand the snow-like nature of this leprosy to come from the scales and flakes of the skin disease. This particular effect of the disease indicates that the flesh is wearing away. It is eroding. 

Now, go to Numbers 12. Here we find the story of Miriam and Aaron’s rebellion. You’ll remember that the anger of the Lord burned against them.  And when God’s cloud departed from the tent of meeting Miriam was leprous.  Her skin was eroding.  It was flaking away like snow.  Look at v. 12, “Oh, do not let her be like one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes from his mother’s womb.” Miriam stood as one dead. This type of leprosy was a picture of death.  To have leprosy was to bear in the body the curse of God. And the people who had this leprosy were visible reminders of what is true for all men and women and boys and girls.  All are under the curse of death. These people were reminders of our original corruption stemming from Adam's original sin.  A parent seeing a leprous person pass by shouting, "Unclean, unclean!" should have taken the opportunity to teach their child about the total pervasiveness of sin.  It was a teaching moment.

But there is another teaching moment. In the first chapter of Mark's gospel, a man with leprosy stopped Jesus.  The man said, "If you are willing, you can make me clean." Think of what Jesus did.  Mark tells us that Jesus, moved with compassion, reached out and touched him. Do you understand the significance of that touch?  Not only would that touch have made him unclean but far worse it would have exposed him to the disease. But Jesus touched him. And in touching him the leper was made well.

Do you understand what Jesus is doing here? He is showing us the truth of what Paul would write in II Corinthians 5:21. It's a beautiful verse.  In fact, it is the heart of the gospel.  It says, “For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” My friends, that is the gospel we need today. Our world enslaved to sin needs some good news and quite frankly, this is it. The question is what will you do with it?

Jeffrey A. Stivason has been serving the Lord as a minister of the gospel since 1995.  He was church planter and now pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the Managing Editor for Place for Truth.

Jeffrey Stivason