On an earlier occasion, we considered a leper’s faith in Christ, and saw that the Lord Jesus had cleansed him of his leprosy. Now, in the next few verses, we will consider this man’s obedience— or rather his wilful disobedience—to the Lord’s command. Thus, in verses 42 to 44, Mark writes:
Mark 1:42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”
Somewhat understandably, this man who was now rejoicing in his cleansing from defilement could not wait to tell everyone what Christ had done for him. Nevertheless, obedience to Christ must take precedence over our zeal to speak of his marvellous work in our lives. In this case, Jesus was intent on ensuring that his Father’s name was honoured. He wanted this cleansed leper to comply with the ceremonial law by presenting himself to the priest in the house of the Lord. Only after his formal clearance by the priests of the temple would this man be free to speak of his cleansing from leprosy at the hands of the Lord Jesus.
Thus, Jesus expressly commands this man to remain silent about his cleansing. Before he did anything else, he was to make his way directly to the priest. The priest would then examine him and would offer on his behalf the sacrifice required by the Mosaic Law. Thus, Jesus was ensuring that testimony was borne to those who ministered the Law of the Lord, and that God’s Law relating to cleansing and purification was fulfilled (Lev. 14).
But how did the cleansed leper respond to Jesus’ command? Mark answers this question for us in verse 45 by writing of the man:
Mark 1:45 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.
Sometimes, our testimony to what Christ has done can actually prove harmful, when—as here— it is borne at the wrong time, in the wrong place, and in defiance of Christ’s express command. Bearing testimony for Christ can never act as a substitute for, or excuse, our disobedience to him. The Lord Jesus had given this man an explicit command:
(44) “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”
What were the consequences of this man’s disobedience and ingratitude? Clearly, it must have affected his spiritual life and his relationship with God. We have no record that he ever subsequently attended the temple. But those who do not attend the house of the Lord are not qualified to bear witness to the works of the Lord. This is another reason why obedience must precede, and take priority over, our witness-bearing. Where, however, we remain obedient to the Lord and to his Word, our witness for him will prove fruitful, effective, and glorifying to God.
Another consequence of this cleansed leper’s disobedience was the negative effect it produced on Jesus’ active ministry. This man’s testimony had brought unsought and unwelcome publicity to Jesus’ power to heal. However, the Lord’s healing ministry was only ever intended to authenticate his mission as the Saviour, and to prove him to be the Anointed One of God. Now, however, Jesus could no longer enter the towns, because— for the most part— this class of people was not looking for the Saviour and Deliverer from sin, but for a wonder-worker and healer.
For this reason, Jesus now remained outside the towns, in more remote or lonely places. Even there, however, many people discovered him and flocked to him from everywhere.
How great indeed was the spiritual need and hunger of these people! When people hear the Word of the Lord proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit, many of them cannot help but recognise their sin and need. Then, they seek out the One who is able to meet that need and to feed and satisfy their hungering souls. They seek the living Word; for that Word alone can touch and challenge a person’s heart in a way that no other word or message has the power to do. God’s Word speaks of the only One who is mighty to save. This Word addresses and challenges the hearts of all those who are in spiritual distress and who are burdened by sin and guilt. The One who provides eternal life invites all those who hunger and thirst for righteousness to come unto Him for full and free forgiveness, rest, and peace with God. (Matt. 11:28-30)