Don’t Tell Anyone
by Jack Wald | July 28th, 2019

Luke 5:12-16

An evangelist or faith healer is coming to town and the billboards proclaim, COME SEE A MIRACLE! As the music blasts from large speakers people are encouraged to seek their miracle. Testimonies are given from people who say they have been healed. One of my favorites is the claim that an unborn child, still in the womb, was raised from the dead. How do you dispute that? Or prove it?

Regardless of what you think of what happens, there is great care given to the theatrics of the event. The lighting, arrangement of the stage, the clothes the evangelist or faith healer wears, are all carefully thought out. Everything is orchestrated. It is not unlike a rock concert. The theatrics create a mood, an atmosphere, that stirs the crowd into an enthusiastic frenzy.

Here is a question I ask: Would Jesus do this? Would Jesus wear a white suit with the spotlight focused on him? Would Jesus wave his coat jacket around to demonstrate his power to “slay people in the Spirit”? Would Jesus put up billboards and distribute brochures guaranteeing a miracle?

Here is a clue to the answer to that question: (Matthew 12:38–39)
Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”
39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law wanted to see a miracle and Jesus pointed them to his death and resurrection.

In this morning’s text there is another clue.
Luke 5:12–15
While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
13 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.
14 Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”
15 Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

This story takes place in one of the towns by Lake Gennesaret in Galilee. As Jesus was making his way through a particular town, he met a man who was afflicted with leprosy. This term is used in the Bible for a whole series of skin diseases. It was not until the 19th century that the term “leprosy” was restricted to just Hansen’s Disease, what we know as leprosy today.

Because many of the skin diseases were contagious, those who were afflicted were excluded from normal society. They were not allowed to have any physical contact with others. They were not allowed to touch things that would be touched by others. They were not allowed to be in a house or room with others. They were pushed to the outskirts of towns, sleeping in caves or some other shelter.

This ostracism was commanded in Leviticus 13:45-46
“Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ 46 As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.

The instructions are very clear. The person with a defiling disease must be evident to all who see him or her. Torn clothes, messy hair, and whenever they see anyone, crying out, “Unclean! Unclean!” The lower part of the face is covered so a sneeze or cough or even the breath of the person would not contaminate anyone. If the technology had been available when Leviticus was written it would have instructed the person with a defiling disease to wear a hat with a red light that flashed so everyone could see the leper coming and stay away.

This made the life of a person with a skin disease difficult, both socially and psychologically. Not only was the person physically affected, the person was cut off from family and friends. A mother was separated from her children. A husband was separated from his wife. They were not able to attend family gatherings. No weddings. No celebrations of birth. They were not able to join in with the community at festivals.

And on top of all that social ostracism, because the skin disease was considered ritually unclean, it was associated with sin. The leper had to ask him or herself, what did I do to deserve this? What sin caused me to have to suffer so cruelly.

One commentator described this ostracism as a form of “living death”.

So consider the man who was afflicted with a skin disease who came up to Jesus. His clothes were torn. His hair was messy. He approached Jesus who was never alone. There were disciples and others who were with Jesus. He approached Jesus and those with him and instead of calling out, “Unclean! Unclean!” he fell with his face to the ground and begged Jesus, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

This took courage for the leper to do this. What might he expect? A harsh rebuke? “What are you doing here? Don’t you know the rules? Why were you not calling out, “Unclean! Unclean!”? Why have you put all of us in danger of being defiled? Go back to where you came from. You are not welcome here.”

But it is clear the leper was desperate. He must have heard that Jesus had healed people and he was desperate for healing himself. He fell with his face to the ground, a posture of humility. He makes himself completely vulnerable to whatever will happen next.

He calls Jesus “Lord,” not “Teacher” or “Rabbi”. This indicates he believes Jesus has the power to heal him. He says, “if you are willing.” His request centers on willingness, not the power to heal. He probably sees Jesus as a prophet. The prophet Elisha healed Naaman of his leprosy. This prophet, Jesus, could do the same.

How did Jesus respond? In Mark’s account of the incident, he writes, (Mark 1:41) “Jesus was indignant.” Jesus was angry, distressed, disturbed, offended by the man’s skin disease. Why?

Jesus was indignant because he came to bring the kingdom of God into this world and in the kingdom of God there is no disease, no death, no disfigurement. Jesus saw this man and knew that this is not the way it is supposed to be. Jesus saw his skin disease but he also saw the man’s suffering from the effects of being pushed away from contact with his family and friends. God created the world and all who live in it, but the world is a fallen world and the effect of the fallen world on the men and women he created is not right. It is not as it should be. It needs to be corrected.

How did Jesus respond? “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.” Jesus answered the request with a gentle touch.

How was the leper used to people responding to him? People moved away from him. They avoided him. They did not look him in the eye. He was used to distance and rejection. He had probably not been physically touched for years.

Jesus could have healed him with words. He healed the blind, sometimes with touch but also sometimes with just words. But Jesus moved toward the leper. As he moved the leper looked up from the ground and saw him approaching. The leper saw Jesus’ hand moving down toward him and then felt the skin of Jesus’ hand against his own skin. He had been touched.

His healing was instantaneous. Jesus touched the leper and instantly, the skin of the leper was clean. It did not gradually get better so that the next morning it was clean. Jesus touched him and he was physically healed. But more than physical healing took place and that healing began with the touch of Jesus. The pain of separation. The pain of being disrespected. The pain of being pushed away. The pain of being alienated. The psychological pain of the leper began to be healed. He was no longer a leper. He was no longer defined by his skin disease. He was now, once again, a man.

Jesus often touched the untouchables. In addition to those with skin diseases, he touched the frame carrying the corpse of the son of the widow of Nain. He touched Peter’s mother-in-law and healed her. He touched the woman who was unclean because of her bleeding. He touched the man who was deaf and mute. He touched Peter, James, and John when they were lying face down on the ground on the Mount of Transfiguration, terrified at the sight of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah in their heavenly glory.

Jesus touched people.

He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”

This is a spectacular miracle. It is an amazing physical miracle. And the best part of it all was the healing that began in the man’s heart and mind. He was being made whole once again.

So then what happened?

Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” 

Jesus often told people who were healed or delivered that they should not tell anyone about what had happened. This is very strange to me. It makes me laugh. How do you tell someone who has been delivered of demons or healed of a disease that has kept them away from community living to be quiet about it? Did Jesus really expect them to say nothing to anyone? If I had been there, I would have told Jesus, “Good luck with that.”

Why did Jesus say this? There are various possibilities, but there are probably two reasons. First, he wanted the man to be silent until he was officially declared to be clean by going to the priests at the temple. This was a week long process of sacrifices and inspection. At the end if his skin was still normal the priests declared him to be clean.

Second, Jesus also wanted to prevent excessive popular excitement as a result of his healing ministry. Jesus came with a mission. He wanted there to be an emphasis on his teaching and the transformation of hearts. It was not that healing and deliverance were unimportant. The lame walking, the blind seeing, the oppressed being delivered were evidence that the kingdom of God had arrived. But it was the arrival of the kingdom of God that was most important and the enthusiasm that came with the healings could be distractions. The lame walking and the blind seeing lasted until the end of this life, but the kingdom of God is eternal. Jesus was focused on the kingdom of God, not just this temporary, earthly life.

Jesus knew that excessive popular excitement was a threat to what he wanted to accomplish. After John recorded the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand he writes: (John 6:15)
Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, the devil offered him rule over the kingdoms of the world. (Luke 4:5–8)
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

Jesus did not come to be an earthly ruler; he came to die on the cross so we could be rescued and brought into his kingdom.

Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” 

Jesus told the man to show himself to the priests as a testimony to them. Jesus wanted to speak to the priests through this man who had been healed of his skin disease. The priests knew scripture just as John the Baptist knew scripture. When John was in Herod’s prison and thinking about his experience of seeing the Holy Spirit settle on Jesus at his baptism, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah. This was Jesus’ reply: (Luke 7:22)
“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.

Jesus referred John the Baptist to Isaiah 35, one of the Messianic passages. This was his way of saying to John, “Yes, I am the Messiah.”

In a similar way, when the leper reported to the priests what had happened, he was announcing to them that the Messiah had come.

Jesus told the man healed of his skin disease to tell only the priests what had happened, but you can guess that was not going to be what he did. Mark reports, (Mark 1:45)
Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.

The result was larger crowds. More people came to be healed. More people came to be delivered.

Modern evangelists, faith healers, and any other church leaders would be delighted. More people? Not a problem. This is good news, only good news. This is what success looks like. But then there comes a “but”.

Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Jesus is portrayed as seeking time with God, rather than fanning his fame. Jesus was not interested in promoting himself. He did everything he could to avoid promotion. Jesus resisted what most of us embrace.

What can we learn from this passage?

First, it is entirely appropriate to be upset by death, deformity, and disease. It is not right that people have to suffer. It should not be this way. C. S. Lewis pointed out that we know it is not right because God has put eternity in our hearts. In our hearts we know that there should not be suffering because there is no suffering in heaven. Jesus was indignant when he saw the suffering of the leper who came to him. It is right and good for us to be offended, indignant at the suffering we see around us.

Jesus put his indignation to good use, he cleansed the leper. We need to put our indignation to good use as well, caring for those around us, doing what we can to help those who suffer. We cannot help everyone, but as we have the opportunity, even the smallest things we do will be of benefit.

This past year, for the first time since March 2010, I have been permitted to visit the older Village of Hope children at the center in Meknes. It has been a great privilege and joy to see them and talk with them. They live in a center that has about 170 teenage boys which is not the ideal setting for these 24 boys and girls whose parents were taken away from them nine years ago. But the center is the best available place for them and they live in an annex which is separate from where the other boys live. This protects the VOH children but also sets them apart.

When I visit, I see the other boys standing around. The VOH kids have such an advantage. They know they have parents who love them, even if they cannot be with them. These boys have no one. They are completely alone in the world. I and others come to give presents at Christmas to the VOH children. The other boys see this and get nothing.

On my last visit I went out of the center to get in my car and come back to Rabat. I said goodbye to the VOH kids who walked me to the car and as I was pulling out, one of the other boys came up to my car window, smiled, said hello, and asked if he could have my phone number. I said, “I’m sorry, but no,” and drove away. I thought of him all the way home and continue to think about him.

These other boys deserve to be loved, need to be loved, but there are too many of them and my life is already full with the VOH children and other responsibilities. It breaks my heart. Why did their mothers abandon them at birth? Why are unmarried mothers forced to give up their babies? Why do families not embrace these children and bring them into their community? Why are there so many abandoned children in Morocco?

It is not right that these boys are abandoned. It is not right that they don’t have a future to look forward to. I wish I could help, but I cannot. It breaks my heart.

We cannot help everyone, but we need to help as many as we can, in whatever way we can.

Second, people need to be noticed, need to be touched. There are many invisible people in Morocco. There are beggars on the street who get passed with few people paying any attention to them. There are car guardians, what some people have called “walking parking meters”. There are neighborhood guardians. There are people whose job it is to serve you at a store, a restaurant, a bureaucratic office. These are people who are used to being ignored or taken for granted.

ISIS uses this as a recruiting tool in Morocco. They remind the poor that when they go to a bureaucratic office, they are made to wait while others with more wealth or a better family name get preferential treatment. They are disrespected, devalued, dishonored and are told this is because Morocco is not a good Muslim country. They say, “Come join with us and we will bring true Islam to Morocco where you will be honored, valued, and respected.”

I once bought a car, a Honda Civic, from a wealthy Moroccan woman. I brought the cash for the car to her villa and we sat in her living room where she counted all the money the bank had already counted. As we sat there, the room was a bit dark and she wanted some light. She was about three steps away from the light switch on the wall but she called, “Mohammed,” and a man came from two rooms away to flip the light switch. I was stunned.

She had grown up with servants and from her earliest years was used to telling servants what to do and then they did whatever she wanted. She did not say, “Thank you,” she just continued counting the money.

There are a lot of invisible people in Morocco who need to be noticed.

I don’t often give to beggars – that is another sermon, but I look them in the eye as I pass. I acknowledge their existence. I smile. I sometimes buy some food or drink for the guardians in our neighborhood. One time I brought a big box of pastries to give to the people who work at the arondisement putting stamps on the documents that need to be notarized. I have also given them pens. I always express my gratitude for the way they do their work. When I drive, I stop to allow pedestrians to cross the street, even when they are crossing where they should not. Number one, I don’t want to hit anyone. Number two, it is a way of telling them they exist and I can wait for them to cross. Most of the time they give me a thumbs up, a wave, a smile. It makes me feel good and it makes them feel affirmed as people. Somebody noticed them.

The people I see during the day are people God loves. They are people Jesus wants to come into his kingdom. They are much loved by God. I need to see them with God’s eyes.

Jesus looked at the leper and saw the pain of his life. He was indignant and that created compassion that brought life to a man who was living as though dead.

Third, don’t promote yourself, allow what God does in your life do that for you.

Every once in awhile I get an email from someone who tells me, “I have a powerful ministry of healing and deliverance and want to come to minister in your church.” I generally respond, “If you have such a powerful ministry, you do not need to promote yourself.” Let what God does through you speak for itself.

It is important to share with other people what God is doing. Paul did this in his letters. He encouraged churches by telling them about what was happening in other churches. Great Awakenings spread as word passed from city to city, country to country about what was happening. Good news needs to be shared. But there is a not so fine line between sharing what God is doing and promoting yourself. When you send reports about what is happening in Morocco, be aware of who you are promoting.

This leads to fourth, make sure it is God’s kingdom you are building, not your own.

Jesus could have built his own earthly kingdom. The crowds flocked to him. As John writes, they wanted to make him their king. But Jesus was working for God’s kingdom. This allowed him to resist the temptation of being popular and do what his father in heaven told him to do. He resisted worldly success so he could be successful in his father’s eyes.

Whose kingdom are you building?

Let’s say you lead a bible study and have done that for two years. Then someone new arrives in Rabat and begins coming to your bible study. As you observe, you see this new person is highly skilled at leading a bible study. People in the study like it when this person leads. How do you react? Do you resist? Work against this person? Or do you encourage this person to lead and move to a supportive position?

In one of the churches in Morocco there was a member of the church who preached from time to time. People loved his preaching and after a while the pastor informed him that the Holy Spirit had told him he needed to leave the church. The man asked why this was and the pastor said he did not need to explain what the Holy Spirit told him. The problem was that the pastor is insecure and was threatened by this man’s gifting.

This pastor is building his own kingdom at the expense of building God’s kingdom.

Fifth, spend time in prayer rather than promotion.

If you determine that your success in ministry comes from the work of God in your life, than focus on your relationship with God.

A river moves downstream. It sends water to parched lands. It feeds plants and animals. But it does this because at the source there is a continual stream of water feeding the river. If the river is to continue providing life giving water, it is dependent on the source.

We get better at what we do. We develop skills. Our teaching and preaching improve with time. We gain wisdom with time. We learn better how and when to share our faith with others. We learn how to bless others with the money and time God has given us. But any significant, meaningful blessing comes because of how God uses what we do. It is God who is at work in us and we need to deepen the intimacy of our relationship with God if we are to continue being a blessing to others.

Cut off our relationship with God and our skills and abilities will no longer produce fruit. We may continue to do what we do but there will not be life in what happens.

Jesus said, (John 15:5–6)
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

I seem to say this at the end of most sermons, but if I do, it is because this is where our life begins and ends. We are in the loving hands of Jesus. This is where we find life. This is where we find hope. This is why we persevere in reading the bible, spending time reflecting in the presence of the Holy Spirit, opening up who we are and what we desire as we talk with God about our life.

So hold on to Jesus. Work to build his kingdom. Look at people through the eyes of Jesus. Love people the way Jesus loved people. Don’t be overwhelmed. Do what you can and trust God to care for people you cannot care for. Don’t give up hope. Don’t give up.