Isolation is brutal. If we learned anything from the last few years of COVID-19, it’s that isolation is brutal. For a time, the masses got a glimpse of the pain and loneliness experienced by many who are outcasts for one reason or another. The experience has been a window into the lives of the lepers we see present in the pages of the Bible, the many men and women whose lives were turned upside-down by a skin disease they couldn’t control.
I feel for them.
As I’ve grown in my understanding of Scripture, I’m thankful for how the redemptive story of the Bible gives hope to the hopeless, life to the lepers.
Leviticus 13-14 is a section of Scripture that outlines the laws for navigating leprosy, a biblical umbrella term for various skin diseases. A quick reading highlights the harsh reality for lepers. Listen to verses 44 and 45: “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.”
A unique, image-bearing creation of God dwindles to a shell of themselves; isolation takes hold. And notice… it’s not just an isolation from others, but an isolation from God. To dwell outside the camp meant that the leper was cut off from access to the tabernacle, the very presence of God.
Can you picture their pain?
On top of all this, what you’ll notice as you read these chapters is that there’s no cure for leprosy. There was no ointment or shot or pill they could take that would take away the leprosy. It came down to whether or not God chose to heal them. The priest’s job wasn’t to administer medical care or cure the disease; no, they could only identify whether or not the healing had occurred. When the healing had occurred, the priest’s job was to ritually cleanse the leper, to declare them ceremonially clean. This was a matter of religious ritual, not of physical healing.
I’m going to summarize the nature of leprosy, and I want you to identify anything else that fits the description.
It leads to death. It separates people from God. It destroys relationships. It can’t be hidden. It has no cure apart from God.
Sound familiar? If you read the first few paragraphs and started feeling glad you aren’t a leper… I have some news for you. Leprosy is a picture of sin!
The Old Testament prepares us to see that leprosy is really a picture of the sinfulness of man. Only some people were literal lepers; all are sinners.
Here’s where Jesus comes in, and this is so, so great.
See, Jesus is described across the New Testament as both the greater High Priest and the greater temple. I encourage you to look back at the post from last week to see how this is evident even in the Old Testament. Jesus, as the greater High Priest, is able to provide healing. He doesn’t just go through a ritual to declare people ceremonially clean, he actually restores them from the inside out. He can cure the disease. Jesus, as the greater temple, brings the presence of God to the outcasts instead of leaving them outside the camp, separated from God’s presence.
We see all this present in the nature of Jesus’ healing ministry. Have you ever thought about how Jesus spent so much of his time on earth healing people physically? As great as these healings were, they weren’t his main focus. He didn’t come just to heal people of their surface-level sicknesses and ailments. This would be a waste of time. A pointless game of whack-a-mole. He’d be fixing up broken pieces on a conveyor belt toward decay and death. If he didn’t take care of the root issue, the surface issues would keep coming.
And that’s where it’s important to recognize that the root issue is sin. Sin is what causes death and decay. So that’s why Jesus had more on his to-do list than healing people physically all day, every day. He needed to preach, he needed to get to the cross, and he needed to get out of the tomb. Only after all that would he have the true solution to humanity’s problem.
As we look at the Old Testament laws about leprosy, we see a picture of our deathly condition before our holy God. We see our need for God– for Jesus– to step down to earth and heal us. To be our great High Priest. To be the presence of God for us. And praise God, he has.
Whatever ailments are causing us to groan and cry out, we followers of Jesus can rejoice knowing that our greatest ailment has been taken care of. We have been cleansed. We have been healed. If our bullet wound has been addressed, surely our paper cut will as well. Maybe it won’t be today, but we have assurance from Revelation 21:4 that it will happen one day: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”