Leprosy is a highly contagious debilitating disease that causes severe disfiguring skin sores and nerve damage in the arms, legs, and body. The disease has been around for thousands of years and a cure was only discovered in the 1950’s that is a multi-drug treatment that takes 6-12 months to administer; if leprosy is diagnosed early enough without, the affected person can be cured without long-term disability.
Because the leprosy bacterium attacks the nerves, which then affects the skin, it is not so much a skin disease as it is a disease of the nervous system. One of the symptoms of leprosy is the loss of the sensation of pain due to the extensive damage it causes to the nerves. Those suffering from leprosy experience “disfigurement of the skin and bones, twisting of the limbs, and curling of the fingers to from the characteristic claw hand. Facial changes include thickening of the outer ear and collapsing of the nose.”
Leprosy was, and continues to be, a feared disease because of the deformity it causes to a person as it remains a highly contagious disease spread by physical contact as well as by droplets from the upper respiratory tracts that can be transmitted from person to person. For the person who contracted leprosy among the Hebrews, that person was to be driven outside the community of Israel to protect the rest of the people from becoming infected. The Mosaic Law in the Old Testament gave special instructions for the way a leprous person was to be treated: “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” (Leviticus 13:45–46). In Numbers, we are told why the leprous person was to be put out of the community of Israel:
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the people of Israel that they put out of the camp everyone who is leprous or has a discharge and everyone who is unclean through contact with the dead. You shall put out both male and female, putting them outside the camp, that they may not defile their camp, in the midst of which I dwell.” And the people of Israel did so, and put them outside the camp; as the Lord said to Moses, so the people of Israel did.” (Numbers 5:1–4, ESV)
Of all that would make a person unclean, leprosy served also as a reminder of the dangers of sin and the consequences of it if left unaddressed or treated. It has catastrophic consequences on our relationships, especially on our relationship with God. Sin often seems small, but it spreads, and it destroys.
The dangers of the Coronavirus is not that it will kill 100% of those who contract the virus, but how contagious it is as a super virus that can be spread airborne within six feet and remain on most surfaces for upwards to 17 days. Although the Coronavirus is treatable, the danger we face is its ability to overwhelm hospitals and medical staff to the point of some who need medical treatment most, unable to receive it.
Videos are surfacing of people defying the recommendations of the CDC and WHO by licking toilet seats, ignoring recommendations of social distancing, and deliberately pretending to have the virus for the purpose of scaring others. I was in Hobby Lobby the other day and saw a person coughing and visibly sick; everything in me wished that the person would have cried out:
“Unclean, unclean!” One thing is for sure, when this is all over, I will never look at a coughing, sneezing person the same way again.
For the first time in my life, I am able to relate to days of Leviticus, Numbers, and Jesus when leprosy was a legitimate threat to entire communities. Today, if a person has been diagnosed with the Coronavirus, that person is legitimately quarantined for at least 14 days. Like all diseases, COVID-19 is reminding us that our nation is not immune to the paralysis that pandemics can cause. The virus also reminds us of our fragility. However, I am convinced that it ought to remind us of something much more deadly, and that is that we are all unclean because of a curse much greater than COVID-19. We are told what that is in Romans 3:10-18,
For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:9–18, ESV)
We were all born with a great problem. The Psalmist recognized this problem when he wrote: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5). The right response we ought to have before God concerning ourselves is: “Unclean, unclean!” Even though we are unclean before a holy God, Romans 3:9-18 is not the end of our story. There is a remedy; there is a cure! I want to use the time that we have left to look at what theologians recognize as the heart of the entire epistle to the Romans in 3:21-26.
Our Problem is Greater than Our Ability
Think about the times you applied for a job. Every job description is a list of expectations that a company has for the person they are seeking to hire. Your resumé is a document that serves to support your belief as to why you are able to meet those expectations; it also serves as your validating record that you meet the standards set by the one running the company from which you are seeking work.
When you craft your resumé, you include not just the experiences of your past and present that qualify you for the job, but a list of reasons why the company should consider you above all other candidates. To do this, you may include on your resumé your hobbies, places you volunteered, and a list of references who are able to vouch that you are the best qualified person for the position. What I have learned over the years is that a resumé, if not done properly, can give the impression that you are either overqualified or underqualified for whatever job you are applying for.
God has a standard, and that standard is summed up in one word: “righteousness.” Some believe that the bar of God’s standard for righteousness is pretty low. What I mean by low, is that if we just did enough good things, we can meet that standard of righteousness. Just about everybody recognizes that we all are guilty of doing things that fall into the “not so righteous” category such as lying (not big lies, just the little ones), cheating, and unkind words or deeds. However, if we just do enough “good” we can rise up just enough to meet God’s expectations to qualify. The problem is that the standard of righteousness is equal to God’s own righteousness, which is perfect.
In Romans 3:9-18, we are given a list that is essentially the spiritual resumé we were born with, and that resumé says that we are not righteous, we are not seekers of God, we are not doers of good, we are liars, we are filthy, we are violent, and we lack the right amount of awe and reverence for the One whose standard is total and complete righteousness. According to the Bible, our problem is great and there is no program, no legislative power, no law, or remedy outside of ourselves that can fix our sin-problem. What we need is a righteousness outside of ourselves.
I am reminded of the story about two notorious members of the Italian mob who were not only twin brothers, but also known for being the most ruthless, violent, and immoral men in their community. When one of the brothers was murdered, the other brother met with his local priest whom he told that he would give a very large sum of money to the church on the condition that he speak very highly of his brother and to speak of him as he would a saint. The priest agreed to the terms of the surviving brother. When it came time to officiate the funeral of the dear departed and ruthless member of the mob, the priest said the following: “The man who lies before you in this coffin was one of the most ruthless, one of the most violent, and one of the most immoral men that I have ever heard of, but compared to his surviving brother… he was a saint.”
The standard of God’s perfect righteousness is seen in the Ten Commandments and the Old Testament Law. What the Hebrews and anyone else who have tried to obey the Law discovered is that we cannot. The world may see you as a saint, but the reality is that we are anything but righteous. Here is what the Bible does say about every one of us: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isa. 64:6). Paul is really clear in Romans 3:23, “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
The purpose of the Old Testament Law was to show us just how far short we fall from meeting God’s standard of righteousness. The apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 3:24, that like a teacher, “…the law was our guardian until Christ came in order that we might be justified by faith.” The righteousness that we desperately need for the forgiveness of our sins is the righteousness of God. We need another resumé that is not our own! We need to be made clean.
The Cure is Greater Than Our Problem
The good news of the gospel is that the cure God provided is greater than our problem. There is one whose resumé is perfect and it can be ours by simply believing that it is good enough. We are unclean, but there is one who has the ability to make us clean. We are unrighteous, but there is One who is perfectly righteous. We are cursed, but there is One who is the cure that we all need.
How does one receive the cure to our problem? We receive it by faith in the cure who is Jesus as the righteousness that is required and that we desperately need (v. 22). The cure is not something we must work for by doing enough good things to earn it. It is arrogant to think that you and I can do enough good deeds to meet God’s standard of righteousness; to think that I can earn my own righteousness is to believe that I can do enough good things to put God in my debt so that when I die, he will obligated to let me into heaven.
According to verse 24, the cure is the gift to be received freely, and by receiving it, I am immediately and permanently justified and redeemed. To be justified is to be made positionally righteous before a holy God. Think about what that means. What that means is that all of the righteousness that you will ever need has been provided to you through and by Jesus. To be justified is to have Jesus’ resumé of perfect obedience, perfect righteousness, and perfect holiness made yours! No longer are you seen to be filthy, evil, and unclean because you have been made clean, good, and perfect because Jesus is clean, good, and perfect.
How did God do this? He did it by putting Jesus as a propitiation (payment) by the blood that he shed on the cross in our place for our sins. The righteous (Jesus) died for the unrighteous (us). This is what Paul means by the word “redemption” in verse 24-25; we, “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”
When I think of my salvation, and how it is that Jesus’ righteous resumé became my own through faith in him, I think of the type of people Jesus touched who were considered unclean. Every time Jesus encountered an unclean person who was either dead, diseased, or ceremonially unclean, do you know what he did? He touched them and made them clean. There is one such story in Luke 5:12-16 that I want to read for you and then share some concluding thoughts:
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.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him. 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.” 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. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:12–16, NIV)
Can you picture how all who saw the man with leprosy approach Jesus reacted? Can you imagine what they shouted as the man got closer? “No! Don’t come any closer! You have no right to be here! You belong outside the city with the dogs!” Jesus could have simply said to the man: “Be clean” without ever touching him. Jesus did not need to touch the man to heal him. Can you imagine the horror of the disciples when Jesus began to reach out to the man? “Don’t do it Jesus! Don’t you dare touch that man!” What did Jesus do? After the leprous man begged Jesus: “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out and touched the man, and then he said: “I am willing, be clean!”
My dear brothers and sisters, that is what Jesus has done to us. Bible declares: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). In other words, we who were once unclean, Jesus has made clean.
So what did Jesus tell the man to do once he was made clean? He told him to, “go and show yourself to the priest” so that they are able to see you who once were unclean are now clean! After Jesus died for the sins of the world, was raised, and appeared to the disciples, he said something similar: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt. 28:19). In other words: “Go and show yourself to the world so that the world will know that Jesus is the cure who makes the unclean… clean!” You were redeemed to love.
Why were you redeemed to love? Paul tells us why in verse 26. “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justified of the one who has faith in Jesus.” You are the proof that the cure for our problem is greater than our sin, and that cure has been provided by the God who loved you and put forth his Son as the only qualifying payment for your sin on the cross in your place so that you could be reconciled to him in perfect righteousness. Amen.
 Alan L. Gillen, Answers in Genesis; “Biblical Leprosy: Shedding Light on the Disease that Shuns” (answersingenesis.org; June 10, 2007.