And a leper came to Jesus, imploring him, and kneeling to him said, “If you will, you can make me clean.”– Mark 1:40
The last passage of chapter 1 (verses 40-45), records the miracle of Jesus cleansing a leper. It is also recorded in Matthew 8:1-4 and Luke 5:12-15.
Leprosy was the most dreaded disease in the Bible. The term “leprosy” was used to describe anything from a skin rash to Hansen’s Disease (the modern name for leprosy). Luke 5:12 says this man who came to Jesus was “full of leprosy.” This was no skin rash. It was full-blown leprosy in its advanced stages. In his desperation, he came to Jesus for help. And Jesus made him clean (Mark 1:41-42).
This story is about the miracle-working and divine authority of Jesus. This leper is only a trophy of amazing grace. The priority of this passage it what it teaches us about Jesus. But there is a lesson about prayer in the actions and words of the leper. The way he came to Jesus shows us how to go to God in prayer.
Mark 1:40 teaches us five marks of effective prayer…
Mark 1:40 begins, “And a leper came to him.” This was a scandalous act. Lepers were unclean (Leviticus 13:45-46). According to the Talmud, the closest a leper could come to someone without the disease was six feet. If the wind was blowing, the distance extended to 150 feet. But this leper disregarded the regulations and came to Jesus. It is an indication of how desperate his case was. It is also an indication how strong his faith was. He had a need no one but Jesus could meet. And nothing would stop him from getting to Jesus. Is this how you pray? The key to prayer is a heart of dependence. Pray with the holy urgency of one who has a need that only Jesus can meet. Your prayers will not mean anything to God until they mean everything to you.
The leper came to Jesus and begged him to make him clean. Mark 1:40 says he did so kneeling. Luke 5:12 says he fell on his face before Jesus. He said, “If you will; you can make me clean.” Matthew 8:2 and Luke 5:12 add that the leper addressed Jesus as “Lord.” This leper came to Jesus urgently. But he did not come irreverently. He recognized he was an unworthy leper and Jesus was the sovereign Benefactor. The first petition of the Lord’s prayer is, “Hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9). Prayer is worship. When we pray, we recognize that God is God and we are not. When a child’s language gets a little too aggressive, the parent asks, “Do you know who you’re talking to?” This is a vital question for effective prayer. Do you know who you’re talking to when you pray?
Against all odds, this leper gained an audience with Jesus. Kneeling before the Lord, he said, “If you will; you can make me clean.” No long speech. No eloquent petition. No emotional appeal. He simply presents his situation to the Lord in prayer. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns us not to think our prayers will be heard by the words we say, or how many words we say (Matthew 6:7-8). Prayer should be simple, direct, and straightforward. Do not prayer is like presenting an oral report in a class filled with a stern teacher and rowdy students. Consider prayer to be a loving conversation between a father and his children. Learn from this leper and bring the matters of your heart simply to God in prayer.
Mark tells us that the leper implored Jesus to help him. But when Mark quotes the leper, it is not a prayer request. It is a statement of faith: “If you will, you can make me clean.” The Bible speaks of lepers being cleansed, not healed. And it was believed that only God could cleanse a leper (2 Kings 5:7). This leper did not know any cleansed lepers. Yet the reports he heard about Jesus convinced him it was possible. And he came to Jesus, begging for help, and declared, “You can do it!” Effective prayer is believing prayer (James 1:6-8). As you pray, you must believe the Lord is willing to hear and able to answer prayer. Whatever the need it – even if it seems to be something impossible, like cleansing leprosy – trust that Jesus can do it.
When the leper said, “If you will,” to Jesus, he was not mixing doubt with his faith that Jesus could make him clean. And he was not questioning the love of Jesus, while affirming the power of Jesus. To the contrary, his prayer was an appeal to the tenderheartedness of Jesus. The leper believed Jesus was able to make him clean. But he recognized that his faith did not obligate Jesus to act. He did not claim his cleansing. He did not speak it into the atmosphere. He did not “declare and decree” himself healed. He put his situation in the hands of the Lord and trusted him with the outcome, whatever it would be. The most difficult prayer to pray is, “Your will be done.” It is also the most important prayer to pray. Prayer gets real when faith in the Lord’s ability learns to submit to the Lord’s authority.
What steps do you need to take to learn to pray more effectively?