Jesus Cleanses the Leper — Matthew 8:2–4

Like the leper Jesus healed, Christians are cleansed for a purpose. To be cleansed by Jesus costs us nothing, but it also costs us everything.

Jesus Cleanses the Leper — Matthew 8:2–4
photo by Nathan Dumlao


  • Many believed that Matthew’s gospel was the most highly regarded, and it was the most often quoted Gospel during the first 4 centuries of church history. (Boice 9)
  • It is the longest gospel, the most Jewish, and so it's no wonder that it was placed first in order when the NT had finally been canonized.
  • Matthew had several goals when he wrote this gospel, but his greatest desire was to show that Jesus of Nazareth was Israel’s promised Messiah which the Hebrew Scriptures had prophesized.
  • Matthew argued for Jesus' identity as Messiah King with his first sentence.
    • 1:1–17: Matthew gives the royal genealogy of Jesus showing that he was truly "the son of David, the son of Abraham."
    • 1:18–25: Matthew affirmed Jesus the Messiah was born from a virgin.
    • Chapter 2: Matthew chronicled that magi from the East devoted to recognize new kings throughout the world recognized Jesus as King.
    • Chapter 3: Matthew records that after John had baptized Jesus, God the Father spoke from heaven to testify that Jesus is the Son of God.
    • Chapter 4: Matthew compares the temptation of the first Adam to that of Jesus the second Adam. While Adam had failed, Jesus was victorious.
    • Chapter 5–7: Matthew transcribes perhaps the greatest expository sermon ever preached, highlighting the authority of Christ Jesus.
    • Chapter 8–9: Matthew records 9 short stories of Jesus performing miraculous signs that confirm his identity as the promised Messiah.
  • The first of nine stories is the one we just read. I've divided this short story (72 English words) into four sections: the Predicament, the Plea, the Pronouncement, and the Purpose.

1. Predicament (v.2a)

  • "And behold" (Not translated in most English tr. like NASB and NIV)
    • The word "behold" is used frequently by Matthew frequently to introduce something sudden and unexpected. Something exceptional.
    • 1:20; 2:13, 19 (Behold, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph)
    • 1:23 ("Behold, the virgin shall be with child")
    • 2:1 (Behold, magi from the east) AND 2:9 (Behold, the star)
    • 3:16 (heavens open) AND 3:17 (God the Father speaks)
    • 4:11 (angels minister to Jesus after his temptation)
    • 8:2 (a leper came to Jesus) - sudden, exceptional, extraordinary
  • "A leper came to Him" (v.2a)
    • The modern understanding of Hansen's disease and leprosy was first described around 300 BC by physicians in Alexandria and Egypt (NET Study Notes)
    • During the time of Christ, the Greek word for leprosy was still understood as a generic term for serious skin disorders that were chronic, progressive, and diffuse. (penetrating the deep tissues of the body)
    • Luke 5:12: man "full of leprosy." "covered with leprosy." (NIV, NASB)
    • God explicitly commanded Israel to put out every leper (Numbers 5:1–2)
    • For a leper to approach Jesus (inside the city) was astonishing. (Lk 5:12)
  • Read Leviticus 13:1–3, 45-47
    • v.1–3: God instructs one with possible leprosy to go to the priests to confirm the diagnosis (Not as a physician, but as a public health official)
      • Leprosy was feared more than any other medical diagnosis like cancer.
    • v.45–47: The worst ailment a person could have was leprosy.
      • Worst was not the illness but severed fellowship with God and society
    • No one is born with leprosy. It was acquired and like a death sentence.
    • Naaman with leprosy; the King of Syria writes and gives 70 kg of gold.
      • King of Israel responded, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy?” (2 Kgs 5:7)
  • The predicament is leprosy: a leper cannot heal himself. He is ostracized from society including his family. Even worse, he is separated from God.

2. Plea (v.2b)

  • "and knelt before Him"
    • "and bowed down before Him" (NASB) "worshiped Him." (LEB)
    • This verb depicts a posture of prostration
      • The leper is on his knees with his head facing the ground.
      • This reaction is reserved for two parties: royalty and deity.
      • Jesus is both: Messiah King and Sovereign God
    • This verb form suggests that he remains in this posture for some time.
      • "[the leper was] imploring [Jesus] and kneeling." (Mark 1:40)
      • "[the leper] fell on his face and begged [Jesus]." (Luke 5:12)
  • "Lord,"
    • In his posture of prostration, "Lord" meant more than a polite title.
  • "if you will, you can make me clean." (Omnipotence AND Sovereignty)
    • One of God's attributes is his possession and prerogative of free will
    • As God's image bearers, we have a will too (ability to make choice). But our will, as Jonathan Edwards describes, is always influenced by our desires and affections which are tainted by our residing sinful nature.
      • Paul describes our former selves as "slaves to sin." (Rom 6:6)
      • Martin Luther wrote that our human will is under sin's bondage.
    • God is different. He has a free will (true liberty), and he has the authority and right to exercise his free will including to whom He bestows mercy.
      • Read Exodus 33:18–19
      • Moses asks for a full disclosure of God’s glory and to see His face.
      • God could have disclosed any attribute: holiness, love, omnipotence
      • In v.19, God chose to highlight his free will and divine prerogative.
    • The leper recognized that God is omnipotent and all-powerful.
    • The leper acknowledged God as sovereign. God reigns. God decides.
    • God has full authorization and entitlement to His choices which by definition are always just and good. That is what makes Him God.
    • Even if Jesus chose not to cleanse the leper, Jesus is the sovereign Lord.

3. Pronouncement (v.3)

  • "Jesus stretched out his hand" (v.3a)
    • "stretched out" is the same verb as Matt 14:31 when Peter walked on the water toward Jesus and started to sink.
    • As Peter began to sink, "Jesus stretched out His hand." (Matt 14:31)
  • "touched him"
    • Nobody touches a leper. (Lev 5:3)
    • Touching a leper brought uncleanness and guilt (Morris 190)
    • Jesus could have cleansed the leper without physical touch.
      • Healed the centurion's servant from a distance. (8:5–13)
    • This leper likely had forgotten what it felt like to be touched by another human being.
    • God is spirit. Never in the OT could we see this aspect of God's character. Putting on true humanity, the 2nd person of the Triune God stretches out his hand and touches the leper.
  • "I will; be clean." (v.3b)
    • “I will”: Jesus removes any doubt to the leper regarding His willingness.
    • "Be clean" = pronouncement imperative
      • It is a command or an imperative in the passive voice.
      • Matt 8:13 - Jesus tells the centurion, "It shall be done."
      • Mark 4:39 - Jesus commands the sea, "Be still."
      • LXX Genesis 1:3 - God said, "Let there be light."
  • "immediately his leprosy was cleansed" (v.3c)
    • All three synoptic gospels declare, "immediately."
    • It is the same manner as God's miraculous work of conversion.

4. Purpose (v.4)

  • "See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them."
  • Without delay, Jesus gives several commands to the leper.
    • Negative command: "See that you tell no one"
    • Positive command: "Go." This is urgent. Don't delay.
      • "show yourself...offer the gift that Moses commanded."
  • Read Leviticus 14:1–7, 10, 21–22
    • v.1–7: [this leper needed to leave Galilee for Jerusalem to obey Jesus]
      • Ceremony does not heal but ceremonially cleanses the former leper.
      • the dead first bird represents the hopelessness of the former self.
      • the released second bird represents the freedom of the new self.
    • v.10, 21–22
      • two male lambs, one female lamb, 7 liters of fine flour, and about one-third of a liter of oil.
      • one male lamb, 2 liters of fine flour, still 1/3 L of oil, and two turtledoves or young pigeons.
      • lepers had no money, possessions, property, or livelihood
      • lepers had to depend on others for this costly offering
    • Obedience has a cost (immediate, inconvenient, expensive)
  • For what purpose does Jesus cleanse the leper? For service to God.
    • Ephesians 2:8–10
    • God’s workmanship in Worship
      • The leper was to be declared clean so that he can restore his fellowship with his family and his community.
      • The leper was to be declared clean so that he could worship God in the way God had prescribed. (Something he couldn’t do as a leper.)
    • God’s workmanship in Evangelism - "for a proof to them"
      • "as a testimony to them" (NIV, NASB); “them” = priests or wider audience
      • Priests can declare the leper clean, and then the leper could testify afterward that it was Jesus of Nazareth who cleansed him of leprosy.
    • The leper was cleansed for the purpose of service to God in worship and evangelism.
  • Application
    • We are in a similar predicament. Our predicament is not leprosy; it’s sin.
      • We are slaves to sin. We are enslaved to its power and its penalty which is eternal death and absolute separation from God.
      • Like the leper, we cannot save ourselves. No created being or thing can save us or cleanse us of our sins.
      • We are helpless. We are spiritually destitute. We are more or less dead.
    • Plea:
      • The only thing we can do is to plead to God like this leper. "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean."
      • Scripture says that God will answer this plea.
      • Recite Romans 10:13 and Matthew 5:3
    • Pronouncement:
      • Hearing our plea, God will forgive us and pronounce us clean.
      • Recite 2 Corinthians 5:21
      • God imputes Christ's righteousness on us. God declares us forgiven. God pronounces us clean. Christ took on all punishment for our sins.
      • “But [the leper] 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.” (Mark 1:45)
      • Jesus foreknew this, and yet he was still willing. “I will, be clean.”
    • Purpose:
      • Jesus saved us and cleansed us for a purpose
        • Jesus wants complete and immediate obedience. He wants our entire life for His service, and He wants it now. Today.
      • To be cleansed by Christ Jesus required us nothing.
      • But it also costs us everything, because Jesus is now our Lord.
      • Recite Galatians 2:20
      • Read Matthew 10:37–39 - Christ must be preeminent. Christ is Lord.
      • Read Matthew 11:28–30 - "My yoke is easy, and My burden is light."


  • There are two types of people in this sanctuary today.
    • First are on the wide path that leads to destruction. Understand your dire predicament. Plead for forgiveness so you can be pronounced clean.
    • Second are on the narrow path. You have been cleansed for a purpose. That purpose is full obedience to God for His service and His glory.
    • Will you obey God even if it’s inconvenient, costly, and lonely? Will you surrender all to Jesus today?
  • Judson W. Van DeVenter (1855–1939)
    • He was an accomplished artist and musician. Seeing his abilities, his friends urged him to quit his job and become an evangelist. For five years he wavered between the ministry and seeking recognition as an artist.
    • "For some time, I had struggled between developing my talents in the field of art and going into full-time evangelistic work. At last the pivotal hour of my life came, and I surrendered all. A new day was ushered into my life.”
    • At the end of this process, he pens these lyrics.

All to Jesus I surrender
All to him I freely give
I will ever love and trust Him
In His presence daily live
I surrender all
I surrender all
All to thee, my blessed Savior
I surrender all