The Best of Men, the Worst of Men
A sermon based on Mark 1:40-45
Sunday, January 25, 2015 – Pentecost 3B
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." So begins the famous opening line of Dicken's classic, A Tale of Two Cities, as he describes the juxtaposition of the wealthy and the poor in London and Paris. A seeming contradiction describes how things were the very best that they possibly could be and at the same time they were the very worst that they possibly could be.
This morning we hear of a man who was the best of men and the worst of men at the same time. He was the best of men as he put his trust in Jesus and believe that Jesus was both willing and able to help him in his need. But he was also the worst of men when instead of obeying Jesus in thanks, he did the very opposite of what Jesus told him to do.
Our text describes this unnamed man who was the best of men and the worst of men in Mark 1:40-45…
40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, "If you are willing, you can make me clean."
41 Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.
43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 "See that you don't tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them." 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.
He was the very best of men! What a strong faith this leper displayed. There was no cure for leprosy—that disease that slowly ate away at your body causing nerves to fail and flesh to rot, parts to fall off and friends to flee. The diagnosis of leprosy was not only a death sentence, but a condemnation to die alone—away from family and friends, banished to live among the other lepers also condemned to die.
And yet, this man had more than just a lingering hope. He was certain that Jesus could heal him if he were willing. There was no question at all about Jesus' ability to cure the incurable. A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, "If you are willing, you can make me clean."
And he believed that Jesus was both willing and able to help him in his desperate situation. And after all, if Jesus were willing, but not able, he was powerless to help. And, on the other hand, if he were able, but unwilling, the man still would receive no aid. But Jesus was both willing and able. And this man believed.
Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.
What a great faith! How this man was the best of men!
Ah… but he was also the worst of men.
Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: "See that you don't tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them." Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news.
Jesus gave this former leper a very specific command. Don't tell anyone what I just did. And what a relatively easy command to keep it was, when you consider that he didn't have to do anything to keep it. Literally just "say nothing" and keep the news to himself and he would obey Jesus' command.
But does that command seem confusing to you? After all, doesn't Jesus want us to talk about him? Doesn't he want us to spread the news about him?
Well, apparently it was a confusing command to this former leper who thought he knew better than Jesus. And he disobeyed a direct command from the Son of God who had just healed him. Instead of keeping quiet, he blabbed to everyone he saw.
But Jesus didn't want people talking about his miracles just yet. He knew that people would flock to him all right, but he also knew that they would flock to him for the wrong reasons. They would view him only as a miracle worker who would multiply their bread and give them lots of fish, who would cure their diseases and give them money from the mouth of a fish. They would look for him to cure the symptoms without concern for the real disease of sin.
Yes, Jesus knew best. But this man thought he knew better. So he disobeyed the direct command of Jesus himself: "Don't tell this to anyone." Yes, he was the worst of men.
Ah… but before we look down on him too much, it doesn't take much examination to see how often we too have disobeyed a direct command of Jesus. We don't do what he tells us to do. We do do what he tells us not to do. And we, too often thinking we know better than Jesus, go against what he says. And then we have the audacity to get angry with him when he isn't the kind of Savior we want him to be.
"Save me from my back pain. Save me from my emotional pain. Save me from my financial pain. Save me from problems and suffering and boredom and unhappiness. And if you were willing and able to help this leper, then why aren't you willing to help me? Why won't you take away my pain?!"
He promises that he's somehow working all things for our good. But we don't understand. We're confused by his insistence that must endure suffering. And we think we know better than him. So we look for our own solution, in a bottle, in self-serving laziness, in ungodly entertainment. And we disobey the direct commands of Jesus. Oh, how we too are the worst of men!
But Jesus, the very best of men, is willing and able to help us. Perhaps not always in the way we wish he would help us, since he may not always be willing to take away our pain, but he is always willing to work it for our good. He is always willing to use the consequences and circumstances that we face to draw us back to him and back to his Word.
And there he shows us again what kind of Savior he is: A savior from sin, our Savior from sin, a Savior from our disobedience to his very clear commands, a Savior from our rebellion against God, a Savior from death, a Savior from the hell we all rightly deserve.
There is no doubt that he is able to help us. He revealed clearly who he is by his miracles—the very Son of God from heaven, come to help us in our need. And there is no doubt that he is willing to help us. He revealed that clearly on the cross—that he is willing to go to hell and back to save us from it.
And so, now, you and I really are the very best of men! We are perfect and sinless! That is what God has declared us to be! And you know that God does not and cannot lie! This is who you are—the very best of men!—in Christ.
Now, go be what God has declared you to be: the very best of men! Be the very best as you put your trust in him above all things. Trust in him who was willing and able to pay for your sin. Trust in him who is willing and able to work all things for your good.
And be the very best as you obey him and do what he says as you express your thanks to him! Do what he says even if you don't fully understand why he says it. Trust that he knows best and obey.
And for us, he no longer says, "Don't tell anyone," but "Tell everyone!" So don't keep quiet, but speak up! Share the Best of Men—Jesus—with others. When they're hurting, remind them that while he never promised to take away all pain in this life, he did promise to take away their sin, their guilt, and their shame. He promised to take away their punishment and the hell they deserve. He promised to work all things—even their pain—for their eternal good. He promised to be with them always and to give them the strength they need to endure to the end.
Talk about your faith. Invite a friend to join us some Wednesday night or Sunday morning. Invite them to lunch or to a cup of coffee to share what you know of Jesus. Or, simply share this sermon with them to share your Savior.
No longer keep quiet, but go and tell that they too might know the best of men—Jesus—and what he's done to make us, the worst of men, the best of men. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.