In reading through the gospel of Mark recently, I ran across a peculiar passage.
Mark 1:40-45 is the simple story of Jesus healing a leper. Stories of this nature are strewn throughout the Bible. What struck me was not the miracle itself or even the Lord’s compassion, but the Lord’s instructions to the leper after He healed him.
And sternly charging him, immediately He thrust him out, and said to him, See that you say nothing to anyone… –Mark 1:42-43
Why did Jesus charge him not to tell anyone?
A String of Strange Commands
This is a strange command that is contrary to our expectation. Imagine it. Your life is miraculously changed, the pain of living in isolation is lifted, and then you are told to keep quiet about it? And yet this peculiar command is reiterated often throughout this gospel.
- Mark 1:34 …And He cast out many demons and did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him.
- Mark 5:43 And He strongly commanded them that no one should know about this.
- Mark 7:36 And He charged them not to tell anyone.
- Mark 8:26 And He sent him to his house, saying, Do not even enter into the village.
- Mark 8:30 And He charged them not to tell anyone concerning Him.
- Mark 9:9 And as they were coming down from the mountain, He ordered them not to relate to anyone the things which they had seen, except when the Son of Man has risen from the dead.
Such instances may seem unusual to us, but since they were uttered by the Lord there must be a reason for them.
Revealing Christ’s Character and Purpose
One basic reason is that Christ is the fulfillment of the prophesy in Isaiah 42:2.
He will not cry out, nor lift up His voice, nor make His voice heard in the street.
The Lord did not promote Himself or seek notoriety in His ministry. There are indications elsewhere that some of the Roman politicians of the day didn’t even know who Jesus was.
Another reason for this strange command is that Jesus didn’t want to attract the crowds of the merely curious. If you read through Mark with this in mind you can pick up how the crowds became a frustration to Christ’s move in His ministry. Mark 1:33-38 shows that Christ came for a distinct purpose, God’s will, not just to meet various needs among humanity. Of course He didn’t neglect the crowds, but from among the thousands that benefitted from His ministry, at the end of His life in the upper room He only had 120 disciples to carry on God’s move.
What is so interesting to me is that the healed leper goes ahead and tells everyone about what has happened.
But he went out and began to proclaim it much and to spread the matter abroad, so that He could no longer enter openly into a city, but He stayed outside in deserted places. And they came to Him from everywhere. –Mark 1:45
Leprosy in the Bible signifies the damaging results and isolating effects of sin. Specifically, if you look at leprosy in the Old Testament, it has its source in rebellion and disobedience (Num. 12:1-10, 2 Kings 5:1-14).
What is so amazing is that immediately after the leper was healed physically he disobeyed the Lord’s command! Right after he was healed, his rebellion manifested itself again. This shows how deeply rebellion is rooted within us. We may have the outward traces and symptoms removed, but within our nature we are still rebellious.
People may try and rationalize this act by the apparent result. Look at the crowds it brought Jesus! “They came to Him from everywhere.”
Yet why do we marginalize the Lord’s word for outward results?
The fact is the Lord said, “Don’t do it.” We may not understand all the reasons why the Lord has spoken to us a certain word, but we should not rationalize it away because of an opportunity we see.
Right after the leper was healed, his rebellion manifested itself in a religious way, with a good motive. This is a prime example of what it means to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, rather than the tree of life. Spreading the news about what Jesus has done in your life is certainly good. But Jesus is not interested in good per se, but life. If what we do goes against the Lord’s speaking, it may be very good but it is not of life and it may become a hindrance to something further the Lord wants to do.
The result of this disobedience may seem negligible to us. I’m sure most everyone would focus on the last sentence in v. 45 to outweigh any apparent disobedience. But what about the phrase “He could no longer”? What the healed leper did put Jesus in a position of “He could no longer.” It limited the Lord’s move and became a frustration to Him.
Does Jehovah delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of Jehovah? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice… –1 Samuel 15:22