THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN
This power of healing or forgiveness given unto men is not without its pressing responsibilities. This is sternly impressed upon the leper who met Jesus after having just taught his disciples the principles of the new covenant. Mark tells us that immediately the leprosy had departed the Lord straightly (a stern command) charged him to immediately go and show himself to the priest saying nothing to any man (Mark 1:42–44). He who had just beheld and was the recipient of the grace of God, is commanded to go back to the priest who was the representative of the law, which Paul says, “was added because of transgressions” (Galatians 3: 19). This man had in all probability, contracted leprosy because he ignored the law’s statutes regarding personal cleanliness. By way of figure he had not adhered to God’s truth, but now that he was healed (i.e. forgiven) he had to go back to the principles of God’s truth which Paul describes as “holy, just and good”.
This lesson was reinforced through the law’s statutes which had to be executed by the priest on the leper’s behalf. A part of that ritual was the priest’s taking of the blood of the trespass offering and putting it upon the tip of the right ear, thumb and great toe of him who was to be ceremonially cleansed. The cleansed leper, motivated by thankfulness and desiring to understand Yahweh’s means of purification and its corresponding responsibility, should have been impressed with the stern lesson that he had to dedicate himself to God’s service in his actions of listening to God’s truth, working God’s will and walking in those paths of righteousness.
There was also in this ritual, a great lesson for the priest who kept God’s law, and indeed for the whole ecclesia; for the only other men treated in this fashion were the high priest and his sons whose right ear, thumb and great toe were similarly touched by the blood of “the ram of ordination” (Leviticus 8:22–24). It spoke of a very special relationship with God. We, who have been separated unto God by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, are “a royal priesthood” which at one time “had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:9–10). Are we, as a “royal priesthood”, prepared to accept the application of the blood, symbolising the principles of the atonement, to the lepers of the ecclesia of today; to their ear, thumb and great toe?
The forgiveness of sin, symbolised by the healing of the leper is the only possible scriptural position for the leper to be allowed readmission to the ecclesia of God. The lesson is thus powerfully taught by the Lord; re-fellowship can only be attained by sincere repentance, shown by a full recognition of the evils that put him into this position to start with; confession of the sin and belief that “the Lord is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.
The Lord’s words of warning, as we have seen, did not stop with the healed leper; they extended to those who were supposed to keep the law; for in showing himself to the priest, “the gift” which Moses commanded had to be offered, was “for a testimony unto them” (Matthew 8:4). The priest, in all his law-keeping and holiness, had to be prepared to do all these things for one who had so recently been excluded as unclean. Again we are pressed by God’s word; are we prepared to put into practice as God’s ecclesia, as an holy people and a kingdom of priests, the principles of the atonement and “the law of liberty” to our own brethren and sisters?
For “whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me”, says our Redeemer. This little child, Christ says in the opening verses of Matthew 18, is like the disciple who has “turned” or being converted from the thinking and the ways of the flesh to that humble disposition of sincerely desiring to draw near to Christ; to be in his bosom, to hear his gracious words and follow him. The Lord warns, “but whoso shall cause one of these little ones which believe on me to stumble, it is profitable for him that a great millstone should be hung about his neck and that he should be sunk in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). Truly it is essential that we be exceedingly zealous in our prosecution and eradication of offences. However, the Lord shows us primarily where this burning zeal should be directed. “Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot cause thee to stumble, cut them off… And if thine eye causes thee to stumble, pluck it out…” (Matthew 18:8–9)
Concerning his little ones, some of whom may have strayed, may have been disfellowshipped and now are wandering lost in the wilderness, Christ says, “Take heed that you despise not one of these little ones, for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. How think you? If any man has an hundred sheep, and one of them is gone astray, does he not leave the ninety and nine, and go unto the mountains, and seek that which is gone astray? And if so be that he finds it, verily I say unto you, he rejoices more of that sheep than over the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:10–14).
Cases of sin and repentance, especially those involving divorce and remarriage for reasons other than the exception, will test the ecclesia’s resolve, humility and understanding of these great principles. The tragedy of the leper’s case of Matthew chapter 8 was that he did not do what his Lord commanded him. Instead of going privately to the priest for “a testimony unto them”, he published the matter abroad, so much so that the Lord was compelled to occupy the “desolate places and people were coming to him from every quarter”, the very place of perpetual wandering from which the leper had so recently been released (Mark 1:45). The Lord in bearing this man’s iniquity, was now “without in desert places”. Though sinners may be cleansed, we cannot abrogate our responsibility by turning our back on our Lord’s stern warning; nor should we forget that we are amongst those who from “every quarter” have come to him to a place where “the lost” wander. If we are truly to identify with Christ’s work then here in this desolate place in each of our hearts the truth “For the son of man came to seek and to save the lost,” ( Luke 19:10) should find its joyful transforming manifestation.