My father had a great voice, a deep, baritone, with a rich tone and power. Everywhere we went people loved to hear dad sing. He had a quirky thing. He sang from the side of his mouth, not straight on, out the front, like most people. He always moved his mouth to one side of the other and sang that way. (Would that make him an ambidextrous singer? He sang from the right hand side and the left hand side.) He sang during the years when Bill Gaither was king and the southern gospel hits were in vogue. Maybe the favorite for him to sing and for people to request was the classic Gaither song, “He Touched Me.”
The old people would gather around. Mom would play the introduction on the piano. And Dad would begin soft and easy, “Shackled by a heavy burden; Midst a load of sin and shame. Then the hand of Jesus touched me; And now I am no longer the same.” Then dad would hit his stride on the chorus. He would belt it out until the windows rattled and the old ladies beamed. “HE TOUCHED ME. OH, HE TOUCHED ME. AND OH, THE JOY THAT FLOODS MY SOUL…”
The Gospel of Mark is belted it out. There is no soft and easy start, like the other gospels. Matthew and Luke tell the Christmas story. John begins with the beautiful and mysterious prologue, “In the beginning was the Word.” But Mark just belts it out right from the start. Quick little comment about John the Baptist, and then he is off and running with stories about the ministry of Jesus. In the very first chapter, Jesus is baptized, tempted in the desert, calls His disciples, casts out demons, heals Simon’s mother-in-law and many others, starts a series of revivals all over Galilee, and heals a leper. Mark hits the ground running and doesn’t look back. I get tired just reading the Mark.
His favorite word is immediately. Mark uses that word 42 times in these 16 chapters. It is only used 12 times in the rest of the New Testament, and in the Septuagint, the Greek rendition of the Old Testament, it’s only used 8 times. 20 times in all the rest of the Bible and Mark uses it 42 times. I think it’s safe to say that he was in a hurry. Verse 12, “After He was baptized, IMMEDIATELY the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness to be tempted.” Verse 18, Jesus says to Simon and Andrew in verse 17, “Come follow me,” and Mark says in 18, “IMMEDIATELY they left their nets and followed Him.” And verse 42, Jesus speaks to the leper and, “IMMEDIATELY the leprosy left him and he was cured.”
Part of this is the urgency of Mark’s purpose. He is writing about 60 AD. The brand new Christians are just starting to feel the persecution from the Jews and from Rome. Maybe some of them are thinking, “What have we gotten ourselves into? I’m not sure this Jesus stuff is worth all this.” They are forgetting the miracles, the healings, the amazing works of Jesus. So Mark throws everything at them including the kitchen sink. He hauls off and as quickly as possible started wailing on them, one story after another. “Remember when Jesus did this?” “Don’t forget about this thing.” What about the time He healed this guy?” He is in a huge hurry to get as many of the stories of Jesus out there as he can before the Christ followers get discouraged and fall away.
In fact, he is so efficient in his fast paced story telling that Matthew and Luke come along behind him and pretty much just follow his outline, but flesh out the narrative. Mark is bellowing out the song of Jesus as loud and as fast as he can, until the windows are rattling and the old women are beamin. But even in His urgent, fast paced, IMMEDIATE gospel, the tenderness and compassion of Jesus comes through. One of my favorite pictures in all of the New Testament is found in an almost hidden progression of events on Mark 1:41.
Leprosy was the bane of the day when Jesus was walking on the dirt of Galilee. There was no cure. It was always fatal. It was a horrible, nasty, devastating disease in every way. Leprosy begin as a small white patch on the skin. I can imagine the terror when a man looked at his reflection in a still pool of water and saw the itchy place on the side of his neck for the first time. It would progress until it literally ate away toes and fingers, until flesh fell from ravaged bones. Death was agonizingly slow and excruciatingly painful. As horrible as that sounds, the greatest tragedy of leprosy was the isolation. The leper was forced to leave his family, his friends, his community, and wander as a homeless outcast, unclean and untouchable. If he would see someone walking toward him, he had to, by law, cross to the other side of the street and yell out, “Unclean, unclean,” so that no one would brush by him accidentally. The leper knew that his destiny was to die in abject poverty, totally alone, never to feel the touch of another human being again.
In Mark 1, the last miracle of this breakneck introduction to Jesus is the healing of the leper. Read it again beginning at verse 40. “A man with leprosy came to Him and begged Him on his knees, ‘If You are willing, You can make me clean.'” How many times have you be sure that God was ABLE to do the thing you desperately needed but you just weren’t sure He was willing? When I was a “leper,” all alone in a clinic in Arizona, separated from Doris and the boys, from my family, my church, my friends, I can tell you I never once doubted that God was ABLE to take this awful addiction away from me. I just could not believe He wanted to.
Mark goes on in verse 41, “Filled with compassion, (wow!), Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ He said. ‘Be clean.'” Here’s the picture that gets me every time. Don’t miss the order of things. Jesus doesn’t heal him, tell him to go change his stinking clothes, take a good hot, Oil of Olay bath, and then come back for a hug. Mark says, in the middle of his nastiness, before the first hint of healing, or the slightest sign of salvation, Jesus reaches out and touches the guy. The Holy Hand of God, the silky Skin of the Savior, lays right down on the rotting, putrid flesh of this outcast. Jesus, knowing all the stories about contagious disease, having seen every Purell ad ever made, does what no one has done to this guy in maybe years, He touches him. And He says these amazingly simple, but nearly overwhelming words, “I want to. Be clean.”
If you have read the first book I wrote, you know the story. I was sitting in the clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona and nasty old Carl came and sat beside me. (In fact, he looked a little bit like this leper.) I was at my lowest point ever. I felt like I was as unclean and unwanted and untouchable as I could get. And nasty old Carl sat down beside me and said, “I was praying for you this morning. God gave me a Bible verse for you, Zephaniah 3:17.” That’s what he said, but that’s not what I heard. You know what I heard? “I want to. Be clean.” And verse 42 followed verse 41, just like it always does, “IMMEDIATELY, the leprosy left him and he was cured.”
Now I don’t know what disease you are carrying today, I don’t know the shame you bear, or the stories you are telling yourself about why you are unclean and untouchable. I can tell you I have heard all those stories before. Heck, I told myself most of them. But whatever your plight, however pitiful you think you are, Jesus is reaching out right this minute and laying His beautiful hand right on your nasty old self, and He is saying, “I want to. Be clean.” Here’s the deal, you have to look close. Jesus might look like Jesus. Or He might look like Carl. But I promise you if you look, you will see Him touching you. And YOU WILL BE CLEAN.
Now that’s the way to start the New Year. The very same Jesus that Mark wrote about, the very same Jesus that touched and healed the leper, that same Jesus is reaching out for you. Right now. This minute. IMMEDIATELY! Don’t wait any longer. Quit listening to yourself say to yourself, “Unclean.” Just feel the touch, hear His words, receive His healing. Oh, and one other thing, turn you mouth to one side and belt it out with me, “HE TOUCHED ME. OH, HE TOUCHED ME. AND OH, THE JOY THAT FILLED MY SOUL. SOMETHING HAPPENED AND NOW I KNOW. HE TOUCHED ME AND MADE ME WHOLE.”