I recently finished a study in Matthew 8, of Jesus cleansing a leper (See Signs and Mighty Works of Jesus), and was chatting with my favorite wife during our Saturday morning tea time, rocking in our rocking chairs, and enjoying each other’s company.
We chatted about what I had found during my study. Lepers were considered rejects and outcasts, and were required to live “outside the camp”. As soon as that term was mentioned, I thought of Hebrews, where the apostle (or his representative) wrote.
Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. – Hebrews 13:13
As I studied the previously mentioned miracle, I recalled one other time this phrase occurred. It was in Leviticus 13, where Moses defined the lepers banishment from the camp. The leper was to be quarantined from those in the camp, and were forced to be “outside of the camp”
He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp. – Leviticus 13:46
Am I correct in thinking the author of Hebrews is actually equating Jesus with those who were outside of the camp, and exhorting believers to join Him outside the camp. He writes of the reproach the Lord Jesus endured, being outside the camp. To bear reproach is to experience disapproval, criticism and/or disappointment. The religious body of the nation of Israel surely poured reproach on the Lord Jesus in their dogged criticism of His teaching and His character. This reproach intensified until the ultimate rejection by the religious elite , resulting in the execution of God, the cruel crucifixion of Israel’s King.
As I have learned through my four decades of learning of the Word and the Author of life, “religion kills”. Only in the Lord Jesus do we find the source of life and His life is found through going to him, outside the camp.
This seed thought got us to thinking. Is not the church called out to be different (holy) and incur the reproach of the world? In what other ways does this description of a lepers’ colony help us understand the parallel existence of the New Testament church?
Both communities are rejected by the society they are associated with.
This parallel is somewhat obvious. Numbers 5:1-4 actually commands those in the camp to send lepers away, for they defile the camp.
In our New Testament experience, the tables flip somewhat, and “the camp”, defined in the Old Testament as being where God dwells (the nation of Israel), now is the very camp that has been rejected. To follow God, believers are to go to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. This is the very argument Hebrews brings to those first century believers associated with Judaism.
Both communities seek to be accepted by the society they are associated with.
As a comparison to the previous point, the leper most assuredly desired to be a part of the camp, to be accepted by the society he had been rejected by.
Sadly, it appears that during the church age, (if my understanding of church history is accurate), the established church has also sought acceptance of the world. This desire to be accepted seems evident in a couple ways in my understanding. Firstly, the established church sought acceptance by forcing morals upon the society, as in the medieval times, mixing spiritual authority with political force. Another way the church has sough to be accepted by society is to beg, or at least to mimic the society, in order to be accepted.
I am thankful that the church has had a remnant of believers walk away from the camp in order to maintain their allegiance to the One waiting for us outside the camp.
Both communities are small when compared to the society they are associated with.
Although highly contagious, the leper colony was to be isolated from the general populace and therefore be relatively small in relation to the camp. The infection could not spread if isolated.
So it is with the church, as it is a counter culture that has few that find it, that follow after Him and that openly confess Jesus as Lord.
It is challenging if we follow this metaphor of an infection a bit further and consider Christianity as an infectious disease that spreads rapidly if allowed.
Both communities are considered useless to the society they are associated with.
The leper colony was considered of no importance to the greater society, much like our modern society regards the church. Much of the disregard for the leper colony was due to their physical disfigurement and the ever present fear of infection. This disease resulted in a life of poverty, isolation and rejection. The greater society would not consider the leper colony of any importance.
Is not the church also considered a relic, a cast off that is not to be listened to. How often have you recently heard of the world’s desire to leave the church to history, forging a new society full of promise. The church is a “leper” in the world’s eyes. I suggest we embrace this attitude of the world towards us, in that we truly are a rejected people, and forgo any desire to join with them. Let us speak out as a conscience to a society that has no conscience, as ones who know the truth.
We may be considered useless to the world, but that isn’t our calling.
In closing, does it offend you that to be a believer is likened to a leper? Is there a social stigma with Christianity that is unacceptable to you, or that causes you a discomfort? Our life in Christ includes our dying to this old world and rejecting its opinion of the Master.
Our thoughts on the leper/believer connection will continue in our next post. As you read through this post, and thoughts came to mind, please comment below. If you know someone this post may bless, send them a link so they may join us also.
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