When I say the name Eric Clapton, what image comes to mind? Well, if you were raised in the 60s and the 70s the way I was, you get an image immediately of Eric Clapton. You get the image of a long-haired, guitar-playing, defiant, irreverent, self-assured, maybe even cocky musician. And this is how we knew him. This is how I knew Eric Clapton. He was a man who was very skilled in heaven. But it's very much out of character for the man that I think of when I think of Eric Clapton.
Because it's kind of a melancholy, kind of a plaintive, kind of a heavy-hearted song. The line goes like this, will you know my name if I see you in heaven? Will you be the same if I see you in heaven? You see, several years ago, Clapton had a little boy, age two as I recall, who fell through an upper story window accidentally in his home and plunged to his death in the street below. And Clapton was so stricken with grief that he literally disappeared for months, like fell off the end of the world type thing.
And when he finally re-emerged from his self-imposed exile, he re-emerged with this song that he had written to his little boy. Will you know my name if I see you in heaven? Will you be the same if I see you in heaven? And as the song goes on, you realize he doesn't have any answers to all these questions that he's asking about heaven. And as you listen, you feel the man's pain.
You can feel his confusion. You can feel his grief coming through every note and every word in this song. Not too long ago, I was watching on television when the video came on of this song. And as I sat there watching him sit and strum his guitar and sing this song to his little boy, I was really kind of overcome with emotion. I was moved to tears and I thought what I really wanted to do was kind of reach right through that picture tube and put my arms around this hurting man and give him a big hug and look him right in the eyes and tell him about the love and the assurance that he could have in Jesus Christ.
Well now obviously I can't reach through the television set, neither can you, to touch the life of Eric Clapton with the love of God. But every day, folks, you and I pass hurting people on the street, in our offices, in our neighborhoods, every day that we can reach out and touch with the love of God. In fact, we've made this the mission, the stated mission for our church. You know what our church's mission is? Touching lives what? With the love of God.
You read the front of your bulletin this morning? Yeah, touching lives with the love of God. And this morning we're going to see Jesus Christ do this very thing. And I hope that his example will be a great source of motivation for you and me to follow in his footsteps.
Let's look. Luke chapter 5, verse 12. While Jesus was in one of the towns, meaning one of the towns around the Sea of Galilee, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. Now it will really help us understand this passage if we understand leprosy and if we understand what it was like in ancient Israel. Leprosy is a bacterial disease. It's often called by another name Hansen's disease.
It's contagious. It's caught by touching the discharge that comes from the nose or out of the skin sores of people that have the disease. Today, leprosy can be treated with modern drugs. It cannot technically be cured, but in most cases it can be made inactive by these drugs. However, in ancient Israel, there was no treatment for leprosy.
There were no drugs that could stop its progress. And people who contracted leprosy lived miserable lives. The leprosy, the bacteria would slowly eat away at people's skin, making them deformed and hideous looking. What's more, as the bacteria ate away at people's skin, it destroyed their nerve endings, meaning that people couldn't feel with their fingers or their toes or their nose, for example. And that made them very prone to injuries that would then get infected and would then cause the loss of limb because they couldn't feel that they were hurting themselves. Leprosy was literally a living death. And to make it even worse, there was the rejection that went with the disease. Because since it was a contagious disease, the fear of getting leprosy was a downright paranoia in ancient cultures.
It was in Israel. The Old Testament says that anyone with leprosy had to live outside of the city. They had to live segregated lives. They were literally isolated and blackballed from all of society. And what's more, in ancient Israeli culture, a person with leprosy was under the obligation to warn other people that he had leprosy or that she had leprosy. And the way they did it is by having to cry out, unclean, unclean, about themselves whenever anyone approached them.
Now, can you imagine having to walk around and whenever anybody got near you, any other human being, you had to yell, unclean, about yourself. The way these people made a living, the way they survived is either by begging from a distance or scavenging. And apart from a miracle, this is how they would spend the rest of their lives and how they would die. Every time I think of this, I think of Ben Hur. And I think of what happened to Ben Hur's mother and sister, if you remember the movie. Confined to jail for many years when Ben Hur came back to Israel and went looking for his mother and his sister, they were nowhere to be found. They had contracted leprosy and were living outside of the city in the caves. When Ben Hur tried to go see them, they didn't even want to see him as much as they loved him and as much as they missed him.
They tried to pretend like they were dead. They told them to tell him that they were dead because they were so afraid that he would get close to them and get the disease himself. The tragedy of leprosy. And this man who came to Jesus, we need to understand, did not have a minor case.
Look at verse 12. It says that he came along and he was covered with leprosy. The Greek word here means that he was full of or filled with leprosy. He probably had parts of his fingers and his toes and his nose eaten away already by the disease.
He probably had open sores all over his arms and his legs and his face just oozing bacteria laden pus. This is the man that Jesus met in one of these little towns around the Sea of Galilee with no hope other than Jesus himself. Verse 12. And when he saw Jesus, he fell with his face on the ground and he begged him saying, Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean. This is a great prayer. If you are willing, you can make me clean. Did you notice he did not say, Lord, if you are what?
Able. He didn't say that. He said, Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean. And the reason this is such a great prayer is because this is a prayer that presents Jesus with the right kind of faith as a Christian when we're asking him to change something. You see, the issue with this leper was not God's ability, but God's will. He didn't ask whether God was able. He asked whether it was in the will of God and whether it was best for him to get what he wanted, which was healing. And I believe when any of us come to the Lord as Christians and ask for things, we need to take this man's prayer as an example of how to approach the Lord and ask for something. It's not a question of whether God is able. God is able to do anything. It's a question of what's best for us in the will of God. I don't know what you're praying for, that God would change in your life.
Maybe your life's perfect and you don't need any change, but mine isn't. And one of the things that I'm approaching God on and asking God for is to heal my daughter who has epilepsy and to change that part of our lives and our family. But, you know, I have to constantly remind myself when I ask the Lord about this, that the issue is not whether God is able. God is able. The issue is what's best in the will of God for me, for my daughter, for my family.
What does the Lord know to be best? You say, well, Lon, that's stupid. You know it would be best to heal your daughter, right?
No, I don't know that. You say, well, how could it not be? Logically, it makes no sense that it couldn't be better to heal your daughter. Yes, but you don't understand God's ways are not our ways and God's thoughts are not our thoughts. And you see, none of us are in the position to always know what's really best, are we? That's why we approach the Lord and say, Lord, if you are willing, if you know it's in the will of God and it's best for us, this is what we'd like. But I'm giving you submissive faith.
Lord, if you know it's not best, I'll accept whatever you think is best. If you really want the richest blessing of God as a Christian, this is the way you pray for things, just the way this leper did. You give God the last call, not you. Well, what did Jesus do? Look, Jesus reached out his hand, verse 43, and he touched the man and said, I am willing. Boy, isn't it nice when God says that?
I am willing. He doesn't always, but it's great when he does. Be clean. And immediately the leprosy left him. But did you catch what happened here? You say, yeah, Jesus said, be clean and the leprosy left him. Oh, but there's one other thing.
Look, it says and Jesus reached out his hand and what? Touched him. Now, remember who this is.
Remember who this guy is. This guy's a leper. Nobody touches a leper.
Nobody even wants to get within breathing distance of a leper. And I think the Greek word here means to take hold of. I don't think Jesus did this. I don't think Jesus reached out and went, be clean. I don't think he did that. Do you think he did that?
No, he didn't do that. He reached out and he took a hold of this man. He embraced this man. I wouldn't be surprised if he hugged this man and said, I am willing.
Be clean. See, here was a man who knew rejection in spades. Here was a man no human being would even get near, much less touch him. And when Jesus was willing to reach out with warmth and tenderness and touch this man and embrace him. You understand what he was trying to tell this man? He was trying to tell him, hey, look, God is not like the people you've known. God is not like the people who've rejected you and the people who've hurt you and the people who victimized you and the people who wanted nothing to do with you. God is not like that. But what he's saying to this man is every time you turn to Jesus Christ, every time you turn to God, you will find love and acceptance and forgiveness and tenderness. God's not like the rest of the world. God's love is not like the rest of the world's love. That's why he hugged the man. And I'd like to say, if you're here this morning and the world's beat you up pretty badly, if you're here this morning and the world has hurt you and rejected you and ostracized you and you don't really know what it's like to be hugged and held by the love of this world, I'd like to say to you that Jesus Christ offers you a totally different kind of love, one that will take you and accept you and love you and embrace you.
And it's free. All you have to do is reach out and take it. He's anxious to give it to you. If you're here and you've never really surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, it just opens your life up to him. Folks, there's a whole dimension of love that you're missing, that he wants to give you. I hope if you're here and you've never done that and you're tired of getting beat up out there by people who really don't love you, that you'll come to the one who really does love you, because he really does.
Maybe you feel like you're kind of a spiritual leper. Well, Jesus heals emotional and spiritual hurt, too. Just like he did for this man. Then Jesus said this to him. Verse 14.
Don't tell anybody, but go show yourself to the priest in Jerusalem and offer the sacrifice Moses commanded you to offer when you were clean as a testimony to them. And yet the news about him spread everywhere so that crowds of people came to hear him and be healed of their sicknesses. He said to this man, now look, you go right to Jerusalem in the Old Testament. It said if you were ever healed from leprosy, the thing to do is you went to the priest in Jerusalem and you had your healing validated by the priest so that you could come back into society again. And Jesus said, that's what I want you to do. You go to Jerusalem and have this healing validated by the priest.
But don't tell anybody about it on the way. You say, well, why would he say something crazy like that? Because he knew that there were enemies of his in Jerusalem who would love to trash this miracle and discredit this miracle and make sure it got absolutely no validity in people's eyes. And if the word that Jesus had done, the healing got to Jerusalem before the man did, they were going to trash it. So he said, don't tell anybody. You go to Jerusalem. Let that priest validate the healing first. Then you tell him who did it. But, you know, could you keep quiet if somebody had done this for you? Huh? Could you just walk to Jerusalem with your mouth shut and say nothing? I don't think so.
And this man couldn't either. Everywhere he went, he told people what had happened. And before long, Jesus was swamped with crowds of people wanting that same touch, that same healing, which he gave them. Verse 16. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. If you knew Greek, you would know that the Greek language is telling us here that this was his customary habitual practice by the way that it says it in this verse. In fact, Luke, seven times in the Gospel of Luke, says something just like this. And Jesus went into a lonely place to pray.
Seven times. I think he wanted us to get the point. Jesus often went and did this. Now, why was this so helpful to Jesus?
Two reasons. One, it helped him keep perspective. You get surrounded by enough people telling you that you're the greatest thing since sliced bread.
And it can go to your head. Jesus needed to make sure he kept perspective. Prayer does that.
Time alone with God does that. Number two, this is where he got the power. This is where he got the courage. This is where he got the ability to step into people's lives like this and touch them with the love and the power of God. He got it on his knees alone with God.
And so Jesus would often go and be alone with the Lord like that. And here ends our passage for this morning. But it leads us to ask the question. So what? Thank you. So what? That's right.
And I want to talk to you about that in the time that I have left. So what did Jesus touch the leper and healed him? So what? There's a man named Norlinger. I don't know if you ever heard of Mr. Norlinger.
He was the Washington, D.C. correspondent for the Baltimore Sun newspaper. He's retired now, but he has a very interesting avocation. What he does is he rides the metro. You say, what do you mean he rides the metro?
Just what I said. He gets on the metro and he rides around on the metro. So you mean like he just rides around on the metro?
Yeah. And he takes a little sketch pad with him and he observes people on the metro and he sketches them. And then he takes his sketches home and he paints them. And he has a show in town now. The title of the show with his paintings is called Hole in the Ground. See, the reason for that is because he painted them on the metro.
You got that? Yeah. OK. Well, anyway, he was interviewed this past week on WAMU on National Public Radio and I happen to be listening. And the interviewer asked him, of all the paintings that you've got, which is the one that you think is kind of the most poignant, the most representative of the way you see people on the metro? And here's what he said. He said, well, there's one painting that I did that I really think sums it all up. He said, it's a painting of seven people all sitting in very close proximity to one another on the metro. And yet every one of them is looking in an opposite direction.
Not one of them is looking at one another. He said, if I had to sum up what I see on the metro, that's the best summation I can give you. People's lives press close, but nobody wants to get involved. Don't you see that on the metro? I do. How about when you get in a crowded elevator? Don't you see that? I mean, everybody stands there like the only person in the elevator and they stare at the numbers that are going three, two, one.
I've often thought, what is so interesting about those stupid numbers that everybody's just staring at those numbers? But you know what it comes from, don't you? It comes from our culture that says, stay to yourself. Don't get involved. Protect yourself. Don't go out there and mess with other people.
I mean, you could get sued. You know, have that umbrella policy and, you know, a million dollars liability and don't mess with other people. Keep to yourself. Mind your own business. Stay out of people's lives.
But you know what? When I look in the Bible, that's not the kind of lifestyle Jesus lived, was it? And what's more, it's not the kind of lifestyle that he calls us as his followers to live. William Barkley, the great commentator, said about this passage, and I quote, It is the very essence of Christianity to touch the untouchable, to love the unlovable, to forgive the unforgivable.
Jesus did. And so must we. End of quote. Now, we believe that at this church, if you come here and you're part of our church family, I hope you believe that, too.
If not, you know, we need either change you or you need to find a church who believes what you believe, because this is what we believe. We believe that our job is not to protect ourselves and cloister ourselves and in some way stay uninvolved with people's lives. But rather, our job is, what's our mission statement?
Touching lives with the love of God. That's what this is all about. That's what we're here to do. See, I don't believe God left us here on this earth to insulate ourselves from all the hurting people that are around us. While we go about trying to get every creature comfort we can possibly get our hands on before we die. I don't believe that's why God left us here. I hope you don't. God left us here to do exactly what Jesus did for this leper, to take the risk of caring about other people, to reach out and try to touch their lives with the love of God, to be a positive force for God in a world that is full of hurt and full of pain.
That's why we're here. When I was a college student back in the late 60s, I was a mess. I had hair out to my shoulders. My hair doesn't grow down. It grows out.
It's true. I had hair way out to my shoulders. I wore bell bottoms and tank tops. I was unshaven. I would take a bath.
Wouldn't the urge move me? You know. I was high on something virtually every day, whether it was marijuana or hashish or LSD or mescaline.
I mean, just whatever we could get our hands on that day. I was profane. I was irreverent. I was disrespectful. I had a filthy mouth. My life was completely out of control, completely. Was it risky to get involved with a guy like me? You bet it was. Would you have gotten involved with a guy that looked like me?
I don't know. I think there's a lot of people who have seen a guy like me walking down one side of the street and would have crossed and gone right down the other side. I think some of you might have done that. Oh, no, Lon, we wouldn't have. Well, I can go find some people like that.
We can bring them over your house. We can see. Huh? I thank God for a man named Bob Eckhart. Bob Eckhart never been to Bible college. He'd never been to seminary. He didn't have an advanced degree. He was not a rocket scientist, but he knew Jesus Christ and he loved people. And this man took the risk of getting involved in my life and eventually led me to Jesus Christ.
And I maintain God wants each one of us here who are Christians to be a Bob Eckhart to somebody. To somebody. You say, but Lon, you don't understand. You just don't understand.
You live here at the church. You don't understand. People out there are not interested. They're just not interested.
By the way, I don't sleep here just in case you're interested. But Lon, you're not like a regular person. I mean, you don't rub shoulders with the people we regular people rub shoulders with. And people out there are not interested, Lon. They just don't care. Baloney. I say that's baloney.
I say, sure. Maybe there's a few out there who aren't interested. But, folks, you keep offering God's love and I guarantee you you'll find some takers out there. There's a lot of hurting people out there. They're out there. And even the people that don't look like they're very prime candidates, you might be surprised what would happen if you'd ask them. A lot of times all of that strutting is just for show underneath the surface when they come across somebody who really loves them, really cares for them and offers them what Jesus is offering.
You'd be surprised how interested they are. I'll never forget a story Jeff Collins told me. Jeff Collins was a man who had a ministry here in the area to people with AIDS.
He's not in the area anymore. But I've been to the hospital with Jeff visiting AIDS patients. And this is what he did for a living.
This is his ministry. I'll never forget a story he told me. I know it's true because he told it to me himself. He said one day he was in the hospital visiting people that had AIDS. And there was a young man in the hospital who had been a very militant homosexual, very opposed to everything that we might believe as people that follow the Bible.
But he was very sick with AIDS and he was in the hospital. And Jeff went by and it was the first time he'd ever stopped in to see this man. He said, frankly, I was a little bit afraid. You know, I mean, you know, I knew a little bit about the man and I was a little afraid. But anyway, he said, this day I went by and I knocked on his door of his room and he was in his room. He was the only one in the room. And he said, as I opened the door, the man said, come in.
He was laying in bed and he was reading a Bible. And he said, I was really kind of taken aback. I didn't know quite what to say. And so he said to the man, he said, do you understand what you're reading in there? And the fellow said to him, no. He said, I don't. He said, but the doctor just was in here earlier today and gave me the death sentence.
Now, when you have AIDS, what that means is the doctor told him there's nothing else they could do. He said the doctor was in here earlier and gave me the death sentence, he said. And so I opened the little drawer in the little thing next to my bed here and I took out the Bible, he said. And I've been trying to read it. He said, I don't understand it, he said.
And I've been praying or asking if there's a God there to please send somebody along who'd help me understand this. And Jeff said, well, if you got a minute, maybe I'll sit down and we'll talk. And Jeff sat down in his room.
And before he left, Jeff had led this young man to Christ, which incidentally is what we found often happened with AIDS people. When they were done and they had prayed, Jeff was getting up and getting ready to leave and move on to someone else. And this young man said to him, he said, could I ask you a favor before you leave? And Jeff said, well, sure. He said, would you hug me? And Jeff said, would I hug you?
And the man said, yeah. He said, no one will hug me. Will you hug me? And Jeff said, well, sure, I'll hug you. And Jeff said he reached down and took this man in his arms. He was barely bones at that point and hugged him.
And he said, this man fell apart in his arms, emotionally fell apart. Are the people out there willing to listen? You bet. There are. Don't you let anybody ever tell you there aren't. When it comes to the love and the mercy of God, there are takers out there if we're willing to be dispensers. And don't you write anybody off because they don't look like a very ideal candidate, friend.
There was no less likely candidate anywhere than I was. Don't you write anybody off. You leave that to God. You just give it out and see what God does. So my question for you this morning is, who does God want you to touch with the love of God?
Because I believe there's somebody God wants you to touch. Maybe it's somebody at work with an alcohol or a drug problem. Maybe it's a homeless person you pass on the street going to work every day. Maybe it's a neighbor that's been going through a family crisis and they just need a friend. They've got to have a friend. And maybe it's a child that you know whose parents have gotten divorced. That child's really going through some hard times that you could be a friend and you could help that child. Maybe it's a woman who's had an abortion and is really feeling the pain, needs somebody. Maybe it's a friend at school who always feels like they're on the outside looking in, never part of the popular group. Or a friend whose home life is a wreck and they don't even want to go home after school. Who needs to know that God loves them. Maybe it's a relative who's sick and aged and infirmed in a nursing home and everybody else has written them off. Some aunt, some uncle.
But they need the love of God. I love the movie Driving Miss Daisy. Don't you love that movie? You know the story about how that chauffeur reaches out to her, reaches out to her, reaches out to her, reaches out to her and gets it shoved back in his face time after time. But at the end of the movie when she's in the nursing home in what I think is the most touching scene of the whole movie. And he sits there and he cuts her pumpkin pie and feeds her her pumpkin pie.
And she says to him, you know, you're the only real friend that I've got. That guy took some risks, didn't he? But it paid off. You keep offering people God's love. It's risky. But don't give up. Sooner or later you might be surprised what people are willing to accept if you just love them. You say, Belan, where am I going to get the strength?
Where am I going to get the courage to take this kind of risk? Well, where did Jesus get it? What did we say? He got it where? Got it on his knees, right? That's where you're going to get it.
On your knees. You say, Belan, this is going to inconvenience me. I hope you understand that. I understand that.
I understand that. Look, caring for people is always inconvenient. People don't die at convenient times. People don't get sick at convenient times. People don't go into the hospital at convenient times. People don't have needs.
Their families don't fall apart at convenient times. If you're going to care for people, sure, you're going to be inconvenienced. But, folks, if you're a Christian and you know Christ, when you get to heaven, you lay around on the clouds for the rest of your life if you want to. That's fine. But that's not what we're here to do now. Right now we're here to touch people's lives. So put up with some inconvenience. God will reward you for it.
You'll be glad you did. Besides, Jesus said it's more blessed to what? Give than receive. I've got a challenge I want to leave you with this morning.
Here it is. I want you to ask God to show you the one person that he wants you to dedicate 1993 to touching with the love of God. You say, well, Lon, you're assuming there is one. Right.
I am. If there weren't, he'd have taken you to heaven because there's no other reason to leave you here. True? So there's got to be somebody he left you here to touch. Who is it? You say, well, Lon, can you tell me?
No, I can't tell you. But if you get on your knees and ask God, he can. Who is that person? Maybe it's a son, a daughter, a mother, a father, an uncle, an aunt, a friend at work, a neighbor, a friend at school. But find out who it is and then dedicate yourself to spending 1993 trying to touch their life with the love of God. Being their friend, praying for them, caring for their needs in any way you can. Seeing if you can bring them to church as soon as they're ready. Trying to share the Lord with them, going as far as they'll let you go at any given point.
And when you've done all that, pray for them some more. Wouldn't it be thrilling to see our church family grow by 1300 new births in 1993? Wouldn't that be something? Can you imagine that?
1300 new births in Christ in one year. Wouldn't that be thrilling? Huh? You know how we could do that? Very easy. You're smart.
You figured it out, haven't you? You reach one. The person sitting next to you reach one. The person behind you reach one.
The person in front of you reach one. Everybody reach one. We could do it.
What a thrilling, what an exciting calling for us to be about. Don't worry about making more money this year. God will take care of the money. Worry about touching people's lives. Will you get involved in this? Will you?
I hope so. Because I don't know other than this of anything else that's really worth living for. Other than touching people's lives with the love of Jesus Christ. Let's bow our heads and pray. This morning I want you to take just a moment. And if you're willing to be a part of this, I want you to say, Lord, beginning this morning, I'd like you to begin showing me who it is that you want me to touch with your love this year. Heavenly Father, to do what we've talked about this morning will require some things from us. It will require courage. It will require a willingness to take some risk. It will require some inconvenience.
Some expenditure of time and energy that we could instead spend on just making ourselves more comfortable. Lord Jesus, I pray that you would help us realize that people's souls are worth this price. How much different life would be for each one of us sitting here who know Christ if somebody had not been willing to pay that price for us. And Lord, I pray that you would lift us out of this world's mindset of protect yourself.
Don't get involved. Stay aloof and give us a biblical mindset. Oh, to be like you, Lord. To be like you, a man who reached out and touched people's lives everywhere he went with the love of God. Make that true of our lives, I pray. Make that true of our church family. Help us make a big difference this year on the people's lives outside this building. And I pray this in Jesus' name. Amen. You
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