When He came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. Right away a man with a serious skin disease came up and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Reaching out His hand He touched him, saying, “I am willing; be made clean.” (Matthew 8:1-3)
The encounter between the leper and Jesus has more to say to us.
No one represents the condition of all of humanity better than the leper—and not just his “spiritual” condition.
He is physically broken; he is dying. He lives every day with the debilitating effects of disease.
He is socially alienated. If he has a family, he can’t be with them. If he had a position of honor, it has been lost to a life of public shame.
His disease not only forces him outside of community, it also indicates—within the beliefs of his culture—that he is likely cursed, either by God or by the devil.
And he is spiritually separated from God. As a man who is chronically “unclean,” he cannot enter the temple, the place of encounter with God, of spiritual cleansing, and of covenant enactment.
But here, outside the temple, the presence of God encounters him.
The leper stands facing God in human flesh, and he dares to find the answer to a question that has haunted many of us:
What is the will of God?
Is he willing to help us? Willing to heal us? Willing to come near?
The leper may have been afraid of the answer, just as you may be afraid of the answer. Sometimes our greatest fear is actually finding out who God is and what he wants.
But things couldn’t get much worse for him, could they?
So he asked.
“Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Two things here.
In church we often speak of the “will of God” as being synonymous with his commandments or requirements for mankind.
But “the will of God” is not just what God has commanded, or even what he allows; it’s what he wants. That’s the force of the Greek and Hebrew words behind “if you are willing”: the will of God is what he actively and personally desires.
To have a will is an amazing thing. To have the power to enact it is even more amazing.
That we can, as human beings, desire something and then make choices to bring that desire about is astonishing.
Realize that we do this on a very different level from animals. Our wills, our desires, and the power we have to manifest them through choice and action create entire cultures, movements, civilizations. We form relationships, families, and communities. We make art. We defeat diseases. We stage reformations and revolutions.
As human beings, we self-actualize in profound and powerful ways that have ripple effects for generations. And why do we do all this?
Because we want to.
We do terrible things, too, because we want to. I don’t have to list them all. The news daily reminds us of the awful things people can will, and through their choices, bring about.
Jesus was willing. In Jesus, God was willing. He wanted to heal this man. This was the first thing needed for the leper to be cleansed.
But willingness isn’t everything. I can will to do certain things but find that I simply do not have the power to do them (despite my astonishing ability to manifest my will).
The second part of the leper’s request is also important: “If you are willing … you can.”
The more power (Greek dunamis; energy, strength—actual ability) and authority (Greek exousia; right to act) someone has, the more they can do for you. I may want to pardon a criminal, for example, but I can’t; I have neither the power nor the ability to do that.
God alone in the universe has the power and the authority to do anything he wants.
So everything—everything—hinges on what he wants.
What does God want?
What He Wants Reveals Who He Is
In a profound way, we reveal ourselves through our wills. What we want to do says a lot about who we are.
The same is true for God.
What God wills—what he wants to do, desires to do, is inclined toward doing—reveals who he is.
Here’s a dirty little secret of Christian spirituality: more Christians seem to experience “the will of God” as a burden than as a blessing. If you’ve ever stressed over “finding” the will of God, or feared that you were somehow “outside” of it, or spent a lot of time feeling condemned over falling short, you know what I mean.
Also, if your view of the “will of God” is almost entirely negative—mostly involving suffering—it’s out of whack. The Bible is clear that the will of God is good. But I digress.
But the will of God is not marching orders. The will of God is the desires of God. It’s what he wants.
What if, instead of viewing “the will of God” as some secret plan we have to uncover and then figure out how to carry out in order to be acceptable to God—a framework that goes totally against everything God has actually revealed to us about how this Christian thing works—we explore the will of God as something that reveals his heart to us?
What if we just ask what he wants, and study the Scriptures to find out?
The Bible gives a lot of answers to this question. And they all say a lot about God’s heart.
Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens. For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved.
We have redemption in Him through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure that He planned in Him for the administration of the days of fulfillment—to bring everything together in the Messiah, both things in heaven and things on earth in Him. (Ephesians 1:3-10)
The whole New Testament lets us know that God’s will, his desire, is to rescue us from darkness, make us his children, and set us apart for himself in a love relationship. This is what he wants to do. Nobody is twisting his arm, and he’s not just being noble.
The inclination of God’s heart is to love us, to lavish favor on us, and set us free from everything that binds and oppresses us—including our own guilt, shame, and wrongdoing.
That’s what he wants, because that’s who he is.
What God Really Wants
For the most part, we can’t “do the will of God.” We can’t because we don’t have the power or authority to bring about God’s greatest desires. Only he does.
(Yes, I know we have a role too. I said “for the most part.”)
So here the leper stands, a man who symbolizes all of our brokenness, with nothing but a wild hope and a courageous question.
- Who are you, really?
- What do you want, really?
- Could it be—is it possible—that you want to heal my brokenness?
And Jesus says, “Yes. I am willing.”
And because he is also able, he says, “Be made clean.”
What about you?
What do you need from God?
Have you dared ask him if he is willing?
Have you dared encounter him in your need—dared to come face-to-face with God in the person of Jesus Christ and ask not just, “What do you want?” but “Who are you?”
Jesus said if we seek, we’ll find.
When You Don’t Get Healed
The leper’s healing was instantaneous. He not only got the answer to his questions, he also got cleansed—right there, in the moment.
I’d be lying if I said that every time we go to Jesus, now, in this now-but-not-yet phase of the kingdom of God where we live, the result is instantaneous change.
Sometimes it is. I believe in miracles. I’ve seen them. They can happen in a moment.
But some of God’s plans are long term. Some are working themselves out over thousands of years. God wants to do a lot of things, but he’s also patient.
(Jesus has not yet returned, Peter tells us in 2 Peter 3:9, because God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. He’s not late. He’s determined and perseverant.)
In this case, when we don’t get instantly healed—in body, soul, or spirit—it’s even more important that we get a revelation that God IS willing and IS able.
When the answer is “wait,” we need to know God’s heart is for us. We need to know he cares and that he isn’t powerless. We need to know that the reason for delay is wisdom, not indifference. We need to know that his heart toward us is grace and compassion.
So the total healing will come.
It’s why Jesus came.
As we’ve seen in the story of the leper in Matthew 8, Jesus wasn’t just wandering around doing random acts of healing. He was telling a story through his actions. He was prophesying.
He was revealing, on a small scale, the will of God on a big scale.
The will of God is your healing. It is your freedom. It is your highest good.
A couple of extra resources this time around:
1. I wrote an 11-week email course with two of my best friends, called “Time to Align: 11 Days to a Closer Walk with God. Among other things, the lessons go deep on the idea of the will of God being good. You can sign up for it here. Please note the email lessons will come from “1:11 Ministries” (that’s me and my friends).
2. If you struggle with fear or paralysis when it comes to “finding the will of God” in your life, this book is a good resource to help you break through. It digs deep into the biblical ideas of wisdom, freedom, and conscience. The author and I are not completely on the same page when it comes to supernatural leading—I give a lot more weight to extra-biblical “leading” and “impressions” than he does—but I think this book is a needed counterbalance to excess and can really help if paralysis is a real problem for you.
I would love to hear from you. Scroll down to leave a comment below!
This is Part 100 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.