If you want a picture of your sin, all you need to do is to spend some time studying the passages of scripture that deal with leprosy. Doing so, you will see countless parallels. With that in mind, here are five ways leprosy is a picture of sin. Many people have expressed these before, so I do not claim them as original. They come from men such as Matthew Henry, Charles Spurgeon, and S. Lewis Johnson.
1. Leprosy was an inward disease
Even though you saw leprosy on the outside of the body, the real cause of the disease was lying beneath the surface. The sores and other problems were symptoms of the disease, but the cause ran deeper still. Sin is precisely the same. We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. The root of sin runs deep. Sin proceeds from a sinful heart. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. – Matthew 15:19
Just like the leper would have the disease long before it even began to show, sin does its work in us well before others may ever see it. It often starts with secret sins, where only we will feel the tenderness. Then it begins to show itself in public sin, then when we defend and justify our sin, it starts to fester and putrify, but it all starts from within.
2. Leprosy was a loathsome disease
It could be felt. It came with uncomfortable numbness, aches, and unhealing wounds. Many of the wounds that the leper would have were the result of the numbness the disease produced. Once the sense of pain was gone, the lepers could be cutting or burning their flesh without even knowing it. Likewise, sin stupefies us and then when our conscience is numb, it wounds.
It had a terrible odor. The aroma would drive others away, but the infected person could not escape it, and at other times didn’t even notice it. Lepers didn’t even like the smell of each other, much like when two sinners get together. The sins of the other often repulse them even though their own sin is just as rancid.
It could also be heard. It attacked the vocal cords causing a raspy voice. In the same way, sin finds its easiest escape through the tongue, which is why James warns us of its power. Even Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Sin can be heard.
Leprosy could also find its way into clothing and the walls of the house. Likewise, sin can manifest itself in the way we dress and what we do with, and in, our homes.
In all of these ways leprosy was loathsome. It could not be kept hidden, and like leprosy, our sin will find a way out, and we will be exposed. There is no hiding the disease, especially from God.
3. Leprosy was a separating disease
Leprosy put you outside of the camp for quarantine, but not only did it separate loved ones, like sin can destroy relationships, but it also separated the infected person from the presence of God. They were considered ceremonially unclean, which meant they were unable to go to the temple to worship, and the temple was where God manifested His presence. Sin does the same. It puts us at enmity with God, severing our relationship with Him and leads to our destruction.
4. The leprous person could not cure themselves
During biblical times, there was no natural remedy, no exercise program or diets, and there were no topical ointments that could touch the depths of the disease. This lack of a cure, however, did not mean that people were not cleansed of the disease. Miriam only had the disease for a short time on her hand, and God healed Naaman by having him wash seven times in the Jordan. What is impossible with men, is possible with God.
5. Jesus can heal the leper
In Matthew chapter eight we see Jesus touch the leper. The fact that Jesus touched the leper is astounding because if anyone else had come in contact with a leper, they would have become unclean. Jesus, however, touches the leper, and the opposite happens; the leper becomes clean. We are sinners deserving judgment, and God being a just God must punish sin. If God were to let sin go unpunished, it would mean that He Himself would be unjust, so how could God justify sinners without himself being tainted? He did it by bearing the justice and wrath that sin deserved when the Father sent the Son and died upon the cross. For those who have faith in Jesus, their sins can be forgiven because their just punishment was placed upon Christ. God will judge every sin, and His wrath will either be poured out on the sinner or upon Christ in their place. This substitution is why God can be both just and the justifier of sinners.
How do we receive this cleansing? Are there works of righteousness we must fulfill to merit this forgiveness? The answer, of course, is no. In Leviticus 13 we see a picture of how we can be declared clean.
And if the leprous disease breaks out in the skin, so that the leprous disease covers all the skin of the diseased person from head to foot, so far as the priest can see, then the priest shall look, and if the leprous disease has covered all his body, he shall pronounce him clean of the disease; it has all turned white, and he is clean. But when raw flesh appears on him, he shall be unclean. – Leviticus 13:12-14
If the leprous person was only partially covered with the disease, they were unclean, but if the disease covered the entire body, they were pronounced clean. This is a perfect picture of recognizing our sinfulness and coming to the Lord in repentance. If we come to Him and say, “I know I am sinful, but I still have some soundness in me, see these good works I do? Please see them and accept me.” The Lord will say “unclean,” because self-righteousness is like the raw flesh; it is as filthy rags. However, if we come to Him in poverty of spirit, recognizing our real condition, we will say, “There is nothing good in me. I am completely sinful. Have mercy on me a sinner.” The Lord will say “You are clean.”
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9