Lepers are Cleansed but only One is Grateful
Reading Lev.13:1-8; 14:1-9.
Text: Luke 17:11-19
At the very beginning of his gospel Luke told us that his aim was to present an orderly account of Jesus’ life. Sometimes this would mean he would record events in a chronological order and sometimes he would group his material more thematically. The verses we are going to look at this morning are linked thematically to what precedes them but actually involve a step back chronologically to a slightly earlier period in Jesus’ ministry. The linking theme is that of thankfulness.
Backtracking just a little Luke tells us of an incident that took place while Jesus, already determined to make his way to Jerusalem, was still up in the north of the country. He was in the border region between Galilee and Samaria. In the preceding passages of his gospel Luke has recounted some of the stories Jesus told as he taught but now he tells of an event the actually took place.
The event was a real one. This extraordinary man, Jesus, met with 10 needy men and did them all good. Just one of these, and a surprising one at that, did the right thing.
Let’s look together at Luke’s account and see what we can learn from it.
Setting the Scene
As Luke describes what happens it doesn’t look as though Jesus was looking for an opportunity to minister. He was on his way to Jerusalem where his entire earthly ministry would reach its climax and on his way there he was simply passing through this region on his way there.
Reaching a village Jesus was about to go in when a group of 10 men approached him. They stopped however at a certain distance and for cause – these men were lepers and leprosy was a serious problem.
In Bible times leprosy (a term used to describe a number of different skin conditions) was an incurable disease that carried for the infected person serious consequences beyond the merely physical ones. Leprosy led directly to organised ostracism: the leper was excluded from the regular social interaction of normal everyday life and was similarly restricted as to his participation in the corporate spiritual life of the nation.
We can catch an idea of the seriousness of all of this when we realise that two full chapters are devoted to the careful identification of this disease – a wrong diagnosis would have tragic consequences. You see to be diagnosed as a leper was disastrous for in most cases such a diagnosis was a life sentence. To all intents and purposes hope died when this diagnosis was made.
But now Jesus appeared on the scene and his arrival brought a glimmer of hope to these otherwise hopeless men!
But, we may want to ask, why so?
The answer is not difficult to find. Earlier in his gospel narrative Luke has already recorded how Jesus had demonstrated his power and ability to deal with the problem of leprosy. We find that particular incident in Luke ch.5 where we are told not only of how Jesus cleansed/healed a leper but also how news of such a remarkable event soon spread:
Lk.5:15 "But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities."
This miracle had taken place when Jesus was up north and so not at all unlikely that these lepers living in the north had heard of what happened.
Nor apparently was this the only time when Jesus had healed lepers. Do you remember the time when John the Baptist sent messengers to Jesus? Things weren’t turning out how John expected them to. He was in prison – had he got things all wrong? Was Jesus really the One? So he sent his messengers to Jesus to ask. Jesus’ reply included a list of the things that were occurring including the following:
Lk.7:22 "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed..."
The reference to lepers in the plural indicates that he had cleansed more than one!
The Lepers Make their Appeal to Jesus and he Responds
So something of Jesus’ reputation had come to these 10 leprous men and now he was in their region, about to enter one of their villages and they had an opportunity, perhaps a now-or-never opportunity, or meeting him.
What could they lose?
They had already lost so much and they were only too aware of their own desperate need. If they didn’t avail themselves now the opportunity might never be theirs again.
So they approached as near as they dared and from a distance respectfully called out to him:
v.13 "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us."
It was such a simple thing to do wasn’t it? But what momentous results were to follow such a simple straightforward request!
The first thing I want you to notice is the simple and clear way in which we are shown Jesus’ compassion and power. There is no great fuss, no dramatic display, but a simple command is issued:
v.14 "Go and show yourselves to the priests."
If we didn’t know the OT background to this we might be left wondering what on earth Jesus was doing. But we have already read earlier in the service the central role that priests had to fulfil in investigating cases of leprosy. It was their responsibility to identify cases of leprosy and it was their responsibility/privilege to declare that a formerly sick person was well again. It was also the priest’s responsibility to perform those divinely ordained rites designed to reintegrate the cleansed leper into society again.
Understanding this we readily understand that Jesus was granting the lepers’ appeal for mercy! In compassion he looked on those who had no claim upon him and exercised his power freely on their behalf.
The men, having been told what to do, set off to find the priest and as soon as they do they were cleansed – all of them, in an instant!
Wonderful things happen when we take Jesus seriously and do what he says!
These men didn’t earn their healing and they didn’t contribute to it in any way either but when they took gracious Jesus at his word what grace was set free in their lives!
Whatever else you see in these verses don’t miss this. Jesus is full of a powerful merciful compassion – he demonstrated it to these unworthy lepers here and he’s been demonstrating to hundreds and thousands of undeserving sinners the world over ever since. Do you know anything at all of this in a personal way?
Leprosy a reality and an illustration
Before we continue with the details of this historical event I want to explain a little bit more about just how the Bible views leprosy. If you have been paying careful attention you will have noticed that sometimes I have talked about Jesus healing lepers and sometimes I have referred to him cleansing them. Now we don’t normally talk about cleansing a disease but this is the normal way in which the Bible refers to leprosy because it defiles or renders unclean. And this element of uncleanness is what makes leprosy such a good illustration of another more widespread condition.
You may not have this skin disease that had afflicted the 10 lepers but each of you is affected by a much more important disease and one which is far more than being merely skin deep. The disease to which I’m referring is, of course, sin. Sin like leprosy defiles rendering a person spiritually tainted and unclean before God. As leprosy separated individuals from each other so too sin separates but more significantly it separates us from God.
A leper could not maintain and enjoy normal relationships with other men and women but have you realised that a sinner does not and cannot enjoy a proper relationship with God until he/she has been cleansed from their sin?
The 10 lepers that day addressed themselves to the only One who could help them with their leprosy problem. They did so because they were aware of the problem they had and they did not try to pretend otherwise. They weren’t in denial about their true condition and so were able to seek the help they needed.
I wonder whether some of you this morning are in denial. Maybe you’re happy to admit you’re not perfect but you still refuse to recognise that sin is anything more than a trifling problem. My friend you need to realise that you are in a desperate plight as an unforgiven sinner. Sin which like a fly in the ointment has taken the shine off so many good things in your life already will, if unresolved, bring you permanent loss – a godless eternity. Until you face up to the destructiveness of sin in your own life you will never cast yourself wholeheartedly and unreservedly upon Jesus who is your only hope.
If you haven’t done so yet in your life then you have another opportunity right now. You don’t have to wait until you get home, you don’t even have to wait until the end of the service. In your heart you can call out to Jesus right now: you can tell him your problem is not leprosy but sin and you can tell him that you can’t do anything to save yourself from it and its consequences. And you can ask him to extend to you the forgiveness of sins which he secured for repenting sinners by means of his own death upon Calvary’s cross. What have you got to lose except the chains of your sin and your guilt? And you have everything to gain: life, eternal life.
More Lessons to be Learnt
But we must return to consider what other lessons there are for us to learn from this particular incident.
The obvious detail that jumps out and commands our attention is the fact that the 10 lepers don’t all respond in the same way to their cleansing. All 10 were cleansed, nine of them continued on their way as quickly as they could in order to see the priest and one, just one, returned to praise God and give thanks to Jesus for everything that Jesus had done for him.
The detail is clear but what are we to make of it?
Well I want to tell you firstly that Jesus brings many blessings to men and women even though so many do not ever enter into a close personal relationship with him.
To put it very simply the world is a better place in which to live because Jesus came – it is better for everyone whether or not they realise it and respond appropriately to him.
Jesus’ very coming into the world set in motion a whole host of blessings including improvements in all of the following areas and these benefits are enjoyed by believer and unbeliever alike:
The Value of human life:
Status of women
Compassion and mercy:
Sick and needy - hospitals
And so the list could go on and on.
The very fact of our being alive today is because God is delaying the Day of Judgment until all the elect are gathered in – without Jesus there would be none to gather and hence no cause for God to delay judgment any further. Yes, I know that there have been some bad examples can be found in history where those bearing the name Christian acted very poorly but investigate a little closer and you’ll find that happens when Christians prove unfaithful to the teaching and example of their Master and not to their Master’s example and teaching itself.
You can even benefit from the kindness and generosity of Christian company without appreciating the Jesus who is the one responsible for it all.
Yes, many are content to enjoy the benefits without giving a second thought to the giver!
And our western society is actually turning its back upon our Christian heritage. What genuine hope is there for stability in society when that society is rejecting and destroying the very foundations upon which it has been built? We want the blessings but fail to appreciate where those blessings come from.
All 10 of the lepers were cleansed and 9 of them were happy to press on to enjoy the benefits of the healing that he freely bestowed upon them. They didn’t bother to return to praise God or to thank Jesus – they just wanted to enjoy the benefits for themselves. The fact that the one who did return turns out to be a Samaritan strongly suggests that these others were Jews who should have known and acted much better than they did.
Yes, all 10 lepers benefitted from the healing/cleansing that Jesus brought them that day but one of them got more, much more, than the others. The one who returned evidenced that he had the fruit of grace in his life.
Just one returned with praise and thankfulness overflowing from his heart. He had a deeper more intimate contact with the Saviour who commended him. He also received a deeper, more far reaching blessing than the mere healing of his flesh for he heard words that the other 9 never did hear: while most of our English Bibles translate Jesus as saying to him:
v.19 "Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well." Or "your faith has healed you."
The actual verb used is not the same as to heal or to cleans it is the verb which is usually translated by the word save:
"your faith has saved you".
As we close this morning let me ask you a simple question: Does Jesus say those same words to you?
This man in his need had cried out to Jesus for help then when that help came he responded with thankfulness – evidence that an inner transformation had taken place in his life in addition to the change in his medical condition.
Have you trusted Jesus in a similar manner with regard to your own need of forgiveness of sin and is there any evidence in your life that he has heard and dealt with you.
What a wonderful Saviour Jesus is! I commend him to you this morning as warmly and as fervently as I can.