Give Thanks! (Jesus and the Ten Lepers)

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Luke 17:11-19

INTRODUCTION: We are in between sermon series, and we just celebrated Thanksgiving, so I thought this would be a good day to reflect on giving thanks.

The Bible is full of passages related to giving thanks—examples of people giving thanks to God and each other, instructions to give thanks always, and rebukes for failing to give thanks.

Today’s passage has it all. We have the example of the leper who returned to give thanks, the implied instruction to be thankful, and the implied rebuke of those who failed to give thanks. (Read Luke 17:11-19 and pray.)

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What if you only had today the things that you thanked God for yesterday? What would you have? Would you still have your home? Your job? Your health? Your family? Your salvation? By the way, you should always be thanking God for your salvation. I thank God for my salvation every day. It’s usually one of the first things I thank him for! But back to our question: What would you have if you only had the things that you thanked God for yesterday?

Thankfully, it doesn’t work that way. God is too loving and merciful to take away all the blessings we forget to thank him for. But that doesn’t excuse our lack of thankfulness.

Today’s passage presents us with a real-life incident from Jesus’ life. The ten lepers who came to Jesus for healing and their response or lack of response to that healing teaches us so much about the importance of giving thanks and the place that giving thanks should have in our lives.

I. The request for healing (11-13)

We begin with the lepers’ request for healing in verses 11-13:

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (Luke 17:11-13)

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, but when you look at the wider context, it is clear that Jesus is not only heading to Jerusalem, but he is on the way to the cross.

Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem began back in Luke 9 where Luke tells us: “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). Luke makes it clear that from this point on Jesus is heading to Jerusalem with full knowledge of all that awaits him there—his suffering, crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection.

So, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, and at this particular point in the journey, he is traveling along the border between Samaria and Galilee. Notice that Samaria is named first. That’s because a Samaritan will play an important part in the story to come. Luke is the only gospel writer that tells this particular story. Interestingly, he is the only one to tell the story of the Good Samaritan as well (Luke 10).

As Jesus travels along the border, these ten men with leprosy meet him. The word translated “leprosy” in the text is a word that was used for a variety of skin conditions, and so this may or may not have been the same disease as the leprosy we know today.

Either way, this disease of leprosy caused a person to be isolated. The Old Testament law required that anyone with an infectious skin disease isolate themselves from the main community (Lev. 13:45-46; Num. 5:1-4). God gave this command to his people not only for health reasons, but, as we learn later, it was also meant as a picture of sin. Similar to leprosy in the physical world, sin isolates us from God in the spiritual world. Just as leprosy made a person physically unclean, so sin makes us spiritually unclean.

We know from the Old Testament that lepers often lived or traveled in groups (2 Kings 7:3). And so, we have these ten lepers traveling together. We will find out by the end of story that this particular group was composed of nine Jews and one Samaritan. This is significant because Jews and Samaritans usually hated each other. They would never want to travel around in the same group together. But you know the old saying: misery loves company. Common suffering often overcomes other barriers.

Luke tells us that they stood at a distance and called out to Jesus in a loud voice. They stand at a distance because they are required to do so by law. They cry out in a loud voice because they are desperate. This may be their only one chance to interact with Jesus, and they do not want to miss out. May we never miss out on any opportunity to come to Jesus.

They have obviously heard about Jesus and his power to heal. They may have even heard how he had healed other lepers, so that would have given them hope and confidence. By the way, Jesus healing people of leprosy was almost completely unprecedented. In the Old Testament only two people had ever been healed of leprosy. Moses’ sister Miriam was healed directly by God in answer to prayer (Num. 12:10-15). The Syrian commander Naaman was healed after humbly seeking help from the God of Israel (2 Kings 5; Luke 4:27).

Back to the ten lepers, notice they address Jesus as “Master.” They recognize his authority over them. They recognize him as the master of their fates. If anyone is going to heal them of leprosy, it’s only Jesus. It’s always only Jesus.

Notice they appeal to Jesus’ compassion. “Have pity on us!” they cry out. They must have not only heard stories of Jesus’ healing power, but also of his compassion for others. They don’t try to bargain or negotiate. They don’t attempt to put forth any reasons why they deserve to be healed. They simply appeal to Jesus’ mercy and compassion.

So far, so good! They are coming to the right person for healing, and they are coming with the right attitude. So, what happens next?

II. Answered prayer (14)

What happens next is what we all want to happen when we call out to Jesus. God answers their prayer! Look at verse 14:

When [Jesus] saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. (Luke 17:14)

Notice Jesus doesn’t answer their prayer right away. First, he tells them to go show themselves to the priests. This was also required by Old Testament law. Before the person with the infectious disease could be reintegrated into society, they first had to be declared clean by the priest, offer sacrifices, and undergo certain rituals (Lev. 14:1-32).

What’s interesting here is that Jesus tells them to go before he heals them. There are only two specific healings of people with leprosy recorded by Luke in his gospel— this one right here in Luke 17 and the other is back in Luke 5.

In the healing in Luke 5 Jesus heals the leper first and then tells him to go to the priest (Luke 5:12-14). Here in Luke 17, Jesus tells the lepers to go before he heals them. Instead of healing them, Jesus gives them a command. He doesn’t even promise to heal them if they obey the command. He just commands them to go show themselves to the priest. Why is that?

Perhaps Jesus is testing their use of the word “Master.” Do they really view him as Master? Perhaps Jesus is testing their faith. It must have taken some faith to go to the priest while still in a leprous state. Notice also Jesus says, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” The Samaritan and the Jews would have had different priests, so they probably went off in separate directions.

Luke goes on to tell us, “And as they went, they were cleansed.” This is remarkable. Jesus heals them from a distance, showing his absolute power over all sickness and disease. But what if they hadn’t gone? What if they had only called Jesus “Master” but did not obey him as Master? They most likely would not have been healed. How about you? Do you call Jesus “Master”? Do you obey him as Master?

It was in the act of responding to Jesus that they were cleansed. Once again, it must have taken some faith for them to start towards the priests when they were still covered with leprosy. How long do you think they traveled before the healing took place? We don’t know because we’re not told. But this healing is similar to Naaman’s healing in the Old Testament, where Naaman also was not healed immediately. He also had to exercise faith first by going to wash in the Jordan River (2 Kings 5).

So, we can learn a lot from these verses already. We see the importance of faith and action. We see the importance of obedience to Jesus as Master. We see Jesus’ power to heal even from a distance. But the main point of the story is still to come.

III. The Samaritan’s response (15-16)

Let’s look at verses 15-16 next where we see the Samaritan’s response to the healing:

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. (Luke 17:15-16)

Luke tells us that one of them came back, praising God in a loud voice. Remember how all ten lepers had called out to Jesus in a loud voice for healing? Now the one leper who returned praises God in a loud voice. It raises a good question for us. Do we praise God as loudly and as passionately when he answers our prayers as we do when we call out to him for help? It’s a good question.

This one leper who returned throws himself at Jesus’ feet he is so overcome with emotion. It’s interesting to compare this with Luke’s record of the other leper who was healed. In Luke 5 the leper kneeled before Jesus before he was healed. Here in Luke 17 the leper does so afterwards. The first leper kneeled before Jesus in petitionary prayer. The second leper kneels before Jesus in thanksgiving. It is always appropriate to kneel before Jesus—both when bringing our prayers to him and when thanking him afterwards.

And now Luke tells us the detail he has been holding back the whole story. The one leper who returned was a Samaritan. There have been earlier hints throughout the story. Jesus was traveling along the border between Samaria and Galilee. Jesus told the lepers to show themselves to the priests, and the Jews and Samaritans had different priests. But this is the first time Luke tells us directly that this one leper who returned was a Samaritan. Once again, this would have been a shocking detail to any Jew hearing the story.

IV. Jesus’ response (17-19)

We have looked at the request for healing and the answered prayer. We have looked at the Samaritan’s response to the healing. Now it is time to look at Jesus’ response. Look at verses 17-18 with me:

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18)

Jesus asks three questions in response.

1) “Were not all ten cleansed?” The answer is yes. Luke tells us that as they went all ten were cleansed.

2) “Where are the other nine?” The implication here is that they also should have returned to give thanks. Apparently, they went to the priests at the temple, but they didn’t come back to the one who healed them. Or, to put it another way: “Ten lepers were healed. Nine went to church. One went to Jesus!”

3) “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” The word “foreigner” here refers to non-Jews. This is the word that was used on the “Keep out!” signs posted on the inner barrier in the temple where the non-Jews were not allowed. The irony here is that the one leper who was not allowed to worship in the temple is the one who has returned to give thanks and praise God!

Notice also Jesus’ use of the word “found.” Jesus asks, “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Luke later tells us that Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). And so, it is significant that Jesus speaks of the Samaritan leper here as being “found.” The implication of course is that the other nine lepers were not found.

Finally, we read in verse 19:

Then [Jesus] said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:19)

This phrase “Your faith has made you well” is literally, “Your faith has saved you.” All ten lepers were cleansed in response to faith, but it would seem Jesus means something deeper here. The Samaritan leper experienced not just healing faith but saving faith—not just physical healing but spiritual healing, which is far more important. Physical healing is a temporary blessing in this life, but spiritual healing is for all of eternity.

CONCLUSION: So, back to our original question this morning. What if you only had today the things that you thanked God for yesterday? What would you have?

Ten lepers were cleansed. Only one returned to thank Jesus. And he was a Samaritan.

The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost. You’ve heard the old song: “I once was lost, but now am found.” The Samaritan who returned to give thanks was found. He was not only healed physically but spiritually.

God is good. Christ has come. If your faith is in Jesus, you are healed for all of eternity. May we thank God for his blessings as loudly and passionately as we do when we call out to him for help.

Let us be a thankful people, and let us give thanks to God—for he is good, and his love endures forever!

© Ray Fowler

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