Gratitude is something that seems to get harder the more things that we have. We have to have a day set aside each year to remind ourselves to give thanks, and even on that day, we can be the most unthankful. The turkey is too dry. The weather is too miserable to drive to Grandpa and Grandma’s house. My football team is losing.
Even if things are going well, we find something to complain about. There’s a story about a mother whose son was swept away by a tornado. Immediately, she cried out the Lord for help, “Bring him back, I beg you!” Just then her son fell from the sky right at her feet! He stood, shaken from his experience, but otherwise completely and miraculously unharmed. The mother took one look at him and glared up at Heaven and said, “Lord, he had a hat!”
The account of the ten lepers is another case of this lack of gratitude even when something amazing happens to a person.
A DREADED DISEASE
Every generation and every culture has its own dreaded disease. For us, that would probably be cancer. In Bible times, the dreaded disease was leprosy.
Luke 17:11 And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. Luke 17:12 And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off:
The word leprosy (lepros) in the Bible can refer to a variety of skin diseases, probably including psoriasis, like what I deal with. The worst form of leprosy in the Bible, however, is today often called Hansen’s disease—this is the disease that the modern use of leprosy has come to refer to. The CDC description helps us understand what these lepers were probably dealing with:
Hansen’s disease (also known as leprosy) is an infection caused by bacteria…These bacteria grow very slowly and it may take up to 20 years to develop signs of the infection.
The disease can affect the nerves, skin, eyes, and lining of the nose (nasal mucosa). The bacteria attack the nerves, which can become swollen under the skin. This can cause the affected areas to lose the ability to sense touch and pain, which can lead to injuries, like cuts and burns. Usually, the affected skin changes color and either becomes:
- lighter or darker, often dry or flaky, with loss of feeling, or
- reddish due to inflammation of the skin.
If left untreated, the nerve damage can result in paralysis of hands and feet. In very advanced cases, the person may have multiple injuries due to lack of sensation, and eventually the body may reabsorb the affected digits over time, resulting in the apparent loss of toes and fingers…
It is not known exactly how Hansen’s disease spreads between people. Scientists currently think it may happen when a person with Hansen’s disease coughs or sneezes, and a healthy person breathes in the droplets containing the bacteria. Prolonged, close contact with someone with untreated leprosy over many months is needed to catch the disease. (https://www.cdc.gov/leprosy/index.html)
Since Hansen’s disease is contagious through prolonged contact, the Old Testament law prescribed a quarantine for those infected (Leviticus 13:45-46).
We can tell then, that the lepers that Luke describes are ones infected with the worst case of leprosy—Hansen’s disease—because they are, according to the law, standing afar off. And, I think also because they are crying so desperately for help:
A PLEA FOR MERCY
Luke 17:13 And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.
Why do they call for mercy and not simply healing? Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of one of them in Bible times—
Five years ago was the last time my wife and my children touched me. It was an ordinary day working in the fields. My boss was pushing all of us to get the harvest in before bad weather set in, so we were working long days.
That’s what I hoped was the cause of the tingly numbness in my hands and feet—I was just overworked. I looked at my hands and noticed the unusual discoloration. The harvest would soon be in and I would get some rest and it would go away. I gripped the scythe and took another wack at the tall, yellow grain.
That evening, as I washed my hands, I noticed the blood in the water. I hadn’t realized it, but I must have cut my hands—in several places.
Well, that was it. I could no longer ignore the truth. For weeks I had been hiding white patches of skin on my chest from my wife. Now it was clear that I had leprosy. I could no longer endanger my wife and three girls with this disease.
With tears flowing, I showed my wife the patches and told her about the numbness in my hands. I showed her the cuts. When we took off my sandals, we found sores on the bottoms of my feet—sores that I could not even feel. We cried together (but apart) for what seemed like hours. Then I slept outside.
The next day, I went to the priest. I didn’t want to, but that was the law. He took one look at me and recoiled—the first of many people to do so. “You have leprosy…you are unclean!” In no uncertain terms, he explained to me that I would need to leave my family and friends and go live among the lepers in a colony some distance away. I was instructed to shout “unclean” whenever people got too close to me.
When I went back to my home to say good-bye, I found a pile of my clothing at the door. Inside, my wife was busy scrubbing everything down. Keeping her distance, she said, “Your stuff is there…I don’t know what I’m going to do. I am a widow now.” Weeping, I took the pile of clothing and walked away. That was the last time my wife, my kids, or anyone else I loved touched me.
The lepers cried for mercy because that is what they needed. They knew that Jesus was their only hope. In modern times, we have a cure for Hansen’s disease that involves taking antibiotics over the course of one or two years—it’s not a quick cure, but it’s a cure and there’s hope for those who suffer.
There was no cure for leprosy that the ten lepers could do themselves. They were doomed to die an early death from some infection or accident that would happen because they couldn’t feel pain in their limbs.
Have you ever thought how many times you would have died if you had lived over a hundred years ago? I don’t know if I would have made it past my birth.
We can get cynical about doctors and modern medicine, but we really should be grateful to God for allowing mankind to discover so many cures.
But for these ten lepers—there were no doctors that could help. Sometimes we reach that point also. We can fight a lot of kinds of cancer, but there’s still a lot that no doctor can do anything about.
In fact, there’s a type of cancer that no doctor will ever be able to cure. It’s a cancer that we are all born with. We might be able to treat it and keep it under control, but it comes rushing back at the most inopportune times. And, yes, eventually it does cause our physical death…but worse than that, it causes our spiritual death as well.
This cancer is called sin. And the only way to find help for it is to turn to Jesus Christ and to cry for mercy. The Bible tells us,
13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Romans 10:13)
The lepers did just that they called upon the Lord to save them—to have mercy on them.
A MIRACLE OF CLEANSING
Luke 17:14a And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests.
Why did Jesus tell them to do this? Because it was what the law of Moses stipulated for them to do. It’s interesting that so many Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the law (the Sabbath law, for instance), yet Jesus was very interested in keeping the law (the actual law, not the traditions that the Pharisees had built around the law).
In Leviticus 14, we can see a detailed explanation of how a priest must examine someone for leprosy and check to see if it has cleared up. You might say that priests had the role of a public health inspector in this regard.
This is why Jesus says, “Go shew yourselves unto the priests.” But in the healing of a leper earlier in Luke 5:13, Jesus says, “be thou clean” first. The man is healed and then Jesus tells him to go to the priest. Here, He doesn’t heal them first. They are told just to go. Why?
I believe that Jesus was testing their faith. It’s almost like Naaman the leper back in 2 Kings 5. Naaman went to Elisha’s door to be healed, but Elisha sent a messenger to the door who said,
…Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean. (2 Kings 5:10)
Naaman was very angry with this command. He said,
…Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper. (2 Kings 5:11)
He was looking for a big, showy miracle, but Elisha was testing his faith. The same thing must be happening here in Luke. The faith of the lepers is being tested. What would they do?
Luke 17:14b And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.
It was only after they started to leave that they were healed. Now think about that.
Naaman got upset over the simplicity of the command given to him. But these lepers did not. Luke does not record them arguing with Jesus about how He needs to say “be cleansed” or wave His hands over them or some such thing as that.
Rather, they obey and head off to the priests as Jesus told them to do. Why did they obey? Simple…they had faith. It was their faith in Jesus that healed their leprosy. The priests would confirm that and hear their testimony that Jesus had healed them.
When we call upon Jesus to save us as Romans 10:13 says, we must call upon Him in faith. It’s not that we merely say, “God, please save me.” Those words (or whatever ones you choose) must be spoken in faith.
9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. (Romans 10:9)
We’ll come back to faith in a moment, but first, we need to talk about thanksgiving.
A MEGAPHONE OF GRATITUDE
Luke 17:15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified [praised, thanked] God, Luke 17:16a And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks…
This man “glorified God” for the healing that he had just received. To glorify God for something you must first recognize that God has had something—everything—to do with the something that you had received.
Then this man “glorified God” by expressing his praise and thanks to God. I love the Greek for “loud voice,” which is phōnē megas, or, if you flip it around, it comes out in English as megaphone. This guy was not quiet…he let his praise be heard by everyone!
I do not think that we can say that we glorify God without these two aspects being true. We need to recognize God’s part in our circumstances and we need to openly express our thanks to Him for what He has done.
The man’s praise does not go unnoticed by Jesus:
Luke 17:16b and he was a Samaritan. Luke 17:17 And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? Luke 17:18 There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger [foreigner].
Luke doesn’t specifically state how many of the other nine were Jews or Samaritans, but Jesus’s comment here makes us think that the remainder were Jews. What a blow! Nine out of ten—probably all religious Jews—did not return immediately to thank and glorify Jesus for the healing that they had received.
Instead, it was the Samaritan—the stranger or foreigner that every good Jew put down every chance they got—as being outside of God’s will who turned back to give praise.
Are you giving God the glory for the blessings in your life? Do not think that just because you are a Christian, that you are immune from not giving thanksgiving. As we see from this account, it was God’s chosen people who forgot.
How would you rate ingratitude as a sin? Is it fairly minor? Or is it a major sin? Look over in Romans 1—
21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (Romans 1:21)
Ultimately, ingratitude can reveal that your heart is foolish and darkened. You can read in Romans 1 what happens to these people—it isn’t good.
Even for Christians, is very serious. It’s like we’re saying that God owes us the things that He gives us, and if we don’t get what we think we deserve—we’re mad at Him! That’s completely backwards!
Are you giving God thanks or are you demanding His blessing?
In the last verse, we see Jesus’s final evaluation of the man.
Luke 17:19 And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.
What is faith? Faith is a trust or confidence that rises from your belief in Jesus. It’s more than just believing the facts about something…it’s trusting what you believe to be true.
Jesus says it was the man’s faith that “made thee whole.” That phrase is in the Greek, sōzō. It is used 110 times in the New Testament, and 94 of those times it is translated “save” or “saved” in the KJV. Most of those instances talk about spiritual salvation, not merely being saved from a disease or an accident.
Does Jesus mean that the man was saved from leprosy or does He mean that the man was saved in the fullest sense? Bible scholars are somewhat divided. Did he understand that Jesus was the Messiah or just that Jesus was his healer? I think that his overwhelming grateful response is meant to show us that his “being made whole” extended to more than just his physical body, it extended to his spiritual soul as well.
Do you have faith in Jesus Christ to save you from the worst disease of all, the disease of sin? If you do, how can you express your gratitude anew this week?
Levi Durfey—LDM-42-Luke 17.11-19-LKA#077-20191124FBCAM-SERMON