It is our distinct pleasure to introduce you to Darren Schwartz. He serves as Chaplain at Kalispell Regional Healthcare – an enormous network of care services and providers – where his daily duties literally span from life to death. He is a solid, Bible-based teacher, a Chaplain in the United States Army Reserves, and a focused, nurturing Husband and Father of two delightful girls. He blessed Restart by accepting the pulpit while Pastor Bob was out of town. His message is titled: Don’t forget to say Thank You! Follow this link to his text: Luke 17:11-19
The story of the ten lepers is a testimony to the healing power of Jesus Christ. But it’s more than that. It’s a witness of gratitude from a condemned man who was brought from death to life.
- One of the major themes of Luke is the remarkable faith of Gentiles (a theme that continues in Acts). Luke was Greek… not Jewish.
- Luke was a Physician. He often focused on healing.
This is what sets the story of the ten lepers apart from all the other healing stories of the New Testament: Of everyone that Jesus healed and raised from the dead, only this poor leper came back to say thank you. In this way, he serves as an example for how we ought to live each day in gratitude for God’s redeeming love. And that’s what I’d like for us to think about this morning.
First, let’s look more closely at the story. Leprosy was a dreaded disease in Jesus’ day, mostly because it was not clearly understood.
- Their leprosy was not necessarily Hansen’s disease, the terrible wasting disease that we think of today as leprosy.
- Biblical leprosy probably included skin rashes and diseases such as ringworm, psoriasis, and others.
The upshot of this is that, while some skin diseases are potentially fatal, others are harmless. Yet, lacking precise medical knowledge, Jews from Moses’ day to 1st Century lumped them all into one category and declared the infected person spiritually unclean and socially unfit.
For many, it was a death sentence. It was assumed they were being punished for something they’d done wrong. So, they were banished in order to not spread their contamination.
- For the Hebrews, it was a matter of life and death. An infectious disease could wipe out a whole village.
- And so, once declared to be a leper, the individual was banished as a means of quarantine.
- They were to dress distinctively, and, if approached by others, they were to shout out a clear warning, “Unclean! Unclean!” This comes right out of the Book of Leviticus: Leviticus 13:45
One commentary says: “The suffering of the leper of biblical times was due just as much from how they were treated by society as it was from the severity of the disease.”
Back to biblical times, once excluded from family and friends, lepers sought out the company of other lepers …. And so, lepers congregated in the wilderness to comfort and care for each other, as they suffered and died in exile.
It was a small leper colony such as this that Jesus encountered on his way through the Samaritan wilderness: Ten lepers, dressed in tattered rags, their bodies covered with lesions, crying at the top of their lungs. For some reason, when Jesus approached they did not cry out, “Unclean!”, as they were supposed to; instead, they cried, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
How did they know who Jesus was? Why did they not warn him of the danger of their presence? Luke doesn’t say. He only says that, in answer to their plea, Jesus responded with mercy. After all, this is the nature of Jesus: To love the unlovable, to touch the untouchable, to seek out the least, the last and the lost.
He told the lepers, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” This is significant in two ways:
- He treated the lepers the same way he treated everyone else. In other words, he didn’t criticize them or question if they were worthy of his time and attention. This is one of the hallmarks of his love. In fact, the only prerequisite to receiving God’s grace and love is your need of him.
- The second reason this is significant is that Jesus did not seek to circumvent the authority of the church. If it was the priest’s responsibility to declare an individual clean or unclean. (Lev. 14)
Again, this was in accordance with the Law, and Jesus didn’t challenge that. In the Sermon on the Mount, he told his disciples,
Key Bible Verse
Don’t think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill...
And so he told the lepers, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”
They turned in obedience to Jesus’ word, and as they went they were healed. (Sometimes obedience comes before healing)
Now, we can imagine that when they saw what had happened, they leaped for joy and ran as fast as they could to the Temple. Well, why not?
- They had been as good as dead; now they were alive.
- They had been separated from their loved ones, now they were to go home and be reunited.
- This was a miracle of unimaginable proportions. I would have been ecstatic, and so would they.
But, according to Luke, one of the lepers, seeing that he was healed, turned back to Jesus and praised God in a loud voice:
Key Bible Verse
He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks...
Jesus asked, “Weren’t the ten cleansed? But where are the nine?” After all, Jesus had just told the lepers to go and show themselves to the priests. In leaving, they were doing exactly what he had commanded them to do. It’s what he would have expected.
- Is it possible to receive God’s gifts and blessings with an ungrateful heart?
What’s unusual is not that the other nine were well on their way to the Temple, but that one turned back to say thank you. Why did he not do as he was told?
What was it about this one leper that caused him to return to the scene of the miracle to say, “Thanks?” Was he more grateful than the rest? Was he more righteous? One of the strong parental messages of my childhood was: “Don’t forget to say thank you!” Do you think this leper had had better parenting than the others?
One theory is that it has to do with who this leper was. Luke tells us, almost tongue-in-cheek: “Oh, by the way,” he says, “He was a Samaritan.”
Imagine that you are part of the Jewish audience to whom Jesus was speaking. This would’ve been a slap in the face. You would’ve been highly insulted. It was the Samaritan who came back to thank and praise God… not any of the Jews.
- Could it be that the Samaritan didn’t rush off to see a priest because he had no priest to rush off to? Some say he was not weighted down with religious requirements or expectations. After all, being a Samaritan, he would not have been allowed to set foot in the Jerusalem Temple. There may as well have been a big sign over the front door saying: “No Samaritans allowed.”
And that is why I think this is important: Sometimes the church or our religiosity stand in the way of our experiencing the fullness of God’s grace and love. We get into such a routine of going to church that, without realizing it, we fail to appreciate God’s grace and His miracles all around us.
We get so caught up in the form of worship and the established patterns of church life that we fail to experience the awe and wonder of Almighty God.
Sometimes, like the nine lepers who were so intent on fulfilling the requirements of the Law, we fail to recognize the One who has come to give us life in all its abundance. Maybe we miss God in life because we are too busy doing what’s expected of us.
Yet another theory says that while Jesus wasn’t as concerned about being thanked as he was about the men’s understanding of what had happened.
- The other nine went off, free from leprosy, but not necessarily free from sin through salvation Jesus could offer.
- This one man was freed, so Jesus sent him on his way with the knowledge that his faith had made him well.
- His body and soul had both been restored in the end.
“Don’t forget to say thank you!” It’s a word we ought to be shouting to the other nine lepers. It’s also a word we need to hear ourselves: Don’t get so caught up in the day-to-day busyness of life that you fail to recognize and honor and thank the one who has made possible for you the promise of eternal life.
So, before you rush off to see the priest; that is, before you become absorbed in trying to fulfill all the expectations others have of you – including the church and your work – take a moment to say thank you.
- The Good News is Jesus died for you. He has brought you from death to life. Don’t forget to say thank you!
- Instead of demanding anything from Jesus, these lepers pleaded for mercy.
- This story emphasizes the need for genuine, heart-felt, faith in Jesus.
- Sometimes healing comes only after obedience
- Jesus stressed public testimony and giving God the credit for wonderful things in our lives.
- Jesus highlighted the need for gratitude and praise to God.
- Will you still praise God despite the outcome of your prayers?
- Christians should be the ones to always return to God and thank him for his grace and mercy.
Let’s remember to say Thank You as we head into this Thanksgiving Season!