11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”Luke 17:11-19
Advent 2022 — December 6 – Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast
It’s been too long! But I’m glad to be back studying God’s Word with you!
I’ve been writing – just a different sort of writing. As I have said before, I am blessed to be a part of the Masters of Christian Theology program at William Carey University. It has not been easy, but it has been a blessing to me. As bad as I hate to admit it, I have lost a step or two since I was last in school (as a student), but it has been good to grow in my understanding of the Word of God and in theology; it’s even been good to grow as a writer through the (many) research papers.
While I have, unfortunately, been a little more hit-or-miss in the writings here, that is something that I hope will be remedied between now and when I graduate – and definitely beyond if the Lord allows. I have enjoyed our time spent studying Colossians, but we are going to pause that study for the time being. In the meantime, I will shift the writings between now and graduation to dive into passages that fit into and overlap with passages I am diving into either in personal devotional time or in my studies for Christ Community or at Carey.
Even as I look at how to better maximize my time and strategize to use it more effectively, I am thankful to get to be a part of all I get to do. I get to be a follower of Christ. I get to be a husband. I get to be a father. I get to teach and write and serve. I am even thankful for the time I must schedule all these aspects of my life.
This week is a time set aside in America for one to be thankful. The fourth Thursday in November is supposed to be a holiday devoted to celebrating all we have to be thankful for. Since the invention of social media, some challenge themselves to find and commemorate something they are thankful for every day in the month of November. Part of me thinks that it is sad that we need to be reminded to be thankful, but the rest of me knows just how selfish I am and that, left to my own, I will neglect to be grateful. Maybe you don’t need reminding, but I find that I do.
Today, I would like to look with you to God’s Word at a passage that reminded me to be thankful and convicted me of my own lack of thankfulness.
Meeting the Master and Finding Mercy (vv. 11-14)
Any time I study a passage in the latter half of Luke, I cannot help but think of Luke 9:51: When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem. That phrase “set His face” could also be translated “he steadfastly set his face to go”. This describes Jesus’ attitude and mindset when the end of His life was drawing near, knowing full well that the cross is why He was headed to Jerusalem. You see, He was not caught off-guard by His crucifixion. Luke’s gospel records this as the moment of Jesus “turned to Jerusalem to complete his work through the predicted betrayal, death, and resurrection.”
This is important because it highlights that His sacrifice was willing. The fact that “He set His face” illustrates that He was resolutely focused on getting there. It brings to mind the sort of focus that an Olympic athlete has when preparing to compete. They focus only on things that are necessary to carry out that goal. Jesus, however, did not stop doing what He came to do – seeking and saving the lost (Luke 19:10), which is what He was going to the cross to do! So, the encounters He had with those who needed saving were not random encounters or detours, they were part of His mission.
Jesus and His disciples were, as we saw in Luke 9:51, still “on the way to Jerusalem” (v. 11) when they encountered ten lepers. Leprosy meant that these men would have had to declare that they had leprosy when approaching other people by crying out “Unclean, unclean!” (Leviticus 13:45-46) so that 1) people would not come into contact with the infected person and 2) those concerned with being clean according to the Law would be made aware so they would not become unclean.
Leprosy was a catch-all term in the New Testament that referenced any skin disease from the period, but it is safe to say, regardless of the level of severity, that these men had been ostracized and at a distance from society for some time. They would have been unable to work or socialize with others, even family. They would feel isolated and alone. More than that, they were isolated and alone. When these men saw Jesus, they respectfully kept their distance, but they ceased their cries of “unclean” to cry out to Jesus: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (vv. 12-13).
Time and again, those who are outcast and downcast found their way to Jesus seeking help from Him. These particular outcasts asked Him for mercy. The word translated “mercy” here meant “to have compassion or mercy on a person in unhappy circumstances” or “to be gracious toward [or] bestow kindness”. This request for mercy would have been the same whether they were asking for charity or alms or to be healed, so it is difficult to tell exactly what they were seeking. They found more charity than they could have ever hoped to receive.
No matter what they were seeking, they were likely confused by Jesus’ response. He did not toss them a coin or lay hands on them for healing. He didn’t even make mud and rub it on them (John 9:6) or tell them to bathe in the Jordan (2 Kings 5). He simply told them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” If they had been familiar with the Law, they would have recognized that this was what those who were cleansed of leprosy were told to do in Leviticus 14:1-32 – to go and show themselves to the priest so that he could confirm they were clean and make an offering for their guilt and atonement for their sin. When the text says, “as they went” (v. 14), it shows that the men – all ten of them – departed to go to the priest. They had faith. Or at the very least belief or held to 1st century Judaism.
Nothing miraculous had happened to spark their journey, merely the command of Him from whom they sought mercy. But after they headed out on their journey, the miracle happened. They were cleansed. The sores on their skin were healed, yes, but something more happened. They were cleansed. Those who had just moments before needed to cry out “unclean” when they approached others were made clean by Jesus. They did not need lengthy washings or offerings by a priest because they had been cleansed by the God those priests served. Those ten men’s lives were changed in a moment. But the heart of one was touched more than the other nine.
Gratitude and Grace (vv. 15-19)
I cannot imagine what those men must have felt in their hearts – and in their bodies! It is important for us to look at the distinctions between the one and the nine in this narrative. Before we judge the nine too harshly, it is important to note as we did in v. 14 that they likely were heading exactly where Jesus had told them to go – to the priest. They were being obedient to Jesus and to the Law. The one who turned back would have had a hard time fulfilling that command, though, because he was a Samaritan.
All my life, I have heard the issue with Samaritans oversimplified to say that there was simply a sort of racial tension between Jewish people and those from Samaria. They have a long history of division. The Samaritans are largely the descendants of people brought in to colonize the region when the Assyrians conquered the land. Those inhabitants were later educated in the Law after God had sent lions into the land to attack them (2 Kings 17:25-26) and some intermarrying occurred with the northern tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. They claimed the same or at least similar beliefs as their Jewish relatives, but they had different holy places and places of worship. So, the tensions over ethnicity are accompanied and highlighted by the religious differences. The Samaritans were not accepted by Jewish people.
A leper would have been ostracized, but a Samaritan leper would have been a total outcast. So, for the Master (v. 13) to show such grace apparently made quite an impact. Ten lepers were cleansed. Nine Jewish former-lepers went to show themselves to the priest like Jesus commanded them. But only one stopped to thank Jesus. In fact, saying that he stopped to thank Jesus is an understatement. Look at what the text says. He saw that he was healed, turned back to where Jesus was, praised God, fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, and thanked Him (vv. 15-16).
Imagine what led this man to have such a reaction – a potentially incurable and infectious skin disease, seeking charity in a foreign land that is hostile to you and your people. Then, he encountered the One from whom mercy could be found. Imagine the feeling when looking down at your hands, expecting them to be covered in sores and boils but seeing clear skin. You would still have to go to present yourself to the priest, but Jesus was still standing there. Being cleared by the priest would mean you could go back to your life, but the One who healed you is right there.
What we see as a display of thankfulness was an act of worship for this man. What does that say for our thankfulness for what God has done for us?
Jesus asked the man some important questions: “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” What can he ask of us?
Jesus knew the man’s heart. He knew what he meant when he asked for mercy. And He knew what drove the man to his face at His feet in praise and thanksgiving. Rather than showing himself before a priest, this man laid himself down at the feet of the Great High Priest. Jesus told the man, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
I asked you to imagine what the man must have been feeling, but, if you are in Christ, you know. If you are in Christ, you were formerly outcast (Ephesians 2:12). You were formerly not His people (1 Peter 2:10). You were His enemy (Romans 5:10). And you were dead in your sin (Ephesians 2:1-2, Colossians 2:13). Any of those are hopeless, but all of them leaves one desperate and despondent. Or it leaves one callous and defiant (Ephesians 4:17-19).
If you are in Christ, that means that you have been saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). You did nothing to save yourself (Ephesians 2:9). In fact, you were and are completely incapable of saving yourself (Romans 3:10-12). Jesus did it all (Titus 3:4-5). When you respond to Christ by believing that He died for your sins and was raised again and confessed Him as your Lord (Romans 10:9-10), a transformation takes place (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). The outcast is brought near (Ephesians 2:13). Not-His-people becomes His people (1 Peter 2:9-10). His enemy is adopted into His family (Romans 5:8-11, Galatians 4:4-6). And the dead is made alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5, Colossians 2:13-14).
If that is true of you, does it move you to worship? Does it move you to gratitude? When is the last time that you cast yourself on your face before God and thanked Him for His love and grace and mercy?
Religion does not produce such a reaction.
When John the Baptist sent His disciples to Jesus to make sure He was the Messiah, Jesus answered them by paraphrasing Isaiah 29:18-19 and 35:5-10: “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them.” This answer satisfied John, and it points us to who Jesus is and what He does. He is the God who saves! One thing is for sure, dear Sojourner, the ones who can now see or walk who couldn’t before, the ones who were cleansed from their leprosy or given the ability to hear, those who were dead and are now alive – they are grateful! What does it say for me if I am not?
I needed this reminder. It is so easy to forget sometimes what it was to be lost, what it was to be dead in my sins. But there is a Savior who has earned my gratitude. He is worthy of better worship than I can offer.
I urge you to examine your heart – not because tomorrow is the fourth Thursday in November but because encountering Jesus produces a response. Encountering Him either drives us to repent of our sins and put our trust in Him or to vehemently deny Him. There is no middle ground. The good news is that if you find that you are not saved, He is still the God who saves! And I would love to help you encounter Him today.