The Gratitude of Faith (Luke 17:11-19)

            Kent Brantly was trained as a medical doctor at Indiana University’s School of Medicine.  He has a lovely wife and two beautiful children.  Although Kent Brantly is deeply loved by his family, until yesterday he was not able to touch them. Kent Brantly contracted the Ebola virus while he was serving in West Africa.  Ebola is a deadly disease with no cure.  He went to Liberia to serve at a hospital with his wife and two children.  When the Ebola virus broke out, Dr. Brantly stayed and he did not stay alone.  His wife and his two children also stayed to serve and help fight the disease.  This deadly virus has claimed over 1,200 lives in West Africa this year.  While the family flew back for a wedding, Dr. Brantly started experiencing a high fever and it was quickly confirmed that he had contracted the Ebola virus.

            Dr. Brantly was put into isolation and plans were made to bring him back to the United States for better care. When news of his return to the States became public, there was a media firestorm.  TV personalities start weighing in on the audacity of the government to allow someone with Ebola into the United States. Donald Trump said, “Ebola patient will be brought to the U.S. in a few days — now I know for sure that our leaders are incompetent. KEEP THEM OUT OF HERE!” TV Antagonist, Ann Coulter questioned the good Dr. Brantly ever did in the “disease-ridden cesspool” of Africa. CDC Director Tom Frieden told the Associated Press that he had received nasty emails and 100s of phone calls from people saying, “How dare you bring people into our country with Ebola?”  The emotional firestorm and intense backlash may be surprising to some, but it would not have been surprising to those with leprosy in the first century.  They were isolated from human contact and shunned by family and friends.  The isolation and the backlash facing Dr. Kent Brantly, is only a sliver of the isolation and emotional anguish of a 1st century leper. 

            Jesus invites us into the mind and heart of a leper.  Without empathizing with the emotional and spiritual pain of 1st century lepers, it will be impossible for us to fully understand the message that Jesus wants us to grasp from this passage.  So before we begin, imagine yourself devoid of human contact, unable to shake a hand of a friend, to caress the cheeks of your children or able to gather to worship with God’s people; a complete outcast in total isolation. Once you can imagine yourself there, we can grasp the emotion of this text.

The Plea

            Luke opens this story with a reminder of the future destination of the Lord Jesus.  He is on his way to Jerusalem and he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. This may seem like small additions to the story, but they should fill our minds with the destination of Jesus.  He is heading towards Jerusalem, where he will be brutally beaten and hung on the cross. Jesus may have been walking towards his own suffering, but his heart was still with those who were currently suffering.  All of Jesus’ life was under the shadow of the cross.  Beloved, we too should live under the shadow of the cross.  The way of the Christ is the way of the cross.

            It is important to note that Jesus was walking through Samaria and Galilee.  He was walking through two opposing people.  The Samaritans and the Jews did not get along. Samaritans were derided as half-breeds, unfit for the kingdom of God.  Like clanging symbols, the original audience would have heard the contrast between Samaria and Galilee.  So with the backdrop of the cross and racial tension, Luke continues in verse 12,

And he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”

These lepers were living in community together.  We know from the rest of the story that these lepers were comprised of both Samaritans and Jews.  Leprosy had no prejudice. Leprosy caused both Jew and Samaritans to be cut off from their people and isolated on the outskirts of town. They were unclean and separated from the people of God.  Jews and Samaritans lived together shunned from their people. 

            They cannot get close to Jesus, so they lifted up their voices from the distance and pleaded with Jesus to have mercy on them.  Remember we must feel their isolation in order to understand the passion and emotion that came with this plea. There was nothing they could do, but beg for mercy.  It shouldn’t be difficult for us to empathize with these lepers, because we have all been there…separated from God, unable to do anything, but beg for mercy.  We all have been lepers, classified as unclean, cut off from the God without hope.  Sin has no prejudice.  All sin separates us from God and labels us unclean, unfit for the kingdom of God.  Ezekiel 39:23-24,

And the nations shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity, because they dealt so treacherously with me that I hid my face from them and gave them into the hand of their adversaries, and they all fell by the sword. I dealt with them according to their uncleanness and their transgressions, and hid my face from them.

God will deal with our uncleanness of our sin and hide His face from us. This is not a safe place to be, having God hide His face from us because of our uncleanness. The only proper response is to call out for mercy.

The Purge

            The lepers call out for mercy and the Lord Jesus answered their plea.  Verse 14,

When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed.

Notice the first 4 words, “When he saw them.” Beloved, these words are so very important to us.  The world, our flesh and the evil one does not want you see those who are hurting.  The world wants you to focus on and live for yourself.  The people of God have to take their eyes off of themselves and focus on those who are suffering around us.  Jesus cannot speak to their need, unless he first sees them.  And after seeing them, Jesus gives them instructions to go and show themselves to the priests. 

            The ten lepers obeyed the words of Jesus and the Scripture says, “As they went they were cleansed.”  They experienced God’s blessing and they were purged of their uncleanness.  Would it be wrong to say that all ten had a degree of faith in Jesus? They all lifted up their voice to Jesus calling Him, Master, and asking Him to heal them.  And all ten of them turned and obeyed Jesus’ voice.  They all had some faith, but did they have saving faith.  What was their motivation for coming to Jesus?  Did they come to receive Him as Lord, or did they come to receive His blessings? 

            One of my greatest fears for us is that we come to God more for the blessings of His hand rather than the blessing of His Presence.  The saddest place for God’s people to be is to have the illusion that we are doing well because we are experiencing earthly prosperity.  Health could be deceiving, it was for these lepers.  Moses pleaded with God in Exodus 33:15-16,

If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”

Moses knew that the distinctiveness of the people of God rested not in their prosperity, but in the presence of God.  Moses then said, “Please show me your glory.”  Is this our prayer?  Do we pray only for our health or do we beg for God to show us His glory? Do we pray that God would only help us pay our bills or do we plead with God to show us His glory?

            How do you know if you are like these lepers who have some faith, but maybe not saving faith? Don Whitney offers 10 questions to help us diagnose our spiritual health and I’d encourage you to ask them of yourself:

Do you thirst for God? Are you governed increasingly by God’s Word? Are you more loving? Are you more sensitive to God’s presence? Do you have a growing concern for the spiritual and temporal needs of others? Do you delight in the bride of Christ? Are the spiritual disciplines increasingly more important to you? Do you still grieve over sin? Are you quicker to forgive?[1]      

Do not be deceived in thinking that if God improves your earthly life, He has changed your eternal destiny.  God wants you to care more about His Presence than His provision.

The Praise

Verse 15-16a,

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.

This is the proper response to God’s mercy.  When this leper realized He was healed, he turned back, praising God with a loud voice.  He lifted his voice for mercy and now he lifts his voice praising God.  And he turns and falls on his face in worship giving Him thanks.  This is the response of saving faith.  Jesus is worthy of this kind of praise. 

            I was speaking with a pastor this week who recently returned from a mission trip to New York City. He met an Iranian couple who came to faith in Jesus Christ.  They have applied for US citizenship, but there seems to be some problems with the paperwork so they may be deported back to Iran.  They looked at my pastor friend and said, “You know what will happen if we go back to Iran. We will be killed for our faith in Jesus.”  Yet they did not say it with a tone of resignation, but with one filled with joy. They rejoiced in so far as they get to share in the suffering of Christ.  They have been cleansed of their sin and redeemed with the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ so they are rejoicing.  They are facing death for their faith and yet they have joy.  Do we have that kind of joy? Are we praising God for cleansing us by his blood? There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel's veins; and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains. Beloved, rejoice for in Christ you lose all your guilty stains. 

            If you are bitter or angry this morning, then you have forgotten the gospel.  You have forgotten that you have been cleansed from your sins and forgiven through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Do not forget what the Lord has saved you from.  Rejoice. I say again, Rejoice. You are redeemed and He has risen and is coming again!!

            Luke closes this story by highlighting the breath of God’s glorious salvation for those who are far off.  Verse 16,

And he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

God looks at this foreigner and says your faith has made you well.  This is powerful, because in those words Jesus is extending salvation to all people.  For whosoever puts their faith in Christ will be saved. For anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  Salvation is extended to all and it is extended in the same way: through the one mediator between God and all men, Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.

            These words of Jesus should give us hope even in the light of the racial tensions that have exploded in Ferguson, MO this past week.  Our country has a very unique history of race relations, yet in the gospel there is no color, but the crimson flow of the blood of Christ.  For through the blood of Jesus Christ, he takes diverse people and makes them one in Christ.  Ephesians 2:14-21,

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

God has brought us all together under one household. We are no longer two people, but one people. We are no longer strangers and aliens, but we are fellow citizens with all the saints of God through the cross of Jesus Christ. This blood-bought unity should inform our conversation of the complex issues of race in the 21st century and should give us hope in Christ to conquer our differences. 

            The world may be full of hatred and strife, but God’s people are called to stand as one, unified body.  Jesus Christ commanded us to regularly practice the Communion as a way to keep this unity.  We will be celebrating the Lord’s Supper next week so make sure that if you have any disunity towards anyone in this fellowship that you address it before we come together next week to the Table.  The Lord also has established leaders in the church to preserve this unity.  In Acts 6, there was an issue of disunity in the church with certain widows being neglected in the daily distribution of food.  And in response to disunity, God established the office of deacon to set aside certain men to help maintain unity in the body of Christ.  Today, we are going to set aside Joel McMahan formally as a deacon. We are setting him apart as one who will strive to maintain unity in the Spirit.

            Joel, in being ordained as a deacon, you are committing yourself to labor for the spiritual health and unity of the Park Baptist Church. This church has seen your character and your spiritual wisdom. And we are confident that you will be one who will work to bring unity to our body. The best way you can bring this spiritual unity is to protect the ministry of the Word of God. You are being tasked alongside the other deacons to ensure the pure Word of God is preached to this people so that through the hearing of God’s Word, they may become wise unto salvation entering God’s eternal rest through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord.  As a deacon, you are called to be an example to the church of service and faith.  And remember the promise held out in 1 Tim 3:13, “For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.” I pray that as you serve you will continue to build your good standing for yourself and your family as well as gain great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. 

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[1] Whitney, Don. 10 Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health. Colorado Springs. NavPress. 2001.