The Lord's Day Morning
February 13, 2011
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 17 as we continue our way through this gospel together. We’re going to be looking at verses 11 to 19 together this morning. As you turn to Luke 17, let me remind you that this is not the first time we have seen Jesus heal a leper in the gospel of Luke. We looked at some length at Luke 5:12-14 in which Jesus encountered a leper and healed him. That passage is very different from this one. In Luke 5:12-14 you will remember that Jesus actually reaches out and touches the leper and this would of course have caused a great deal of commotion in the Hebrews around them watching this happen because they would have known, according to Leviticus 22, that a priest who touches someone with leprosy himself becomes unclean and thus he is sent out of the camp. But something amazing happened. Jesus touches the leper and He does not become unclean but the leper does become clean. And Luke is telling you in that passage that Jesus is not defiled by the sinners He comes in contact with and heals. Because of His holiness, because of His purity, because He is the Savior, the Messiah, the Son of God, He is not defiled by us but He does in fact cleanse us.
This passage has a little bit different emphasis that it wants to make. You’ll notice, for instance, in Luke 17:11-19 Jesus not only doesn't touch these lepers, He doesn't get anywhere close to them. But there is still a Levitical background to this passage. In fact, the background to Luke 17:11-19 is Leviticus chapters 13 and 14. Now if you were to turn to Leviticus chapter 13 you would find a very long and painfully and excruciatingly detailed account of skin disease, all the way from eczema to Hansen's disease and what one is supposed to do to determine whether one has a skin disease that excludes you from the camp or which is allowed, and then what you’re to do if you have a disease that excludes you from the camp. And then Leviticus 14 explains what the priests are to do in order to restore someone to fellowship with the people of Israel who has been cured of one of these dread diseases. It is those two chapters that form the background of this passage today.
Well, let's pray and ask His help and blessing before we read God's Word.
Lord, this is Your Word. We ask that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful things in it. Grant, O Lord, that we would see and believe and embrace the truth. In Jesus' name, amen.
This is God's Word. Hear it:
“On the way to Jerusalem He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as 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.’ When He saw them He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed. 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. 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 on your way; your faith has made you well.’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
I wonder if, between the time you got up this morning and prepared to bring your family to come to church or to come to church yourself and got here for Sunday School or for this service, I wonder if the thought crossed your mind that you were grateful and thankful to God for what He has done for you. Or maybe you had lots of kids to get ready for church this morning and your sanctification was taxed to its limit and gratitude was not at the forefront of your mind, but way back somewhere on a backburner let's extend it a little bit, perhaps during this last week. I wonder if the thought has crossed your mind as you've been doing whatever you do, that despite any difficult circumstances that are in your life or any frustrating circumstances that might be in your life or challenges or fears that you might be facing, that in spite of anything that is happening circumstantially in your experience, that you are profoundly thankful to God for what He has done for you, for what He has given to you, and that you realize that He hasn't given you what you deserve, that if He had given you what you had deserved you would be in hell, but He had dealt with you kindly. He has not only given you more than you could expect, He's given you other than you can expect and He's been generous and He has been loving and He has been gracious and He has been merciful. And the thought perhaps would then cross your mind that He has dealt with you better than you deserve.
And perhaps that thought has led you to gratitude, to thanksgiving to God, and perhaps you've paused in your mind and just said a silent prayer to yourself — “Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord.” That kind of attitude, that kind of preoccupation with gratitude to God for mercies undeserved and for grace that is showed even in the face of our demerit, is characteristic of a believer. And only a believer can show that kind of Gospel gratitude. If I were to sum up in one dense phrase the proposition that this passage puts out before us today it would be this: Gospel gratitude requires and accompanies faith and is a necessary part of Gospel worship. Now if I were to break that down further, you’d see three things in that one dense phrase.
The first thing you’d see is this — you cannot exercise Gospel gratefulness without faith. You've got to have faith to show Gospel gratefulness. And secondly, faith always shows Gospel gratefulness. I don't mean that we're always as grateful as we ought to be. If that were the requirement for Christians, we’d all be in trouble. Wouldn't we? We’re never as grateful as we ought to be, even when we are maximally grateful in comparison to the rest of our experience. We could always be more grateful than we are, but a believer is grateful because a believer knows that she or he is always indebted to God's mercy. And then there's one more thing in that little dense phrase and it's this — that gratefulness expresses itself out in worship. We worship in gratefulness. So that dense little phrase, “Gospel gratitude requires and accompanies faith and is a necessary part of Gospel worship,” captures something that we learn in this passage today.
But as we study that together I want us to look at two things. And the first thing is this — this passage teaches us that Jesus does what no priest can do. Jesus does what no priest can do. That's clearly one of the points that Luke wants us to get as he recounts this story. Jesus and His disciples are between Samaritan territory and Jewish territory. They are in the towns and villages between, at the border of, Samaria and Galilee. And interestingly enough they come upon a group of lepers and that group is mixed. There is at least one Samaritan and by implication there are a number – maybe nine, maybe fewer — Jewish lepers. Isn't it interesting that the barrier between Jews and Samaritans has been broken down in the case of these lepers by leprosy. They are so excluded from their communities that even Jews and Samaritans are fellowshipping together in their leprosy. Normally Jews would have nothing to do with Samaritans and Samaritans would have nothing to do with Jews. And yet they’re together because of the extremity of their circumstances. They are having to stick together and look out for one another because of their leprosy.
And as Jesus enters into a village, these lepers — notice what they do — they don't come close to Jesus. Look at verse 12 — “They stand at a distance.” And then verse 13 — “They lift up their voices.” They have to call to Him from a distance, “Jesus!” And they speak to Jesus respectfully. They call Him, Master. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Now these lepers have apparently heard of the reputation of Jesus and they have some hope that He can help them in their circumstances. And so they respectfully approach Him and they call Him master and they ask Him to have mercy on them. Now Jesus, unlike Luke 5, does not come close to them and touch them and produce a healing immediately. He calls back to them and He says, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” Now that is what you learn about in Leviticus 14. When a person was cleansed from leprosy, they went to the priest to show that they had been cleansed from leprosy or one of the other excluding skin diseases in Leviticus 13. They showed themselves to the priest and then the priest performed rituals which gave an external indication to the believing community that they were welcome back in to fellowship with the people of God. And Jesus simply says to these men, “Go find a priest and show yourself to him.” And they obey Jesus. They turn around and they start heading to the priest. And we're told in verse 14, “As they went they were cleansed.”
Now what is Luke telling you? Well Luke is telling you something very definite about Jesus because you will scan Leviticus 14 in vain to find the power of a priest to heal someone from leprosy. Israel's priest could heal no one from leprosy. All they could do was recognize someone who had been healed from leprosy and perform the rituals that allowed them back into fellowship with the people of God. There is no magic hocus-pocus in Leviticus 14 that an Israelite priest could perform to change someone from leper to non-leper. All they could do was recognize it. And so, by implication, Leviticus 14 is saying this — only God can cure you of leprosy. The priest can recognize that God has cured you from leprosy and can welcome you back into the fellowship of the people of God.
And so when Luke tells you that Jesus says, “Go, show yourselves to the priest,” and these ten lepers are healed on the way, what is Luke saying but Jesus is God! He can do what no human priest can do. He can do what no Israelite priest had the power to do. He can heal. Do you remember the passage that Billy read from 2 Thessalonians 2 this morning when the man of lawlessness who is a raid against God and His people rises up in the last day? How will that climactic battle play out? Do you remember the words? Jesus will do what? “He will kill him by the breath of His mouth.” Now if we were writing superhero movies, the final climactic battle between the good guy and the bad guy would take at least a half an hour. But when this battle happens, Jesus is going to lay low the man of lawlessness with a breath of his mouth. And in this passage Jesus speaks and these lepers are healed. And Luke is saying, he's drawing your attention to Jesus Himself, and he's saying, Jesus can do what no human priest could do, what no Jewish priest could do, what no Levite, what no priest could ever do. He can heal and this is a testimony to the claims that He has made to be the Messiah, the Son of God. This passage is about drawing attention to the saving power of Jesus and to the person of Jesus the Christ.
But this passage is also about showing the response of the person who believes in Jesus as one of gratitude. And I want you to see that in the response of this leper who is described in verse 15. Look at what it says. “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back and praising God with a loud voice he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet giving Him thanks.” This leper is walking along his way with the other nine lepers to see the priest. Suddenly he looks and his fingers aren't falling off his hands anymore and the skin on the arms and his legs and his abdomen are healed and he realized that he has been cleansed of this dread disease. And he thinks to himself, “Going to the priest can wait! I am going back to thank Him because I've been healed! I've been made whole; I've been made well! I am going to thank God and I am going to thank Jesus!” And so he turns around and he goes back and he prostrates himself before Jesus and he praises God. And Jesus draws attention to that.
But interestingly, what especially does Jesus draw his attention to? First of all, notice how He draws his attention to faith. Look at the very end of the passage. Look at verse 19. After the man has come and prostrated himself before Jesus, Jesus says to him, “Rise and go on your way — now go ahead and go back to the priest and do what I said in the first place. Your faith has made you well.” Now Jesus is not saying that faith was the cause of his healing or that his faith had the power to heal him. You often hear that from faith preachers today and prosperity preachers today. “If you only had enough faith, you’d be healed of all your diseases.” That's not what Jesus is saying. Faith here is not the cause of the healing; it is the means of the healing. God is the cause of the healing. Jesus is the cause of the healing. God's grace is the reason for the healing. But faith was the way that that healing was received. The leper believed that Jesus had the power to heal him and Jesus healed him, and so faith was the means whereby he received the healing. It was the instrument, not the cause. God was the cause. Jesus was the cause. God's power, God's grace – that was the cause. But the means by which that blessing was received was faith. But that faith expressed itself how? It expressed itself in gratitude. That leper came back and thanked Jesus. And he wouldn't have thanked Jesus is he had not believed Him, if he had not trusted Him.
You see, Gospel gratitude requires faith. You can't show the kind of gratitude that you owe to God unless you believe in Him, unless you trust Him. Unless you embrace by faith the Gospel you can't show the kind of gratitude that you owe to God. And this leper's faith which Jesus draws attention to leads him to gratitude. And then his faith is expressed in gratitude. He thanks Jesus. And then he worships. He falls down before Jesus and he worships. He thanks Jesus; he worships God. And so we see in this passage Gospel gratitude requiring faith and accompanying faith and being expressed in worship.
But what is so interesting in this passage is what Jesus draws attention to that has not happened. Did you see what Jesus says in verse 17? It's very poignant, isn't it? This man comes back and he is overjoyed and he's worshipping God and he's thanking Jesus and Jesus says, “Weren't there ten of you? Where are the others? You mean just you? One out of ten?” And then Luke tells you even more. Look at the end of verse 16. “Now he was a Samaritan.” And this moves Jesus to make a comment. And Jesus’ comment is found in verse 18. “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner? You mean, no Jewish leper was going to come back and thank God and give God praise for the healing? It was a Samaritan?”
And you see what Jesus is saying. He's saying sometimes people who ought to know better, people who know the Word and they ought to be grateful, aren't. And why not? Because though they ought to know better, they don't believe. Though they've been taught enough and they know enough they do not believe. And does that not, my friends, hit us right between the eyes? We know so much. So many of us in this room have been spoon-fed the Bible since we were young. And we hear it week-in and week-out and perhaps we read it week-in and week-out, but if we are not grateful, is that an indication that we just don't believe? You see, gratitude here is an accompaniment of faith which indicates that faith is present. And so your gratitude or lack thereof may well be an index, a clue, a symptom of the state of your heart and the state of your faith. And Jesus’ words just as surely as they were a warning to unbelieving Israel in His own time are a warning to us.
You know, Presbyterians who know our Catechisms, know our Bibles, think we could beat the Baptists in sword-drills, and you can fill in the blank as to which denominational group you want to look down on in the Samaritan. And Jesus is saying, “Is it a Samaritan that comes back to Me grateful? No Presbyterians here? Not one? It was a Samaritan?” Faith is grateful. Faith is grateful because when you realize what God has done for you it puts everything in the right perspective. You see, it is apparent that nine of these lepers viewed Jesus as a means to an end. Jesus was the means to them getting what they really wanted which was healed. But one of them realized that something bigger was going on, something bigger than him. It was so big that it required that he worship. And he came back. And it's so interesting what Jesus says to him. Your translations may render it differently. Look at the end of verse 19. Jesus says to him, “Your faith has made you well.” Some of your translations may say, “Your faith has saved you” or “Your faith has made you whole.”
But it's clear that Jesus is indicating that this man has received something far more profound and far more eternal than just cleansing from leprosy. You can be healed from leprosy and still go to hell. That's one of the things that this passage makes clear. You can be healed from leprosy and still go to hell. But Jesus is saying to this man, “You have believed. That's why you’re grateful. And you've worshipped gratefully so I want to tell you some very good news, former leper. You’re not just a former leper. You have been made whole. God's grace has done it, your faith has received it, but you’re received salvation.” And that's why that leper is grateful. If we've received that gift, we ought to be grateful people and that gratitude ought to be pouring off of our lips in worship and it ought to be present in our hearts, no matter what we're going through. No matter what we're going through, there ought to be a deep residing, resounding thankfulness about us. So, I ask you this question — Got gratitude?
Heavenly Father, we thank You for the rebuke and the warning in this passage that we would presume upon the blessings that You have given us and show in that presumption that we really don't understand the greatest blessing that there is — fellowship with You. And we've viewed You as a means to an end rather than the greatest treasure there is. Lord, change our hearts. Make us grateful because we believe and we know what we deserve and we know what You've given us instead and in our hearts we are glad. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Now it's appropriate that we take our hymnals and turn to number 98 and sing, “Now Thank We All Our God.”
Believer, what has God given you, every one of you? Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, both now and forevermore. Amen.