But Where are the Nine?

Sermon preached on Luke 17:11-19 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 11/20/2011 in Novato, CA.

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Luke 17:11-19

“But Where Are the Nine?”

Thursday is our national Thanksgiving holiday. It’s a good thing that our country has a day to count our blessings. And yet this is not a day just to be thankful in general. It’s a day to thank someone. To thank God. Now yes, we should be thanking God all year long. That’s not to say that there is not a value in having a special day of thanksgiving. Certainly there is. But it seems the some of the greatest value is not simply to thank God on Thanksgiving. That, is what we should do everyday. Rather, the Thanksgiving holiday is especially a day to be reminded that we should be thankful, all year long. More than just a single day of thankfulness, it’s a day to reset our focus. We should be thankful people – thankful to God for all his many blessings. Especially for the blessing of salvation in Jesus Christ.

You see, this is a common problem in man. We don’t thank God as we ought. We are really good at asking God for help, and not so good at thanking him afterwards. This passage demonstrates that. This will be our topic that we’ll reflect on today. Our passage begins with some geography. Jesus and his disciples are heading southward toward Jerusalem. In the process they are passing through the bordering areas of Samaria and Galilee. Here, as you could expect, you would find both Jews and Samaritans. In this passage, we find ten of them together, lepers, living as outcasts.

Well, what I want us to notice first then is the great need of these lepers. They had a great, great, need. They were unclean. They needed to be cleansed. That’s what it says Jesus does for them in verse 14. They were sick. They needed to be healed. That what it says Jesus does for them in verse 15. They of course were also outcasts. We know that from the text. They are hanging out in this border country between Samaria and Galilee by this small village. There in verse 12 it notes that they stood afar off; at a distance. This of course was the normal practice for lepers. The law of Moses specifically required them to be outcasts, to live outside the camp – Leviticus 13. Leviticus 13 said they had to stay away from people and yell out “Unclean.” This meant they were outcasts socially. But also religiously – they were not allowed to enter the temple to worship, due to their unclean status. And so, the sum of it is this. They were unclean, sick, outcasts. They had great need.

Well, having a great need means you usually have a big cry for help when you see someone who can help you. That is exactly what we have in this passage. Jesus shows up on the scene, and the ten lepers see help had arrived. Verse 12 says the lepers met Jesus there. They came to him for help. Verse 13 is their cry for help. “And they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Notice what this call entails. It says they lift up their voices. In other words, they speak up, and they speak up loudly. They aren’t going to miss their chance. Jesus was there. As an act of faith, they loudly call out to him for help. Next, notice the respect they show Jesus. They call him master. This is a strong word of respect. It acknowledges Jesus as a leader and a person of high status. In other words, they humble themselves before Jesus and exalt him in their request.

Next, notice that their cry is one of desperation. Have “mercy” on us! To ask for him for mercy is to seek his pity. To seek his help. It’s to acknowledge that Jesus didn’t owe them something. They had not done anything to warrant his attention or healing. This is really important. Just before this passage in Luke is Jesus telling a parable about humility for believers. That a believer who serves God should never think that they have someone warranted God’s favor by their service. Rather, they should always think of themselves as unworthy servants before God. God who has nonetheless blessed them with grace and mercy. That’s what these lepers are acknowledging with their cry for mercy. Their plight was so severe. They didn’t have any claim on Jesus that he should stop to help them. They had nothing to offer Jesus, per se, to warrant his time and attention. And so they appeal to his compassion – “Have mercy on us, oh Master!” This is a cry of desperation when you have nothing really to offer, but you have such a great need.

So, realize, this call for help is quite appropriate. This is a textbook way to make such a request. They humbly call out to Jesus for help, begging for his mercy. When you have great need, this is what you should do. That’s what they did. It should be an act of faith on our part. And it was certainly an act of faith on their part. And yet, Christ’s response to them is a bit interesting. He does not heal them on the spot. No, he calls them to exercise that faith a little bit more. He gives them a task to do. Something very fitting if they are to be healed. It’s a task that in itself is a test of faith. Jesus simply tells them to go and show themselves to the priests – verse 14. You see, if they were healed, that is what they would have to do. If they were healed, the Law would require them to go to the priests and be inspected. The priest would sure they are really were healed. It was actually a long process that would have taken eight days and several sacrifices. But if they were, then their status would be restored. They would be affirmed as clean, and be allowed back into society and back into the temple worship.

But you see, Jesus didn’t heal them, and then send them to the priests. Without being healed yet, Jesus sent them to the priests. Verse 14 is very clear – the healing took place on the way to the priests. They had to take a step of faith. They had to put their faith into action. Before being healed, they had to trust they would be and start out to go see the priests. God chooses to heal people in different ways. Sometimes immediately and right out. Sometimes through a test of faith. You might recall in the Old Testament there was a leper who also was healed through a test of faith. Naaman the Syrian commander came to Elisha to be healed in 1 Kings 5. Naaman was given a task to perform as well – go and dip in the Jordan river seven times to be healed. Naaman didn’t want to do that at first, but his servant convinced him. Such a simple test of faith and act of humility. Naaman finally did the task and was healed. Well, here too, the ten men did what Jesus asked of them, and while they were in the middle of doing it, they were healed.

And so what I want us to notice is that up to this point, all ten of these lepers did exactly what they should be doing. Faced with a grave need, they show a textbook way to deal with it. They call out to Jesus for help. They without question or complaint, immediately obey his command. In other words they brilliantly pass the test of faith – faith at least in their hope that Jesus could heal them from their disease. And we see the result of it all – a wonderful miracle. Praise the Lord they are healed. Up to this point, all ten show themselves commendable on how they acted in faith and called upon Jesus.

And yet it’s after this point, when there is a departure from the group. The group had acted commendably all together up to this point. Yet now one distinguished himself. Verse 15. One, when they saw that they were healed, decided that it required an immediate and bold response of thanksgiving. Well, he was right. Obviously his response is the one most commended in this passage. Let’s look at the nature of his thanksgiving. First, note in verse 15 what his immediate response is. He returns. He returns to Jesus. He stops hi trip to the priest – evidently that can wait. Something more urgent had come up. Something of a greater priority. You see, this man puts a primacy on Thanksgiving. Given what just happens, his heart springs forth with the right response. Thanksgiving. He must, right away, first and foremost come back to Jesus and give thanksgiving. He drops what he is doing, so to speak, for this highest priority. So, his returning, shows his prioritization.

Next, notice that he glorifies God upon his return. Verse 15. He recognizes that God is the one behind this. That he had experienced the power of God in his life that day. That power left him in awe, and so he glorified God. He praised God and gave God the credit. His initial request acknowledged that he had nothing for which he could demand this healing from God. And so now, he gives God the credit. When God answers that grave need – it’s fitting to respond with worship. The God who has the power to solve that which no human can solve. To God be the glory! That’s what this man said. And it says he did it with a loud voice. He had lifted up his voice for help; it’s fitting that in thanksgiving he again raises his voice to glorify God.

Next, note that he thanks Jesus. That’s verse 16. Not only does he thank Jesus in verse 16, but he falls down before him. This is either an act of worship again, or at least at a bare minimum the greatest homage you could pay to someone. But you see the close connection between glorifying God and thanking Jesus. Whether that man realized Jesus was the Son of God, or not, we don’t know. But he got it right. We glorify God and thank Jesus, because God is at work through the God-man Jesus Christ.

And so in all this act of thanksgiving, notice that the man really puts his whole self into it. We are to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. In response to this answered prayer, the man response whole heartedly. He stops what’s he’s doing and puts a primacy on thanksgiving. He glorifies God with a loud voice. He thanks Jesus by falling on his face before him. He puts his whole self into this thanksgiving. It’s a wonderful picture of what thanksgiving should look like. This passage commends this picture of thanksgiving to us today. May our thanksgiving be with our whole bodies and souls.

And yet this man was a Samaritan. Samaritans were the religious outcasts of the day. They were Jewish half-breeds who had intermarried with pagan Gentiles. The resulting form of their worship was part from the Bible and part from pagan practices. In other words, they were seen as the perverted cult of the day. And yet why this is really important is because Jesus healed nine others, but they are missing. Verse 17, Jesus asked, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” You see, his thanksgiving as a Samaritan is significant when you realize he was the only one out of ten to come back and offer it. No Jew would have expected the Samaritan to be the only one to do the commendable righteous thing. Where were the Jews who were healed in the group? Why had they not come back? The Samaritan was the seemingly unlikely one, but he did what should have been done. He came back and offered thanksgiving.

What’s being highlighted here is the missing thanksgiving. The missing thanksgiving is highlighted all the more by the fact that the unlikely Samaritan did offer it. But the fundamental problem of the other nine was the missing thanksgiving. Ingratitude is being highlighted here. That’s the fundamental spiritual problem being shown here. The nine did not offer thanks. Surely they were happy about being healed. Surely they appreciated it. But they did not respond with the kind of thanksgiving that they should have. Of course, how would you feel if you sent ten people a present, and only one wrote you a thank you card?

What we should realize is that God thinks this is a very serious sin. I’m talking about ingratitude or being unthankful. There are passages that highlight this sin as a broad description of wickedness. For example, Luke 6:35, Jesus says that God is kind to the unthankful and evil. Interesting, this healing is an example of that. And yet look at how he pairs unthankfulness. Right alongside being evil. Or Romans 1:21, again talking in broad categories in describing the wicked and unbelievers, says that such were not glorifying God as they ought, and were unthankful. So you again have a broad sweeping description of wickedness in terms of being unthankful. Or in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 you have a long list of horrible sins, and one of them is being unthankful. See a pattern? Ingratitude is a serious thing, because that’s how the unbelievers are characterized. But do you see that its in this passage, that you’ve got Jews who are unthankful. The people who are supposed to be in the church, as being unthankful. Instead, it was the religious outsider who offered the thanks. Do you see the challenge to the church? Think of is this said, there were nine Orthodox Presybyterian lepers, and one Mormon leper, and only the Mormon leper came back to give thanksgiving? Do you see how that would shame us for our lacking thanksgiving? This is the chief problem presented in this passage.

Well, don’t miss in all of this, the gospel. Jesus told the Samaritan who came back, “Your faith has made you well.” Literally, your faith has saved you. The word “saved” there can be used in terms of physical healing, but also in terms of spiritual healing too. This is a common thing Jesus says to people in Luke, used in both senses. Which is meant here? Well for the other nine, we have no reason to think they experienced anything more than a physical healing. But here with the Samaritan we have good reason to think that he was healed more than that. That his whole-hearted thanksgiving reflects a changed heart. Jesus had brought to him more than just an outward cleansing of the skin. The man left changed, praise God and thanking Jesus.

Well, that being said, realize that it was not this man’s actions that saved him. It wasn’t his obedience to go to the priest, as Jesus had first commanded. It wasn’t even his wonderful act of thanksgiving that saved him. No, Jesus said it was his faith that saved him. Yes, faith that expressed itself in this way, but the focus is on the faith. Well, faith in who? Faith in Jesus! Faith saves, not because faith is so great. No faith, saves because of who is the object of the faith. Faith saves as it looks to Jesus. In other words, its Jesus who brings the healing and salvation. Faith is just the instrument for how we receive the salvation. Jesus does the healing and he gives it to people through faith.

You see, we have here again a reminder of what the gospel is about. What’s pictured here is how Jesus heals people through faith. All humans need healing. Yes, we need various physical healings. In heaven we’ll have completely healed bodies. These kinds of miracles are a foretaste of that healing, in part. But we especially need spiritual healing. We are people that are unthankful. Even in the church, we can find ourselves being unthankful. We have many other sins as well. All of these need healing and forgiveness. Jesus offers both in the gospel. The gospel announces that Jesus came to save sinners through his death on the cross. Jesus said, repent, and believe in the gospel. If you do, through your faith, you will be saved, healed, forgiven. Faith that looks to Jesus who saves.

And so this means that humans are to call out to Jesus for this salvation. Remember that’s what the ten lepers did here in light of their grave need. They called out humbly to Jesus for mercy. Well, we have the greatest need as sinners. Salvation from our sins. That means all should call out humbly to Jesus to be saved. Call out to him for mercy. Romans 10:13 says, that “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” That’s what we do. It’s a call of faith. And when Christ hears that call, don’t be surprised when he calls you to put your faith into action. Our thanksgiving is part of that. As those Jesus has healed and saved, we ought to give thanks. We glorify God and thank Jesus, with all that we are! That of course is part of his healing in our lives. He heals our unthankful hearts by his Spirit. He works in us gratitude and thanksgiving. Praise be to God!

Brothers and sisters, in light of Christ’s healing in our hearts, we should respond with a renewed commitment for thanksgiving. That’s how this stuff works. God works sanctification in our hearts. He works even thankfulness inside there. But then he calls us to be thankful. So, in light of a passage like this today, that is our call. Walk in step with the Spirit. Thus, offer thanksgiving and praise to the God who blesses us so much! Thank him for your salvation. And thank him for all the ways he gives your relief and support and healing amidst your trials of life.

I mean, I’m sure all of us have had many trials in our life. Generally, we are very faithful to call out for help in the midst of a trial. We can be very faithful at that, but so inconsistent in thanking God afterwards. For most Christians, it’s probably not that we are like the nine out of ten here, not thanking God at all. Surely most of us do thank God. What’s probably more typical is that nine out of ten times we don’t thank God. That we tend to ask for far more things, and get many more things, and yet most of the time then not thank God when the answer comes. Let us realize how that is unrighteous of us. When God answers our prayers, we should make it our priority to thank him. And we should look to thank him richly and deeply, with our whole selves, body and soul.

What adds to the unrighteousness of this is what often happens when someone doesn’t get their request. Someone can pray to God and ask for something, and not get it. At least not in the way or timing they desired. In those circumstances, someone can tend to grumble and complain. That’s not the humble appeal we have seen here by the lepers. That’s an attitude that thinks God owes you something. Thus, when that person does get their prayer answered, they are less likely to really thank God, because they think God somehow owed them that in the first place. Remember, that’s the attitude forbidden by the parable just before this passage. No, even when we don’t see the answers yet, we should thank God. Even when we are in the midst of the trial, there is still reason to be thanking God. Paul says to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Corinthians 5:18). Even in trials, we can thank God for the way he is growing us in things like patience and trust. Be alert to find the things to thank God for.

And so then, let us never grow to take grace for granted. Let us this Thanksgiving be renewed in thankfulness. Let us see that this is central to what it means to be a believer. If the unbelievers are described as the unthankful, that means we should chiefly be described as the thankful. Thankful in all circumstances. Thankful for our salvation. Thankful for our many manifold blessings. Let us go to God right now and thank him again in prayer. Let us pray.

Copyright (c) 2011 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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