In His great mercy, the Lord restores the broken and the unclean. How could we not give Him thanks? Continuing his exposition of Luke’s gospel, in this sermon R.C. Sproul considers how the cleansed leper instructs to respond to God’s grace in our lives.
The text today is Luke 17:11–19. I will ask the congregation please to stand for the reading of the Word of God:
Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed.
And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.
So Jesus answered and said, “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?” And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”
Beloved, this is a precious text. It has a negative aspect to it, but before we come to that, the positive dimension of this passage is simply marvelous. I hope we will see the beauty and truth of this text in our time together this morning. Please be seated. Let us pray.
Our Father and our God, without You, we have nothing. All we have that is good has come to us from Your hand. Help us to understand the depth and riches of the passage we have just heard. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Luke begins this passage by telling us of an event when Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. On His travels, He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. That was unusual.
The Scriptures teach us about the hostile relationship between Jews and Samaritans, and the Jews had no dealings with Samaritans. The hostility was so deeply rooted that when the Jews wanted to go from Judea to Galilee, instead of going the shortest route directly through Samaria, they crossed the Jordan to Transjordan and went up the desert road, bypassing Samaria to get to Galilee and back. They would go out of their way to avoid going through Samaria. Jesus went against that convention and decided to go directly through Samaria.
We read in verse 12, “Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off.” Once you had been diagnosed with leprosy in ancient Israel, you suffered the worst of all possible kinds of quarantine; not a quarantine that would last a week or two, but a quarantine for the rest of your life.
If you had leprosy, unless you were cured of that leprosy by some marvelous means, you were sentenced to a solitary life removed from the community, your family, and the religious institutions of the day. You were a social pariah. The only fellowship you could have with other human beings would be with other lepers. The reason lepers gathered in groups such as this group of ten was because it was the only companionship they could possibly enjoy.
In the area on the border between Galilee and Samaria was a commercial highway that brought people from different nations, not just Jews and Samaritans, but an international group of people. We know from this text that the ten lepers were made up of at least people who were Jews and Samaritans, but they also might have included people from other countries. This was the only fellowship that they could enjoy—fellowship with other miserable human beings.
The Famous Master
The lepers were outside the village when Jesus approached, and while they were standing afar off, “they lifted up their voices and said”—they did not just say it; they screamed it because Jesus was at a distance—“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
The first question that should come to our minds is this: How did they even know who Jesus was? They did not have cell phones, radios, or television, nor did they have daily interaction with healthy people, so how did they even get the news of Jesus? I think we can answer that easily.
What Jesus did in Galilee, Judea, and Samaria were things the world had never seen before. A blaze of miracles followed Jesus, and news of that kind of ministry spread like wildfire through every inch of the territory.
Maybe somebody came to the limits of communication with the lepers and shouted out: “There’s a man named Jesus raising people from the dead! He’s making the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk and leap with joy. Watch for Him. Maybe someday He’ll come this way. This is what he looks like, and there’s always a group following Him. We call Him Master.”
I do not know how the lepers heard of Him, but how could they not have heard of Him, given who He was and what He was doing? The day they dreamed of and prayed for took place because, in the distance, there He was. It was Jesus.
Go See the Priests
You can hear the lepers talking to each other. You can feel their excitement: “He’s here! Look, over there, that’s Jesus! He raises people from the dead. Maybe He can heal us.” So, they did not whisper, but rather they screamed: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
Jesus’ response to the lepers is quite unusual. On the other occasions where we see people afflicted and suffering coming to Him, Jesus touched them and healed them. He laid His hands upon them, or even just said, “Be clean,” and they were instantly healed. But that is not how He did it this time.
When Jesus saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” In the book of Leviticus, it was the priest who was authorized to make the diagnosis of leprosy. If a person was recovering or it was a false diagnosis, it would take the priests’ declaration to free them from the quarantine.
Jesus did not say, “Be clean, you’re healed.” He said, “Go see the priests,” which meant what? “This is not an idle mission. It’s not a fool’s errand. If I tell you to go see the priests, I’m telling you to go check yourselves out, and you will be clean.”
The lepers had not been cleansed yet, but they obeyed. They started to go and visit the priests in obedience to the command of Jesus, and the text says, “So it was that as they went, they were cleansed.” It was not when they first saw Jesus, but after they started on their journey to see the priest, while they were walking along the road, that their fingers were suddenly becoming whole. Their toes were being healed. The horrible sores on their body vanished. One leper would say to the other: “Look at my hand! It’s clean!” The other would say: “Mine, too! It’s happening!” They were beyond themselves with joy and excitement as their bodies were being cleansed with every step they took on their way to the priests.
One of the lepers, when he saw that he was healed, returned. Imagine ten lepers in a group, watching each other suddenly being made whole. They could not wait to get to the priests because they knew that if they got to the priests and the priests pronounced them clean, they could immediately go home again. They could see their wives again. They could embrace their children again. They could go to church again.
The lepers were saying, “Let’s go, hurry up,” and then one said: “Wait a minute. We’re clean, aren’t we? It was Jesus who made us clean. We’ve got all day to see the priests, but first we must go back and see Him, thank Him, and honor Him.” The rest of the lepers say they do not have time for that. Then the first one says, “Aren’t you grateful?”
Grateful? How could you not be grateful? I am sure all ten of them were grateful. There is no question that they were grateful. You cannot be healed of leprosy and not be grateful. Their hearts were filled with gratitude, but not so filled that they wanted to detour and go back to say thank you.
Beloved, it is one thing to be grateful; it is something else altogether to show it, to manifest it, to do gratitude. Feeling and doing are not the same thing. But the man was steadfast, and he said: “Fellows, we may never meet again. We spent much time together in misery. I’ve enjoyed your company in misery, but you all go ahead. I’m going back.”
So, Luke tells us, one of the lepers returned. With a loud voice—not quietly, not subtly, not embarrassingly, not with a whisper—he glorified God. Before I came up to preach, we had the offering. When the offering is given, we accompany the offering with a song saying, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow,” and we mean that. This is the essence of worship, to come and to offer to God the sacrifice of our praise.
The Base Sin of Ingratitude
In the first chapter of Romans, Paul talks about the fact that God reveals Himself from heaven to every human being in the world. His wrath is revealed against all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men. The reason they are ungodly and unrighteous is that they suppress the truth of God, which He reveals to every man, leaving them without an excuse. He goes on to say that knowing God, they did not honor Him as God, neither were they grateful (Rom. 1:18–21).
The are two primary sins that are the most basic of all sins. They are the root of every other sin, and they are two sins of which all human beings in their natural, unconverted state are guilty. Those two sins are the refusal to honor God as God and ingratitude toward God.
If I were to ask you, “What’s your most base sin, your worst action of evil?” would you come up with something like failure to be grateful to God? Hardly, but there it is in the Scriptures that ingratitude toward God is our fundamental problem. We think that God owes us everything we receive and much more.
If a person is truly grateful, he shows it, and he shows it in worship and service to God. That is the part of this passage that is so precious—the response of the man who was healed: “With a loud voice he glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks.” Then it says that he was a Samaritan. A leper, strike one; a Samaritan, strike two; a social outcast, strike three—yet he fell at the feet of Jesus to thank Him.
Cleansed from Spiritual Leprosy
All of us have suffered from spiritual leprosy at some time. We are lepers by nature, and the God of all mercy and grace, through His beloved Son, has made us clean. If it be that we are in Christ Jesus, we should shout our thanksgiving to Him and fall at His feet in honor, adoration, and worship. That is why we are here. We have been made clean, and we come to give praise and thanks.
Jesus answered the man who returned, saying: “Am I having a problem with my math? Did I not just heal ten? Where are they? Where are the other nine?” We imagine the man responding, “Sir, they’re on their way to the priest like You told them.” Then Jesus said: “Yes, but you came back to say thank you. You came back to give honor. You came back to praise God. Where are the rest? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?”
Jesus was speaking to the man, who was still on the ground, and He said to him: “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.” Now, this poor leper was clean. Now, he was free to go. Now, he could go on his way. He could see the priest, he could see his wife, he could see his kids, he could see his friends, and he could see his rabbi, because the Lord Jesus Christ cleansed him.
Do you see it? It is your story, it is my story, and it is God’s story. How do you show your thanks to Christ? How do you give glory and honor to your Redeemer? That is what we are about: saying thank you.
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.