The Faith of a Leper by Rob Nash
The Faith of a Leper
Welcome! I am pastor Rob, and it is great to have you join us in worship today. Maybe you are here because you are visiting family. Thanks for being here.
To start, could I have children nine years old and younger come up front for a short children’s message, please?
Who do you think about when we think of Thanksgiving?
What about the Pilgrims? They were thankful people.
Why do you think they were thankful?
I am going to tell a story to the adults today about a person who was thankful.
A long time ago ten men came to Jesus and begged him to heal them. They had nasty owies on their skin. It was gross. I mean gross! Their family and friends avoided them. No one would touch them or be near them.
People probably made fun of them.
People probably were scared of them.
They were sick, really sick.
No one likes being sick.
One day these ten sick men, heard Jesus was around and went to him and pleaded for help. How do you think Jesus treated them? He was kind. When they asked Jesus for mercy, did Jesus help? (You bet he did). He told them to start walking to the pastor like guy of their town, and as they walked they were healed!
How do you think they responded to being healed? We don’t know much about these men and their response. We don’t even know their names.
Yet, one behaved very differently. One turned around, walked back to Jesus, and started shouting praise to God. When he got to Jesus, he fell on his face, on purpose, and thanked him.
What these ten lepers got was a great gift from Jesus.
Why do you think the others did not show up to shout praise and say thanks? We don’t know.
None of us have this sickness, but we do have a problem worse than a gross skin disease, PAUSE we have a sin disease. From time to time, we do things that are naughty, we say things that are naughty, and we think things that are naughty. God calls that sin. And Jesus came to give us mercy for this sin disease.
The leper received mercy that day a long time ago. But he received more than that. Listen to what Jesus said about this man and to this man as I talk to the adults. Listen for the point of the story. Let’s pray,
Dear God, thank you for the children of this church. They are a gift. Thank you for our health. It is a gift. Thank you for the parents here this morning. They are a gift. Thank you for this building, it is a gift. Thank you for this worship team. Thank you for this day. And thank you for your Son Jesus Christ most of all who died in our place so we would not have to. Help us now as we hear your word. AMEN
You can go back to your parents or grandparents.
I would like to have Joe Koehler, our Youth Minister, come forward to read for us the word of God. They will be reading from Luke chapter 17 verse 11-19. They will be reading the English Standard Version of the Bible. We have a tradition that when God’s word is read before the sermon, we stand to show respect for the text. So if you are able, please stand with me now.
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.”
Thanks. You can have a seat.
PURPOSE OF LUKE
Friends, what is going on in this passage? I think it would be good to visit the context. Luke was written by, you guessed it, Luke. He wrote to a guy named Theophilus, which meant God lover. And Luke’s purpose was this,
1:4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”
Luke was writing a biography of Jesus documenting his life for the purpose of certainty.
In Luke 3:23 he tells us that Jesus was about thirty years old at the time of his ministry and for most of Luke’s book. Jesus was not the typical teacher or some mythical miracle worker. He challenged those who were comfortable and comforted those who had challenges. He was a real historical person doing really amazing things. Today we are looking at chapter 17 near the end of Jesus’ life as he headed to his death. We will see him continue to do amazing things.
Chapter 17 highlights the fact that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can tell a mountain to move to the heart of the sea and it will. Right after that, Jesus described how rude it would be for a servant to demand thanks for doing something his master expected. He was attacking the pharisaical mindset of entitlement and self-righteousness and describes people as “unworthy servants” suggesting that God is the “worthy master.” In Luke 17 Jesus addressed the heart and nature and desperate need of mankind in striking words. We need faith in something bigger than ourselves. Jesus bursts the bubble of self-sufficiency and godlessness in his day and ours. And he calls for a little faith in a very big God.
Now in verse 11, we see his teaching illustrated as Jesus, the master miraculously heals through faith and is thanked. Jesus was on a mission. He was heading to Jerusalem. He was coming from the north, between Samaria and Galilee. If you remember, Samaria was rebel territory; it was the capital as well as a region. Israel and Samaria did not get along. The Samaritans had an ancient heretical distortion of Judaism. They worshipped not in Jerusalem but Mount Gerizim. This practice began with Israel was divided between the north and south. The first Northern King, King Jeroboam, saw the mandatory pilgrimage to Jerusalem as a threat to his power base. So he set up two golden calves and declared them Israel’s gods near the first capital, Shechem on Mt. Gerizim. So we learn in Luke 17 verse 11 Jesus was traveling by this very land.
Why? Why was he going to Jerusalem? What was he doing? He told his disciples in chapter 9.
The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 9:22
Jesus was on a mission. His face was set to Jerusalem. And he had a ways to go. And on the way Jesus encountered ten lepers. This interruption becomes an illustration.
That brings me to my first point,
The Person of Faith.
If you are taking notes, I will have three points this morning. The first point I want to make out of these verses concerns the Person of Faith. We will see faith in the people who have leprosy. Leprosy, today is known as Hansen’s disease. It is horrible. The Center for Disease Control, the CDC, states,
“Hansen’s disease ...is an infection caused by slow-growing bacteria ... It can affect the nerves, skin, eyes, and lining of the nose…. if left untreated, the nerve damage can result in crippling of hands and feet, paralysis, and blindness.”
The images are not pretty. However, in Jesus’ day leprosy was more than just Hansen’s disease, Leprosy was any skin disease.
In God’s divine wisdom he created a quarantine procedure for all skin disease. His law had reason and care undergirding it. The law of God demonstrated his wisdom, holiness, and goodness. God was and is and always will be a genius. The case in point is Leviticus 13:45-46. It states,
45 “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ 46 He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.
Being a leper does not mean you are not part of God’s people, but it would mean isolating as long as you had it. God cared for the community, and these laws were not to punish, but protect. On the flip side, being a leper would be very hard. It is embarrassing. Imagine being ostracized and marginalized. Imagine not only feeling your body deteriorate, but your only companions dying next to you. Do you think the children would make fun of them as they passed? Or what about the stares and glances of judgment? What would the mothers whisper to their children who asked what was wrong with that person as they walked by? These people would feel like the unwanted guest at a party, every day. It was horrible to have leprosy in 30 AD.
Que Jesus. Rumors spread how great he was. He said of himself in a small Galilean synagogue that he was the fulfillment of Isaiah 61. As they unrolled a scroll, he found this prophecy and said he would heal the blind as predicted. Moreover, that is precisely what he did in Luke 4:18. Jesus was on a mission. His direction was set to Jerusalem. People witnessed, again and again, his power over what was natural and what was supernatural.
- He cast out demons (4:35, 41, 6:18, 8:33, 9:42, 11:14).
- He healed the sick (4:39-40, 7:10),
- He healed a paralytic man as well as a person who could not straighten up (5:24, 13:13),
- He healed a withered hand (6:10),
- He stopped a storm with a word (8:24),
- He fed 5,000 men miraculously (not including women and children) (9:17).
- He healed diseases (4:40, 6:19, 8:44). If Jesus could heal diseases, then he could heal leprosy. Leprosy was a disease. Couldn’t he heal leprosy? The ten men approaching Jesus must have hoped.
- Not only that, twice Jesus raised the dead (7:14, 8:54) before he raised himself. He brought the dead to life. A dead boy and girl were now alive because of Jesus! What is easier to do, heal a disease or bring people to back from the dead? indeed, if Jesus could raise the dead, he could heal ten lepers. Couldn’t he? They must have hoped. I imagine their adrenaline was pumping, as Jesus was approaching. They must stop him. Maybe he would have mercy on them.
- And then in Luke 5:13, 5:13, Jesus did the very thing they longed for, he healed a leprous man. Could Jesus be their answer? Could they have a cure? They must find this powerful prophet. He was drawing near. He was on his way between Samaria and Galilee. He was approaching. He was on a mission. He was headed to Jerusalem. They must stop him before he gets away.
Jesus was hope incarnated for these pilgrims that day. They appear to be people who believe Jesus could do something, something amazing.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
That brings me to my second point,
The Power of Faith.
Luke 17 talks about persons of Faith and now let’s look at the power of faith. What can a little faith do? If you were diagnosed with a horrible disease, some of you have had or have cancer, Lyme disease, MS. What if you suffered acutely? What would you do to remedy your circumstances? Would try a strange diet, or try alternative healing you once thought was mumbo jumbo? Would you invest time and money in ways you never thought made sense? Here these ten guys got wind about Jesus and wanted whatever he offered. As Jesus came near, they started to yell. They shouted. Have mercy!
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.”
So what did Jesus do? Did he touch them? No. Did he pronounce healing? No. What did he do? Look at verse 14.
14 When he saw, them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
He told them to do what they needed to do to be healed. The priest was the arbiter and judge. He was the gatekeeper and administrator. He was the one that could give them entrance back into society. Jesus called them to go to the priest. And as they went, they were healed. Jesus did it again. He healed. In Luke 5 he healed one man, and in Luke 17 he healed ten. Jesus was the miracle worker. This was the magic moment, the day they had dreamed of.
THE POWER AND RELIEF
Theophilus and God lovers, this was the power of Jesus and the power of faith. He could do what no modern medicine man could conjure up, or physician or pharmacist could prescribe, he could heal with a command. “Go, go!” Picture the life-altering reality this would mean for those men. This was a game changer. This was huge. It would be like being released from prison after decades of solitary confinement. They were finally free. They could get normal jobs, eat with old friends, and now blend in. They were “Normal.” Think of that. How would you feel? What would go on in their mind?
We don’t know exactly what happened with them. But the story was not over. Verses 15 states,
15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back...
This brings us to my last point the
The Place of Faith
We have talked about The Person of Faith, the Power of Faith, now let’s see the Place of Faith. Look back at verse 15
15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back...
How many saw that they were healed? Ten. Yet, how many turned back? One. Why? He turned back to say thanks. Why did the nine not join him? Did the parents of the nine forget to instruct their children to say please and thank you? Why did they not turn back? I am not sure why. But I do think this, our reactions to our triumphs and tragedies demonstrate what we treasure. Our reactions to our triumphs and tragedies demonstrate what we treasure. What we treasure points to what we trust. What did the nine treasure? Or what didn’t they treasure? We may never know the full story. But we do know what one treasured.
SHOUTS OF PRAISE
He turned back...verse 15
15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice;
Do you remember Leviticus 13 which we just read about lepers? God commanded all lepers to use a loud voice announcing their presence as a warning cry to those around. “Unclean, Unclean!” That was a safeguard God built into the fabric of society to stop the spread of infection and disease. Now this healed leper was raising his voice once again, but for a completely different reason. This time he was amplifying his voice to worship not warn, he was shouting out to God, not people. He was extolling God for how great he is. His actions demonstrated that he treasured God. And his treasuring demonstrated what he was trusting.
FALLING AND THANKING
But that was not all. Look at verse 16
16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.
I think we understand that bowing is a sign of respect. We don’t do it in America, but we understand it. We put our hand on hearts for the national anthem or take off our hats in respect at a funeral. We have ways to show honor in our culture. We may not fall on our faces to show homage. But consider what this leper did in verse 16. Whom should a person bow to? Of all the Popes and presidents, prime ministers and premier’s, all the Kings and Queens, and Conquerors and emperors that ever lived, who was more worthy to bow to, than King Jesus? No one. And this once leper sets the example for us. He showed reverence to the one who healed him. And then he thanked him.
Where was this man’s focus? What was he seeking? What was he treasuring? His focus was on God the Father and God the Son. What was he trusting? He wasn’t going back to his friends and family. No. He was giving back to the one who just healed him. What did he have to give back? Nothing, except acknowledgment.
Who was this man who put his faith in Jesus? I left out one piece of information describing his person found at the end of 16.
16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. “Now he was a Samaritan.”
Friends, did you catch that? He was a Samaritan. Big deal right? The ancient Jewish reader would not have seen this coming. This was a big deal. This was a shocker. The one who does the right thing was the unexpected one. You may remember the story of the good Samaritan. You probably have heard of the term “good Samaritan,” the odd thing about the story and phrase is Samaritans were not supposed to be good. It was an oxymoron. They were the enemy, and they believed heresy. This grateful man was not only an outcast, riddled with disease moments before but we learn he was part of the hated neighboring nation. Jewish people for centuries didn’t eat with Samaritans. In John 4:9, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at a well and John the beloved friend of Jesus, disciple, and future Apostle states,
...Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.
I picture this division like the Sunni and Shia divide, or the old Catholic, Protestant divide, or like the current animosity between Democrats and Republicans. There was no affection for the Samaritan, not at all.
This is important. Jesus will bring it up again. Look at verses 17 and 18.
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?”
Jesus knew the answer to his questions. He was brilliant. He was the God-Man. Why was he asking this? What was getting at? Well, first who was he talking to? He was not talking to the healed leper right? He referred to him as “this foreigner.” If he was talking to the healed leper, Jesus would have said “you” which he will in verse 19. Rather, Jesus was talking to an audience, someone, or some other people, presumably he was talking to his disciples. He is teaching them again - every word of Jesus matters. Luke is bringing this up to say something. This is random.
What was the message? Was is the point? Was it to promote gratitude? I think gratitude is good, but it not what Jesus was getting at. We have one last sentence that is the linchpin to unlock the floodgate of blessing or make us incredibly uneasy. Look at verse 19. Jesus turned to the man who turned back,
And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Did you hear that? Jesus turned back to the man who was praising God and said his faith made him well. Isn’t that odd? That is not how I would send the guy away. What do you say to people who say thank you? Your welcome. Or maybe I would say, good job, or way to go, buddy. Perhaps I would tell him; I would pray for him or make sure you read your scrolls and attend synagogue. What was Jesus saying? Commentators point out that the word “well” Jesus used and the word “cleansed” Jesus used in verse 18 are different. When Jesus was talking to the disciples, he mentioned all were cleansed in verse 18. Here he said this man was made well in verse 19. What is interesting is that the word for well also means “saved.” Luke says this a lot. Faith saves. So what did Jesus mean by his faith had made him well or saved him? Certainly, the ten who went to Jesus believed he could heal them, and he showed them mercy, and they were all were healed. However, it seemed that the majority were focused on the outcome of their healing more than the source of healing. Their reactions to triumph demonstrated what they treasured. And What they treasured demonstrated what they trusted. The gift eclipsed the giver. They treasured their health over the healer. It is like the man who takes a golden egg from a magical goose and then in celebration throws a big party eating the goose for dinner. The majority presumably were more excited about the gift than the giver.
What was Jesus getting at? Of all the interactions Jesus had. Why is this passage here and why is it included? I think Jesus was illustrating three things for us, the person of faith, the power of faith, and the place of faith.
- First, it is interesting who is commended in Luke. Jesus highlights the foreigner, women, children, the poor, sick and the outsiders as people of faith. In Luke 7:9, for example, Jesus said to a Roman centurion, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Jesus never said that of the disciples. A side note that is just one example of the authentic nature of these biographies. They don’t paint their authors in saintly heroes who could do no wrong. No, Luke wants the Godlover to know this really happened, so he is not going to sugar coat the details. And he is clear as these events unfold we see a person who knew his real position before God. He was really the unworthy person described in Luke 17:10. This leper was not a worthy person in himself. He wasn’t the one who deserved thanks from the master. He knew who he was and that made him all the more grateful. He was the person of faith, who knew his need and desperation.
- Secondly, this story illustrates the power of faith. Jesus told his disciples they could move a mountain with the smallest bit of faith. That is crazy. Really, can a person move a mountain? Here Jesus showed how a little faith could overcome nature. The underlying message was not the person, or performance, or pedigree that determines an outcome, but faith. Anyone can have faith, even the most unlikely. And that faith is powerful. It is able to make one well. It is able to save.
- Finally, this story illustrates the place of faith. Everyone has faith. We believe in a lot of things. But Jesus was not commending indiscriminate belief or all faiths. Faith is always in something. And the location is critical. This man had faith in what? Jesus. We see the place of his faith in how he responded to healing.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite seasons. I love thinking of what I am thankful for. Often, I am so wrapped up in what I am not getting, or what is wrong, or my pains that I neglect to see how great I have it. God is good. He is so good. He has given so much. This leper got it. Friends, I think Jesus met the ten lepers asking for mercy, healed them, to illustrate the person of faith, the power of faith, and place of faith. I think we forget who we are, what we have, and what our faith is in, too often.
WHO ARE WE?
Who are we? I have often thought of myself in one of two ways. Either I am pretty much like this guy,
handsome, dapper, and the bomb. But then I look in the mirror and realize I have a full beard and Brad doesn’t. I actually look nothing like him. And when I look more closely, I see this
But that is not true either. You might not be able to notice this, but the wimpy wear a backpack, and I rarely do, and my face is more oval not circular. All joking aside. So who am I more like? Who am I? How are we to view our persons? Where is our identity? We see the world through distorted lenses. Don’t we. Friends, let us go back to the Bible to define our person.
Jesus highlighted an unlikely fellow’s faith. He was not the popular kid. He was not the one who had it all figured out theologically. But he did believe something true, God had healed him and deserved praise and thanks for his mercy.
Brothers and sisters, there is hope for us unworthy servants. God uses unlikely people to stand out for him again and again. He has you here for a reason. He has given you so much. This guy got it, will you? What did he do? He turned around and started shouting praise.
SHOUTING OUT PRAISE
When was the last time you shouted praise to God like this guy? We shout for football or our kid’s competition. Or maybe we shout at a car that cut us off or our kids when they do something we think they should have known better. But when have you shouted praise to God? We have so much to shout about. If you were here Wednesday, you would have heard many things God has done, and maybe you would have shouted, then. He is so good, so faithful, so kind, so loving, so benevolent, and so great. Yet, we so often forget to go back to God and thank him, express reverence, and praise.
What are you putting your faith in? Where is your faith? Maybe it is in your ability to get what we want following the rules of engagement. Maybe we have faith in our intelligence. Maybe we have faith in our parents or employer or schooling. We trust many things. But are we putting our faith in God? What we praise and whom we thank point us back to where our faith is?
Luke is getting at the heart of why you and I exist. God desires for all of us, to be honest about who we are and who he is. And when we figure that out, there is power. We have so much to be thankful for.
400 years ago the Pilgrims came to America seeking asylum as immigrants. They were looking to establish a better society free from the tyranny of government restrictions on their religion. We celebrate thanks to God in honor of them, and their provision found with the help of the native peoples. Governor William Bradford of Plymouth had hoped the future descendants, you and I, would remember them this way. He wrote,
"Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean and were ready to perish in this wilderness but they cried unto the Lord, and He heard their voice, and looked on their adversity, &c. Let them, therefore, praise the Lord, because He is good, and His mercies endure forever. Yea, let them which have been redeemed of the Lord, shew how He hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressor. When they wandered in the; desert wilderness out of the way and found no city to dwell in, both hungry, and thirsty, their soul was overwhelmed in them. Let them confess before the Lord His loving-kindness, and His wonderful works before the sons of men.” ― William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647
Our historians and educators have secularized and sandblasted God out of the heart our forefathers. Thanksgiving is not merely an opportunity to thank one another but to thank God. And Luke 17:11-19 is not a moral call for us to thank one another. No, Luke 17 teaches about the person of faith, the power of faith, and place of faith.
You see, Jesus has done something greater than we can ever imagine. He has procured for us something better than a free society with a legacy of economic prosperity and age of unparalleled technological ability. Friends he came, lived and died not to make a big splash or die out like a spark or be a moral guide in an amoral world. But he came to give his life as a ransom for many, you. He paid the ultimate price for our sins healing the sin-sick soul. He demonstrated his power through words and deeds. He was no ordinary man. He was the God-man, and perfect in every way. He was and is and always will be our great high priest who offered his life for ours, once and for all.
If you have health, if you have freedom, if you have provision, then praise the Lord. But all those things can be stolen or destroyed. If you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can obtain entrance into the loving embrace of God through the sacrificial death of his Son and powerful resurrection of his body forever. You can move a mountain of sin by a little faith in a very big God. That is something all who call ourselves Christians can thank and praise God about today, tomorrow, and forever.
Let’s take a moment to pray in our seats quietly thanking God for such mountains of blessing. If you have a pen and a bulletin or something to write on, take a moment to write out ten things you could shout to God in praise. And I will close us in prayer in a moment.