I understand that in concentration camps, prisoners dream at night, believe it or not, of things like bread, cake and a hot shower or bath. Things that we take for granted they dream about. And one lady was asked how she kept going mentally in prison. She said she pictured home like this: her father reading the paper, her mother doing some needlework, she and her brother doing some homework. And then she said – at the time it seemed incredible, but when you’re in your cell, it seems invaluable.
It is the work of God’s spirit to make a believer more thankful for ordinary things, and it is one of the great parts of being a Christian to realise that things like getting up, and birds and flowers and meals on tables and fellowship with other believers are very very wonderful gifts. Things that we quickly forget.
The reading today of the 10 lepers, 9 of whom are healed and leave, one is healed and returns to give thanks, looks as though it’s about thankfulness. And you can imagine if you are teaching this to Sunday School children – you would say – “here is a good reminder, here is a good lesson that we should be thankful to God”. And that’s of course extremely true. But it is a secondary issue in Luke 17.
Just as if we were preaching on the story of the Prodigal Son, we wouldn’t isolate the line “Father I have sinned” and say this story is all about the confession of sin. There is a much bigger thing going on with the Prodigal Son, wouldn’t you agree? The much bigger thing that is going on is that there is a father who is rejoicing to have back someone who has drifted.
So it is with Luke 17. There’s a very big issue going on, and that is there is a great provider and that when a person responds all the way home to the Lord Jesus, then they have really arrived. The thankfulness, of course, is a part of that. We have been observing over these last Sundays in Luke 14, that God is a God of the Feast. We saw in chapter 15 that He rejoices greatly when people come. We saw in chapter 16 that it is a very serious thing to come because you end up in Heaven. It is a very serious thing not to come because you end up in Hell.
There’s a sense in which this miracle pulls all the threads together, and we ask ourselves the question, “what am I meant to be doing as a result of all these chapters”? And the answer comes down neatly and briefly in this story of the returning leper.
We’re going to look at it under three quick headings this morning:
Hope 103.2 is proudly supported by
- A real sense of need
- The real goal of faith
- Two real surprises
A real sense of need
Would you not say looking at these 10 men in chapter 17 of Luke and verse 11, that they are classic outsiders. We read that Jesus is travelling the border between Samaria and Galilee and so He’s on the very edge of the Promised Land. We see also that these 10 lepers have leprosy. And so according to Jewish Law, they couldn’t come inside the Jewish Camp. And then we see that they stand at a distance because that was they were expected to do and they call out in a loud voice – “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” We are totally in need. We are classic outsiders.
One of the things that Jesus has been teaching us in these last chapters in Luke is that people need a sense of need. We saw for example with the Great Banquet that there were some who had no sense of need and they merely replied – “No I’m going to my field. No, I’m going to my oxen. No, I’m happily married”.
We then saw in the next chapter the boy in the pigsty who had a great sense of need. He said “I’m starving to death, my father looks after the servants better than I am getting. I will go back and say I’ve sinned, a sense of need. But then we also saw in chapter 16 of Luke, the man in hell and now he realises his need. If only he’d realised it before. And he’s urging, wishing that someone go and warn his brothers of their genuine need. They don’t feel it, but they’ve got a very great need.
Now friends, what is the need of the human race? What is the most serious need of the human race? According to God, the most serious need is the problem of separation. That’s why all these stories that we’ve been looking at are basically across the gulf – come over to the feast! – come back to the father and do it before you end up in hell where the separation is impassable.
So this miracle in Luke 17 is a great example of men who know their separation, and they want to be reconciled. They don’t come up to Jesus and call out – “we’d really like an easy life, could you make us happy?” They don’t come up to Jesus and say – “we’d like some religion – could we please have membership in the Anglican denomination?” They don’t come up to Jesus and say – “we’d like to be inspired”. They come up to Jesus, and they say – “have pity on us, we’re separated – physically, socially, mentally, emotionally separated”.
That’s the problem of the world, separation from God. Very hard to communicate today because the world has done a number of swift moves. One is, of course, is to re-invent God. You can re-invent God and then He’s right there beside you. No problem or you could go by your feelings and say – I feel close to God. It doesn’t matter what the Bible says, I feel fine with God. No separation problem for me despite what the Bible says. I feel great. God and I are friends. And one of the real problems today in the world is people who switch roles with God. They say – I don’t have a problem. God’s got the problem. He’s a long way away, or He’s not communicating well. He’s not being marketed properly. He wants me but you know I am big and busy.
I had lunch with a man this week, and he looked me right in the eye, a young man, and he said: I literally have no time for God.” Every spare hour that I have, I am training. I don’t want to be tied down. I don’t have time for God. I can’t fit Him in.
What does Jesus think of that type of thinking? We know from these chapters of Luke 14 – 17 that He knows that most excuses are lies. “I must go and look at my field, I must go and look at my oxen, sorry I’ve got married”. Jesus knows that these are lies. I get lied to, and you get lied to about Christian things. It’s one of the unusual and fortunate roles of being a pastor is that you are seen as a bit of an ecclesiastical policeman. And if somebody goes missing for a while and you ring to see if they are OK, there is a sense in which they have been pounced on. And you have to indicate as loving a way as you can – “I was really wanting to know if you are ok?” And there are many people of course who will say in response to – “How are you? – Where have you been? – We’ve missed you”. They will say something like – “I’ve been sick, or we’ve had family staying, or we’ve been renovating, or we’ve been on holidays” Any of those things could be true. They often don’t cover the whole story. There’s something about them which is not quite honest.
Jesus also knows that people don’t come to Him until they come to their senses. The Prodigal Son did not come home until he came to his senses. So people in the world today think it’s very sophisticated to be an unbeliever, but Jesus knows that that person is out of their mind. And Jesus also knows that people end in hell although they’ve been given plenty of good information. That’s the tragedy.
So unbelief is presented in our world as fairly legitimate, quite a sophisticated option and fairly harmless. The Bible says that unbelief is pretty dishonest, it’s pretty senseless, and it’s hazardous. I don’t know whether you know how to communicate the sense of need to people because I don’t. I have to pray that God’s spirit would wake people up to their need. I need all the skill in the world to explain to people their need, the separation. I think it takes quite a lot of love so that the person says – “why is this Christian friend sticking with me and raising the issue. They must see something I don’t see?” And maybe one of the best clues in the first words of verse 11. Just have a look at the first words of verse 11 – “on His way to Jerusalem Jesus travelled”.
Why is Jesus travelling on His way to Jerusalem? Well, we know what’s going to happen at Jerusalem. He’s going to be crucified. Why would He be crucified? Because that’s where He will do the job of reconciling the world to God.
So Jesus knows that it’s a big problem separation and it’s going to take His crucifixion to solve it. And anybody who thinks it’s a small problem needs to ask the question – “Well why did Jesus come down and die?” It’s a big problem as far as God is concerned. It can’t be bridged by us. Only by Jesus. And our prayer and our hope is that people would come to verse 13 of calling – “Jesus have pity on me”. They will discover their real need.
The real goal of faith
In verses 14 – 17 He gives them a command – “Go, show yourself to the priest”. You may remember from last week I said that if God gives you a command and it’s really for you and it’s a real command – run with it because you don’t need a lot of faith. It’s a powerful command, and Jesus gives these 10 lepers a command – “go show yourself to the priest”. Now you usually didn’t go and show yourself to the priest unless you were cured. And you wanted the priest to give you the ‘tick’ of cleansed and send you back to the community. These 10 men have in a way to act in faith. They have to go to the priest knowing if they arrive at the priest with leprosy, it’s going to look very odd, but they go. And as they go, they are cleansed.
It’s good that they acted on Jesus’ word and it’s a very generous word that He gives them. Just goes to show what Jesus is like. Powerful and kind.
I want to ask you this question this morning, however – “do you think we have reached the climax of faith at the end of verse 14? Men call to Jesus, He gives them a promise, they are made well. Is that the epitome of faith? It’s a very important question because here are 10 men, they put the word into practice they enjoy the benefits of God. They’ve asked for help. They appreciate what they are given and they’ve got the benefits. Is that faith? It’s very common, isn’t it? Do you not know lots of people around you who say I believe in Him. I even every now and then pray to Him and I get good things. It’s very common, isn’t it?
But the answer is to whether that’s real faith comes in verse 15 & 16, “one of them however when he was healed came back praising God in a loud voice threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him, and he was a Samaritan”. There is a massive difference between verse 14 and verse 16. The faith of verse 14 which is very common is the faith in a God who dispenses kindness. I think there are lots of people in this country who’ve got that kind of faith. Yes, prepared to believe in a God who does good things.
Verse 16 however, is the faith that acknowledges that Jesus is the source. There is a faith you see in verse 14 which is appreciative, but still impersonal. No relationship with Jesus and still separated from Jesus but there is a faith as in verse 16 which is personal, surrendered, reconciled. The faith of verse 14 is taking things from God, everybody does that. The faith of verse 16 is giving yourself back to God.
Friends just think about all the chapters that we’ve been looking at over the last weeks – Come to the Feast. Come back to the Father. Do it before it’s too late. And the person who is reading these verses scratched their head and said – “look I don’t exactly know what you’re talking about – What feast? What father? What do you mean, do something before it’s too late? I don’t know what to do.
In this miracle, everything is crystallised perfectly. What a person is to do is to come and put themselves at the feet of Jesus Christ. That is the goal of real faith, and everything we’ve been reading in the chapters 14 to 17 comes to a climax I think in this miracle. A practical response to God means that you kneel down before Jesus and you thank Him, and you honour Him, and you worship Him.
Do you see the flip side of this? No one has come to the feast until they’ve come to the feet of Jesus. No one has come to the Father until they’ve come to the feet of Jesus. This man who is a Samaritan saw what 9 out of 10 religious people do not see which is that nobody has really come to God until they have acknowledged Christ.
The proof of this is in verse 18 where Jesus calls out – was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner? Isn’t that a shocking thing? He doesn’t say – was no one found to return and give praise to me except this foreigner. No, this foreigner has come to Jesus and by coming to Jesus has come to God. That’s what is expected. That’s what Jesus expects. If it doesn’t happen, He’s shocked.
Paul tells us in Philippians 2 that “God has highly exalted Jesus and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow down and every tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord”. And at that point you say – gee if we give glory to Jesus, we’re going to take glory away from God”, and Paul says – ‘to the glory of God the Father’. In other words, you’ll be giving glory to God when you kneel down before Jesus. He has exalted Him. If you want to give glory to God, kneel before the one, He has exalted. If you’re going to give no glory to God, avoid the one, He has exalted.
Now if I were the devil, I would think I had really done well! If I could get a whole lot of people to believe that they were taking God seriously but not arrive at the feet of Jesus. And that’s what we discover here in Luke chapter 17.
If you’ve got the faith in verse 14, you have faith in the Creator. Thank you very much, I’m on my way. If you have the faith of verse 16, you’ve got Christian faith – I kneel before Jesus. He is my Saviour. He is my Lord.
Let me finish with the two real surprises in the last three verses.
Is Jesus astonished in verse 17 and 18? I don’t know. He’s either astonished himself, or He wants us to be astonished. It is interesting, isn’t it? He knows that many people make up excuses. He knows the cost of following is very great. He knows that there are people who turn a deaf ear. He knows all the reasons, but it’s just possible in verse 17 and 18 that He is incredulous that people would not return and give thanks to Him.
Someone has written an alternative to the Hymn “Amazing Grace” It’s called the “Song of the Non-Convert”. And it goes like this:
Amazing Grace, how strange the thought
Of trying to reach me.
I am quite lost but won’t be found
Am blind but will not see.
Twas Grace that tried to make me fear
And Grace would then relieve
But precious things are all ignored
So now I don’t believe.
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come.
Tis Grace has brought me safe thus far
But I am strangely dumb.
When you’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
Perhaps I’ll see the call I missed
And wish I’d too begun.
There is something amazing, isn’t there, about unbelief and it’s captured here in the questions of verse 17 and 18, and I want you never to lose the amazement of unbelief because we are presented with unbelief as though it’s so reasonable, so optional, so harmless and Jesus says – it is incredible. It is bewildering. It is painful. I think we see in verses 17-18 the pain of the Saviour in the face that all He has done. That’s the first surprise.
But the last surprise is a very wonderful surprise, and that is in verse 19 this Samaritan so conscious of his need, grateful for healing, returning to Jesus, falling at Jesus’ feet is suddenly given something which is much much greater than anything he could have thought to ask. And that is in verse 19, Jesus says – “your faith has made you well”. Literally, your faith has saved you. This Samaritan goes from being healed to saved.
It’s exactly the same thing that Jesus does when the woman comes and washes His feet, and He says to her – “your faith has saved you”. The woman comes up in the crowd and touches the hem of His garment, and He says – your faith has saved you”.
The blind man in Luke 18 decides to follow, and Jesus says – “your faith has saved you”. Everybody who comes to Him gets more than just the creation blessings but gets salvation. And this Samaritan coming to Jesus gets something of infinite and eternal value. We could never over-estimate what Jesus gives to those who kneel down at His feet.
Leon Morris says in his commentary – “He received a saved soul as well as a sound body”. Alexander Maclaren says in his commentary – “He received a salvation that rose to heaven while his healed body went down to the dust”.
So 9 out of 10 according to this miracle, and we, of course, know that the statistics sadly are greater, treat God as just a provider. They may be appreciative, but they never come home. 1 in 10, and maybe less, will put themselves at the feet of Jesus and by doing that receive more than they could ever imagine.
As we share in the Communion today you may be specially thankful that at the cross, Jesus bridged the separation. You may not feel the separation, you may not feel the reconciliation but the separation without Jesus is real and the reconciliation with Jesus is real.
There’s a verse in the Old Testament which I close with which says this: Zephaniah 3:15 “the Lord has taken away your punishment. He has turned back your enemy. The Lord the King of Israel is with you. Never again will you fear any harm”.