Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays as we gather with loved ones to enjoy great food and fun, maybe watch a little football, and pause to say thanks. Hearing the story of Jesus healing the ten lepers on this Thanksgiving weekend, I am grateful that Jesus has the power to miraculously restore our physical bodies. But I’m even more grateful that Jesus, the One who went to the cross to take on the sins of the world and was raised from the dead to proclaim forgiveness in His name, is our Savior. The Bible tells us eventually the whole world will gather at Jesus’ feet, just like the one Samaritan out of the ten who were healed. He came back to Jesus to say, Thank you, Jesus, and, in the moment of falling at His feet, realized Jesus was more than a miracle. Through the eyes of faith, he realized Jesus is the Son of God and our Savior. Someday the world will gather at Jesus’ feet to say, Jesus Christ, you are Lord. We thank and praise you.
Through the ages, biblical scholars have compared the illness of leprosy to the human condition of sinfulness. Leprosy in Jesus’ time was a terrible thing, not unlike a death sentence. The person experiencing leprosy would eventually have a sensation of fatigue and pain in the joints. The patches on the skin and nodules under the skin would bubble up eventually making the person unrecognizable. The lumps would ulcerate, oozing a foul stench. Their eyebrows would fall off, their voices would rasp as their vocal cords ulcerated, and their breathing would wheeze. Then they’d lose sensation in their extremities. Eventually their fingers and toes would fall off. They would lose the ability to reason or function, then they would go into a coma and die.
But leprosy was also a relational disease. It drove a person from their home, family, and their village. Some people saw it as a judgment from God. People, in their fear, would pick up and hurl stones at them to keep them at a distance. They had to, by Jewish law, yell out, “Unclean! Unclean!” And if they touched anyone, that person would be considered defiled.
Imagine being diagnosed with leprosy and knowing you would never be touched again, living out your days in isolation and separation, perhaps even feeling spiritually abandoned by God.
Leprosy is an apt analogy to human sinfulness. You see, I confess to you that I have a sickness too. Through the years, I have used a spiritual exercise to examine my own heart before God with a series of questions.
1. Is any part of my life in direct disobedience to the word of God?
2. Is my heart in any way rebellious or defiant toward God?
3. Is my behavior causing an alienation of relationships, especially those closest to me?
4. Do my behavioral choices bring a negative impact to others and leave me with a consciousness of guilt or a dirty feeling?
5. Do I find myself repeating actions over and over, even though I’ve grown to loath them, as if I am in bondage and powerless?
6. Do my words constructively build people up or destructively rip them apart?
7. Have I lost my joy? Have I diminished in my faith? Do I feel a sense of lostness in the darkness, of no direction?
These are questions that reveal a profound truth about my own sin-sick heart. That’s why I love the old hymn, “There is a balm in Gilead, that makes the wounded whole.
There is a balm in Gilead that heals the sin-sick soul.”
In the story of Jesus miraculously healing the ten lepers, all of them experienced the miracle of physical restoration, yet only one returned to say thank you. That’s not unlike today where all people in the world receive profound blessings from the hand of their heavenly Father, but just a small percentage acknowledge Him as the source of all goodness in their life. Likewise, Jesus freely offers the forgiveness of sins and grace to all people, yet very few kneel before Him and ask for forgiveness, confessing their sin and affirming faith in Him as the Son of God, our Savior, and our Lord.
Leprosy is a great analogy to the human condition of sin. Sin impacts all we do. It diminishes our capacity, it affects our relationships, it permeates our attitudes, it hurts and destroys and breaks.
The Bible tells us that sin is not an isolated, occasional naughty deed or slipup, but part of the human condition in a broken world. It is a power, which dominates and determines our whole being. We hear that in verses like Jeremiah 17 where we read, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick. Who can understand it?” Paul wrote in Romans 7, “The good that I would do, I end up not doing, and I end up doing the stuff that I hate. Wretched person that I am! Who is going to deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ!”
So I am not unlike those lepers standing out on the countryside yelling for Jesus, “Come, have mercy on me.” I need look no further than my own heart to see the symptoms of selfish ego and brokenness that permeates the world and causes me to reel and stagger sometimes like a boxer who’s been struck by a vicious hook to the head. I lose my way. I need Jesus to be merciful to me.
So I cry out to Him, not just for physical healing or blessings of life or the solving of my problems or the removal of my obstacles. I come before Jesus to also confess, I am a broken sinner. Please forgive me. Thank you for going to the cross and shedding your blood so I might be washed clean again. Reconcile me and restore me into a relationship with my heavenly Father. You are my Savior.
Jesus is not only a miracle worker, He is also the Savior of the world. Years ago I remember reading a story about a parish pastor on the prairies of South Dakota who was working with a young boy as the children were preparing for a Christmas pageant in the church. He was puzzled by the fact that this intelligent boy was struggling to learn his line. Playing off the truth that Jesus, the Savior born of the Virgin Mary, was laid in the wood of a manger but eventually would be nailed to the wood of the cross, the boy was to deliver the line, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Echoing the words of the angels who sang that Christmas song, “For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth with whom God is well pleased.”
The struggling boy, came to the mic. the night of the Christmas pageant, and he froze. His brain wouldn’t work. He began to weep before that packed church. He wept for his powerlessness.
A few months later, on a winter’s day, the family of that young boy gathered by an open grave. The boy, who was unable to learn or deliver his line in the pageant, had a brain tumor, and it took his life in the blink of an eye. Now, by that empty grave, the pastor said the line the boy was to have delivered from Isaiah 53: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, and the Lord laid upon him the iniquity of us all.” And then it continues, “and by his stripes, we are healed. We are made whole.”
Jesus is the Word made flesh. Just like He did to those ten lepers, Jesus can speak a word that reverses the effects of sin and brokenness in this world and can restore all things by His power.
The Word of Jesus to heal the lepers is a window. It is a clue, a key to understanding that Jesus is God Himself. The wind and the waves and even the demons must obey Him, and in His light, the darkness must flee.
I need Jesus to work miracles for me. But more than that, I need Jesus to be my Savior. Not everyone who prays for a miraculous intervention with a healing receives a miracle from God. But, because of the cross of Jesus, who, in His mercy, love, and grace, sacrificed His life there, though He was perfect, and then was raised from the dead, death had no mastery over Him. He has the power to make all things right.
Someday this broken world will be healed. And so we, who pray for a miracle in this world and don’t receive it the way we would like, can still believe that someday Jesus will make all things new because of the cross and the resurrection.
So our journey of faith always begins at the cross. It begins at the feet of Jesus. Just like the Samaritan who returned to say thank you, we take our place at the feet of Jesus to touch His body with our love and faith. By His grace, which flows to us, He forgives our sin, reconciles us to God the Father, and begins a process of healing our sin-sick soul and restoring us. We become, by His word of promise, the people of God Ð forgiven, filled with His Holy Spirit, filled with faith Ð who fall at His feet and offer Him the praise and thanks He deserves.
On this Thanksgiving weekend, praise God that, in His power, He can do miracles for you. But at the feet of Jesus, praise God that He has also saved you from your sin and reconciled you to God.
Preacher Roland Allen tells a story about a night when he preached a message in an evangelism service. After the service, a missionary who had served for many years on a field in India talked about how God had used him to help the people of that region deal with a progressive blindness. People were born with healthy vision, but lost their sight as they became older. The missionary developed a treatment, which would stop the progression of blindness.
As people came to him for his treatment, they realized that if it weren’t for the missionary, they would go completely blind, but because of him, their sight was saved. Since their language had no word to say thank you, out of gratitude they used a word that meant I will tell of your name. Wherever they went, they would tell of the name of the missionary who had cured them of their blindness. They had received something so wonderful that they eagerly proclaimed it. I will tell of your name.
We are the people of Jesus. From Jesus we have received wholeness in His grace and love. By His death and resurrection, we have the promise of the forgiveness of sins, and we have been reconciled to the heart of our heavenly Father.
Jesus, I fall at your feet to give you thanks, and for the rest of my life, as God gives me breath, I will offer you my thanks and praise. I will tell of your name.