Cary Grant, a famous movie actor from a long time ago, once told how he was walking along the street and met a guy whose eyes locked onto him with excitement. The man said, “Wait a minute! You’re, you’re . . . I know who you are; don’t tell me! Hmmm. Rock Hud . . . . No! You’re . . .”
Grant thought he’d help him so he finished the sentence. “Cary Grant.”
The man argued, “No, that’s not it. You’re, you’re . . .”
There was Cary Grant in all his glory identifying himself with his own name, but this fellow did not recognize him. He had someone else in mind.
The Bible has a verse about Jesus which states,
“He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize him” (John 1:10).
We see a bit of this being played out in our story today of Jesus and the ten lepers.
In the past, I’ve frequently preached on this narrative at Thanksgiving services. In fact, it is the chosen Gospel story for Thanksgiving in the church’s lectionary. On the surface, it seems appropriate because it looks like a Thanksgiving type story. But I propose something more important is going on here than remembering to say thank you.
It is true that Jesus seemed to appreciate the show of thanksgiving from the healed man. However, I’ve come to believe this story is more about recognizing Jesus for who He really is and then responding in faith and praise. Let’s take a look at it again.
Jesus and His disciples are walking along the border between Judea and Samaria. He is headed to Jerusalem where a cross looms ahead for Him. He will suffer and die on a cross to save us from our sins, to carry out God’s salvation plan for the world.
On the way there, Jesus was approached by ten men who had leprosy. They stood off in the distance and cried to Jesus for mercy, which is also interpreted as pity in some translations. People with leprosy were considered outcasts of society and were quarantined. No one wanted to catch this horrible skin disease, which caused pain and even loss of limbs. It also carried psychological losses, such as loss of family, personal worth, community, and dignity. According to Jewish law, they were required to keep their distance from healthy people. This is the reason these ten stood at a great distance from Jesus as they cried out for mercy.
Why were they calling to Jesus? They obviously had heard about Him and His healing powers. Hoping He might heal them, they cried, “Lord Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Surprisingly enough, Jesus answered their cries.
I love the fact that Jesus noticed these outcasts and had mercy on them. He has a heart and passion for hurting people. His latest healing miracles had caused some conflict and criticism. But Jesus being Jesus couldn’t help Himself, and He showed compassion to these hurting individuals. Besides, Jesus’ disciples might learn from this experience.
With a voice that rang out with authority, Jesus said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests!” According to Jewish law, a person who had experienced healing from this disease must show himself to the local priest before returning to society. Jesus was intimating that these men were going to be healed.
As they went, they were suddenly made clean. They were miraculously healed of their leprosy. Therefore, this is a miracle story. Miracles were clues to point to the kingdom of God being at hand in Jesus, who was the long-awaited Messiah of God. One of those lepers, who saw he was healed, turned back praising God with a loud voice. He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet giving Him thanks. Unlike the other nine, this man was awakened to something important in this encounter. So he turned back and fell upon his face praising and glorifying God in worship. Jesus’ identity had become all too clear to him.
Luke editorializes at this point in the story. There is almost a parenthesis there – Now, he was a Samaritan. Samaritans were hated by the Jews. They were written off as half-breed pagans. So this guy was in double trouble. He was not only an outcast because of his leprosy, but he was also a write-off because of his race.
Interestingly, he was with nine others who apparently were Jewish. Misery loves company, doesn’t it? No matter what the background, it seems to know no borders. But Jesus in His mercy, of all things, healed this man too.
Look at Jesus’ response to his turning back to Him. “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
Notice, Jesus doesn’t say anything about thanking Him, but He does talk about praising God. They didn’t seem to recognize that they had encountered God in the flesh, the divine. But this foreigner of all people, this outsider, this write-off, caught it and began to worship, for he knew he was in the presence of God.
It was just like the disciple Peter when he first met Jesus. After pulling in a large catch, he fell on his face before Jesus and called Him “Lord! God.”
Jesus points out that out of the ten, only one got it. Look who he was – a foreigner, a Samaritan! He said to the Samaritan, “Rise and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” While ten were healed, only one was saved. Your faith has made you well.
The act of recognizing God in Jesus, then turning back reminds me of repentance, of surrendering oneself. In faith, he turned back with praise and thanks to God for Jesus. Falling on his face before Jesus is an action one would take when approaching the divine. It’s the posture of worship.
Jesus’ response – Get up. Arise and go on your way; your faith has made you well – says it all.
• Get up is a resurrection term in the early Church.
• Arise announces a new life has been given you. Like the prodigal son, ‘this man was dead and now is alive again.’
• Your faith has made you well. In the Greek, this literally means, “has saved you.” In other places of Scripture as well it is translated, “has saved you.”
So this man is worshiping Jesus as his Savior. He is displaying a saving faith, not a temporal faith. God’s salvation is offered to everyone to receive by faith. Even Samaritans can be saved.
Later in Acts chapter one, the risen Jesus Christ will tell His disciples, “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.” One could say the least likely person out of the ten received mercy and was saved that day! This poor guy had the two things working against him: He was an outcast of society and he was a Samaritan (pagan).
This is good news for people like you and me. Salvation in Christ is freely offered to everyone to receive in faith. Because of my sin and rebelliousness, I, too, could be considered the least likely to receive His mercy and be saved. I deserve absolutely nothing from God. I stand before Him empty-handed, unclean.
But my God is full of steadfast love and grace. Jesus entered our world to save us. Through faith in Him who suffered and died as an outcast for me at the cross, I receive mercy and grace. I am no longer an outcast before God. He will provide cleansing from my sins at the cross. His blood makes me clean, and I am restored into fellowship with God and with the family of God who trust in Jesus. My sin-sick soul has been healed by the blood of Jesus Christ. As the Word of God says,
“By his stripes, we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
I’ve been thinking about this story for some time, and I had this thought. As the lepers heard Jesus say, Go present yourself to the priests, I remember that I, too, have a priest to go to, who will pronounce me clean – Jesus Christ. He is described as our great High Priest in the book of Hebrews. He is the mediator between God and a sinful person like me. He offered not the sacrifice of animals but His own blood to make me clean. By raising Jesus from the dead, God endorsed Him as the Lamb of God, the Great High Priest, who takes away the sins of the world – including my sins and yours.
What is Jesus looking for from me then, according to the story? Two things.
First, turn to Him in faith. If you’ve turned away, turn back. Believe in Him. Trust Him with your life.
John Stott tells us that an amazing thing happens when we come to Christ and put our trust in Him. A marvelous but mysterious exchange takes place. He takes away our sins and clothes us with His righteousness. In confidence, we stand before God trusting not in our own righteousness but in God’s manifold and great mercies, not in the tattered rags of our own mortality but in the spotless robe of the righteousness of Christ. God accepts us – not because we are righteous, but because the righteous Christ died for our sins and was raised from death.
Second, trust Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, and then humbly, joyfully, and gratefully praise God in worship for His Son, our Savior. Give thanks in faith and worship with the Apostle Paul saying, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”
May you be a walking doxology all the way to heaven singing,
♪Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise him all creatures here below.
Praise him above ye heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.♬
Pastor Steve Kramer