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The One Thankful Leper- Luke 17:11-19

I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.


Introduction: The Lost Art of Thankfulness

A February 20, 1994 article from the Magazine 'Our Daily Bread' had an illustration in it about being thankful. It said:

"Thankfulness seems to be a lost art today. Warren Wiersby illustrated this problem in his commentary on Colossians. He told about a ministerial student in Evanston, Illinois, who was part of a life-saving squad. In 1860, a ship went aground on the shore of Lake Michigan near Evanston, and Edward Spencer waded again and again into the frigid waters to rescue 17 passengers. In the process, his health was permanently damaged. Some years later at his funeral, it was noted that not one of the people he rescued ever thanked him."

Sadly, the world is full of people who are self-centered and ungrateful. Thankfulness is an expression that we don't make it through this life alone. From the time that we are born to the time that we die, we rely on others to help us make it in this world. No matter what you believe, there are no real self-made men or women. None of us willed ourselves into existence. We didn't care for ourselves as infants or as children. And we had many teachers and mentors along the way in order to get to adulthood and the ability to earn a living for ourselves and our families.

Even then, many of us have a job given to us by some person or corporation that provides our wages. Those who own a business have loyal customers and employees that make it all possible.

And if you own a car, have roads to drive on, use an appliance, have electric lights, enjoy heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer, have running water, clothes on your back, shoes on your feet and a myriad of other things that come from living in a modern society, then you don't live without the help of others.

Further, the most important help of all is that which we get from our Creator, the God of all that exists. Without Him, not only would none of us be here, but nothing else would either. He has made and sustains the entire world in which we live. It would cease to exist without Him. And man, with all of his ego and pride, would be no more.

To be ungrateful to God, is the highest form of arrogance there is. We witness it in the fall of Satan as he states in Isaiah 14:13,14 that:

  1. I will ascend into heaven,
  2. I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;
  3. I will also sit on the mount of the congregation In the sides of the north;
  4. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
  5. I will be like the Most High.

These statements are just dripping with a feeling of superiority, self-sufficiency, self-exaltation and pride. It's all about him and not about the God who made him as he was. And mankind, as a whole, has fallen into that same egocentric hole that lead to the Devil being cast out of Heaven

While our Lord Jesus was on this earth he had many encounters with people who wanted Him to heal them. In Luke 17:13-19 we see one of those instances in which our Lord ran into some people who should have been grateful. Jesus healed ten lepers of that terrible disease, yet only one returned to thank Him. And interestingly, the one who returned was the one whom we'd least expect would do so, for he was a Samaritan.

Let's look at this story and see if we can find some ways in which we can imitate the great thankfulness of this man to whom the Lord showed great mercy.

I. The Problem: Leprosy (17:1-13)

The narrative tells us that while Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem he passed between Samaria and Galilee. As He entered a village he encountered ten men who had leprosy. Leprosy, in the Bible is a term referring to various ancient skin disorders that were sometimes superficial, sometimes serious. And it may have included modern leprosy, also known as Hanson's disease.

If these men had Hansen's disease then it is a long-term infection by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae or Mycobacterium lepromatosis. Infection can lead to damage of the nerves, respiratory tract, skin, and eyes. This nerve damage may result in a lack of ability to feel pain, which can lead to the loss of parts of a person's extremities from repeated injuries or infection due to unnoticed wounds. An infected person may also experience muscle weakness and poor eyesight. Leprosy symptoms may begin within one year, but for some people symptoms may take 20 years or more to occur.

Whether they had Hansen's disease or some other form of infection, leprosy was something that made people ceremonially defiled in Jesus' time . That is why these men were standing at a distance and had to shout at the Lord to get His attention. Easton's Bible Dictionary has this to say about it:

"In Christ's day no leper could live in a walled town, though he might in an open village. But wherever he was he was required to have his outer garment rent as a sign of deep grief, to go bareheaded, and to cover his beard with his mantle, as if in lamentation at his own virtual death. He had further to warn passers-by to keep away from him, by calling out, 'Unclean! unclean!' nor could he speak to any one, or receive or return a salutation, since in the East this involves an embrace."

So you can imagine how devastating a disease like this could be for a person diagnosed with it. They became outcasts from society and forced to either live alone or with other people with the same type of disease. And you can feel these men's desperation to be cured, in order to go back to a normal life once again, as they called out to Christ:

"Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"

And have mercy, he did!

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II. Jesus' Solution: Testing Their Faith in His Authority (17:14)

And just how did our Lord respond? Well He could have just spoken as He did to the dead body of Lazarus, who was raised to life, and they would have been immediately clean. He could have walked up to the men and touched them. But He wanted to test their faith in Him and in His authority. He simply told them to show themselves to the priests.

In that time, in order to be able to enter back into society, they needed to have a priest declare them ceremonially clean again. And the Scripture simply tells us:

"And as they were going, they were cleansed." (14b).

The one who spoke the universe into existence, who calmed the sea by His command, was the same person who spoke and cured these men of this dreaded disease.

And all that they had to do was to believe Him and go, as He told them to do. But there should have been another response. A response of gratefulness for the magnificent act of mercy and love that Jesus performed for these men. Yet it didn't come from any of them. That is with the exception of one former leper.

III. The Response: The Gratefulness of Only One (17:15-19)

Nine of the men, in a hurry to get to the priests and, finally, to their old normal lives, left without saying a word more to Jesus. What the Lord Jesus did for these people, whom He loved, changed their lives for the better forever, and they did not even bother to hunt him down later to give Him a thank you.

However, as for the tenth man, who incidentally was a Samaritan, Scripture tells us that:

"When he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him." (15).

To explain why this act is so unusual, we must know something about the Samaritans. They were a people group in the Bible that lived in the area of Israel after the Assyrian conquest. They survived through the time of Jesus and are around in limited numbers even today.

In 721 B.C., when the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians, many of the people of Israel were led off to Assyria as captives. However, some remained in the land and intermarried with foreigners planted there by the Assyrians. These half-Jewish, half-Gentile people became known as the Samaritans.

Besides being mixed racially, the Samaritans created a religion for themselves that the Jews believed to be heresy. On Mount Gerizim, they established their own temple as a place to worship. That is where they believed that Moses had originally intended for the people to worship the Lord.

These people also had their own unique version of the five books of Moses, the Pentateuch. However, they rejected the prophets and Jewish traditions. The Samaritans saw themselves as the true descendants of Israel and the preservers of the true religion. To them the Jerusalem temple and the priesthood were illegitimate.

Also, when the Jews came to rebuild Jerusalem, they were opposed by the Samaritans.

In the Jewish mind, the Samaritan was much more revolting than the Gentiles. And they thought of the Gentiles as dogs. They were considered half-breeds that were defying the true religion of Israel.

So, it is truly consequential when a Samaritan becomes the only person in this group of men to recognize the Lord's miracle on his behalf and to come back and thank Him for what he'd done for him.

Since Jesus told them to show themselves to the priests, we can safely assume that the other nine were Jews. Apparently, because all of them were lepers, that's why these Jewish men were associating with this tenth man who would normally be shunned by them. However, even though these were supposedly God's chosen people, all of the nine failed to recognize and to thank their promised Messiah for what he'd done for them.

Jesus, saddened by this, says:

"Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine, where are they? Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?" (17-18).

By Jesus calling this man a foreigner, it shows that he saw him no better or worse than other Gentiles. And he responded in love to this man as he would any other person that demonstrated faith in Him. The Samaritan was cured of his disease as the others had been. And he was thankful for it.

Because of this man's faith, Jesus told him:

"Stand up and go; your faith has made you well." (19).

The words translated: "made you well" in this verse, literally mean "saved you."

He was physically saved, and there is room in this passage to believe that this man was spiritually saved as well. He, will, no doubt, be with the Lord Jesus when he enters into his Kingdom.

So what do we learn from this passage? There are several applications for us.

IV. Applying the Text

The first way that we can apply this text is to see the similarity between the lepers and ourselves. Leprosy can be seen as a metaphor for sin.

Pastor Jack Wellman has written about the similarities between sin and leprosy in an article that I read recently. The four comparisons that he gives are as follows:

1. Sin numbs us to our condition. Leprosy causes damage to sensory nerves making the skin numb. As we continue to sin, we become more calloused and hardened to its affect on our lives.

2. Sin leads to death. As leprosy progresses, the lack of sensation leads to fatal tissue and limb damage. Likewise, sin causes people to make bad decisions often leading to disaster.

3. We can’t hide sin. People with leprosy can’t hide their disease. Likewise, the actions of people trapped in sin eventually become obvious to those around them.

4. Sin produces outcasts. Lepers were driven from their homes and made to live outside the city. Like lepers, afflictions like drug abuse and alcoholism can turn us into the dregs of society.

Sin, like leprosy, destroys both body and soul and leaves us in a situation of utter hopelessness. Without the intervention of an outside source, we would remain that way forever.

However, Jesus has entered this world and into the lives of those who have faith in Him and the gospel.

Faith in His power to save is the necessary ingredient for our Lord to act on our behalf.

And being thankful to God for all that He has done is evidence of the reality of our faith. A true understanding that we were without hope and without God in this world; as well as a genuine knowledge that we were headed for Hell without Christ, should make us want to love and serve Him for the rest of our lives. Not out of duty but out of gratitude.

The truth is that, in many ways, we are all lepers. The question is: "Do you identify with the nine, or with the one Samaritan?


It was John MacArthur that said:

"A thankful heart is one of the primary identifying characteristics of a believer. It stands in stark contrast to pride, selfishness, and worry. And it helps fortify the believer's trust in the Lord and reliance on His provision, even in the toughest times. No matter how choppy the seas become, a believer's heart is buoyed by constant praise and gratefulness to the Lord."

Let us never forget that without God we are nothing. And without His salvation we're all lost. With that knowledge, just like the tenth leper, we will always be grateful for His mercy and His love.

© 2020 Jeff Shirley

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