Sermon on Luke 17:11-19 for Pentecost 18 (Pr 23), October 10 & 13, 2019
Language has changed. And one word—one very important word has developed a very sloppy and hard-to-define meaning. That word is faith. In our time, faith has come to mean many things. Most of the time it seems that having faith or believing means that you are optimistic. Faith is used all by itself without any object to it. “Have faith!” Have faith in what? “Believe!” Believe in what? You see, those words can’t stand on their own. When talking about Christian faith, our creeds begin, “I or we believe in God the Father almighty…” “We believe in Jesus Christ.” “We believe in the Holy Spirit.” Our faith is not just optimism. It’s based on something—the promises of God. It has an object—God himself.
I. Faith that Looks to the Savior
- Today’s Gospel is a lesson often used on Thanksgiving Day. Out of ten lepers, one comes back to say “Thank you” to Jesus. But let’s look before the “Thank you.” Let’s look at the prayer, the plea, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Do you remember our short Greek lesson back in August when we did that special setting of the service? We sang “Lord, have mercy” at the beginning of the service, but we sang it in Greek: “Kyrie, eleison.” That word eleison in the worship response is the same word the lepers use here. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” “Look at us. Look at our needs. Help. Show your love and pity.”
- Jesus was on the border between Samaria and Galilee. Jesus had been through Samaria about two years before (John 4). He healed a leper in Galilee after that (Luke 5:12-16). He healed many, many others, the lame, the blind, the deaf, the paralyzed (Matthew 12:15-21; Mark 3:7-12). These ten lepers recognized Jesus. They knew who he was. And they heard what he could do. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” is a cry for help—a cry for help to somebody they knew could help.
- For lepers, that was a huge thing—because ordinarily, lepers were beyond anyone’s help. Leprosy was a terrible disease. Today there are cures. Before the twentieth century, there were no cures. Leprosy was a skin disease, a nerve disease and a bone disease. Skin would become whitish, flaky, and later rough and bumpy. A leper would lose feeling from toes and fingertips and it would work its way inward. Bones became brittle, and fingers and toes would break easily. In Old Testament law, leprosy was a symbol of corruption. Even though leprosy was not contagious person to person, lepers had to live separate from everyone else. So here are these lepers, lonely, because they had to live away from family and friends; feeling cursed because of their dread disease, incurable, like a living death… and here they are crying out to Jesus for help.
- And Jesus did help. All he did was say, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they went away they were cleansed.” By cleansing lepers, Jesus did what no one else could do. Jesus did what no one had ever done before. What would the priests do? They would examine the lepers, look at the color and texture of the skin and the color of the hair growing on the skin. They would see if the skin was only an affected area, or if the whole body was infected (Leviticus 13). Because of the nature of leprosy, it must have been very rare that someone was declared clean. In Leviticus 14, we read about what the priests would do if somebody was cleansed of leprosy. There were special offerings, ceremonies and anointing that were very similar to the offerings and anointing when a priest was ordained. By commanding that cleansed lepers be examined by priests, God set up a “telegraph” system to tell the priests that the Messiah had arrived.
- God has “telegraphed” his message to us—on the pages of Scripture. This is the Savior. There is no other. In the gospels, we see his powerful works. We see what he says about who he is. Faith doesn’t just sit by itself as “optimism” or faith that “everything will be okay.” Faith looks to the Savior, Jesus Christ. Faith trusts that everything will be okay because it is all in his hands. He can do what no one else can do. He is the hope of the hopeless. The power of the powerless.
II. Faith that is Powered by the Savior
- Another problem with the word “faith” is that people use it to talk about “the power within.” Sometimes we think that way when we talk about having or wanting a stronger faith. But faith, true faith, Christian faith, isn’t a power within. It is a matter of relying on the power from above. Our faith isn’t the source of our power. Our faith plugs into God’s power. Our faith stands boldly only because it relies on Jesus holding us up and empowering us.
- Jesus said to the thankful leper, “Get up and go your way. Your faith has saved you.” “Your faith has saved you.” By that, Jesus does not mean “You have saved yourself.” He means “Your trust in me has saved you.” When the Word of God sets some promise before us, the promise itself has the power in it to give us faith. That’s the doctrine of the gospel. The Holy Spirit calls us with the gospel. He enlightens us with the gospel. He creates and strengthens faith with the gospel.
- Christians often have this feeling of weakness. Sometimes we question our own faith, or blame ourselves because we know our faith is weak. Sometimes we’re faced with a hardship or a failure and we feel empty. Really that’s not a bad thing. It can be a very good thing. If you have that feeling of weakness—doesn’t that mean that you understand the human condition—your condition? If you feel like your tank is empty, you are ready for God to fill it. The lepers cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” “On our own we are helpless. Help us.” “We are sick. Heal us.” “We are hurting. Relieve our pain.”
- It’s great to feel like you are self-sufficient—a self-made man or woman. For those who feel that way, be careful. Those times and those feelings may pass quickly. For many, those feelings are rare. Instead, many people feel weighed down with the circumstances and the hardships of life, with feelings of disappointment and failure. Sometimes those feelings come from facing reality. Sometimes those feelings come from the devil tempting us to despair—making things seem worse than they really are. Lift up your heads, because you have a Savior who is ready to hear your cry: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” You have a Savior who has promised to help. He taught you to pray “Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil.” He alone can strengthen you when you are tempted. He alone can drive back the hardships, lessen their weight and deliver us. The power of Christ is never the problem, as if his power would fall short of our needs—no. Our lack of trust is often the problem. Remember Jairus, the man with the dying daughter? When someone came and told him his daughter had died he gave Jesus a worried look, and Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid. Only believe.” “Trust me,” Jesus says. He says that to you and me, too. “Don’t be afraid. Only believe.” When the darkness passes, Jesus will say, “Your faith has saved you.” Not because of any strength on our part, but because we have relied on his strength.
Luke 17:11–19 (EHV)
On another occasion, as Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, he was passing along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12When he entered a certain village, ten men with leprosy met him. Standing at a distance, 13they called out loudly, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they went away they were cleansed. 15One of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice. 16He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, thanking him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Jesus responded, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18Was no one found to return and give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Get up and go your way. Your faith has saved you.”
 You can get leprosy from contaminated water supplies, and you can also catch it from armadillos.
 One exception is Elisha sending Naaman to bathe in the Jordan to be healed of his leprosy.