Encounters With Jesus: The Ten Lepers

Good morning and welcome to Journey Church.  My name is Phil and it’s my pleasure to speak with you today about Jesus.  And we’re looking today at a passage in the book of Luke.

Luke was a doctor in the first century.  He became a follower of Jesus’ and after Jesus rose from the dead, Luke took it upon himself to write a history of the life of Jesus.  And then – as all good books – there was a sequel.  The book of Acts was Luke’s second book – and it detailed the birth and rapid growth of the early church. 

There are only four books in the bible that detail the life of Jesus.  They are the first four books in the New Testament.  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Matthew, Mark and Luke are similar in style and in fact seem to borrow from one another, or another source, because portions of their books are very similar – and in fact sometimes they are word for word the same.  John is the last of the gospels written and it’s as if John read these others and said, man, My book is going to be totally different – and so he skips what these guys covered and fills in some of the other gaps.

Now although Matthew Mark and Luke are similar in style, there are subtle differences in each of them.  Mark is the shortest and it reads like a readers digest version of accounts.  Fast paced action – mark likes to say things like “Suddenly”  and “Immediately” – little context – flies at a hundred miles an hour and comes to an abrupt end.

Matthew is written primarily to a Jewish audience – he is trying to convince Jewish people that Jesus is the messiah, and so tons and tons of old testament references and prophecies.  His genealogy starts with Abraham – the father of the Jews – because who really cares who came along before Abraham.  The surprise of Matthew is that Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, is in fact the savior of the world.  And so you’ll read Matthew and all of a sudden the hero of the story is a non-Jewish person.  And at the very end of the book – Jesus tells his followers to go make disciples of all nations – baptizing them and teaching them to obey. 

So what about Luke?  What’s surprising about Luke’s account of Jesus life?  Well Luke highlights Jesus’ interaction with people who have been marginalized by society.   Women for instance, play a special role in Luke account of Jesus’ life – showing how Jesus elevated woman and honored them – which was a surprise in the first century.

Luke also gives lots of attention to how Jesus interacted with the poor – and with the outcast and the needy and the sick.  Luke is a doctor, after all, and so you might imagine he was watching Jesus’ interaction with the sick as he went about healing people. 

The story we are going to read from Luke this morning shows one more example of Jesus displaying compassion and kindness to – literally the lowest of human beings on earth at the time of the life of Jesus.  And that’s Jesus showing kindness to lepers. 

As we read the passage today we’re looking for two things – what do we learn about Jesus from this passage?  Because what is true of Jesus is true of God.   When we read scripture we aren’t just absorbing information.  We are learning about God and what he cares about – what makes him smile and what frustrates him.  We read scripture, or listen to it, to learn how our own relationship with God can be improved and made better.

Secondly we are looking to answer the question – What makes one leper different than the other nine in the story?  And I’m going to propose it’s one thing – and it’s not that he was thankful.  So keep looking for it okay?

11 As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, he reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. 12 As he entered a village there, ten men with leprosy stood at a distance, 13 crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

14 He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy.

15 One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” 16 He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men?  Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”

Luke 17 NLT

So what do we learn about Jesus from this passage?

  1. Jesus cares about people other people don’t care too much about.

Leprosy is a brutal disease.  It actually deadens your nerve endings and so you lose the ability to feel pain.  Sometimes people want to blame God for pain, but pain has a purpose.  It alerts us that something is wrong.  And if we remove pain then we don’t know when we are being injured.  And so limbs get cut and infected and skin gets gangrene and it’s terrible.

Besides the pain of the actual disease, comes the pain of being socially ostracized.  They could not be part of normal life – no one would touch them, it was thought to be contagious.  So they were ceremonially unable to enter temples to worship within, most of the time they became beggars lining the streets seeking pity from passerby’s who tried to ignore they were there.

I went to look for some pictures to put up on the screen to show you what leprosy looks like because Leprosy is still around today, but leprosy deforms in such brutal ways that I though it was too graphic to show.

Until I came across this picture that was the least graphic, but also the most telling.  I fell in love with this picture. It’s a picture of a leprosy patient.  I love this picture.  The photographer captured a photo that shows the effects of leprosy, but behind the disease we see that there is a beautiful, human being on the other side of the disease.

And this is what Jesus saw when he looked at those ten men – Jesus looked past their deformity and their disease and saw human beings on the other side.

These men – all ten of them – their lives were changed because Jesus saw beyond their condition and saw them as human beings who needed compassion.  Jesus cares about people that other people don’t care about.

Since Jesus cares about the least of these – so do we.  Right?  Throughout history it’s been followers of Christ who have followed Jesus lead in caring for those the world sees as discards of society.  And we at Journey take our place in the timeline of world history to continue the loving ways of Jesus that our predecessors in the faith passed down to us. 

Someday we will build a church building in our community and we will have the chance to continue to play the role God has given us.  And for generations to come Jesus will be worshipped at a church called Journey Church. 

And I might be long dead and buried but I can tell you three things that will be true about Journey Church.  And I can say with certainty it will be true because it’s in our DNA as a church.

1.  We will be a church for people cynics and skeptics – for people who are starting and restarting their spiritual journey.    2 We will be a church that cares for the poor and the least of these.   3.  We will eat delicious donuts.  And cost effective coffee as possible.  For generations. 

It’s why we work in Haiti and Mali and Heartland Hope and restored hope – because it’s in our DNA and I love love love it. 

This week I was thinking about this – and you know, we don’t have lepers around us here in Gretna and Omaha – so who are the people in our day and age that other people might not care too much for?  Who are the marginalized in our society?

And I hope you will allow me to take a little pastoral privilege here, but I thought of immigrants and refugees.

The issue has become politically charged – but it seems to me that there are two issues that need to be figured out.  How do we protect the citizens of the United States from people who seek to harm us?  People who will capitalize on others misfortune by pretending to need refuge – but actually intend to harm us. 

The second issue is – how do we respond to the millions of people who are literally running for their lives?  How do we respond as Americans to the vast numbers of human beings who do not want to harm anyone, they simply want to live?

And regardless of where you stand on the issue – and there are valid arguments on either side of the aisle about how to handle refugees and immigrants- will you please honor our calling as followers of Jesus by remembering that there are human beings on the other side of refugee status?

Like Jesus – we too care about people other people don’t care too much about.   And at the very least, we pray.  Pray for the politicians trying to answer these questions – and pray for the human beings seeking to run for their lives. 

Alas – I preach to the choir.  You have shown a history of being those kinds of people.  People like Jesus, gospels – we read that Jesus cared about the marginalized.  And I’m thankful to worship in a room full of people like you.

What else do we learn about Jesus?

2.  Jesus shows kindness to people regardless their response.

The Bible says that God causes the rain to fall on good or evil alike.  There is a generosity about God – he gives to people even should they not return to ever give him thanks or credit. 

Here’s Jesus – healing ten – nine never return to follow up with him.  But it doesn’t say, since these nine gave him no credit – the disease returned!  That’ll show em! 

We live in a world that is based on – you get what you deserve – but at a fundamental level, what have we done to deserve the rain that falls from the sky, the food that comes from the earth?  The beauty of the world, the provision of God.

There is a grace from God that is common to all mankind.  We receive the kindness of God whether or not we ever come around to thanking him for it.  For God so loves the world. 

Can I tell you one of my favorite things that I love about you all?  You all have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to build these centers in Mali – even though the country is 95 percent Muslim.  And no one has ever come up to me and said, maybe we should be helping Christians, no one has ever said to me – well, what are the results of these centers – are people turning to Jesus? 

Maybe.  Maybe not.  In this story Jesus only had ten percent of those healed respond with faith.  Our job is to love people – regardless of their condition and regardless of what they believe.

If we only love people like us, what makes us different than mobsters.  Don’t they do that?  We don’t love in order to get something.  We love in the name of Jesus.  We plant the seeds of faith by becoming the kinds of people who can love even those who reject it.  We plant the seeds and we let God be in charge of the growth.

3.  What else do we learn about Jesus?

He expects us to trust him enough to do what he asks.

The lepers  They were willing to do what they were asked. Jesus tells them to head to the priests.    

It’s one thing to say you have faith.   But if your faith doesn’t engage the gears of action in your life, then you don’t really have faith. 

Your just spinning your tires – but the rubber has to hit the road, or you’re not going anywhere.

Faith is trust in action.  And these ten – all ten, displayed a good working faith in Jesus because they obeyed him – and did what he told them to do.

Jesus said, go and see the priests – present yourself to the temple.  Remember though, they weren’t healed yet.  And so off they go – for what could have been a painful trek of many miles – and were they not healed before they got to the temple it would have all been for nothing – because no priest is going to touch them or even let them into the temple while leprous. 

But there appears to be no hesitation – they all head out.  Because faith involves action. 

This story has some similarities to an old testament story about a man named Naaman.  He also had leprosy and he went to see the prophet Elisha in 2 Kings 5.  I’ll read just a few bits of that story and we can see how they are alike…

Elisha sent a messenger out to him with this message: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.”

11 But Naaman became angry and stalked away. “I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” he said. “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me!”

  

So here’s Naaman.  He is looking for what sounds like a magic wand.  Fix me Lord!  But sometimes you gotta do something.  Sometimes we need to obey before we see the results.

Lord, heal my marriage!  “Okay – the Lord says, have you gone to a professional counselor?”  Well, ain’t nobody got time for that Lord, send someone out here to wave their hands and call on the name of the Lord for us!”  Nope.

Lord, help me get out of debt!  Okay – you go to financial peace yet?  Oh Lord, Thursday nights for six weeks!   The burden is unbearable!  Okay.  Right?

Lord I want to lose some weight and be healthier.  Okay – why don’t you get up a little earlier and get some exercise!  Lord, that’s ridiculous!  I prefer the magic wand!

Faith and action go together.  Faith and obedience.  Which is why, I think, that Jesus instructs us to be baptized after making the decision to cross the line of faith and be his follower. 

What does it look like to make a decision to follow Jesus?  “Jesus, you are the Lord of my life.  You are in charge of my life.  I’ll go where you tell me to go and do what you tell me to do.”  Okay, the Lord says, why don’t you start with getting baptized?

Lord, my hair will get wet!  On Easter!  I don’t do crowds! 

I’m not trying to pressure you or guilt you into doing something – please hear me – today I am acting in the role of Naaman’s aide.

See, Thankfully Naaman had an aide with him who spoke some wisdom into his life.  He says, listen- all he’s asking you to do is get dunked in a little water.  Ch-ch-chill!

14 So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his skin became as healthy as the skin of a young child, and he was healed!

Jesus expects a measure of obedience – because he knows what’s best for us.  He’s not playing power games with you when he asks you to obey you.  He’s already the alpha of the group.  He wants us to trust him because he always asks us to do what is right!

What else do we learn from Jesus?

4.  He notices thankfulness.

Francis Schaeffer “The beginning of men’s rebellion against God was, and is, that lack of a thankful heart.”

Paul understands that gratitude towards God is the first step toward transformation.  Colossians 3:15  … And always be thankful.

One sole leper in Luke 17, returns to express gratitude to Jesus.  And it gets his attention. 

Now I’ll be honest and say, that the first time I read this story I thought the moral of the story was to be thankful.  It feels like a story about “remember to say thanks.”  “This is a story about manners!”  Remember you P’s and Q’s.  God likes polite people.

And upon further reflection I think that’s close but not quite there. 

And I say that because I can’t help but think that the other nine were just as thankful.  How can you not be thankful!  Why didn’t they return?  Who knows – maybe they ran home to hug their kids or their spouse or their mom and dad for the first time in years!

And you know, in our life, it’s very easy to be thankful for God’s blessing.  Lot’s of people are thankful.  You can be an agnostic and be thankful. 

How many times do people get up and stage and say, “I want to start by thanking God for this award…” 

I heard about a show with a woman who was kayaking and a bunch of loons landed right next to her kayak – and she looked up and said, Thank you universe!

Close, but…  The universe didn’t die for you.  Being thankful is not enough.

So what stands out about this man – what makes him different?

He moved beyond thankful – he worshipped!  He fells to the ground and he worshipped.  Praise God!

Remember Naaman?  He did the same thing.  17  From now on I will never again offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the Lord.

Why do we come to church?  We don’t come to church primarily to be fed.  We don’t come to get something out of it.  Hopefully you will, but the primary reason we gather is to worship God. 

When we worship Him, we are bringing to him something that is very special, we are bringing something to him that is uniquely ours.

See when we bring our gifts of money?  Well, its just a portion of what was God’s to begin with.  We might give him a percentage of what is rightfully his anyway.

When we give our time to serve, well, that time belongs to God and every minute of our life is a gift from him to begin with.

But our praise?  Our worship?  When we lift our hands and sing?  And bow our heads and pray.  When we interact with him through the word? 

These things – don’t exist in the universe until you express it.  When you bring it as an offering of worship to the Lord?  It captures his attention.  You are bringing Him something he doesn’t already have.  You are bringing him something no one else can give him.  And it is special to him. 

You bring it voluntarily – it is the step beyond thankful.  And it is special to God.

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