Thanksgiving - The Lord and the Lepers

Bible Book: Luke  17 : 11-19
Subject: Thanksgiving; Gratitude; Thanksgiving Day

Luke 17: 11-19 is a brief, but beautiful account of the compassion, concern, and power of Christ, demonstrated on behalf of the helpless and hurting of this world. In the account under consideration today, Jesus is approached by 10 lepers, who make an earnest plea for healing. The ultimate point of this narrative, which is the importance of praise and thanksgiving toward God, is found in verses 16-18. In those verses, Jesus laments the fact that though He had healed 10 lepers, only one, a Samaritan, returned to praise and thank Him for the wonderful gift of healing he had received. It is inferred by this account that the other nine lepers, who were also healed, were Jews. These demonstrated no gratitude to Christ, even though they had received the same wonderful gift as that bestowed on the Samaritan leper.

I believe these nine ungrateful Jews are illustrative of the basic lack of gratitude on the part of the nation of Israel, and that nation’s overall rejection of Christ as Messiah. John A. Martin explains with this thought: The nation accepted the things that Jesus could do (such as heal them and feed them), but it did not want to accept Him as Messiah. However, those outside the nation (such as this Samaritan leper—a person doubly repulsive to the Jews) were responding. 1

Though the basic thrust of this portion of scripture is that of gratitude and praise toward God, it also provides the reader with a snapshot of the desperate condition of the lost sinner. It reveals the sinner’s inability to prevent the ultimate outcome of their spiritual disease, which is death, apart from Christ’s intervention.

For those of us who have given our hearts to Christ, the truths found here should fill us with a renewed appreciation and gratitude for what Christ has done for us in salvation. For those who have not yet trusted Christ as Savior and Lord of their lives, it’s my prayer that the Holy Spirit will point the way to forgiveness and eternal life in Christ, which can be yours by faith.

I. The Calamity Of Ten Men

A. They Were Diseased

Luke 17:11-12a, “And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. 12a And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers…”

In Scripture, leprosy is a type of the consuming and destructive nature of sin. One who suffered from the malady of leprosy was declared to be unclean (Lev.13: 3c & 45), and was forced to live apart from the rest of the population (Lev.13: 46—“…he shall dwell alone…”); or in other words, leprosy (sin) brought separation.

Every human being has been affected by the spiritual leprosy of sin. Sin levels the playing field, so to speak. There are no big I’s and little U’s when it comes to sin, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom.3: 23). This is illustrated by the fact that nine Jewish lepers displayed no particular problem in keeping company with a Samaritan leper, who, under normal circumstances, they would have openly reviled and distanced themselves. It is said that “misery loves company,” and in their misery, their differences in heritage didn’t seem to matter so much. They were all dying of the same disease. This is still a practice today, as one commentator notes: It is the same now at Jerusalem; in the leper-houses, termed “Abodes of the Unfortunate,” Jews and Mohammedans will live together. Under no other circumstances will these hostile peoples do this. 2

Listen to what the Scriptures have to say about the pervasiveness of this spiritual disease. Ecclesiastes 7:20, “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.” Proverbs 20:9, “Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?”

Psalm 14:3, “They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”

Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;”

The spiritual leper—the lost sinner, upon realizing their hopeless condition, should seek help for their fatal malady. That help comes only by placing one’s faith and trust in the Great Physician, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Mark 2:17, “When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

B. They Were Distant

Luke 17:12b, “…there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off:”

1. Kept At A Distance

The Law of Moses required lepers to keep their distance.

Leviticus 13:45-46, “And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean. 46 All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be.”

According to one commentator, “The legal distance which these unfortunates were compelled to keep from passers-by was a hundred paces.” 3 Lepers were horribly disdained and shunned in Christ’s day, as the following will show:

Two Rabbis disputing the question maintained: one, that it was not fit to come within a hundred cubits of a leper; the other, within four cubits, when he stood between them and the wind. Another would not eat an egg if laid in a courtyard where a leper was. One, when he saw a leper, assailed him with stones, saying: “Off to thy own place, lest thou defile others,” etc. 4

Just as leprosy brought separation to the one afflicted by it, sin has brought separation between the sinner and God. This idea of the separation of sin is brought out in Isa.59: 2, where Israel was told, “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” The same idea of separation is brought out in Isa.64: 7b, where Isaiah said, “…for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.”

2. Cleansing Required

The only means for the physical leper to be restored to society was to be cleansed from his/her disease.

Leviticus 14:1-8, “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 2 This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought unto the priest: And the priest shall go forth out of the camp; and the priest shall look, and, behold, if the plague of leprosy be healed in the leper; 4 Then shall the priest command to take for him that is to be cleansed two birds alive and clean, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop: 5 And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water: 6 As for the living bird, he shall take it, and the cedar wood, and the scarlet, and the hyssop, and shall dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water: 7 And he shall sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed from the leprosy seven times, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose into the open field. 8 And he that is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, and shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean: and after that he shall come into the camp, and shall tarry abroad out of his tent seven days.

These verses are wonderfully symbolic of the work of Christ on the cross of Calvary. For instance, the birds used in this ceremony were sparrows, which were considered to be worthless. This correlates with the fact that Christ “made himself of no reputation” (Phil.2: 7), that He might redeem those who were spiritually valueless, yet highly prized by God.

One sparrow was “killed in an earthen vessel over running water,” and its blood sprinkled on the leper, and also the other sparrow, so it could be set free to fly away heavenward. Christ Jesus was put to death in an earthen vessel—a human body (John 1: 14a-“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…”), shedding His blood that sinners could be set free from the law of sin and death, and one day fly away heavenward (John 3: 16 & 17; 8: 36; 1 Thess.4: 16 & 17). It is also interesting that the sacrificed sparrow’s blood was mingled with water. When Christ died, a Roman soldier pierced His side; out of which came “…blood and water” (John 19: 34).

3. Cleansing The Sinner

The only way the spiritual leper can be brought into fellowship with a holy God is to accept divine deliverance.

Ephesians 2:13. “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.”

Titus 2:14, “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.”

C. They Were Desirous

Luke 17:13, “And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”

I found it significant, as Wiersbe points out, that: The word translated “master” is the same one Peter used (Luke 5: 5) and means “chief commander.” They knew that Jesus was totally in command of even disease and death, and they trusted Him to help them. 5

Dear lost friend, if you are tired of the devastating control that sin has over your life, then give your heart to the “Chief Commander,” Jesus, Who will take away the control and domination of sin in your life. If you’ll trust Him by faith, and invite Him into your heart, He’ll forgive your sins, and give you eternal life. Sin may have ravaged your life like leprosy, but Jesus, Who is the “Great Physician,” shed His blood on Calvary, so that you can be cleansed from the sin that keeps you at a distance from the God Who love you.

Isaiah 55:6, “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

Romans 10:13, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

II. The Command Of The Master

A. Heeding Jesus’ Command Required Faith

Luke 17:14a, “And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go show yourselves unto the priests…”

These men knew exactly what Jesus was implying by this command, for according to Lev.14: 1-32, a leper was sent to the priests only if he was cured of his leprosy. The fact that they immediately obeyed Jesus’ command is not insignificant, for these men had to be willing to believe what their eyes could not yet see.

It may also be observed that this required no small measure of “faith” on their part, for he did not “first” heal them, and then tell them to go; he told them to go without “expressly” assuring them that they would be healed, and without, “as yet,” any evidence to show to the priest. 6

Salvation always comes by faith in the Word of Jesus Christ. The Bible makes this clear, when it says:

Romans 5:1, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:”

Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

During the most intense fighting of the war with Iraq, I was listening to one of the embedded reporters who was traveling with a column of Marine tanks. He was sitting on top of one of the tanks when the enemy opened fire. He said it was a frightening moment, but he emerged unscathed. He called out to the one who was driving the tank, “Are you okay down there?” In just a moment, the reporter said, the Marine thrust both arms up through the hole above his head. He was clasping a Bible with both hands as he shouted, “I’m fine, sir, I’m just fine!” The Bible is the Word of God and has remarkable power and authority to help you through any situation you might encounter. By reading the Bible, you will find peace and joy. You will also discover the matchless love that God has for you, which He expressed through Jesus Christ, His Son. 7

B. Heeding Jesus’ Command Resulted In A Miraculous Fact

Luke 17:14b, “…And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.”

Jesus said, “…Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6: 37b). If you will trust Jesus by faith to forgive you of your sins and save you, He will do just that. He will wash away your sins, and give you a changed heart. Salvation is found by no other means, and in no other name than that of Jesus.

Bruce Revel tells about taking a cruise on a large ocean liner. Soon after boarding the craft, he found out that everyone would be required to participate in a lifeboat drill. “One requirement was that everyone had to wear a life jacket. When the alarm sounded, all passengers and crew gathered at the appointed location. The scene was amazing. Every man, woman, and child on that ship was wearing the same kind and color of life jacket. Finely dressed ladies with expensive jewelry were wearing exactly the same kind of life jacket as the cleaning women. Men in elegant tuxedos wore the same life jacket as the men who worked in the kitchen. This is a beautiful illustration of the reality of the church. Every time the people of God gather, it is like that lifeboat drill. No matter what our status or economic level, everyone must have the same life preserver—Jesus Christ.” 8

III. The Coming Of One Man

A. He Came Giving Honor To God

Luke 17:15, “And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God.”

There was an obvious change that took place in this former leper; for “…he saw that he was

healed” (v. 15b). This idea is what Paul had in mind when he said, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor.5: 17).

It is also rather conspicuous that this man was so overjoyed about what Jesus had done for him that he wanted everyone to hear about it; for he glorified God “…with a loud voice” (v. 15c). It’s a shame that so many Christians have forgotten that initial joy they experienced when they were saved, and have ceased to tell what Jesus has done for them.

An elderly gentleman at a midweek meeting offered this prayer: “O Lord, we will praise Thee; we will praise Thee with an instrument of ten strings!”

People wondered what he meant, but understood when he continued, “We will praise Thee with our two eyes by looking only unto Thee. We will exalt Thee with our two ears by listening only to Thy voice. We will extol Thee with our two hands by working in Thy service. We will honor Thee with our own two feet by walking in the way of Thy statutes. We will magnify Thee with our tongue by bearing testimony to Thy loving kindness. We will worship Thee with our heart by loving only Thee. We thank Thee for this instrument, Lord; keep it in tune. Play upon it as Thou wilt and ring out the melodies of Thy grace! May its harmonies always express Thy glory!” 9

B. He Came In Humility To Jesus

Luke 17:16, “And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.”

The first inclination of this former leper was to worship the One Who had delivered him from certain death. He literally prostrated himself at the feet of Jesus in worship and thanksgiving. As a leper, he dared not approach Jesus; but now, because of the cleansing he had received, he bows in His presence (Eph.2: 13).

IV. The Concern Of The Master

Luke 17:17-19, “And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? 18 There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. 19 And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.”

Only one out of 10 returned to give thanks for what God had done for them. This greatly grieved the heart of Jesus. Wiersbe notes: But before we judge them too harshly, what is our own “GQ”— “Gratitude Quotient?” How often do we take our blessings for granted and fail to thank the Lord? “Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!” (Ps.107: 8, 15, 21, 31). Too often we are content to enjoy the gift but we forget the Giver. We are quick to pray but slow to praise. 10

Finally, but most importantly, notice this. By coming to Jesus, the man received something greater than physical healing: he was also saved from his sins. Jesus said, “Your faith has saved

you” (literal translation), the same words He spoke to the repentant woman who anointed His feet (Luke 7: 50). The Samaritan’s nine friends were declared clean by the priest, but he was declared saved by the Son of God! While it is wonderful to experience the miracle of physical healing, it is even more wonderful to experience the miracle of eternal salvation. 11

1 John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Editors, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament edition, published by Victor Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 60187; pg. 248.

2 “Pulpit Commentary, AGES Software Rio, WI. USA, Version 1.0 © 2001 3 Ibid.

4 Alvah Hovey, D.D., LL.D., Editor, An American Commentary On The New Testament, published by American Baptist Publication Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Commentary On The Gospel Of Luke, by George R. Bliss, D.D., pg. 261.

5 Warren W. Wiersbe, Warren Wiersbe’s “Be” Series: Old & New Testaments, Be Compassionate, Be Courageous, as found in software by QuickVerse, A Division Of Findex.Com, Inc., Omaha, Nebraska.

6 Albert Barnes, Albert Barnes’ Notes On The Bible, as found in e-Sword software.

7 Dr. J. Robert White, Words of Life (Texas, Baxter Press, 2007) p. 253. Dr. J. Robert White is Chief Executive Officer of the Georgia Baptist Convention, Duluth, Georgia.

8 Clergy Journal, Apr 1993, pg. 36.

9 Author unknown. Taken from

10 Warren W. Wiersbe, Warren Wiersbe’s “Be” Series: Old & New Testaments, Be Compassionate, Be Courageous, as found in software by QuickVerse, A Division Of Findex.Com, Inc., Omaha, Nebraska.

11 Ibid.