One of the most poignant stories in the New Testament is the story of a small group of DESPERATE MEN who approached Jesus for HEALING. These guys were desperate because they all had something in COMMON. They were all LEPERS.
To appreciate this story, you need to understand a little bit about LEPROSY in the first century.
The disease began with a general sense of FATIGUE and PAIN in the joints… Not long after people began experiencing fatigue and pain, they would start getting PATCHES, lumps and NODULES on their SKIN.
The patches, lumps and nodules would spread, and eventually make a person completely UNRECOGNIZABLE. Here’s a picture of what I’m talking about…
Then the LUMPS would ULCERATE. This would be accompanied by a foul ODOR or SMELL.
The person would eventually lose their EYEBROWS. Their voice would start to get HOARSE because their VOCAL CHORDS would begin to ULCERATE. Soon the individual would speak with a RASP in his voice, and begin to WHEEZE when they tried to breathe.
Leprosy was also accompanied by a LOSS of FEELING or SENSATION… This was one of the MOST DANGEROUS aspects of leprosy…
Eventually leprosy resulted in the loss of MENTAL FUNCTIONS and ended in COMA and DEATH. In Jesus’ day, the FIRST SIGN of leprosy was like a DEATH SENTENCE.
Those are some of the physical implications of leprosy, but there were also SOCIAL implications.
For instance, if you were a leper, you COULDN’T GO NEAR OTHER PEOPLE who weren’t lepers. You couldn’t walk into town… If you attempted to and were caught, the people would pelt you with EGGS to humiliate you or actually STONE YOU to death.
Fear of leprosy ran so high, that when a leper went into a house, the entire house was declared UNFIT to live in.
If you were TOUCHED by someone with leprosy, you were considered to be defiled… And were isolated or quarantined for a period of time. One source from the first century wrote that lepers had to stay 50 YARDS AWAY from people who didn’t have leprosy…
Imagine for a moment the thought of never BEING TOUCHED by another human being AGAIN, of never feeling the HUG of a little child, never having a FRIEND reach out for your hand, never having a PARENT put their arm around your shoulder, or, never knowing the EMBRACE of a spouse.
Leprosy was not just about PHYSICAL LOSS. It was not just about RELATIONAL LOSS. There was even MORAL STIGMA attached to leprosy in Jesus’ day.
When other diseases were cured, the people were said to be HEALED. When a person with LEPROSY was cured, they were said to be CLEANSED. In Jesus’ day, lepers weren’t just SICK; they were thought to be UNCLEAN and DEFILED. If someone without leprosy approached a leper, the leper had to identify themselves by crying out, “UNCLEAN. UNCLEAN. UNCLEAN.”
Imagine living with physical loss that was completely devastating, relational loss that is impossible to calculate, and, then living with this attitude or awareness that maybe you brought this on yourself…
That’s the background of the guys we read about in Luke 17.
As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, he reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. As he entered a village there, ten men with leprosy stood at a distance, crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy. One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan. —Luke 17:11-16
The Message reads, “…when he realized he was healed, [he] turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God.”
Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.” —Luke 17:17-19
Imagine that you are ONE of those 10 MEN with leprosy and imagine that you are in the FINAL STAGES of the disease.
You have been to the BEST HOSPITALS and consulted the finest SPECIALISTS… You know the DIAGNOSIS and you’re already in pretty severe PAIN. Your BODY is EMACIATED and DISFIGURED… There is NO HOPE… You are going to DIE…
Then something happens. One day, the pain is GONE. Your body is WHOLE. You go to a doctor not daring to hope, but the doctor tells you that the disease is GONE. The NIGHTMARE is OVER, and you are going to LIVE.
It HAPPENS in this story… TEN LEPERS saw Jesus. They’ve formed a little support group… Of course, they couldn’t get near him… Instead, they cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
Jesus simply turned and said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”
In Biblical times if a leper was cleansed, he had to be DECLARED CLEAN by a PRIEST before resuming a normal life.
This is an interesting part of the story. Jesus didn’t heal them FIRST. Before the lepers were healed, Jesus said, “Go to the priest as if you ALREADY have been healed.”
This was a TEST OF FAITH. Would they OBEY even though they still had LEPROSY at that moment? Would these TEN MEN STEP OUT and TRUST Jesus? They did! They OBEYED…
They began to walk to the priest, and as they were walking, SOMETHING HAPPENED. Where their faces had been BLOTCHED and DISFIGURED; now their skin was SMOOTH and NEW.
Where they just had MUTILATED STUMPS, began to appear HANDS, FINGERS, FEET and TOES…. All of a sudden! In one moment of time, the nightmare was suddenly over! Hope had returned. They were going to LIVE.
Now they could RUN, SHOUT, HUG their kids, LIVE in their homes, DREAM about tomorrow and DO all the things that people usually take for granted! This was THEIR MOMENT to know that every one of those things was a GIFT beyond CALCUATION.
What was that moment like?
Ten men look down! They’ve experienced a miraculous, “RESURRECTION” like healing! All ten men realized that they were healed, but ONLY ONE OF THEM said, “I’ve got to go back!”
Here’s the point of this passage: human beings are strange creatures. We can desperately want and pray for something only to EXPERIENCE it and RECEIVE it and then TAKE IT FOR GRANTED!
“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” —G.K. Chesterton
How about you? Where is your heart in this business of GRATITUDE and THANKFULNESS?
There’s a great passage in 1 Thessalonians 5:
Always be joyful. Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. —1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NLT
It reads like this in the VOICE.
Celebrate always, pray constantly, and give thanks to God no matter what circumstances you find yourself in. —1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 VOICE
We could focus on that single verse for the rest of our lives and have plenty to focus on…
• Always be joyful — celebrate always
• Never stop praying — pray constantly
• Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Jesus Christ…
We spend a lot of time praying about God’s will… Paul tells us the will of God in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 — “Be thankful in all circumstances…this is God’s will…”
I love what Tim Keller says, “It’s one thing to be grateful. It’s another to give thanks. Gratitude is what you feel. Thanksgiving is what you do.”
Thankfulness and gratitude flow out of a VISION that learns to see that all of life is a GIFT.
What do you have to be THANKFUL for today?
Be the ONE who comes back and offers thanks and praise to God!