Sermon by Pastor Edward Brockwell
Based on Luke 17:11-19
The Confessional Lutheran Church of Finland
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"Arise, go your way. Your faith has saved you."
11Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. 12Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. 13And they lifted up their voices and said, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" 14So when He saw them, He said to them, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed. 15And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. 17So Jesus answered and said, "Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? 18"Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?" 19And He said to him, "Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well."
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:2). Amen.
In our precious Savior, beloved hearers!
The gospel lesson for today is the familiar account of the ten lepers. The main focus of the account lies not in the fact of the healing of the ten lepers but in the response of those healed. The gratitude of the despised outsider, the Samaritan leper, stands in sharp contrast with the ingratitude of those beneficiaries of grace who considered themselves to be within the community of faith, the nine lepers of Jewish background. Jesus' rebuke was directed toward the ungrateful ones, because "they did not acknowledge their Deliverer. They thought more highly of their cure from leprosy than of Him Who had healed them" (St. Athanasius).
I am sure that the account of the ten lepers is one that is very familiar to all of us. The account goes like this. Ten lepers met Jesus as He was passed "through the midst of Samaria and Galilee" (vs. 11). They were afflicted by the worse disease imaginable in Jesus' day, a disease that was incurable. Leprosy is a very contagious skin disease. In most cases it was fatal. It slowly eats up the whole body. Those who had leprosy were not allowed to come close to clean people. Thus lepers banded together. Isolated from their families and society, those afflicted with leprosy became known as "the living dead." Many people thought of lepers as those who were struck by God with this disease. Leprosy became a mark of being a vile sinner; lepers were seen as outcast of both God and man. Thus, there were the ten lepers, ten men dying a living death, they met Jesus and lifted up their voices and said, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" (vs. 13).
It is interesting to note that the lepers "lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us" (vs. 13). They were asking for more than physical healing. Their cry for mercy was an example of true worship, they cried out to God for mercy. The word mercy contains within it a confession of sin that acknowledges the justice of the punishment for sin. Since the fall of man into sin, both man and nature have become subject to suffering and death. When the lepers asked for mercy, they admitted that they deserved the leprosy and much worse because of their sin. Their cry for mercy was a cry for salvation. Not only did they want to be delivered from this living death, they wanted God’s grace and mercy.
Like the lepers, we too, need God's grace and mercy. We too are sinners. The sufferings of man’s fall into sin touches each of us. We struggle with sickness and all other common problems that everyone shares in. We were all born with sin, a spiritual leprosy that shows itself in our thoughts, words and deeds. Sin eats at us. Like leprosy, it seeks to consume us. We are in constant need of mercy! But, isn’t what we say in the Divine Service? Every time we gather to worship, we pray the same prayer as that of the 10 lepers. In the Kyrie we also cry out to God. The Kyrie is the first prayer of the gathered congregation.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord have mercy upon us.
The Kyrie is an expression of our emptiness without God and our need for Him to be present and fill us with his grace. The Kyrie is the heartfelt cry for mercy that our Lord and King would graciously hear us and help us in our necessities and troubles. This most basic prayer is encountered frequently in Scripture, for example, the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15: 22 and the Ten Lepers (Luke 17: 13). Thus the words of lepers become our words. We, too, cry out for God’s salvation!
When Jesus saw them, He did an unusual thing. He didn't touch them as He frequently did when He healed people. He didn't wash them as He had done with one healing. He didn't even pray for them. All Jesus said was, "Go, show yourselves to the priests" (vs. 14).
Luther wrote: "How very friendly and lovingly the lord invites all hearts to Himself in this example and stirs them to believe in Him! There is no doubt that He desires to do for us what He does here for the lepers... The Lord desires that we should joyfully and freely venture to build on his favour before we feel or experience it..."
"The lepers have taught us how to believe, Christ teaches us to love. Love does to its neighbour as it sees what Christ has done to us. This is a Christ life, it does not need much doctrine, nor many books, it is wholly contained in faith and love" (Martin Luther)
Our text then says, "And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed" (vs. 14). Suddenly, miraculously, incredibly, they were no longer lepers. Nine of them happily went on their way, perhaps returning to their families, loved ones and perhaps their former way of living. Only one, however, turned back and returned to Jesus. And of this one our text says, "was a Samaritan" (vss. 16). He returned to Jesus, glorifying God the Father for the one of many miracles that He was bringing to the world through Jesus. "The glory that he gives to God is expressed in worship and thanksgiving to Jesus, who is God in flesh, and whose cleansing atonement supersedes the cleansing rites of the priests in the temple. Jesus then said, "Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?" (vs. 18). Notice that Jesus is not chastising the Samaritan for the absence of the other nine. Rather, He is simply wondering why the others did not come to the same conclusion and confession of faith as this Samaritan did. He alone had faith that God's presence is now in Jesus and with that presence comes God's mercy and cleansing."[i]
The Samaritan's praise and gratitude is an expression of worship, which is simply a confession of faith. True faith always has Jesus as its object. Faith sees God’s presence in Christ, "that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:19).
The faith of the Samaritan leper can be likened to that parable of the seed and the sower in Luke, chapter 8. The seed fell on fertile soil, which represents "those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience" (Luke 8:15). With the other nine, however, they are like "those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away" (Luke 8:13).
Jesus then addressed the cleansed Samaritan with these profound and life-changing words, "Arise, go your way. Your faith has saved you" (vs. 19). He had been healed in soul and body. His sins were forgiven and his body had healed.
My dear friends in Christ, the very same Lord speaks such wonderful and life-changing words unto us, gathered here this Harvest Festival day at Siitamaja. I am sure that we came here today to give thanks for all God’s blessings; not only for this year's harvest, but for all the ways He has sustained us with food on our tables and a roof over our heads. Yet, more than this, we thank God for his spiritual harvest. In Him we find mercy and forgiveness. We see how he had met our greatest need, the need to know Him "who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood" (Revelation 1:5).
Jesus says unto each of us, "Arise, go your way. Your faith has saved you." He is the very same Jesus that personally meets with us in the preaching of His Word. Jesus, the Son of God, cleansed ten lepers. "By that act He points us to the great gift and benefit He earned for all humanity. Jesus cleanses us from spiritual leprosy,"[ii] that is, He cleanses us from all our sins and transgressions through the forgiveness of sins. According to our human way of thinking and understanding, the lepers were as good as dead; they had been banished from the land of the living. Jesus, however, "showed himself to be the Savior who delivers from death, from eternal death as well. The greatest, actual gift and kindness of God is the forgiveness of sins, life, and eternal life. Faith, like that of the Samaritan leper, recognizes and grasps this gift of God. Whoever believes like this will joyfully acknowledge: I have enjoyed God's mercy; the Lord has done great things to me… He has redeemed my life from corruption, and delivered my soul from death."[iii]
True faith is the knowledge of God's gifts and blessings. God draws to His heart the hearts of those who recognize and lay hold of these gifts and blessings. Faith, true faith, is fellowship with God, fellowship with Jesus Christ, the Savior who has taken hold of us by his grace and accepted us as his own. Whoever believes has come to know God; he knows his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and says to him: You are mine, and I am yours. Gratitude thrives naturally in faith like that."[iv] Such faith and healing the Lord gives to you, dear friends. "Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well" (vs. 19).
[i] Luke 9:51-24:53 Concordia Commentary, Arthur Just, Concordia Publishing House, 1997, pg. 655.
[ii] George Stoeckhardt. Trinity 14.