October 13 2013 Sermon
ESV Luke 17:11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
The miracles of Jesus are not just interesting or amazing stories. They are real, historical events. This happened in are real place, somewhere near the border between Galilee and Samaria. It happened in the year 33 ad. Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem where he was to die on a cross for all people.
Nor are the miracles just random incidents, haphazard events that just happened on the spur of the moment as Jesus was passing by. They are all planned out by God, and they each one preach a sermon to us about sin and salvation. There is a lesson in them, a teaching, something we are meant to learn about ourselves, about Jesus and about salvation.
On this occasion, as Jesus was crossing over from Galilee into Samaria he is met by 10 men. Verses 1 to 3 say: 11 “And it happened going to Jerusalem that he was passing through between Samaria and Galilee. And as he was entering a village, ten leprous men met him, who stood at a distance, and they lifted up a voice, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”
Now, why were they standing off at a distance? Because lepers were unclean according to God’s law and were required to stay away from everyone else. They were cut off from the community, from their family, and even from the temple worship. They were completely helpless and could not stand in the presence of either men or God.
That is why they cried out, “Lord have mercy.” They were helpless and could offer no merit or worth to God. They were unable to rise up to God. They could only hope he would have mercy on them.
These 10 men did not just accidentally run into Jesus. God placed them there to teach us about ourselves. Like the lepers, we are completely helpless. Because of original sin we are born cut off from God. We cannot go to him. We cannot stand in his presence. We have no merit of worthiness. Like the stench of rotting skin oozing off the bodies of a leper, the stench of our sins rises to the nostrils of God. So like lepers, we can only stand off at a distance and cry out, “Lord, have mercy.”
But there is one thing different about us and the lepers. The lepers knew that had no merit before God and didn’t try to present themselves as worthy. But we, on the other hand, seem to have a pretty high opinion about ourselves. We do not recognize our wretchedness but imagine ourselves free, healthy, strong and basically good people. The foundation of our nature is nothing but pride and self love.
All we have to do is to listen in on our conversations. Most of the time we are talking about ourselves. The word “I” is the subject of most of our sentences. I did this. I did that. I’m this, or I’m that. We spend a great deal of time and effort bragging about ourselves in order to let people know how smart we are and how successful we are. And if we’re not bragging about ourselves, we’re bragging about our children which gives us the same surrogate pleasure. Or, we are gossiping which is nothing more than trying to make ourselves look better by making others look bad. Sometime do the math and see how much money we spend trying to impress others with our dress, our cars, our houses, our good looks and what have it. As of 2012, Americans spent $11 billion on beauty products alone.
We have mastered the art of self-righteousness, talking, thinking and acting like we are better than others. The most difficult thing a church member ever does is go to confession and absolution, because we don’t want to admit to anyone that we are sinful. Fact is, you don’t have to admit to anyone that you are sinful; they already know it.
But really, why spend all that time, effort and even money trying to impress others? It is all a waste. It doesn’t impress God one bit. In God’s eyes we are the lepers—unclean, sick, disgusting. There is nothing in us to please God. We have no merit or worthiness. We are cut off from God and other people by our sin. All our efforts to show off and look good are just a charade, a sham, it is all sheer idolatry. Better to admit the reality than try to live a lie.
In fact, God gives more attention, love, help and blessing to the sinner, the weak, the poor, the downtrodden. God chose sinners to be his children and to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Jesus was rebuked and ultimately put to death for being “a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” He came to seek the lost. He came to give his life as a ransom for sinful humanity. Jesus came to save sinners, not the righteous. So, there is nothing to be gained by being better than others. Rather, there is everything to be lost. God rejects the proud and self-righteous, and if he came for sinners, and you are not a sinner, he didn’t come for you.
Remember the Pharisee who showed off in church how good he was? He went home from church unforgiven. It was the publican, who admitted his sin and was too ashamed to lift up his eyes, who went home forgiven. It was St. Paul, who said, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness,” ( II Cor 11:30; 12:9). St. Paul had everything to boast about, “circumcised on the eighth day, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee, as to zeal, a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness under the law, blameless,” but all this he counted as loss for the sake of Christ. (Phil 3:4-7).
So today, and every day, we become like the lepers and cry out, “Lord, have mercy.”
Verse 14 reads: “And when Jesus saw them he said, ‘Going on your way, show yourselves to the priests,’ and it came about that as they were departing, they were healed.” By his word and command, Jesus healed them. Jesus saves sinners. If you are a spiritual leper, without any goodness and merit, then Jesus came for you, and cleanses you from sin, heals your disease not because you are any good, but because he is love. Jesus came to absorb your sin and sickness into his own flesh. When he healed the lepers he absorbed their leprosy into his own body. When he forgave anyone their sins, he was taking their sin from them and into himself. When he raised the dead he was absorbing their death into his body and giving his life in exchange. In Baptism he took your sin and absorbed it into his flesh, exchanging it for his righteousness which he covered you with. In all his miracles Jesus was overcoming the power of sin and death, destroying the kingdom of Satan, and setting the creation free for the curse of sin by absorbing sin and death into himself and exchanging it with us for his righteousness and life.
Then Jesus took all our sin, sickness, and death to the cross where it was crucified in his body and buried. All your weakness and failures Jesus has taken from you. He cleansed you from sin, he healed your body, he raised you from the dead, and on the day he comes again you will be completely sinless, perfectly healthy, and will rise from the dead to live forever! Yes, you are the leper, but Jesus took your leprosy of sin into himself and put it to death on the cross. Baptized in the name of Jesus the old, leprous you was put to death, and a new you, clean and whole was born. Jesus forgives your sin. Therefore, I declare unto you today that your sins are entirely and completely forgiven and wiped away. You are cleansed by the word and command of Jesus. Amen. You are now a new you, born in baptism to live unto the Lord.
But this forgiveness is not without effect. Forgiveness is never by itself; it is always accompanied with results in your life. Verses 15-16 read: “One of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back with a loud voice continually praising God; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet thanking him over and over.” Forgiveness of sins does something to us; the Spirit changes our hearts—it creates thanksgiving and praise in our hearts. Faith in Christ’s salvation brings us to our knees as we bow before him in continual worship and reverence. The Holy Spirit produces love and worship in the believer. That same love which the sinful woman had when she washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, and, kissing his feet, anointed them with oil. She loved much, because she was forgiven much. Her love was faith in action, expressing itself in reverence and worship for Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Your faith has saved you.” That is what this one, solitary leper did. Faith changed him and brought him back to praise and thank Jesus.
So then why did just one return? Were not ten healed? Where are the other nine? That is something which should disturb all of us. Someone already asked Jesus if those being saved were few, and he said yes. The door to heaven is narrow and few will enter, but many will stand outside knocking when the door is shut and he will say, “Depart from me for I do not know you.” Jesus died for all, but, in the end, only a few will believe in him. That is why of only 1 out of 10 returned. Only this one had faith, the others merely went on their way. By healing all ten, Jesus shows that he died for all people. By only one coming to faith, we learn that few are those who believe in Jesus.
So, it is up to us to take the Gospel of Jesus to all people and proclaim it in order that more believe in Christ. For Jesus took away the sin of the whole world, but only a few hear and believe that Gospel. That’s why he sends us to make disciples of all nations. That is why he has equipped his church with the tools to do so, his word. There is much work still to be done to bring salvation to all of God’s elect. There are still many spiritual lepers in the world who need to be cleansed. They are separated from God and cannot come near to him. So God sends us to them because we are new people, born again by the Holy Spirit, cleansed from sin and changed in heart to thank and praise him for all he has done for us. Amen.