The story for today is an interesting one, just for where it is placed in the narrative of this gospel. Last time we were together, we heard a parable about a servant who didn’t receive any thanks. And we talked about how we are not to be consumed with ourselves and think that we ought to be recognized by God.
That’s something of the focus of this text. The passage moves along well at the beginning. It tells us of 10 guys who were lepers, all of whom were healed. But when you get to verse 15, the “oooo” factor starts. Verse 15 tells us that only one of the ten turns back. Then verse 16 tells us that he lavishes his thanks upon Christ. He falls on his face and pours out his gratitude.
Now, we’re glad that one of the ten came back, but one out of ten is not a good ratio. Nine guys completely blew Jesus off after he had saved them from this terrible, awful disease.
If you don’t know anything about leprosy, you have to realize that it was a hideous thing. It is essentially a rotting of the flesh. Lepers were known to have fingers and toes fall off. Their noses could too. It was a hideous thing to become afflicted with this disease.
Not only that, but if you came down with it you became a social outcast. You were expelled from society and you were cut off from all communion with your family.
And to be healed of this kind of thing meant new life for you. It was a second change to live and you had the opportunity to be restored to all that you had lost.
So, you can imagine now how this is a little awkward, to say the least, when just one of these guys comes back. And to highlight the ingratitude even more, Luke makes sure to point out that the one guy who did come back was a Samaritan.
Now that hurts. The one guy who had some gratitude was a foreigner—and not just any foreigner, a SAMARITAN! The guys who were the Jews—the ones who should have known better—were the ones who just walked off without ever giving any sort of regards.
What that is is nothing more than rank ingratitude.
I remember a number of months ago I had met a couple for dinner. We went out to dinner and we enjoyed a very nice time at this particular restaurant. And we had a very nice waitress. She was kind and did a superb job of taking care of us while we ate. After the dinner, we got up and walked out. I paid the bill and we said our good-byes. Then we got in our cars and went our separate ways. When I was about half way home, I realized that I didn’t leave a tip for our waitress. You know, we call that a “gratuity.” A gratuity is an expression of “gratitude.”
Now I lived about a half hour to 45 minutes away. And here I was, about half way home, and I realized that I had not left this tip. I thought about blowing it off. I mean, if I turned back, this half hour trip would turn into at least an hour trip. And it was already getting late. But I knew that wouldn’t be right. You can’t just stiff a waitress like that. Then I thought, well, maybe I can mail it to her. I just want to get home. No. that wouldn’t work either. She probably wouldn’t get it. So I had to turn around.
Why? Why go to all that trouble? It is because of how necessary a thing it is to show gratitude. If you don’t show your appreciation for some acts of kindness, then that is a grievous sin. It is a reprehensible thing. As one person said, “ingratitude is treason to mankind.”
I like the way that sounds. That really picks up well how heinous a thing ingratitude really is. Immanuel Kant says something similar. He says, “Ingratitude is the essence of vileness.”
You know, we are going through the Heidelberg catechism right now. And it has been mentioned that the Catechism is divided into three sections. The first part talks about our sin. The second part talks about our salvation. And the third part talks about our service. The three sections are Guilt, Grace, Gratitude. That last part goes through the 10 commandments. Those commandments are the way we express our thanks to God. And the authors of the catechism got it right. The life we live is a response to God’s grace. The sum of the Bible’s teaching is that the whole of our lives is to be an expression of gratitude to God for his kindness.
Now, young people, I want you to keep that in mind. I want you to realize how important it is to express how thankful you are. When someone does a favor for you, you got to make sure that you express your thanks. When mom makes dinner for you, you should be grateful for that. She works hard to make something for you to eat and she’s trying to take care of you, so its good that you tell her how thankful you are. When you are eating, or when you are done eating, you should say, “Thank you, mommy, for making that dinner.”
And even if you don’t like it, you should still eat it. She’s not going to serve you something that’s going to hurt you. Mom is looking out for you. And typically she’s making food that is going to be good for you. And even if you don’t like it, you should still eat it. That’s because that’s one way you show her how grateful you are for all that she does for you.
You can sit there and pitch a fit about what she made, but that’s not going to sit well with mommy (or daddy for that matter). If you make a big fuss about how you don’t like what is being served, that really can hurt your mother’s feelings. That’s because that’s a form of ingratitude. You need to eat what she makes for you. Even if you don’t like it, you need to eat it out of respect for her and all that she does for you.
You need to honor what she’s done for you. You want to show that you are grateful for her hard work and for the love that she shows you in trying to take good care of you.
My wife was raised on the importance of writing thank-you notes. If someone gives you a gift or does a kindness for you, my wife was taught to acknowledge that by sending them a thank-you card.
That is a good thing. Those are the kinds of things we are supposed to do. Gratitude is one of the chief expressions of honor.
This is, of course, doubly important when it comes to our relationship with the Lord. God demonstrates great kindness to us all the time. Chief among these is His promised to save us. If we just sluff that off, that is terrible.
If you want to be a follower of Christ, then your life has to be one of gratitude. That’s why we urge you to study the commandments of God. That’s why we think that coming to worship each Lord’s day should be a priority for you. It’s because this is the way you express your thanks to God.
If you are not seeking to respond in this kind of way—if worship doesn’t become a priority in your life and you continue living in the same old sins, then we have every right to think that you are not a Christian. That’s basically a slap in God’s face to act that way. It reveals that you have no real affection for him whatsoever.
You’re acting just like one of these thankless lepers. You’re acting like an ungrateful Israelite who has no appreciation for the Lord or his kindness.
I mean, all that he did for these lepers was symbolic of what he does for us. He gives us new life! He saves us from death and destruction. He takes away the pollution of sin and restores to us all that we lost by our sin. And if we don’t properly respond to that, that is a grievous sin.
But really, this is the story of Israel’s history. The ingratitude of these 9 lepers is essentially keeping in character with the ingratitude and forgetfulness of the whole of Israel.
Back in the book of Deuteronomy there is a whole section devoted to this very thing. Moses is speaking to the people and he says, “When you come into the land and start to prosper, be careful that you don’t forget the Lord.” Moses warns them that once they begin to grow rich and fat, then they would be in danger of forgetting that it was God who had blessed them all along. They would fail to realize that all that they have come to possess was due to the Lord’s hand being with them. And as a result, they would start living atheistic lives.
That’s essentially what happened here. These Lepers were just repeating everything Israel had done all through her history. They were enjoying all the benefits—they were living high off of God’s goodness—but they failed time and again to truly love him and show true gratitude.
You do have this one Samaritan though. And what we see here should give us more reason to rejoice. Remember, when you read this you have to put yourself in Gentile Sandles. Luke was writing to a Gentile audience and this is key for them. When they read that Jesus grants this Samaritan salvation, that’s a real boost for them. That’s cause for thanks because they realize that this life—this saving grace—can be theirs.
And it can be yours too. All it takes is for you to trust Christ for it and you can have it. That’s right there at the end of the passage, “Your faith has made you well.” If we were to translate that literally, it would say, “Your faith has saved you.”
What is it to have faith? It is simply to trust Christ and take him at his word.
You know, what is said here about Jesus is really interesting. The gospel here is that Jesus is the greater priest. He’s greater than all the priests in Israel. You see, the priests were in charge of diagnosing someone if they had leprosy. If you are ever reading through the Bible, its likely that you’ve come across Leviticus 13-14. Those are chapters that most people skip. And for good reason. It is not exciting stuff. They are chapters detailing what you should do if you have some infection form on your skin. In chapter 13 it says that if you have something white form on your skin, you need to go to the priest and the priest will determine if you have leprosy or not. Chapter 14 contains instructions on the possibility of being declared healed. If your leprosy goes away, you were to show yourself to the priest and he could give you the thumbs up or down on whether you could go back home or not.
So, the point is that the priest could say that you were infected or he could pronounced that you’ve been healed. He could declare you unclean or he could declare you clean. But there is one thing that the priest could not do. He could not heal you. He did not have the power to actually remove the uncleanness.
But here in this passage Jesus is shown to be a greater priest. He has the power to heal the uncleanness.
Of course, this is all pointing to the greater reality of being able to save you from your sin. Through this miracle Jesus is declaring that he is the priest who can make you clean. He can save you from the filth that has polluted your soul and he can make you whole again. If you put your trust in him, he is able to cleanse you from all wrong. He is able to restore you to a right standing with God.
Now, that was being declared to Israel. That’s what this story is all about. This incident with the Lepers was Jesus’ way of declaring to Israel that their Priest had come to bring them salvation. But that went over well, didn’t it? I mean, no one wants to acknowledge it! No one, except this Samaritan, wants anything to do with Jesus. Sure, they might take the benefits he might offer them, but no one wants Jesus.
That’s ingratitude at its blazing worst.
All this kind of begs one question though. Why is Jesus going to Jerusalem? In the first verse we read told us that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. He was on the border of Samaria and Galilee, and he’s making his way to Jerusalem, which is the home of the Jews.
Now, let me ask you, if you knew these Jews were so ungrateful and yet you had a Samaritan who warmed to you, what would you do? I’m betting you wouldn’t keep on going down to Jerusalem. If it were me, I’d be inclined to follow this Samaritan home and see if anyone else from his clan might be interested in what I had to say. Here’s a guy who is willing to listen to you. Here’s a fellow who is truly grateful and willing to worship you! I’m thinking that there might be a good party at his house.
But that’s not what Jesus does, is it? Verse 11 is key. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He’s on his way to the City of Ingratitude.
Why is that? What would impel him to go to the capital of thanklessness? The reason is because the gospel demands it.
You see, there is another part of Leviticus 14. The last portion of Leviticus 14 details the laws about cleansing your house. If you find that an infectious disease has broken out in your house, the priest is to come and check it out. If he determines that a disease has broken out, your house needs to be razed. Your house is basically condemned, and it has to be torn down. You can’t just board it up. If you do that, then the disease will remain. It has to be completely razed. That’s the only way you can get rid of the disease.
Of course, that is what Jesus has come to do. He is the greater priest who has come to rid the world of sin. And the only way that can happen is if he is condemned. The Levitical law was pointing towards Christ and what he had come to do. It was ultimately about Christ and how he would deal with the disease of sin.
That’s what happened on the cross. And that is why he cannot deviate from his Jerusalem Road. When he gets to Jerusalem, those ungrateful people will bring their ingratitude to its climax by crucifying him. But as he is condemned, he brings salvation to the people.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.