Since tomorrow is a national holiday and that in only seven countries in the world and not all on the same day and certainly not the commemoration of a specific event or teaching of the Bible, there’s a wide range of readings to choose for this day. Over the years however, the account of the Ten Lepers has become one of the traditional readings for our national day of Thanksgiving.
The facts of the miracle are clear enough. Jesus was still in Galilee, but heading to Jerusalem with His disciples. As they traveled, they encountered ten lepers. Jesus instructed the lepers to present themselves to the priests in Jerusalem according to the Law of Moses. While they were on the way they noticed that the leprosy was gone. One of the lepers returned to worship Jesus in thanksgiving. The Holy Spirit inspired Luke to emphasize the fact that the leper who returned was a Samaritan and that Jesus asked about what happened to the other nine who were also healed.
Luke tells us that Jesus and His disciples were traveling along the border between Galilee and Samaria. Although there was a much more direct route straight south through Samaria, Passover Pilgrims would never go that way because well the Samaritans and the Jews hated one another, and the Samaritans simply refused passage to anyone who was headed to Jerusalem. If it weren’t for the Roman occupation, Samaria and Judea would probably be at war, but because of the Romans, the Samaritans had to be satisfied with this token gesture of their hatred.
In practical terms that hatred meant that Passover Pilgrims like Jesus and His disciples had to go around Samaria to get south to Jerusalem. Jesus had traveled south in Galilee until He reached the border with Samaria. Then He would have traveled along the border with Samaria until He arrived at the Jordan River and the eastern border of Samaria. There He would travel south until He arrived at the border of Judea where He would turn back toward the west and head for Jerusalem.
And yet Jesus healed this Samaritan. We see this as a lesson about salvation in Christ being not just for Jews, but for all people. And that show of grace through Christ for all is indeed a wonderful Gospel truth found in this lesson but there is more.
As we listen to Jesus’s response about the other nine who did not return, it’s true He seemed disappointed but He didn’t take back their healing. They were unthankful but Jesus doesn’t take back His gifts just because we’re not as thankful as we should be. This too is a great comfort for Christians because I know I’m not always as thankful as I should be and I’m sure you aren’t either.
The Scriptures don’t tell us what happened to those nine healed lepers. I imagine they went and showed themselves to the priests just like Jesus told them to. We just don’t know … but we do know about the Samaritan.
The Samaritan returned and fell at Jesus feet with his face to the ground. That is, he came and worshipped Him. By returning to glorify God, and thank Jesus we see what he believed that is he confessed that Jesus was the Lord. He confessed that, as he looked at Jesus, he was looking at the Son of God. The one who had been dying not only in his leprosy but more so his sin was by grace made alive in Jesus. The Holy Spirit had worked in him the gift of faith, and as Jesus said … your faith has made you well. (Luke 17:19)
Now there are some scholars who wonder if the Holy Spirit led this Samaritan to go his way by remaining with Jesus and His disciples. And it certainly is possible that the Holy Spirit led this man to join the other Passover Pilgrims walking with the Eternal High Priest. The Scriptures just don’t say. If he did walk with Jesus to Jerusalem, he would have seen a very different high priest than the other nine who were healed.
I mean Jesus is the High Priest who not only offered up the sacrifice, but offered Himself as the sacrifice. The priests in Jerusalem offered lambs, goats, and other animals for the forgiveness of sins as they were commanded. But these were all but shadows that pointed forward to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God that is His Only Begotten Son. If this Samaritan did walk with Jesus, he would have been a witness to his great high priest being lifted up from the earth on a cross and left there to die.
And there, whether the Samaritan understood it or not Jesus performed a miracle far greater than the healing of his leprosy. For on that cross Jesus offered Himself as the cup to be filled with the full measure of God’s wrath against sin. And with the giving up of His Spirit Jesus satisfied God’s justice so that this Samaritan could also be cleansed of his sin.
And not him alone, as we read in 1 John: He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2) which of course includes you and me.
And you and I do need this cleansing not from leprosy of course, truth is we suffer from a much worse condition, that is we are full of sin. Our bodies may be clean and we all smell nice but still we all do need daily to be cleansed of our sin. One look in the mirror of the law confirms it, we all need the gifts that Jesus earned for us with His suffering and death on the cross.
And with His resurrection Jesus in His mercy has promised us a much greater cleansing than the healing of leprosy. He who has conquered death has promised that there will come a day when He will raise all the dead. Some of those who sleep in death will awaken to shame and everlasting condemnation, but you and I and all who believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sin will awaken to everlasting life.
We are gathered here this evening because the leaders of our nation have declared tomorrow to be a national day of thanksgiving. But the truth is only we, who believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, can truly be thankful. We can give thanks to God for the physical blessings He has generously poured out upon us who live in this blessed nation, but even more for the forgiveness, life, and salvation that we receive by faith in Jesus Christ.
It’s true, Christians are the only ones who can truly give thanks because only Christians give thanks to the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thanks for life today with all its blessing, and thanks for life eternal from Him who exceeds all our expectations.
In His Name, Amen