Just One in a CrowdPastor Lutzer | November 26, 2006
Thankfulness grows best in the soil of our needs.
Selected highlights from this sermon
Ten lepers met Jesus, and instead of immediately healing them, He instructed them to go and show themselves to the priest. Along the way, they were cleansed. In response to this great gift, only one man out of the ten turned back to praise and thank Jesus.
The act of this one man should remind us that thankfulness is to be part of who we are. For those of us who have trusted in Christ, may we stand out in a crowd as a grateful people.
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You know there are many different ways that we have to distinguish between people. Oftentimes we distinguish them because of their appearance. I suppose that that’s most common. Sometimes we do it because of their intelligence, or their abilities, or the color of their skin. But today we’re going to learn a different way that you can have someone distinguished from another, someone who will actually stand out in a crowd.
The story is found in Luke’s Gospel – Luke 17. It’s one that perhaps you are familiar with, but I shall read it to you. It’s very brief, and I’m beginning at verse 11. “On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’ When he saw them he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ And he said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’”
Leprosy! Leprosy drew these ten men together because in those days if you were leprous, you were looking for a colony, a gang of men who would walk around together and take care of themselves as best they could. Among them was a man who was a Samaritan. Now the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans, but it’s interesting that when you are in a time of need, when things are desperate, you don’t care who is next to you if you are helping one another. Times of distress!
So you have ten men here and according to the Old Testament, if you read Leviticus 13, those who had leprosy were supposed to have torn clothes and unkempt hair. They were to wander around outside the camp, and when anyone came near to them – within let’s say 150 feet – they were to shout, “Unclean, unclean, unclean! Stay away.” Imagine that kind of life.
Now in the Bible, leprosy is compared to sin. As a matter of fact, one of the lessons that God wanted to get across in the Old Testament times, as well as the New, is the likeness of leprosy to sin, because what leprosy does to your body is precisely – almost precisely – what sin does to your soul. So as we look at these men, let us notice four similarities, and one difference.
The first similarity is this. They had this same disease. They had leprosy. Now, what is leprosy? Because it is almost non-existent today in most countries, we aren’t acquainted with it, but leprosy was not as some people think. It was not the rotting infection that people think it is. It was something more sinister, and that is it actually shut down the nervous system that communicates to you that you are in pain. It anesthetizes you. As a result, people in primitive countries would sometimes take a potato out of the fire, and their hands would be greatly burned, but they wouldn’t know it because they couldn’t feel it. They could put their hand in boiling water and they wouldn’t know it.
One of the reasons why lepers used to lose their toes is that while they slept, rodents would sometimes come and nibble on those toes and eat those toes, and they wouldn’t even know it because they couldn’t feel it. Dr. Paul Grand, who worked with lepers, said that he frequently would simply send the cat home with some of the people, so that the cat could catch these rodents, and that in itself would help some in terms of what lepers were going through. “It is,” said Dr. Paul Grand, “a painless hell.” You are in no pain, but as you look around you notice that instead of fingers you now have just have stubs. Your toes begin to deteriorate. You begin to walk with a limp, and then your back would soon be bent. And you’d manage as best you could with your sunken eye. What a terrible disease with sores that were open and putrid.
And so the Bible says, remember now, that there is a similarity. Think for a moment about sin. What does sin do? When you feel guilty, you do one of two things. Either you look for forgiveness to take away your sin. That’s the first thing you do. If not, what do you do? You harden your heart and tell yourself you don’t need forgiveness and the harder your heart becomes you have no idea what’s going on and your soul is anesthetized. Your soul is numb and it can feel no pain. Have you ever talked to somebody like that? You remind them that they are sinners, and they look around and they say to themselves, “Me? I don’t see anything wrong with me. I am perfectly fine the way I am.” That’s what sin does. It takes away any feeling of guilt, any feeling of honesty as to who you are. And you can live in your own little private world.
So the leper lived in despair. He also lived with rejection. You’ll notice that when they come to Jesus, it said that they stood at a distance. They wanted to maintain that 150 feet between themselves and Christ as they were trained to do. And so they were rejected from their homes, they were rejected by the families and, if they went into a building, they had to call “unclean” and after they had been in the building a priest would have to come and cleanse it. It was a terrible, terrible existence.
You say, “Well, how did these lepers live?” Frequently people who had compassion would take some food and they’d put it out somewhere where they knew that the lepers would gather and be able to eat it. But it was a horrid, horrid life!
But there was something else about the lepers in those times, and that is that they felt a great sense of self-condemnation. And they felt this because they lived in an era when they believed that there was a tight connection between your personal health and leprosy. In the Old Testament, you remember, God took Miriam and struck her with leprosy, so these people felt that “Because I’m a leper, I’m thereby condemned.”
Now they were not necessarily greater sinners than others, but they felt that way. No matter where they went, they had the same kind of feeling within their souls as existed on their bodies. It was a terrible feeling, a feeling of self-condemnation. The pollution without was symbolic of the pollution within.
So here you have these ten men. They all have the same disease. They all wanted healing. Notice the text says that they said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” They all wanted the healing that Jesus could give them. In fact, they don’t even really ask for healing. I look at this text and I say to myself, “Maybe they never had enough faith to ask for healing.” All that they asked for was mercy, but they had heard about Jesus; they had heard about His miracles. They had heard about the things that Jesus was able to do, and so they asked for mercy. Possibly they thought that He might heal them but what they were saying was, “Show some compassion upon us.” And I’m sure that as they cried with a loud voice, the Bible says, it was as if they were echoing this all together in one common chorus of ten voices. “Master, have mercy on us.” One thing about a leper that is not true of sin, and that is that they knew that they were not normal. You see, they knew that they had a need. God bless them for that. They could look around and they could see other people with discernibly ten fingers and ten toes. They could look around and they could see other people who did not have putrefying sores oozing out of their body. And so they knew that they had this specific need, and so they asked Jesus for mercy, hoping that they would be healed. They raised their voices because they knew they had a need. If you are here today and you want Jesus Christ to heal you and to help you, you need to know that you have a need. The lepers knew that. Sometimes sinners do not know that.
Well, that’s the second similarity. They all had the same disease. They all wanted healing, and all of them were obedient. Now, with your Bibles open this is a remarkable text. You’ll notice it says, “When He saw them (that is, when Jesus saw them), He said to them, ‘Go show yourselves to the priests.’” Wow!
You see, in the book of Leviticus, it said very clearly that if a leper thinks he is healed he can’t simply integrate back into society on his own. What he needs to do is to go to the priest, and get permission. And if you read Leviticus 13 you’ll find that there is a procedure that the priest is to go through over a period of seven days and so forth to ascertain that indeed this person is free of leprosy.
Now Jesus says to them, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” Go show yourselves to the priest to check whether or not you are healed? They weren’t healed yet. They looked at their bodies and they noticed that there were only knobs where there should be fingers. They looked at their toes that were not there. They looked at their sores that were still open and bleeding, and now Jesus is saying, “Show yourself to the priests.”
“What do you mean, Jesus? Heal me and then I’ll to the priests.” No, Jesus said, “You go show yourself to the priest,” and amazingly they were all obedient. That’s the third similarity. They were all obedient, the Bible says, and as they went, they were cleansed because of their faith. They were willing to obey Jesus, which was so contrary to their circumstances. You see, that’s the way faith is, isn’t it? Faith does not see things as they are. Faith sees things within the context of God’s promises, and faith sometimes has to go on believing even when circumstances are completely contrary to it. When if what you did was look around you, all that you would do is to see despair and hopelessness. Faith sees beyond that. That’s the very nature of faith. And that’s the way we’re to believe God’s promises. God says that for those who are believers in Jesus Christ that you were dead in your trespasses, but it also says that we died with Christ and are raised to new life. And you look at yourself and you say, “I don’t see it. I don’t see new life. I see sinful desires. I see weaknesses,” and the question is, “Can you believe it even if it is not yet there because you believe the promises of God?” As they were going they were cleansed. Contrary to sight, contrary to observation, they believed and they went.
Now you’ll notice a fourth similarity. All of them were healed. “As they went, they were cleansed.” Can’t you just imagine it? They are on their way to the Temple to see the priests, and suddenly they look at themselves and their fingers are there. Their toes are there. They can straighten up their backs. They look at their sores, and there is no longer blood oozing from the sores. They look at their skin, and it seems like the skin of a child, and they are absolutely overwhelmed. Imagine not only mercy, which actually is a definition of that which God gives us and keeps us from. Mercy means that that judgment that we should have does not come to us. Grace means that we receive what we did not deserve.
They asked for mercy and in the process they received mercy plus grace – a double dose of grace as they came to Jesus, so they were all healed. Imagine them healed physically, being able to see themselves in a new way, healed emotionally! No longer will they be outcasts. Somehow the healing outside is reflected in the healing of the soul inside because now they are different people. They begin to think that at last we can go back to our families. At last we can sit at dinner with them. At last we can play with our grandchildren. We can do all of these things, they are thinking to themselves, and on the way to the Temple they go to find the priest with a great deal of joy.
But notice that the similarities end. It says in verse 15, “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks.” Oh, incidentally now, he was a Samaritan. “Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’”
Remember that the Samaritans were the despised people because they were a mixed race. They were part Assyrian, and part Jewish, and in the Jewish mind they were despised more than pagans themselves. And so it’s the Samaritan. It’s the person of the wrong race. It’s the person without the pedigree. It’s the person without the history. It’s the person who can’t point to any self-righteousness. He can’t go back and say, “Abraham was my father.” It is that person who returns to give praise to God, and he stands out in a crowd. And Jesus commends him.
What can we say about this act of praise? First of all, he did it promptly. He didn’t go to the Temple first and then come back. He said, “Even before I go to the priest, I want to come here now.” And so it is that even though he left with the work of death in his heart and his deteriorating body, he was now coming back healed to give praise to God, and he did it promptly. When you and I have a crisis in our lives we should give thanks to God immediately – promptly – because God deserves praise. Imagine someone says, “God’s treasury would be overflowing if the revenue of thanks were duly paid.” God loves people who praise Him and thank Him. So he did it promptly.
He did it intensely. The Bible says that he fell on his face, and with a loud voice he praised God. This is an expression of gratitude that overflowed. Nobody told him to be thankful. He was thankful, and he let it show. It was also done publicly. He didn’t care who heard this. This was an expression of praise to God that he wanted everyone to know about. And so he is the one who stands out in the crowd.
What’s the bottom line here to take home for us? Thankfulness grows best in the soil of human need. You know that it is not rich people who are thankful. Rich people do a lot of complaining oftentimes – not always – but oftentimes. It is oftentimes the poor person who has found a sandwich. It is the poor person who has found a job. It is the poor person who gets a new set of clothes. Now there’s some real gratefulness, isn’t there? And sometimes it grows out of human need, and even in the midst of human need, God intends that we be grateful for the big things, the small things, the hard things, and the easy things. God intends that we be thankful for them all.
You see your ability to praise God for your salvation is directly dependent upon your understanding of the depth of your sin before God rescued you from yourself and from eternal judgment. The more grateful we are that God saved sinners such as us, the more we will praise. John Newton wrote Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound, one of the most favorite hymns of Christendom. But he wrote it, having been a slave trader, and having told people that he was willing to give them a prize for some new way of sinning that he hadn’t tried yet. He could curse worse than any of the other ones on that ship, and when he got saved, he knew that this was an opportunity to praise God. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!
You see it is human need that gives us the ability to really be people who praise God, and it is this man who stood out in the crowd. The others benefitted. You’d think that the others would have been thankful, but there is something within us that resists gratitude. We resist it because we always think of somebody else who has more than we have. We resist gratitude because we can’t see God in hard circumstances. We can only see Him in blessings, not in reversals, and so we don’t thank God, and we resist Him, and we do not give thanks, as we should. And God is attracted to people who are a thankful, grateful people, who return giving praise to God.
Let me ask you a question. What should you do when your van is broken into, and you were shopping and you’ve just filled it with Christmas presents, and you left it for a few moments? And it’s been broken into and all the windows are smashed and everything that you bought is gone. What does the true Christian do? The true Christian at that time bows his head and gives thanks to God.
How do we know whether or not we are true Christians? How do you know when you lead someone to faith in Jesus Christ that they’ve actually come to faith in Jesus Christ and they have the assurance of salvation? We talk a lot about whether or not somebody has savingly believed on Christ because you have all these people who believe in a general sense, but they are not converted. How do know when someone really has been converted? It is when they spontaneously and with joy in their hearts give thanks to God for Jesus who died in their place. When that happens, you know that the miracle has taken place.
It was Matthew Henry, who has written a wonderful commentary on the Scriptures, living, of course, many years ago. He was robbed one night. He was robbed as he was walking home. Someone overcame him and took his wallet. And that night he wrote in his diary these words, the things for which he was thankful. He said, “Tonight I am thankful for four things. Number one, even though I was robbed, I am thankful because I was never robbed before. (I mean that’s something to be thankful for. There are people, you know, who have had it happen more than once.) Second, I’m thankful that even though they took my wallet, they did not take my life. Praise God. (He praised God.) Third, although they took all that I had, it was not very much. I’m thankful for that. And then, most importantly, he said, “I am very grateful that it was I who was robbed, and I was not the one who was doing the robbing.” We can praise God for that. After all, but for the grace of God there go I.
The Bible says, “Whoso offers praise glorifies Me.” Our big mistake is to glorify God when the sun is shining, when everything is going well, and not glorify Him with deep praise and gratitude and joy when our world is falling apart, and everything that we had hoped for has collapsed.
Some of you this past week expected a letter in the mail that did not arrive. Did you give thanks to God? Some of you expected good news from your doctor, and you received bad news. Did you give thanks to God? Did you see God even in that situation? Blessed are those who live by gratefulness, for this is the will of God in Christ. Give thanks for everything. In everything give thanks. Why? It’s because we believe that God is great enough, that even though He does not do evil, that He uses it, and for the believer, every occasion is a time of thanksgiving. And no one thanks God more than someone who has been wondrously redeemed by Christ.
I know that some of you have heard perhaps many times the story of Martin Rinkart. He was a pastor in Eilenburg, Germany, during the Thirty Years’ War [1618-1638], and he lived through a terrible time. In fact, during that period of time the population of Germany went from 16 million to 6 million, not only because of the war and not only because of disease, but because of the plagues. Can you imagine Rinkart had up to 40 funerals every single day? And it was he in the midst of that situation, who wrote the lovely words,
Now thank we all our God,
With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done,
In whom the world rejoices.
Now there was a man who stood out in a crowd because he knew what it was to give praise to God.
Has God loosened your tongue? Are you a grateful Christian because of the wonderful things that God has done for us in Christ? And if you’ve never received Christ as Savior, this is your opportunity to do that too. Transfer your trust to Christ who died for sinners. Cry to him as did these lepers and say, “Lord Jesus, heal me and forgive me,” that you too might be one who glorifies God with deep and lasting joyful praise.
Let’s pray together.
Our Father, we want to thank You today for this man who returned to give praise to God, not just because his body was healed of leprosy, but I believe also because his soul was healed of sin. And we thank You, Lord Jesus, that You are able to do both. And we come to You today not because we are lepers but because we are sinners, and we come to receive, and we come to say, “Oh Father, create within us that grateful heart, that we might be a people who honor You.”
Now for those of you who have never trusted Christ as Savior, even where you are seated, you can transfer your trust to Him. You can believe on Him and be saved.
Father, may we leave here today rejoicing because our names are written in heaven. We ask this in Your name, Amen.