“Grace means undeserved kindness. It is the gift of God to man the moment he sees he is unworthy of God’s favor.”
One of the things I often hear Christian talking about is the notion: “if only we could be a miracle performing people then people would see Gods power and trust in Him, If only we could show them what God is capable of then they would come to know Jesus as Saviour” and the kingdom of God will advance at a more rapid pace – it seems so obvious that it should be true. However, if it was so simple would God not make us a miracle performing people, every day and in our every encounter and then command us to point to Jesus and say “this is why we can do such things!” You would not believe how often I hear this idea if we are bolder in our faith then more people would see God. Sometimes I wonder if what I expect God to do in this world is too small, that I think too little of him or my vision is pathetic – then I read passages such as this one and I am reminded of one simple truth: The greatest miracles God can perform and does so over and over again, it is that moment of offering grace when a sinner responds to the call of Christ in their life and falls at his feet and gives him the worship due to him. The biggest miracles God will perform is the miracle of Grace, yet it is often the one we do not see. It is a truth we see over and over again in the Gospels: Jesus performed miracles, one after another and they amazed crowds but their effects were minimal, the biggest impact made for His Kingdom was when people responded to his Grace. It’s not that we do not desire to people see healed of sickness or think God incapable or unwilling to do so – it is that we desire to see people secured in light of eternity and the only way for this to truly occur is to show them greatest miracle of all: Jesus dying for our sins on the cross and rising again in new life. Nor is it the strength or boldness of our faith, it’s the object – Jesus.
“Grace is but Glory begun, and Glory is but Grace perfected.”
– Jonathan Edwards
Context of Passage
Luke 17:11-19 can seem quite a random story with no real message unless you consider it within the wider context of the passage. If you read from the start of the chapter it makes a lot more sense; Jesus’s disciples have just asked him for a very good thing – ‘more faith’ (5-6) – but Jesus response in the next few verses sets the tone, Faith is not a matter of quantity it is of where we place it. the quality of our faith is determined by the object we place it on. A powerful faith is only that because of Christ. This passage is about real faith and the work of Christ, it is a microcosm of the Gospels in that many receive from Christ but few truly respond because their faith is placed in other things.
Immediately, we are meet with Jesus on the move – he is heading for Jerusalem – it is a small sentence that can seem insignificant but is there to remind us that Jesus is set on fulfilling the calling on his life – to follow in the footsteps of the suffering prophets (Luke 9:53) The location for the encounter is not even precise, but Luke is setting the moment up because we know it is somewhere Jesus could possibly encounter both Jews and Samaritans. He is in the borderlands.
Sometimes I think we struggle to grasp the fullness of biblical situations because we live in a world of science and understanding: disease is something we understand even if there are viruses and sickness that scare us because of their potential to destroy life as we know it. Think of swine virus or bird flu, yet even though they bring us to some level of unease we don’t fear them because we understand them. Imagine living in a world where a scientific mindset didn’t exist, where no-one sought to understand something in order to cure it. Imagine living in a world where things were the way there and that was it, you could pray for a miracle but when you got something like leprosy a miracle was the only hope.
With this framework in mind let’s consider the rest of the events. In verse 12 we see 10 leapers stand far from Jesus as he enters the village. They obviously know of Jesus and have heard of the things he can do and for the first time in a long time, they have hope – that they can be made clean. They see Jesus is the cure to their sickness that is why they stand off and shout: “Jesus Master, have pity on us!” He commands that they go and show themselves to the priests. In doing so he is following to Mosaic law and not just healing them of their disease but also that they had been made clean, meaning they could return to society. Not only had Jesus healed their disease he had made them clean as far as the law was concerned – he had fully restored them.
“Grace, like water, flows to the lowest part.”
Imagine you are one of the leapers, you stand afar from a man you who you have heard some things about, that he can heal the sick with a touch and you beg him for mercy – it’s your last hope. You stand afar, hoping he calls you close and he does not instead he sends you to the Temple to face the same shame you have always faced; I know if I was in that group as they walked towards Jerusalem I would be abject of hope thinking and muttering to myself and the friends that walked with me; ‘Jesus the fraud, all this talk about mercy and compassion and he cannot even approach us – then he sends us to these priests knowing how they will react.’ Yet, before they even get there they are healed, the sickness has left their body at the command of Jesus. From the ten only one person recognised who was worthy of their thankfulness and praise. Only one person often who had been healed gives Jesus the praise and worship that was his to receive. In the next few verses (15-19) we discover a few small points of information that add depth and beauty to this encounter, we find out the one who has fallen at the feet of Christ isn’t even a Jew – he is a Samaritan; a group Jesus had just previously been arguing with – about where was the correct place to worship – yet this one recognised that the temple was not the place to give thanks for such healing, but the feet of Jesus. Jesus responds to his actions with a rhetorical question ‘Where not all ten of you healed? Where are the other nine? Has only this foreigner returned to God?’ and The word Jesus uses here for foreigner in Greek is allogenës a word you will not find it anywhere else in the NT, but you would have found it on an inscription on the temple warning a foreigner against coming into its court, there the irony – the man who cannot enter the court of the temple to worship God recognised God incarnate and the nine who are in the covenant do not see Jesus for what he was, their promised Messiah.
“Free will I have often heard of, but I have never seen it. I have met with will, and plenty of it, but it has either been led captive by sin or held in blessed bonds of grace.”
As it is the case for all who believe, Jesus declares: “your faith has made you well Rise and Go” – the same call stands for us today as believers, it is our faith that heals us from the sickness of sin but we do not stay in that moment – we rise and go. When we respond to the grace of God in our lives it’s not a one-time event – the Gospel is not stationary, it’s alive. We are saved by the Gospel, sustained by it and driven forward by it; the Gospel is infinitely at work in us.
Conclusion and Application
“We must never forget – if we are to grow in grace, and therefore grow like Christ – that the One we trust, love, and serve is a crucified Savior. To follow Him means taking up the cross, as well as denying ourselves. It means a crucified life.”
There are three things I want us to consider from this passage, to bite off and chew in our minds and process. To not just think about but to take deep into depths of our hearts and allow the Holy Spirit to challenge us on as he calls us to rise and go.
The first, we must take from this passage that there are no distinguishing features in sin. There are ten men who approach Christ at the start of the encounter, and unknown to us at the time one of them is a foreigner. A man who under normal circumstances Jew’s would avoid, not only is he a foreigner he is a Samaritan – a heretic, part of a group that had deviated from the true faith and was despised. However, in sickness, the men do not care about former tribal identities they know they are all in need of one thing – healing. We need to remember this in our own lives, when you come before Jesus you come as sinner equal to everyone else no matters your bank balance, career, doctrine, church history, bloodline or anything: When we approach Jesus we come as leapers all equal and void of anything that we would think would set us In better standing before God – we are all sinners. What matters is how we respond to the Grace God offers us, Jesus, makes us clean through his work on the cross – so we can respond like the Samaritan and fall at his feet and worship him. Rising and going forth – clean – or we can be like the nine – the masses – and go riding off into the distant taking advantage of Christ’s Mercy in the short term but with his power and memory fading into the fog of our past. We are all sinners, even when we are saved so let us never think of ourselves as better than anyone else. Like us Rise in Grace and Go in Grace so that we are being made new and others can come to know his Grace.
“The recognition of sin is the beginning of salvation.”
The second thing I want us to consider is a wider picture, in the midst of being rejected by the established Jewish authorities this encounter happens. it gives us a focus not only as Jesus the healer but paints a contrast of responses to God’s grace: The response of the established religious elite, the Jews and the outsider, the Samaritan. Only the gentile who is healed from a distant responded with praise and thanksgiving. Luke again uses this encounter to draw us into an important aspect of Jesus ministry – Jesus is here for the marginalised, not the established – If you know the Grace of God in your life and are able to profess him as Lord and King, then you are called to have the same heart:
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
As Christians we are called to live out the kingdom, do you see the marginalised in your daily existence, how are you responding to them? Do you have the heart of Christ for them? We must also take from this that Grace is not of our heritage, you make have all the trappings of a Christian or being established in the faith, but only you know in the depths of your heart if you truly believe. It’s not just saying a prayer, it is the presence of the holy spirit in your life totally transforming you, empowering you to ‘rise up and go.’
“Fear-based repentance makes us hate ourselves. Joy-based repentance makes us hate the sin.”
Thirdly, this story accentuates that the faith we see in verses 5&6 placed in Jesus produces a powerful response and humble worship in the sinner. This is the difference between the one and the nine; they had all asked for Mercy but only one shows a true understanding faith. Which we see in him casting himself at the feet of Jesus with thankfulness and awe, it’s the same for us. Our response – or lack of – reflects the depth of our understanding of God’s Grace and Mercy granted to us, our response in everyday life reflects our understanding of the goodness of God in our lives. Have we truly responded to the Gospel of Grace with thankful hearts? This passage also paints a picture of the upside-down kingdom, the one who responds to the Gospel is the abhorrent interloper – the one who does not belong. The kingdom of God, when it arrives inverts earthly values, it welcomes anybody regardless of their previous state if they will simply repent and believe the good news of the Gospel – trusting in Jesus alone for new life – is this the picture of our church is anyone welcome regardless of their state, are being encouraged to become part of the life and fabric of our community, invited to serve when they have responded to the Gospel. The greatest miracles God has done and will continue to do is not to simply heal our desires in this temporal existence it is to heal our sin for all eternity, let us show people that so they can respond like the one.
“I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”