Pastor Cosand: August 2018
HEARTFELT THANKSGIVING IS A RARE THING
meditation on the story of the healing of the ten lepers
The stories of the Bible are not isolated events that stand unrelated to our lives. They are reflections of the human experience of every age. Technology has changed, but the human condition has not. We have improved upon the sickle of Ruth, but we have not improved upon her heart. And so the stories of the Bible are really our story. We see in Moses' temperamental outburst our struggle with anger. We see in David's leering at Bathsheba our struggle with lust. We see in Jonah's unconcern for the people of Nineveh our struggle with coldness toward the lost.
With this in mind, the story of the healing of the ten lepers, found only in Luke 17:11-19, is a vivid reminder to us of the self-centered tendencies of the human heart. These ten men, no doubt part of an ostracized leper colony (they stood at a distance from Jesus - Lk 17:12), had heard of the healing ministry of the Lord. With theological accuracy they called out to Him with urgent pleading, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" They were painfully aware of their need of Jesus' mercy, they were confident that He had the power to help them, and they saw Him as being their Master. Further, they demonstrated obedience because when Jesus commanded them to go show themselves to the priest they did it (Lk 17:14).
A problem arose following the healing. Only one man returned, in profound humility, to thank Jesus for what He had done. It was a stirring scene. The passage records that the man glorified God with a loud voice and fell at Jesus' feet as He thanked Him. "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" (Lk 17:15,16). Can you imagine His excitement and relief and joy?
"Then Jesus answered, 'Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?" (Lk 17:17). It is almost unimaginable that the others would not come back to say a single word to Christ. Their ingratitude and self-centeredness was disgraceful and reprehensible. We might be tempted to point an accusing finger in disgust, but the realization strikes us that we are more often like the nine who did not return than the one who did.
God had done a glorious thing, but only one man saw it that way. The glory of God is at the center of this story. Luke tells us that the man, a Samaritan no less, was "praising God" as He came back. And Jesus Himself describes it the same way in Luke 17:18 … "Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Now this puts thankfulness in a different light. The sin of ingratitude is more serious than what we normally think. Ungratefulness is an affront to the very glory of God. The nine lepers who did not return experienced joy, certainly. But how much richer and deeper and fuller their joy would have been if they had communed with the Almighty God by knowing the pleasure of giving Him glory in thanksgiving!
How often we are like the nine … pleading with God to help us when we are in trouble, happy when He lifts the load from our backs, but not nearly as quick to fall at His feet and cry out in a loud voice, "Glory to God." We take His blessing with greedy hands and then, satisfied with the gift, we forget the Source. May God forgive us.
The generous hand of the God of glory is everywhere in our world and in our lives. God has given us material bounty immeasurably beyond our all of our needs. He has granted us spiritual graces that few in human history have enjoyed. The ultimate purpose for these blessings is that in satisfying us God will be glorified. At the birth of Christ, the angels sang the same chorus as the leper: "Glory to God in the highest." Soli Deo Gloria (to God, alone, be glory) was the cry of the Reformers in the 1500's and of the Puritans in the 1600's. Johann Sebastian Bach wrote the letters SDG on the bottom of his musical compositions. With passionate, humble gratitude, let us learn to sing that sweet refrain every day that we have breath.