Luke17v11to19: "WHERE ARE THE NINE?"

(A) Introduction. Read: Luke17v11to19

This short passage allows us to study the twin subjects of gratitude and ingratitude - something we all know quite a bit about from experience. Perhaps, this explains why this exposition is rather long!

(B) United in need. As he was going into the village, ten men who had leprosy met him. v12.

The ten men who accosted Jesus consisted of 9 Jews and 1 Samaritan. Usually the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans but these men were united by their condition and need. Leprosy was an incurable disease. It desensitised the skin which resulted in wounds, abscesses, gangrene, loss of fingers and toes, facial deformities and blindness. The men who called out to Jesus were poor, hungry, shabby, ugly and unclean. They were ostracised by society and cut off from the consolations of religion.

Today there remain situations where men and women are united in need - as alcoholics, drug addicts or sufferers from terminal cancer. There are no class distinctions at Alcoholics Anonymous or in the hospice.

Whenever Christians celebrate the Lord's Supper they are united in their common dependence upon the saving work of Jesus. We are one in helplessness and total reliance on Jesus to redeem us. As we meet to eat the bread and drink the wine no one is better or worse than anyone else - we are all sinners saved by grace.

(C) Poles apart. "They stood at a distance." v12.

(1) The lepers stood at a distance from Jesus. Their awful condition meant that by law they were forbidden to come closer to him.

All men and women stand at a distance from Jesus. Just imagine a perfect cricketer - one who never played a false stroke - who was never dismissed as a batsman - who never fumbled the ball in the field or dropped a catch - who bowled an unerring line and length. Such a cricketer would stand apart from everyone else! Jesus was like that! He was the one perfect man; the only person who has ever lived without sin; the only one who has enjoyed unalloyed communion with God. Jesus succeeded in pleasing the Father in all things and is now sitting at his right hand in heaven.

(2) The lepers did not stand so far off from Jesus that he could not hear them. This is a very wonderful truth. There are many people who are very distant from us. Talent, fame and fortune sets them apart. It is difficult to make any meaningful contact. They do not hear us! But Jesus heard the leper's cry! And he still hears everyone who cries out to him in despair. I heard a young man testify that he got into a very dark place. In his wretched condition he remembered the words of his old headmaster to the effect that Jesus was always there to help those who cried out to him. So he just called out: "Jesus, JESUS, JESUS" It was enough. Jesus led him out of the darkness into the light.

(3) Jesus was not so far off that he could not help the ten lepers. Most folk are very remote from us. They are separated from us by distance, ignorance or inclination. They cannot or will not help us. Such is not the case with Jesus:

          When other helpers fail and comforts flee
          Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Jesus is willing and able by his Spirit to help anyone who cries out to him: "Jesus, Master, have pity on me."

(D) The two aspects of faith.

(1) Saving faith does involve begging for help.

They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!"

This is the cry of faith. It is:

    (a) Urgent. The lepers cried out for help. They were desperate - and didn't want Jesus to pass them by. I imagine the Philippian jailer showed some urgency when he asked Paul and Silas: Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Acts16v30. See exposition on Acts16v25to40.

    (b) Sincere. The ten outcasts cried out in a loud voice. No one could be in any doubt of their desire to be healed. There was nothing half-hearted or diffident about their approach to Jesus.

    (c) Knowing. The lepers recognised Jesus' ability to save them. They acknowledged his authority by addressing him as, 'Master'. He had the power!

    (d) Shameless. The lepers had nothing to offer Jesus. They could not purchase a cure for leprosy or earn it. All they could do was humbly and shamelessly beg for help. The men appealed to Christ's mercy: "Have pity on us!"

Every sinner is in the same position as the ten lepers and needs to exercise the same faith to receive forgiveness and newness of life.

(2) Saving faith takes Jesus at his word.

In Luke5v12to16 Jesus healed a man with leprosy by touching him and saying, "Be clean!" And immediately the leprosy left him. (See exposition on Luke5v12to16.) Some people have a saving experience like this. They ask for forgiveness and help with their lives and the Holy Spirit gives immediate assurance of being accepted and loved by God. But this was not the experience of the ten lepers. Jesus said to them: "Go show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed." v14.

We don't know how far they travelled before they noticed any difference. But the fact that the lepers set off and carried on is testimony to their faith. It fits in with what Jesus taught about having faith as a grain of mustard seed. You don't need much faith to get started - but you need some!

Many Christians do not have a wonderful conversion experience like Saul of Tarsus at the outset of their new life in Jesus. They have to set off in faith - doing the things Christians do - praying, reading the Bible, attending church, mixing with Christians. Eventually the assurance will come.

Trusting in Jesus does not mean we do nothing! The ten lepers were healed as they went. Our faith moves mountains when our faith moves us!

(E) The ungrateful nine.

Why didn't the nine, all Jews, turn back and thank Jesus for what he had done for them? There are at least six possible reasons:

(1) They sought validation of their cure from the priests.

The nine Jewish lepers would only be cured in the eyes of society if their recovery was validated by the priests in Jerusalem. The validation process - a right rigmarole - is described in Leviticus 14. Perhaps by the time of Jesus it had been simplified somewhat!

Validation, the approval of others, was more important to the lepers than their standing with Jesus. Before we criticise them too much we should ask ourselves where we look for approval. Is it to family, friends, neighbours, workmates, church members or church leaders?

What do we do to win approval? Buy the right stuff, do the right stuff, have the right job, join the right club, make friends with the right people, send our children to the right school, holiday in the right places, express the right opinions, seek acceptance by the folk who matter in our denomination, church or self-righteous, super-orthodox, little clique within the church.

What does Paul say to the Corinthians? I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge, myself. ..... It is the Lord who judges me. 1Cor4v3and4. (See exposition on 1Cor4v1to5.) Paul is right! The only validation that really matters is that of Jesus. Sadly he did not approve of the nine ungrateful lepers. He said: "Where are the nine? Was no-one found to return and praise God except this foreigner?"

(2) The cure became more important than the healer.

David Wilkerson makes some very helpful comments about this in a sermon entitled, 'Where are the nine?'

The nine lepers may have hurried to the priests to bear testimony to Jesus' healing power - like the other leper whose healing is reported in Luke5v14. This is what David Wilkerson wrote about their decision:

For years to come, these lepers would have a powerful testimony. They could spend the rest of their lives talking about how Jesus merely spoke a word, and they were healed:

"I was once a leper! I was all alone with no hope - dirty, filthy, lost, a dying man. Then Jesus came along and cleansed me. I've been healed now for twenty-five years - praise His name!"

That all sounds wonderful. But the problem was, they were talking about a Man they did not know - witnessing to the power of a Savior they knew nothing of! They only saw Him afar off. They could tell you what He looked like, what He talked like, how He walked - but they never got near to Him and to His heart!

One of my greatest griefs in all my years of ministry has been to witness the burnout of former addicts and alcoholics who had been miraculously delivered from lives of terrible sin and crime. Many of them were called of God to preach. but churches and pastors throughout the United States kept asking them to come and give their spectacular testimonies. They were cajoled and encouraged to give the gory details of their past.

Now, years later, many of these former addicts are telling the same story: "Fifteen years ago I was a pimp. I lived with prostitutes and went to jail twenty times. One day somebody told me about Jesus - and I was cleansed and made whole!"

Beloved, hundreds of such precious converts are now burned out, backslidden and shipwrecked! They have none of the character of Christ, no relationship with God, because they are living on a past, one-time experience. They never returned to Jesus - they never got to know Him!

Many people have asked why Times Square Church doesn't have converts from our charity outreaches come and testify each week. Indeed, these men and women have some of the most incredible testimonies you've ever heard.

But we want more for them than to end up with an old, worn testimony! We want them to go on with Jesus - to be able to stand and tell about a fresh, daily walk with Him, about what He's done for them today!

We want them to have more of Christ!

The most wonderful thing is not to have a marvellous conversion experience to tell but to grow in the knowledge of Jesus and the grace of God. This can only happen as we make contact with Jesus. We need to return to him over and over again; in our prayers, in our thoughts, in our Bibles and at Communion.

(3) The lepers' priority was to enjoy their new life.

The lepers had been denied so much by their condition. They were outcasts. They couldn't work, attend the synagogue, enjoy family life, hold a child, kiss a woman or even feel the wind on their faces. But now everything has changed! No doubt the lepers were intoxicated by their huge change of fortune. They looked better; they felt better; they were better! A new day had dawned - a new beginning was possible.

It is so easy to forget the benefactor when we finally get what we want. This was certainly true of Paddy who was driving down the street in a sweat because he had an important meeting and couldn't find a parking space.

Looking up to heaven he said, "Lord take pity on me. If you find me a parking place I will go to Mass every Sunday for the rest of my life and give up me Irish Whisky."

Straight away a parking space appeared.

Paddy looked up again and said, "Never mind, Lord. I found one."

We can all be like children who after satisfying their hunger with a delicious meal prepared by their much put upon mother get up from the table without a word of thanks.

I am sure the same sort of thing happens with new converts - especially those who are embraced into a large, lively fellowship with all sorts of activities going on. The new convert is accepted, made much of and begins to make new friends. There is so much to enjoy: exciting activities, social events, membership of the choir and fervent worship. It is possible amongst all this for Jesus to be almost forgotten. The Spiritual razzmatazz becomes more significant than the converts ongoing relationship with Christ. He has been ousted from first place.

(4) Obedience is easier than praise.

The nine healed lepers did what Jesus told them. They made their way to the temple to be declared whole by the priests and reinstated into the life of Israel. That was actually easier than going back with the Samaritan to thank Jesus and praise God.

Some Christain undoubtedly find it easier to serve Jesus than to praise him. We identify with Martha who was cumbered with much serving rather than with Mary who sat at Jesus' feet. (See exposition on Luke10v38to42.)

Some of my practical friends are much happier maintaining the church fabric that attending the prayer meeting. I prefer to study and write expositions than to have a quiet time praying and praising Jesus for all his goodness.

(5) Jesus was just doing his job.

The lepers may have concluded that Jesus was just fulfilling his role as healer. That is what God had called him to do.

Many take this attitude. We don't praise teachers, doctors or policemen - they are just doing what they are paid for. Their reward is the money received into their bank accounts at the end of each month. Why should they have more?

I am rather like this. I do not identify strongly with the Psalms. It is far from being my favourite book. I get almost impatient with the writer, for example, of Psalm 98. It seems to me that he states the obvious in his praise to God. That is how God is - he cannot be anything else - so why get so worked up about it.

But as C.S. Lewis in his chapter on, 'Praise,' in, 'Reflections on the Psalms,' wrote, we don't adopt this attitude to a glorious sunset, a bull finch basking in the sunshine, a pretty face, an inspired piece of music or an immaculate cover drive. If I remained unmoved by grace and beauty this reveals a deficiency in me. I have no eye for loveliness, no ear for music, no appreciation of cricket.

So my failure to revel in the Psalms reveals a sad lack of admiration for God's many attributes.

(6) He gets enough gratitude as it is.

If we lack generosity of spirit we can adopt this attitude. The 9 lepers could have thought: "Jesus is healing people all the time. He is surrounded by grateful people. If he gets too much thanks it will go to his head. He'll be better off without my praise."

It is easy to think along these lines about a popular and successful teacher, doctor, entertainer or preacher. We don't want to puff them up. We are not prepared to give what we get so little of ourselves.

My friends, Jesus can never have enough gratitude for what he did for sinners.

          Praise Him! praise Him! Jesus, our blessed Redeemer!
          For our sins he suffered and bled and died;
          He - our Rock, our hope of eternal salvation,
          Hail Him! hail Him! Jesus, the Crucified!
          Sound his praises - Jesus who bore our sorrows,
          Love unbounded, wonderful, deep, and strong.

(F) The nature of gratitude.(Praise)

Gratitude is:

(1) Uninhibited. One of them,when he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. v15.

There is something unselfconscious and abandoned about gratitude. The thankful person wears his heart on his sleeve. I can remember being waylaid one afternoon after school as I walked to my car to make for home by the mother of a pupil. Her son was moving schools and this mother wanted to thank me for teaching him to play cricket. She gave me a kiss - the first and last mother of a pupil to do so. That was uninhibited and warmly welcomed gratitude! C.H. Spurgeon said this in a sermon on, 'Where are the nine?':

Some of our converts are very wild, at times, and they grow extravagant. Don't blame them! Why not indulge them? It will not hurt you. We are, all of us, so very proper and orderly that we can afford to have an extravagant one among us now and then. Oh, that God would send more of that sort to wake the Church up that we, also, might all begin to praise God with heart and voice, with soul and substance, with might and main! Hallelujah My own heart feels the glow!

(2) Prompt.

The Samaritan returned to Jesus as soon as he was healed. If we put off gratitude we can frequently miss the opportunity. I've often heard the expression, "I was going to write and say, 'Thank you,' but I never got round to it."

There is a gentleman in our church who told me that he was converted through the preaching of Old Dick Clarke. I know that one of Dick's chief regrets was that he didn't lead anyone to the Lord. Gerald never told him - and Dick went to the grave with his regret.

It is better to show appreciation late than never.

Melissa grew up in a town in central Indiana. Following her college days, and her venture out into the world, she returned one week to her hometown and was shopping in a grocery store. By chance she met a former high-school classmate. They exchanged greetings, and the usual, "Where are you now?" questions and answers, and then they parted.

A few days later Melissa received a letter from this woman that read: "When I bumped into you at the store this week I don't know why I didn't say something, but now I will. Do you remember that weekend when we were seniors and you invited me to attend your church youth retreat? That event changed my life, and I've never told you. During my senior years I was experiencing some deep family problems, and that retreat really saved my life. For some reason I've never thanked you, but now I am. Thank you, Melissa, for caring and for asking me to participate."

(3) Humble

He threw himself at Jesus' feet.

We are not often so thankful we throw ourselves at our benefactor's feet! The Samaritan could not have made it clearer: he was a debtor to mercy alone and Christ was the fountain head of grace.

In his famous book, 'Goss and son,' Edmund Goss describes an incident of childhood that made a profound impression on him. Mr and Mrs Brookes were converted at ten-year-old Edmund's baptism by immersion. They were very poor and young Edward was keen to relieve their poverty. So he saved seven shillings and sixpence - a tidy sum in the 19th century.

So, one Sunday morning Edmund went to the Brookes' cottage, explained his mission and produced a linen bag. This is what happened: To my disgust all John Brookes said was, "I know'd the Lord would provide" and after emptying the little bag into the palm of an enormous hand, he swept the contents into his trousers pocket, and slapped his leg. He said not one single word of thanks or appreciation, and I was absolutely cut to the heart. I think in the course of a long life I have never experienced a bitterer disappointment.

Edmund Goss wrote that he never recovered. The springs of benevolence dried up within him. The infant plant of philanthropy was burned in my bosom as if by quick-lime.

It is possible to believe along with Mr Brookes that our need gives us a right to aid. I'm poor and starving so, I've a right to be fed. There is no humility in this attitude and no real gratitude. If we are truly thankful for what Jesus has done for us we will be glad to acknowledge it was unmerited and undeserved.

In the life of the church gratitude encourages us to persevere in doing good for Christ's sake. It is a wonderful fertiliser!

(4) Generous.

He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him.

A person who offers praise or shows gratitude is giving all they can. And it is most certainly a gift. A truth recognised in Folliott Peirpont's hymn:

            For the beauty of the earth,
            For the beauty of the skies,
            For the love which from our birth
            Over and around us lies;
            Father, unto Thee we raise
            This our sacrifice of praise.

(5) Absorbing

C.H. Spurgeon noted that the Samaritan didn't answer Jesus' question: "Where are the nine?" He didn't criticise them. He didn't say, "Well, they were just so keen to resume their old lives." The Samaritan was so intent on thanking Jesus and praising God that he couldn't think of anything else.

It is a pretty good rule of thumb that those who praise God most will criticise others least.

(G) The blessings of gratitude and praise.

(1) To the giver.

C.S. Lewis points out in his essay on, 'Praise,' in his book, 'Reflections on the Psalms,' that thanksgiving completes our enjoyment of a fine thing - a meal, a walk in the country, a film, a good book, an outstanding sporting achievement.

'BBC Look East,' on Feb 1st 2010, featured a young man whose life had been saved four years previously by a bone marrow donor. Four years on from the operation Ollie Rofix met Matt Hall from Wisbeach at Levington Marina near Ipswich to say, 'Thank you.' No viewer could be in any doubt that Ollie Rofix got a lot pleasure from saying, 'Thank you.' It was the appropriate thing to do - both fitting and fulfilling.

Great benefits acrue when we find it in ourselves to praise God and thank Jesus for his, so great, salvation. It does us good.

(2) To the recipient.

There are few experiences that give us more joy than genuine, heartfelt thanks and praise. Some months ago I was thanking a member of our congregation for putting in a new kitchen. He said, "I'm glad there is something I can do for the Lord." I replied, "You are a help to me - because you do jobs I am poorly equipped to do." My friend brushed this aside and said, "You have done so much more for me." In all the 50 years I had known him this was the first time he showed appreciated for anything I had done. It was a big surprise and it gave me a stab of joy.

My friend Edward has been much troubled through the years with a hernia and prostate cancer. After a visit to hospital for an operation Edward wrote to his surgeon, Mr Kennedy, to thank him for the kind way he dealt with him. You might expect Mr Kennedy to be a bit blasť about a letter of thanks. But that was far from the truth. He wrote Edward a lovely letter in reply and from that time forward treated him like his father.

Why are we so pleased to receive genuine thanks? I don't think it is anything to do with our ego. Rather we are pleased to have made a difference, been a help and given someone pleasure. It shows we care about other people. It is a flashback to Eden. (See article: Flashbacks to Eden.)

Jesus was pleased that the Samaritan leper returned to give thanks. He said to him: "Rise and go, your faith has made you well."

God rejoices when we thank and praise him. He loves us and is consequentially glad to make a difference in our lives by helping us or giving us pleasure and happiness.

David is an example to me. His heart of praise made him, despite the many flaws in his character, a man after God's own heart.

(3) To others.

When the item on, 'Look East,' about Ollie Rofix and Matt Hall was over the presenter Stewart White said, "Wasn't that a good story." There is something touching and life affirming whenever we witness intense gratitude. I was moved at the Ruby Wedding Celebration of my friends Pat and Roger to hear Roger say in his speech, "I want to thank the Lord for my wife."

It always, just always, gives me joy to hear people on BBC TV's, 'Songs of Praise,' pay tribute to Jesus and all he has done in their lives. A Christian's testimony to God's providential care and provision makes the best of stories.

We have been created to praise God. When we praise him here below we anticipate the rapturous pleasure we shall have in singing with all the redeemed in glory that new song in tumultuous thanksgiving to Jesus for his victory over sin and death and Satan.

In the words of Isaac Watts:

            I'll praise Him while he lends me breath
            And when my voice is lost in death,
            Praise shall employ my nobler powers;
            My days of praise shall ne'er be past,
            While life, and thought, and being last
            Or immortality endures

ANY COMMENTS FOR JOHN REED: E-mail jfmreed@talktalk.net

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