[Luke 17:11-19] On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Give Thanks to God for our Two-Fold Cleansing
Faith and thanksgiving to God. Faith receives what God is giving. Thanksgiving is the faith-filled response to receiving. That the one leper returned to give thanks to Jesus shows his faith, his belief, in who Jesus is – that Jesus is God and Lord.
Ten lepers were cleansed. One returns and gives thanks. That one – a foreigner, a Samaritan – is shown to have faith, specifically, in Jesus. This one leper knows Jesus as his God and as his true Priest.
A leper is a person with one or more of various skin diseases which were all designated as “leprosy”. These skin diseases were contagious. And, more than that, these skin diseases did – under the Law – make a person unclean to God.
Lepers were unclean to man and God. They had to avoid human contact. And they could not enter the Temple where God’s presence dwelled. What happens when any unclean thing enters into God’s holy presence? Death. Obliteration. When we are unclean we cannot bear God’s presence. For these lepers to return to normal society and, more importantly, for them to return to God’s presence in the Temple, they had to receive a two-fold cleansing.
First, their leprosy – their contagious skin uncleanness – had to go away. The leprosy in the skin had to be cured, cleansed away. Gone. Second, the leper then had to be declared clean by a priest in the Temple. They would be examined and, if found to be spotless, would be declared clean.
These ten lepers call loudly to Jesus – keeping distance, as the Law demanded - “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus looks at them – “when He saw them, He said to them” – “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”
As they begin on their way toward the Temple to show themselves to the priests it happens. Their skin becomes clean of its uncleanness. They are cleansed. Nine of them keep going on their way to the Temple priests. One understands who his true Priest is.
The Samaritan turns back to Jesus, his true Great High Priest. The Samaritan shows himself to his Great High Priest, Jesus, that he is clean, and worships and thanks Jesus for it. Jesus declares that the Samaritan is indeed clean – clean by faith - “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
That word there, “has made you well”, means, “has saved you.” “Rise and go about your business – you’re cleansed – you’re free – your faith has saved you.” This Samaritan of faith is cleansed and declared clean of his leprosy.
What is your “leprosy” and what is the two-fold cleansing that you need? What is every man and woman’s real leprosy, real uncleanness before God and man? It’s our own moral uncleanness. Our offensive sinfulness. The sins of the flesh – which are found in the body and in the mind set on the flesh.
What did we learn in our Epistle reading today [Galatians 5:16-24]? “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality (fornication), impurity, sensuality, idolatry (wrong belief, wrong worship, wrong trust or faith), sorcery (superstitious beliefs), enmity (us vs. them thinking), strife (fighting), jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions (causing division in your church, at home, in the world), envy (dissatisfaction with what you have in life – upset that others have more), drunkenness, orgies (unbridled desires), and things like these.”
This is your leprosy – your uncleannesses which make you unclean to God and to man. God is good. These things are not good. And these things make us no good for each other. Our shame, or our defensiveness, comes from the sting of how it hurts to be unclean and unholy.
We all have this fallen nature of being lepers – sin-leprosy. What is the two-fold cleansing we must have? The lepers with skin diseases had to be made clean and then declared clean. The sin-lepers – you and I – must be declared clean and then we are made clean. The cleansing of sin-leprosy happens on and by the cross.
Your sin-leprosy is hung on the cross. Thereby, you are declared clean by God. After being declared clean, then you begin to be made clean within and without. Atoned for, forgiven, and then restored.
The leprosy of sin was cleansed on the cross one-and-for-all – All put away in the flesh of Jesus which carried the leprosy of the whole world.
Scripture even says that Jesus became our sin [2 Corinthians 5:21] – He became our leprosy for us. On the cross, all our sin-leprosy was put to death, nailed to the cross, cleansed by the sacrifice of His blood, and overcome by His all-holy life. The uncleanness cleansed. The guilt forgiven.
That cleansing of sin that happened on the Cross in the flesh of Jesus is the cleansing that declares you clean. Those priests in the Old Testament Temple looked at a man’s skin to see if the leprosy was cleansed away or not to declare him clean or not. God the Father looks at all sin cleansed away in the flesh of Jesus and declares sinners clean in Him.
You now walk as declared-clean lepers. And it’s a two-fold cleansing. The cross by which you have been declared clean once-and-for-all is the cross by which you are now being made clean day-by-day in your own flesh.
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” [Galatians 2:20]. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” [1 Peter 2:24]. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead…we too might walk in newness of life.” [Romans 6:4].
Declared clean by Christ’s cross once-and-for-all. Being made clean by Christ’s cross and resurrection at work in you day-by-day. A two-fold gift. Like that cleansed Samaritan leper, we return and given thanks to Jesus daily who alone works both parts of this two-fold cleansing.
What does it look like to be made clean, day-by-day? Once again, what does our Epistle reading show us: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” [Galatians 5:22-24]
Life forgiven. Life-now being freed, and eternally freed, from our leprosy. Forgiven in full. Clean to God. Being made clean day-by-day. Thanks be to Jesus Christ alone, our Great High Priest and our God and Lord – with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.