The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity
September 17, 2017
Faith and Thanksgiving
St. Luke 17:11-19
Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" So when He saw them, He said to them, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." So it was that as they went, they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks—he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, "Were there not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? "Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?" And He said to him, "Arise, go your way. Your faith has saved you."
The man glorified God by falling down on his face at his feet. That’s what the text says. Luke writes,
Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks – he was a Samaritan.
At whose feet did he fall down? St. Luke writes: “At His feet.” The possessive pronoun refers back to the word God. But wait a minute. God is a spirit. A spirit has no body. A spirit has no feet. That is true, but Jesus is a human being with a human body. Jesus has feet. He is true God and true man. As true God, he can heal disease. In fact, he can deliver anyone from any kind of trouble he is facing. God is almighty.
But, look! He’s a man. You can see him. He’s walking into town. The small colony of lepers can see him. They know that he can heal. That’s why they run out to him and cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Calling Jesus Master is not calling him Lord. It is not a confession that he is true God. It is an acknowledgement that Jesus can help them. And how else could Jesus help them except by the power of God? David writes in the psalm,
The lepers knew that God is the one who heals us. They went to Jesus for healing. But they did not yet know that Jesus was their God. They went to him in desperation to meet their need. Jesus responded to their cry for mercy with mercy. He told them to show themselves to the priests because that was the legal requirement for men who were healed from the disease of leprosy. A priest had to confirm it. By telling them to show themselves to the priests, Jesus was promising to heal them. He healed all ten of them, but only one of them thought to return to Jesus to give thanks to God.
This text teaches us that gratitude is good and ingratitude is bad. Only one of them – a foreigner – showed gratitude to God. The other nine did not. They wanted mercy from God, but they didn’t particularly want God.
That’s much like American-grown religion today. God is there for you if you need him. If not, well, that’s fine, too. Just so you know God wants to bless you, to give you what you need in life, to help you through your troubles, to answer your prayers, and so forth. So, if you are of a mind to ask God for help, well, that’s what he’s there for.
And who is Jesus in this religion? Not much. What did the nine think of Jesus? They cried out to him for help when they needed it, but when it was provided, Jesus had served his purpose. Jesus was a means to an end. When they had what they came for they no longer needed the one who gave it to them. That’s ingratitude.
But it’s not just ingratitude. It’s unbelief. Why did the one cured leper – a foreigner who hadn’t been blessed with the pure teaching of God’s word – return to Jesus, fall down at his feet, and give him thanks? Because he believed in him! He trusted in Jesus, not just as a means to an end, as a temporary help in time of need, but as his Savior. All ten were cured of their leprosy, but only one was saved. Jesus said to the Samaritan who returned to give him thanks, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has saved you.”
The nine cured lepers represent a popular but false version of Christianity. The one cured and saved leper represents the true Christian faith. The nine wanted what God gives. The one wanted the God who gives it. You can have what God gives without having God. As Jesus said,
And you can have God without necessarily enjoying everything that belongs to you. God does chasten his children out of love. A father who spoils his children doesn’t really love them. A father who disciplines his children teaches them what is valuable and what is not; what is permanent and what is temporary; what is eternally true, and what is but a passing fad.
The leper returned to Jesus. In falling down at Jesus’ feet, he glorified God and he gave thanks to God. We glorify God – we give thanks to God – by falling down at Jesus’ feet. It is by worshipping Jesus that we glorify God the Father.
Only God can see our faith. Faith is trust in what God promises us in Christ. There is no true faith that is not faith in Christ. There is no true faith that is not faith in Christ as our God. There is no true faith that is not faith in Christ as our Savior from our sins, from death, and from hell.
Here, let me make a point about Bible translations. We speak English, and as English speakers, when we use the word “save” in reference to God saving us from something, we usually think of our eternal salvation. If you are asked if you are saved, you assume that you are being asked if you are going to heaven. We don’t use the word save so much in reference to being cured of a disease or delivered from a besetting problem, though sometimes we do.
After the leper who returned to Jesus glorified him and gave him thanks, Jesus replied, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has saved you.” Most English translations translate this, “Your faith has made you well.” They assume that when Jesus uses the word “save” he is referring to his healing of the leprosy, and not to the man being saved from sin, death, and hell. That’s why they translate the word “saved” to mean “made well.”
But the other nine were made well. They were cured of their leprosy. But they had no faith and weren’t saved. Their bodies were saved temporarily, but their souls were not. Salvation of both body and soul is received only through faith. Faith is expressed in worship and praise. Specifically, faith is expressed in worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ.
Worship is not an option for Christians. Faith cannot but be confessed and worship is the primary form that confession takes. You come here to church to see Jesus, to fall down at his feet, to glorify him, and to give him thanks.
Consider what you do every Sunday. At the very beginning of the service, as a preparation for the main service, you confess your sins to God and then Jesus tells you, through his minister, that he forgives you all your sins. Then you are ready to come into God’s presence with thanksgiving and praise. This is symbolized by the pastor walking up to the altar during the Introit. Now we are ready to worship. We cry out to Jesus for mercy. This is immediately followed by the Gloria in Excelsis. We praise, we bless, and we worship our God for his great glory. And what is his great glory all about? It’s about Jesus taking away the sin of the world and sitting at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. Faith is expressed by worshipping God for what faith receives. When we worship, we tell God what he has done for us. We do so publicly. We do so with a loud voice.
Did you catch that? The leper, “with a loud voice glorified God.” Now a man suffering from leprosy hasn’t got much of a voice with which to say anything at all. But as soon as Jesus cured this fellow, he cried out with a loud voice. That’s how you worship God. You don’t sit there in the pew like a bump on a log with your mouth firmly closed during the singing of the hymns. No, you open the hymnal and you sing. If you don’t know the hymn, you struggle through it until you do because worship is serious business and that’s what we are here to do.
Faith isn’t a religious feeling that passes through us and leaves us temporarily satisfied. Faith is a living confidence in God’s grace. This is why it is always directed to Jesus. Jesus is the revelation of God’s glory. Jesus reveals God’s glory through his great miracles that displayed compassion to the suffering. He reveals it especially on the cross. He is the High Priest who offers himself as the sacrifice for the sin of the world. By offering up his own holy body and blood to God as the representative of all sinners, he took away all sin and he opened up our way to God. It is only through Jesus that we can know God, receive forgiveness of all our sins, be reconciled to our Creator, and be given the gift of everlasting life.
Jesus is not a mere means to an end. He is our beginning and our end. He is the Alpha and the Omega. Jesus is our God. He shows us the Father. To fall down at Jesus’ feet is to fall down before the God who made us for himself. Only as we see God in Christ and Christ on the cross can we see God as he wants us to see him. If you are facing heartbreak, reverses, and losses; if those you love don’t love you back; if your sickness won’t go away; consider this: the men who begged Jesus for mercy all received mercy. The one who trusted, not just in the mercy as a temporary relief from misery, but in the mercy giver, he was the one, the only one of the ten, who was truly saved.
I have heard the question as I am sure you have as well: Do you have to go to church to be a Christian? Well, you have to go to Jesus. And where Jesus is in the pure proclamation of his gospel and the right administration of his sacraments, there is his church. So come to church. Come to Jesus. Come and keep coming, and with a loud voice glorify our God and brother Jesus, whose mercy is new every morning.
Rolf D. Preus