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Lessons Learned from Lepers
** Watch: https://youtu.be/YxEDC54pClo
As I look at the Thanksgiving story and it’s history, and then look at how we celebrate it today, I see some obvious shortcomings in the way we choose to be thankful.
Let me give you a real short history lesson. The Pilgrims were originally members of the English Separatist Church, which was a puritan sect. They fled England to Holland to escape religious persecution, but once they got there they weren’t exactly enamored with Dutch life or culture, nor how they were viewed and treated. So they negotiated with a London stock company to finance a pilgrimage to America.
They set ground at Plymouth Rock on December 11, 1620 where they met with immediate hardship where almost half died that first winter. But the next year, the harvest was good, so they decided to celebrate with a feast that included about 90 Indians who had helped them survive and plant crops.
Like I said, a really short history.
But seeing that first Thanksgiving, which is the basis for our present Thanksgiving Day celebration, like I said earlier, I see some shortcomings in the way we give thanks.
When we give thanks it always seems to center around something that has happened to us, and for us as Christians it should include what God has done in sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us so our sins can be forgiven and we can have eternal life in heaven.
Yet, if it’s only about what has happened, then there’s a vital element missing. Therefore, let me propose this.
“The purpose of giving thanks isn’t just about being thankful for something that has happened, but it also should be viewed as opening the door to a much greater blessing God has in store.”
Methodist minister, Charles Allen said, “Thanksgiving becomes a window through which God’s love shines through.” (Charles Allen)
It’s this basic truth of thanksgiving, that is, becoming a window for God to provide a much greater blessings that is at the heart of today’s lesson that we learn from a bunch of lepers. In fact, every time I read this story, it’s this the giving of thanks by only one of them, and then the lack of it by the others that has always captured my attention.
Read 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.’ And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed. And 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. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, ‘Were there not ten cleansed? But 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 made you well.’” (Luke 17:11-19 NKJV)
Leprosy was and is a terrible disease. It usually starts with white patches upon a person’s face, which makes it impossible to hide. What happens is that leprosy attacks the nerve endings and the skin becomes numb. If a leper cuts or burns themselves in these areas they will never know it.
But it doesn’t stop there. It also attacks the internal organs as well. It’s said that more lepers die from other diseases because of their weakened condition, rather than from the disease itself.
And so at the pronouncement of leprosy in the days of Jesus meant that the person becomes, if I can use a title of a TV series, one of the walking dead. Leprosy meant death, a little bit at a time. Further, lepers were forced out of their homes and villages because of their disease. They couldn’t work nor could they worship God in the Temple or synagogues. They were the outcasts of society, and the untouchables of that day.
Whenever they came into an area they had to loudly proclaim “unclean,” and people would avoid them like the plague (no pun intended), because to touch a leper or anything associated with a leper, according to the Law of Moses, would make them unclean (Leviticus 13:45-46).
That’s the story of these ten lepers. They were wretched, forsaken, and disheartened. They were hopeless and helpless, outcast amongst their family and friends.
But in this dreaded condition they formed a fellowship, “The Fellowship of the Lepers.” This is significant. In the Mosaic Law it says that lepers were to “dwell alone.” And while such a fellowship is the last thing they should have done according to the law, it was in reality the first thing they needed to do, which they recognized. And when we feel like they did, then being alone is the last thing we should do, but instead gather together for encouragement and strength.
We all need fellowship. Whether we like it or not, we all need human touch, which is why this pandemic has caused such mental distress and disease, as well as depression and anxiety. We need to be with others who will stand, sympathize, cry, and support us when we go through life’s difficulties. We need to extend our arms and hands to others, because these become the arms and hands of Jesus, the arms and hands of God’s grace.
The reason for gathering together is to encourage and build each other up, because going through life alone is a miserable existence. The writer of Hebrews tells us then to not give up on these gatherings, but to persevere even more as we see the world’s worsening condition.
And so it was with these ten lepers. They refused to “Go it alone.” One day when they heard that Jesus was passing through, their hopes began to rise, and beyond all hope in hope they believed. Standing at a distance they began to shout, “Lord, have mercy on us.”
Alone they never would have had the strength or courage, but as a group they encouraged one another to step out by faith and not wimp out. Together they dreamed there could be something more, something better, that in spite of their hopeless disease they believed they had a chance.
As we read their story and how their lives changed, there are several lessons we learn.
1. Don’t Give Up on Gathering
“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25 NIV)
One of the problems our society is facing is all the addictions people are finding themselves in. These addictions usually come as a result of loneliness. And please understand that we don’t have to be alone to be lonely. It goes much deeper. It’s goes into our hearts and into our spirits.
People are lonely mainly because God is absent from their lives. This is why you will never see me promote religion, because religion promotes loneliness as much as anything else. Instead it’s all about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, because when we walk with Jesus, Jesus walks with us and we’re never alone. He fills the empty void that exists with the human heart, soul, and spirit.
There’s a power when we gather together, not only with God, but also with others. It encourages and strengthens our faith just as it did for these ten lepers.
2. Admit Our Need
We need to admit our need, confess our sins, and cry out to Jesus.
This is the heart and essence of prayer. It’s coming to Jesus and asking for His mercy and grace. There are medical studies and personal testimonies that show how beneficial prayer really is. And if you ask these ten lepers about crying out to God, they’d say it made all the difference in the world for them.
It’s the difference in being sick unto death, or being healed unto life.
Far too often people give up on prayer because they don’t see the results they want or when they want them. But God has the power to work miracles, and what He desires are people who will have the faith to believe and persevere, to continue praying and giving thanks.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 NKJV)
These lepers had faith and knew God could heal. The story of Naaman, the Syrian general who was miraculously healed of leprosy through prophet Elisha, was probably their favorite.
So these lepers knew God could heal them, so they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us.”
In the same way we have to admit our need and cry out to Jesus for His mercy. But this is hard for us, because we don’t like to admit our faults or shortcomings. Instead we like to point out the faults and shortcomings of others.
But we have to come humbly to Jesus and admit our wrongs, our sins, our shortcomings, our weaknesses, our diseases, and our addictions. We have to admit our sinfulness and our need of God’s wonderful and marvelous grace and mercy.
A woman had just gotten some bad news at the hospital and was mad at God. She went to the hospital’s chapel to have it out with Him, but as she approached the front she tripped and fell. As she lifted her head she read what was engraved on the bottom step. “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
Instead of getting mad at God she confessed her sins asking God for His mercy, and as the story goes, she was healed.
This story describes us to a tee. We come to God making demands when instead we should be coming on our knees confessing our sins and surrendering ourselves to His mercy saying, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.’
3. Step Out in Faith
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV)
After Jesus heard their cry and saw them, He didn’t call them over to touch them or say some special prayer, instead He said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.”
At this point they may have looked at each other to see if anything had changed. Nope, they’re still lepers, and they knew the law that states that only the Jewish priests could pronounce them clean. But nothing had changed, they were still lepers and the priest would have nothing to do with them.
And so they came to a crisis of faith. Would they obey, even though nothing was different?
They believed in what Jesus said and obeyed and headed down the road. Remember, faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we don’t see.
It wasn’t until they stepped out in faith, despite what their circumstances dictated, and it was only then that they experienced their healing.
That’s the way faith works. Faith is trusting and obeying God even if there is no visible evidence to support that faith. Faith is walking out this life based upon God’s word, and what’s really neat is that when we by faith start following God’s word, He’ll give us the power to live it out.
One person described it this way, “Faith is coming to the edge of all you can see and feel and taking one more step into the darkness – trusting that God will either catch you or teach you how to fly.” (Anonymous)
Our last lesson from these lepers is at the heart of what I first said about our giving thanks is more than just being thankful for what has happened, but it a door for God’s blessings.
4. Being Truly Thankful
“And 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. And he was a Samaritan.” (Luke 17:15-16)
The story says that he was a Samaritan. Wow, he’s not even a Jew, he’s a Samaritan, one who is despised and spit upon. So this guy had a double whammy. First he’s a leper, and second he’s a Samaritan. But notice he’s the only one to return to thank Jesus.
Immediately when he saw he was healed as he was walking down this road of faith, he returned to glorified God and gave thanks to Jesus.
The lesson is that when the blessings come don’t forget to thank Jesus.
Notice there were ten lepers who came to Jesus to be healed, but only one returned to thank Him. The others took their healing and went on their way. And in a way you can hear the sorrow in Jesus’s voice as he asked, “Were there not ten cleansed?” You can almost hear His heart break over the callousness of people to His love.
People often ask God for help, but end up thanking the world.
I remember once when God answered my prayer that I said, “Thank you Jesus.” Now this offended the person God used to help me. He said, “Don’t thank God, thank me. I did it.”
And while I did thank him, and I thanked him again, but I also told him how I asked God to help me, and how God sent him to answer my prayer.
Most people, however, end up thanking others or the world for what God has miraculously provided. We thank the doctors, bankers, employers, friends and family. And there’s nothing wrong in thanking others, just don’t leave without coming back to the true source of our help, God.
“I will lift up my eyes to the hills — From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2 NKJV)
Another reason people fail to thank God is because they’re too busy. Like these nine, they had places to go, and people to see.
What I find sad is how many people ask God for help, come to church, ask and seek for prayer, and when God answers you never see them back in church giving thanks to God.
Other people tend to concentrate more on their troubles than on God’s blessings. They tend to keep a balance sheet, listing out their problems and difficulties more than their blessings. And if you think about it, our salvation should tip the balance every time. So we need to be more about thanking God than dwelling on our problems.
Consider the story of Pilgrims again. That first year was tough. They had it hard when they first stepped off that ship, facing dangers and death. But they didn’t let that obscure God’s blessing, and they celebrated that first Thanksgiving giving thanks to God.
In their proclamation they said that it was a day of solemn thanksgiving and praise to God for His goodness and favor.
This is the same thing the leper did. He came back and fell at Jesus’s feet thanking Him and giving God the glory.
This man came to Jesus the first time, and with the other nine received a physical blessing, a healing. But it’s not until he came back and thanked Jesus that he received a greater blessing, a spiritual blessing.
In the King James Version, I think it brings out the meaning of what Jesus said the best. Jesus says, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you whole.”
Spiritual blessings come from true thankfulness, and that spiritual blessing is wholeness.
Thankfulness brings joy, and such joy defeats depressions, which in turn defeats loneliness.
The Bible says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NKJV)
And here’s the key, give thanks; don’t just be thankful. I’m sure the nine lepers were thankful for their healing, but it was only the one that came back and that gave thanks that received the greater healing.
The nine received their healing, but missed out on the blessing of God’s wholeness.
And so this Thanksgiving let’s not only be thankful for the blessings we’ve received, let’s give thanks to God for them, and then by faith let’s expect the greater blessing of wholeness that God has in store.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study