Ends or Means?
Preached by Noah Gwinn
Good Morning. My name is Noah Gwinn, and I have been interning here at Community this summer, doing everything from helping out with the worship ministry, to teaching Sunday School, to now standing here in front of you giving this morning’s message. I just want to take a moment to thank the staff here at the church for being so inclusive to me and truly making me feel like part of a family. I have learned more this summer about hands-on ministry than ever before. Thank you for the opportunity to learn and be stretched and grow here, I will forever be grateful. I will say, though, clearly last week Benjamin did a poor job of advertising who would be preaching this week, because I see that there are more people than just my family here this morning. But you’re here, so here we go.
Speaking of being thankful…
One of my absolute favorite holidays has always been Thanksgiving. From the weather, to the food, to being with family, to the intentionality of taking time to be thankful, to a number of other things, Thanksgiving is the best. When I was growing up, we would often go to my grandparents’ house to celebrate Thanksgiving. Aunts, uncles, and cousins would come, and it was not unusual to meet someone new each November, sitting around the table with family. One of my favorite traditions that my family participates in each year, to this day, is to go around the table while we are eating our Thanksgiving meal and mention one or two things that we are thankful for. Some usual highlights of this list include health, new relationships, family… you know, things that could make you cry. Well, there is a younger member at this gathering that, each year, without fail, would say that he was thankful for moisture. I believe he just said this to be funny, but even so, he always did his best to give an apologetic for why moisture is something good to be thankful for. Today, we’re going to be talking about thanksgiving. Not the holiday, and not being thankful for moisture. What we are going to be studying today goes far deeper than that.
If you have a Bible, turn with me to Luke 17. Today we will be studying verses 11 though 19. Follow along with me as I read the passage.
11 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.
This is God’s Word; thanks be to God for it. Let’s pray…
Digging into this passage, we’re going to be following this exchange between Jesus and these ten lepers. We’ll begin by looking at his interaction with the Lepers, then we’ll see his interaction with the healed, and finally we’ll look at what this means for us. This passage shows us our humanity, and how so often we become too enamored by good gifts that we often don’t see the good Gift Giver. Thankfully, that isn’t where the story ends; we’re also reminded that faith in Jesus is what saves, and that those good gifts are for His glory.
1. Jesus and the Lepers – vv. 11-14
First, let’s talk through some context. We see that Jesus is “on the way to Jerusalem.” If you remember, this is in reference to the road to the cross that Jesus has been on since chapter 9, verse 51. This is important because it serves as a reminder to the reader as to what Jesus’ mission is. He’s on his way to the cross. As he’s on this journey, we see him encounter ten lepers. These ten lepers are standing at a distance, most likely afraid to even get close, for a number of reasons – both social and medical. Although they cannot go near Jesus, they call out to him because they’ve heard his reputation and they know that He can heal. When Jesus sees them, he immediately responds. He doesn’t respond with immediate healing, but instead he responds by telling them to go show themselves to the priests. As they’re on their way to the priests, they are healed.
I don’t know if you have ever experienced leprosy. My guess is that you haven’t. Allow me to very briefly catch you up. Keep in mind, this is the PG version. Buckle up. Basically, leprosy was caused by a bacterium that would attack your nervous system as well as your skin. By attacking your nervous system, it would numb parts of the body, which would cause you to do crazy things, like step into a fire, or work without realizing your hand has been cut by a rusty nail for hours. As the bacteria spread from your head down to your feet, you would begin to experience a bit of a makeover, if you will. You would lose an eyebrow, then two, then a finger would be absorbed into your hand, and then a toe, and then before you know it, you would have a stump of a shriveled hand and ulcers all over your senseless, unfeeling body. Leprosy was also known to cause blindness and affect the throat, leaving the leper with virtually no voice whatsoever. Oh, by the way, it was also contagious. I’ll stop there, but are you starting to get the picture?
Leviticus chapters 13 and 14 outline the 8-day process by which one would be declared unclean, and then a similar process by which one would be declared clean, if such a healing took place (although I will note, in the Bible there is no documented healing of leprosy other than a supernatural healing, whether it be by Jesus or by someone empowered by God). Essentially, the law prescribes that the priest would act as a health inspector of sorts. This priest would examine the person in question and he would make a judgment call as to whether this person was clean or unclean. If one was declared unclean, he was shunned from the community, his friends, and even his family. These people had to live on their own, often times in their own lepers’ colony, and besides the other unclean people that surrounded them, they were not allowed to approach anyone. This adds clarity as to why these particular lepers, as needy as they were, did not bull rush Jesus. All they could do was cry out with what was left of their broken, raspy voices, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”
When Jesus sees them, he looks on them with compassion, and mercy, yet puts their faith to the test. What does he say? “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” What?! This is an absurd request. Can you imagine? What he is asking of them is to take their broken, sickly bodies back to the same priest that declared them unclean, shrug, and ask to be declared healed. Anyone in their right mind would have laughed. These ten lepers, though, do what Jesus asked. What an act of faith! They took a step forward, essentially saying, “We believe that you are who you say you are, and regardless if we appear healed now, we’ll do what you ask.” How often do we want to see the end result before we step out in faith?
There is a beautiful irony in Jesus asking these men to show themselves to the priests, and this is twofold. First, as we are reminded in Matthew 5:17, Jesus did not come to do away with the law. His new covenant had not yet been established, and he was working within the very letter of the law from Leviticus 13 and 14, that we had discussed earlier, in reference to leprosy. He told them to do exactly what the law prescribed. The second example of this beautiful irony is seen in the priests and religious leaders being the ones that hated Jesus the most. As we are reminded at the beginning of the passage, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He’s on his way to the cross. The very people who were going to put him to death on that cross were also going to have to be the same ones that, for eight days, would have to give an eyewitness testimony to the miracle working power of Jesus. They would have to, in public, declare that Jesus had, in fact, worked a miracle to heal them. Don’t forget, we have no record of any natural healing from leprosy. I think that’s fascinating. The priests, while they were considered health inspectors, never actually had to perform the task of declaring someone clean until Jesus came and started working miracles. They have a new job! The irony is this – the priests who would have to spend 8 days testifying to the miracle working power of Jesus in the healing of these lepers would be the same ones who, only a number of weeks later, would also be testifying a very different message. Instead of publicly declaring that someone was healed, they would be shouting at the top of their lungs, “crucify Him, crucify Him!” Can you imagine how hard the hearts of these priests would have to be?
As the men are walking back toward the center of the village, suddenly they look down at their hands, and fingers are appearing. On their feet, toes returned. Can you imagine the excitement? They probably began to jump and scream and celebrate. After all, they had said goodbye to their families, presumably thinking that they would never see them again. “I can go hug my wife!” “I can hold my baby boy again!” “I wonder how much he’s grown?” I’m sure things like this were the nature of the conversation among the men who had just been given their life back. The energy level was probably off the charts.
2. Jesus and the Healed – vv. 15-19
Not everyone reacts the same way, though. Let’s take another look at the second half of the passage, starting in verse 15.
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 [the Samaritan], “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.
In high school, I worked at Target for a few months, and by some atrocious twist of fate, I was scheduled to work on Black Friday that particular year. If you were to make a list of Noah Gwinn’s top ten least favorite experiences, working at Target on Black Friday would be very high on the list. People were trampled, manners were abandoned, and all sense of preexisting human decency went out the window. All for a few sales. That particular year, the big ticket sale item was a 60-inch flat screen television. I remember watching the stampede ferociously rush the electronics section with one goal in mind: get that TV. In part, that is what I imagine this Samaritan looking like. He was running, full of abandon toward that which he needed most. He didn’t care about anything else except worshiping the one who had set him free. He lifted up his revitalized voice and shouted praises, falling at the feet of the Holy one.
This means more than I think we realize at first glance. First, we see the text say in verse 15 that this man was “praising God with a loud voice.” If you remember, when we were talking about the different effects that leprosy has on the body, one of those things was that it attacks the larynx, making the voice nearly unusable. Now, fully restored, this man is using his new gift to praise the gift giver. He realizes that what Jesus has done is, in fact, the work of God. There is a sort of Trinitarian recognition going on here. He praises God, and then what does he do? He falls on his face at Jesus’ feet and gives him thanks. Only now does Luke make it a point to mention that this man is a Samaritan. Historically, Samaritans and Jews do not interact, and if they do, you can be sure that they do not get along. Remember the story of the good Samaritan? It was such a big deal that the Samaritan in that story would be the one to come to the aid of the traveler that had been beaten. In this story, it would appear that the other nine former lepers are all Jews, and in a turn, as similarly unexpected as the good Samaritan, this less-than-likely worshiper is the one to come back and give thanks.
Cultural norms? Gone. This Samaritan was not only associating with a Jew, Jesus, but he was also shattering religious expectation. In fact, when Jesus says “was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner” in verse 18, he uses the same word for “foreigner” that is used on the inscription found on the walls of the temple court, notifying gentiles that they cannot enter any further into the temple. The connection for this man would have been unmistakable. He wasn’t allowed in the temple, let alone near the Holy of Holies, yet he was falling down in worship at the feet of the Holy One himself. Oh that we would be like that Samaritan, full of abandon in the worship of our God.
What about the other nine? Well, the text doesn’t say. What I would presume is that they kept on going, hearts full of excitement, running back to begin the process of being declared cleansed. What we do know from the text though, is that they didn’t return to worship Jesus with hearts of faith and thankfulness. Maybe they were saved later, we just don’t know.
One thing is for sure: they missed the opportunity of a lifetime. They traded eternal bliss for temporary satisfaction. Kent Hughes writes,
“The other nine were so earthbound, so like the shrewd manager and the rich man of the preceding parables, that they missed the spiritual dimension altogether. Vague gratitude to divinity was not an adequate response to what had happened. Christ wanted their hearts! By failing to glorify God and returning to thank Jesus, they missed the greatest possible moment of their existence.”
I don’t know about you, but that stings a bit. Thinking about that makes my heart sink. They missed the greatest possible moment of their existence? How often do we give vague gratitude to God? How often do we say “oh thank God,” or “praise God” in passing? Christ wants our hearts!
What Hughes means by his quote is that all 10 begin walking towards the priest that would allow them back into society. But the Samaritan sees the greater society to enter – the Kingdom of God. It would seem that the healed men are thinking through that which they want most, and while some choose the world, the Samaritan man chooses repentance in a very public way.
I think that it is very easy, and honestly a bit natural for us to demonize the other nine. “What are they doing?” we might think. “Jesus is right there, why wouldn’t they just thank him and then be on their way.” Let’s not forget what this healing meant for these people. Like we said earlier, these men were getting their life back. They had lost literally everything that they had, and in a moment, they could have it all back. If we’re being honest, we do the same thing every day. Too often we become so enamored with the gifts that God gives us, whether it is family, work, money, you fill in the blank. These things become so forefront in our minds that we forget to give Him glory with our praise. I also think that it’s important to note here: these men did everything that Jesus asked of them. They had the confidence and hope that Jesus could heal them, they just didn’t give Him the glory. Sometimes we need to look deeper into what Jesus asks of us, and not just “do,” but give him glory, thanks, and praise in that which he asks.
Bob Goff is a lawyer, diplomat, and professor, but is probably most well-known for writing a book entitled, Love Does. In his book, he recounts a story from when his son, Richard, was younger. Evidently, Richard loved to play “Bigger and Better,” a game in which you begin with something small, such as a paper clip, and begin to trade that item for something bigger or better. This goes on until you decide to stop, and walk away with something usually much bigger – or better – than the item you began with. In the particular tale that Goff tells, Richard began with a dime, and after trading up a few times, he had a mattress, and then a ping-pong table, and then an elk head, and finally he walked away with a Dodge pickup truck. This is a true story! Now, I know some of you might be Chevy people, and some might be Ford people, and I won’t get into the politics of discussing if the Dodge pickup truck is actually any better than a ping-pong table, but you understand the point.
What I’m saying is that Richard could have stayed at home with his dime, and bought a Laffy Taffy or a Tootsie Roll at the beach when the family went on vacation. But he didn’t settle for what he had, he waited for something he knew would be better.
I think this is a lot like what is happening with these 9 men. They got what they wanted from Jesus – they got the temporary answer to their temporary sickness. What they didn’t get, however, is the eternal solution to the eternal problem. They saw Jesus as the means to get what they wanted, not the end goal that they should be running towards. They settled for a gift that was good, for sure, but were so enamored by this gift that they were too blind to see both the Gift Giver, and the greater gift that He could have given. The Samaritan was not so blind.
This reminds me of a C.S. Lewis quote that you are probably familiar with. It comes from his book, The Weight of Glory. He said,
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
The Samaritan sees the true treasure. He sees the “holiday at the sea.” When he goes back and worships, Jesus tells him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” This is huge. The literal meaning of that last phrase translates, “your faith has saved you.” That’s salvation language! The other nine may have gotten a head start on their 8-day cleansing process, but this Samaritan has gained eternal life! What an exchange. The Samaritan rightly sees Jesus as the true end, not the means. Let me pause very quickly. I don’t want this to sound like I’m saying that the Samaritan’s thankfulness has saved him. Jesus is clear that his faith has saved him. His thankfulness is simply produced as a result of his salvation. He’s only been saved for a matter of minutes, and he’s already producing fruit.
I’ll bring this to a close with some personal check-up questions. Think about your own life. Are you coming back to the Lord in thankfulness? Are you willing to step out in faith?
What about this…
Are you more often thankful for the healing or the Healer? The gift or the Giver? Salvation or the Savior? What you are more thankful for is often what you are truly worshiping. Please understand me, we are to be thankful for these things. We just are not, by any means, to give the gifts a higher place in our hearts than the God of the universe, who is the good gift giver. Salvation through Jesus Christ is the best gift that God has given us. We must never become so enamored with heaven that we lose sight of the author of salvation.
We must glorify God in all that we do, especially in what He asks us to do. It is not simply enough to follow his commandments if it is coming from a heart of ingratitude. Rather, in all things give thanks to Him. In all things, give praise to Him. In all things, give glory to Him. He delights in and demands our glory, and the truly remarkable thing is to realize that even if we “check all of the boxes,” so to speak, yet give none of the glory to Him, His will is not being done on earth as it is in heaven.
Is God the means by which you get what you want, or is he truly the end goal, the Lord over your life? Glorify God in your thanksgiving, and remember that faith in Jesus is what saves. Let’s pray.