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Spending Time With Jesus: Lessons on Gratitude – Luke 17:7-19

26 Nov

In verses 7-19 Luke provides us with two lessons on gratitude. The first lesson is taught by our Lord to the apostles. He compares His relationship to them to the relationship between a master and his slave (verses 7-9). He then applies this to the attitude of His disciples toward their obedience (verses 10-19).

In the first instance, it is the master who is not obligated to have gratitude towards the obedience of his slave; in the second, it is the recipient of God’s grace who is to have gratitude toward God. Let us consider these two lessons on gratitude, and then seek to discover how they relate to faith and forgiveness.

The Hard-Working Slave Luke 17:7-10 (ESV)
7  “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8  Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9  Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10  So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

As was often the case, Jesus began to teach with a story. He speaks from the vantage point of a culture which practices, understands, and to some degree accepts slavery. We find this lesson very strange, even distasteful. Remember, however, that the slave belonged to his master. He belonged completely to him. Thus, the master could be very severe in his demands, especially in comparison to our culture.

In our society, our Lord might have told the story of the man who filled out his income tax form. The form was neatly filled out, with all the supporting facts and figures. Along with the form, mailed before April 15th, there was a check for the taxes which were due.

Any of the apostles would understand the relationship between a master and his slave. None of them, if they had a slave who had either been out all day plowing or tending sheep, would be welcomed home that night with a hot meal. Instead, the master would rightly expect his slave to clean up, change his clothes, and then fix him his meal. Only after this would the slave be free to care for his own needs. And when the slave had perfectly carried out all of his duties for the day, no one would expect the master to come to him, put an arm around his shoulder, and tell him how good a job he had done. Masters felt no obligation to pamper their slaves, nor to praise them.

Surely, Jesus might say, this man would not expect a call or a thank you note from the IRS or from the President of the United States, expressing the government’s gratitude for obedience to the laws of the land. Paying taxes is our duty, one for which we expect no gratitude if we obey exactly as required, but one which we expect punishment for failing to perform.

The Pharisees really believed that by their outward compliance with the Law—that is, their interpretation of it—that they could merit God’s favor. They saw, for example, that their prosperity was the logical and necessary outcome of their piety. Thus, they felt little gratitude toward God, for what they got, they deserved (in their minds). Gratitude, to them, was an obligation which fell more on God, than upon them.

God warned the Israelites of this danger, even before they entered the promised land. In the early chapters of the book of Deuteronomy, God reminded His people of His blessings, all of which were a matter of grace, in spite of their disobedience, grumbling, and all around nastiness. He also warned them that when they entered the promised land they would, once again, partake of the fruits of His grace, but that they would be inclined to credit themselves for these blessings. In other words, Israel would look upon God as obligated to bless them, rather than to be grateful for His grace.

Deuteronomy 8:11-20 (ESV)
11  “Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today,
12  lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them,
13  and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied,
14  then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,
15  who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock,
16  who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end.
17  Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’
18  You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
19  And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.
20  Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God.

How to Respond to God’s Blessings – Luke 17:11-19

This story, unique to Luke, highlights the faith of a foreigner in Israel. One of the major themes of Luke is the remarkable faith of Gentiles. Although many of the Jewish religious leaders rejected Jesus, a number of foreigners wholeheartedly placed their trust in him (7:1-10). This theme is continued in the book of Acts, where Luke wrote how the gospel message spread to the Gentiles after the initial rejection of it by many of the Jews.

17:11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.NIV

Jesus was still on his way to Jerusalem, knowing that he had an “appointment” there in order for his ministry to be completed (9:51; 13:22). Jesus was traveling along the border between Samaria and Galilee. Galilee was Jewish; Samaria was occupied by Samaritans, who were despised by the Jews.

17:12-13 As he entered a village there, ten lepers stood at a distance, crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”NLT

In the Bible, leprosy is a dreaded disease that is a picture of sin. This is alluded to in our text by the fact that the lepers are cleansed (17:14, 17). Leprosy rendered a man ceremonially defiled, so that if he was healed, he still had to go to the priest and carry out an extensive ritual of cleansing before he could be accepted back into the religious community and worship (Lev. 14).

In the Bible “leprosy” can refer to a number of skin diseases, but in its worst form, it was what we know as Hansen’s disease (R. K. Harrison, The New Testament Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. by Colin Brown {Zondervan], 2:463-466). This awful disease takes two forms (according to R. H. Pousma, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. by Merrill Tenney [Zondervan], 2:138-139). Both start with either a white or pink discoloration of a patch of skin. The more benign form is limited to this skin discoloration in a number of places, and even untreated cases heal in from one to three years.

William Barclay (The Daily Study Bible: Matthew [Westminster Press], 1:295) describes the hideous progression of the worse form of this disease:

It might begin with little nodules which go on to ulcerate. The ulcers develop a foul discharge; the eyebrows fall out; the eyes become staring; the vocal chords become ulcerated, and the voice becomes hoarse, and the breath wheezes. The hands and feet always ulcerate. Slowly the sufferer becomes a mass of ulcerated growths. The average course of that kind of leprosy is nine years, and it ends in mental decay, coma and ultimately death.

Leprosy might begin with the loss of all sensation in some part of the body; the nerve trunks are affected; the muscles waste away; the tendons contract until the hands are like claws. There follows ulceration of the hands and feet. Then comes the progressive loss of fingers and toes, until in the end a whole hand or a whole foot may drop off. The duration of that kind of leprosy is anything from twenty to thirty years. It is a kind of terrible progressive death in which a man dies by inches.

While the physical disease was horrible, the terrible social consequences in ancient Israel only added to the misery. According to Josephus, lepers were treated “as if they were, in effect, dead men” (cited by Barclay). The Mosaic Law prescribed that the person be cut off from society, including his family. He had to wear torn clothing, have his head uncovered, cover his lips and shout “Unclean! Unclean!” wherever he went to warn others to keep their distance (Lev. 13:45).

Jesus encounters ten such wretched men who had banded together. If the nine were Jews, their common tragedy had broken down the traditional separation between the Jews and the half-breed Samaritans, who were considered as Gentiles. They were all outcasts, separated from the common worship and separated from their own people, seemingly under God’s curse.

People who had leprosy were required to try to stay away from other people and to announce their presence if they had to come near. Thus these ten lepers were standing at a distance, outside the city, and they were crying out to Jesus for mercy. They called Jesus Master—they knew who he was and what he could do for them. They did not try to get close, however, perhaps because of the crowd that was probably still following Jesus.

17:14 He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, their leprosy disappeared.NLT

Sometimes leprosy would go into remission. If a leper thought his leprosy had gone away, the leper was supposed to present himself to a priest, who could declare him clean (Leviticus 14). Jesus sent the ten lepers to the priest before they were healed, for as they went, their leprosy disappeared.

Jesus did not touch these men or even speak words of healing as he had done for most of his healings. This time he simply gave them the command to go . . . to the priests.

Jesus was asking the men to respond in faith that, by their obedience, what they desired would happen. All the men responded in faith, and Jesus healed them on the way.

17:15-16 One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God, I’m healed!” He fell face down on the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.NLT

Jesus healed all ten lepers, but only one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned to thank him. It is possible to receive God’s great gifts with an ungrateful spirit—nine of the ten men did so. Only the thankful man, however, learned that his faith had played a role in his healing, and only grateful Christians grow in understanding God’s grace.

God does not demand that his people thank him, but he is pleased when they do so. And he uses their responsiveness to teach them more about himself.

The grateful man returned to Jesus, praised God, fell face down, and thanked Jesus. Luke added, almost as a parenthesis, that, by the way, this man was a Samaritan. As noted in the commentary at 9:52-53, the Samaritans were a race despised by the Jews as idolatrous half-breeds. The surprise of this story is that this Samaritan, used to being despised by Jews (except perhaps for his fellow lepers), would dare to go to this Jewish healer and prostrate himself before him. But this man’s faith went deep enough that he saw God’s hand in the healing. Once again Luke was pointing out that God’s grace is for everybody. The Samaritan not only portrayed the same trust that Jesus brought to the story of the Good Samaritan (10:30-37) but also set the stage for Jesus’ mission to all people (see Acts 8:4).

17:17-19 Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Does only this foreigner return to give glory to God?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has made you well.”NLT

Jesus had been distressed many times with his own people’s lack of acceptance and faith:

Luke 7:9 (ESV) When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
Luke 8:25 (ESV) He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”
Luke 12:28 (ESV) But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!

This time was no different. Ten men had been healed, but only one, the foreigner (referring to the man from Samaria), came back to give glory to God. Jesus was not so much concerned about being thanked as he was about the men’s understanding of what had happened. The other nine went off, free from leprosy but not necessarily free from sin through the salvation Jesus could offer. This one man was freed, so Jesus sent him on his way with the knowledge that his faith had made him well. He not only had a restored body, his soul had been restored as well.

FAITH AND HEALING
Jesus’ miracles of healing provide wonderful encouragement, for they reveal his power and his compassion. The difficulty comes from applying these accounts today. How should believers pray for themselves and loved ones who are sick or terminally ill? How should they believe? This story provides not all the answers but some insights into Jesus’ healing of the sick.
·       These lepers recognized Jesus’ authority. They did not demand that he heal them. They called out for Jesus to have mercy on them (17:13).
·       Jesus emphasized the necessity of faith (17:19). Just as in the parable of the mustard seed (13:18-19), it is not the size of faith but the presence of genuine faith that is important.
·       Jesus stressed public testimony. He directed the lepers to go to the priests (17:14) to demonstrate what God had done. Believers also must be prepared to give God the credit when they are healed.
·       Jesus highlighted the need for gratitude and praise to God (17:18). Will your attitude be grateful to God despite the outcome of your prayer? Can you trust fully in God’s care each day, living or dying?
Christians should always be the ones who return to Jesus and thank him for his mercy and power.

A story is told of a man who was lost in the woods. Later, in describing the experience, he told how frightened he was and how he had even finally knelt and prayed. Someone asked, “Did God answer your prayer?” “Oh, no,” the man replied. “Before God had a chance, a guide came along and showed me the way out.”

Like that man, many people are blind to the many blessings that God daily showers upon them. They awake to see the sun shining, and do not give thanks to God. They hear the birds chirping and see beautiful flowers and trees, but they don’t give it a moment’s thought that God has given those blessings and given them the senses to enjoy them.

They grumble about having to eat the same old cereal, forgetting that many would gladly exchange places with them and eat anything for breakfast.

They complain about their jobs, forgetting that many would be grateful just to have a job or even to have the bodily strength to go to work.

They complain about their lack of money, forgetting that they spend more on entertainment each month than many around the world earn as their total income.

Whether you are a believer in Jesus Christ or a person who does not even believe in God, the fact is, God has blessed you far more than you realize and far more than you deserve. It is important to understand how to respond properly to God’s abundant blessings.

To be oblivious to the fact that God is blessing you or, even worse, to take credit for His blessings as if you earned them by your own efforts, would be to slight God.

The only proper response is to glorify Him from a thankful heart. These two responses, the proper and improper, are illustrated for us in this story of Jesus cleansing the ten lepers. Only one of the ten responded properly. He teaches us that …

We should respond to God’s blessings by glorifying Him at Jesus’ feet from thankful hearts.

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2020 in Luke

 

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