Hey I’m Josh Hawkins, this is episode 107 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the last episode I gave a general overview of the events of Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem for the Passover in 29AD that each of the Gospels record. I noted how He had gone back to Galilee briefly, perhaps just to see His family one last time and travel with them to the feast. Jesus is only perhaps a couple of weeks away from crucifixion, and there are a series of important events that we’re going to cover over the next several episodes that will make a lot more sense when we have the context and setting in mind. In today’s episode, we’ll see Jesus cleanse ten lepers on His way to Jerusalem, and we’ll discover something significant about miracles and repentance. So let’s read from Luke 17:
"On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed."
(Luke 17:11–14 ESV)
Luke says that Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem and is passing along between Samaria and Galilee. As you can see on the map, it seems like Jesus is somewhere up in this region. As we saw in episode 105 and 106, Jesus had gone north back to Galilee after raising Lazarus in Bethany and then withdrawing to Ephraim with the Twelve. So now He’s headed south, likely with a larger band of travelers who are also heading to Jerusalem for the Passover.
Jesus then enters a village in this region and is met by ten lepers. Back in Episode 58 we saw Jesus cleanse a leper up in Galilee. Mark chapter 1 records that scene. People with leprosy at the time were rejected and avoided because the culture was so focused on ritual purity. Lepers were required by Leviticus 13 to should “unclean! unclean!” wherever they went so that those who were ritually clean wouldn't be defiled. To have leprosy meant that you lived a miserable life, both physically and socially. Now I think it’s important to see that Luke’s Gospel has not recorded the healing of a leper before, let alone 10 lepers. Remember who Luke is? Luke is a physician, a doctor. He’s a guy who knows about sicknesses and leprosy. So Dr. Luke chooses to include this miraculous healing in his Gospel to provide even more evidence to show that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah.
As Jesus is entering a village, these lepers stood at a distance, as they were supposed to do. We’re not sure if the village Jesus was going into was infested with lepers, or if these guys just quickly gathered just outside the city because they saw that’s where Jesus was headed. They all cry loudly, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” And when Jesus saw them, He didn’t stop and pray that they would be healed, He didn’t go over and use some anointing oil He had in his pocket, He didn’t put His hand on them like He did to the leper in Galilee in Mark 1, and He didn’t even say to them “you’re healed!". All He said was “go and show yourselves to the priests.” Now it wasn’t like they needed to walk all the way to Jerusalem in order to be examined by a priest. According to Leviticus 14, any priest in Israel could declare them clean or unclean, provided that they presented themselves before him individually, not as a group. And Luke says that as they were on their way, they were cleansed. Their obedience and their confidence in who Jesus was led to the demonstration of a sign to confirm their belief. But as we’re about to see, the similarity between the lives of those ten lepers ends there, and only one of them turns back to Jesus. Let’s keep reading in Luke 17:
"Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan."
(Luke 17:15–16 ESV)
Luke tells us that when one of them saw that he was healed, he turned back and came back to Jesus to thank Him. The impression we get from the text is that this whole event might have only taken a few minutes from start to finish - from the time Jesus told them to go to the priest to the time when one of the ten came back. Just imagine what that must have been like for them. We have no idea how long these ten had leprosy. Even if it was a short time, the isolation and social pressure they felt must have been extremely difficult to bear. But now Dr. Luke says they had been completely made well! Luke then tells us that the man who returned was a Samaritan. Back in episode 52 when we looked at the woman at the well from John 4, I talked about how the Samaritans were considered illegitimate and were hated by the Jews, having many different beliefs than they did. Luke is essentially saying “the guy who came back… Well, you know how Jews and Samaritans don’t have dealings with each other… you’re not going to believe it, but he was a Samaritan!” This Samaritan is different than his countrymen and different from the 9 other lepers who were healed, who were presumably Jews and still on their way to see a priest. Jesus answered and said:
“Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
(Luke 17:17–19 ESV)
So what happened to the other nine? Did they all leave one another as soon as they saw they were healed and no longer had any reason to band together? Did the nine actually go to a priest and present themselves in their attempt to be obedient to the Law, while violating heart of it? Were the nine Jews too prideful because they considered themselves the blessed nation and thought it was their right to be healed and whole? Was there some sort of argument between the 10, where the Samaritan urged the other 9 Jews to go back to Jesus? Whatever it was, Jesus was grieved. Only a Samaritan came back to praise God and thank Him. Yet again we see the kindness of Jesus, the hardness of the hearts of the Jewish people, and the foreigner actually having more faith than the Jews themselves did. As Jesus would go on to later say, they did not know the time of their visitation, and this hardness would lead them to crucify their Lord and Messiah.
This event in the Gospels also says a great deal about miracles and what purpose they serve. In our day, we often think that if unbelievers could just see signs, wonders, and miracles, then they would become a believer and they would know that God really loves them and has a plan for their life. But I think we have to consider this story of the ten lepers right here as an example of what a sign or miracle does to the human heart. It’s not a guarantee that someone is going to believe something when they see a miracle, just as we saw with the 9 lepers. In the Gospels, there is so little spiritual value to miracles themselves, apart from the truth about Jesus and the need for repentance and faith in Him. The 9 experienced a total healing of their disease. The feeding of the 5,000 put a tremendous amount of food in peoples’ bellies. We see so many other events in the Gospels that show that it’s completely possible to experience the miraculous and have no movement of the heart that leads to bearing the fruits of repentance and having faith in Jesus. In cases like that, the miracle is the benefit that was sought, it was the goal to be obtained. In the case of the Samaritan, the miracle was the road to the benefit of confidence, assurance, and belief in who Jesus is. That’s why Jesus said to the Samaritan, “go your way, your faith has made you well”. This is an important distinction. Miracles can either lead someone away from Jesus and into a confidence in the flesh, but to one with a humble heart, a miracle can lead to repentance and faith. This is why throughout book of Acts, miracles are always accompanied by a message - not just a watered down “Jesus loves you and died for your sins” message, but a potent, Biblically saturated, clear word about the Jewish story, Jesus of Nazareth, who He is, and what He requires. I think we would do well as a modern church to learn from this.
Well in the next episode we’ll continue looking at Luke 17 where Jesus talks about the coming of His kingdom. I’d encourage you to go back and refresh your memory on the Maccabean Revolt, which I talked about back in Episode 35. Also, you might benefit as well from reviewing episode 50 where I talked about Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemus in John 3. Both of those episodes will help you to better understand what Jesus is saying to the Pharisees and His disciples in the next passage. You can find those episodes plus all of the others in this series on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com. If these episodes are encouraging or helpful to you, don’t forget to share them on social media and tag your post with the hashtag #gospels. God bless, and come back next time.