Follow Me: Lepers All Were We

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Lepers All Were We

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Follow Me: Lepers All Were We

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Over the years I have talked to war veterans who mentioned that when coming under enemy fire and seemingly moments away from death they prayed, “Oh God, if you get me out of this one, I’ll go to church every week.”

Were their pleas for rescue sincere? Sure! But in our human weakness, we stop thinking about what God has done for us and fail to remain thankful and committed. Time and distance create a cloudy amnesia to the intense need expressed in our moments of desperation. Words under pressure are momentarily sincere, but at the end of the day talk is cheap.

Remembering where, when and how we personally encountered God’s intervening love is one of the surest markers that we are responding to Jesus’ invitation of “Follow Me” (see Matthew 4:19 Matthew 4:19And he said to them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.
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; John 21:19 John 21:19This spoke he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he said to him, Follow me.
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). It’s the stepping stone to a new and different life—no longer alone. It’s a key factor enabling others to know through our witness that their life need not be destined towards despair, but to wellbeing unimagined. Grateful remembrance is the necessary springboard to a transformed existence.

Such is the encounter discovered in Luke 17:11-19 Luke 17:11-19 11 And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the middle of Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: 13 And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. 14 And when he saw them, he said to them, Go show yourselves to the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. 15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. 17 And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? 18 There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. 19 And he said to him, Arise, go your way: your faith has made you whole.
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, where Jesus, in moving through the adjacent regions of Galilee and Samaria on His trek towards His ultimate rendezvous with destiny in Jerusalem, encounters 10 lepers. Time is precious, yet important lessons will be presented among those Jesus personally encounters that day—lessons that are also for us.

Jesus enters where hope is lost

When He came to a certain village, 10 desperate men “lifted up their voices” in crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:13 Luke 17:13And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.
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). It’s here that Jesus enters where hope is lost.

We are not told the composition of the 10, except that some were Jews and at least one was a Samaritan. These may have ostracized one another earlier in life, as Samaritans were considered by the Jews to be “half-breeds” and their religion to be worthless and contrary to God. They were the “others” to be loathed and despised. But now they are bound as one in adversity, for all are lepers.

Leprosy, a scourge of the ancient world, was a progressively deteriorating disease that attacked limbs and nerve endings of the body. Its festering lesions were external manifestations of the creeping corruption of the body below the skin’s surface.

Scripture here places these “walking dead” as standing “afar off” (Luke 17:12 Luke 17:12And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off:
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), a fact corroborated by other records of the customs of that day regarding infected individuals. They were to remain isolated, keeping at least six feet from others, 150 feet if upwind. They had to warn others of their presence from a distance to avoid contact with the land of the living and healthy. They were considered cursed, as the cultural mindset of the day linked physical ailments to personal or generational sin (see John 9:1-3 John 9:1-3 1 And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? 3 Jesus answered, Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
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).

The Son of God intervenes in the lives of these without hope, telling the 10 lepers, “Go, show yourselves to the priests” (Luke 17:14 Luke 17:14And when he saw them, he said to them, Go show yourselves to the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.
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). This was in alignment with Leviticus 14:1-32 Leviticus 14:1-32 1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the priest: 3 And the priest shall go forth out of the camp; and the priest shall look, and, behold, if the plague of leprosy be healed in the leper; 4 Then shall the priest command to take for him that is to be cleansed two birds alive and clean, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop: 5 And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water: 6 As for the living bird, he shall take it, and the cedar wood, and the scarlet, and the hyssop, and shall dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water: 7 And he shall sprinkle on him that is to be cleansed from the leprosy seven times, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose into the open field. 8 And he that is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, and shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean: and after that he shall come into the camp, and shall tarry abroad out of his tent seven days. 9 But it shall be on the seventh day, that he shall shave all his hair off his head and his beard and his eyebrows, even all his hair he shall shave off: and he shall wash his clothes, also he shall wash his flesh in water, and he shall be clean. 10 And on the eighth day he shall take two he lambs without blemish, and one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish, and three tenth deals of fine flour for a meat offering, mingled with oil, and one log of oil. 11 And the priest that makes him clean shall present the man that is to be made clean, and those things, before the LORD, at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: 12 And the priest shall take one he lamb, and offer him for a trespass offering, and the log of oil, and wave them for a wave offering before the LORD: 13 And he shall slay the lamb in the place where he shall kill the sin offering and the burnt offering, in the holy place: for as the sin offering is the priest’s, so is the trespass offering: it is most holy: 14 And the priest shall take some of the blood of the trespass offering, and the priest shall put it on the tip of the right ear of him that is to be cleansed, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the great toe of his right foot: 15 And the priest shall take some of the log of oil, and pour it into the palm of his own left hand: 16 And the priest shall dip his right finger in the oil that is in his left hand, and shall sprinkle of the oil with his finger seven times before the LORD: 17 And of the rest of the oil that is in his hand shall the priest put on the tip of the right ear of him that is to be cleansed, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the great toe of his right foot, on the blood of the trespass offering: 18 And the remnant of the oil that is in the priest’s hand he shall pour on the head of him that is to be cleansed: and the priest shall make an atonement for him before the LORD. 19 And the priest shall offer the sin offering, and make an atonement for him that is to be cleansed from his uncleanness; and afterward he shall kill the burnt offering: 20 And the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the meat offering on the altar: and the priest shall make an atonement for him, and he shall be clean. 21 And if he be poor, and cannot get so much; then he shall take one lamb for a trespass offering to be waved, to make an atonement for him, and one tenth deal of fine flour mingled with oil for a meat offering, and a log of oil; 22 And two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, such as he is able to get; and the one shall be a sin offering, and the other a burnt offering. 23 And he shall bring them on the eighth day for his cleansing to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, before the LORD. 24 And the priest shall take the lamb of the trespass offering, and the log of oil, and the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before the LORD: 25 And he shall kill the lamb of the trespass offering, and the priest shall take some of the blood of the trespass offering, and put it on the tip of the right ear of him that is to be cleansed, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the great toe of his right foot: 26 And the priest shall pour of the oil into the palm of his own left hand: 27 And the priest shall sprinkle with his right finger some of the oil that is in his left hand seven times before the LORD: 28 And the priest shall put of the oil that is in his hand on the tip of the right ear of him that is to be cleansed, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the great toe of his right foot, on the place of the blood of the trespass offering: 29 And the rest of the oil that is in the priest’s hand he shall put on the head of him that is to be cleansed, to make an atonement for him before the LORD. 30 And he shall offer the one of the turtledoves, or of the young pigeons, such as he can get; 31 Even such as he is able to get, the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering, with the meat offering: and the priest shall make an atonement for him that is to be cleansed before the LORD. 32 This is the law of him in whom is the plague of leprosy, whose hand is not able to get that which pertains to his cleansing.
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, which offered lepers acceptance back into the community if their condition was no longer detectable.

But notice that when Jesus gave instruction to go, they had not been healed—yet! Luke 17:14 Luke 17:14And when he saw them, he said to them, Go show yourselves to the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.
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further says that it was on their departure in obeying Jesus’ instruction that they were healed. Imagine their joy as the lesions disappeared and their flesh was given new life!

But in the next few verses Jesus calls out, by means of an exception, a terrible human malady—that of ingratitude: “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. [ What?! ] 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 17:15-19 Luke 17:15-19 15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. 17 And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? 18 There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. 19 And he said to him, Arise, go your way: your faith has made you whole.
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).

This story is our story

How do we personalize the lessons mentioned in these few verses? Is being grateful simply offering a big “thank you” as soon as possible, or is it something more profound?

Let’s first realize that Jesus’ earthly ministry was not accidental, but rather by design. His encounters were not random, but intentional. We simply don’t worship an accidental Savior. He didn’t stumble into that village or bump into those lepers because His GPS wasn’t working. He said early on, “I must be about My Father’s business” (Luke 2:49 Luke 2:49And he said to them, How is it that you sought me? knew you not that I must be about my Father’s business?
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).

The theme of Luke’s writing is crystalized in Luke 19:10 Luke 19:10For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
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, in which Jesus discloses that He came “to seek and save that which was lost.” Luke penned a Gospel saturated with stories about gentiles, women, lepers and people plagued with demons—all those who were culturally and conveniently kept “outside the camp.”

He later wrote the book of Acts, the early story of the Church of God, the Body of Christ with members joined together against spiritual isolation. The proverbial safe distance from that which is unclean is erased through Christ and His sacrifice. Luke never missed a beat in sharing God’s reaching out to those cast aside.

Yet those were not the only outcasts needing rescue. We should recognize that, under the lens of God’s perspective, we were all lepers at one time—spiritual lepers! Some of us may have forgotten this, and some may not realize this yet as God enters the village of our existence.

Sin can be likened to leprosy. Consider the story of Aaron and Miriam’s dispute with God’s role for Moses in Numbers 12. Sibling rivalry, personal pride and a spirit of accusation led to God briefly punishing Miriam with leprosy, externally exposing what was internally eating her up.

Scripture declares that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 Romans 3:23For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
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). It’s our sins, the spreading lesions on our heart’s nature, that caused us to be separated from God, with His face hidden from us (Isaiah 59:2 Isaiah 59:2But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
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)—a gap much wider than even 150 feet, this one of our own making.

But God heard your cry and hears our cry now, echoing the lepers’ cry of “mercy!” God the Father sent His Son who came willingly as the unblemished Lamb, One without any lesions in heart, soul or body—yes, “Him who knew no sin to be sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21 2 Corinthians 5:21For he has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
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), paying the penalty of sin so we could live.

Continually offering the sacrifice of praise

Hebrews 13 offers a colorful description of Jesus’ suffering and isolation from the land of the living for our sakes and what our response should henceforth be: “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate [like a leper]. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach … [And] therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:12-15 Hebrews 13:12-15 12 Why Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. 13 Let us go forth therefore to him without the camp, bearing his reproach. 14 For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come. 15 By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.
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).

What specific steps do we incorporate now in offering such sacrifices of praise as we heed Christ’s call of “Follow Me”? Perhaps until now you too have suffered from the plague of spiritual amnesia regarding God’s intervention. How do we, as the thankful Samaritan, glorify God with a loud voice?

As he did, we are to fall down in devoted praise and gratefulness—in worship. This is more than a quick head nod and obligatory “thank you.” We display how we value God’s initial and ongoing intervention—transforming us from the walking dead to a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17 2 Corinthians 5:17Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
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)—by yielding our thoughts, words and deeds 24/7 before the great and loving Giver of life, surrendering all outcomes into His hands. He alone is able to erase the distance that separated us from Him and others. He alone gives us a joint future of close fellowship in His family forever.

One vital way we worship Him is in acknowledging His grace, His favor, every day by treating every human being who is made in the image of God with dignity and respect. Perhaps it’s time to eliminate our own safe-distance rule regarding those we feel are outside God’s ability to reach. To heed Christ’s invitation of “Follow Me” is to understand that it’s not our role to choose who can be part of God’s family.

Like the Samaritan, we will discover that when God enters our lives He will always give us a job to perform. He could do everything all by Himself, but He wants us to partner with His grace our responding obedience.

Sometimes it won’t make sense to us in the moment, like when He told the lepers to go to the priests even before they were healed. But we need to come to understand that God sees things as if they already are! At the end of the story, we saw that Jesus gave another job to the thankful Samaritan: “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19 Luke 17:19And he said to him, Arise, go your way: your faith has made you whole.
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). He was to carry on in life in thankfulness, remaining aware of what had been done for him.

Again, God is always going to give us a job! When is the last time we asked God, “What is my job—did I miss it?” It may be a little job or big job. It makes no difference, because we worship a big God who takes our “little” and makes it great to serve His purposes.

One of my lifelong jobs and privileges is to encourage people about God’s ability to heal. When I was an older teen I was divinely healed of a dreaded disease. I have not forgotten and remain eternally grateful. As a minister for more than 40 years, I’ve had opportunity to share my story with those facing their “valley of the shadow of death.” Like the thankful leper, I obey our common Master’s call to go on our way in life with gratitude and share the story that God has given me. Are you sharing yours?

A grateful heart is a growing heart

Like the thankful Samaritan, let’s appreciate that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are always willing to give audience to a grateful heart. Gratefulness allows us to grow and gain in understanding about God’s purposes for us and through us. When the Samaritan returned in thanks, he discovered a missing piece of the puzzle in what made his healing possible when Jesus told him, “Your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19 Luke 17:19And he said to him, Arise, go your way: your faith has made you whole.
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).

What does God have in store to share with you as you return to Him again and again in accepting the most incredible invitation offered to mankind—“Follow Me”? Let’s find out together as we move forward till next we meet again in this column—we who have realized that we were all once lepers, and would remain so, but for the grace of our Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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