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WHERE ARE THE OTHER NINE?

Luke 17:11-17:19
Key Verse: 17:17-18

Thank God for helping us to study about the attitude of unworthy servants. May we always remember that I am an unworthy servant, and may the attitude of an unworthy servant be embedded in our hearts and lives. Today’s passage excellently shows the importance for those who have received the grace of Jesus of giving thanks to God. Thanksgiving is the basis for our relationship with God. In the Garden of Eden, God wanted man to be thankful for all his provision, saying to the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the Garden…” At the first of the Ten Commandments, when God said, “I am the LORD Your God, who brought you out of Egypt, the land of slavery,” he wanted the Israelites to keep thankful heart for his mighty deliverance from their slavery generation after generations. But when they lost the heart of thanksgiving to God, they became more miserable than one could imagine. A thankful heart is the indicator of sound faith in God. On the contrary, unthankfulness is the root of sin, and the fundamental cause of the degradation of mankind (Ro 1:21). One important characteristic of God’s people is thanksgiving. In this study may we deeply learn the significance of thanksgiving to God.

First, ten lepers’ calling out (11-14). Look at verse 11. “Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.” It has been written recurrently that Jesus' destination in traveling through Perea following his Galilean ministry is Jerusalem. In 9:51, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem,”, and in 13:22, “Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.” Here in 17:11, “Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.” We see that Luke wanted the readers not to miss but trace Jesus’ travel toward Jerusalem. It is most certain that this part is not written chronologically. Again Luke in his writing is interested in an orderly account. So it seemed that this journey occurred, chronologically speaking, in the early part of Jesus' Perean ministry.

We know that Jews and Samaritans did not associate with each other because of a centuries-long feud. Ever since Samaritans lost their racial purity and became mixed in blood, the Jews despised the Samaritans. Then the Samaritans in turn resented the Jews. When the Jews in Judea wanted to go to Galilee, they did not pass through Samaria, but crossed the Jordan to the east, went to the north, and then re-crossed the Jordan to the west. But in John 4:4, Jesus went through Samaria. Here Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. In Jesus there is no border. Any border or barrier was destroyed through Jesus’ death on the cross, which was soon to take place in Jerusalem (Eph 2:14). So it is a meaningful description that on his way to Jerusalem he traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee, and thus exposed himself to the people in both areas. Traveling along the border, Jesus was going into a village. The village must consisted of a mixture of Samarians and Jews. It is true that anyone can come to Jesus with no feeling of border or barrier.

What happened at that moment? Look at verses 12 and 13. “As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’” The ten lepers could not live in the village of normal people. Most probably they lived in no man’s land because of their leprous human condition. We don’t know how they could go to the grocery store or market to buy basic food. In the movie Ben-Hur, family members brought food for them. In any case, their human conditions were very pitiful. They were segregated and distant people. Yet, they were not swallowed up by their pitiful human condition. They were not defeated by their fate. They must have been seeking a way out of their human destiny. So when an opportunity came, they did not let it go. They seized it. They saw from a distance Jesus going into a village. Then standing at a distance they called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master have pity on us!”

They might be different in many ways. Probably they were different in nationality. And some were shy in character, and others, not. Some were tall, and others, short. Some had family members and others, none. Yet, they were common in one thing: faith in Jesus, Master. With that one common point, they called out together, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” Perhaps, as an individual, each one would not have had enough courage and strength to call out to Jesus, but together, they could, mustering their guts. Nowadays we see that young people get together to sin boldly. But they should learn to get together to do some good. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” And Jesus said in Matthew 18:19-20, “…I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven…”

Many people in the world are bound by their human conditions, although some may live in physically better situations. In truth, all people are fatalistic in life under the power of sin and death. But calling out to Jesus makes all the difference, whatever situation one is in. Any one’s life destiny can be changed by calling out to Jesus, the Master of mankind. When M. Sarah and I went to Korea, we met our family members and relatives. Some who were supposed to be miserable in life due to their poor human conditions are truly happy and joyful and content on account of their faith in Jesus. On the other hand some others who were supposed to be well because of favourable human conditions were very pitiful, simply because they had no faith in Jesus. Calling out to Jesus is the most powerful factor in life in whatever circumstances.

How did Jesus respond when they called out to him? Look at verse 14. “When he saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed.” Hearing their crying out, Jesus’ eyes turned to them. He saw them calling out together for his mercy. It seemed that Jesus was so happy to see their calling out to him together that he was more than willing to heal them right away. So he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” Jesus wanted them to be assured of their healing at this encounter with Jesus, and go to the priests and show them the cleanness of their skin to pass their examination. And as they went in obedience to Jesus’ command, they were cleansed from the uncleanness of their leprosy. Certainly, they passed the inspection of the priests and could live as normal human beings.

In this part we learn that Jesus is the one to whom we should call out with any life problem and when any one calls out to him he accepts the calling out and truly helps.

Second, Jesus asked, “Where are the other nine?” Look at verse 15. “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.” This shows that all the others went on their own way after being healed. It must have been unfathomable to them that they had been healed of leprosy. Undoubtedly the healing had been their lifetime longing. They had been humble and desperate for the healing. They were in the need of the healer. But when they were healed and their lifetime longing was fulfilled, their heart state was changed. They had no more interest in the one who healed. When they were healed, they did not need the healer anymore. They went on their way to enjoy their lives with their healed bodies.

But one of them was different. He could not just follow all the others, when they went a wrong way. As for him, when he was healed, he could not forget the one who had such a marvelous power of healing that he had healed his leprosy. He had to encounter the healer again, not to get more benefit but to give thanks to him. He knew his healing came from God through Jesus. So he praised God in a loud voice. It is interesting that he praised in the same loud voice by which he had called out for the healing mercy of Jesus the Master. This showed that his heart state was the same before and after the healing. It would have been better for all of them to praise God as they had called out for the healing. When this was not the case, he did it alone. He could not miss expressing his gratitude to Jesus. Verse 16 says, “He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.” How could he be different from all others in this response? Certainly, he knew that he, as a Samaritan was unworthy and undeserving to receive such grace from Jesus, while the others most probably thought they, as Jews were worthy for the grace and took it for granted.

When the man was leprous, he had to stand at a distance when calling out. Now, however, he threw himself at Jesus’ feet. When he came back to Jesus, it was revealed to him that Jesus was not only the mighty healer but also the object of his worship. As he worshiped Jesus, throwing himself at his feet, there was no distance between Jesus and himself. Then, in that closeness, he thanked Jesus, and must have enjoyed intimate and sweet fellowship with Jesus. There is no favoritism in God. Anyone, even a foreigner can enjoy such fellowship and please God.

This could have been the end of the story, a happy ending. But it was not. There is a poignant part of this event, as in the parable of the lost son with the story of the older son. Look at verse 17. “Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except the foreigner?’” Here are three consecutive questions. The first question is, “Were not all ten cleansed?” the answer is, “Yes.” The second question is, “Where are the other nine?” The answer can be, “They are not here, but somewhere else.” The third question is, “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except the foreigner?” The answer is, “No, none.” Of course, when Jesus asked these questions, he did not expect the hearers to answer right away. These were poignant questions, an expression of his pained heart. To Jesus, the ten were all supposed to come back and thank him, praising God, because the ten had all been cleansed. But they did not. Only a Samaritan, a foreigner, came. It was likely that as for the other nine, their physical leprosy was gone, but spiritual leprosy remained. Though they left him with healed bodies, they carried the spiritual leprosy of no personal relationship with Jesus. This made Jesus pained in his heart.

In his pained heart, Jesus did not forget to bless the precious one, the Samaritan foreigner who came back to him with gratitude for Jesus’ healing grace. Jesus said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Surely it meant that the man had been well both in body and soul through his faith. Thus Jesus encouraged him to continue to live with faith, in close relationship with Jesus, throughout his life.

“Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?|” In light of these words, we can consider that there are many who have received the grace of Jesus. He gave himself as a ransom for many. He gave his life by dying on the cross for the salvation of our souls. Apostle Paul described the uncommon love in Roman 5: “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Ro 5:7-8). The Son of God gave his life for us, ugly and ungodly sinners because of his love. John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Yet, who can be deeply thankful for this amazing grace of Jesus and keep the thankful heart? To me it is indeed questionable. Although many things are involved in Christian life, we can say that Christian life is fundamentally one of responding to this wonderful grace of Jesus. Apostle Paul was truly thankful for this grace and said, “I have been crucified with Christ. I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” It has been my prayer that God may have mercy on me to come near the cross so that the grace of Jesus’ cross fill my heart and thanks for this grace be always alive in me.

Thanksgiving can be a measure of one’s spiritual condition. Colossians 2:6 says, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” And he said in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Thanksgiving is God’s will and is so pleasing to God. Luke’s gospel stresses the importance of praising God in thanks, beginning with the song of Mary and of Zechariah in chapter 1. Luke gospel ends with the disciples praising God in the temple. Thanksgiving makes our lives smooth, bright, powerful and victorious. On the contrary, ingratitude is like the spiritual leprosy which eats up our souls. It is the root of sin. When Eve was not thankful even when living in paradise, she became vulnerable and finally was tempted by the devil and sinned against God. According Romans 1:21, when people neither glorified God as God nor gave thanks to him, there was a serious problem in their minds and hearts. Their thinking became futile and their hearts were foolish and darkened. And the degrading of their body followed. There is a story about a tiger. The tiger was drowning. A man saw it and rescued the tiger. Then on the land, the tiger ate him up. This is unbelievable, but this unbelievable terrible thing can happen when one loses gratitude. Gratitude is not natural to fallen men. We should strive to learn gratitude, guarding our hearts against any kind of grumbling. It is said that the kingdom of God is the place of the gathering of thankful people, while hell, the gathering of unthankful people.

In this study we ask for God’s mercy that we may be founded among those who give thanks to God because of the wonderful grace of Jesus, who loved us and gave his life for us, and grow as thankful people of God.

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