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Lessons on Living from a Leper

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Luke 17:11–19; John 11:54

Gratitude is a mark of a follower of Christ. We should never cease to recall God’s past work in our lives, as well as His continuing work, and praise Him for it all.


At this point in our chronological study through the four Gospels, and the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, the Lord is only a few weeks from His arrest and crucifixion—and He knows it.

Just a few days earlier, the Lord miraculously raised Lazarus from the dead. This took place in the village of Bethany, on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives and only a couple of miles from Jerusalem. The raising of Lazarus, as amazing as it was, only hardened the resolve of the Jewish leaders to kill Jesus whenever they could get the chance. In fact, the Gospel of John records for us that the religious leaders, including the chief priest, “made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus” (John 12:10-11).

What do you do with the resurrection evidence of Lazarus, who’s now back on the streets? Well, you try to put him to death so he cannot testify of the power of Christ. How is that for hardness of heart? So now the religious leaders are hoping to kill both Lazarus and Jesus!

But Jesus is fully in control of His destiny, and no matter what the religious leaders are planning, He still has work to do. And part of that work includes further training of His twelve disciples. Back in John 11:54 we are told of a change that followed Lazarus’s resurrection:

Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the [Jewish leaders], but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.

Ephraim was around fourteen miles north of Jerusalem. It was near the wilderness region and secluded enough to keep the crowds away for a little while.  

Now back in Luke 17:11 we read, “On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.” Apparently, after a little while in Ephraim, Jesus and the disciples traveled farther north. 

The ultimate goal of their journey is Jerusalem to the south, so it is possible Jesus planned to join some supporters and family members from Galilee who would soon make their pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover.

Luke tells us that as they enter a village, they are confronted by ten lepers who cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (verse 13).

Jesus’ response is interesting. He does not immediately heal them; He says to them in verse 14, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” This was what a person cured of leprosy was supposed to do. The priest would examine the person to determine he was cured and could reenter normal life and worship. But these lepers are not healed yet; so, Jesus is effectively telling them to take a step of faith and start heading over to the local priest. The Bible records, “And as they went they were cleansed.”

Charles Ryrie pointed out that “leprosy appears in two forms. One affects the nerves and the other the skin. It is the latter which seems to be the type spoken of everywhere in the Bible.” When this kind of leprosy appears, swelling affects the face, the legs, and the feet; the skin becomes dry and scaly. Ulcers occur and often spread, causing disfigurement.[1]

So here is the picture. These men believe Jesus can cure them. And all ten are healed. As they leave to head over to the priest, they notice that their bodies feel differently. They remove rags from skin ulcers and perhaps watch as the ulcers disappear. They see and feel something miraculous happening to them.

Can you imagine the joy as these lepers discard their filthy rags and, now without pain in their once-swollen joints, pick up the pace—maybe even begin to run?

But then we read this:

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. (verses 15-16)

This man knew the seriousness of his condition. He knew he was helpless. And he recognized that Jesus had healed him. And he recognized the Lord’s grace in all of this—that Jesus did not have to do this. He could offer Jesus nothing but gratitude and praise.

Then Luke adds this significant note in verse 16: “He was a Samaritan.” This implies that the other nine were Jewish. Jesus says, “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (verse 18). The Greek word for “foreigner” (allogenēs) was typically used to describe pagan idolaters, who were unable to enter the temple precinct to worship God even if they wanted to.

So Jesus is setting up a rather ironic contrast between this one grateful Samaritan and the ungrateful Jewish lepers who were healed. The Samaritan is the only one who voices any kind of acknowledgment of God’s mighty work.

Let me ask you something: Has God done anything for you? Of course He has! Romans 5:8 says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We are corrupt; we have a terminal case of sin. We have nothing to offer God but rags and the disfigurement of sin. So, when is the last time you thanked God for His work in curing your sin problem, by His grace?

And beyond that, as people of God, we ought to follow this Samaritan’s example and be different—and let me tell you, if you are thankful for God right now, you are different! We should recognize that God has worked and is working in our lives. And for that we owe Him our gratitude.

Well, this is one noisy leper. He is shouting out to the people in this village what God has just done for him. God has worked in his life, and he is not about to keep it to himself.

The other nine apparently don’t care about Jesus—they are focused on the healing. The majority of people—even Christians—act the same way today. This healed leper gets it; he realizes that everything he is and everything he will be is due to Jesus working in his life. Therefore, he glorifies God and gives thanks to Him.

This reminds me of what the psalmist said in Psalm 30, verses 10‑12:

Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper! You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

So, this one man comes back to Jesus and does the only thing he can do in adoration. He kneels down before Jesus and gives glory to God.

Now if we are like this leper, we will recognize that God has worked in our lives—that God is continually at work in our lives—and we will thank Him for what He does in our lives. But let me point out an important principle here: Expressing gratitude for a blessing just might lead to a greater blessing in life.
And for this leper, it is a blessing that will last forever. Listen to what Jesus says to this man who has come back to fall at His feet and praise God: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (verse 19). Literally translated, He says, “Your faith has saved you.”

Out of gratitude for what Jesus did for him physically, the healed man comes back to thank Jesus and to praise God, and he discovers that Jesus also has the ability to heal him spiritually. Jesus affirms this man’s faith and gratitude by effectively saying to him, “You are now saved forever.”

[1] Charles Ryrie, The Miracles of Our Lord (ECS Ministries, 2005), 43-44.

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