Luke 17:11–19 . . . Bible Study Summary with Questions

Only One Thankful Leper

Many of us are blind to the many blessings that God showers upon us daily: We awake to see the sun shining, but don't give thanks to God; we hear the birds chirping and see beautiful flowers and trees, but we don't realize that God has provided those wonders and given us the senses to enjoy them; we grumble about having to eat the same old meals at home, forgetting that many would gladly exchange places with us at our table; we complain about our jobs, forgetting that many would be grateful to have a job or the bodily strength to work; we complain about our lack of money, forgetting that we spend more on frivolities each month than many around the world earn as their total income.

The fact is, God has blessed each of us far more than we realize, far more than we deserve. It's 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 slight God; the only proper response is to glorify him from a thankful heart. Both responses, the improper and proper, are illustrated for us in today's story of Jesus cleansing the ten lepers. Sadly, only one of the ten responded properly. May we learn and remember this from our study: We should respond to God's blessings by glorifying him at Jesus' feet, expressing ourselves sincerely and gratefully from our thankful hearts.

Luke's "journey motif" shows Jesus proceeding toward Jerusalem where he'll meet with his appointed destiny. Traveling somewhere along the border between Samaria and Galilee, he enters a village and encounters ten leprous men. According to the Law, they keep their distance while recognizing Jesus and crying out to him for mercy. Rather than drawing near and touching them, as he did with the leper in 5:13, Jesus simply instructs them to "Go, show yourselves to the priests." There'd be no point in such action unless they were cleansed of their leprosy; yet at this point they weren't cleansed. They had to act with obedient faith. As they were going, they were cleansed.

But only one of the ten, a Samaritan, turns back to glorify God and give thanks to Jesus for his mercy and miraculous power. The strong implication is that the other nine were Jews. Luke seems to put this here to show readers the nation Israel's increasing rejection of Jesus, whereas this foreigner receives not only healing, but also salvation. Thus, Jesus demonstrates yet again that the way of salvation is open to all who call upon the Lord, but many who've received only worldly benefits from the Lord are in danger of missing that which they most need, namely, spiritual salvation of their souls.

We Should See Ourselves as Unclean before God and Man

In the Bible, leprosy is a dreaded disease that's a picture of sin. This is alluded to in today's text by the fact that the lepers are cleansed (vv. 14, 17, shown below). 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 to worship (Leviticus 14).

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" (Barclay). The Mosaic Law prescribed that the person be cut off from society, including his family. He had to wear torn clothing, keep his head uncovered, cover his lips, and shout "Unclean! Unclean!" wherever he went so he could effectively warn others to keep their distance (Lev. 13:45).

Here's the kicker: The Bible wants all of us to see ourselves, in front of Christ, in our natural state as "spiritual lepers" in his sight. God wants us all to see that our hearty hearts are deceitful and desperately sick with sin (Jer. 17:9), unclean before the holy God. Just as this awful disease of leprosy separated the leper from the community, so sin causes distance and rupture in human relationships, often among family members. Because only God could miraculously heal this dreaded disease, so only God can heal and cleanse the human heart from the awful disease of sin.

The proud refusal to acknowledge our true condition as spiritual lepers is one of the main reasons people don't receive God's salvation in Jesus Christ. We're all prone to say, "I may have my faults — after all, I'm only human — but I'm not a terrible sinner; I'm a basically good person." That's what the Pharisees said about themselves, and they missed seeing and accepting God's Savior. If these lepers had thought, "We may be sick, but we're all not that bad," they wouldn't have cried out to Jesus for mercy. They knew that they were goners unless God in his power had mercy on them. For us, the first step in receiving God's blessings is to acknowledge our desperate condition before him.

We Should Call Out for Mercy as the Lepers Did

In addition to appearing sinful, leprosy also attacked the vocal chords, allowing the men to probably only make a raspy sound; but that didn't stop them from raising their voices and crying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" The gracious Lord Jesus will never turn a deaf ear to a cry like that!

These men knew Jesus by name, yet they also called him Master, acknowledging his authority. In uttering this cry, the lepers took their proper place under the Lord Jesus' sovereign authority. We must heartily put him in his proper place as Lord and Master, when we come to him and speak with him. Thankfully, God delights to show mercy to those who cry out for it. Whatever your need, call out to the Lord. He is full of mercy.

We Should Respond as the Lepers Did with Obedient Faith

When Jesus healed the leper in 5:13, he healed him before instructing him to go and show himself to the priests. But here Jesus commands the ten lepers to go and show themselves to the priests, without any evidence of healing. In this, their situation was similar to that of Naaman the Syrian, whom Elisha told to go and bathe in the Jordan River (2 Kings 5:10–15). It was a test of faith for them to go without first seeing some evidence of healing.

Suddenly by the Lord's power, all ten lepers were restored to perfect health. If they'd previously lost fingers and toes, they'd have been restored. All of the devastating effects of this terrible disease were eradicated. It must have been a marvelous experience! Apparently, only the man who returned to give thanks to Jesus was saved spiritually. But, in spite of that, the cleansing of the lepers highlights what God does to the souls of those of us who call out to him for our salvation: He instantly cleanses us from all our sins; he clothes us with the perfect righteousness of Jesus; and he restores and heals our souls.

The lepers didn't simply believe intellectually; they had a faith that obeyed Jesus' word. We too must personally exercise a genuine obedient faith in him with regard to his promise to save us from our sins. But even though in one sense all ten lepers illustrated a "saving faith" in that they took Jesus at his word and acted upon it personally, in another sense the nine fell short of their "saving faith," getting only what they wanted from God in terms of healed bodies, without going farther; they never returned to Jesus to receive salvation of their souls, receiving only the temporal benefit of healed bodies. It was only to the one thankful leper who returned that our Lord proclaimed, "Your faith has saved you."

In the same way, it's possible to receive special blessings from God in answer to prayer, such as a healing from a serious illness, and yet to fall short of the best blessing of all. Thus, when we realize that God has blessed us with an earthly blessing, we mustn't become satisfied with that and stop there.

We Should Do as the Lepers Did and Praise God

The thankful leper represents the full fruit of having and presenting a "saving faith," namely, lips that give joyful thanks — praise — to his name. The fact that this man was a Samaritan shows that the way of salvation is open to all who'll call upon the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, Jesus calls him a foreigner. Note that this leper's praise was sincere: He praised and glorified God "in a loud voice" (v. 15). If, before, his voice had been hampered by leprosy, it was freed up now, and he exercised it with full force! Others may have been embarrassed by his exuberance, but he didn't care. Jesus had healed him and he was going to make it known. This leper's glad praise should be that of every person whose heart has been healed by Jesus' mighty power.

Twice, in fact, we read that this man praised God (vv. 15, 18). To glorify God is to extol his attributes and his actions. To praise Jesus is to exalt him, to let others know how great he is, especially in your own life. Have you verbally praised him this morning? Yesterday? Last week? Is it too long ago to remember when you joyfully praised Jesus' name aloud to him? He covets your praise this instant and thereafter. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Further, the man was previously required to keep his distance from Jesus because of his leprous condition; now he approaches Jesus, falling on his face at Jesus' feet, taking the proper place of worship. We cannot properly glorify God if we don't fall at Jesus' feet in adoration of him. He's the eternal God who willingly left the glory of heaven to come to this sinful earth to suffer and die for us. We must responsively spend much time at his feet as we praise him aloud and joyfully.

The man's position on his face at Jesus' feet also shows the proper attitude of humility that should characterize those who've been healed by his mercy. This leper wasn't maintaining his dignity and self-esteem. He knew that he'd been healed totally because of Jesus' mercy, and so he readily fell on his face at Jesus' feet. He "thanked him" (v. 16). It can be difficult for us to express our outright thankfulness to the Lord. However, at its core, thanksgiving is an act of humility.

Clearly, Jesus was pleased with the one leper's expression of thanks, yet he grieved at the absence of the other nine. Every day we should be filled with gratitude and verbally praise him for all that our Savior did for us while we were spiritual lepers in his eyes.

It Makes You Wonder . . .
  • Q. 1  Why does Luke point out that the lepers weren't healed until they started to obey Jesus' command (v. 14b)?
  • Q. 2  What is it about the one leper's actions that showed his thankfulness (vv. 15–16)?
  • Q. 3  Is there something that prevents you from joyfully and reliably thanking God for his blessing you?

This Week's Passage
Luke 17:11–19

New International Version (NIV)
[To view it in a different version, click here; also listen to chapter 17]

Jesus Heals Ten Men With Leprosy

11Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!"

14When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed.

15One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him — and he was a Samaritan.

17Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."