Dear radio friends,
Where are the nine? This was a question that Jesus asked once of His disciples (Luke 17:17) after He had just cleansed ten lepers, only one of whom returned to give thanks. And he was a Samaritan.
Leprosy in the Bible is a picture of the sinfulness of our human nature. When we consider the awful plague of leprosy, we could easily turn away and say, “I don’t want to think about it.” But it is very important that we discuss the plague of leprosy briefly, because in the Bible it pictures our own sinful nature as we are apart from Jesus Christ, the filthiness of our sin, and our great need of the grace of God in Jesus Christ to cleanse us from our sins.
The plague of leprosy began with a small patch on a person’s skin. The spot would become glossy, then scaly, and then the skin would become numb. The person would begin to lose feeling and sensitivity in the affected areas. One then had to become very careful in shaving himself or in bruising himself because he would not feel any cut or hurt. Eventually the infected area would become an ulcerous sore. There was no healing. The sore would begin to emit blood and water and ooze all the time. The skin of the person would begin to bunch up, especially around the eyes and the ears and the nose, so that he would begin to look like a lion. The skin would feel like an elephant’s. It would begin to blister. Soon the leprosy would spread to the fingers and the feet until parts would fall off – the ears, the nose, the fingers, the feet. It was a hideous, terrible disease!!
But there was more to it. It was not just what you could see. Inwardly the disease was at work at well. The voice of the leper was affected. It became hoarse and raspy. And the odor of a leper would become a great stench. So great was the stench, we are told, that a taste would be left in the mouth of anyone who would smell the leper.
A leper was like a living dead man. Death and decay was at work. Yet the man was alive. In fact we are told that in the Middle Ages there would be a funeral for a person who would contract leprosy even though the person were yet alive.
The law of God in the Old Testament required that the pitiful men and women who were infected with this plague of leprosy could have no fellowship with others. We read in Numbers 5:2, “Command the children of Israel, that they put out of the camp every leper.” The leper had to leave his family and live in rudely constructed huts in a colony of other lepers without the daily, common fellowship of the people of God or their own families. And the law said that as they approached anyone, they had to cry out, “Unclean, unclean,” that no unsuspecting person would come near them.
Why? The answer is not what we might imagine. It was not because the disease was contagious. We might come to that conclusion, that these requirements were simply for the harsh reality of quarantine and for proper health. Whether or not leprosy was contagious is still an open question. But the reason for the separation of the leper from the fellowship of other people was not to prevent its spread. Rather, it was because God would teach the consequences of sin. God would teach the result of untreated and unrepentant sin. What does sin do to us? Sin does not only become as leprosy, as a stench and a decay, and bring upon us great misery. But the consequence of our sin is always a destruction of fellowship. It is always the breach of fellowship with each other in the church and, above all, with God. Sin isolates. Sin enslaves. Sin brings into bondage!
There was no known cure for leprosy. I said that the Scriptures teach us about leprosy because they want to show us a vivid picture of the reality of our sinful nature. The Bible says that, when you are tempted by your sin, or when you begin to think of sin, you ought to think of leprosy, because that is what sin is. Sin deforms us before God. Sin makes us numb and insensitive. Sin makes us ugly. Sin makes us a stench in the eyes of God. Not just our actions. Sin is in our nature. Sin is as an oozing sore in us. It is a rottenness in us by nature, as we are apart from Christ. And that sin spreads. It spreads death. It gets worse and worse and corrupts more and more. That is true of an unbeliever who gives himself over to sin and begins to find that it is impossible to flee from the very sin that is making him miserable – the drugs, the alcoholism, the pornography. Unbelievers cannot flee from the very thing that is making them miserable. That is also true for a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. A believer in the Lord Jesus Christ must learn that sin is not manageable, but sin kills. When a child of God in folly deliberately gives himself over to his own sin, then in a very short time he loses spiritual feeling. He loses a sense of shame. It does not make his skin crawl anymore. He becomes numb. And after a while he becomes dumb before it, he cannot flee, he does not want to flee.
because they want to show us a vivid picture
of the reality of our sinful nature.
Once again, we must remember not only that leprosy is a picture of what sin is and what it does within us. It also shows us that sin is the disruption of fellowship with one another in the Lord and with our God Himself. Sin separates us. Just as the leper was banished into his leper colony, so also sin separates us from the people of God, from the church, from other Christians, and our own family. Sin does that. And you need to know that. Sin creates a great big wall. Is there a big wall between you and your Christian parents, between you and your fellow believers in the church, between you and your God? When you go to pray, spiritually do you dare look up? Do you feel a coldness? Are you walking impenitently in your sin?
That happens in marriage, in the home, in the church, in the communion of saints. A walk in deliberate impenitence always creates a great big barrier. And sinners, you and I, feel it. If Christ is in you and you grieve Him in your own impenitence and willfulness and sin, then you experience that you cannot be close – to your wife or child or to your God – until the grace of God brings you to repentance. Then the barriers fall away.
Now the world says to that, “Nonsense. That’s not so. We can have fellowship. Everybody can have his own sin, and yet we will have great fellowship.” Well, you will have fellowship in sin, but fellowship in sin is not fellowship but death! Utter, cursed misery and death.
But God says, “If you are Mine, if you belong to Me by the power of My love and grace, then you will learn that you will not have fellowship with other Christians, not true heart-fellowship, in the way of deliberate sin. And you will not have fellowship with Me in the way of sin. You cannot experience My favor.” The psalmist says in Psalter #174, a versification of Psalm 66, “If in my heart I sin regard, My prayer He will not hear” – because the heavenly Father in His righteousness withdraws the sense of His favor from His willful child.
withdraws the sense of His favor
from His willful child.
The ten lepers of Luke 17 cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” That cry represents the truth that by grace the child of God is given, out of the depths of misery, to cry out unto God in Christ, “Jesus (Jehovah salvation), Master (Lord, conquering One).” By grace, God directs us to His Son.
The Lord Jesus Christ said to these ten lepers, “Go, show thyself to the priest.” I like that very much. That shows His power. The Old Testament law said that the cleansed leper was to go and show himself to the priest. The Lord, without a great big to-do, simply says, “Go, show yourselves to the priest.” In regal, sovereign power, He speaks as if it already is accomplished. For Him to will, means that it is. I like that because so often today, in the supposed miracles that so many pastors and televangelists are able to do, you have this great big to-do. The person comes up and the “minister” stretches forth his hands, trembling, upon the forehead of the person. And the person goes through spasms and suddenly falls over backward. There is this great big to-do. That is all false. That is all against Christ. That is all contrary to the truth of the gospel. That is all a big show. That is all it is. No, when the Lord speaks, He simply speaks His living grace powerfully into the heart. He speaks as the Master, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” And He restores us by grace into His fellowship, back into the fellowship of God. That is the best part of salvation. The best part is that we are restored to God. That barrier comes down. We are mercifully received back into the fellowship of God.
And this one leper returns to give glory to God. The other nine outwardly are healed; inwardly they do not know this wonderful grace and mercy of God. But the one returns to give glory to God. That prompts the Lord’s question: “Where are the nine? Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?” All ten were cleansed outwardly. We do not read that the other nine, who did not return, got their leprosy back. But what do they represent? Those nine represent those who receive the outward benefits but do not have true faith. They have faith in the sense that it was a counterfeit faith. They believed that Jesus could help them, that there were certain benefits that they could find from Him. But they did not want Him to be their Lord. They wanted Him only for what He could do for them. Therefore, they are examples of hypocrites, of those who come outwardly ever so close, but t!he inward reality is not in them. They did not feel a sense of sin. They did not feel an inexpressible urge to thank God. They did not have a compulsion to fall down before God and to renounce their own will and to cry out, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?”
That makes it very applicable. How many are following Christ for outward benefits? How many follow because, after all, they say, “We should have a little religion,” and “what are other people going to think about us if we don’t go to church?” and “I can see certain advantages, yes, I think it is a good thing. I think it is a good thing for my kids,” they say. But do you come after Christ because, by grace, you feel bound to give glory to God for what He has done for you? Do you cry out, “I am Thy servant, Lord”?
What about serving Him? What about renouncing your own will? What about seeking His pleasure in all that you do? Do you want Christ only for the happiness and the benefits that He can give to you in the earthly, material sense? Is that why you follow Him? Do you follow Him because you think that emotionally or physically or monetarily He can give you this great feeling? Is that what you want from Him? Is that why you come? You want the benefits, and you do not want the stigma of an unbeliever, you do not want people calling you an unbeliever!
Where are the nine? The Lord says that many want Him for the external benefits, but they do not know the power of His salvation because they have not been given a sense of their depravity and their sins. That tells us that we must not become all impressed by numbers, by megachurches, by enthusiasm generated by great crowds and by dynamic preachers who bring a false gospel. Do not ask the question, “How many people go to that church? How happy are they on the way home from church?” But ask the question, “Where are the nine?” Where are you? Where are you today? Are you on your knees before the Savior? Or are you back on your own way of sin. Now that you’ve got this religion thing out of the way today, you can go back to your own way. Are you overwhelmed by gratitude? Are you on your knees to give gl!ory to God? Are you aware that it was by His grace alone that you are saved, so that all week long you live spiritually on your face before your Savior? You cry out to Him in gratitude for the forgiveness of your sins and you desire in all that you do to be to His honor and to His praise. And you depart from the ways of iniquity.
Where are the nine? Let that question hang there a little bit when you and I go about our daily walk today and are alone in the meditation of our own souls. Where are you? Are you in the majority who want Jesus only for the external benefits? Who want a little supplement to their life? Or are you the one who knows the misery of his sinfulness and the great mercy of God in Christ? You must go back to Christ time and time again each day to thank Him.
Let that question hang there a little bit
when you and I go about our daily walk today
and are alone in the meditation of our own souls.
The question is this: Do you know this Samaritan who returned to give thanks to Christ because that same response lives in your heart, that you must thank Him for the great salvation of grace? There was something that was worked in his heart. Yes, physically there was something that was worked in him. His skin changed back to the soft tones of flesh. His voice became clear once again. But that was only an outward picture of something wonderful in his heart. His heart now lived before God to give thanks to God. He rejoiced in the mercies of his God.
All of this showed itself when he came back to give thanks.
That was a powerful thing. Was the man’s family at home – that little child whom he had not held for years, his wife whom he had not embraced for a long time? Did he know where they lived? Did he want to go back and see them and hug them? Yes, oh yes. But, you see, there was something even more that claimed his heart and his soul. He had to return to give thanks to God.
Is that what motivates you today? Is that what makes you come unto Christ – the grace of God working in you to give Him thanks? Is that why you go to church – you have to lay thanks upon the altar of God? You go to church because you must, you must thank Him?
Is that what motivates day by day? You say, “It doesn’t matter what others say. It doesn’t matter what the multitude or the majority says. I must live my life spiritually before the face of God, giving Him thanks in all that I do.”
Where are the nine? No, where are you? Where are you before God? Are you that one thankful leper? Then praise Him with a loud voice for He has made you whole. He has saved you by grace alone. And that gratitude will show itself in all of your actions.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word. We pray that Thou wilt bless it unto our hearts. In Jesus’ name, Amen.