The "Got Milk?" ad campaign has been very successful. It's short, memorable, and promotes the product. The diary association took the campaign international. That's when they discovered they had a problem. The billboards that asked "Got Milk?" in English, in Spanish asked "Are you Lactating?" So with our text. It exposes our problem with miracles. Just what do we think of when asked, "Got miracles?"
There are 2 miracles in this text. The expected one and the unexpected one. The unexpected one is the lepers being healed. Leprosy is an infections disease caused by a bacterium. It affects the skin and nerves, so that bit by bit parts of the body die and fall off. I don't think it too strong to say that almost nobody expected to be healed from leprosy. The leper was regarded as one already dead because there was no known cure. The rabbinic writings have no medical or magical cures or even suggestions to treat the symptoms.
Not even the 10 lepers come to Jesus for healing. They come to Him as "Master" not Lord, not Christ, not Son of David. And they don't ask for healing but mercy. Contrast this to the leper in Luke 5. Dr. Luke tells us that the man had an advanced case of leprosy. He asked not for mercy which could be shown many different ways, he asked to be made clean from the disease. And he didn't call Jesus master' but "Lord."
Still all ten of the lepers were healed. Jesus gave the command, "Go, show yourselves to the priests," and with that command there was an implied promise of healing. The priests were the ones who could admit the lepers back into the worship life of the Church. They had the official duty to declare if someone was over leprosy. There were many skin conditions that were similar to leprosy which people did get over. By commanding them to go "show yourselves to the priests" Jesus is promising that those priests will find them healed.
They had come to Jesus for mercy and He promised healing. The 10 believed the promise and did what Jesus told them to do, and behold, they were healed. As they head for the priests, decaying flesh grows pick and warm, missing fingers, lips, and ear lobes are restored. The stench of rotten flesh is gone. This is far more than they expected when they asked for mercy. This was the unexpected miracle.
There was an expected one too. The expected miracle was the creation of saving faith in the lepers. Conversion, spiritual healing, is no less a miracle than the physical one of cleansing from leprosy. As a leper's flesh is diseased, decaying, and dying, so a sinner's soul. As a leper is helpless over against his physical disease, so a sinner is helpless over against his spiritual disease. As a leper couldn't help himself be cleansed, so a sinner can't help himself be saved. Jesus must do it all.
Jesus expected the miracle of conversion. When the one leper returned, Jesus asked "Where not all 10 cleansed?" Jesus asks that in such a way that we know He expects a "yes" answer. So, if all 10 were cleansed, where are the 9, Jesus asks? Was the foreigner the only one who got that Jesus was God in flesh and blood? Make no mistake; this is the faith that the Samaritan came back with. We read, "When he saw he was healed, he came back praising God." And where does the text say he went, "He threw Himself at Jesus' feet." And what does Jesus say? Not as the insert says, "You faith has made you well," but "Your faith has saved you." That's what Jesus expected to happen in the case of all 10 of them. By Jesus doing what only God can do, heal leprosy, they should've correctly concluded that Jesus is God and He is able to heal them from far more than leprosy.
Can you imagine the discussion among the lepers on their way to the priests once they saw they were healed? "We have to do as He commanded and go to the priests first." "The law requires us to go to the priests." Some thought they were healed because they did as Jesus commanded them. The Samaritan realized they were healed by the power of Jesus. He hadn't said, "You will be healed if you go show yourself to the priests." He had said, "Go show yourself to the priests" which implied that they would be healed by the time they got there.
When they were, the Samaritan is moved to return to Jesus in thanksgiving. Why? As a Samaritan, he couldn't be received back into the Church through the Jewish ceremonial law. In fact, pious Jews would regard him as much as on outcast without leprosy as he was with leprosy. In fact, his fellow lepers would've had nothing more to do with him once that they were healed. The Samaritan sees that in Jesus, He has fellowship with the true God.
Jesus expected the same miracle of conversion to happen with the other Jewish lepers. He was the fulfillment of their Old Testament faith. It was through Him that they had access to and acceptance by God. But they labored under the law still believing that in keeping it's rituals they had access to God.
How about you? Do you have access to and the acceptance by God? You certainly do if you have miracles. So, got miracles? That's the question this text and every miracle text pose. I've been a pastor for 24 years. I've not seen one disfigured cancer patient made whole; I've not seen one withered hand restored; I've not even seen one patch of psoriasis miraculously healed. The Pentecostals, the name it claim it crowd, and my own flesh expect such miracles, but they should be unexpected ones. Nowhere does Jesus promise that everyone or anyone I pray for will be healed. Jesus Himself didn't heal every leper, every illness. In fact, He leaves areas even when there are more people to be healed.
Scripture shows that God is able to heal people, but it also shows us that we aren't to expect that. Jacob is left with a limp; Paul is left with a thorn in his flesh. Paul doesn't heal the sick slave from Philippi. John the Baptist isn't raised from the dead. Not even Jesus stepfather, Joseph, is raised. Not only are we not promised healings, we are promised afflictions, persecution, and death. We are appointed as sheep to be slaughtered. We aren't to expect the miracle of physical healing, but we are to expect spiritual healing.
The Holy Spirit makes a point in the text of telling us Jesus is journeying to Jerusalem. He doesn't think we've forgotten that since He told us 4 chapters earlier. No, He wants us to remember why Jesus goes to Jerusalem: to be rejected by the Church, to be executed by the State, and to rise again on the third day. Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem to get you spiritual healing. If you don't get physical healing, you might die, but without spiritual healing you die forever. This is the Second Death. The First Death, physical death, is unavoidable. Heb. 9 says, "It is appointed for a man to die once." But the Second Death, dying in hell eternally, is avoidable.
Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem to rescue you from a leprosy that will devour your flesh forever. He goes bearing the sins of the world. If He has the world's sins, then He certainly has all yours too. That sin that bugs you so much, that worries you so much, that haunts your secret thoughts and dreams, is on Jesus as He goes to Jerusalem. And it's going to be on Jesus as He is nailed to that cross. It's going to be there when the Father pours forth all His righteous wrath, when He lets loose all the torments of hell. Your sins and especially that sin will be on the Body and Blood of Jesus till He declares, "It is finished."
Jesus declares He's done paying for your sin: that sin that makes you feel like a disfigured leper; that sin you remember virtually every time you say, "I a poor miserable sinner." God the Son says of that sin, "It's paid for." What about God the Father? He declares He agrees by raising Jesus from the dead. By raising Jesus from the dead God the Father declares, He knows of no sin anywhere, by anyone that is not paid for.
You've been healed. Forgiven of all your sins. The Law of God that hung over your head constantly accusing you has been fulfilled, satisfied, kept by Jesus. Go show yourself to your harshest critic. Show yourself to that person who can't forgive you. Show yourself to the Devil who always accuses you. Show yourself to your tender conscience that pricks you. And know that even they can't find one single sin of yours that Jesus didn't already suffer, die for, and satisfy the wrath of God for. Know that they can't point to one Law of God that you need to keep before you can go to heaven because Jesus kept them all already. Know that although these will never believe you are really forgiven, you are to believe what Jesus says.
That's the miracle that you got. Though most of the world, all devils, and even your own sinful nature, don't believe Jesus really saved you, healed you from spiritual leprosy, you do. As the leper returned to Jesus giving thanks, so you return to Jesus here giving thanks. Though most of the world doesn't see that Jesus is even here or worth returning to, you do. As the leper threw Himself at Jesus' feet and thanked Him for the miracle, so you do here. The Greek word for thanks is eucharist. The text says, "He threw himself at Jesus' feet and eucharisted Him." Paul calls Holy Communion a eucharist, a thanksgiving. We thank Jesus for eternally healing our body and blood by returning here to eat and drink His body and blood.
Expect this miracle. Expect that as often as you confess your sins, Jesus is faithful and just and will forgive them. Expect that you will always find here a gracious God and Savior in Jesus. Expect that He will never fail to be present in flesh and blood to receive your thanks. Got miracles? You bet you do. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost XXI (20071021); Luke 17: 1-10