The New Year
02/01/2005 at 6.30pm
Jesmond Parish Church
A sermon preached by Ramzi Adcock
I was reading a newspaper article this week and in that article, the writer divided the whole world into two groups. The first group were completely selfish, absolutely hopeless and the author was convinced deserved to be locked away for a very long time and never again allowed any luxuries in life. The second group was of course the opposite and were sincere, dignified and altogether decent people. What was the article about? It was about people who do and don’t send thank you notes to those who had give you presents at Christmas! It certainly made me feel very guilty, and although tonight we are also looking at saying thank you, our aim is not to all leave feeling guilty, but to have heard some important words that Jesus has to say to us as we begin this new year.
So, can you please turn to Luke 17:11-19 again because you’ll need to see that to follow what I’ll be saying. It’s on page 1051 in the red Bibles were you are sitting in the church.
Let me pray…
Father God. Thank you for the opportunity to meet together tonight and we pray that as we look at word now, you would speak to each one of us, by your holy spirit through your word and give us hearts and minds that are full of praise for you. Amen!This story that we are looking at comes in the second half of Luke’s biography of Jesus’ life, and in the part Jesus is on a journey to Jerusalem. There, he will be killed and then raise again after 3 days. But for now, on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus is teaching those who followed him. What we read is a part of that teaching on the way to Jerusalem. And we are going to read that together now. So follow from verse 11…
11Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him.Jesus is outside an unnamed village between two towns called Samaria and Galilee which are in modern day Israel. He’s not even in the village when he meets ten guys who suffer from leprosy.
The word “leprosy” doesn’t horrify us, but in biblical times, leprosy was a terrible problem. It was a skin disease that started with a white patch of skin that lost it’s feeling. The patch spreads all over the body and especially the face, so the disease is impossible to hide. It then attacks the internal organs as well. The nerve endings become numb so you cannot tell when something is hurting you, like fire burning your hand. The leprosy itself was not fatal but rots you away until eventually something else kills you.
But what was even worse was the way it separated you from society. It was contagious and so the law did not allow lepers to come near healthy people. We see that in Lev 13:45-6.
45Those who suffer from any contagious skin disease must tear their clothing and leave your hair uncombed Then, as they go from place to place, they must cover their mouth and call out, `Unclean! Unclean!' 46As long as the disease lasts, they will be unclean and must live must live alone outside the camp.Just imagine for a minute what that would be like. You think you’ve got leprosy and so you go to the priest who confirms your fear: "You are unclean." With those words you lose your family, your house, your future, your friends, your life. Maybe your wife meets you at the city gates with a bundle of clothing and bread and coins. She doesn’t speak. Some of your friends gather. In their eyes you see fear and pity and maybe relief that it wasn't them. They all step back. You turn away; your life has fallen apart.
Something like this had happened to each of the ten in that group and suddently, one day, they see Jesus coming along. They had obviously heard about Jesus. They knew his name. Who knows what they have heard about him, but they must have heard enough to be excited when they saw him. What do they do? Lets read on…Verse 12:
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!”They saw him, but they kept their distance. They stayed where they were and shouted to him. They called him Master, which is a term of respect. What did they shout? This is interesting: they did not ask for healing. They simply said, "Have pity n us." And we see how Jesus responded in v14:-
14When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.It looks like Jesus did not see them at first. But when he does he acts, but maybe not as you might expect. If you had read the whole of Luke, you would have seen in chapter 5 Jesus meet someone else with leprosy. That time, Jesus touched him and immediately healed him. That is how you would expect Jesus, who is God, to react.
But Jesus did not go up to them this time. He did not touch them in any way. He did not heal them immediately. He did not sprinkle dirt on them; or water or breathe on them, like he did during some of his other miracles. He just shouted back – “go and show yourselves to the priests!”
What is all that about! Again we need a bit of background. Earlier, we heard a reading from Leviticus 14 and in that we saw that if someone thought they were healed from a skin disease they had to go and see a priest who would tell them if they were OK to rejoin the community, after the ceremonies that we heard about. They were a little bit like “Health inspectors” who could decide that someone with a serious disease is safe to be let out of quarantine.
So what was the point of them doing that? Jesus was asking them to do what a healed leper would do. Because they were not yet healed, what Jesus asked them to do required faith. Do they trust him enough to risk making fools of themselves by trying to see a priest when they were obviously not any better?
If they listened to Jesus they would show that they had faith in him. And that is exactly what they did: every single one of them. They all went off to see the priests, exactly as they were instructed to. And as they went, all 10 were cleansed, which means healed. It must have been an amazing miracle! Today, when we can treat leprosy relatively easily with “Multidrug Therapy” we may miss quite how amazing this is. But there must have been an immediate physical change that you could see! Lets keep reading from verse 15:-
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.So far it’s been an exciting story, but now we get to a twist–only one of the ten comes back to thank Jesus. When you consider how terrible leprosy is and how amazing it is to be rescued from such a terrible situation, it is a real shock that only one comes back to thank Jesus. It is outrageous that nine out of the ten are completely ungrateful for what Jesus has done for them.
Is that too harsh? After all, he did tell them to go to the priests. Is it wrong that they just went on their way to be with their family and their friends? Weren’t they just enjoying the blessing that Jesus brought to their lives?
Well the one who came back was different. He loved his wife and children just as much as the others. He wanted to hug and kiss his wife and children just as much as the others. He wanted to spend time with his friends just as much as the others. He wanted to enjoy the blessing just as much as the others. But he had his priorities in order. He did not get so wrapped up in the blessing that he forgot the one who had blessed him. He put family and friends on hold so that he could worship the one that made his being with his family and friends possible.
This vivid picture is so familiar and so true: Which group to you most relate to? Who are you most like? While it may be a good idea to write thank you cards for your Christmas presents, have you forgotten the one who has given you the most?
I guess none of want to be like 9 who didn’t come back. But if you are not a Christian then harsh as I sounds that is a description of you. You want God’s gifts but you don’t want him. You want health and healing but you don’t want the Healer. You want to be saved but you don’t want the Saviour. Like it says in Romans 1:21
“For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him.” (ESV)Do you find their ungratefulness shocking? You should. It is just like in an episode of “the Simpsons”, where the family was sitting down for a meal and the dad asked Bart to give thanks before the meal. Bart said, “Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing.”
That may seem different to the 9 who did not say thank you, but it isn’t. Thanking God is basically making it clear that he is the Source of all we have. If we do not thank him, we are basically saying “we did this” or we are taking it all for granted.
But all of us – Christian or not – are in danger of becoming so familiar with our blessings that they fail to excite us and generate thankfulness. Someone once said that if the stars came out only once a year, everybody would stay up all night to take a look at them. We have seen the stars so often that we don’t bother to look at them anymore.
As we begin this New Year, there is no better way to start it than by praising God and thanking Jesus for all he as done for us, all he blessed us with. Like the lepers we too were once is a terrible situation: facing hell as punishment for rebellion against God and unable to get out of a spiral of sin and destruction that we were in. Now he has healed us. Are we grateful?
With the horror of the tsunami disaster and the reminder that all we have can be taken away in a moment, let us not forget to be a thankful people this year.
A good friend of mine taught me the habit of regularly sitting down and listing all the blessings that God had given me. When I have taken even five minutes to sit and WRITE it out, it has always humbled me. And we should encourage one another to be a grateful people.
In Colossians 3:15-17 we are told, in a paraphrase “…Be grateful. Let the message about Jesus completely fill your lives, Use his words to teach and admonish each other. With thankful hearts, sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. Whatever you say or do should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks to God the Father because of him”.
For impact, Luke chose this point to tell us that the man who comes back is a Samaritan. If this story is familiar, or if you have no clue what a Samaritan is, the impact of this will be lost. Samaritans were the enemies of the Jews and they were seen as foreigners. The point is that if you had to predict who would be the most likely to respond to Jesus it would not have been him. Those who respond to God may not be the ones we expect.
But Jesus has not finished yet. Look again at verse 19:-
19Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”Jesus’ final words show us the main point of this passage. He tells the man “your faith has made you well”. The Greek literally means “your faith has saved you”, and I take it that out of the ten, the man who returned is the only one who is healed spiritually as well as physically. He is the only one who was forgiven by God for his sins, and the only one to receive eternal life with Jesus in heaven. The others may have been healed, but they were not saved from an eternity without God in hell. At the end of the day, it is only the Samaritan man who had true faith.
And that is the point of this passage. The point is NOT just “be grateful for what God has given you”. The focus is not on the attitude of 10th leper – as good an example as it is – but on Jesus. He is the centre! The point is JESUS IS THE KING AND HE HAS COME TO SAVE YOU.
The Samaritan was the only one who recognised who Jesus was – that is why when he came back he threw himself at Jesus’ feet. That is a sign that he recognised that Jesus was the KING. One day Jesus will return and everyone will see who he is: that he is God. But with eyes of faith, the Samaritan saw who Jesus was and his perception saved him.
He not only saw that he was physically healed but saw it’s significance and so returned to Jesus, from whom he received the additional gift of spiritual salvation.
This miracle was all about pointing them to Christ so that can receive salvation and eternal life. It had that effect with the Samaritan. Like that healing, all God’s gifts are meant to lead us to Jesus. It is strange behaviour to take God’s gifts and then ignore Jesus.
Jew’s, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindu’s even many who call themselves followers of Jesus may all be grateful to God for what he has given them in their own ways. But they do not “not honour him as God or give thanks to him” because they do not recognise Jesus as King. They were expected to respond by returning to Christ in order to give their praise to God.
JESUS IS THE KING AND HE HAS COME TO SAVE US. He came to save us by dying on the cross, which is what he would do when he got to Jerusalem. He came to deal with a worse situation that leprosy: because we have rebelled against God and refuse to listen to him, we are condemned to death.
If you are a Christian, then have you forgotten what it cost him to adopt you as his child? He loves you more than anyone you will ever encounter. He is the only one who can make you whole – spiritually and in every other way. Make time this week to thank him. Acknowledge him as the Source of all you have. We ALL forget. That is why so many of the Psalms were written – because we forget and need to be reminded. So immerse yourself in God’s words – especially the gospels because it is at the cross that we see what Christ has achieved for us. My pray for you as I have prepared for tonight and my prayer for us as a church this year is that we are a people that have a song of praise on our lips, and that we become known as people who are always grateful.
But maybe you are still unsure about who Jesus is. I would like to encourage you to make it one of your new year’s resolutions to find out for yourself what the facts are and to make up your own mind on the issue. You are welcome to take a copy of a biography of Jesus written by a man named Mark from the desk at the back of church. Pray a simple prayer that God would show you who Jesus really is, then read and make your own mind up.
Another good way to do this would be to join Christianity Explored. This is an informal course for people who'd like to investigate Christianity, or just brush up on the basics. It explores who Jesus was, what his aims were, and what it means to follow him. You're not asked to pray, sing, or read aloud, and you can ask any question you like. Or, if you prefer, you can come along and simply listen.
For more sermon transcripts visit http://www.church.org.uk