Where Are The Nine?
Imagine this scenario from Luke 17: Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem as the time for His crucifixion drew near. As He passed between Samaria and Galilee, He approached an unnamed village. And outside that village, ten lepers were encamped in terrible squalor and shame.
Evidently, nine of these lepers were Jews, and one was a Samaritan. Now, the Jews of that day did not even touch Samaritans, let alone live with them. But apparently the common distress of these ten had brought them together in a shared misery.
If you've ever studied leprosy, you can imagine the sordid conditions they existed in. What we see every day in New York City is bad enough. On 41st Street, near the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel, makeshift hovels line the street, stretching a city block. They are cardboard shacks — refrigerator boxes covered with rags. You see filthy, soiled mattresses; rotting, torn clothes; worthless junk piled high on top of these pitiful "homes." It's a little town filled with lice, roaches, rats, drugs, alcohol, AIDS, rampant disease and constant fighting.
But believe me — those hovels are palaces compared to the squalid conditions of the ten lepers living in Jesus' day! These men had no disability checks, no welfare, no food stamps, no hospitalization, no social safety net. They had been totally abandoned by society.
They were homeless outcasts — forced to live in an isolated camp outside the village. Lepers were required by law to stay at least 100 paces (200—300 feet away) from all others. When people walked by, they had to cry out, "Unclean, unclean!"
Depending on how long they'd had leprosy, some had lost fingers, toes, ears, teeth, arms, noses. Their flesh was raw and rotting — and the stench and sight was unbearable. These men begged, scrounged, and ate food that others would not even look at. They probably lived out of the garbage dumps.
Yet what had to torment these outcasts most of all was the haunting memories of loved ones they had to leave behind when the priest pronounced them lepers. They lost loving wives and laughing, adoring children who once romped with them. They lost homes, careers, respect and all hope of usefulness. Some of them probably had been faithful Jews, entrenched in the tradition of the church. Yet now they were camped outside this unnamed village, leading a bleak, lonely existence of unspeakable shame and sorrow.
Leprosy in the Bible Has Always Been a Type of Sin!
Scripture shows the leper to be a type of sinner living in shame — debilitated and wasted by sin's terrible effects.
In many of our services at Times Square Church, the first three rows are occupied by former "lepers." These are the young men from Timothy House — former drug addicts and alcoholics. The leprosy of sin cost many of them all they had: wives, children, jobs, self—respect, health, sanity. Some ended up homeless, helpless, totally lost.
I don't know how these ten lepers ever heard about Jesus. Perhaps a vagabond leper had passed through and told them of the miraculous healings Jesus had performed for lepers in other towns or villages. In any case, they somehow knew Jesus would be passing by — and they were waiting anxiously to see Him!
Try to picture it: There they sit, as near to the road as they can get, but still two to three hundred feet out in the field. They've camped all night. What a pitiful sight they must have been! Ten hobbling, filthy, decaying, dying men, holding each other up for the moment when Jesus walks by.
I have often wondered if, when they saw Jesus and the apostles coming down the road, they started waving their stump arms. Did they point to missing limbs? Did they wave their dirty rags of clothing? I don't know how they got His attention. But when Jesus came within ear shot, they cried aloud, "Jesus, Master — have mercy on us!"
They weren't asking for money, or for heaven when they died. They were crying for mercy! It was as if they were pleading, "Jesus — how can You look upon such a pitiful sight and not have mercy? How could You turn us down?"
I am sure Jesus did not wince or turn away for even a moment. He looked them right in the face — and with great compassion He said, "Go shew yourselves unto the priests" (Luke17:14).
Can you imagine what these lepers must have thought? "Go back to the priest? Why he's the one who examined us and pronounced us unclean! He chased us out of the village. If all ten of us showed up at his door, he'd take one look at us and mock our impudence. No one has ever been healed of leprosy. He'd think we were crazy!"
Yet I believe there was an immediate flow of life, health and strength into all ten of these men! One moved an arm he hadn't been able to move in months. Another felt life begin to throb in him — and he began jumping up and down! One after another, they looked at their hands, at each other's faces — and their scaly, ashen skin was beginning to change. Healthy—looking flesh was being restored to their limbs, their faces — they were being healed!
Do you remember the hour Jesus had mercy on you — how clean and alive you felt? Did you shout because you felt His cleansing power? Did you feel new life in you?
These men had to feel that life! You can be sure that some kind of thrill went through that group, and they let out shouts of joy! Raw, rotting skin was now closing. And where sores had been, now there was new, healthy skin!
Jesus Told These Ten Lepers The Same Thing He Told Every Leper He Cleansed: "Go and Show Yourself to the Priest as a Testimony!"
In Luke 5:14, Jesus had told a different leper: "Go, and shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, according as Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them" (Luke 5:14).
Now, no leper could simply return to his home or church or covenant rights. There were certain things he had to do.
First, he had to be pronounced clean by a priest — and that entailed a very elaborate, detailed ceremony covering eight days. He had to be thoroughly shaved, bathed and examined. Afterward came sacrifices, sprinklings by blood and oil, anointings, offerings. And after all this, he had to wait another eight days before he could be restored to his family and his rights. Altogether, the process took sixteen days of incredible religious activity!
These highly religious ceremonies were all symbolic — types used to teach the people about the glory of the Messiah. It's all described in Leviticus 14 — and this is what the ten lepers were headed back to their village to do.
By this time Jesus and the apostles probably had something to eat and were far up the road beyond the village. Yet suddenly they heard a racket behind them. When they turned and looked back, they saw a man running toward them — shouting and waving his arms! One of the disciples said, "It's one of those ten lepers from the village." And as he neared, they heard him shouting, "Glory — glory to Jesus! Praise You!"
It was the Samaritan! When he came up to Jesus, he fell prostrate at His feet — and he broke out in praise and thanksgiving! Out of his innermost being poured adoration for the Son of the living God: "You're God! You couldn't have done this unless you were the Son of God. Praise God! Glory!"
Jesus looked down at him and said, "Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?" (Luke 17:17). He was asking, "Why only you? Where are your friends, the others I healed?"
Beloved, that is the question Jesus is still asking today! Of the many multitudes He has cleansed and made whole, only a remnant are drawn back to Him! So where are all the others? I'll tell you where — they are in the same place the nine healed lepers ended up: lost in the church — swallowed up by religion!
I believe in the Bible's statistics. And if the statistic from this story in Luke's gospel is accurate, then 90 percent of those who are touched by Jesus end up going back to some dead, dry church. They never get into Jesus — because they get lost in religion!
Now, these nine lepers were anxious to get on with their lives. They said, "I've got to get back to my wife and family. I want my self—respect back. I want to go to the synagogue again and study about the coming Messiah!"
You may say, "What's wrong with all that? Isn't a man commanded to provide for his own household? And doesn't David speak of meditating on the deep things of God? Aren't Christians supposed to be motivated to work diligently — to do exactly what the nine lepers did? And didn't Jesus tell them to go directly to the priest?"
Yes, that is all true — but it all becomes meaningless if you don't first get to know Jesus!
These Nine Lepers Had Truly Been Touched By the Power of Jesus — They Had Become Witnesses to His Power!
"Go... to the priest... for a testimony unto them" (Luke 5:14). For years to come, these lepers would have a powerful testimony. They could spend the rest of their lives talking about how Jesus merely spoke a word, and they were healed:
"I was once a leper! I was all alone with no hope — dirty, filthy, lost, a dying man. Then Jesus came along and cleansed me. I've been healed now for twenty—five years — praise His name!"
That all sounds wonderful. But the problem was, they were talking about a Man they did not know — witnessing to the power of a Savior they knew nothing of! They only saw Him afar off. They could tell you what He looked like, what He talked like, how He walked — but they never got near to Him and to His heart!
One of my greatest griefs in all my years of ministry has been to witness the burnout of former addicts and alcoholics who had been miraculously delivered from lives of terrible sin and crime. Many of them were called of God to preach. but churches and pastors throughout the United States kept asking them to come and give their spectacular testimonies. They were cajoled and encouraged to give the gory details of their past.
Now, years later, many of these former addicts are telling the same story: "Fifteen years ago I was a pimp. I lived with prostitutes and went to jail twenty times. One day somebody told me about Jesus — and I was cleansed and made whole!"
Beloved, hundreds of such precious converts are now burned out, backslidden and shipwrecked! They have none of the character of Christ, no relationship with God, because they are living on a past, one—time experience. They never returned to Jesus — they never got to know Him!
Many people have asked why Times Square Church doesn't have converts from our charity outreaches come and testify each week. Indeed, these men and women have some of the most incredible testimonies you've ever heard.
But we want more for them than to end up with an old, worn testimony! We want them to go on with Jesus — to be able to stand and tell about a fresh, daily walk with Him, about what He's done for them today!
We want them to have more of Christ!
How Sad It Is to See So Many Converts — So Many Delivered People — Settle Down and Get Lost in the Hype of Modern Christianity!
Some people simply do not want to go on with Jesus. They prefer dead religion! They enjoy the pomp and formalism of the "high church" ceremony.
Oh, how religious those nine lepers must have felt as they went through the long ritual of cleansing! And what an incredible ceremony it was:
First, the priest took two birds. He killed one over a bowl of "living" (or, running) water and allowed the blood to drip down into the water. Then he tied hyssop to a cedar paddle (about 16 inches long) and bound it to the living bird with a crimson wool ribbon. This bird's wings and tail were dipped in the blood and water.
The blood was sprinkled on the cleansed leper's forehead and wrists seven times. Then the living bird was set free to fly away into an open field. Afterward, the leper washed his clothes, shaved off his hair, bathed carefully and came into town to be isolated for seven days.
On the eighth day, he came back to the priest bringing two male lambs and one ewe without a blemish. He also brought 2.8 gallons of flour and a pint of oil. These were for a trespass offering, a sin offering and a burnt offering.
The priest took the oil and poured it into his own palm, then sprinkled it seven times on the ground. Taking the blood of the lamb, he touched the leper on his right earlobe, right thumb, and right big toe. The priest then anointed him with oil at these same three points, and poured the remaining oil over his head.
How very ceremonial it all was — how religious the lepers must have felt! And indeed, these rituals stood for some very significant things — unctions, anointings, cleansings with the blood. But it was all dead!
These lepers had gone from being touched by Jesus, back to dead, dry ritualism and formalism. Yes, they had gotten back their self—respect. They had re—entered the life of the church. They had regained material blessings. But they never did get to know Jesus!
You may ask, "Why would Jesus send them back into such ritualism?" I believe Christ sent those lepers to the priest hoping they would get hungry to know the reality behind all the ritual:
"The running water — did He not once say He Himself was the Living Water? And the sprinkling of blood — did He not say His blood would be shed, that He would be crucified? The lamb being slain — what does that mean?"
You see, there was not a priest in Israel who could tell those nine lepers what those ceremonies meant. They performed them all by rote! No — Jesus wanted those lepers to turn to Him and be taught! When they had cried out to Him by the roadside, "Master, have mercy!" they used a word that meant, "Commander, Teacher!" They knew He had all truth — but they hadn't been hungry for it.
Those nine lepers represent the thousands of poor souls today who sit in church listening to ministers who don't know what they're talking about. It is all dry, boring — dead! Yet I know it is having one good effect: People are getting fed up! Many are saying, "This is not what Jesus saved me for — to sit here and dry up under a man who's just going through the motions. Give me reality! Give me Christ!
I Want to Tell You Now About The Remnant Man — the One in ten Who Turns and Runs Back to Jesus!
Why is it that in every generation there is a remnant who run after Jesus with passion and thanksgiving? Why does God always have one in ten who leaves everything and comes back just to worship and praise Christ — while the other ninety percent continue to go through the motions?
I believe the Samaritan ran back to Jesus because he wasn't bound by forms and rituals. He didn't have to "unlearn" it all! You see, the other nine had been raised orthodox, their minds trained from childhood in ritual and ceremony. They were still bound by their tradition. But once the Samaritan saw the whole religious system, he cried, "No way!"
He witnessed the phoniness of the religious leaders and churchgoers. He saw Pharisees robbing widows and taking away their homes. He saw priests bribing and being bribed. He saw the temples filled with money changers, turning God's house into a den of thieves. He saw scribes making rules for others that they never lifted a finger to keep themselves.
He saw all the whitewashed fronts, the false faces and double standards. And he said to himself, "This is the blind leading the blind — it's not for me. I want the real thing!"
Now, as he heads toward the village with the other nine — back to the priest, to church, society, respect and the good life — he stops and thinks: "Wait a minute! I remember what it was like when I had it all — money, prestige, security. I was miserable! My so—called friends all rejected me at the first mention I might have leprosy. I was empty — bound by sinful habits, full of hate and bitterness. It was a living hell. Why should I go back to that?"
Then something in his heart began to burn: "Look at me — I'm clean. Jesus healed me! The church can wait — my family and career can wait. I'm going to Jesus! I want to get to know the One who healed me!" He came to the same conclusion all remnant people come to:
"There is nothing out there I want. It's all vanity! I'm going to Jesus — He is going to be my reality!"
Don't Think for a Minute This Cleansed Leper Came Back Just To Say Thanks — No, He Was Overwhelmed By a Desire to Worship This Man Jesus!
The remnant leper could not stop crying, "Glory!" praises sprang up from his innermost being!
I believe that if any person worships Christ as this man did — lying prostrate at His feet, crying thanks out loud without restraint — such a one is determined never again to leave Jesus! In his heart he says, "To whom shall I go? He has the words of eternal life!"
I imagine this man showing up everywhere Jesus taught. Every time Christ was on a mountainside or seashore, there sat the cleansed leper, right in front. He cried aloud: "I love You, Jesus! Glory to God! Praise You!" I see him at the Ascension, crying, "Take me with You, Jesus!" And I like to think he was in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost, praising God — filled with the Holy Ghost!
Yet the truth is, we have been given something the thankful leper never had — a potential for power beyond any known to mankind!
In January, every four years, America inaugurates a president to what is called "the most powerful office on earth." His signature is law. He commands the world's most powerful army. He can simply push a button and bring destruction upon whole nations. But the power he holds is nothing compared to the power Jesus has given to you and me!
You see, we have absolute access to come into the very presence of the living Creator God — and also for Him to come to us! "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way... let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith" (Hebrews 10:19—22).
The remnant leper didn't have such power. It came only after the veil in the Temple was rent in two. When that happened, it meant that man could go in and God could come out — that He could meet us!
The word "boldness" in this verse means "with open, undisguised publicity." Beloved, that "publicity" is for the devil's sake! It means we can say to every demon in hell, "I have a right by the blood of Jesus Christ to walk into the presence of God and talk to Him — and He to me!"
Do you believe you have this right — that God is willing to come out and meet you? Let us draw near to Him with a heart full of the assurance of faith! We do not come by the blood of a bird or goat or bull — but by the blood of our Lord Jesus:
"Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh; how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Hebrews 9:12—14).
Nothing thrills the heart of God more than when His children come to Him in boldness, without timidity! He wants us to come saying, "I have a right to be here. And even if my heart condemns me, God is greater than my heart!" (see 1 John 3:20).
After this leper drew near to Jesus the second time, Scripture says Jesus "made [him] whole." "And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole" (Luke 17:19). This time Jesus gave him more than cleansing — He gave him wholeness, in his mind, body, soul and spirit. And that is what God is giving to all who draw near to Him today: wholeness!
I like to think this remnant leper went back to his hometown and had a reunion with the other nine healed lepers. What a conversation they would have had!
The nine probably stood around talking about all the problems they face when they went back: Wives were remarried. Children turned away in shame. Old friends still acted like strangers. The adjustments had to be overwhelming!
Then they all turned to the remnant one. "How did you turn out? Do you remember that Galilean, Jesus, who healed us? Whatever happened to Him? And why are you so happy?"
He broke into a smile and said, "I was with Him just yesterday! I'm following Him — I'm His disciple, and He is my teacher. And believe me, I haven't had an adjustment problem! It doesn't bother me that my family rejected me, or that my friends forsook me. Jesus took me in!
"Brothers, let me tell you — I walk with God! He talks to me and teaches me. I'm a tent—maker now — but my most rewarding work is praising my Lord!"
Perhaps he invited the other nine to go with him to see Jesus. But they probably would have turned him down: "Sorry — we study the law three nights a week. We're in a big discussion now about when the Messiah is going to come." They may have thought they were looking for the Messiah — but they had already missed Him!
So off the remnant one goes — back to Jesus, singing, "There's a song in my heart that the angels can't sing — Redeemed! Redeemed!" He is living in redemption — made whole, totally free!
Dear saint, you and I have something far greater than this leper had. We have not just an open door, but a loving Father who says to us, "Come — you're cleansed. Believe it — act on it. Come and meet Christ!" Hallelujah!