“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” “What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie or deceive by his name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks.”
This past Wednesday we covered the Second Commandment at Learn by Heart. And while they have now moved on to the Third Commandment in preparation for this coming Wednesday, our Gospel lesson this morning provides the opportunity for the whole congregation to reflect upon this same topic.
Our text begins by saying, “On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.” The Gospels are “theological biographies.” They are biographies in that they share true and accurate information about who Jesus Christ is and what he did. However, their purpose is not simply to share historical information. Instead they have a theological purpose. They are seeking to reveal to us how God was at work in the Jesus Christ in order to bring forgiveness and salvation to all people.
Because of this difference in purpose, they are organized differently. We expect a biography to begin at the beginning of a persons’ life and then cover the events that took place in order. This is not the way the Gospels approach things. For example, the Gospels of Mark and John begin with Jesus as an adult who is starting his ministry.
Luke’s Gospel gives us a great deal of information about Jesus’ conception and birth. And while he does tell us about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Luke chooses to focus on our Lord’s final trip to Jerusalem. Near the end of chapter nine we read: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” From that point until Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday at the end of chapter 19, everything that is said and happens always has the context of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. It always has the context of what Jesus has said is going to happen there. He had told his disciples in chapter nine before they started the journey: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
So when our text begins by saying, “On the way to Jerusalem…,” this is for us a statement that points to the Gospel. As the readers, we already know what is going to happen there – what has happened there. Jesus Christ was numbered with the transgressors in your place and was crucified in order give you the forgiveness of sins. But then, as he had predicted, he rose from the dead on the third day. He defeated death. He began the resurrection that will be yours as well. This journey was about your salvation.
We learn that as Jesus entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” The lepers were afflicted by some kind of skin condition – we are never quite sure about the specifics when the term is used in the Bible. It probably wasn’t what we know as leprosy in the modern era. But that didn’t make it any less devastating. Lepers were ritually unclean and so had to live separate from other people lest they makes others unclean by mere touch. They were basically cut off from normal, everyday life – cut off from their own families.
Because they were not supposed to approach other people, they stood off at a distance and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” There are two things to note about their statement. First of all, they called Jesus “master.” In Luke’s Gospel on all the other occasions when this word occurs, it is Jesus’ disciples who use it. Luke is signaling to us that these were men who approached Jesus in faith.
Second, they had a very simple plea: “Have mercy on us!” This is the same thing that we sing in the Kyrie of the Divine Service with the words, “Lord have mercy!” The words “have mercy” were a call for help. These men called out in faith for Jesus to help them.
Jesus said to the lepers, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Now this healing miracle is unlike any other we hear about in the Gospels. We are used to Jesus speaking a word, and healing occurs immediately. We see Jesus touch someone and at once they are healed, or ever raised from the dead.
But that’s not what happened here. Jesus spoke to them and they weren’t healed. Instead, he told them to go and show themselves to the priests, the agents who could declare a person clean. Jesus sent men who were still lepers to Jerusalem.
It didn’t make sense. But these men trusted Jesus’ word. They headed off toward Jerusalem. And then Luke tells us that “as they went they were cleansed.” The Greek grammar is absolutely clear. The healing occurred not before they set out, but rather as they were going.
In this event we see what is true for our lives as well. We don’t walk the Christian life because we have already seen all of the blessings that it means to us. In fact, we don’t even fully understand what the greatest blessing is going to be like. The apostle John said, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
Instead, we walk in faith, trusting our Lord’s word. As we do, we receive the healing of forgiveness. Many times our prayers for physical healing are answered as we would want them to be. But none of that changes the fact that we are all walking by faith; none of us receive the final blessing of resurrected bodies and life with God as it was intended to be before we set out in faith. Instead, it is only by walking in faith that we can receive them.
The ten lepers believed Jesus’ word, and they walked in faith as they headed to Jerusalem. And as they went they were cleansed. Imagine the shock and joy that must have been theirs when they realized that their skin was now just like everyone else’s. They were healed!
Nine of the lepers kept going to Jerusalem. They needed to go see the priests. They need to get the official verification of this healing. Because after all, it was time to get on with their lives! There was no time to spare. They had already lost too much of their lives because of the leprosy. They thought about nothing else except what they now wanted to do.
There are times that describes you. You are so busy doing what you want to do, that you forget to stop and give thanks to God who has made everything possible in the first place. Or you just take the blessings for granted. This morning you woke up with a roof over your head. If you wanted to, you ate breakfast. You’ll certainly each lunch and dinner. You had a variety of clothes from which to choose this morning as you got ready. You have a vehicle that you were able to drive to church.
You are able to come to come to church today in complete freedom. There is no reason to fear that a suicide bomber is going to walk in here this morning and detonate himself. There is no reason to fear that a group of gunmen are going to come in and shoot you all because you are Christians.
These are all incredible blessings. Just ask anyone who does not have them! But when was the last time you actually gave thanks to God for each of these things? An important part of not misusing God’s name is to praise God and give thanks to him for the many gifts and blessings he provides. This means that we actually need to stop and think about what these are, instead of taking them for granted.
So this week make a point each day of giving thanks to God by name for your housing, your food, your clothing, your transportation and your religious freedom. In doing so you will be keeping the Second Commandment. But here’s the thing about the commandments. They describe the way God has ordered his creation. They describe how things are meant to work. And therefore it is good for us when we live in these ways. When you actually stop to think about all the good things God has given you in order to thank him, it makes you realize how good your life really is. It makes you feel more content. And that’s a good thing.
One of the lepers, when he saw that he was healed, did turn back back praising God with a loud voice. He fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. He didn’t just use words. He got his whole body into it as he was before Jesus.
Only one leper returned, and Luke tells us a surprising fact when he says: “Now he was a Samaritan.” The Lord Jesus noted this too when he said, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
As we were reminded last week in James’ sermon about the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritans and the Jews shared much in common … and they despised one another because of the differences. The other nine didn’t return and give thanks. Only this Samaritan did. His need to give thanks to the One who had healed him overcame any ethnic or religious barrier.
Your need to give thanks overcomes any hindrances because of what Jesus has done for you. Jesus Christ is making his way to Jerusalem in our text in order to win forgiveness for every way we break the Ten Commandments – including our lack of thanks. Because you have shared in his death and resurrection through baptism you are holy in God’s eyes. You are God’s child now. You are justified and ready for the Last Day – whenever it arrives. You are ready for death if that comes first, because death cannot separate you from God and his love in Christ. And you know that death cannot have the final word because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead – the first fruits of your resurrection.
Our text ends this morning as Jesus said to the man: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Thanks be to God that I can say the same to you this morning! You will leave this place knowing that your faith in Jesus Christ has made well. Because of Jesus you are forgiven. Because of Jesus you have peace. Because of Jesus you have eternal life. So give thanks to God.
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