It would be good at this point to review our outline for Luke's gospel so we can situate this chapter's material in the context of the entire book of Luke. In other words, where are we so far?
- The beginning - 1:1-3:38
- Jesus in Galilee - 4:1-9:50
- Jesus facing Jerusalem - 9:51-18:30
- Jesus entering Jerusalem - 18:31-21:38
- The consummation - 22:1-24:53
In the previous section, Jesus was giving instructions to His disciples concerning a variety of topics pursuant to the life of discipleship. In the section following, the author finishes with the events taking place as Jesus slowly makes His way towards the outskirts and eventually into the city of Jerusalem itself. Luke notes this fact as he prefaces the encounters with various people along the way with a reminder of where Jesus and the Apostles are geographically.
While He was on the way to Jerusalem, He was passing between Samaria and Galilee.
- Luke 17:11
The Ten Lepers Cleansed – Luke 17:12-19
12As He entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; 13and they raised their voices, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"
- Luke 17:12-13
Leprosy is an ancient disease mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments (from a Greek word meaning a fish scale or to peel). It was what we refer to today as Hansen's disease, a term given to it in 1873 in honor of the doctor who discovered that this illness was caused by a bacterium that attacked the nervous system. People with leprosy experience disfigurement of the skin and bones as well as the twisting of their limbs and the curling of their fingers which in many cases forms a claw-like hand. The largest number of deformities that these people suffer are the result of accidents that occur because lepers eventually lose the ability to feel pain due to extensive nerve damage (e.g. inattentive sufferers can cut themselves or grasp a cup of boiling water without any sensation of pain). Leprosy, like tuberculosis to which it is related, is contagious and spreads by contact with infected skin or secretions from one suffering from this disease.
Even though all of this was not known in New Testament times, lepers were nevertheless separated from the general population and were considered as already dead from a religious perspective. Contact with them rendered one ceremonially unclean (just as contact with a dead person or animal would), and that person had to undergo a purification process before he could return to normal social interaction and worship at the temple. Lepers had to live outside the towns and villages in make-shift shelters. This explains why these men cried out to Jesus on His way into the village. Notice that their request is not for money but for mercy. They were forced to live outside of society but they knew what was going on in the society they were forbidden to interact with.
Unlike those who had access to Jesus (priests, lawyers, normal Jews) who debated His claims and refused to believe His words, these sad and desperate men, knowing what He had done for others, appealed to Him for mercy and healing.
When He saw them, He said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they were going, they were cleansed.
- Luke 17:14
The instruction to go see the priest was the proper procedure for one who had been healed or experienced a remission of the disease they were suffering from.
And He ordered him to tell no one, "But go and show yourself to the priest and make an offering for your cleansing, just as Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."
- Luke 5:14
Jesus describes the procedure that they needed to undergo (examination by a priest) in order to confirm that their healing was legitimate. Once done, they could then reenter normal society and participate in public worship in the synagogue and at the temple.
The important point to note here is that they were healed only after they made a move to see the priests, not before. The lepers cried out in faith and Jesus answered by giving them a test of faith. Jesus can heal or save without a test of faith (He knows if we truly believe or not). This test of faith, however, served two purposes:
- It confirmed in the minds of the lepers that their faith in Jesus had been rewarded with this miracle.
- The test also demonstrated that living faith (to heal, to save, to serve, etc.) is seen in action, not simply assent. A person believes and expresses that belief with action.
You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works and I will show you my faith by my works.
- James 2:18
15Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, 16and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus answered and said, "Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? 18Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?" 19And He said to him, "Stand up and go; your faith has made you well."
- Luke 17:15-19
There were ten lepers and one of these was a Samaritan (apparently the division between Jew and Samaritan was forgotten as they shared a common disease). Of the ten, only the Samaritan returns to first give thanks to Jesus before going to the priests for confirmation and reestablishment. The way he does so indicates not only his gratitude, but also his reverence and devotion towards Jesus. We see this poor suffering soul put off his social redemption in order to thank and pay homage to the One that healed him.
Jesus states the obvious, "Where are the others, has only this Samaritan come to give thanks?" In responding to the Samaritan leper's demonstration of gratitude and honor, the Lord comments on the different results each would experience:
- The nine asked for and received the healing, and were on the road to social acceptance and a normal life.
- The Samaritan asked for and received the healing, however, because of his response to Christ, he was not only on the road to physical normalcy but to eternal life as well.
This scene also serves as a living prophecy concerning how the gospel will be accepted by both Jews and Gentiles. The healing of the nine Jews represents the blessings and opportunities the Jewish nation had in receiving Jesus as their Messiah. And yet, despite the Law, prophets, temple, miracles and that Jesus was one of them - the Jews rejected Him. Out of nine healed lepers, not one came back to thank or acknowledge the Lord. The lone Samaritan represents the Gentiles who, despite the odds (believing in a foreign Savior from a people who despised them), nevertheless embraced Christianity in great numbers.
This living parable, therefore, points not only to the rejection that Jesus will soon face in Jerusalem, but the eventual rejection of the gospel by the Jews and its acceptance by the Gentiles in the decades and centuries to follow.
Second Coming Foretold – Luke 17:20-37
Both Matthew and Mark record Jesus' teaching on the coming of the kingdom, an issue brought up by the questions of the Pharisees:
20Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; 21nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or, 'There it is!' For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst."
- Luke 17:20-21
They had witnessed Jesus' works and knew that the Messiah would be revealed by great power and miracles, but they did not see the signs of the kingdom that they thought would appear when the Messiah came:
- Renewed political power
- Freedom from Roman domination
'If you are the Messiah," they said, "where and when is your kingdom supposed to arrive?"
Jesus tells them that the kingdom cannot be seen according to their physical criteria and it was already among them, embodied in Himself and His disciples.
In verses 22-37 Jesus provides another proof of His divinity and legitimacy as the Messiah. He does this by prophesying concerning the manner of His death and the subsequent destruction of the nation some 40 years into the future. He also answers their question about the arrival of the kingdom. They were asking for recognizable signs of the kingdom (thinking that the kingdom would be a local, cultural and political event). Jesus responds that when the kingdom (meaning the fulfillment of the kingdom occurring at the end of the world when He would return; not the arrival of the kingdom, which had already taken place with His first appearance), when the fulfillment would come, no one would miss it. He compares it to a lightning strike, a natural phenomenon clearly and easily seen by everyone.
But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.
- Luke 17:25
In verse 25 He not only prophesizes about His own death but provides the reason these Jews missed the initial coming of the kingdom in their own time... they rejected its king!
In the rest of the passage (verses 26-37), He contrasts believers and non-believers, and what happens when the kingdom is fulfilled at the judgment (one is taken to heaven with Jesus; one is left to face judgment). There is no mysterious event that sees people disappearing leaving pots boiling on stoves or empty cars on highways because the faithful have been miraculously whisked away while others are left to continue here on earth (images popularized by books and movies based on the "Rapture"). These verses are simply a warning that along with the kingdom comes a judgment that will separate those who will be in that kingdom from those who will not.
The Apostles, still not clear about this topic, ask the Lord where this will happen and Jesus answers,
And answering they said to Him, "Where, Lord?" And He said to them, "Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.
- Luke 17:37
The judgment, He says, is not a matter of "where" but of what: the dead (unbelievers) are destroyed (vultures=hell).
Parables on Prayer – 18:1-17
Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart,
- Luke 18:1
After the teaching on the kingdom and dire warnings using language they couldn't quite understand, not to mention Jesus predicting His own imminent death, the disciples are in need of encouragement and the Lord provides it in the form of teaching on prayer. These parables did not provide instructions on the words to use or topics to pray for but rather the attitudes one should have to succeed in prayer. Success in prayer is that you receive an answer of some kind.
These two parables describe three attitudes necessary to succeed in prayer:
2saying, "In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. 3There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, 'Give me legal protection from my opponent.' 4For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, 'Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, 5yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.'" 6And the Lord said, "Hear what the unrighteous judge said; 7now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? 8I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?"
- Luke 18:2-8
This parable is not about the qualifications of judges and how they should help those in need, etc. There is only one point to the parable: persistence pays off. Jesus' question at the end is an admonition to those in the future. Will believers continue to pray, even to the end when I return? He leaves the answer to that question up to every generation that reads this parable.
9And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: 10"Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' 13But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' 14I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."
- Luke 18:9-14
This parable is unique to Luke's gospel. The story is easy enough to understand because the characters are boldly drawn. One is proud, self-sufficient and arrogant. The other penitent, sincere and humble.
The humble man (like the poor widow in the previous parable) receives a reward as a result of his attitude in prayer, not the length or style of prayer offered. Those who persist in humble prayer (the action and the attitude) will succeed.
The third lesson on prayer is not given as a parable but as the detail information about Jesus' busy public ministry.
15And they were bringing even their babies to Him so that He would touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them. 16But Jesus called for them, saying, "Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all."
- Luke 18:15-17
This scene supplies one other attitude for successful prayer: innocence. Not innocence because we have no sin, innocence in that our hearts and minds are free from self-justification, blame, pretentious words or arguments. Prayers like this are heard, Jesus said, because these are the people and prayers that populate the kingdom.
Parable of the Rich Young Ruler – Luke 18:18-30
18A ruler questioned Him, saying, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" 19And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 20You know the commandments, 'Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'" 21And he said, "All these things I have kept from my youth." 22When Jesus heard this, He said to him, "One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." 23But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24And Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! 25For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." 26They who heard it said, "Then who can be saved?" 27But He said, "The things that are impossible with people are possible with God."
- Luke 18:18-27
Both Mark and Matthew include this parable about not only the importance of becoming a disciple but the high cost of doing so. Note that Jesus is not adding a requirement to becoming His disciple (i.e. give away all personal goods and wealth). We know that this is so because in every other instance where people are obeying the gospel, this requirement is never mentioned (i.e. 3000 baptized on Pentecost Sunday, Acts 2:38). However, for this particular man, giving away his wealth was necessary because it was getting in the way of what he wanted: assurance that he was "perfect" and acceptable before God.
Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be complete (perfect)...
- Matthew 19:21
He had relied on his wealth and position as security that he was acceptable before God (because many Jews believed that personal wealth was a definite sign that God favored you over others). And yet, despite having it all, he didn't "feel" acceptable, perfect or secure in his spirit; so he comes to Jesus to find out what he needed to "add" (a rule, an insight, a practice or ritual) in order to be sure. Jesus surprises him by telling him that if he wanted completeness, wholeness and assurance, he needed to remove something, not add something. He needed to remove the wealth that was blocking him from depending completely on Jesus for his salvation, righteousness and assurance. The fact that he refused shows how trapped he was in his wealth. It owned him, he did not own it.
Jesus uses this scene to warn His disciples about the limiting of spiritual vision and life caused by worldliness and the pursuit of wealth. It is hard for a rich person to go to heaven because amassing wealth:
- Takes up most of our time and attention.
- Often tempts us to compromise what is good and right for what is profitable.
- Draws us towards people who also love and seek wealth.
Needless to say, none of these things promote spiritual vision or practice because we are continually focused on shiny new and expensive things here below, not the things of light that are above. Unfortunately a moment comes when (like the young man who came to Jesus), we have to choose: God or wealth; and for those who love money, the choice will always be money.
28Peter said, "Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You." 29And He said to them, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life."
- Luke 18:28-30
Peter's question permits Jesus to reassure His disciples that whatever they have given up in order to follow Him will be returned to them in abundance, along with the eternal life sought after by the rich young ruler.
He does not give any details here, but I think that all those who have come to Christ as adults or from another faith can vouch for this. My family, to this day, won't have much to do with my wife, Lise, or myself since we became Christians, however, I can't even number the homes of brothers and sisters in Christ in this and other countries where we would be warmly welcomed as Christian family.
The wealthy have much to enjoy and look forward to (in this world) as they watch their riches grow and contemplate the things these will buy and enable them to do. Jesus, on the other hand, offers to all the reward of Christian fellowship and ministry in this world and eternal life in the next (something money can't buy).
- If the lepers in this story had AIDS instead of leprosy, how would Jesus have dealt with them? Why?
- If God knows that our faith is sincere (because He sees our hearts) why should He require an outward expression of faith?
- We see in the parable of the Rich Young Ruler how wealth can be an obstacle to faith, can this be true of poverty also? Explain how and ways to overcome these obstacles to faith.