v.14 When [Jesus] saw them He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed.
Dear friends in Christ, what a story this is! Jesus, who is now on His way to Jerusalem for the last time where He will suffer, die, and be buried, passes through the region where Samaria and Galilee meet. As He passes through, word no doubt spread about this miracle working man who has done such wonders. It is evident that Jesus’ fame among the people of that area had been spread far and wide for even these men—10 lepers—pariahs of society—have managed to hear of Him and His coming.
And yet, however they managed to hear of Jesus, these men came. They came as outcasts—separated from family and friends by the conditions of their disease—bound together by a common malady—they scratched out a meagre existence—depending upon the charity of others for their very survival. They come—yet they do not approach—knowing in their unclean state how unworthy they are to come close to a holy man like Jesus. Therefore, banding together, they lift up their voices—throats raw and scratchy—hoarse and low—from their disease—and cry out as loudly as they can to get Jesus’ attention.
“Jesus! Master, have mercy on us!” Beloved, what words of faith and devotion. These men, despised by all others, have come seeking a miracle—hope—knowing it can only be found in the mercy of Jesus. Indeed, their cry is echoed in our worship liturgy as we sing the Kyrie Eleison—Lord, have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy.
For truly we are not all that different from those ten men of so many years ago. We suffer from a disease with no cure—a disease that brings separation—heartache—sorrow—and leads only to death—the dread disease of sin. We’re all born with it. And it cuts us off from God who is holy and just and cannot abide sin. It resulted in the expulsion of our first parents, Adam and Eve, from the Garden—and has continued ever since.
And though a cure has been discovered for most forms of leprosy (if treated quickly enough), yet there is no modern medical miracle cure for our sin. There is no pill we can take—there is no exercise regimen—no doctor who can cure us—but One. Jesus—the Master—the Lord. Which is why we cry out to Him to have mercy on us. Have mercy on us Jesus—show us your love—take pity upon your poor sinful people—treat us not as we deserve with your wrath and punishment in hell for our sin—rather treat us with grace and mercy.
Though there is no modern medical treatment for sin—the cure for it has been found—and it is in the person and work of Jesus Christ Himself. He who gives us His own body and blood to eat and to drink in the Supper so that the dreadful malady may be purged from us. He immerses us in the cleansing waters of Holy Baptism—that sacred washing in His name whereby our sin was removed and we were brought into Christ’s family and given heaven and life eternal!
And these gifts to us are rooted in the same power that cured the 10 lepers. What did Jesus do when they cried out for mercy? He came to them in power and might in simple words...He spoke to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they were going—as they went on their way—they were cleansed—purified of the uncleanness of their leprosy—their skin became whole—their earthly lives were restored. Can you imagine the joy? The great excitement? They could go back to their homes—their friends and families—at long last—against seemingly insurmountable odds—they had life again!
As do you, dear friends, as do you. For the powerful Word of Christ comes to you this day—a healing and performative Word—a Word that does what it says it will do—the Word of Jesus comes to you in this divine service and forgives you your sin in the words of absolution. The Word of Jesus comes to you in bread and wine as it comes with water in Baptism. The Word of Jesus—the very Word which created the heavens and the earth—comes to you and bespeaks you righteous and holy in His sight—clean—new—restored to a right relationship with the Father through the blood of the Son who was slain on the cross for the sins of the world.
Now Jesus told the lepers to go and show themselves to the priests. And as they went they were cleansed. They were not healed immediately, but rather as they were going. They walked by faith, not by sight. So, too, do we. When a person is baptized, no matter how young or how old, we do not see any big difference in them—we do not see the Spirit descend as a dove and land on them. When I receive Holy Communion—I am still just as big a jerk afterward as I was before. That hasn’t changed because my sinful flesh still clings to me as it does to you. When you are absolved of your sin—you may still feel the dreadful weight of guilt and shame for that sin. But this is precisely why we, too, walk by faith and not by sight.
We do not go with what we see and feel and experience in our hearts, but with what we hear from our Lord concerning our condition and estate before Him. The Lord has said you are forgiven—and so you are—whether you feel like it or not. The Lord has called you His own dear child in Holy Baptism—and so you are. The Lord has fed you with His body and blood—though it appears to be only bread and wine—but we go with what He says to us, trusting in Him who died and rose again, even our Lord Jesus Christ, to do what He has promised to do.
And this great comfort of God that is received by faith (yet again another gift of God that is given so we will believe what He has said to us in His Word) strengthens us in our lives. It responds to the whispering and devious words of the devil—that though we are indeed sinners—yet Christ Jesus has died for us—has had mercy on us—and so we fear no evil—we fear no demon spawn—we fear not even death itself. For Jesus is ever with us, strengthening us in His mercy and forgiveness through Word and Sacrament—granting us life and healing in His name.
Indeed, we as Christians are confident of Jesus’ help before we ever see any evidence of it, trusting that His cleansing Word of forgiveness will restore us to wholeness in the resurrection on the Last Day. Then our fleshly bodies will match our new spirits that we received in Baptism. We will be perfect as Christ is perfect. Rejoicing in that day and giving thanks and praise to God for all His wondrous miracles.
That is why, beloved, we respond as the one leper did who returned and gave thanks to the one true High Priest, Jesus, and gave glory to God. He ran back to Jesus and fell on his face before the Lord in a position of humble worship at the Saviour’s feet—crying out with a loud voice—a newly made strong voice—telling everyone what He had done and giving glory to the Father.
So, too, do we. For Jesus has borne our infirmities—our weakness—our shame—our sorrows—our sins—in His flesh. He took them to the cross where He was crucified in our place—suffered the Father’s wrath in our stead so that we might receive mercy from His hand. His Words are life to those who hear and believe—His Word brings healing to all their flesh. We trust not in the work of our hands to bring us closer to God. We trust not in any outside “evidence” of our faith for our comfort and salvation. Rather, we simply believe the Word of Christ wherein He says, “Arise and go. Your faith has made you well.” Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.