The lepers aren’t healed yet when they make their way to the priests. It’s on the way that they are cleansed. But when they start out, they are as leprous as they were before. They believe before they see it. And they obey Jesus at risk to themselves. Because if they get to the priests, make this long journey, and they are still leprous, the priest will reject them, tell them to go back to where they came from, and instead of what they hoped for they will be even worse off, more miserable, than before. Faith believes before it sees, and it risks shame and pain for what it knows will be, because Jesus is true, Jesus is faithful, Jesus will not fail. Heaven and earth will pass away, but Jesus’ promise to have mercy on us will never pass away. “God is man, man to deliver, His dear Son now is One with our blood forever.”
Faith obeys Jesus not because it sees the results immediately, but because it knows who speaks the Word. Jesus tells you that’s His body and blood, and that whoever eats of it and drinks of it will never perish, death will have no power over him. It doesn’t matter if your eyes see bread and wine, it doesn’t matter if you still feel your sin and its corruption in your body, Jesus says it, it’s true. Faith believes Jesus based on Jesus, on His reliability, on the fact that He is the Creator who has joined our human race, and so He not only has all power, but He is for us, He has borne our sin, He has suffered our pains, He has died our death, He has ended its power in His resurrection. He speaks, we listen, even if our lying senses see and feel the opposite. Those lepers felt every bit the pain and filth of their condition as they began their journey to the priests. Think of that. They saw with their eyes their fingers falling off and the cartilage rotting off the noses of their friends, so that they could see into their skulls. And yet they are happy, gleeful, running to the priests, despite everything their senses tell them. That’s faith. You will walk away from this service today still feeling the pain of your body and the sin in your heart, but walk away happy, gleeful, ready to obey what Jesus tells you to do in your callings as fathers, mothers, children, brothers, sisters, neighbors, teachers, workers, because what Jesus says is true, you’ve heard Him speak your forgiveness, your everlasting life with God, your inheritance as sons of light, you’ve taken His body and His blood and so you are one with Him and have passed from death to life.
This is consistently the picture of faith. It’s what Naaman the Syrian, another leper, had to do too. You remember he was angry when Elisha told him to wash in the Jordan seven times and his leprosy would be cured. It was embarrassing. Stupid. Why would washing in the dirty Jordan do anything for him? Why obey? Because God said it, that’s why. But it doesn’t make sense. It will. Wait for it. So when Naaman finally let that sink in, he obeyed, he washed in the Jordan, and his skin was pure as a baby’s. He believed before he saw.
So Jesus tells us that whoever would be His disciple must take up his cross and follow Him. These two things are true at the very same time: we are conquerors over death and sin, pure, innocent, children of God, rulers with our Lord Jesus over heaven and earth, we will judge angels, and yet at the same time we endure the pains of the body, the temptations of the devil, and the sins of weakness that we daily commit. We live by faith, not by sight.
Jesus sets these lepers in front of us as models through and through of Christian faith. The disciples had just asked Jesus, “Increase our faith,” and then this happens. The ten lepers come. Jesus, who controls history, shows them in these ten lepers what faith is and does.
Faith hears. How on earth did these lepers hear about Jesus? Have you ever thought of that? Jesus had explicitly told His disciples not to preach to any town in Samaria. How did people in Samaria hear? And besides that, they’re lepers. They can’t be anywhere near society. If anyone comes near them, they have to yell out, “Unclean, unclean, get away.” But they know Jesus’ name. And they know He has power to heal them and that He wants to do it. How? We can only assume that one of the lepers, before he was a leper, heard Jesus, heard Him say words like, “Come to me all ye who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” And then when he becomes a leper and is cast out from society, he tells his new friends about Jesus. “There’s a man whom I’ve seen heal people, a man who promises mercy to the poor, to the weak, to the weary and heavy laden.” And then, without seeing Jesus, without hearing Him speak, without seeing any miracle, they believe.
So we, if we want an increase of faith, first and foremost, hear the Word. It is an amazing act of God that it has come down to us, that we have Bibles in our homes, that we have a Church here in Casper: God did wonderful things, overturned kingdoms, Christians did beautiful things, died to preserve the preaching of this Word, so that it would come down pure and undefiled to us. Don’t take it for granted that you have it in your Bible at home, that you can read the literal words of Jesus to you every single day. Or that God has specifically instituted His holy Church, sends pastors, and makes sure His Word reaches you here. Those lepers didn’t take it for granted. They trusted in nothing else but that word and they ran, literally ran, to where they could hear it, where Jesus was.
But how many thousands heard and didn’t care? Then, just like today. People hear, it means nothing to them. Even people in church. It’s boring. What does it matter. I’d rather be fishing or sleeping or watching a sportsball game. But these lepers cared. It was everything to them. Why? This is again the essence of faith. It was obvious to them, they were miserable, lonely, forsaken, in pain, and it was obvious that only One Man could help them, and so they put all their trust in Him.
So if you want an increase in faith, know your need. And it doesn’t matter if that need is bodily or if it’s spiritual, the distinction is fine, but there is no separation of bodily need and spiritual need. Usually we stress your need for Jesus by stressing your sin. You’re a sinner, you’ve sinned, God is angry at that sin, He is bound by His own Justice to punish that sin, and so you need forgiveness, you need Jesus to take that sin away. But there’s no talk of sin here with the lepers, not explicitly. They’re lepers. They’re in pain. They’re ostracized, banished, lonely, ugly, miserable, they are exactly as Jesus described, weary and heavy laden, and they want, they desperately need, rest. And Jesus promises it. Jesus promises you rest. And it doesn’t matter if you are especially wearied by your failing body or by your sinful soul, because in the end it all comes from sin, and Jesus is the Savior from sin.
The Bible makes this very clear, especially when it comes to leprosy. Leprosy is a disease of the body. It makes people miserable and ugly in the body. But God regularly imposes it as the punishment for sin. So Miriam, when she opposes Moses and says she can be a pastor too, God punishes her by giving her leprosy. And Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, when he lies and steals money from Naaman the Syrian, God punishes him with leprosy. When King Uzziah defies God’s pastors and offers incense in the temple without permission, God strikes him with leprosy. Sin and leprosy are everywhere connected. The pain of the body comes on us because we are sinners, that’s the point. Not that every pain or problem you have is exactly the punishment for this or that sin, not that. But the body’s corruption and death happen because we are sinners. So when you are weary and heavy laden because of loneliness, because of sickness, because of old age, because of not making enough money, whatever it is, realize this is because you are a sinner – Adam and Eve didn’t have these problems, you won’t have them in the resurrection, they are the result of sin, and Jesus says come to Me and I will give you rest. So recognize your need and come to Jesus who suffered in His body the corruption and disease of all your sins, who was made lonely and forsaken on the cross, who was robbed of all possessions and stripped naked and made the poorest of the poor, and see that He takes away guilt and shame and sin because He cares for you completely, body and soul.
Faith finally endures to the end. It doesn’t get what it wants from Jesus and then move on to other things. Nine lepers didn’t come back. It’s not that they went to the priests and then came back but by that time Jesus was gone. No, they never came back. They went instead to their jobs, their families, their social life, and now that life was good, now that they had no need, they left Jesus behind. They are the examples of so many who start out in the Christian Church but then get caught up in the pleasures of this world, as if they could enjoy any of the pleasures without the grace and love of their Savior. Many are called, but few are chosen.
This is one of the greatest challenges to faith, that so many don’t stay the course. We are social creatures. Those nine lepers were his friends, he had been with them for who knows how many years, and they go their own way, and he has to turn back alone. It is exactly what the disciples see after the feeding of the five thousand, when most of the other disciples go away, disappointed in Jesus, offended by Him, and Jesus says, “Will you go also,” and Peter answers for all, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Faith endures to the end because it never relies on outward appearances. It relies on Jesus. He remains the power and strength, even after He has made you whole, even after you feel refreshed and satisfied and strong. He is your strength. He is your Life. I am the vine, you are the branches, Jesus says, without Me you can do nothing. The others leave Jesus behind. But don’t look at them, look at Jesus. Here are the facts: there were ten lepers, and it was Jesus who healed them all, His is the power, His the love, His the mercy. He cared for them all. Here are the facts, there were five thousand men plus women and children, and it was Jesus who fed them all, satisfied them because He pitied His creatures and wanted to provide for them. He loved them all.
So don’t look at them, look at Him, look at His love. They all may forsake Jesus, but faith clings to what Jesus has done and sees that He is still calling you and everyone, because He is the God who heals ten lepers even though only one remains faithful, He is the Creator who feeds the thousands even though only a few stay with Him, He is the Savior who laid down His life for all the world, poured out His blood and became the sacrifice for all men’s sin, and reconciled the world to God, even though so many still turn away.
The disciples asked, “Increase our faith,” and Jesus increased it. He increased it not by telling them to believe harder, to search in themselves and find the strength. He increased it the way He increases yours. He showed them His power, His mercy, His love, for every single sinner, His beautiful willingness to relieve them of every misery of body and soul, His happiness and joy to see even one man out of ten come back and give Him thanks. So we pray, “Increase our faith, dear Savior,” and He shows us His power, His mercy, His love for us, in the body that suffered our death and now gives us life, in the blood that was shed in agony to give us pure joy, in His promise that He will never leave us or forsake us, but will take us to be where He reigns forever with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, blessed forever. Amen.