WHERE ARE THE NINE?
“And one of them when he saw that he was healed turned back and with a loud voice glorified God
And fell down on his face at his feet giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.
And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?”
“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Thessalonians 5: 23
The account of ten lepers healed recorded in Luke is not the first time that Jesus encountered a leper in the course of his ministry. There is a touching account found in Matthew 8:2-4 (also in Mark 1:40-45) that precedes this story:
“When he was come down from the mountain great multitudes followed him. And behold there came a leper and worshipped him saying Lord if thou wilt thou canst make me clean. And Jesus put forth his hand and touched him saying I will; be though clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus saith unto him See thou tell no man; but go thy way shew thyself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded for a testimony unto them.”
It’s worth noting here that the record in Mark says “And Jesus moved with compassion put forth his hand and touched him and saith unto him I will; be thou clean.” Emphasis mine.
The condition effects and source of leprosy?
What is it about leprosy that makes this disease emphasized in the work of Jesus? And what is important about it for us today?
First, let’s look at the disease itself. Easton’s Illustrated Dictionary provides a good picture of the state’s social impact and source of it.
Easton’s Illustrated Dictionary records the state of leprosy as: This name is from the Greek lepra by which the Greek physicians designated the disease from its scaliness. We have the description of the disease as well as the regulations connected with it in Lev 13; Lev 14; Num 12:10-15 etc. There were reckoned six different circumstances under which it might develop itself (1) without any apparent cause (Lev 13:2-8); (2) its reappearance (Lev 13:9-17); (3) from an inflammation (Lev 13:18-28); (4) on the head or chin (Lev 13:29-37); (5) in white polished spots (Lev 13:38 39); (6) at the back or in the front of the head (Lev 13:40-44).
Easton’s definition continues with the impact on both the infected and the community. Lepers were required to live outside the camp or city (Num 5:1-4; 12:10-15). This disease was regarded as an awful punishment from the Lord (2Ki 5:7; 2Ch 26:20).
This disease “begins with specks on the eyelids and on the palms gradually spreading over the body bleaching the hair white wherever they appear crusting the affected parts with white scales and causing terrible sores and swellings. From the skin, the disease eats inward to the bones rotting the whole body piecemeal.” “In Christ’s day, no leper could live in a walled town though he might in an open village. But wherever he was he was required to have his outer garment rent as a sign of deep grief to go bareheaded and to cover his beard with his mantle as if in lamentation at his own virtual death. He had further to warn passers-by to keep away from him by calling out ‘Unclean! unclean!’ nor could he speak to anyone or receive or return a salutation since in the East this involves an embrace.”
Finally, Easton sheds a light on the source of the disease: That the disease was not contagious is evident from the regulations regarding it (Lev 13:12-13 36; 2Ki 5:1). Leprosy was “the outward and visible sign of the innermost spiritual corruption; a meet emblem in its small beginnings its gradual spread its internal disfigurement its dissolution little by little of the whole body of that which corrupts degrades and defiles man’s inner nature and renders him unmeet to enter the presence of a pure and holy God” (Maclear’s Handbook O.T). Our Lord cured lepers (Matt 8:2-3; Mark 1:40-42). This divine power so manifested illustrates his gracious dealings with men in curing the leprosy of the soul the fatal taint of sin.
And so leprosy was not a common disease like the flu that could be passed from one person to another. It was the “outward and visible sign of the innermost spiritual corruption”. The effect of a deeper sinful life (small beginnings) affecting the soul (internal disfigurement) and finally the physical (whole-body). But notice that the leper had an additional state the social shame; the stigma associated with something that could not be OUTWARDLY shared (passed on). “He had further to warn passers-by to stay away from him by calling out ‘Unclean! Unclean!” nor could he speak to anyone or receive or return a salutation.” Additionally, lepers were required to live outside the camp or city. Shame lived outside the reach of the righteous.
So here in the record, Jesus comes down from a mountain with great multitudes around him when from nowhere a leper dares to approach him looking for healing- inner forgiveness and cleansing from God. Jesus moved with compassion touches the man and heals him- but it’s more than that; Jesus has cleansed the heart, restored the soul, and healed the physical symptoms. But what are the consequences of Jesus’ compassion on the man?: Mark 1:43-45
And he straitly charged him and forthwith sent him away;
And saith unto him See thou say nothing to any man; but go thy way shew thyself to the priest and offer for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded for a testimony unto them.
But he (the healed man) went out and began to publish it much and to blaze abroad the matter insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter.” Emphasis mine.
How hard can it be for someone touched by the Son of God, having his heart cleansed from the most terrible of diseases, one that is born from sinning against God himself, to keep what has happened to himself? NOT desiring to tell everyone. He couldn’t. But there’s an equally awful yet prophetic result.
Jesus’ reward for having compassion on a sinner was immediate identification with him the condition that wasn’t even contagious- Jesus could no longer openly enter the city. It was unlawful to touch an unclean person. He became unto the righteous an unclean man. And He the Christ of God carried that pain and sorrow; that shame to the cross. It says of Jesus while on the cross that they mocked and derided him. They continued to shame him. Jesus said that we must see him on the cross as Moses lifted the serpent in the desert. On the cross Jesus took our sin and the shame identified with it- it was nailed there; driven through his feet and his hands. We’re always reminded about the sins that he took but have you considered the shame; your shame that Jesus bore in your place as well? He took them so that you can walk cleansed today inside and out.
Here it might be good to look at John Gill’s Commentary on Matthew 8:17. It reads in part:
himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses: very agreeable to the Hebrew text הוא “he himself” not another; נשא “took up” upon himself voluntarily freely as a man lifts up a burden and takes it on his shoulders; חלינו “our infirmities” diseases sicknesses whether of body or soul ומכאבינו סבלם “and bare” or carried as a man does a burden upon his back “our sicknesses” or diseases which occasion pain and sorrow. And that these words are spoken of the Messiah the Jews themselves own; for among the names they give to the Messiah “a leper” is one; which they prove from this passage (u).
Notice “’he himself’…carried as a man does a burden upon his back “our sickness” or diseases which occasion pain and sorrow. …And that these words are spoken of the Messiah the Jews themselves own; for among the names they give to the Messiah “a leper” is one.” (emphasis mine). Can you SEE THAT? Jesus the Messiah to the Jews is classified as a leper. WOW!
In 1Thessalonians there is the order of a person’s being. “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly (completely); and your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I have removed the words in italics I pray God which were added by the scribes copying the text. This gives the Scripture a different and more direct meaning). First, we are spiritual beings- made to be children sons and daughters of God. And this part of our being and only this part has it’s relationship directly to God. The description of leprosy and how it spreads is a very clear picture of how the ‘awful punishment from the Lord” was expressed moving from the inside-out. From the spirit (small beginnings) to the soul (internal) and the flesh (physical manifestations).
We don’t know how long after but Luke’s account takes place sometime after this meeting. The ten lepers must have heard the story of the leper that Jesus encountered earlier (he published it much and blazed it abroad) for the Scriptures say that they waited for him as he entered into a certain village “and they lifted up their voices and said Jesus Master have mercy on us.” (v 13). And he said to them “Go shew yourselves unto the priests” and as they went they were cleansed. (v14 cleansed- spiritually forgiven soul renewed and physically healed). But one a Samaritan seeing that he was physically healed turned back and threw himself at Jesus’ feet glorifying God. Alfred Edersheim in his book The Life and Times of Jesus The Messiah writes “This Samaritan had received more than new bodily life and health: he had found spiritual life and healing “…”That made a man a disciple.”
But what about Jesus’ question to the Samaritan? “Were not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? There are not found to return to give glory to God save this stranger.” The nine others, Jews continued on their way to show themselves to the Priests as commanded. Their eyes were fixed solely on the physical manifestations of healing. Their hearts were hardened and not changed by the miracle. To them, it was important to receive their declaration of health and return to the righteous community; to the world. Even the leper from the earlier account became a convert becoming possibly the first Evangelist outside of the apostolic inner circle.
Today it is much the same. At conferences special healing services or wherever healing takes place, we rejoice in the physical manifestations. There are shouts of “Halleluiah!” and “Praise God” but whether it is 9, 99 or 999 we often overlook the one who falls at the foot of the cross, at the feet pierced with nails and accepts the true source of his cleansing. Many times when someone who is healed is asked about what happened they talk about the heat that ran through their body. Or the sensation of an electric shock from somewhere inside. Or a light piercing their heart. This is a miracle! The Holy Spirit moving on the order of things. From the small beginnings through the inner disfigurement to the whole body. Restored wholly (1 Thessalonians 5: 23). This is worth rejoicing!
Let’s remember the words of David:
“Create in me a clean heart O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore onto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.” (Psalm 51:10-12. It pays to read the entire Psalm)
Create in me a clean heart (that place where you and I meet. Where we sit together and you teach me) and renew a right spirit within me (shed fresh light onto my spirit with your Word). Cast me not away from thy presence (let this be the place of my habitation); take not thy holy spirit from me (Let me never quench your holy spirit. Let YOUR ways be my ways).