Based on: Luke 17:11-19
Imagine seven football fields arranged end to end. It’s pretty close to half a mile. Then imagine that whole length turned up on end and having that whole distance of seven football fields consist of rock over your head and your only path to the surface has just been blocked by a cave in. You have no way out – no way to escape. That is what the thirty-three miners in Chile experienced on August 5th when a section of the copper mine they worked in collapsed. Very suddenly they were faced with the very high probability that they would die in that cave.
Think about this. There was nothing they could do to save themselves. They could not dig themselves out. Beyond the limited supply found in the cave, they could not provide themselves with food, water, or even air. If it were not for the work of people on the surface they would have no hope.
But they had reason to hope. Many people on the surface were working to rescue them – to keep them from despair and bring them out of that pit. It is an amazing story of hope in the face of death and of a dramatic rescue.
Then, if you watched those miners as they were brought to the surface, you saw them kiss their family and hug everyone they could – you saw their thankfulness, the appreciation they had simply to be alive. They had a great reason to be thankful.
When you look around you in this world, you will often find that God gives beautiful illustrations of the things he tells us about in his Word. This week in the news and in the Gospel for today we have two striking pictures of what God has done for us and the great reason we have to be thankful.
The ten lepers that Jesus meets on the border between Samaria and Galilee were in an even more hopeless situation. They had leprosy. Leprosy is a disease that causes the skin to become very disfigured. It damages nerve endings, causing blindness and causing fingers or whole limbs to become numb and unusable. The disease continues to progress, making it more and more difficult to do even the simple things necessary for life.
These ten lepers had no hope of ever being cured. Even worse than that, they were excluded from society. They were forced to live by themselves. “Unclean, unclean” they were supposed to yell out when someone came close. Why? Because God commanded it.
Leprosy was to be a picture for the Israelites of sin and the horrible effects of sin. As the Israelites sent lepers out of the community they were acting out a living parable. It was God’s reminder to them that sin separates us from God. It drives us out of fellowship with God.
Do you see the hopelessness of their life? They suffered from this horrible disease and were cut off from the rest of humanity. They had no way to cure themselves, no way to get themselves out of this miserable existence.
No hope, that is, until Jesus found them. “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” they called out to him. Jesus simply responded with, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” The priest was the one who could verify that their leprosy was gone and allow them back into a normal life in the community.
On their way to the priest all ten were miraculously healed. What a hopeless situation these men had been in! What a dramatic rescue it must have been as they realized their skin was normal again while walking on the road. What a great reason to be thankful.
But only one came back to thank Jesus – only one out of ten! And that one was a Samaritan – someone hated by the Jews. He was the only one to say thank you. Doesn’t that disturb you? How ungrateful those other nine were, right? Yet, are we even 1/10th as thankful as we should be for all that he has done for us. Do we give thanks to God for even one out of every 10 things he has blessed us with? I am ashamed to say that I probably do not.
Jesus has one last thing to say to this one man at his feet, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” The thankfulness of this former leper is a fruit of faith worked by God. Through faith as the man obeyed Jesus and started to go to the priest, Jesus healed his physical disease. Also through faith, this man was healed of his sin. Through faith he would receive the blessings of Christ’s death on the cross. He would have that fellowship with God again because the sin that causes separation from God was gone.
Our rescue from sin is even greater and even more dramatic than the healing of leprosy or the rescue of 33 men from under half a mile of rock.
We could not realize the magnitude of our problem because we were steeped in sin. Sin was all around us. We wouldn’t have a clue what it would be like to be without sin. It is like being born with leprosy and living your whole life only seeing other people with leprosy. Or it is like being born in that cave with the 33 miners, living your whole life there and never knowing what it is like to see the light of the sun!
Even worse we were destined for hell – a separation from all of God’s blessings. Hell is not a place where the unbeliever gets to do whatever they want. No, hell is an existence where the pain is horrible and the loneliness bitter – a place where everyone cares only about themselves and no one cares about you. A place you want to escape, but know that you can not. There is no one to heal you, no one to rescue you, no one to give you even the smallest hope.
In the leper colony of your sin, you wouldn’t know that your life could be any different unless someone told you and someone did. You heard about the one who healed you, the one who drilled through the rock to save you. And there was hope.
Not a hope that you might be saved, but a certain hope that it was already done. There on the cross as Jesus spread his arms and suffered hell for you, your sins were forgiven – you thanklessness and your selfishness, your pride and rebellion. The cure was made that would recreate you without sin, the capsule that would bring you to the surface.
Through baptism God brought you who were spiritually dead back to life. He healed your soul and started your spiritual heart pumping again. In baptism God brought you out of the cave and to the surface so that you could see the light of his Son.
You and I were without help. There was no way we could rescue ourselves. It could only be God and he did it. He came to us, gave us hope, and saved us.
As the 33 miners in Chile were brought to the surface, many of them were wearing t-shirts with the words of Psalm 95:4 on the back, “In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him.” They recognized that the world belongs to God and it was only by God’s grace that the rescue workers were able to reach them. Even more so for us – only by God’s grace did he rescue us from our hopeless situation. We have great reason to be thankful.