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 (Manna 62: The Miracles of Jesus)
Cleansing the Ten Lepers
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Cleansing the Ten Lepers

Jason Hsu—Baldwin Park, California, USA

The Lord’s grace and compassion is clearly evident in His healing ministry. Among the many miracles Jesus performed, His healings of lepers depict some of the most memorable highlights of His earthly ministry (Lk 5:12-14, 17:11-19).

In Jesus’ healing of the ten lepers, the main lesson is thankfulness, or the lack thereof. Thankfulness, one of the most beautiful of human expressions when it comes from deep within the heart, is a gift given to us by God. We should not live our lives without cultivating our thankfulness.

Through study of this event, we can meditate on how God’s grace in our life should instill us with a thankful heart.


Many things in life can make a person unattractive. An offensive personality can make even the most physically beautiful person ugly (Mt 23:27).

We may be scarred or maimed through misfortune or accident, but we often hide even deeper wounds within.

In Jesus’ day, lepers had a visible skin condition that made them unsightly. But the inner wounds inflicted by the disease were perhaps the most difficult to endure. Leprosy was feared as a punishment from God (Num 12:10; 2 Kgs 5:27). It humbled even kings and generals throughout history (2 Chr 26:19, 20; 2 Kgs 5:1).

In ancient Israel, a leper’s life was marked by segregation and ceremonial uncleanness. Generally isolated from others, the leper was put outside the camp:

            He shall be unclean. All the days he has [leprosy] he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp. (Lev 13:46)

The lepers that Jesus met would likely have suffered daily from humiliation, despair, and loneliness. After a long time living on the fringe of society, it would be natural for lepers to question the value of their existence.

In addition to being a sign of uncleanness (Lev 13:45), the Bible speaks of the leper as “one dead, whose flesh is half consumed when he comes out of his mother’s womb!” (Num 12:12; cf. Job 18:13). Leprosy, then, is a picture of human tragedy and affliction. Without a cure, lepers became social outcasts and the living dead.


Tragedy and Grace

In life, we are beset with things beyond our control. Human life often becomes human tragedy. Job’s story illustrates how tragic events can come upon us suddenly and without apparent reason (Job 1:12-2:10).

Imagine the tragedy in our life if we were suddenly afflicted with an incurable disease. How would we live out our days? With joy? Thankfulness? Bitterness? Anger?

Jesus’ healing ministry, however, has an important message: no matter how tragic our day-to-day life may appear, God’s grace is sufficient for those who put their trust in Him.

In the story of Elijah and the widow from Zarephath, a widow and her son were about to eat their last meal and die. In this sad picture of human life, God’s love and grace appeared. The widow’s bin of flour and jar of oil lasted until the Lord sent rain upon the earth (1 Kgs 17:8-16). From this simple story we gather an important truth: God’s grace often abounds where human tragedy exists.

God never miscalculates. He knows where our life begins and ends. He revealed to the apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor 12:9), and so it is for us.

Luke 17:11-19 illustrates God’s grace to those in dire need of it. Ten lepers—a distilled picture of the tragedy that so often besets human life—were in great need of a savior. Are we any different? When we realize how great our need truly is, we all cry for a savior.

A Position of Great Need

            [A]s [Jesus] entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. (Lk 17:12)

The ten lepers stood “afar off.” This is a position of great need. And this is where so many of us find ourselves in relation to God: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:13).

Like the ten lepers, we are in need of grace, and yet it seems far off from us. We may become so alienated from our heavenly Father that we lose our way, and, as if wasting our life in a far country, we stand a great way off from God (Lk 15:13, 20). Or, perhaps, like the tax collector in Jesus’ parable, we are fully aware of our sinful condition and therefore plead for His mercy from a distance (Lk 18:13).

Although the weight of sin brings great need and human life is beset with hardship, toil, and suffering, we must acknowledge that our lives are often deeply touched by grace and compassion through the love of God. Through grace, we find healing and sufficiency to help us overcome our most difficult times.

A leper once came to Jesus to ask for healing. The leper said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out His hand, touched the leper, and said, “I am willing, be cleansed” (Lk 5:12, 13). This outstretched arm, this gentle hand, that lifts a person out of the darkness and into the light, characterizes the grace of God in our darkest times of need.

The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ

            And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed. (Lk 17:13, 14)

We all have many needs. For most of us, basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing can always be met. Yet, there are many needs, such as air, water, sunshine, and light, that are fulfilled and often taken for granted.

Additionally, we may have unmet needs that we are not even consciously aware of. How many people need God but are unaware of their need? The need for love, companionship, or mercy may be unfulfilled in our lives, but we may not even be aware we are missing these things.

So many needs go unmet, and so many things in life are denied us. How we face our needs, how we handle our unfulfilled needs, and how we view the needs that have been met have a dramatic impact on whether we live a thankful or unthankful life.

When we consider all that we have received from God, His grace in our lives is beyond comprehension. As Christians, we understand that all human needs can find fulfillment in God, but we often fail to acknowledge that truth practically. Precious few take the time to remember God’s abundant grace and thank Him for it. If we do not realize God’s grace, we will not see its fulfillment in our lives.

            And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned… (Lk 17:15)

If our eyes have been enlightened to the depth of God’s grace in our lives, we will be thankful. The bitterness of our sacrifices and the tribulations we’ve endured are then put into proper perspective.

What we’ve given to God in terms of our time, resources, and heart will no longer become unreciprocated favors; rather, they will be insignificant contributions that can never repay the debt of love we owe. The tribulations we’ve endured will be less about God’s injustice and more about His good plan for us.

We will realize that what we thought “should be” maybe was not meant to be, and what “should not have been” was instead what “should be” (cf. Gen 50:19, 20). And we will be thankful for all we have received. 

Sometimes, our eyes are opened to the truth of life only through great tribulation. Job realized this after his own trials. As he learned to trust God, even in his desperate circumstances, he saw that God’s grace was sufficient for him. In the end, Job came to peace with all he had undergone. He said:

            “You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
Listen, please, and let me speak;
You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.
“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
But now my eye sees You. 
Therefore I abhor myself,
And repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:3-6)


Ten lepers had a great need, and ten lepers received grace to meet that need. But only one out of the ten came back to give thanks:

            And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. (Lk 17:15, 16)

Jesus was disappointed to the point that He seemed shocked. Only one came back?

            So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” (Lk 17:17, 18)

Jesus’ reaction teaches us that God wants those who receive His grace to know how to give thanks. It’s easy to forget the grace we have received. It’s easy to explain away all that we have received in life as “how it should be” or a matter of coincidence.

Throughout the history of God’s people we discover that they repeatedly forgot what God had done for them, and they forgot to have a thankful heart for the grace they had received.

During the time of the judges, God’s people forgot that He had delivered them from slavery in Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and brought them into a land flowing with milk and honey (Deut 4:34, 11:2, 3, 26:8, 9). After Joshua’s generation passed away, an entire generation arose that did not know the Lord or the work He had done for His people (Judg 2:10, 12).

God’s people forgot His grace, and His hand became heavy upon them; generation after generation, God’s people encountered cycle after cycle of affliction (Judg 2:15).

The farther we drift away from a heart of thanksgiving, the less of God’s grace we experience and see. We may suddenly realize one day how far away our life has drifted from His grace. If, by the grace of God, we come to our senses that day, we must return to Him.

We often look every place but within to find out what is wrong with the world. Yet, because we fail to see ourselves clearly, we cannot understand what is truly lacking.

If we wonder why we cannot perceive God’s grace in our lives while simultaneously failing to possess a thankful heart within ourselves, we’re like broken vessels that cannot perceive why they are never filled. If we want to be filled, we must reflect on and remember God’s grace with thanksgiving.


Human weakness is to forget and take for granted what we have received from others. Human weakness is to look at what we are missing rather than what we have received.

A person who does not have a thankful heart will not know how to truly worship the Lord, because a thankful heart is at the center of worship. We see this from the one leper who returned and fell face down at the Lord’s feet.

Having a thankful heart not only affects how we give thanks for what we have already received, but also how we give of ourselves for the sake of others. The Lord Jesus gave much during His ministry on earth. In the end, He gave everything that He had—His life and His all—for us, without price. This is a life full of grace.

But how much have we given? If we are honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that our love toward both God and man has failed in one way or another, to a greater or lesser extent.

Human love has limitations. We can only do as much as we know, with as much power as we have, with as much grace as we have received.

How deeply have we received the grace of God in our lives? On the surface, God’s grace was the same for all ten lepers, for all ten were healed. On a deeper level, the one Samaritan leper who came back and glorified God received so much more.

What was the difference? A thankful heart. With a thankful heart, the grace of God is so much sweeter, and we experience it much more deeply.

Therefore, let us learn from Jesus’ cleansing of the ten lepers, to possess a thankful heart—one that knows how to fully receive the grace of God, so that it can offer from its depths to others and to God. This is the example that our Lord Jesus Christ left for us in His ministry. May He grant us the strength to follow in His footsteps.

            And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Col 3:17)

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Author: Jason Hsu