Luke 17:11-19: The Ten Lepers

Many a Christian has come to be grateful for the particular difficulty that led them to cry out to the Lord, and by which they were saved. There are many cries to God during times of need; we tend to pray more when we are in trouble than when things are going well. We have all heard of the saying there are no atheists in foxholes. A saying that reminds us that when we get to the end of ourselves and the reality of death or disaster is around us we finally cry out to God. Many modern day atheists resent the statement and some have publicized the fact that there are many military men who are atheists, even in wartime situations. They quip that the saying points to a reality that makes foxholes the problem not atheism. Many people cry to God in their need, and sometimes God answers, some of those people go on to believe in Him, and others go on putting their emergency faith away and going back to the way they were, ignoring God.

We all know the famous story of John Newton who was converted through a storm at sea. Here is how one biographer describes it:

‘He awoke in the night to a violent storm as his room began to fill with water. As he ran for the deck, the captain stopped him and had him fetch a knife. The man who went up in his place was immediately washed overboard (Richard Cecil, Memoirs of the Rev. John Newton, p. 25). He was assigned to the pumps and heard himself say, “If this will not do, the Lord have mercy upon us” (Ibid., p. 26). It was the first time he had expressed the need for mercy in many years.

He worked the pumps from three in the morning until noon, slept for an hour, and then took the helm and steered the ship till midnight. At the wheel he had time to think back over his life and his spiritual condition. At about six o’clock the next evening it seemed as though there might be hope. “I thought I saw the hand of God displayed in our favour. I began to pray: I could not utter the prayer of faith; I could not draw near to a reconciled God, and call him Father . . . the comfortless principles of infidelity were deeply riveted; . . . . The great question now was, how to obtain faith” (Ibid., p. 28).

He found a Bible and got help from Luke 11:13, which promises the Holy Spirit to those who ask. He reasoned, “If this book be true, the promise in this passage must be true likewise. I have need of that very Spirit, by which the whole was written, in order to understand it aright. He has engaged here to give that Spirit to those who ask: I must therefore pray for it; and, if it be of God, he will make good on his own word” (Ibid.).

He spent all the rest of the voyage in deep seriousness as he read and prayed over the Scriptures. On April 8 they anchored in Ireland, and the next day the storm at sea was so violent they would have surely been sunk. Newton described what God had done in those two weeks:

Thus far I was answered, that before we arrived in Ireland, I had a satisfactory evidence in my own mind of the truth of the Gospel, as considered in itself, and of its exact suitableness to answer all my needs. . . . I stood in need of an Almighty Saviour; and such a one I found described in the New Testament. Thus far the Lord had wrought a marvellous thing: I was no longer an infidel: I heartily renounced my former profaneness, and had taken up some right notions; was seriously disposed, and sincerely touched with a sense of the undeserved mercy I had received, in being brought safe through so many dangers. I was sorry for my past misspent life, and purposed an immediate reformation. I was quite freed from the habit of swearing, which seemed to have been as deeply rooted in me as a second nature. Thus, to all appearance, I was a new man (Ibid., p. 32).’

The portion that we have before us gives us both scenarios, 10 lepers are in dire need and call out to Christ. Christ heals them, 9 do not turn to Christ but only 1 does. Luke 17:11-19 records the events. We will look at this section under two headings, Nine lepers cleansed; One leper saved.