In the Creeds of the Church, day after day and week after week throughout the year, we confess that God the Father Almighty, with His Son and Holy Spirit, is the Maker and Preserver of all things; that everything comes from Him and depends upon His ongoing providential care; and that each and every one of us, all that we are and have, all of our vocations and relationships, all are gifts of grace from His wide open hand. Thus, it is our duty to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him.
Regrettably and tragically, God’s good Creation has been subjected to the curse and consequences of our sin — from Old Man Adam to the present day. Our sin has separated us from God, turned us and driven us away from Him, and so cut us off from the only real Source of life and health.
Consequently, our sin has brought sickness, suffering, and death upon all of us and our children, and upon the whole of Creation. The leprosy of those ten men in this familiar Holy Gospel from St. Luke is simply one outward symptom and example of the curse and consequences of sin.
It is only by the fatherly, divine goodness and mercy of God — with which He created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them to begin with, and for which He created Adam & Eve as the King and the Queen of His Creation (in anticipation of Christ Jesus and His Bride, the Church) — it is solely for the sake of His goodness and mercy that He continues to provide for you and all His creatures, to guard and keep you and your children in body and soul, to defend and protect you from all harm and danger, and to keep you in life. Above all else, it is by His grace alone that God the Father gives His own dear Son to save you from sin, death, the devil, and hell. Indeed, it is for the sake of His beloved Son, Christ Jesus, that the Father loves you and gives you all good things.
Sadly, among the many consequences of your sin, one of the most tragic is your native inability to recognize the grace and providence of God, so that you add sin upon sin with your ingratitude.
But into all this mess comes the incarnate Son of God, our dear Lord Jesus Christ. He takes every initiative in coming to you — and coming for you — in order to save you. He enters into His own Creation, becoming the true Man, in order to carry all the sins and sorrows of the world in His own Body to the Cross, to sacrifice Himself on behalf of all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. He bears the entire curse and consequences of your sins, in order to make Atonement for you, to redeem you, and to give you His own divine, eternal Life in place of your death and damnation. He does it all by way of His Cross, and now He delivers the goods through His Means of Grace.
Consider the example of His dealings with these ten lepers. They have been separated from God and from His people by their leprosy — an outward manifestation of sin’s curse and consequence. But Jesus draws near to them, as He draws near to you. And when they cry out to Him for mercy, He hears their prayer of faith, and He graciously responds to their need with His powerful Word.
At that point, to begin with, they have nothing but His Word to rely on and to go by, as He sends them to the priest in accordance with the Law of Moses before their bodies have even been healed. Just as you have, for now, the Word and promise of the Resurrection, but you sure don’t see it yet.
It is in their going at His Word — in their proceeding by faith to do what He has given them to do — that their bodies are cleansed and healed by Christ Jesus, who is Life Itself in His own Flesh.
And so it is that you also are cleansed and healed, in both body and soul, by the powerful Word of the same Lord Jesus Christ — by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins in His Name, and by the washing of the water with His Word and Holy Spirit in your Baptism. For He is your merciful and great High Priest, the fulfillment of the whole Law of Moses, and the one great Sacrifice-for-sin to end all sacrifices for sin. Indeed, His own Body, crucified and risen from the dead, supercedes and replaces the Temple, so that you find peace and rest with God in Him.
Now, in this familiar story, as you well know, even though all ten of those lepers were healed, only the one returned to glorify God by worshiping the Lord Jesus and giving thanks to Him. No doubt the other nine gave thanks to God in connection with the requisite sacrifices, but there is no indication that they returned to praise and give thanks to God in the Person of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus. Although it was His Word that healed them, they evidently did not perceive that He is God in the Flesh, that He is both Priest and Sacrifice, and that His Body is the Temple of God.
Unfortunately, their actions also offer an example of the ways that all of us poor sinners too often fail and fall short in returning thanks and praise unto our gracious Lord.
When it comes to the temporal Providence of God for this present body and life, it is far too easy to focus on His creatures and His gifts of creation, while losing sight of Him as the Creator of all things and the Author and Giver of life. You fear not having enough or losing what you do have, whereas you love and trust the things that you possess more than you fear, love, and trust in God.
And when it comes to the spiritual gifts and blessings of God — the forgiveness of your sins, your faith and life in Christ Jesus, your righteousness and holiness in the presence of your God and Father, and the hope and promise of the Resurrection and the Life everlasting — you are prone to rely upon yourself, upon your own intellect, knowledge, and understanding, your gut feelings and personal intuitions, and your own self-styled efforts to be “pious and faithful and good,” thereby treating your life, your “Christianity,” and your salvation as one big “do-it-yourself” project.
Like those “other nine” men who did not come back to worship and give thanks to the Lord Jesus, you presume to worship God, to “pray, praise, and give thanks,” apart from His Word and Flesh, away from the Temple of His Body, without the Ministry of His Gospel and His Means of Grace.
But now, recognize and take to heart, in repentance and faith, the way that God the Lord, the Creator, deals with you and provides for your body and soul by the means of His good Creation:
In the first place, His fallen Creation has been redeemed, restored, sanctified, and perfected by the Incarnation of the very Son of God, by His life in the Flesh as true Man, by His innocent suffering and death upon the Cross, and by His bodily Resurrection and Ascension to the Right Hand of His God and Father in heaven. For in His Body, crucified and risen, exalted and glorified, all things are made brand new — and are taken up by God to serve the purposes He intended from the start.
As such, His good Creation has been redeemed and sanctified for you, for your present and eternal benefit — just as you yourself are redeemed and sanctified, recreated, healed and cleansed in both body and soul, in the Body of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, by His creaturely Means of Grace.
The Lord your God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, your Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, deals with you graciously, and He gives Himself, His Life, and His Salvation to you, by and with the waters of Holy Baptism, by the spoken Word of the Gospel from the mouth of His servants into your ears, and by the very Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, given and poured out for you in, with, and under the bread and wine of the Holy Communion. He thereby lays hold of you in both body and soul, unto the Resurrection of your body and the Life everlasting of your body and soul in Christ Jesus, that you might live with Him in righteousness and purity forever.
It is by the same Means of Grace that the Holy Spirit is actively present and at work to call you and bring you, again and again, to repentance and faith in Christ Jesus, to acknowledge His gifts and His merciful goodness, to return thanksgiving to God the Father through Him, and to live in Him.
It is by and with and in these Means of Grace, therefore, that your God and Father not only bestows His best and greatest gifts upon you, but also enables you to receive His gifts with thanksgiving.
So, too, the first and foremost way by which you thank, praise, serve, and obey Him, is simply by receiving His good and gracious gifts of the Gospel in His Word and Sacraments. As you then live from His Font, His Pulpit, and His Altar, into your callings and stations throughout the week, and as you return, again and again, to His Means of Grace each Sunday, your entire body and life and all of your callings and stations in life are embraced by thanksgiving at all times and in all places.
In serving your neighbors, for example — in faith and with thanksgiving toward God the Father in Christ Jesus — you offer the meet, right, and salutary eucharistic sacrifice for Jesus’ sake, just as He has sacrificed Himself for you. Not as though to redeem yourself, but as redeemed by Him!
And by the ongoing grace of God in Christ, as often as you fail and fall short — as indeed you do — rejoice, give thanks, and sing, that your dear Lord Jesus Christ has not failed you or fallen short, nor does He ever do so. No, as He has given Himself for you, so does He continue to give Himself to you by and with His Word and Spirit, forgiving your sins, restoring your faith, cleansing you inside and out, and preparing you for the Resurrection and the Life everlasting in and with Him.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.