A Samaritan's Mustard Seed Faith
There is found in the 17th chapter of Luke a story of the healing of 10 lepers. In just a few minutes I will ask you to read the story with me beginning with verse 11 and continuing through verse 19. First, I want to make a few remarks that will provide a setting or introduction to this story.
Many sermons have been preached using this text in Luke 17. Most often the central focus is upon the man who, after discovering he was healed, returned to give thanks for his healing. This is certainly a fitting application. We learn that a proper response to God’s goodness and blessings is for us to offer Him our grateful thanks in praise.
I know that I do not have to encourage anyone in this audience to give thanks unto the Lord. We have already done that in this service. If time permitted – which it doesn’t – I would like to read ten verses beginning with 1 Chronicles 16 and continuing with another nine verses in the Psalms that begin by saying, "O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good." (1 Chronicles 16:34, Psalms 105:1, Psalms 106:1, Psalms 107:1, Psalms 118:1, Psalms 118:29, Psalms 136:1, Psalms 136:2, Psalms 136:3, Psalms 136:26)
But something else equally as important as giving thanks– perhaps even more important – is found in this passage of Scripture. I believe that this story is told—actually is intended to illustrate--a response to the earlier request made by the disciples. Their request is found in verse 5 and the Lord’s answer to them is found in verse 6. All these incidents and events are tied together. In other words, taking into consideration the context that surrounds the healing of these lepers we get a complete picture of what the Lord is ready and willing to do today. There is something here that every one of us can identify with, that we can relate to.
The disciples had said, "Lord increase our faith." And Jesus had said, "If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea, and it would obey you."
I dare say that this four-word petition – Lord increase our faith – has been and IS the cry of most Christians. For me—and I believe for you--the answer to that prayer would go a long way toward helping me – all of us – to be a better Christian.
We think, If I had more faith! What great things could be done. Just think of the blessing I could be. Just think of what greater things I could be doing for the Lord and for myself! Think of how stronger, happier, more useful my life would be. Why, if I had more faith I wouldn’t be struggling with my problems as I am today. I would have answers. I would be the victorious Christian I long to be . . . .If the Lord would increase my faith!
Jesus answered the disciples. In answering them he answers us. However, when Jesus answered their request for more faith He said some things that we don’t understand to this day. He said, If you have faith as a mustard seed you could pull up trees by the roots and cast them into the sea! I must say to you – and you don’t have to share my feeling about this – but I don’t have a need to uproot mulberry trees and throw them into the sea. I have more pressing needs in my life than transplanting trees!
But wait! Don’t leave me yet. What I hear Jesus saying is something I can relate to and you can relate to. Jesus is saying, if you have faith as a mustard seed you can accomplish the impossible. You can do what appears to be impossible. You can receive what appears is impossible to receive. The question is, How much faith is enough faith to accomplish the impossible task? And, do I have that faith? Do I have mustard seed faith? The answers to these questions is simple and is found in the scripture we are going to read.
There’s nothing better than a good story to provide an answer. The Holy Spirit has provided us such a story with the healing of the 10 lepers. Let’s read in from Luke 17:11-19
11. Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee
12. Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off.
13. And they lifted up their voices and said, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"
14. 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.
15. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God,
16. And fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.
17. So Jesus answered and said, "Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?
18. "Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?
19. And He said to him, "Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well."
This healing is in many ways unlike any of the other healing events in the life and ministry of Jesus. Yes, Jesus had healed other lepers. One came to Jesus and begged for healing and Jesus touched him and sent him to the priest in Jerusalem for his healing to be certified according to the commandment of the Law of Moses and detailed in Leviticus 14. Let’s take a closer look at what happened here.
1. These ten lepers did not get close to Jesus. We understand why. The nature of their disease and their law prevented it.
2. They stood far off as was customary.
3. This is interesting: they did not ask for healing. They simply said, "Have mercy upon us."
4. Jesus did not go to them and touch them and heal them.
5. He did not sprinkle dirt on them; or water. He did not breathe on them. He did not touch them in any way.
6. Jesus did not speak a word of healing to them. He did not say, Be healed!
7. He simply said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests in Jerusalem." This was for the purpose of certifying their healing according to the commandment given by Moses.
All these ten had to do was, Go, show yourselves to the priests in Jerusalem. What is hard about that? How difficult can that be? Walk from here to Jerusalem, present yourself to the priests at the Temple, let them examine you and let them certify that you are indeed as free from leprosy as you claim. It’s a slam dunk. A done deal. The only energy expended will be in what is required to walk from this spot to Jerusalem. It’s a piece of cake! Anyone could do it. Could you do it?
For nine of the ten leper guys, it would be a piece of cake. A walk in the park. No sweat. No problem. It would be an opportunity for them to visit the big city and walk among the crowds they had not walked among possibly for years. Nine of these Jewish lepers could do this.
Wait! Don’t forget there is a Samaritan among them. This fact adds a new dimension to this story. It complicates things. Seriously complicates things.
Jesus said to them all: Go, show yourselves to the priest! Nine of them could have heard that and instantly turned and began the walk to Jerusalem. But what about the Samaritan? He could have stood rooted in his tracks, unable to believe what he has just heard from Jesus. He could have been dumbfounded when he hears Jesus say, "Go, show yourself to the priest." He could have answered back saying, Who? Me? Show myself to the priest? Me? A Samaritan outcast? Go to Jerusalem and walk into the Temple court? You’ve got to be kidding! That’s ok for my Jewish buddies but not for me. I know what is written on the front gate. If I go to Jerusalem and walk inside the Temple Courtyard I’ll die on the spot.
The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that in Jerusalem at the entry into the Temple Court – the very place where Jesus has just said they were to show up -- was a very prominent sign that read: Any foreigner who goes beyond this wall will have only himself to blame for his ensuing death." Recall verse 18 of our Scripture reading. "Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?"
The warning at the Temple Courtyard gate fits this Samaritan, this foreigner, to a tee. It was designed to keep him away. Do you see what I see happening here? This man who is already an outcast from society because of his leprosy is now a double outcast. He is an outcast because he is a leper. He is an outcast because he is a Samaritan. It’s a double whammy! Unlike his nine Jewish friends he has no access to the priest in Jerusalem. But that’s where Jesus tells them to go.
The ancient patriarch Jacob, after a series of what he considered to be unbearable setbacks and disappointments, cried, "ALL these things are against me!" This Samaritan could have said, "I don’t stand a chance! All these things are against me!" Some of you may be dealing with problems within yourself or your circumstances that makes you feel that way. "All these things are against me. I don’t stand a chance."
The command of Jesus has two parts. (1) Go. (2) Show yourselves to the priests. This Samaritan did something remarkable. He had "mustard seed" faith. When I say "mustard seed" unless you are thinking "little" as in size, you are not thinking what I’m thinking. His faith is the size of a mustard seed meaning it was not much, not a great thing – little. Small.
Here’s what I want you to see. It doesn’t take huge faith—great faith—giant faith—Mt Everest size faith to see a miracle in your life. It only takes one step. Rather than dwell on the one thing he could not do – show himself to the priest in Jerusalem – this outcast Samaritan concentrated upon the one thing he could do. He could go. Jesus had said, go. He could go. When he went it made the rest unimportant. He didn’t have to show himself to the priest. He was cleansed of his leprosy. He was healed. But he had to take that first step.
Do you recall the cliché, "the longest journey begins with the first step."
Put yourself in the Samaritan’s sandals. Picture yourself standing downcast and feeling totally unworthy. You do not have the dreaded disease of leprosy but for all intents and purposes the way you feel about yourself and your present situation--your circumstances--are the same as his. You have dreams, hopes and ambitions. But nothing has worked out so far. You are discouraged. What to do? Where to turn. You think, If only I had more faith I could change things in my life. This or that would work out. This or that would change.
What I am going to say to you may astound you. You don’t need your faith to increase! You don’t need more faith, greater faith. You need to hear the words of Jesus. Go, show. If there is a problem it is because you have chosen to dwell on what you can’t do instead of the part you can do. You can go.
It isn’t increased faith you need. It isn’t more faith you need. Everyone within the sound of my voice has faith as a mustard seed and Jesus says, Faith as a mustard seed can make the impossible possible.
This is what the Samaritan did. Jesus said, go. The Samaritan said, I can do that.
- Don’t let your "leprosy" stop you.
- Don’t let what appears to be closed doors stop you.
- Don’t let what other people think about you are your plans stop you.
- Stop saying, I don’t know how it will turn out.
You can’t know how it will turn out until you take the first step toward making something turn out. The Samaritan knew he could never set foot inside the Temple at Jerusalem but he knew he could set foot on the dirt that was right in front of him that would be his first step in obedience to the words of Jesus. Sometimes the hardest thing for us to do is take the first step. Turn. Go. Turning and going releases the power of healing.
Let’s make it as practical as we can. Turning to go may mean something like this:
- Send in that job your application. Don’t say, "what if?" Go!
- Submit your resume. Don’t say, "Yes, but . . ." Go!
- Sign up for that college class. Don’t say, I can’t because . . .Go!
- Sign up for that adult education class. Don’t say, "I don’t think…maybe…" Go!
- Take that trip. Take time off. Do something that will refresh your spirit, mind and body. No more excuses . . . Go!
- Take the first step to mend the broken relationship if that’s what you want.
- Sign up as a volunteer.
- Begin writing that book.
- Submit your writing to a publisher.
Don’t just stand there – GO! It will surprise you—delight you—at the outcome that awaits your first step. That’s mustard seed faith. And you have it. Use it.
Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, some of us, like Peter, are standing on a boat tossed by wind and wave. We have just heard your call, "come to me . . . in the face of the wind and storm." It means stepping over the edge, onto the boisterous waves. We tremble at the thought but we want to go to you. It’s not easy for us to do. Give us your grace and strength. Give your grace to everyone here who, like the Samaritan of old, needs to take that one step toward their Jerusalem and toward healing. In Jesus name we pray. Amen