STUMBLING BLOCKS AND STEPPING STONES
The previous chapter has seen Jesus speaking to the subject of being a money-lover. He closed that passage with the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The rich man had been blinded to his eternal poverty by his present wealth. That wealth had served as a stumbling block to his faith. It is in this context that Jesus now takes up the topic of stumbling blocks.
Throughout most of the book of Luke, we have seen the Pharisees set themselves up in opposition against Jesus. They seek to discredit Him. In essence, they seek to make of themselves a stumbling block to prevent others from following Him.
THE DANGER OF STUMBLING BLOCKS
And He said to His disciples, "It is inevitable that stumblingblocks should come, but woe to him through whom they come!2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble." (Luke 17:1-2).
We live in a fallen world. In a fallen world, sin happens. A number of years ago Steve Brown wrote a book about the way bad things happen and he wanted to give it the title, "Crud Happens." But the publishers wouldn’t hear of it and so it was retitled, "When Your Rope Breaks." The premise of the book is that we live in a fallen world where bad things happen.
Jesus says the same thing when He says, "It is inevitable that stumblingblocks should come." The term stumblingblock is translated from the Greek word skandalon, from which we derive our word "scandal." The original term described a bent stick and referred to the stick that springs the trap or sets the bait. It also was used for a stumbling block, something that people trip over
In the Bible, sometimes a skandalon is good - such as the way that people "trip" over Jesus, and are offended at the gospel (Romans 9:33; 1 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 5:11). But when it comes to tripping up other believers, a skandalon is bad. Jesus is saying, "People are going to take the bait - but woe to you if you offer the hook. People are going to trip up - but woe to you if you set the stumbling block in their way."
It is bad enough to stumble over a stumbling block. But it is a worse thing to be the stumbling block over which others stumble. Jesus says, "People are going to stumble; but don’t you be the cause of their stumbling."
There is a principle here. It is that I am responsible for you. And you are responsible for me. Cain asked the question, "Am I my brother’s keeper?" And the answer is, "Yes, you really are." To quote Dickens from The Christmas Carol, "Mankind is our business." This theme was introduced in the last chapter where the Rich Man ignored this principle to his eternal destruction.
1 John 2:10 explains the solution to being a skandalon to others. It is love: The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. If we love our brother, we will not be bringing an offense into his life
THE HIGH STANDARD OF FORGIVENESS
"Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.4 And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him." (Luke 17:3-4).
One of the ways in which we can become a stumbling block to others is by our refusal to forgive those who have wronged us.
This is a supernatural standard. But as I read this, I am thankful for this standard. I am thankful because this tells me that I have a supernatural God who has met this standard.
The importance of not causing your brother to stumble
What to do when your brother stumbles and sins against you
A warning: "Be on your guard!"
Pictures the man who causes stumbling
Pictures the man who brings about restoration from stumbling
This is a continuation of the idea that was introduced in the first two verses. Instead of being a source of stumbling, we are to be a source of restoration.
1. Forgiveness is to be granted to those who have sinned against us.
Has someone done wrong against you? Has someone caused you hurt or pain? This passage is written to you. It is a call to forgive as you have been forgiven. This is the key to forgiveness. Instead of focusing upon the hurt or the pain that you have experienced, Christ calls upon you to look upon the hurt and the pain you have inflicted upon Him and how much He has forgiven you. When your focus is upon the cross, you will find it easier to forgive others.
2. Forgiveness is to be granted on the basis of a verbal confession alone.
God is able to see a person’s heart and He judges accordingly. But you are only able to see a person’s actions and hear their words. When someone asks for forgiveness, you are called upon to take it at face value.
3. Forgiveness is to be granted even to those who sin against us repeatedly and habitually.
The Lord is our pattern. He did not forgive you and then say, "You now have salvation and are declared to be righteous and are one of my beloved children -- until you slip up and commit a sin and then I am throwing you out."
God forgives and He keeps on forgiving. That is a good thing because I continually need forgiveness. I continually need forgiveness because I continue to sin real sins that need forgiving.
A PLEA FOR FAITH
And the apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"
And the Lord said, "If you had faith like a mustard seed, ye would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea;' and it would obey you." (Luke 17:5-6).
The teachings of Jesus regarding forgiveness are hard words to hear. They were hard for the disciples to hear. In response to that teaching, the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith. It seems to me that this was a good prayer. It is a prayer that I have often prayed myself. And yet, it presupposes a wrong premise. It presupposes that I will only be able to obey if I have a lot of faith.
Jesus says in effect, "You don’t need a great deal of faith to accomplish great things. Even a little faith will do if it is real faith."
Don’t miss the context in which this is said. It is said in a context about stumbling blocks and forgiveness. This isn’t about moving mulberry trees. It is about moving your own hardened heart. It is about moving YOU.
The apostles were under the impression that they would need a great quantity of faith to accomplish the forgiveness demanded by God. They already had faith. After all, they had gone out preaching the gospel and they had cast out demons and performed miracles. They had faith. But they were not so sure that they had enough faith to accomplish this kind of forgiveness.
Notice that Jesus does not grant their request. Instead He corrects their request. He tells them, "You are asking for the wrong thing." They wanted faith. What they needed was a lesson in gratitude.
The Apostles’ Request
Give us more faith and then we will be able to forgive as we ought.
Parable of a slave who serves his master.
Living parable of 10 lepers and one who showed gratitude.
The master is not obligated to thank the slave
Only one of the lepers whom Jesus healed returned to thank Him
Jesus is going to give two parables. The first will be a parable of a slave who serves his master. The second will be a living parable of the healing of 10 lepers.
THE SERVICE OF SLAVES
"But which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he is come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’?8 But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me until I have eaten and drunk; and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? 10 So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’" (Luke 17:7-10).
The word translated "servant" in verse 7 is the basic Greek word for "slave." Rather than describing a hired hand or a contractual worker, it describes a slave. Because we do not live in a culture that utilizes slavery, some of the force of this illustration is lost on us. The duty of a slave was to serve his master and not the other way around. The point is that when a slave does that which he has been commanded, it is not worthy of some special mention or merit.
The Truth Illustrated
The slave comes in from the field and is ordered to further serve the master. In all of his service, the slave receives no thanks as he is only doing what he is supposed to do.
When you do all the things which are commanded, you are still an unworthy slave who is only doing what you are supposed to be doing.
How does this apply to the previous passage? It means that when we forgive someone who has wronged us, we are not deserving thereby of some special merit or praise. We are merely doing that which we are supposed to do. Likewise, when we avoid causing someone else to stumble, that does not make us super spiritual or worthy of commendation. It is merely what is expected of us.
This is a lesson in GRACE. It is a lesson that teaches us that when we receive anything at all from the Lord it is unearned and undeserved.
The gospel is the story of the Lord of the universe taking on flesh to come and live and die as a servant to men, not because we earned it or deserved it, but because of His wondrous love and grace toward us.
SETTING FOR A MIRACLE
And it came about while He was on the way to Jerusalem, that He was passing between Samaria and Galilee. (Luke 17:11).
Luke is careful to tell us that Jesus was passing between Samaria and Galilee (17:11). Since chapter 9 we have seen Jesus on His way to Jerusalem. There is a cross in Jerusalem and He is headed there to keep a divine appointment. The purpose of the cross will be to provide the ultimate service for men. But in the meantime, Jesus performs another service.
The fact that Jesus was on the border of Samaria will come out in the story. There is going to be a mixed group of lepers. At least one of those lepers will be a Samaritan. The implication will be that others among the group are Jewish.
There was a deep prejudice which existed between the Jews and the Samaritans. It was a prejudice rooted in racial pride. For hundreds of years the Jews had prided themselves upon their racial purity. They were the seed of Abraham and they could trace their lineage back through the tribes of Israel. The Samaritans, on the other hand, were half-breeds. They were part Jewish, descended from a time when Israel had been invaded by foreign armies.
This prejudice was also political in nature. The split in the nation of Israel had taken place a thousand years earlier. Since that time, Judah and Samaria had been a divided peoples. Even when the land was united under the reign of the Maccabees, the people themselves were divided.
This prejudice was also a religious conflict. The Samaritans had their own places of worship and their own Bible which was limited only to the first five books of Moses. When the Maccabees had destroyed the place of worship in Samaria, the Samaritans had responded by sneaking into the Temple in Jerusalem and defiling it.
There was bad blood between the Jews and the Samaritans. And yet, it is interesting to see how that prejudice fell away in the face of calamity. When the tragedy of this disease struck, these men banded together in spite of their racial and political and religious differences. They had nothing in common except an overwhelming need. That is one of the things that draws the church together.
A REQUEST FOR MERCY
And as He entered a certain village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him;13 and they raised their voices, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"(Luke 17:12-13).
As Jesus comes to this border village between Samaria and Galilee, he encounters ten leprous men. They are standing at a distance. The reason they are standing at a distance is because they are afflicted with a disease that was considered to be highly contagious. Their disease has separated them from their fellow man. They are at a distance from their families and loved ones. They are at a distance from all that is healthy and whole.
They call out to Jesus, calling Him "master." This takes us back to the previous passage where Jesus gave an illustration of how a slave does not expect to be served by his master, but rather is expected to serve.
The point is that Jesus is under no obligation to heal these ten lepers. All they can do is to cry out for mercy. And that is all we can do. The Lord is under no obligation to save us. When He does act to save, it is an act of mercy.
"Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"
This should not be read in a calm voice. It was a cry of desperation. Their dreams and ambitions have failed. Their life is overwhelmed by the magnitude of this disaster. The stigma of AIDS is nothing to that which was attached to one who had leprosy.
Leprosy was a dreaded disease. It attacked the nerve ending in the victim so that he could feel no pain. He might be eating and bite off his finger without realizing it.
It was also a disease which was considered to be highly contagious. Those who had contracted it were driven away from the homes and their families. They became outcasts, waiting only the final release of death.
Notice that they stood at a distance. This was because rabbinic law mandated lepers keeping a certain distance from people. They were not even allowed to draw near to Jesus.
There are three things that I want you to see about these men.
- Master, using a title which is usually used by disciples.
There was both an urgency and an accuracy to their call. They saw Him as One who had the power to deliver them.
If we follow Jesus only because He helps us with our problems, then what do we do when things are going well? And if we follow Him for this reason only, what happens when I turn to Jesus and the problem doesn’t immediately go away?
A SIGNIFICANT COMMAND
And when He saw them, He said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." (Luke 17:14a).
Jesus does not immediately heal these lepers. He is able to. He has already healed a number of people. But instead He gives them some instructions. He tells them to "Go and show yourselves to the priests."
One of the duties of the priest was to act as the local health official. The priest was authorized to examine a person and to declare him either clean or unclean. This was a duty that had been given to the priesthood back in the book of Leviticus.
There was no cure for leprosy. It was a disease that would damage the nervous system so that the one so afflicted would lose all feeling in his limbs. If he was not very careful, he might cut off a finger or a toe and not even notice.
Leviticus 14 gives some very explicit instructions as to the sacrifices and rituals that were to be invoked in the case of a leper that had been healed. But this was not a common occurrence. The last time that anyone could remember a leper being healed had been in the days of Elisha. But now Jesus was on the scene and He was healing lepers. They are told to go and to show themselves to the priests.
Can you imagine the reaction of the priests? They have to go back to the Scriptures and look up Leviticus 14 to check and see what are the sacrifices and rituals to be used for a healed leper. This would not be a passage that they utilized on a regular basis. And the fact that they have to do so now is a mute testimony to the coming of Jesus.
Jesus is headed to Jerusalem where He will present Himself in the Temple, but before He gets there, He will be preceded by ten healed lepers who will bear testimony of His power. The priests will not be able to ignore that testimony. They will have to look up the appropriate passages in Leviticus 14 and they will have to oversee the required sacrifices and rituals. They will have to bear testimony that these men have truly been healed.
A GRACIOUS HEALING
And it came about that as they were going, they were cleansed. (Luke 17:14b).
I want you to notice something about these men. They all exhibited a measure of faith.
They did not argue with Jesus that He must touch them the way He had touched a leper back in Luke 5.
They all exhibited faith. Their faith was demonstrated by the fact that they went to show themselves to the priests. Normally you would not go to the priest unless you were already healed. They walked by faith, not by sight. They went as they were. And as they went, they were healed.
A GRATEFUL RESPONSE
Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice,16 and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan.
And Jesus answered and said, "Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine-- where are they?18 Was no one found who turned back to give glory to God, except this foreigner?" (Luke 17:15-18).
As the ten left to obey the injunction of Jesus, they were healed. They acted in obedience and they received grace. They were healed as they exercised the obedience of faith. It was not that they deserved or merited this healing. It was a work of grace. But it was a healing that came as they believed.
At this point, one of the ten stopped and turned back and returned to Jesus to give thanks. He happened to be a Samaritan. They were all undeserving, but he was even more undeserving.
Do you see what has happened? Ten lepers were given instructions from the master and they obeyed. As a result they were all healed. Now one comes back. He is not told to come back. He is not acting out of obedience because they were all obeying the command. He is not just acting out of obedience; he is acting out of GRATITUDE.
The Other Nine Lepers
The Samaritan Leper
They were all told to go and to show themselves to the priest
They all obeyed
They were all healed
They continued to obey the command, but showed no further initiative
He took the initiative to return to thank the Lord
They were obedient but they demonstrated no gratitude
He was obedient and he went a step further to express his gratitude
Jesus says something to this man that He does not say to the other former lepers. He says, "Your faith has made you well." This is not said of the other lepers. And that tells me something about saving faith. It suggests that saving faith includes a measure of gratitude.
We can learn something of the nature of thanksgiving from this Samaritan.
1. Thanksgiving Begins with Perception.
Being thankful involves not just having things happen, but how you see those things. All too often when things happen in our lives, we do not see God's hand.
It is like the way an artist and a cow each look at a beautiful green meadow. The artist sees the radiant colors in the shimmering grasses. The cow only sees lunch.
2. Thanksgiving Continues with Proclamation.
When we go to a football game, we yell and cheer and make a loud noise. But then we come to church and give thanks quietly. It wasn’t the case with this Samaritan. He used a loud voice. He was excited about the gift of God.
When was the last time you became excited about the Lord? When you spoke about Him with the same zeal and the same zest that a sports fan speaks about a great game or a young man speaks about his first love?
3. Thanksgiving Culminates in Prostration.
I am told that the Masai Tribe of Africa has a way of expressing thanks. You convey the idea of "thank you" by saying, "My head is in the dirt."
This man came before Jesus and bowed down before Him. That is an attitude of WORSHIP.
A GENUINE CONVERT
And He said to him, "Rise, and go your way; your faith has made you well." (Luke 17:19).
This story does not emphasize the thankless nine as much as the thankful ONE.
Ten men went away cleansed of their leprosy. But if I understand what Jesus is saying here, then only one went away cleansed of his sins.
The man who only seeks the hand of God and not the heart of God is only a spiritual consumer, not a worshiper. There is a danger in a theology which does not also become a "THANKOLOGY."
The nine went to the right source. They made the proper request. They even acted on faith. But in the end it was in vain because there was no thanksgiving in their hearts.
It is easy for us to sit back and judge the nine, but we are often guilty of the same ingratitude.
Most of all, we are guilty in not being thankful to the Lord of the salvation which we have received. And if we are not thankful for that, then perhaps it is because we have not really received it after all.