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?”
We spent some time contemplating how the leper’s worship sets up beautifully what proper worship looks like, and in fact sets the basic contours of the liturgy: Lord have mercy, Healing, Glory to God, Thanksgiving. This parallels Gloria Patri, Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis, Creed, Thanksgiving (Eucharist).
But our passage for today needs some emphasis. It so clearly teaches several central Gospel truths.
It teaches, for instance, the incarnation. Notice, Jesus grants no possibility that giving glory to God could happen in a way other than “returning” to Him. Do we really imagine the nine lepers were not grateful? They had leprosy, a horrible skin disease, and get healed. The next thing they did was a religious act, going to the priest. Do we really think gratitude of the heart toward God was nowhere involved in their acts of religious duty? But they didn’t “return” to God, in the end, because they didn’t go where Jesus was. To give Glory to God was to return to Jesus, give thanks to Him, and worship Him. That’s a powerful statement of the incarnation, that Jesus is God in human flesh, and there is no true faith or worship of God except through Jesus Christ.
Second, this little passage teaches the centrality of giving glory to God in worship. Here again, there’s a cornerstone part of the historic liturgy that so easily gets tossed aside as so much useless filler. The Gloria Patri caps off each Psalm with an acknowledgment that the Triune God is the God driving the Psalms. The Gloria in Excelsis is a hymn of praise to the Lord, giving Him glory. We confess the Triune God is “worshiped and glorified” in the Nicene Creed. We give glory for the Holy Gospel. We pray “thine is the glory.”
What’s with all the glory?
On one hand, giving God glory is an extremely powerful fulfillment of a prophecy: “All nations whom You have made Shall come and worship before You, O Lord, And shall glorify Your name.”
Glorify your name. What name? The name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. All nations shall glorify the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. So, when we say, “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,” it’s not useless filler that we can cut out to make more room for the skit the worship team has in store for us. No, it’s an ongoing statement that we are among that throng of “all nations,” including gentiles, who are now included in God’s promises and among God’s people. As I find myself asking so often when it comes to elements of the liturgy, why would anyone cut that out?
On the other hand, something even more sublime is going on. We get this from another use of the word “glory” in the liturgy, in the Sanctus. “Heaven and earth are full of thy glory.”
When we give glory to God, we’re not just saying words. We’re testifying. To testify is to mirror, to bear witness, of happenings in which we are participating. We are witnessing heaven and earth full of God’s glory, the glory of the Triune God (“Holy, Holy, Holy”).
Very cool. But here’s the interesting thing. When we sing the Sanctus, we’re singing the combination of a heavenly and earthly song, the song of angels combined with the song of children on Palm Sunday. The song of angels we get from the prophet Isaiah, when Isaiah was called a prophet and lifted up in the temple, and he witnessed heaven opened up and saw the throne of God surrounded by Seraphim. They were singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy, the whole earth is full of your glory.”
Do you see the slight difference between those words and those of the liturgy? In the liturgy we bear witness that heaven and earth are full of God’s glory, whereas in Isaiah, we only hear that the earth is full of God’s glory. The question is, why is the new testament church able to bear witness of heaven full of God’s glory?
We know the answer to this question. Heaven was closed to us. It wasn’t opened until Jesus’ birth (leading to another Gloria hymn, the Gloria in Excelsis); and it wasn’t publically reopened until Jesus’ baptism. Jesus’ ministry, in a sense, was bearing witness to the glories of a reopened heaven, spreading that good news of the reopened heaven.
When Jesus met with the lepers, of course, He was doing some of that spreading of good news, the good news of their healing. It all centered on Him. The one leper recognized this, and therefore testified of the heavenly glories going on where God was present on earth, in the person of Jesus Christ.
Today, the Church is the same dynamic. The Church is the body of Christ, where heaven and earth come together, and where His healed and saved people testify of the glory going on in Him. The historic liturgy is full of God’s glory for a reason. It’s because through it we bear witness of our heavenly citizenship.
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body.” Glorious indeed.