(Illustration) Years ago, a postcard was published that featured a Pilgrim family walking to church during the Thanksgiving Season. It was during that ‘Old America’ Pioneering era when men had to be prepared to hunt-down their next meal. Thus, the artist depicted the father following behind his wife and children with his shotgun pressed against his shoulder. A Sunday School teacher took that postcard and used it as an object lesson to show her students how the kids in the picture enjoyed attending church as a family. But one student wasn’t so sure that the teacher had explained the picture correctly. He politely interrupted the teacher’s story and said, “Miss Jones, if those children liked going to church so much, why is their father walking behind them with a rifle?”
Perception can be confusing! I hope that’s not how your kids feel about worshiping here. Let me ask you something. Are you thankful for this church? I am. I am not only grateful for this church, but I am glad America observes Thanksgiving Day each year. It was observed by the Pilgrims, by George Washington, and then officially made a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln. Thanksgiving Day can be a great reminder to Christians that our steadfast purpose is to continually thank God. That’s why 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Always give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
(Transition) Our text is taken from a passage that discloses ten lepers being healed. Yet, only one returned to thank Christ and then experience spiritual wholeness. This is what I want to discuss today.
Leprosy is a dreadful disease. It’s not like cancer that conceals itself within the body; leprosy goes public. It’s a flesh-eating disease that kills the nerves in the body and then proceeds to dissolve fingers, ears, toes, legs and arms. That’s the shame of this disease: It’s done in public view for everyone to see. In Bible Days, people dreaded leprosy. Lepers were ostracized from the community and placed in colonies. Leprosy not only dissolved the flesh, it dissolved self-worth. Lepers were the loneliest and lowliest of people. These ten men knew they were doomed from the moment they discovered they had contracted the disease. Life meant nothing to them and they lived without hope.
But one day they heard about Jesus and His power to heal. And when they heard Jesus was coming their way, nothing could stop them from gaining His attention. And their cry was heard! Jesus gave them the directive to go show themselves to the priests. As they walked toward the priests something miraculous happened. To their utter amazement, their dry, open skin was renewed. Their feet, hands, noses, and ears instantly re-grew. The magnitude of this miracle is difficult to overstate because every limb of their body was restored to perfect health! After years of hopelessness, they now had a new lease on life. Their past was gone, their present was renewed, and their future was radiant. And each of those ten lepers was filled with . . . well, what would you say they were filled with? I’m sure they were filled with awe and joy and excitement. But each of them should have been filled with eternal gratitude. They should have been overwhelmed with thanksgiving toward the One that healed them. But only one returned, fell at Jesus’ feet, and gave thanks!
And listen to Christ’s words in verse seventeen. “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? (18) Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Only an “outsider,” a Samaritan, took time to return to Christ and thank Him for this miracle. It’s interesting that Luke recognizes this man’s Samaritan ancestry because Jews hated Samaritans. That’s because the Samaritans descended from mixed marriages between Jews and Gentiles. This animosity was so intense that Jews wouldn’t associate with the Samaritans. That’s what makes this story, as well as the Parable of The Good Samaritan, so powerful. This leper had no reason to expect a Jewish Rabbi to recognize him; much less, miraculously wipe away his skin-infested leprosy. So when Jesus healed this Samaritan he responded by returning to Jesus and offering his deepest thanks.
Do you realize how few times the Gospel writers show people thanking Christ for the miracles He worked for them?
No thanks for feeding the five thousand.
There was no thanks from the Apostles when Jesus calmed the storm and kept them from harm.
And other than this Samaritan, there is no record of anyone thanking Him for a miracle of healing.
Paul knew the importance of gratitude and that’s why the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:18 are so meaningful. I have already quoted this passage once, but I want to repeat it from several different versions so we can understand why Paul emphasized it as he did. Since the NASB, NIV, and NKJV are very similar, I’ll quote from several other versions:
“Always give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
The Amplified Version says: “Thank [God] in everything [no matter what the circumstances may be, be thankful and give thanks], for this is the will of God for you [who are] in Christ Jesus.”
The Message says: “thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.”
New Living Translation says: “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”
(Illustration) Rudyard Kipling was the famous British writer that became a wealthy poet. A newspaper reporter once asked him: “Mr. Kipling, I just read that somebody calculated that the money you make from your writings amounts to over $100 per word.” The reporter reached into his pocket and pulled out a hundred-dollar bill, gave it to Kipling, and said, “Here’s a hundred dollar bill, Mr. Kipling . . . give me one of your $100 words.” Upon receipt Kipling looked at the money, put it in his pocket and said, “Thanks!”Thanks, is one word that is too seldom heard, too rarely spoken, and too often forgotten. In fact, in our text, thanks is a word used by only 10% of the lepers.
When you calculate God’s promises of salvation, healing, provision, mercy, and peace of mind, the word thanks would easily be a $100 word. In fact, it’s more like a million-dollar word!
(Transition) Why aren’t people more thankful? It may be because thanking others requires humility, and a prideful heart cannot assume an attitude of gratitude. I want to ask a simple question. Why should Christians continually live with a grateful heart toward God? There are several reasons:
A. Christians should always give thanks toward God because, as 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “this is the will of God for you”!
As a pastor, numerous people have told me that they are uncertain what God’s will is for their lives. I admit, there are times when determining God’s will can be challenging. I do not mean to diminish the need to pray, seek God, and listen to the Spirit’s voice as it pertains to discovering God’s plan for you. But one fact is certain: offering God thanksgiving is the perfect “will of God.” God, the Supreme Creator and Provider for all creatures great and small, deserves thanksgiving! “This is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus”!
B. Christians should “always give thanks” because of the magnitude of Christ’s redemption toward us.
In Luke 8 a former prostitute came before Jesus to wash His feet with tears. The Pharisees were amazed that Jesus allowed this to happen. They said among themselves, “If Jesus were a prophet He would realize what type woman this was.” When Jesus discerned their thoughts He said to them, “I say to you, her sins which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little” (8:47). The Christians that are most grateful toward God are those most aware of His forgiving mercy toward them.
C. Christians should “always give thanks” because it separates us from the world and helps us maintain a Christ-centered focus. What better way do Christians have to demarcate us from the world than living with thankful hearts toward God?
When Paul characterized the spirit of the Last Days it wasn’t a pretty picture. Listen how the Holy Spirit revealed to Paul the Last Days would be in 2 Timothy 3:1-5. “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. (2) For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, (3) unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, (4) treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, (5) holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these” (NASU). Paul said the last days would be marked many depraved traits. And among the list of traits is “ungratefulness.” And we have to be careful to resist this spirit of ingratitude and continually give thanks.
Let’s return to the story of the ten lepers. You remember that only one of the ten lepers returned to give Jesus thanks. I’m sure the other nine were overjoyed for their miracle but there’s something to be said about this. The majority cared most about their healing while only one cared about the Healer! And Jesus should always be the honored as the focus of our blessing.
D. Christians should “always give thanks” because 2 Peter 1:3 says God’s “divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” In other words, God’s hand is always active in our lives providing us all we need. That means we always have a need to be thankful.
When God “created man in His image” He infused the ability to communicate with Him. It is one of the primary distinctions between humans and animals. And of the many ways man can communicate with God, the highest form of communication involves thanksgiving and praise.
(Illustration) The 20 century preacher, Dr. Harry Ironside, illustrates this well as the story is told of him dining at a crowded restaurant. As Dr. Ironside prepared to eat a stranger sat near him. He watched as Ironside bowed his head and prayed over his meal. When he finished praying the stranger asked, “Sir, do you have a headache?” Ironside replied, “No.” He asked again, “Well, is there something wrong with your food?” Ironside replied, “No, I was simply thanking God as I always do before I eat.” The man said, “Oh, you’re one of those, are you? Well, I want you to know I never give thanks. I earn my money by the sweat of my brow and I don’t have to give thanks to anybody when I eat. I just start right in!” Ironside’s answer was coarse but penetrating: “Sir, you’re just like my dog. That’s what he does too!”
(Illustration) The story is also told of the former Tennessee Congressman Ed Jones, a member of the U.S. Agriculture Committee. A woman, angry, frustrated, and unappreciative of Jones’ many hours of labor on the committee fumed: “What do we care about agriculture? We get all our groceries at the supermarket anyway!” In the end, we must recognize that we may work hard for our food, shelter, and material resources, but “every good and perfect gift comes from the Father above.” As our Source for every blessing let’s thank Him; He’s worthy of our worship!
In closing, let’s read Psalm 23, as it speaks of God’s overall provision for our lives.
The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
(2) He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
(3) He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
(4) Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
(5) You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
(6) Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (NASU)
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