One Grateful Guy

Just one of the ten men Jesus healed of leprosy returned to say, “Thank you.” God does not demand that we thank Him, but should we not be appreciative that God loves us so much? How do you show God you are thankful?

One Grateful Guy ~ March 31, 2019 ~ Luke 17:11-19O

We are in the gospel of Luke this morning. Jesus had just done a lot of teaching about forgiveness, about faith. He told the stories of the lost sheep, the prodigal son, the shrewd business manager, the rich man, and Lazarus. And then he gets to our story this morning in Luke 17:11. Would you join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to read and study the word of God. Let us pray.

Lord, upon the pages of this book is your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, he reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. As he entered a village there, ten men with leprosy stood at a distance, crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy.
One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.
Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”
(Luke 17:11-19)

Do you remember, years ago, when you went trick or treating? There was usually one house in your neighborhood that gave out full-size candy bars! Everyone else is giving out these dinky little fun-size ones. There’s nothing fun about those. We all wanted this one, right! And as soon as word got out that Mrs. Smith was giving out full-size candy bars, all the kids just bee-lined for that particular house. In the same way, when they discovered the person in the neighborhood who was trying to give out something healthy, they avoided it like the plague! Full-size candy bars, that was pretty awesome.

Well, there’s a story in Matthew chapter 8, first four verses I want to share with you. It’s about another time Jesus interacted with a man who had leprosy. This story goes like this:

Large crowds followed Jesus as he came down the mountainside. Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. “Lord,” the man said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”
Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared. Then Jesus said to him, “Don’t tell anyone about this. Instead, go to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy. This will be a public testimony that you have been cleansed.”
(Matthew 8:1-4)

You see, like AIDS in the 80s and the 90s, or Ebola today, leprosy, in Jesus’ time, was a terrifying disease, because there was no known cure. If someone contracted the disease, in fact a priest proclaimed him a leper and banished him from his home and from his community. Lepers were not allowed to come within six feet of another human being, including their families. So, lepers were sent to live in other places, in a village with other lepers, and they had to stay there until either a) they were cleansed, they were clean, they were cured; or b) they died.

Nonetheless, in this Matthew story, this leper approaches Jesus and asks to be healed, and Jesus reaches out and touches him, and he is cured. This is a much bigger story than a full-size candy bar, wouldn’t you say? And even though Jesus tells the guy, “Shh, don’t tell anyone,” this is the kind of story that spreads quickly. I am absolutely confident that this village, with these ten lepers that we’re talking about, they had heard what Jesus had done, and that’s why they cried out, “Jesus, have mercy on us!” Jesus looked at them, and in verse 14 He says, “Go show yourselves to the priests.”

Interesting, isn’t it? That’s a different reaction than with the first leper. The first time He went over and touched him and cleansed him, and then told him to go to the priest. You see, what’s the difference? The difference is subtle, but it’s powerful. These ten guys were told to go and see the priests first, before they were healed. They stopped in their tracks, they turned, still full of leprosy, and headed towards the priest. Why the different reaction from Jesus? It was a test. It was a test of faith. You see, Leviticus 14 is clear when it says that if a leper thinks he is clean of leprosy, he is cured, his leprosy has gone away, then he is supposed to present himself to the priest and the priest would declare him clean and allow him to rejoin the community. Here, the ten lepers are told to go to the priest before they were cured, and they went. Believe me, the lepers knew all about Leviticus 14, up down inside and out. They knew they were not supposed to be going to the priest to get a clean bill of health until they thought their leprosy was gone, and their leprosy had not left yet. Their willingness to turn around and respond the way they did was because they responded in faith. Jesus said it, they believed it, and they knew it was going to be done, so they turned and headed toward the Temple. Because they responded in faith, Jesus healed them on the way, before they got to the priest, they were clean. An amazing story of trust and faith in God, and it made me ask myself, and perhaps we should all ask ourselves, do we trust God so powerfully that we would act on what He said even before we’ve seen evidence that it will happen?

You know, for years, people used to ask me, “What’s your life verse, if you had to pick one verse out of the Bible?” And I used to answer with Hebrews 11:1, which says:

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.
(Hebrews 11:1)

In other words, faith is being sure that what we hope for is actually going to happen; confident of what we cannot see, of what we do not see. David had that kind of faith when he trusted the Lord and faced Goliath with a slingshot and five little stones. Gideon trusted the Lord when he walked out with 300 warriors to face 135,000 Midianites. Peter had that kind of faith when he trusted the Lord to step outside the boat and onto the water. And like these ten lepers, I’m asking myself: do I trust the Lord before or only after He acts? Do I have confidence? Do I believe in what He says?

For instance – and this is where I struggle, folks – in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6, Jesus says this:

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life – whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?
“And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown in to the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?
“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
(Matthew 6:25-34)

Don’t worry about what to eat, what to drink, what to wear. He says a similar thing in Luke 12:11, when He says:

“And when you are brought to trial in the synagogues and before rulers and authorities…”

And note He says “when you are brought,” not if you are brought. Jesus is clearly telling us if you are going to profess your faith as a Christian, if you are going to follow Jesus Christ, if you are a believer, you are going to be persecuted in some way, at some level, somehow, someday, somewhere. It’s a given. Not if, but when.

“When you are brought to trial in the synagogues and before rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how to defend yourself or what to say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what needs to be said.”
(Luke 12:11-12)

And yet, we do, don’t we? All the time. Worry, worry, worry. We are a nation awash in stress and anxiety. A generation or two drowning itself with Paxil and Prozac and Zoloft and Lexapro and Cymbalta and Wellbutrin. And there are some people who have legitimate chemical imbalances in the brain, and they need pharmaceuticals, and we are blessed that God gives scientists the ability to create pharmaceuticals to treat the issue. But that’s a small percentage of the population. Most of us, or a lot more of us, just seem to live like Jesus doesn’t mean what He says. He said, “Don’t worry about what you will drink, eat, wear, or what to say, Adam! Those things dominate the minds of unbelievers! Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need!”

Look, I’m still working on it. It’s easy to stand up here and read to you. It’s easy to stand up here and say, “You know what you gotta do?” Don’t think that I’m doing it! I do not have this knocked! I do not have this figured out. I’m working on it. I’m working on it every single day to try not to worry about what’s happening tomorrow. I want so badly to have faith like these ten lepers. I want to have faith like David, and Gideon, and Peter, and walk faith first into whatever lies ahead for me, without any fear or doubt. I want to trust God without reservation, and remember that He said, “Don’t worry.” I was valuable to Him, just as you are. But it’s hard. I know it’s hard. I’m still working on it myself.

This kind of story – it’s amazing to me that ten guys said, “You said to go see the priest? We’re off to see the priest!” What an incredible statement of faith! The other amazing thing about this story that jumped out to me is not that the ten guys were miraculously healed. We know that Jesus can do that. He did that back in Matthew 8. Jesus can do a lot of things, so that’s not that unusual. What’s amazing is that only one returned to say thank you. Jesus healed them of their leprosy. That’s like healing them of AIDS, healing them of Ebola, healing them of cancer! And one guy returned. Jesus made it so that they could rejoin their families, so that they could come back into the community, and there was only one grateful guy that said thank you. That amazes me.

God does not do what He does for credit. He’s not looking for credit. He does what He does because He loves His children. And just like you would do anything for your children, God will do anything for you. God did everything for you.

Has God done something amazing in your life? Or in the lives of someone that you know? I’m telling you, people come to me all the time and tell me God did this for them, God did that for them. It’s awesome. We even have a word for it – it’s called testimonies. And I’ve been hearing testimonies now how God has worked in people’s lives for twenty-two years! After I preached this message at the first service, no word of a lie, Mark, a gentleman that’s been coming for a few times, came up and gave me a testimony of how God had worked amazingly in his life this past week. He needed $5,000 to be able to stay in his home, his home was being foreclosed on. And he said to his wife, “I want you to pray with me. I’m not going to tell you what I’m going to pray about, I just want you to pray in agreement with me.” So, they prayed. She didn’t say anything. Little did he know, not more than a couple days later, someone came and said to him, “The Lord put on my head to give you this,” handed him an envelope. He didn’t open it. He got home, and with his wife he opened the envelope – I kid you not, this is what he told me not more than an hour ago – he pulls out a check – how much was the check for? $5,000. I didn’t make that up! I didn’t even put it in the sermon because I didn’t know about it until an hour ago! That doesn’t happen with everybody, I get it. God gives us what we need, not always what we want. Apparently, Mark needed that. But I hear it all the time. “Pastor, I didn’t know what I was going to do, and then all of a sudden…” “Pastor, I was stranded, I didn’t have any money, I was lost, and all of a sudden, around the corner came…” “Pastor, my child is struggling so badly, he just seems lost and all of a sudden he showed up at the door one day and he was completely transformed!”

Over and over again I hear testimonies. It’s probably one of the best parts of this job.

Now, God does not demand a thank you. But should we not be appreciative? You know, I find it funny, interesting, that when we read these stories of the Bible, when we hear these stories in Scripture, we usually picture ourselves as the one who came back, right? As the Good Samaritan who stopped on the side of the road and helped. We’re always the hero, we always think, Oh, I would have done that! If I was in that boat with Peter, I would have stepped out on the water too! If I was in Gideon’s army, I would have picked up my sword and charged battle against overwhelming odds too! I would have pushed David aside and grabbed that… oh yes, absolutely, of course!

But are we really? Are we the one who came back? Or are we one of the nine who just kept going?

Another interesting fact about the guy who did return that I had never noticed before, regardless of how many times I’ve read this story – it just never dawned on me before, didn’t need to until this week I guess – the man who came back was a foreigner, from where? Samaria! Verse 16 says, “The man was a Samaritan.” The hated Samaritans! In the story of the Good Samaritan, who passes by the guy who they think is dead on the side of the road? Two Jews. Two holy people. Two church-going folk. Two believers. They walk right by. Who stops and helps? The hated Samaritan. Ten lepers get healed. I bet nine of them are all believers, Jews of one sort or another, maybe even followers of Jesus at this point, who knows, but they believe. One guy comes back to say thank you. Who is it? The hated Samaritan. Never noticed it before!

We think we’re the hero. We picture ourselves as the faithful. But the faithful often think of themselves! They begin to think that they deserve to be healed – after all, they’ve been going to church every Sunday. “I’ve been going to church for fifty years, and I put money in the offering box! Surely, I am deserving of God’s blessing!” And yet, only one returns and says thank you.

You know what I think? I think that God blesses us so regularly that sometimes we don’t even see it anymore. It just becomes part of the wallpaper. We just take it for granted. I mean, we could come up with a list of complaints of things we wish He’d fix in a heartbeat. That’s easy. That’s a long list, we could do it immediately, easy peasy. But counting our blessings? I bet you’ve told somebody else that when they’re struggling – “Don’t forget, count your blessings!” – but do we? Or do we take for granted? God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die on the cross so that we would be forgiven, and He still does amazing things in our lives every single day. Do we thank Him?

How, Pastor? Well, one way to show thankfulness and appreciation to the Lord is what you are doing right now. Worship God. See, that’s what I think Sunday’s all about. I don’t mean all, but primarily. We gather on Sunday morning to say, “Thank You, God, for all You have done, all You are doing, and all You have promised to do, and I take You at Your word. Let me sing a song to You, Lord. Let me lift up my voice in prayer to You, Lord. Let me listen to Your holy and inspired word read. Let me pray to have the Holy Spirit convict me of whatever it is You need me to hear in the message this morning, Lord. I am here to say thank You.” That’s one way to do it. Good job.

There are other ways. We could love our neighbors as ourselves. (There’s a novel idea). We could do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Here’s a big one: we could show God we’re thankful because everything that we say – everything that we say – to others could be good and helpful and encouraging (Ephesians 4:29). That’s another way to say thank You to the Lord. We could show our appreciation to the Lord (we talked about this in Bible study on Wednesday) – husbands, you could love your wives as Christ loved the church. Christ loved the church so much that He was willing to give up His life. Husbands, you could love your wives like that. That’s a way to say thank You to the Lord. And wives, you could respect your husbands. Children could obey their parents, and parents could make sure that they share the truth, the way, and the life that is Jesus Christ with their children. Thank You. We could feed the hungry and help the poor. We could share the gospel with our evangelism ministry. And when we do any and all of these things, we are saying thank You to God. And when we do not, we are one of the nine who walked away.

So, think about it. Think about what God has done and is doing for you, for your family, for people you love, and every morning when you wake up, ask yourself, “How can I be that one grateful guy or gal today? How can I say, ‘God, thank You. Thank You for loving me beyond reason. Thank You for loving me when I don’t deserve it. Thank You for forgiving me when I have fallen away. Thank You for understanding when I’m too busy. Thank You for my life. Thank You for my family. Thank You for my work. Thank You for the food on my table. Thank You for the roof over my head. Thank You for the brothers and sister in Christ who I call family at South Congregational Church. Thank You, Lord, for all I have. Hear me when I pray.”