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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:Thankfulness shouldn't be surprising amongst God's covenant people!
Text:Luke 17:11-19 (View)
Occasion:Thanksgiving
Topic:Thankfulness
 
Preached:2013
Added:2013-12-16
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Hymn 76

Hymn 57:1 (after the law)

Psalm 100

Psalm 107:1,2,12

Psalm 95:1-3

Scripture reading:  John 6:1-15

Text:  Luke 17:11-19
 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Saviour Jesus,

Thankfulness is not only a virtue, it’s also good for you.  Repeatedly, studies have shown that grateful people are more likely to be healthy people overall.  Grateful people generally exercise more and make fewer trips to the doctor.  Grateful people also have better relationships.  One study showed that couples who express gratitude towards one another feel more positive towards each other, but also are more comfortable in expressing concerns if they arise.  Still another study has shown that when managers express gratitude and appreciation for their employees, those employees are usually motivated to work harder.  From this you can see that even some in the world understand that gratitude is like grease:  it makes everything run smoother.  Even some in the world understand that gratitude is a good thing.

As Christians, we should understand this all the more.  For one thing, we have so much for which to be thankful.  For another thing, we have the Scriptures which teach us to be thankful.  It should be normal and expected for God’s people to be the most thankful people around.  But is that always the case?  If someone were to ask about you, if someone were to ask someone who knows you really well, would they say that you’re a thankful person?  Or is your life more characterized by moaning and complaining about this and that and the other thing?  If each one of us were to search our hearts and examine our lives, I’m sure we could find room for improvement in this area. 

The truth is that God’s people have often struggled with gratitude.  Think of the people of Israel after they had been delivered from slavery in Egypt.  God had saved them in a mighty way.  He’d destroyed Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea.  You would think that experiencing this kind of deliverance would make a people profoundly thankful.  Instead, there they are in the wilderness moaning and groaning and complaining about the lack of variety in their food.  They actually want to go back to Egypt.  There was no gratitude there at all.  It was shameful. 

Something similar happens in our text.  Our Lord Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem.  This was his final journey to the city where he would suffer and die.  Along the way, he gives a precious gift to some men who were in dire straits.  And afterwards, thankfulness is in short supply.  There’s hardly any and where there is, it’s surprising.  On this Thanksgiving weekend, I preach to you the Word of God from Luke 17:11-19.  Our theme is this:

Thankfulness shouldn’t be surprising amongst God’s covenant people!

We’ll consider the:

  1. Grievous plight of the ten lepers
  2. Gracious response of the one Saviour
  3. Grateful return of the one Samaritan

Our Saviour’s journey to Jerusalem took him along a border region.  On the one side was Galilee, a Jewish region.  On the other side was Samaria, considered by the Jews to be essentially Gentile.  Somewhere along this route, we’re not told exactly where, Jesus was coming into a village.  On the outskirts, there was a welcoming party of sorts.  There were ten lepers crying out to him. 

When the Bible speaks about leprosy, it includes but is not limited to what doctors today classify as leprosy.  Today leprosy is also known as Hansen’s Disease.  It’s a bacterial infection of the nerves and upper respiratory tract.  One of the symptoms is skin lesions.  It’s a terrible disease that often leaves people marred and disfigured.  A bunch of years ago I attended a worship service at a leper colony in the South American country of Suriname.  Many of the people were missing fingers and toes, and even limbs.  Leprosy often causes people to lose feeling in their extremities.  They can’t feel pain and so, if they cut themselves, they don’t feel it and they can easily lose body parts.  Today Hansen’s Disease is preventable and curable.  When the Bible speaks about leprosy, Hansen’s Disease is included, but it’s not the only disease.  Biblical leprosy covers many kinds of disorders involving the skin.

There are two whole chapters of Leviticus filled with laws regarding leprosy.  Chapters 13 and 14 of Leviticus speak about diagnosing leprosy, how lepers were to be regarded, and how lepers could be restored if they were healed.  The laws are very specific. 

According to Levitical law, people with leprosy were regarded as unclean.  Their uncleanness had social and religious implications.  Socially, lepers were to be cast out of the community.  They could not live with the rest of God’s people.  They were unclean and uncleanness is contagious.  Leviticus 13:42-46 was clear about this.  It says there, “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’  He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease.  He is unclean.  He shall live alone.  His dwelling shall be outside the camp.”  Leprosy meant that you were cut off from your family and friends.  If you were a leper, you became an outcast. 

But there were also religious implications.  If you were unclean, you had no access to the temple.  If you were a leper, you couldn’t even get near the temple, since it was in the middle of the city of Jerusalem.  In the days of Christ, you wouldn’t be allowed near a synagogue to hear God’s Word and to pray with God’s people.  You were cut off from public worship.  A leper was cut off from the means of grace.  A leper could not go and offer sacrifices at the temple.  A leper would never hear the high priestly blessing, “The LORD bless you and keep you,” and so on.  Being a leper carried a huge price, one that we cannot underestimate.  These ten men were in a grievous plight socially and religiously.  They were the walking dead and they were treated that way.

That explains why the ten lepers were standing at a distance from Jesus.  The law of Moses prohibited them from coming close.  They had to be at a distance and from there they would have to shout to Jesus. 

And shout they did.  They shouted with urgency:  “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  They knew who Jesus was.  They knew that he was an authority figure – that’s why they call him “Master.”  They also knew that the potential was there for mercy.  This is later in his ministry and Jesus has a reputation as a healer.  Everybody knows that he has the power to restore the sick.  Back in Luke 5, Jesus had healed a leper.  After Christ healed him, he commanded the man to tell no one about the healing.  But then hear what it says in Luke 5:15, “But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities.”  Everybody now knew about Jesus, they knew that he could heal.  That’s why they beg him to show mercy.  He can get them out of their grievous plight.  He’s done it before for others, so maybe he’ll do it for them too.       

They were definitely at the right address.  At one level, they definitely knew their need for help from Jesus.  Did they also know their spiritual need for him?  They knew they needed him to deliver them from their social and religious isolation, from the disease and its effects.  Did they also know that they needed Christ to deliver them from the bondage of sin and its effects?  Scripture doesn’t say and it’s not a good idea to speculate.  But these are good questions for us to consider for ourselves.  Loved ones, do we look to Jesus merely as someone who can rescue us from our earthly troubles?  Or we do also (and more importantly) see him as the one who can save us from our sins and from God’s wrath upon our sins?  Apart from Christ, we’re in a grievous plight.  Apart from him, we face eternal isolation from life and fellowship.  In the light of that, we too need to constantly cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

To that cry, our Saviour gives a gracious response in our text.  It’s in verse 14.  He sees them.  He hears their urgent cry for mercy.  Then he speaks, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”  Notice that he doesn’t come right out and tell them that they are healed.  Instead, he sends them to the priests.  In every region there would be some Jewish priests who could fulfill the requirements of Leviticus 14 so that someone could be restored to the community.  When Jesus says this, he is implying that they are or they will be healed.  After all, otherwise there is no point in going to the priests and, in fact, the law would prohibit you from doing that.  You’re unclean, you can’t be around anyone.  So “Go and show yourselves to the priests” implies healing.  But it also calls for faith.  If you’re still a leper, you don’t start going to the priest unless you believe that you are healed or are going to be healed in short order. 

As it happens, they are healed as they go to the priests.  Suddenly, miraculously, the leprosy is gone.  All the skin disease is gone!  They didn’t have mirrors to see it, but they had one another.  You can imagine these ten men looking at one another:  “Hey, it’s gone.  You’re not a leper anymore!”  “Neither are you!  It’s all gone.  And look at him, him too!”  “Hey, we’re all healed!”

They asked for mercy from Jesus and they received it.  He graciously responded to their pleas for help.  Did he owe it to them to do that?  Of course not!  He might have left them in their misery and there would have been no injustice in that.  They didn’t deserve healing from him.  But he is full of grace and compassion for broken people.  He shows mercy and gives healing.  He answers pleas for help. 

In this miracle, as with all his healing miracles, we see Jesus as the Saviour of a broken humanity.  He is the Saviour, not only of lost souls, but also of broken bodies.  He redeems body and soul from the destructive effects of sin.  We can’t say that these men were lepers because of some particular sin in their lives.  We can say that they were lepers because Adam and Eve fell into sin and introduced death and disease into this world.  Leprosy was unclean because it was a picture of death.  As I mentioned, lepers were the walking dead.  And in the Bible, death and sin go hand in hand.  Jesus delivers from both.  Brothers and sisters, this miracle reminds us that we have a complete Saviour.  He graciously saves us body and soul from the wrath of God against our sins.  In Christ, we will go on living after we take our last breath.  In Christ, we will receive our bodies back at the resurrection, completely glorified.  Today we sometimes struggle with pain and disease.  Sometimes there are medical problems that doctors can’t figure out and we suffer through it.  In the face of that, we still have the hope of the resurrection, deliverance from death and disease.  The gospel promises life, and the fullness of that life in the age to come will mean no more leprosy, no more diabetes, no more headaches, Crohn’s or Celiac disease,  no more of any disease or disorder that cause us so much pain and grief in this age.  Jesus has given us his gracious response!  That response must be met with faith on our part.  Continue trusting that this gracious Jesus will heal.  He has promised and he is faithful.

Back to our text and verse 15.  One of the ten saw that he was healed and he felt compelled to turn around and go back to Jesus.  As he was going along the way, he was praising God with a loud voice.  He recognized that it was God who healed him.  God worked through Jesus (who is also God, of course) to drive away his leprosy.  So he knew that it wasn’t enough for him to praise God in heaven, he also had to go back to Jesus.  That’s what he did and he fell to the ground before Jesus, he fell flat on his face, a humble posture of worship and adoration.  In the book of Revelation (ch. 22), John falls at the feet of an angel in the same posture.  He’s told not to do that because that posture is reserved for God.  But Jesus accepts this posture.  He accepted it from John in Revelation 1, and he accepts it from this man here in Luke 17.

But it wasn’t only his posture that spoke.  His mouth was expressing gratitude.  He thanked Jesus for this gift of life.  He had been the walking dead and now he was again alive, completely free of his disease.  He felt compelled to go back to Jesus to thank him. 

Then Luke adds the clincher:  “Now he was a Samaritan.”  This is a loaded phrase.  You can’t read that in a flat manner.  What Luke is really saying is, “Can you believe that this man was a Samaritan?!”  It really needs an exclamation mark behind it. 

I already mentioned that the Jews regarded the Samaritans as being basically Gentiles.  Their origins were rather sketchy.  Second Kings 17:24 describes how the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim to settle in Samaria instead of the Israelites.  These Samaritans seemed to have their roots in that event.  They had a religion that was an odd mixture.  There were pagan elements, but they also honoured the five books of Moses.  But the important thing to realize is that the Jews and the Samaritans hated each other.  It was an acrimonious relationship and it went both ways.  Jews and Samaritans normally had nothing to do with each other.  Obviously being a leper changed the equation.  Here we have a Samaritan associating with nine Jewish lepers.  Since they were all cast out from their communities anyway, it apparently didn’t make a difference.  They worked past the normal animosity.  But now this Samaritan is healed and the animosity towards Jews is still gone.

He comes and falls at the feet of this Jewish rabbi, Jesus.  He worships him and thanks him.  This is a remarkable thing for a Samaritan to do.  Very surprising!

Our Jesus is surprised too.  His questions in verses 17 and 18 reflect that.  “Weren’t there ten that were healed?  Where are the other nine?  How come the only one who comes back to praise God is this foreigner?”  These questions really express the point of this passage.  Here we have a Samaritan, he was regarded as a foreigner.  At the temple in Jerusalem there was a sign in Greek warning foreigners that they could not go beyond the Court of the Gentiles.  The exact same word was used as Jesus uses here.  This man was outside of God’s covenant people.  He didn’t belong to the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Yet here he was praising God and thanking Jesus.  Where are the sons of the covenant?  Where are the nine who were circumcised on the eighth day?  Where are the nine who were the heirs of the promise, entrusted with the oracles of God?  They’re nowhere to be seen!  You would think that people raised in a community informed by God’s Word would be full of praise and gratitude.  But, surprisingly, they’ve gone their way without such a response.

It’s the nine who might have seen themselves as having gained the most.  After all, now they were allowed to go back to the temple and avail themselves of the sacrificial system.  Unclean or clean, that Samaritan had no such blessing.  The nine received the most from Jesus.  Yet their response was non-existent.  It’s not what you would expect.

You would expect God’s people to be thankful.  This should be the normal thing for people who have been so richly blessed.  Sometimes with little kids, you have to teach them to be thankful.  For some kids, it just seems to come naturally.  For others, you have to teach them, sometimes you have to coax them to be thankful.  They get a wonderful present from their grandparents and Mom or Dad has to say, “What do you say?”  But hopefully as they mature, this comes from their hearts.  It shouldn’t have to be compelled or coaxed.  You see the value of a gift as a mature person, and you respond with praise and gratitude. 

It could be in our text that these nine covenant people didn’t see the value of what Jesus had done for them.  They didn’t really care about the fact that access had been restored to the means of grace.  Maybe they were just focussed on their restoration to their family and friends.  The text doesn’t say and it doesn’t matter.  We need to apply God’s Word to ourselves.  Do we see the value of what we have in the gospel of life?  Do we understand the depth of what Christ has given to us?  We have restoration, we have reconciliation, we are in a relationship of fellowship with God because Jesus is our Saviour.  Do you see how precious that is?  Do I have to compel you to be grateful for that?  If you see the precious gift you’ve been given, gratitude should flow naturally. 

God’s covenant people – that would be you – you’ve been given so many riches.  There are the spiritual riches we have in Christ, but even in the mundane and every day, we have been given so much by our gracious God:  roof over your head, clothes on your back, food in your fridge, the love of your spouse, the laughs and smiles of your kids, beautiful music.  The list goes on.  There is that old song “Count your blessings…”:                  

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

That’s a good idea for this Thanksgiving weekend.  Count your blessings, even write them out and you’ll be surprised at how God has provided for your every need.  Counting your blessings will lead you to be thankful in every way.

What about the fact that you haven’t been as thankful as you should?  Some of us struggle with being grateful people.  For whatever reason, we seem to be glass-half-empty people.  If that’s you, take heart because you have a Saviour in Jesus who takes care of your ingratitude.  That’s why we read from John 6.  Jesus feeds the crowds with the bread and the fish.  But did you notice that he gave thanks beforehand?  Our Saviour was grateful, doing what a faithful son of the covenant should do.  John even makes a point of this further in the chapter.  In verse 23, he says, “Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.”  He was an obedient son of the covenant and his obedience is credited to our accounts.  His gratitude is also imputed to us, which is really quite remarkable if you think about it.  Not only that, but through his sacrifice on the cross, all our ingratitude is forgiven, washed away, forgotten by God.  Because we have this Saviour, our God always looks at us as grateful people, as the people we should be. 

Now brothers and sisters, where does that leave us?  It doesn’t make us content to be ungrateful.  It doesn’t leave us thinking, “Okay, well, it’s all right for me to be ungrateful, because Jesus has taken care of it.”  No, we still have to realize that ingratitude is a sin.  As Christians, we want to fight against all our sins, also this one.  We can’t be content to go on with ingratitude.  It’s something we have to make war on, it’s something we have to pray about.  We pray for the Holy Spirit to change our hearts more and more so that we can be thankful covenant people, living in union with Christ our Lord.

We’re not finished with our text.  We still have verse 19.  Verses 17 and 18 were apparently addressed to the disciples and anyone else listening.  But now Christ speaks directly to the Samaritan.  He tells him to get up off the ground and go his way.  In the original, it’s hard to miss the fact that Christ uses a loaded word when he says, “Rise!”  It’s the same word that’s used for the resurrection later on, both Christ’s resurrection and that of believers.  This man has been dead, and now he’s risen.  He’s been brought back to life and now he can go his way. 

That more is in the picture here is suggested by those last words too:  “your faith has made you well.”  In the ESV, there is a footnote at the bottom of the page with those words.  The footnote tells us that this can also be translated, “your faith has saved you.”  Both are legitimate ways of translating the Greek word.  Which is in view here is difficult to say with complete certainty.  However, consider this:  nine Jewish people went their way.  They had also been delivered from their leprosy.  But yet this saying is reserved for the one who comes back and humbly worships Jesus and thanks him.  There was a measure of faith with the ten as a group.  Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priests and they did that, expecting that healing was on the agenda.  But this Samaritan responds with something more than that.  His faith is something deeper and richer.  Couldn’t it then also be that his restoration is something that is deeper and richer than what has happened with his body?  While the nine gained restored access to the earthly temple, the one Samaritan seems to have gained access to the heavenly Father through his Son. 

With certainty we can say that everyone who comes to Christ with humility, trusting that he can save body and soul, everyone who comes like that will be saved.  They will be restored. They will be made well in both body and soul.  The whole person will be saved for eternity.  Of that, there not need be any doubt whatsoever.  The gospel promises it.

Loved ones, thankfulness is a virtue, and it is a blessing.  It’s not always something that’s easy to come by.  But let’s continue praying for the grace of the Holy Spirit, so that he would open our eyes more and more to our rich blessings.  We want to see more and more the blessings we have in Christ.  We have been delivered body and soul from death.  In the hands of our gracious God, we’ve been given every reason to be thankful today, tomorrow, and always.  AMEN.

PRAYER:

Lord God,

Please teach us to be thankful.  Please open our eyes with your Spirit in greater measures so that we would see how richly blessed we have been.  Today we want to take this time to thank you for all your blessings.  Thank you for the gospel.  Thank you for the promise of the resurrection.  Thank you for the restoration and reconciliation that we have through Christ.

We thank you for entering into a covenant with us, calling us your children and for loving us and revealing that love to us.

We thank you for taking care of us as your children.

We thank you for our daily food and drink. 

We thank you for our health.

We thank you for homes in which to live.

We thank you for providing us with all the necessities of life.

We thank you for our families, for our spouses, for our children, for our parents, for our grandparents.

We thank you for Christian education.

We thank you for one another in this communion of saints. 

We thank you for a country of freedom.

Father, we have so much to be thankful for and we praise you! 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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