A large dog walks into a butcher shop carrying a purse in its mouth. He puts the purse down and sits in front of the meat case. "What is it, boy?" the butcher jokingly asks. "Want to buy some meat?" "Woof!" barks the dog. "Hmm," says the butcher. "What kind? Liver, bacon, steak ..." "Woof!" interrupts the dog. "And how much steak? Half a pound, one pound ..." "Woof!" The amazed butcher wraps up the meat and finds the money in the dog's purse.
As the dog leaves he decides to follow. The dog enters an apartment house, climbs to the third floor and begins scratching at a door. With that, the door swings open and an angry man starts shouting at the dog. "Stop!" yells the butcher. "He's the most intelligent animal I've ever seen!" "Intelligent?" says the man. "This is the third time this week he's forgotten his key."
He wasn't thankful.
Contrast that to the story of Pam, who worked in downtown Chicago. Every morning, she encountered a heavyset, middle‑aged woman in a shabby coat soliciting spare change in front of an old brick church. She greeted everyone with a smile and a pleasant "Good morning." Pam almost always gave her something. After almost a year of this routine, however, the woman in the shabby coat disappeared. Pam wondered what had happened to her.
Then, one beautiful day, she was in front of the church again, still wearing the same, shabby coat. As Pam reached into her purse for the usual donation, the woman stopped her. "Thank you for helping me all those days," she said. "You won't see me again because I've got a job." With that, she reached into a bag and handed Pam a wrapped package. She had been standing at her old spot waiting, not for a handout, but for the people she recognized so that she could give each of them a doughnut.
She was thankful.
(Read Luke 17:11-19)
1. Be thankful even if you are in difficult circumstances.
This kind of thankfulness is faith.
We read the story too quickly, I think. Slow it down, and picture it with me.
We start with ten men who have the worst disease of their day. The physical ramifications are horrendous. Leprosy attacks the body, leaving sores, missing fingers, missing toes, damaged limbs. In many cases, the initial pain of leprosy gives way to something more terrible than that - a loss of sensation in nerve endings, leading to more damage to more body parts. The disease can take 30 years to run its course, and in that time span, entire limbs can simply fall off. It is, assuredly, a most horrible disease. We have nearly an impossible task in trying to fathom what it was like 2,000 years ago, when medical treatment as we know it today was almost non-existent.
Beth Moore, in her book Jesus The One And Only, tells of an occasion she had to be near a modern-day leper colony. Something within her had always wanted to minister in a leper colony, but her trip overseas had given her the first opportunity to be near such a place. She walked by the entrance three times. She saw those who were suffering. She begged herself for a chance to go inside. But she could not.
The reason? The smell overwhelmed her. She could not work up the stomach to go inside the colony. She could not bear the thought of witnessing for the Lord, but at the same time becoming violently ill as she faced human beings already acutely aware that they were different. The trip passed, and she was not able to go inside.
And, I think, we gained a new appreciation of how bad this disease must have been in the days of Christ. It wasn't just the grotesque damage, or the attack to our sight. It wasn't just the loud cries, the attack to our hearing. It was also the smell of rotting, decaying flesh, overwhelming even our sense of smell.
The emotional pain of a leper, however, must have been even worse than the physical pain. He was removed from his family, from his community. There could be no contact, whatsoever, with his children or grandchildren. None. Immediately removed. His wife would not be allowed to kiss him goodbye. He would not have allowed it, for fear that she, too, would become afflicted.
Lepers tended to roam together, looking for food, begging for assistance from a great distance, learning to yell in loud voices, both from the need to warn others, and to beg for help from across the way.
What would it have been like to have been removed from friends and family for a lifetime, and to have been forced to announce that removal on a daily basis? It must have been horrible.
And yet, in this account, ten men encounter Jesus, and hear him say the most unusual thing. "We want to be well!" they scream at Jesus. And the great teacher responds, "Go and show yourselves to the priest."
The local priest had duties other than leading worship on each Sabbath. He was also something of a health official. If a person was miraculously healed of leprosy, it was up to the priest to inspect the body, to test for a complete removal of the disease, and to announce the person healed. In such cases, the person would have been cleansed, and at that point, it would be fine for the leper to see his wife again, to hold his daughter again, to look for work again. If the priest gave him the OK, he would be healed!
Now, Jesus says to these lepers, "Go and show yourselves to the priests."
They look down at their bodies. The hands of one man are still mangled. Another man looks at his leg, which ends with a filthy rag at the knee. Another looks at his skin, and finds it as repulsive as ever.
In other words, all of these men were no better off than they had been ten minutes earlier, when they had first spotted the famous teacher.
And yet, they headed off in search of the priests. And on their way, they were healed. On their way, a hand reappeared, and tingled with life. A crutch tripped on a filthy rag, as it fell to the ground. The leg was back, healthy, whole, complete. The skin cleared, and the tiny hairs on a forearm turned from snow white to brown. One looked at the other, another looked at the rest, and the screaming started. The smiles broke into cheering, and a sweet madness. They raced off in the distance, not believing that the nightmare was finally over.
But in order for the miracle to happen, these men had to start walking in faith before their circumstances had changed one tiny bit.
Is there a more potent lesson for us, on this Thanksgiving week? You cannot wait until the problems are over to start walking in faith. You cannot put conditions on holy God. You cannot say, "Lord, as soon as there's enough money, I follow your instructions." You cannot pray, "Lord, if you'll just solve this issue in my family, I'll start to church." You cannot put conditions on God! Instead, God places a demand for faith on us, before anything at all has changed.
God might say, "Love me despite the disease. Obey me despite the lack of talent, or the lack of resources. Follow me now, despite the depression. Say no to the temptation, while it still is difficult. Praise me in the darkest of nights, and in the worst of circumstances."
This is the nature of God, a God who loves you so much, He'll give you the opportunity to be thankful when nothing about your circumstances gives you that motivation. My friends, that is the very definition of faith. If you praised God only on the good days, only in the best of circumstances, it would not be faith at all. That would be more like a business arrangement - and this is not about business!
Some of you are in horrible circumstances, right now. And what awaits you today, this week, is a forcing of the question. Will you be thankful despite the difficult circumstances? If so, you will have experienced faith.
While on a short‑term missions trip in 1996, Pastor Jack Hinton from New Bern, North Carolina, was leading worship at a leper colony on the island if Tabango. There was time fore one more song, so he asked if anyone had a request. A woman who had been facing away from the pulpit turned around.
"It was the most hideous face I had ever seen," Hinton said. "The woman's nose and ears were entirely gone. The disease had destroyed her lips as well. She lifted a fingerless hand in the air and asked, 'Can we sing Count Your Many Blessings?'"
Overcome with emotion, Hinton left the service. He was followed by a team member who said, "Jack, I guess you'll never be able to sing that song again."
"Yes I will," Jack replied, "but I'll never sing it the same way.
2. Be thankful in the work of God's goodness
This kind of thankfulness is worship.
One of the men came back to Jesus, and praised God. He was thankful. He was public about it. He was loud - he wasn't shy at all.
Why was he so loud? This guy had been forced to yell for as long as he'd had leprosy. Had it been years? He'd probably yelled so long, he didn't know how to come to the Lord quietly, or even in a normal voice. When he came back and fell at the feet of Jesus, he was just louder than the normal person, and he was praising God.
This is an amazingly short application point. This week, be sure you take time to acknowledge God for his goodness. Be sure to actually be thankful. Be sure to gather everyone up for a prayer of Thanksgiving that's a real prayer of thankfulness. Don't miss the opportunity to worship God this week. And be loud about it!
Can you miss it? Sure you can. It's a short week for most folks, which means you might be horribly busy for one, two, or three days. You might have some time off, which means you've got some honey-do chores at home, some tasks at church, or some Christmas shopping to do at all the big sales. If you're traveling, you've got to get going. If you're hosting the family, you've got to cook. You've got to get to the grocery store. You've got to call the turkey help-line again and remember how to get it done.
In a holiday week, it's possible to get all the way through Thanksgiving without ever stopping to be thankful! Don't do that! Commit to it, and do it. That is worship.
3. Make sure your thankfulness leads to action
One healed leper came back. One caught himself in the midst of the celebration, and returned to Jesus. He reversed his steps, put his family on hold, put the priest on hold, and came back to the cause of his celebration. His response and life situation were unique, but in the simplest sense of what he did his thankfulness led to action. And boy, did that turn out to be important!
"Where are the other nine?" Jesus asked.
Do you realize what this says? Jesus said, "Go, and show yourselves to the priests. Jesus never commanded that any of them express thankfulness to God, or return to him, the healer. Nevertheless, that is what Jesus expected.
What kind of action is Jesus looking for from you? Has God's Holy Spirit been urging you toward some action step? Had the Lord been tugging at you for some step of faith? Is there a family, a friend, or even a stranger in need of help this Thanksgiving season? Is there something you feel compelled to do?
My best advice, based on what Jesus was looking for 2,000 years ago, is to take that step of action. Assume God is pulling you toward that area, or that action, and get it done. Otherwise, a prayer over the Thanksgiving meal will last about as long as that sensation of fullness after the meal. I don't know about you, but no matter how full I get on Thanksgiving Thursday, I always manage to eat well on Friday.
Shouldn't our spirit of thankfulness last longer than that? Get it done!
4. A lifestyle of thankfulness is a lifestyle of wellness
Look at the Scripture again, and walk with me through this. We're going to look at three different words that are all trying to say the same thing. They're all saying that this leper-used-to-be is well.
Look first at verse 15. "One of them, when he saw he was healed . . ." and stop there. This Greek word is "hi-a-tha," which is a purely medical term. It means to mend, to repair. It's like a broken bone finally mending. This guy was all patched up.
Look at verse 17. Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Stop there. This is a different word than hi-a-tha. This is "kath-a-ri-dzo," the root word for our "catheter." It, too, is a medical word in part, for it means, "remove the impurities." When a doctor inserts a heart "cath", angioplasty might remove a blockage of an artery. It will cause healing. Naturally, the Jewish connotations of this word are important, too. To be "cleansed" was exactly what the priest would be looking for, and would declare. It carried some religious overtones, too.
And now, look at one more word. In verse 19, Jesus says to this very thankful man, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."
"Made you well . . ." that's a different word. It's not a medical word, necessarily, although it was used to describe the safe delivery of a baby. This is the word, "so-so," which means, "saved." The Greeks used it for people who escaped dangerous situations. Sailors surviving a storm at sea had been saved, they said. "So-dzo." When Matthew began his gospel, he started with the Christmas story. The angel told Joseph to name the Christ child "Jesus," because that name meant that he would "save people from their sins." He would "so-dzo" the people.
When Paul described what would happen to a person who publicly professed Jesus as Lord and savior, he used this same word.
". . . If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (so-dzo). For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved (so-dzo!) (Romans 10:9-10).
And Jesus says to this very thankful man willing to follow God before his circumstances changed - to worship God before he returned home - Jesus pronounces a complete healing, a wellness that passes all other wellness terms. This man, Jesus said, understands.
Do you understand?
I want to understand more and more about our wonderful Savior.
Remember that a priest must make a declaration that a leper had been healed? There were great details involved in this process. There were details of what a priest was to look for, and how a person with the disease could be readmitted to the community, healed, and whole.
But did you know that in our record of the Old Testament, and the New Testament, that every single healing of a leper came by supernatural means? Now think about this: There were great details about what would happen if a leper became naturally well, but it never happened as far as we know. Perhaps people suspected of leprosy were pronounced clean when their skin rash cleared up. Perhaps someone with a mild infection ran the course of the sickness, and was readmitted. But according to the records of the Bible, no real leper was ever just naturally cured. This was a lifetime sentence of pain and exclusion.
But there were some healings. The sister of Moses had leprosy for a week, and was miraculously cured. A man named Naaman was cured miraculously. And that's it, in the OT. In the NT, however, Jesus heals lepers as if they had mild colds, and he had the right medicine. Jesus continued the practice of healing lepers not naturally, but supernaturally.
It was another way of God saying to us: This is the Messiah. This is the Christ. This is Immanuel. God is with you, for only God has healed lepers. Only God.
And Jesus was healing lepers as if he had the very power. He did. He was the Son of God, God incarnate, and God worthy of worship.
Can I give you another reason to love this Jesus? Can I show you another proof that he loves you, no matter who you are, where you've been, or what you've done?
It's a story Matthew recorded.
(Read Matt. 8:1-4)
A leper approaches Jesus, stopping at the required distance. He knelt before Jesus, begging for help. The very sight of him was repulsive. The smell of him was revolting. People gasped, and backed away. Some surely commanded him to clear the roadway, to not put anyone at risk. "Get out, get out, get out!"
Matthew writes that Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.
A moment later, he tells us that Jesus spoke the words: "Be clean . . . go show yourself to the priest."
Did you see both miracles? The leprosy was gone. That's the easy miracle to see. But the other one? It was the touch of a loving hand. It was the touch of a human hand.
Today, you've touched more people in an hour than this man had touched in years. Today, you've been close to friends, or family. Maybe a child has been in your lap. Maybe a hug met you at a door. Maybe it was a firm handshake from a firmer friend.
Not this guy. He longed for a loving touch more than he longed for food. More than he needed water, he needed love. And before he was healed, while there was still a tremendous risk, Jesus was willing to give him that touch.
No abuse has scarred you so badly that Jesus won't touch you. Jesus is willing to lovingly touch you, hold you, and restore you.
No sin has made you unlovable. Jesus is willing to call you his friend, and stand beside you. It was his death that paid for your sin.
No fear has disqualified you. No problem has put your life on hold. No failure has negated his love. The miracle of Thanksgiving is the love of Jesus, for you. No exceptions, no qualifications, no doubts. He loves you.
And for that, O God, we are so thankful.