One day a woman was rushing home from a doctor’s appointment. The doctor had been somewhat delayed at the hospital, and the lab work took a little longer than usual so by the time she left the clinic she was running quite a bit behind schedule. She still had to pick up her prescription, pick up the children from the baby-sitter, and get home and make supper, all in time to make it to the prayer meeting at her church that evening.
As she began to circle the busy Wal-Mart parking lot, looking for a space, the windows of heaven were opened, as it says in Genesis, and a downpour began. While she wasn’t usually the type to bother God with small problems, she began to pray as she turned down the row closest to the front door. “Lord, you know what kind of a day I’ve had, and there’s still an awful lot to do. Could you please grant me a parking space right away, oh, and close to the building so I don’t get soaked.” The words weren’t even completely out of her mouth when she saw the backup lights of a car come on at the end of a row. It was the best space in the whole parking lost, right next to the handicap spots and straight out from the front door. She made straight for it and as she pulled in she said, “Never mind God, something just opened up.”
This is an amusing story but how many times do we ask God for something, and then when we receive it, we behave as though it were quite an unusual coincidence, and we fail to give credit where credit is due? Or many times when our prayers are answered or when we are blessed in a certain way we may FEEL thankful but we don’t actually give thanks. I know that I am very guilty of this. I will ask God for help or wisdom or courage or strength or whatever and when I actually receive what I asked for. I feel grateful but I don’t always express that gratefulness to God.
The truth of the matter is this: there is a tremendous difference between simply feeling grateful and expressing gratitude. We are going to learn today to not just FEEL grateful but to EXPRESS our gratitude to God! To do this we are going to examine a story from the book of Luke – In this story we are going to see the difference between just simply feeling grateful and expressing gratitude. Let’s turn to Luke 17 and start with reading verses 11 to 13.
In this story, we see that Jesus was “on His way” to Jerusalem – and ultimately the cross. He was travelling the border between Samaria and Galilee, when He came to this village. Either there was a leper colony nearby, or perhaps the fact that this village was located on the border indicates that it was in kind of no-mans-land, and the village itself was the leper colony. Anyway, His reputation preceded Him, for ten of the lepers came out to meet Him. Now this is one of those stories that loses some of its punch for us today, because we really don’t have a clue what it was like to be a leper. Probably the closest any of us has come is watching some of the Leprosy Mission of Canada infomercials, but as horrible as the disease can be today, it was far worse then. Now we have doctors and effective treatments for leprosy – Hansen’s disease as we call it today.
In those days they had only fear and isolation. Think for a moment what it must have been like to be pushed outside the community. Isolated. Humiliated. A charity case. Add to that the fact that the priests and teachers of the law commonly used lepers as object lessons about sin, where would you find your reason to go on? What would it be like to never be touched? To see little children run away at the sight of you? No hugs, no kisses, no handshakes, no pat on the back. These lepers knew the laws and the traditions. They knew exactly how far they were required to stand from the public. And there they stand, some distance away trying to shout over the crowd of people that seemed to surround Jesus whenever He came to a public place. They called out to him “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
Maybe they wanted alms, or they needed food. It’s even possible they knew that Jesus was a healer and they were reaching out in faith, believing that Jesus would show mercy to them, as He had to so many others. In any case, they knew their place and though they cried for mercy, they didn’t dare draw near. Let’s continue reading and let’s read verses 14-16. Jesus answer is a little surprising to us. He does not ask if they believe. He does not lay hands on them. He does not spit on the ground, make mud and rub it into their wounds. When he saw them, He said, “Go, and show yourselves to the priests.” Essentially, He tells them to do what the law required when a leper was cleansed, without really assuring them that they would be cleansed.
It was possible for leprosy to go into remission, and the truth is that many who were called lepers probably had eczema, psoriasis, and other problems that affect the skin but sometimes disappear. If a leper thought his leprosy had gone away, the law required that he present himself to a priest. After an elaborate examination involving a period of quarantine, the priest could declare him clean and return him to his home. When Jesus said to the ten “Go and show yourselves to the priests”, He was telling them to act in faith as though they had been healed, even though the healing was not a reality at that point.
As they left Him, they were miraculously cleansed of their leprosy. It’s interesting that all ten of the lepers obeyed Jesus’ command to “go and show themselves to the priests”. Not one asked “Why go when we haven’t been healed?” or “Don’t you think you should cure us first?” They didn’t argue the theological implications of healing. They just obeyed Jesus. And, while they were busy obeying, all ten were healed.
You can imagine them, leaning on their crutches, wrapped in bandages, limping and hobbling down the road, and on the way – one after another discovers, “I am clean, the sores are gone, and my flesh has been restored.” They start to walk a little faster, anxious to do what the law requires and to be reinstated into society. But then there is one, 1 out of 10, who stops short. He makes the connection and he says, “Wait a minute! That rabbi healed me. I’ve got to go back and thank him.” He leaves the others on the way and runs back “praising God in a loud voice” and then he threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him. At this point Luke gives an interesting tidbit of information, he says “He was a Samaritan.”
I’m glad Luke includes all these details about the story. There’s a lot here to learn about the difference between FEELING grateful and EXPRESSING gratitude. He limped away on his crutches, now he skips and dances and runs back to Jesus, praising God at the top of his lungs, shouting, “Hallelujah!” Then he throws himself at Jesus’ feet. He’s embracing him around the ankles, grovelling before him, and with tears of joy streaming down his face he says, “Thank-you, Lord. Thank-you.” I can imagine the disciples standing by watching this, thinking, “Does he have to get so emotional? I’m really not comfortable with this display. This is not what ‘decent and in order’ looks like.” None of that matters to the Samaritan. He’s been healed, and by a Jewish rabbi who ought to have despised him – He doesn’t care what others may think, his sentence of banishment and death has been lifted and he came to praise and thank the one who lifted the curse.
But the point of the story isn’t just about the one but it’s about the other nine as well. Having received the worship of the Samaritan leper, Jesus turns to him and asks in verses 17 and 18, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” The other nine may have FELT grateful for what Jesus did BUT to Jesus that wasn’t good enough – only ONE came to back express their gratitude.
I believe God is still saddened by how few people actually express thanksgiving to Him. Many of us are too busy to stop and acknowledge God and simply say, “Thank you, God.” Or we have convinced ourselves we deserve everything we have, so why thank God? We live our lives enjoying the blessings of God but we rarely stop to say “Thanks.” The Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” The key is to give thanks, not merely to feel thankful. Now, I’m certain the other nine lepers were thankful about being cleansed. How could anyone not feel thankful after being healed of a deadly disease? But only one of the ten did the right thing by coming to Jesus and expressing thanksgiving. There is a tremendous difference between simply feeling gratitude and expressing gratitude.
Let’s say someone does something nice for me, and I look at that person and think, “My, I’m so thankful for what (name) has done for me.” But if that’s all I do, I miss a chance to be a blessing to that person. But if I write them a thank you note, or speak to them and say, “(Name), I really appreciate what you did for me” then they are blessed, too. With God, don’t just feel thankful: Give thanks! The Bible says in Hebrews 13:15, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise–the fruit of LIPS that confess his name.” It says “the fruit of lips” not “a warm, fuzzy feeling in your heart.” Don’t just feel it, tell God how thankful you are!
And we aren’t just to thank God for the good things in life – these things are easy 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says we are to give thanks in all circumstances. Whatever happens, we can always find something for which we can give God thanksgiving. There is a story told of Matthew Henry. Matthew Henry was an early American preacher. Once, while traveling to preach, Matthew Henry was robbed. Now most people wouldn’t think that would be a circumstance in which you could give thanks, but he did. He wrote: “I am thankful that during these years I have never been robbed before. Also, even though they took my money, they did not take my life. Although they took all I had, it was not much. Finally, I am grateful that it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.” Having this attitude of thankfulness is not easy to do but it is well worth it If you are going through a time of pain and difficulty, why don’t you try to find at least five things about your situation for which you can thank God?
I’ve often wondered as I read about this healing of the ten lepers if Jesus was trying to tell us about 90% of us don’t thank God enough. God has given us so many blessings. Never mind all of the things that we’re traditionally thankful for on this day, we need to look at the wonderful blessing of our redemption and be thankful. Think about it. Jesus died on the cross for our sins. We’ve been set free from the power of sin. We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have an eternal inheritance reserved in heaven for us who are kept by the power of God for salvation. Did we deserve this? Did we earn this? Not at all!How much did it cost us? Nothing! How much did it cost Jesus? His life! Romans 5, verse 8 and 9 say, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” Is that not reason enough to be overflowing with thanksgiving today?
Let’s not be like the unthankful crowd. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be like those nine men, I want to be the one who says, “Thank you, thank, thank you, Jesus, for what you have done for me!” Let’s determine that we are going to be like the one man who returned and gave thanks to Jesus. Let’s not just FEEL thankful for God’s wonderful blessings BUT let’s EXPRESS our thanks to Him!