From the time we are tiny children, our parents are constantly reminding us to say thank you.
When they remind you to say “thank you” they are helping you to understand thankfulness. Let’s say you receive a gift you really wanted for your birthday. You are probably very happy that you have received the gift. But being thankful takes it a step further: you’re not just happy that you HAVE the gift, you are filled with thankfulness to the giver as well. You think of all the giver had to do to make sure you could get the gift; they took the time to go shopping, pay for it and they wrapped it in pretty paper. You are then amazed by the giver’s generosity and love, you freely show your thankfulness by giving them a big hug, by writing a note or by saying “thank you” over and over again.
In Luke 17, we read that Jesus gave an amazing gift to ten men. And while all ten of them may have been happy that they received a gift, only one of them chose to show their thankfulness to Jesus.
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, and 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 a most horrific disease.
The emotional pain of a leper, however, must have been even worse than the physical pain. They were ostracised from society. They were removed from their family, from their community. There could be no contact, whatsoever, with their spouse or children None. Immediately removed.
These ten lepers realised Jesus was travelling near where they were so they shouted from a distance “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ and Jesus replied “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” At the time, the Jewish law stated that if a leper thought they were cured, they had to go to the priest and they would examine them to see if they were. If the priest declared them clean they would be allowed to re-enter society.
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 Jesus.
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 for the miracle to happen, these men had to start walking in faith before their circumstances would change.
We cannot wait until the problems are over to start walking in faith. We cannot put conditions on 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 going to church.” You cannot put conditions on God! Instead, God places a demand for faith on us, before anything will change.
The story appears immediately after a conversation Jesus has with His disciples after one asked Him to “increase our faith.” In this conversation, Jesus indicates that obedience to God is not something extra we do to receive His thanks and rewards. Rather, it is our duty to serve Him. Our pride sometimes twists this truth and tells us that we should expect God to thank us for all we do to serve Him. But Jesus teaches here that true faith is total dependence on God and a willingness to unselfishly do His will. This conversation, combined with the story of the ten lepers, puts gratitude in its proper perspective. God is the one deserving of gratitude because of the grace and mercy He freely gives to those who do not deserve it.
Yet nine of the men who were healed didn’t give God that gratitude. Jesus points this out to the people who were with him in verse 17, he didn’t applaud or thank the one person who did come back to him but points out the indifference and ingratitude of the nine others.
How often are we like the nine others?
I bought a lovely, shiny new whiteboard for my room recently and on it I started to write down all things I had to do; phone calls I had to make, forms I needed to fill in, letters I had to post, notes I had to write up etc. In that I realised there was something I had forgotten. God. I haven’t even begun to think about how I’m going to make time to spend with God in all of it.
We are busy people who are easily distracted. We get so caught up in work and other responsibilities that we forget to just spend time with God.
At first it does seem incredibly hard to believe that only one of the ten men who got healed came back to thank Jesus. But if we are honest with ourselves we are often like the nine lepers; always close to God but just barely experiencing the presence of God.
Martin Luther, when once asked what his plans, for the following day were, answered: “Work, work, from early until late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”
If anyone was busy, it was Martin Luther. He was leading a spiritual revolution! He was preaching, writing, pastoring, translating the Bible into German and he was a husband and a father.
Despite his incredible workload, he found it absolutely necessary to pray. He had to meet with God before he met with the cares of the day. He would not dive into his day without first being refreshed by the Lord. He knew that he couldn’t serve God without first being in his presence.
When Jesus gave His life for us, His blood healed us from a disease much more hideous than leprosy. Like a terrible disease, sin ruins us.
Sin is a great spiritual need that requires healing. We seem to recognise physical needs better than spiritual needs. When we’re hungry, we eat. When we’re ill, we go to the doctor. When we’re tired, we sleep. However, in each of our lives, there are sins like, greed, lying, and selfishness. Just like leprosy is a physical disease, these sins are spiritual diseases that need to be healed. And Jesus wants to heal them! When the one leper fell to Jesus’s feet, Jesus said “Go, your faith has made you well”. He wasn’t talking about the man’s physical nature as he and the other nine had already been healed, he was talking about the spiritual. Jesus healed his spiritual nature so the Samaritan leper was saved because of his faith in Jesus.
We have no idea what happened to the other nine after they left but what we do know is while all ten prayed only one praised.
All of them were earnest in their prayers. Most of us at some stage have desperately wanted something, and have knelt in our room and asked God to help you. We were very earnest in our prayer when we were in trouble, but did you go back and give thanks for the help you received?
James Nesbit, a missionary from the 1800s wrote this: ‘There is more prayer than praise in the world. It ought to be the reverse. There should be more praise than prayer. For what we have received is much more than what we want. Our mercies accumulate much faster than our necessities.
The Bible shows us that there is plenty to praise God for. In the bible, God is thanked:
For loving us
For being faithful,
For hearing our cry
For friendship with others
For salvation through Jesus Christ
What’s the best gift you have received from God? Have you thanked the giver?