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Be a Thankful Believer

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I remember when I was a boy and my mother made me write thank you cards for first time after Christmas.  I was really upset; I thought it was a waste of time.  That really showed something about my heart – I wasn’t very thankful.  Of course now I realize it’s appropriate to send a thank you card when you receive a gift.  In fact, the greater the gift, the more you should express thanks for it.  That leaves us with a serious question:  What about the gifts we get from God?  They are the greatest gifts we ever receive.  Do we thank him?    And if we aren’t showing our thanks to God, what does that say about our hearts?  We can’t send God a card, so what can we do?  In our lesson for today, we see what it means to be a thankful believer.

1.  Thankful believers appreciate God’s mercy

2.  Thankful believers can’t wait to give thanks.

In the ancient world, one group of people didn’t have much to be thankful for.  These were the lepers.  Lepers had a horrible life.  They had a painful skin disease.  They had to live outside of town in leper colonies because other people were afraid catching their disease.  In Israel, according to the Law lepers weren’t even allowed to go into cities or towns.  If a leper was walking along a country road somewhere and saw a healthy person walking by, the leper had to cover his face and shout out, “Unclean, unclean” so the other person would know to stay away.

So you understand the lepers we read about a few moments ago.  When they heard he was coming, they were hoping he would see their sad state and be moved to help them, as they knew he had healed other lepers...  They wanted to catch his attention before he got into the town beyond their reach.  Afraid to get too close, they stood at a distance and cried in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”    They couldn’t offer to give anything in return because they didn’t have anything to offer.  They could only appeal to Jesus’ mercy and compassion.

What were they thinking as Jesus looked in their direction and called back to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”  He didn’t immediately heal them.  Instead he told them to get going.  When someone was cleansed of leprosy, he was supposed to go see the priests to be officially declared clean.  So Jesus implied they would be cleansed when they got there.  But by delaying their healing, he was giving them a chance to trust him and show it by acting on his word.

Sure enough, as they went, they were healed.  Was there a glowing light?  Did a funny feeling come over them all at once?  Or was it a quiet miracle?  One leper turned and noticed something different about his friend’s face.  Soon they all stopped in wonder.  Were they shouting with joy, or silent with awe?  Think what this meant for the lepers – no more living in the deserted places!  No more separation from friends and family!  No more physical suffering from leprosy!  They had so much to look forward to!  No doubt they hugged each other as they departed.  But nine of them didn’t stay around long, because they just couldn’t wait…. to go home.

This miracle should have humbled the lepers and led them to see that Jesus was much more than a medical wonder.  He healed all 10 of them at once, and he had done it from a distance.  That alone was enough to prove he was the one sent from God.  It also proved his compassion.  You would expect them to all immediately return and worship Jesus, their newfound Messiah.  But instead we hear that only one returned.

How could nine of them just run off like that?  Their lives were changed forever.  They would wake up every day thankful that they were no longer lepers.  They had experienced Jesus power and compassion in an intensely personal and miraculous way.  Their entire lives were permanently stamped with Jesus.  When they didn’t return Jesus was baffled and wondered out loud, “Were not all ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

But there was one leper, who when he saw that he had been healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.  He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.  Why?  Because this one leper kept clinging to Jesus’ words as he went along.  When he felt the divine power working in him and saw that he was healed, he had to praise God in response.

What led him to have such a different reaction?  There are two details to consider:  The first:  he realized what he received was mercy.  He understood that he had been given something he didn’t deserve, so naturally he wanted to express his appreciation.  After being healed of leprosy, he wasn’t about to forget it.  He didn’t have something else that was a higher priority.  Jesus had taken pity on him and deserved much more than a thank you card.

The other difference between the one who returned and the nine who went on was the one’s religious background. He was a Samaritan, while the other nine, it’s pretty safe to assume, were Jews.  The Samaritans were partly Jewish by blood, but they weren’t fully Jewish.  They had corrupted the Jewish religion by making their own version of the Old Testament to fit their own preferences.  The Jewish people of Jesus’ day generally looked down on the Samaritans.  They weren’t God’s people.  And yet it was a Samaritan, not a Jew, who returned and thanked Jesus.

Does this surprise you?   You would expect the Jews to appreciate Jesus’ mercy the most.  The Jews had the Old Testament promises to Abraham and David.  Ever year as they reenacted the Passover and celebrated other feasts, they remembered God’s mercy on their people.  This should have made them ever more grateful and appreciative of God’s mercy.  But sadly we see the opposite.  We see again and again in Israel’s history that they often became indifferent to God’s mercy.  Eventually when their Messiah came to redeem his people, they weren’t interested.

The nine lepers who didn’t return displayed this same attitude.  Why should they run back and thank Jesus?  He showed them mercy – big deal.  They had more important things to worry about.  That’s called a hardened heart.  And the hardest hearts are often found inside people who are surrounded with God’s mercy.

And who was it that returned?  A Samaritan.  Not someone who had grown up as an heir of God’s promises.  Not someone who had been going to church all his life.  But someone who recognized how great God’s mercy was when it came into his life.

Where does that leave us?

There’s a story about a pastor who was giving his annual report to the elders of his congregation.  Towards the end of his report, he mentioned incidentally, “We had a pretty bad year as far as deaths, I counted that 300 people died.”  The elders were stunned.  They looked at each other, wondering how they could have missed this.  After a moment, one of the elders asked, “Are you sure about this?”  “Well,” the pastor said, “This year I received 320 prayer requests for members undergoing surgery or in the hospital, but I only received 20 prayer giving thanks for a safe recovery.  I just assumed the rest of them died.”

In our WELS churches today, many of us have been surrounded with God’s mercy since childhood.  Do we appreciate it?  How many times has God answered our prayers?  May be even this very week God answered a prayer for you in an amazing way.  And as soon as the prayer was answered – you dropped right there to your knees?  You couldn’t stop telling your friends and family how good God has been to you?  Or did you just kind of forget about it?

How often do we come to church burdened by some sin, and then pray to God, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.”  He always grants us mercy!  And yet how easy is it for me to just walk away like the lepers in our story, even back to the same old sins.  To walk out the door on Sunday and forget about God for a week or a month, until we come back again.  It’s just God’s mercy after all.

Woe to us if his precious love for us means so little.  Woe to us if we take for granted the gifts we receive daily from God: food clothing, and all we have.  How does this happen?  It happens when, like spoiled children who get mad when their parents make them write thank you cards, we start act like we deserve it.  Like somehow God owes us these things.  This can only happen when we forget what we really deserve form God. When we put in the back of our mind the incredibly high price it cost Jesus to save us from Hell.

This is the same wicked road that the Israelites took in Old Testament times.  First their hearts were ungrateful, then they began to worship other gods, and eventually they fell completely from faith!  They lost eternal life with God because it didn’t seem like a big deal to them.  When God’s mercy isn’t a big deal to us, we are taking the first steps down that terrible road.  My friends, don’t go there!

No, the road we want to take is the road of the one leper, who returned with joy.  He knew Jesus’ mercy on him: Jesus had healed him of a terrible disease.  Jesus had come to be his Savior.  That’s our first step towards being thankful: to realize how great God’s mercy is.  It’s this great:

Jesus lived a perfectly thankful life, to make up for the lives we live often so ungratefully.  In our place he was always completely appreciative to his Father.  We learn that in a very interesting way.  After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he prayed, ““Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” (Jn 11:41) In other words, Jesus ALWAYS appreciated the Father’s hearing him.  His attitude was always one of thanks, love, appreciation and respect.  Though minute by minute he often kept this praise internal, on this occasion he let everyone see his attitude towards his Father.  He lived this life so he could give it to us to claim for our own righteousness.  That’s not something we earned, it’s mercy.

As we claim Jesus’ perfect life as our righteousness, we also knew he has paid for our sins of pride and thanklessness.  We deserved to be separated from our Father’s mercy, but instead Jesus was separated from the Father’s mercy as he suffered on the cross.  As he died our death, that mercy was secured as ours.  Nothing will ever take away the fact that your sins are paid for.  The absolute proof: he rose from the dead on the third day, assuring us the payment is complete.  He rose from the dead proving:  The grave isn’t going to hold us forever. Proving: Jesus’ mercy will endure forever in the new resurrection life.

That is all for you.  Yes, as thankful believers, we appreciate God’s mercy.

But there’s more to the story.  Once we are touched by God’s mercy, our entire life is changed.  Be a thankful believer

2.  Thankful believers can’t wait to give thanks

Recall the one leper who returned:

When he saw he was healed, he came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.  Jesus said, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

As that Samaritan was healed, he certainly must have felt strange.  There went the other nine, continuing on their way.  How could they just keep walking?  He certainly realized that he could go home too.  But he just had to go back and worship Jesus, for the same reason that you just have to say thank you to the doctor who just cured your cancer.  You just have to.  He understood who Jesus was and what Jesus had given.  So there was only one option in his mind: praise God in a loud voice!  Return and worship at Jesus’ feet!

We too have seen God’s mercy on us and it’s time for us to come back and praise him.  But of course we aren’t living in the year 29 AD, and we can’t go running to Jesus’ feet because they aren’t here in the same way they were then.  Yes, Jesus is still with us, even his feet, but he’s invisible in his glory.  So what can we do to give thanks?

We can pray!  Worship him in your heart!  Jesus hears you now.  The most important thing this leper did was to believe in Jesus, to trust in him, and not to forget him.  He let the joy and peace of Jesus motivate and direct his actions.  That’s the response we want too.  Remember his mercy to you always, and let the rest of what you do flow from that.  Praise God in a loud voice.  Tell others what he has done for you.  Show them with your actions.  Give back to God with your offerings.

Right here in this building we have a chance to praise and thank God together.  We so often sing, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.”  “Thank the Lord and sing his praise, tell everyone what he has done.” Sing loudly, and let your heart agree with your mouth as we thank God together.

When we give offerings, there is a reason we often call it a “thank-offering”.  It’s an important way of thanking Jesus.  The money goes to spreading his Word – to assist us in our gathering, and to help spread his Word to others.  But finally Jesus considers our offerings as gifts to himself.  Fellow redeemed, thank God with your wallet as you thank God with your heart and your mouth.  Let’s not treat God’s mercy like a small thing, let’s return with thanksgiving!

Finally we thank God with our actions towards others.  The Samaritan leper in our story – what if Jesus asked him, “Can you do me a favor?”  Do you think he’d reply, “I’ll think about it?”  No, he’d be willing to do anything.  So would we.  Actually Jesus has asked you for a favor.  Jesus has told us, “Whatever you do for the least of these, you have done for me.”  He has promised us that when we feed the hungry, visit the sick, welcome the stranger, and help the prisoner, we are actually doing it for him.  Can you do Jesus a favor?  Not to earn something, but out of thanks.  The possibilities are endless.  In showing mercy for the needy – needy in body and soul, both strangers and family members – we thank Jesus.

Mercy and thanksgiving – the really go together.  How often we’ve been like the nine lepers, who took God’s mercy for granted.  But Jesus has mercifully forgiven all our ingratitude, giving his life as the payment for our sins.  We rejoice in God’s mercy on us- mercy which will last forever, even beyond the grave.  This can’t help but to warm ours hearts and lead us to thank God.  We look for opportunities to thank him: in our hearts, with our lips, and with our lives.  May God lead us to grow ever more thankful.   

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