“Who Returned to Give Thanks?”

 (Luke 17:11-19 – Thanksgiving – November 25, 2021)

Luke 17:11-19 – 11Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. 12Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. 13And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed. 15And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. 17So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? 18Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”

Dear thankful worshipers of Him who is our Creator and Redeemer:

From early in life we are taught, when we have received some gift or favor: “Remember to say thank you.” Usually we express gratitude directly to the person who has shown us generosity. We want to give thanks where thanks are due.

On this Thanksgiving day, we are reminded in James 1:17: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” Through all the changing scenes of life, it is our Father in heaven who lovingly continues to provide for us every need of body and life. Not only that, He has graciously provided every need of our souls in His gift of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. In view of all His goodness to us, Psalm 106:1 teaches to pray: Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.”

Being thankful to God for every gift of life should be a most basic response. But as we see in our text, when ten men received God’s gift of healing in Christ, only one remembered to give thanks where thanks is due. “Who Returned to Give Thanks?” Today, as we acknowledge that every good and perfect gift comes from God our Father through our Savior Jesus Christ, you and I return with the one man who “glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks.”

1) All ten received the same gift

How many times in life have we exclaimed, “Oh, I am so thankful”? We tend to say it especially when we have gone through difficult circumstances, fearing things would not turn out right. Maybe we have been overwhelmed with some great need beyond our control, and we could not help ourselves out. But then, circumstances changed in our favor. Maybe a friend or family member stepped in and generously helped us with our need. Maybe a doctor came into the picture who was able to provide healing. Suddenly our need was fulfilled, everything turned out just fine; and with great relief, we found ourselves exclaiming: “Oh, I am so thankful!”

Ten lepers faced desperate circumstances beyond their control, unable to help themselves out. But then, their greatest Friend and Loved One stepped in to help them out. The divine Physician came into the picture; Jesus answered their cries for mercy by His miracle of healing.

Consider the desperate life of a leper. Leprosy was an incurable disease that slowly ate away at the body. It began with spots on the skin that ate deeper and deeper into muscles and bones. It caused loss of feeling, and loss of limbs, eyes, nose, and hair. Due to the extremely contagious nature of the disease, lepers had to live in colonies outside the village to avoid contact with others. These days we may think of the ways COVID has affected the lives of many, with social distancing and efforts to avoid contact with the infected by quarantines and isolation periods. But imagine living in a leper colony. Imagine living out your life with a disease that was considered a living death, with no cure available, nothing the best doctors could do for you. Imagine being cut off from contact with loved ones, society, and activities you once enjoyed. Imagine being cut off from fellowship with believers in God’s house, as one considered unclean.

But now, these lepers were given hope. Jesus had come to their village; and now, the divine Healer passed their leper colony. And as they stood far off: “they lifted up their voices and said, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!'” They all cried for mercy, they all put their faith in His healing power. Now the Old Testament Law, which pronounced a leper ceremonially unclean, prescribed the method for one healed of leprosy to be declared clean. It required an inspection by a priest, followed by blood sacrifice and the application blood and water to the one healed, before he could return to society. It was the will of Jesus to have mercy on all ten lepers and heal them. “So when He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ “ They all went in obedience to His Word: “And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed.”

All ten received the same gift. We are reminded that the Lord in His mercy fulfills the needs of all people. Psalm 145:15-16 says: The eyes of all look expectantly to You, and You give them their food in due season. You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”

Like the ten lepers, like everyone in the world, where would we be if it were not for the mercy of God in providing every good and perfect gift from above? Who provides the sun and rain from year to year, so we can have a sufficient water supply and successful crops? Who provides good government and just laws, so we can have protection from enemies and evildoers and enjoy God’s gifts in peace? When we have cried out to the Lord for mercy in times of sickness or injury, who guided the doctor and provided the treatment we needed? When we have cried out to the Lord for mercy in times of loneliness, anxiety, or depression, who sent that understanding person to be near, or that good news to lift our spirits? When we have cried out to the Lord for mercy in times when it seemed we would be overtaken in failure and loss, who provided the way out, the open door to more blessings than we could have asked or imagined?

When we pray to our Father in heaven as Jesus taught us, “Give us this day our daily bread,” can we even count how many ways He has answered? Not only does He give us tables full of food, but He provides every other gift of life – the comforts of our home; the love of family and friends; the gift of health in body and mind; the strength and ability to work for income and do activities we enjoy; the blessing of our church family, and the ability to gather in worship.

2) “But where are the nine?”

In our text all ten lepers received the same gift; all were healed by Jesus’ powerful Word. But who returned to give thanks? “And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks…. So Jesus answered and said, ‘Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?’ “

It is easy to picture where the other nine were. They had gone on to present themselves to the priests, to be pronounced clean, and to return to everyday life. They had gone on to enjoy all the gifts of God given them in restored health; in blessed relationships with family and friends; in comforts of the home, fresh clothing, and good food.

Yet they did not return to say, “Thank you!” to the One who had given them all this. What would cause such unthankfulness? Was it the common malady in the heart of sinners that is willing to cry out to the Lord in desperate times, seeking His mercy for the needs of this body and life; but having been given all that, has no more need for Him? Was it the common malady of the sinful heart that gives thanks in all the wrong places – instead of thanking Him who opens His hand and satisfies every need, thanking the work of one’s own hands; or thanking the advancements of science and medicine; or thanking the generous provisions of government; or thanking Mother Nature – or any other false god in which sinners put their faith for the needs of life? Or was it the common malady of the heart that simply forgets to return thanks, because it is too busy enjoying every gift from above to stop and give all glory and thanks to the Giver?

The sin of unthankfulness, discontentment, and greed is a spiritual leprosy. It may begin with small spots in one’s life; but it eats away, spreading into selfish use of God’s gifts, spreading into envy and discord with others. It even leads some away from Christ and the true blessings He wants to give.

2) The one who returned thanks

But now, we see a different spirit in the one out of ten who remembered to returned thanks. He knew there would be time to go show himself to the priests, and he could look forward to all the daily gifts God had given him. But first he wanted to give thanks to the Source of every good and perfect gift coming from above. He praised God from whom all blessings flow; and as He did so, he fell on his face at the feet of Jesus, giving Him thanks. Thus in Jesus he glorified God, in whom his prayer for mercy was answered and his every need was fulfilled.

But it went beyond the needs of this body and life. Even more so, in Jesus he recognized his true God and Savior. He realized that the power which had saved him from leprosy was divine, and that the One who had it must be able to save also the soul by the same power and mercy. This man who had been healed of leprosy wanted to continue this relationship with the Savior who is able to restore and give all good things – not only for this life, but for eternal life.

And Jesus said to him: “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well… See what your faith in Me and My power has done for you! Keep that faith and see what it will yet do for you. Through faith you are made well, not only physically but spiritually. Through faith you receive healing in the forgiveness of sins and salvation I have come to win for you. Through faith, I will give you more blessings than you can ask or imagine in my Kingdom.”

Is this not the same spirit in which we have returned to worship and give thanks today? We give all glory to God, thanking Him through our Savior Jesus Christ, for every gift from above. He who has all power to provide our daily needs of body and life, has provided the best gift of all in the salvation and eternal life He came to win for us. In His mercy, the Lord has answered our greatest need. Jesus has healed us of the leprosy of sin. He has taken all our uncleanness on His cross; He has removed all that once separated us from God. He has forgiven every way we have been unthankful, discontent, and selfishly used His gifts. Now as our heavenly High Priest, Jesus presents us to His Father, cleansed and healed of all sin. He has restored us to peace with God as His children; and He gives us fellowship with each other, as the family of God in Christ.

Now that we know Him and we have a relationship with Him as our loving God and Father, through faith in His Son, do we not have reason to bow at His feet and return thanks, every day? Do we not hear Jesus saying to us: “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well”?

Yes having Him, we can be certain that every good and perfect gift from above will follow. Do we find ourselves overwhelmed with some great need beyond our control, crying out to the Lord for mercy? Who can better understand than our God who became flesh and walked in our shoes; our Savior, who Himself bore all our griefs and carried all our sorrows? As we cry out to Him, He gives us His Word and promise: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Already, God has given us the riches of eternal life in His Kingdom, paid for by the life of His Son in our flesh; therefore we can trust Him to provide all that we need for this body and life.

As we join the one who returned to give thanks to God in Christ, are we not truly blessed? Through faith, we have been made well. In Christ, we are receiving blessings far greater than we can ask or imagine – daily blessings, blessings that will never end in His eternal Kingdom.

All this produces in our hearts the highest praise and thanksgiving. It moves us for joy to share the rich bounties of His goodness and mercy with others. It moves us to join our hearts and voices as the family of God in Christ, praising Him for every good and perfect gift: “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 106:1).

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.