I remember when I was in Cub Scouts a long long time ago we were having a meeting with parents in the basement of the church where we met. We had a speaker for some reason that night and I have no idea what he was talking about. But I do remember something that he did.
He had ten Tootsie Pop suckers and he asked who would like one. Well, if you know me you know I raised my hand. So ten of us went up and were each given a sucker and then we sat down feeling pretty special. That is until the speaker began talking again. He commented that no one said thank-you when he gave them their sucker. And at that moment every one of us was embarrassed and ashamed (especially since our parents were there feeling embarrassed and ashamed too.) I have never forgotten that powerful object lesson.
It is very possible that this speaker got his idea from the story of the ten lepers. This text is a powerful object lesson. If you pay attention, it is a lesson that will stay with you the rest of your life. Let’s look at the account.
- As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
The word leprosy in Biblical days was a much more general term than our term today. It could refer to a number of infectious skin diseases. It is difficult for us to know whether these people had what we would call “Hansen’s Disease” or whether it was another type of skin disease. For argument let’s imagine they had the leprosy that we know today.
- Leprosy is caused by a bacteria which is a relative of the tuberculosis bacteria. There are two main types of reaction to this bacteria. In the milder form of the disease, the body’s cells limit the infection but in the infected area, hair follicles, sweat glands, and nerve endings are destroyed. The skin above the site becomes dry and discolored and loses its sense of touch.In the more contagious form of the disease, the body is not able to mount a resistance, and the bacteria multiplies freely in the skin. In addition to the loss of sensation, large, soft bumps, or nodules, appear over the body and face. Mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and throat may be invaded. In extreme cases the voice may change drastically, blindness may occur, or the nose may be destroyed. [Comptons Interactive Encyclopedia]
What happens with all forms of Leprosy is that the infected parts lose their sense of touch . . . they no longer feel pain.That doesn’t sound so bad . . . . but it is devastating. Suppose you reach for a pan that is on the stove. You grab the metal handle and immediately you drop it and put your burned hand under cold water. You watch as the hand gets red from the burn. Now, if you had leprosy, you would grab the pan and you feel nothing. You would carry the pan oblivious to the damage that is being done to your hand. Only when you put the pan down would you see that your hand was so severely burned that letting go of the pan took a great deal of your skin with it. But you feel nothing.
In another setting, you put on a pair of shoes that don’t fit right. After walking in them for a little while, your feet scream that they need a break. You sit down, rub your feet or soak them in water. But, if you had leprosy, you wouldn’t know that your feet were being hurt and you would continue to walk creating blisters, ulcers and other damage to your feet.
- Philip Yancey in his great book, WHERE IS GOD WHEN IT HURTS tells of a NBA basketball player by the name of Bob Gross, who wanted to play despite a badly injured ankle. Knowing that Gross was needed for the important game, the team doctor injected Marcaine, a strong painkiller into three different places of his foot. Gross did start the game, but after a few minutes, as he was battling for a rebound, a loud snap! could be heard throughout the arena. Gross, oblivious, ran up and down the court two times, then crumpled to the floor. Although he felt no pain, a bone had broken in his ankle. By overriding pain’s warning system with the anesthetic, the doctor had caused permanent damage and ended the basketball career of Bob Gross. [WHERE IS GOD WHEN IT HURTS P.34]
Pain is really our friend because it alerts us to the fact that something is wrong. People with leprosy are without this friend. They become horribly disfigured and diseases because pain is not their to warn them of danger.
In Biblical days, a person with leprosy was and outcast. In Leviticus we read,
- “The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp. (Lev. 17:45, 46)
A leper was shunned by society. They were kept in isolation and everywhere they went people stayed away from them. Once diagnosed with this disease they could not hug their wife or children. They could not shake hands with someone. They could not go to the temple to worship. This is why there were 10 lepers (all they had was each other) and why there were Samaritans and Jews in the group. It is also why we read that “they stood at a distance.”
- When he [Jesus] saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:13-19)
Can you imagine the scene? I suspect people were startled that Jesus even bothered to acknowledge these men. Jesus saw them not as diseased and unclean men, but as men trapped inside diseased and unclean bodies. The conversation isn’t extensive. Jesus just tells them to go and show themselves to the priest. He sent them to the priest because the priest was the only one who could declare them “clean” again and free them to return to normal existence. Jesus was basically telling the men they were healed and not they should go get the healing confirmed.
This of course, takes a great deal of faith because it appears that at first, there is no immediate evidence of healing. It was as they were going to the priest that one, and then others, noticed that the leprosy is gone. I imagine them stopping and checking each other to see if they had all been healed.
I also believe that at this point the men cried out with joy. They may have wept, or laughed, or done a little dance. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that they weren’t grateful that they no longer had leprosy. They were more grateful than you and I could understand. However, only one directed his gratitude to the Healer. Only one returned to Jesus to say thank-you. And that is the point of the story: it is right and appropriate to give thanks to the one who blesses you.
WHY DIDN’T THEY SAY THANKS?
Obviously, we will never know for sure what these men were thinking. As I have reflected on this story it seems to me there was probably one of three reasons that the nine did not return.
Maybe they were afraid to believe. The evidence was clear but maybe they didn’t dare to believe it because it was too wonderful to be true. They were being cautious. Maybe they wanted to see if the healing was going to “take”. Lot’s of people appear to get better before they get a lot worse, you know. Maybe they intended to say “Thank you” as a later time. Maybe it just hadn’t sunk in yet.
Maybe they considered the healing to be coincidental. After all, Jesus hadn’t touched them or anything. He just told them to go and see the priest. Maybe it was just a coincidence that they experienced a healing after talking to Jesus. Maybe they were getting better already and that is why Jesus just said “Go to the priest.” Maybe they were just “Lucky”. Maybe there was nothing to thank but fate . . .whatever that is.
Maybe they Felt They Earned the Healing. Maybe they felt they had earned the healing. After all, they were the ones who decided to give Jesus a try. They were the ones who cried out. They were the ones who acted in faith by heading to the priest. If they were grateful they were grateful for their own wisdom and resourcefulness. What did God have to do with anything?
Now, before you shake your head at how these men could be so ungrateful . . . ask yourself . . . have you ever done the same thing?
- You are sick and got better and you gave all the credit to the doctor, your rehab program, or your determination . . . not God.
- You are declared to be forgiven but you are afraid to believe it can be true . . . so you don’t say thanks
- You get through a hard time and proclaim that things have finally “run their course”
- You get a promotion and are sure it is due to your hard work
- Your believe that your children are good because you are a “good parent”
How many of God’s blessings do you and I fail to thank Him for? How many times have we received but not believed? How many times have we thanked our “lucky stars” rather than the Lord? How many times have we concluded that we have “earned” the good things we have?
You see, when you think about it, we are really not much different from the lepers. We receive blessings on every side and often take them, enjoy them, and never give God thanks for them.
HOW DO WE CULTIVATE A GRATEFUL HEART?
Our purpose this morning is not to create a climate of guilt. I want instead to encourage you (and me) to develop an attitude of gratitude. Let me give you seven things that will help you be more grateful.
1. Learn the difference between appropriate gratitude and counterfeit gratitude
- True gratitude focuses on the greatness of the giver rather than the gift. Every holiday there is some woman who is given a little box as a gift. When she opens the box she sees that it is a diamond and she knows that the diamond is a proposal of marriage. Generally she will scream, cry, or maybe dance. But then the next thing she does is find the giver of the gift and she embraces him and kisses him and expresses gratitude to him. How silly it would be if that woman opened the box, saw the ring and then celebrated the ring with no acknowledgment of the giver. Yet when we are grateful for the gifts of God without being grateful for the God who gave the gifts, we do the same thing.
- True gratitude leads us to love God more for who He is than for what He has done. False gratitude expresses love to God out of a belief that this is the key to more blessing. It is like the person who expresses gratitude for a Christmas gift not because they appreciate the love and affection which prompted the gift . . . but because they know if they don’t express their thanks . . . there will be no more gifts.
2. Take the time to list the many “non-material” gifts that we have received from God.
- God’s plan to make us right with Him through the sacrifice of Jesus
- The various means He has give us to bring us to faith (the Bible, the Holy Spirit, the testimony of others, the sacraments of the faith and the example of those in the past)
- The people He brought into our lives who faithfully shared and demonstrated the truth to us.
- His provision of the church where we could learn, where we could stand as a family, and where we could grow together.
- The indwelling of His Spirit to guide, comfort, assure, and equip us not just for eternity but also for everyday living.
- The many times He has delivered us from spiritual dangers such as temptation, distress, discouragement . . .often unknown to us.
- The times he delivered us from bodily harm. All the “close calls” we survived, the sicknesses we’ve recovered from, the danger we have avoided.
- The gift and privilege of prayer and the wonder of His fellowship.
- The place that He is preparing for us
Expand your definition of “blessing”. Learn to see beyond the material.
3. Force yourself to recognize the greatness of your sins. If we don’t understand the depth of our wickedness we will never appreciate the richness of His grace. It is good for us to measure ourselves by Scripture rather than by each other. We need to see ourselves as we really are instead of as the people we would like other people to think we are.
4. Imagine how you would feel if you had been delivered from Hell. Imagine what it would be like to live the rest of your days separated from everything that is good and praiseworthy. Imagine being separated from peace, joy, satisfaction, delight, enjoyment and laughter. Imagine being in a place where there was no hope and no happiness.
If that is too difficult to imagine consider this. Imagine that you have been given a life sentence to a maximum security prison. You are not allowed visitors, you can receive no mail, and you cannot get any phone calls. You are prohibited from reading, watching television or taking classes. You are not allowed outside or to visit with other prisoners. Imagine the horror of such an existence.
Then imagine what it would be like to one day have the door of your cell opened by someone with a smiling face. And that smiling face looks at you and says, “You are free to go.” You would certainly ask, “What do you mean?” And the person would say, “You are free to return to your family, your life, your enjoyments. The stigma of your imprisonment is gone. Go! Live and enjoy!” You would probably ask, “How is this possible?” The answer, “It is possible because I paid your debt. I have taken your place. You are free.”
Would you be grateful? You bet you would! You would never forget what that person had saved your from. You would never take for granted the simple blessings of everyday life again. You would hug that person. You would weep. You would stare speechless at them.
Now take the horror of that situation and multiply it many many times and you will understand what it would be like to be in Hell and then to be set free. Then realize, my friend, that even though we have not experienced Hell . . . that is indeed the very kind of existence that the Lord has saved us from.
5. Think often about Heaven and what it holds for you. Lift your eyes . . . see what is ahead. Imagine the day when you cross from life to life eternal. Imagine the wonder and joy of the embrace of Jesus. Consider what it might be like to be in a sinless existence. Imagine a life where tears and sorrow will no longer be present. Imagine a place where all wrongs will be righted and all faithfulness is rewarded. Try to get a hint of that great reunion that is coming for all who have placed their faith in Christ. Try to imagine the beauty of God’s Kingdom. Then remind yourself that these things are your hope and joy not because of anything that you have done . . . but they are ours because of what Christ has done for us. Ponder the value of what He has given us and be grateful.
6. Recognize that even in this life God has been exceedingly generous. Look around you. Notice all you have. You not only have food and shelter . . . you have much much more. Guard yourself from that every present coveting mindset. You know what I mean . . . we believe we would be happy IF we had this that or the other thing.
7. Consciously seek to balance your thanking with your asking. The Puritan, Richard Baxter wrote, “When men accustom themselves to have ten words or twenty of confession and petition for one of thanksgiving, and ten thoughts of sins and wants, and troubles, for one of mercies, they starve thankfulness and turn it away.” (CHRISTIAN DIRECTORY p.145) Make it a point to count your blessings and to thank the one who does the blessing.
I hope you have seen this morning that the story of the ten lepers is one we may never forget. I hope you have also been spurred to express thanks to God. Let me suggest a couple of practical ways for you to do so.
- Make it a point to list your spiritual as well as material blessings in your listing of blessings this Thanksgiving.
- Do something tangible to express your thanks. A special gift to a ministry, a few hours of your time in serving the Lord, a note of encouragement to someone God has used in your life, a phone call to a blessed saint. Go beyond words of thanks . . . seek to demonstrate your thanks.
- Respond to God’s offer of salvation. The greatest way to show God how grateful you are is to receive the gift He offers. Stop running from Him, ignoring Him, or giving Him half-hearted obedience. Instead admit your sin. Acknowledge that Jesus died for you and because of you. Receive His gift of forgiveness and salvation. And then follow Him with a dedication and commitment that now only shows that you mean what you say . . . but also shows that you are indeed, grateful.
note: I am indebted to Richard Baxter for many of the points in this message. His words in THE CHRISTIAN DIRECTORY on showing gratitude to God changed my thinking, deepened my gratitude and enriched my life. Thanks be to the Father for giving us those who reveal the Light of His greatness and love!