This morning we are in Luke 17 for a special Thanksgiving service. I want to talk to you today about turning back. As Christians we now we aren’t supposed to turn back. “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”
There is a turning back, however, that is essential for our faith, that is essential a life of victorious thriving, that is essential for pleasing God.
In this passage I see principles about giving thanks: the rightness of giving thanks, the rarity of giving thanks and the relationship involved in giving thanks.
The rightness of giving thanks.
It’s right because it’s good for us.
It’s undeniable that gratitude is good for us. Research has shown all sorts of benefits.
Those who practice gratitude live longer, visit doctors less, have better cardiovascular health, have more self-confidence, experience less negative emotion, are more resilient, can more effectively process and heal from trauma, are more active.
It’s right because it’s the right thing to do.
It’s good for us, but there’s more to it. It’s the right thing to do.
We all teach our kids to write thank you notes at a young age. When someone spends their money and goes out of their way to ship you a Patrick Mahomes jersey for Christmas it’s right to thank them.
The proper response to a gift is gratitude. The men in Luke 17 received an extraordinary gift.
The condition of the men with leprosy
In the New Testament the word leprosy was used for over 70 skin conditions.
In the Jewish community leprosy was considered to be a judgment from God against sin.
Greek Scholar RC Trench said: For the Jewish people leprosy was an “outward visible sign of innermost spiritual corruption.”
Two chapters in the book of Leviticus are filled with instructions for what to do when a skin condition appeared on a person’s body. Those conditions labeled leprosy required a dramatic response of containment and isolation.
You can get a sense for that instruction in verses 45-46 of chapter 13.
“Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.”
A person who developed leprosy would lose their job, they would be cut off from their family, their friends and their community of worship.
They were unclean in a religious sense.
They were not fit to worship God.
Anyone who came into close contact with someone with leprosy was also unclean.
They had to stay away so that others could maintain their status as worshippers. (Holman)
By the time of Jesus, OT law concerning leprosy developed into more detailed traditions.
Depending on the way the wind was blowing, a person with leprosy was required to stay from 6 to 150 feet away from others. They were required to wear bells around their necks to alert others of their presence.
It was illegal to address a person with leprosy. If a leper entered a house, that house was contaminated and unclean. If a leper walked under a tree, everyone who subsequently walked under that same tree was considered unclean.
Lepers were forced to set up camps at garbage dumps in order to find food.
They were unclean in the eyes of their community and most likely in their own eyes as well.
They had no option but to beg for mercy.
Mercy is compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.
Mercy is undeserved. When you ask for mercy you are asking for something you don’t have a claim to.
We have no claim to the blessings of God. We have no right to his mercy.
We are created beings. We don’t have a right to our existence. We don’t have a right to this world. Everything is a gift. Everything is a mercy.
Let’s remember the story.
God created a good world full of beauty and wonder and handed the keys to us asking us to use our lives to love him and to love each other. We turned our backs on him and chose to love the world and love ourselves. Our hearts became crooked, like a grocery cart, always leaning from the straight path in front of us. We became thoroughly sinful. God who is just and must judge all that is crooked looked on us with mercy and sent his son to receive the judgment for our sin by dying on the cross.
If this is new to you, let me give you an illustration: you have committed a series of crimes. You are in court and the evidence is pile dup against you. Witnesses testify. The judge pronounces his verdict: guilty. The sentence is given – life in prison. Now imagine that the judge took of his robe and walked around to sit next to you. “You deserve this judgment. As a just judge I must execute judgment. But I love you. I am going to serve as a substitute for you. I will go to jail in your place. We will trade criminal records – yours will be spotless and I will become guilty. You are free.”
What’s the right thing to do in that moment? What’s the natural thing to do? Fall on your knees in gratitude and wonder.
These unclean men in this story are historical men who had a specific problem and received a specific mercy from Jesus. But they also have a general meaning. They represent all of us. All of us are unclean on the inside. All of us are completely dependent on the mercy of God. And in Jesus, God shows us that he is more than ready to give mercy.
Everyone who believes in him is forgiven and made clean from the inside out.
As created beings, living a life generously given to us in a world of wonders graciously created for us it’s right for us to turn back to the one who made it all and to give thanks.
As unclean beings, undeserving recipients of mercy, it’s right for us to turn back to the cross where our penalty was paid and give thanks.
The rarity of giving thanks.
Only one out of the ten returns to Jesus.
What would you do if you were one of the ten? First of all the priest’s examination is your ticket back into life. You would go to the priest.
Then what? You might go straight to your workshop to resume your career and the dignity of working for a living. You might run home to your wife and kids. You might go straight to the synagogue and rejoin the community of faith. You might go straight to the inn for a drink with the old crowd.
Some of us are among the nine because we are more concerned with what is expedient than what is right.
More dialed into the gifts than the giver.
More concerned with our plans than God’s.
We haven’t learned to trust God completely.
The Samaritan is the most unlikely candidate to be the one. As a despised Samaritan, he knew he had no claim to the mercy of a Jewish healer.
This brings to mind an illustration I heard many years ago. We are all like cats or dogs in our theology.
The cat says, you pet me, you feed me, you love me, I must be God.
Can you relate to that?
The dog says, you pet me, you feed me, you love me, you must be God.
If this story in Luke is a pattern for us, that tells me that nine out of ten of us are cats in our theology.
Jesus is looking for a doglike theology. He is looking for the one who turns back to
It’s hard. But it is an essential. It’s not optional.
pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Do not quench the Spirit.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-19
How do you do it?
1. Remember your position.
You’re the clay pot in your story. You’re the person with leprosy whose only option is to beg for mercy.
It’s interesting to see the contest Luke places this account in. In the previous verses Jesus has put the disciples in their place, so to speak. When a servant comes in for the day he does not recline with the master and receive thanks and praise. He has simply done his job. He waits until the master has eaten, and then he takes his proper place.
It’s uncharacteristic of the teachings of Jesus, but it is very clear. For our best interest, Jesus reminds us of our place.
In our stories, we are the servants. We are the clay. Jesus is the master. God is the potter.
When we remember our place, it’s much easier to move from entitlement to gratitude.
2. Resolve to give thanks in all circumstances.
Resolve to thank God in all circumstances. Notice he does not say for all circumstances.
In all circumstances. How can we do that?
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
We can do that because we can know that there is someone wise, powerful and loving present with us in every circumstance. We can give thanks in all circumstances because God is working all circumstances for our good.
“We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good, if bad, because it works in us patience, humility and the contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.” –C.S. Lewis
The relationship of giving thanks.
9 got the blessing. 1 got the blesser.
It was faith to walk away with the group in response to Jesus’ words.
It was greater faith to turn back and fall at Jesus feet in gratitude.
Faith brought him a blessing and a blesser.
The one heard the approving words of Jesus, “your faith has made you well.” The word made well in the Greek is sozo. Complete wellness.
He made his skin well.
He made his soul well.
Jesus can heal the body, he can heal the spirit.
He can heal you of shame and guilt. He can heal you of loneliness and isolation.
And better than all the blessings, he can draw you into a relationship of unconditional and eternal love.
“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with.” -C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms
By turning back, the one multiplied his blessing a hundred times by expressing his delight, by turning it into relationship.
There is a fascinating verse in the Old Testament that is repeated over 44 times. You see it first in Chronicles.
1 Chronicles 16:34 – Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!
On 4 occasions when the presence of God was especially manifest among his people, these words were sung. We gave thanks for blessings, but even more so we give thanks for the blesser.
When we turn back in gratitude for our blessings, we get more than the blessings. We get the blesser.
38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown