As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, as Christians, we have much to be thankful for. God has provided so wonderfully for everything we need towards life and godliness. He has given us salvation by grace through faith. He has given us His word that teaches such things. He has given us His Son, who is our King, our Redeemer and our Friend. He has given us His Holy Spirit to teach and guide us. Our thanksgiving is not limited to the material, but includes the spiritual. Evangelist Michael Yousef says: “Biblical thanksgiving doesn’t focus on our circumstances, but on the goodness of God. Since God’s qualities are not hidden, Thanksgiving is not optional.” Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “…give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
And yet, we know that it takes just a little more effort to express thanks. It is not something we come by naturally. Hence, the story of Jesus and the healing of the ten lepers. This is an interesting, yet short story, found in Luke 17. Positioned where in the gospel of Luke. They lived in or near Galilee, which means that they witnessed some of Jesus’ ministry. They knew of Jesus’ miracles. They knew what He could do. They also called Him, “Master.” It says in Luke 17:13: “…and they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
Jesus healed another leper in Luke 5:14. This was in the face of a culture that wanted nothing to do with lepers. The Mosaic Law required lepers not to mingle with others. Leviticus 13:45 tells us: “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.” (Compare with Numbers 5:2-4).
Having leprosy in Jesus’ time was a very difficult matter. Those with the disease suffered from their condition, both physically and socially. By New Testament times, except in a walled town, a leper was allowed to live among his neighbors, providing he had a house to himself.
In Jesus’ day, leprosy was truly a helpless condition. The disease is caused by an infection and involves the loss of feeling. It was thought to be a malady that only God could heal. For example, on the occasion of Naaman’s healing in 2 Kings 5:7 we read: “As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy?” It was a death wish, maybe even much worse as AIDS or the Ebola virus. Donald Carson states: “The Jews abhorred it, not only because of the illness itself, but because it rendered the sufferer and all with whom he came in direct contact ceremonially unclean. To be a leper was interpreted as being cursed by God. Healings were rare and considered as difficult as raising the dead.”
But notice that Jesus is not made unclean by touching these lepers. Rather, the leper is cleansed by Jesus’ touch! The Lord instructed them to go to the priest to be “inspected,” and if healed, welcomed back into the community. But only one recognized the gift of God. Ironically, it was the one least suspected, the foreigner, the Samaritan!
This story teaches us that it is not human nature to say, “Thank you.” Gratitude is something that must be taught. Many of us were taught from a young age the importance of saying: “Please and thank you.” But here, that old manner lesson has spiritual consequences.
As the holiday approaches, I’m sure that there are many things for which you are thankful. For instance, you should be thankful for what you have. Acts 14:17 tells us: “Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”
Consider the many material blessings that you enjoy whether it is food, clothing, drinking water, etc. There are many parts of the world that do not have these basic necessities. I was speaking with Rev. Ebenezer Browne, who is a church planter in Monrovia, Liberia. God has used Ebenezer to plant 22 churches in that city. I asked him what the biggest needs in his community were. He said without hesitation: Clean drinking water, food, medical personnel and supplies to deal with the Ebola crisis. It occurred to me that we are so fortunate to live in a part of the world in which we have plenty of those things. We are a privileged nation and an advantaged people.
Also, be thankful for what you do not have. Have you ever considered the restraining hand of God in prohibiting you from being given certain things? It could be that the very thing you wish for is an idol and that you would fall deeper into idolatry if you were given it! 1 Timothy 6:9 tells us: “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.”
Consider the following who have won the lottery (REBECCA CATALANELLO, “HITTING LOTTERY CAN BE A CURSE” SATURDAY, MARCH 20, 2010. Tampa Bay Times,).
Jack Whittaker, a West Virginia businessman won a then record-breaking $315 million Powerball jackpot in 2002 at age 55. He soon became a target for solicitors, thieves and lawsuits. Within years, his marriage dissolved, he got a DUI and his granddaughter died of a drug overdose. In late 2009, his daughter was also discovered dead. In an interview with ABC’s Nightline he called the winnings his curse.
Billie Bob Harrell Jr., a Home Depot stock clerk, won $31 million in the Texas lottery in 1997. Then 47, he bought a ranch, gave to family, his church, strangers. Within two years, his marriage was in shambles and his money gone. He was found dead in what detectives determined to be a suicide. His family disagreed over the cause of death. Some believe he was the victim of foul play.
Abraham Shakespeare won $30 million from a Florida lottery in 2006. Then 41, he became very generous with his winnings, giving to family, friends and strangers. He paid off mortgages, bought himself a house and trusted a woman who deputies now say killed him in April 2009. In January, his body was found buried under concrete on a plot of land in eastern Hillsborough County.
Do you recognize what God has protected you from?
Also, be thankful for who you are. If you have trusted Christ, you are rich. God has blessed you with everything you need. Ephesians 1:3 says: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” What follows is a list of things like election, adoption, redemption, forgiveness, the gospel, its hearing and understanding, and the sealing of God’s Spirit.
When you were baptized, you were cleansed, forgiven, redeemed and transformed. You were raised to walk in the newness of life. You were made new. You are different. You are cleansed. You are forgiven. And most importantly, you are His!
We sit in a privileged place in history. The gospel is clearer now, than it was before Jesus came; and spread farther than the first century. It is available everywhere and understood with all kinds of resources, churches, teachers, etc. God has placed you at this point in human history to hear His Son. Hebrews 1:1: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.”
Lastly, be thankful for who you are not. By this, I’m not encouraging you to be smug or arrogant. But I am asking us to recognize the privilege many of us possess. Jesus said in Matthew 26:11: “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.”
Last Sunday, you heard about Daniel Kamaraj, a young pastor from India. You heard of how he was the first person to become a Christian from his Hindu family. When it came time to sacrifice to the Hindu gods, he would not eat the meat prepared for such rituals, obeying his conscience rather than going with the flow. Being the oldest son out of seven children, he was chided for his faith, and eventually left. After his parents passed away, and it came time to settle the estate with the authorities, Daniel discovered that he had been disowned by the family that he loved. But what his parents gave up, the kingdom of God has gained!
I remember a conversation I had with my dad while he was a high school guidance counselor. We were talking about a boy who had gone through some rough times. His grades were poor. He was in and out of trouble with the law. His home life was difficult. Dad began to relate his situation to me. And he remarked with a tear in his eye: “He doesn’t have a chance!”
Some don’t have a chance. They are exposed to horrific treatment, and forced into slavery. Consider the following statistics from Women at Risk. Here are some disturbing facts about human trafficking in the United States and around the world…
• 800,000 people from the U.S. and around the world are illegally trafficked each year. About half of these are children. This is the fastest growing organized crime in the United States.
• 70% of trafficked women become sexual slaves.
• 300 children are sold in Atlanta, GA each month and around the world; babies are being sold for $25.00.
• Women and girls are frequently the victims of domestic violence and rape.
• Anywhere from 100,000-300,000 children are missing worldwide.
Be thankful who you are not; but use your gifts, your resources and your place of privilege to bless those who are disadvantaged!
The challenge is for you to recognize God’s hand in your life. God has given you so much!
Dr. Ronnie Floyd, a Baptist pastor in Arkansas in his book How to Pray, writes: “Thanksgiving is expressing to God our gratefulness for all of the things He has done for us. Thanksgiving is offering God thanks for the way He has moved in your life and for how He has provided your every need.”
Do not be like the nine who failed to recognize what God had done. Be the one who came back and said: “Thank you, Jesus!”