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Entries in Gratitude (1)

Tuesday
Jun022015

Gratitude

May 31, 2015- Luke 17:11-19

At this point Jesus turns south to head towards Jerusalem by going between Galilee and Samaria.  It is here that he enters an unnamed village and encounters 10 lepers.  Today’s passage gives us a lesson in gratitude or thankfulness.  Neglecting to give thanks where thanks is due is a poor habit that causes our character to deteriorate.  In fact, ingratitude tends to spoil the good things that we have.  It is very common for a person to care for a new vehicle with great detail.  However, as the car gets older our care for it can deteriorate.  It is easier to drive it around without washing it etc…  This ability to diminish in vigor towards the things we ought to do can affect even those who start out very thankful.  Now there are ten people in our story who receive an amazing gift of healing from a horrible disease, and yet only one of them glorifies God and gives thanks to Jesus.  Let’s look at that.

The Hopeless Condition

In verses 11-14 we see the encounter Jesus has with ten lepers.  To be a leper was to be in a very hopeless situation.  Though the Law of Moses has very clear instructions on how a leper could be declared clean by the priest, nothing is said on what to do to get clean.  The truth is that it was extremely rare for a person who had leprosy to get better.  It was practically a death sentence to see its beginning stages on one’s skin.  Nothing could be done medically for these people and their body would slowly deteriorate and waste away.

However, that is only the physical side.  There was also a social stigma.  It was required for lepers to be separated from the rest of the village or city.  Thus a leper is one who has had to break off close contact with family and friends and becomes an outcast.  This type of social quarantine is a very heavy burden for a person to carry because God has made us with an innate drive to socialize on some level.

Thus lepers would often end up in small groups far enough from cities to be separate, but close enough to be able to receive any gracious help from the righteous.  These small “outcast communities” were better than nothing.  Yet, the hopeless condition of each person and the approaching doom of death was a constant shadow over it.

In some ways leprosy is a picture of the sin nature that riddles our human nature.  In this sense we are all spiritually lepers.  It cannot be fixed or healed by anything this world holds.  Only God can help us.  Yet, it is also a picture of the Church of Christ in its sense of being an outcast society.  Yes, from God’s perspective we are the called out ones and that is special.  But from the world’s perspective we are the outcast ones to which it says, “Good riddance!”  We can look at leprosy as a metaphor for being ostracized for one reason or another and learn a lot here.  In Hebrews 13:12-13 it says, “Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.  Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.”  Jesus presents himself as the rejected one and offers us a place within his community of outcast ones.

So we have a physical problem, a social problem and lastly we have a theological problem.  Notice that the lepers stand afar off and lift up their voices to Jesus.  That is because they were under requirement by the Law of Moses and the traditions to not come close to a clean person.  Now this pictures the condition of all mankind.  We are spiritual lepers who dare not come close to a pure God.  Legally we are doomed (“the soul who sins will die”).  Yet, in Jesus, God not only comes close to the lepers (see Luke 5 where Jesus touches one), but He actually makes himself worse than the lepers and requires them to join Him by faith in an even deeper level of being outcast.  Though the Law walls us off from God and we are relegated to crying for mercy from afar off, the grace of God has brought Jesus to our side of the Law as he joins us in our hopeless condition.  The marvelous truth is that Jesus is the Lord of life and no condition can remain hopeless when he is there.  Yet, the spiritual healing of a believer in Jesus is seen by the world as a social disease more and more in this world.  At its core, the gospel calls the world to embrace a difficult situation in order to be healed.

The Strange Command

Jesus gives the lepers a strange command and, before we get in to its specifics, I want to show how what he does is so much like how God operates.  In the desert there was a time where the children of Israel were harassed by snakes that were biting a lot of the people.  God told Moses to make a bronze snake and lift it up on a pole.  He was then to instruct those who were bitten to make their way to this thing and simply look upon it in order to be healed.  We are not told that anyone refused to do so.  However, we must admit it was a strange command.  Similarly the Bible tells of a Syrian general named Naaman who happened to be a leper.  His skill as a general had spared him a life of poverty, but it could not completely remove the stigma of the disease he had and its destruction on his flesh.  A young Israelite tells Naaman that there is a prophet in Israel who could heal him.  Thus Naaman travels to Israel and is told to dip 7 times in the Jordan River.  Naaman is offended at being told to dip in the muddy Jordan 7 times and heads home.  It is then that a servant challenges him to at least do it.  Though it didn’t make sense it was actually quite easy to do.  Why not?  God often gives strange commands to test whether or not we trust Him.  What is interesting is that they are often easy to do, but on the other hand they are intellectually and emotionally hard.  Now when I call these strange commands, I will point out that God does not give commands that are contrary to His nature.  Yet, they are often contrary to our logic and require us to trust Him, i.e. exercise faith.

So here, Jesus tells them to show themselves to the priests even though they are still lepers.  Now the only reason for a leper to do this would be because they saw some signs that they were getting better.  Yet, these men are being told to do so without any signs they are better.  They simply must take the word of Jesus for it.  Now His word is pretty heavy because he has proven he can heal.  This call for faith or trust balances two outcomes.  If I trust Him and He fails then I will be humiliated and crushed.  But, if I trust Him and He heals me then I will be free of this cursed condition.  Even today the call of Christ is one that calls us to follow Him by faith, believing that he will do the spiritual work of cleansing us from our sins and healing our hearts (that he will make us to be like him).  You may feel that it isn’t working and are tempted to quit following him.  I would challenge you to listen to this story today and here what the Spirit is saying to you, “Trust me.”  If you will continue to walk in the path that Jesus is on and do the things that he has told you to do, you will find that he will give powerful healing to you in every way.

Thus all ten of the lepers decide to go and show themselves to the priest.  They have nothing to lose and everything to gain.  We are told that they are healed as they go.  Although we are not told how far they went, it was close enough for one to come back and still find Jesus at the village.  I like to think that it was close enough to return and far enough away to be an inconvenience.  Can you imagine their journey?  First is the question, “Are we going to be healed?”  Then the doubts would come, “What if we get there and are still lepers?  Why did he tell us to do this?”  However, when they realize they are healed, I bet it was a Hallelujah moment.   Suddenly they know they can go back to their families and perhaps embrace a child they haven’t been able to touch or see for years.  Every fiber of their being wants to get back to a normal life and yet, what about Jesus.  Can I put my anticipated joys on hold long enough to go back and thank the one who made this possible?  Ours is not a geographical journey.  However, we are on our way to the celestial city to present ourselves to God.  We do this because we have believed what Jesus has told us to do.  Along the road of this life the mysterious power of Christ is working to bring healing to us in every way.  In fact Christ promises to make us every bit whole and complete.  Yet, it doesn’t happen the second we believe.  It happens as we go in faith following the command of Christ.  The joyful truth is that when we stand before the Father in heaven we will be completely clean!  Praise God.

Only One Was Grateful

Gratitude, thankfulness, probably all were thankful at some level.  Yet, only one took the trouble to come to Jesus and show it.  It is not enough to say that we have gratitude in our hearts.  True gratitude seeks opportunity to show itself to the One to whom we are grateful.

Now there is a difference between being happy for grace and being thankful to Jesus for giving it.  The difference is where our primary focus is.  Sometimes we find ourselves being happier for what we have received than we are thankful to God for giving it.  In that way we can be guilty of taking God’s gifts without regard for Him as the giver.  Which is greater, the giver or the gift?  We know the answer, but our life often shows a different answer.

Only one leper took the extra time to glorify God.  Maybe some others thought about going back to give thanks, but this man was the only one who actually did it.  It is sad how despicable our lust for good things can become when we see just how much we can become like an animal feasting on the carcass of Gods gifts.  Instead of taking the time to restrain our flesh and give thanks to God and glorify him for his gifts and then cooking a meal to enjoy, we can leap upon those gifts and suck them dry of any life they have in them.  In the passage the man first glorifies God and then thanks Jesus.  These two things are coupled together.  Thankfulness is between me and God and should be expressed often.  But glorification is between me and you.  It is our testimony of what God has done for us and how great He is.  Take time to Glorify God by declaring what He has done in your life and take time to express thanks to those through whom God has done them.  Though it may seem like wasted time, it is not.  It is time spent keeping our eyes upon the higher and more important things (relationship with God and his people).  It is time delivering our soul from the tyranny of the lust of our flesh for the lower gifts that God can and does give.  In fact it is a means of delivering ourselves from the sin of idolatry.  The good thing that God gives today can become an idol in my life that comes between me and Him.  In the day that we let God’s gifts become idols to us, they also become worthless to us.

A side note to this story is that the thankful leper was a Samaritan, which implies most of the others, if not all, were Judeans.  This Samaritan was even further away from God than the Judeans.  Of all the lepers this Samaritan would deserve it least and yet he is the one who returns.  In Luke 7 Jesus explained this dynamic before Simon the Pharisee, when a woman who was a sinner washed and anointed his feet.  He told Simon a story to illustrate this principle: The one who is forgiven much loves much, but the one who is forgiven little loves little.  Perhaps the Judeans felt they deserved a healing.  Perhaps a part of them was saying, “It’s about time!”  Yet the truth is that all of us are equally undeserving of the grace of God.  If we truly understood our sin we would know that God has given us far more than we ever deserved and could have hoped for.  We would run to him, tossing aside the gifts, in order to wash his feet with our tears and wipe it dry with our head.  The things of this world like different races, stations in life, etc. that make us think we are more deserving are a lie.  We are all the least deserving.  Until we see that we will be ungrateful or at best give it sparingly.  It will ruin our gifts like a cancer that goes untreated if we do not turn around and give God the glory with all our heart.

Jesus then tells the thankful ex-leper this, “Your faith has made you well.”  Now in the context all of the lepers had faith enough to obey Jesus.  Now it is important to remember that the word that is often translated as “heal” can also mean “save,” depending on the context.  It literally means to be safe or saved, whether from injury, disease, or sin, character deficiency, and emotional sickness.  Clearly Jesus means more than that the man’s faith had physically healed him.  Something more would happen in this man’s life than those who were ungrateful.  He would find a spiritual healing as well.  It is a tragedy to be physically healed and yet not be spiritually healed.  Have you settled for lesser things?  Let us all be quick to be more thankful that Jesus is in our lives than all the gifts he could ever give.

Gratitude audio