You can only be truly thankful when you receive by faith undeserved mercy from God (simply trusting in Jesus Christ and his work for you). Being thankful to God for his mercy will enable you to be a thankful person, especially when you are tested to give mercy to difficult people.
Introduction – Recently I heard on the radio that global economic news looks promising, therefore a good stock market is coming (never mind that a week later the global economic news and the stock market tanked!). On top of this, the weather forecast is for pleasant conditions! The commentator said, “So we’ll have something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving”. Is our thankfulness conditioned on the size of our wallet and the temperature outside? When the money disappears, and the weather gets wet and cold, are you unable to give thanks? Are you able to give thanks only when life is trending up? Or is there a better way?
I. The lone leper was thankful (vv. 11-19)
This story is one of the more well-known healing accounts in the gospels. It is found in most children’s story bibles, so most Christians recognize the basic contours of the storyline. But usually when the story is told it is isolated from what happens prior in Luke 17. What I want us to see is that the story of the thankful leper is connected to the previous passages in such as way that there is a more nuanced lesson to be learned about thankfulness.
At this point in Luke’s gospel, Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem where he know he will be crucified. Accompanying Jesus is a train of disciples whom he must train about what it means to live in the kingdom of God. So on the journey from Galilee in the north to Jerusalem in the south, they are enrolled in the School of Jesus and class is in session on how to live in God’s kingdom. The first lesson is in their path. Instead of traveling the well-worn path that avoids Samaria, Jesus leads his Jewish followers through the hated territory of Samaria. The Jews hated Samaritans and usually when way out of their way to steer clear of any contact with those people whom they considered half-Jew, half-pagan. So while in Samaria, a group of 10 lepers noticed Jesus the Jewish rabbi approaching. As it was, these lepers were mostly Jews. Perhaps they were in Samaria because there was no place in Jewish territory where they were welcome. Whatever the reason, they were in “enemy” territory, and one of the enemies was even in their midst. Nine of them were Jews, and one of them was a Samaritan.
All ten, when they saw Jesus coming and realized that he was able to heal them and restore them to life in their homeland, called out to him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Jesus replied by commanding them to go show themselves to the priests (who were the gatekeepers of public health under the old covenant). As they went, the lepers leaped for joy as they discovered their leprosy was gone! Nine of them rushed home, but only one returned to thank the man who was responsible for his healing. As Jesus’ disciples observed the scene, they realized that it was the hated Samaritan who was the lone man to fall at Jesus’ feet, worshiping and praising God. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” He couldn’t stop repeating these words to Jesus. It was a wonderful sight to behold. But it was difficult to swallow. Why was this Samaritan the only thankful one?
II. Because he understood God’s undeserved mercy (vv. 7-10, 16b)
He was an outsider, a non-Israelite who recognized that he had no claim at all on God’s blessings. All he had was faith in a merciful God. He was at best an unprofitable servant, so he could not boast in being healed of his disease. He did not “deserve it” because of his identity, social position, covenantal position, or ancestry.
III. And because he had real faith (vv. 5-6)
The Samaritan didn’t have “more” faith than the others. What he had was a real faith. The others had a professed but pretend faith. They sought the gift and not the giver; their healing rather than their healer; their restoration to their family rather than their restoration to God. The Samaritan had the faith the size of a mustard seed, but it was real faith, and Jesus honored his genuine faith by declaring “your faith has made you well” (or, “your faith has saved you”). Genuine faith produces a thankful heart, a grateful heart, a heart that is not proud, and a heart that is quick to extend mercy to others.
IV. This thankful faith ought to be merciful (vv. 3-4)
When someone sins against you, saying “I forgive you” isn’t always easy. Most of us don’t have too much trouble with forgiving an occasional offense, but Jesus presents an extreme example to drive home the point. Saying “I forgive you” and truly forgiving that person by never holding it against them again by wiping clean their record with you, is near impossible when the offenses pile up.
The disciples understood Jesus perfectly. In a sense, they said “That’s impossible! You’ve got to give us great faith to do that!” But Jesus responded that great faith is not necessary, only real faith, and real faith will prompt the simple and humble obedience of a servant attending to his master’s command. Jesus is saying that people who obtain mercy from God should overflow with mercy to others. Even to those who have sinned against us! If the one who sins against you repents and asks for forgiveness, then you must have mercy by giving forgiveness—full and free. Even if the same person sins against you again and again and again. If there is repentance, then there must be forgiveness—because God has forgiven you infinitely more. God mercy to you in forgiving your sins and restoring you to God’s favor is more than enough mercy in your life to overflow to those who sin against you.
Apply to Thanksgiving holiday and difficult family dynamics that many face. Lots of strained and broken relationships due to sin in the recent and distant past.
V. Because woe to faith without mercy (vv. 1-2)
If you have a hard time forgiving because the sins against you don’t stop, or if there is no evidence of repentance, then you must return to the cross of Jesus to understand yourself rightly—as an undeserving sinner saved by the infinite grace of God poured out on you. It is only at the foot of the cross where you may find the mercy you need to mercifully forgive others. But if you resolve to hold a grudge or to retain the “moral high ground” by not absorbing the sin and extending mercy, then the “millstone woe” Jesus pronounces in Luke 17:2 hangs over you.
Conclusion – The way to be truly thankful is not dependent on the size of your annual Christmas gift budget, or the market fluctuations of your retirement account, or a good year at the office, or your health, or your family’s relative tranquility, or anything else that is trending up in your life. Being thankful is totally dependent on your thankfulness to God for the mercy you’ve received from Jesus Christ. Jesus found his strength in his heavenly Father to forgive and absorb your sin on the cross. True thankfulness always flows from the cross where we receive mercy for ourselves—more than enough for us to keep and give away. If you need to repent of your sin against someone this Thanksgiving, do so quickly. Don’t let another holiday go by without seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. If you look deep down inside and discover you don’t have it in you, then I hope you won’t be able to forget this sermon. Not until that emptiness drives you to your knees, to the foot of the cross begging God to bless you with his infinite mercy given to sinners who need forgiveness, the power to forgive, and hearts overflowing with thanksgiving.