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Sermon for Thanksgiving Sunday (The Key to Thanksgiving) November 22, 2009

Posted by roberttalley in Faith, Leprosy, Luke, Religion, Sermons, Thanksgiving.
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Luke 17:1-19

INTRODUCTION: What is the key to thanksgiving? Is it comparing yourself to others and realizing how much more you have than they? If it is, then we should be the most thankful country in the world but I am afraid we are not much more thankful, if at all, than the rest of the world.

In this passage we understand through contrast the key to thanksgiving. First, however, I want us to focus on two things in this passage that should have evoked thanksgiving in those who were healed but apparently did not, that is, we want to see from this passage what is not the key to thanksgiving.

I. The key to thanksgiving is not the meeting of a desperate need (verses 12-13).

a. There have always been people with desperate needs (verse 12).
These lepers came, no doubt, from various walks of life. We know that one was a Samaritan. The Samaritans and the Jews were archenemies. They hated everything for which the other stood. These lepers, however, all desperately needed help. Sometimes misery and pain overcome racial and religious prejudice. Not always but sometimes.

In 2 Kings 7:3 we find that the four Israelite lepers who were trapped between the city of Samaria and the Syrian army decided to go over to the enemy. This is what they said, “Why are we sitting here until we die? If we say, ‘We will enter the city,’ the famine is in the city, and we shall die there. And if we sit here, we die also. Now therefore, come, let us surrender to the army of the Syrians. If they keep us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall only die.”

Certainly, to be a leper was a desperate situation. Verse 12 says they stood afar off. This was normal for lepers. They were not allowed to come near other people. Verse 13 says they lifted up their voices. Trench tells us, “All who have studied this terrible disease tell us that an almost total failure of voice is one of the symptoms which accompany it.” Yet they did what they could to get the Master’s attention.

b. A characteristic of desperate people is they often recognize and are ready for a solution to their problem (verse 13).

Of course, there are those who do not recognize that they have a problem. For more than 20 years, it is said, Professor Edwin Keaty of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, used to start his classes by writing on a blackboard two numbers, the numbers 2 and 4. And then he would ask his audience, “What’s the solution?” One student would shout out, “6” and another student would shout out, “2” and another student would shout out, “8” and Professor Keaty would shake his head and he would say, “Gentlemen, unless you know what the problem is, you cannot possibly find the answer.” These lepers recognized their problem and were ready to find the answer.

Notice how they addressed Jesus, “Master,” that is, an overseer or superintendent. This was a term of respect. They recognized He had authority from God but at least for nine of them, that recognition did not result in thanksgiving. “(T)he number of those who pray is greater than the number of those who praise” (Spurgeon).

For years, Martin Luther recognized his need but it drove him to hate God rather than to thanksgiving. Part of the problem was Martin Luther did not understand God’s provision to meet his need. I will never forget visiting Rome and entering the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Our guide explained to us what we were seeing – the Holy Staircase. Supposedly, the mother of Emperor Constantine, Helena, had sent the staircase from Jerusalem to Rome. The steps are said to be the actual steps that Jesus climbed the day of His crucifixion. We watched as pilgrims climbed up the steps. Although the staircase has a different location now than it did in 1510 when Martin Luther climbed the staircase on his knees, the ritual remains today the same. Climb the holy steps on your knees, saying the Lord’s Prayer on each step. With each step and with each prayer comes nine years less time in purgatory. However, when Martin Luther did so, the Holy Spirit already was sowing the seeds of conviction in the young monk’s heart when, according to his later testimony, reaching the top, he stood up, thinking, “Who knows if it’s true?”

Luther knew he had a great spiritual need. He realized eventually from God’s Word that climbing the spiritual steps of works and ritual do nothing for the soul. In his case, instead of becoming thankful he became hateful toward a God who would set up such an impossible standard. But then in God’s Word, he discovered Jesus Christ.

II. The key to thanksgiving is not the recognition of need and it is also not simply doing what you are told, that is, obedience (verses 14, 17-18).

a. Obeying the Lord’s command is commendable and effective (verses 14).

This is illustrated for us in verses 7-10. Obedience in the sense of doing our duty is nothing to brag about. It is, however, commendable and brings about good things. Faithfulness to the task is simply what is expected. It is foundational to effectiveness but in the end, God wants more than our obedience. He wants something that takes us beyond where obedience can take us.

b. Thanksgiving goes beyond obedience to the law (verses 17-18).

I don’t know how many steps they took. I doubt that it could have been too many; otherwise, the one leper might not have been able to find Jesus. Jesus would not necessarily have tarried long at the village. Neither could it have been too few, otherwise the other nine would have found it simple to return and thank the one who had healed them. Just as there are more who pray than praise, “…there are more who receive benefits than ever give praise for them … (and) more (who) obey ritual than ever obey Christ” (Spurgeon). We don’t know why these men who had such a great need met did not turn back to thank Jesus. There could have been various reasons and I’m sure they all justified those reasons in their minds if they ever even thought of turning back to thank Jesus for what He had done…

If the key to thanksgiving is not recognition of need nor obedience, what is it then?

III. The key to thanksgiving is submissive discipleship (verses 15-19).

a. The desire of the submissive disciple is to glorify God (compare verses 15 and 18).

How do you glorify God? In this situation, the man glorified God with a loud voice. Here is a man who because of his disease has possibly not hollered for months. Now he comes back with excitement in his voice. He’s having what they used to call in the Southern camp meetings, a shoutin’ fit. He could have sung a Psalm but he probably didn’t know any. The Samaritans didn’t believe in the Psalms but only in the first five books of Moses. What exactly he shouted out, the Bible does not give specifics, except to say that he glorified God.

I would like you to look at the following verse in Luke 14:10. This verse illustrates what it means to glorify someone. “But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you.” This leper wanted to put God at the head of the table and He recognized that Jesus as the Messiah was the direct representative from God. Those other fellows looked to the priest or to the temple but this man, a Samaritan, somehow knew that He needed to go to Jesus in order to give God glory, in order to put God at the head of the table.

Do you want to be thankful this thanksgiving? Lift Jesus higher, put Him at the head table in your life. He is trustworthy. Would you trust Him today?

b. The proof of discipleship is a faith that enables the disciple to do the impossible (compare verses 14 and 19 with verses 3-4).

In verses 3-5, Luke discusses the impossibility of forgiving others. It is only possible (verse 6) through faith. Think of the similarly impossible things that this Samaritan leper did because of his faith.

• He obeyed the command to show himself to the high priest. Just to go to Jerusalem to the temple where the priest was, was a renunciation of everything that this man had been brought up to believe. He was taught to worship God on Mount Gerizim which overlooked Shechem, the first place where Abraham had built an altar to God (Genesis 12:6-7). Now, this man by heading to Jerusalem was at least in action acknowledging what Jesus had taught the Samaritan woman in John 4, “Salvation is of the Jews.”

• This leper, however, came back and glorified God. He recognized that Jesus was of God and came back to thank Him, even though Jesus was a Jew and Samaritans had no dealings with the Jews. Like I mentioned earlier, sometimes misery and pain overcome racial and religious prejudice but faith in Christ overcomes the racial and religious prejudices that even misery and pain cannot overcome.

Luke, the writer of this gospel uses this story to emphasize a point that he makes repeatedly in this gospel. This man, even though he was a Samaritan and not a Jew, had a faith that the others did not have. True, the nine had faith. When Jesus commanded them to go to the priest, although they also were not yet healed, they went. This obviously took some type of faith. “…(T)here are more that believe than there are that praise…There faith was about the leprosy and, according to their faith, so it was unto them… (Spurgeon)” but there was a difference in the faith of the tenth man. This phrase “made well” or “saved” can refer to either physical or spiritual healing. This man had a spiritual healing that the others did not experience. His faith made him thankful. True faith goes further than asking for help. True faith results in glorifying God, in thanksgiving to God.

We find this pattern repeated several times in the gospels. Someone asks Jesus for mercy and He recognizes that in their request, faith is active. Faith isn’t active in everyone who prays for help. James 4:1-3 describes a group of people who even when they prayed, received nothing because true faith was not active in their prayers, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” You may ask, “How do you know that these people had an inactive faith?” When you look back at chapter 2:14-18, you can see how we know. These same people are being spoken to in that passage.

14 ¶ What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food,
16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?
17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe––and tremble!
20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?

You see, the first nine had faith but their works were limited to going to the priest in obedience to Christ’s command. The tenth man showed his faith by his works.

You might ask, Robert, what does it mean to have faith in Christ? It is simple, turn away from anything and everything and turn to Jesus Christ, who died for your sin. You are so spiritually sick that you are as good as dead. He died for you. He rose from the dead for you. Trust Him and only Him and learn the true key to thanksgiving.