Faith and Thankfulness
Are You Thankfully Faithful?
Luke 17: 15One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him--and he was a Samaritan.
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.
Today's sermon is based upon the Gospel of the Day, from Luke chapter 17, specifically the 15th and 16th verses.
INRODUCTION: Allow me to pose a question to you, which according to how you answer it, could be an indicator as to what condition your current relationship with Jesus Christ is in. Would you describe yourself as “Faithfully thankful” or “Thankfully faithful?” Now this may simply be playing word games, or as I alluded to a moment ago, you might find something out about yourself that if left unchanged could have devastating and eternal consequences in regards to your salvation!
Do I have your attention now? Good! We’ll pick this question up again towards the end of the sermon, but for now, let’s together work through our gospel lesson and hear what eternal truths God would have us leave this place with.
I. FAITH: Aside from our Savior, the main character in our Gospel lesson this morning is a Samaritan. He is one of 10 lepers that cried out to Jesus for mercy. We must understand that during the time of our Gospel reading, lepers were common and they usually wandered in groups. They were required to wear a bell or clang a symbol or beat a drum and call out “Unclean, I am unclean.” In this condition, they rarely could find work and relied on the charity of others. The assumption then is that they were expecting food or money from Jesus and His disciples; all but one that is! You see, the Samaritan saw past his immediate need and set his heart on something more than just temporary help; he was centered on spiritual things; he needed a clean heart and a right relationship with God.
While this encounter was a historical occurrence, it also can be used to teach us something of ourselves. The Samaritan leper represents you and me, and indeed all of mankind, who are according to Jesus’ appraisal of the Samaritan and us in verse 18, foreigners. We are indeed foreign to God’s love and righteousness, and considered unclean or unholy because of our common disease, “sin.” Just as the 10 lepers together cried out to Jesus for mercy, we too cry out to God for help, but the cry of a Christian, like that of the Samaritan is one that seeks something more than just help with physical needs. In fact, this morning we all cried out to God earlier in our service as we sang the Kyrie, which means “Lord have mercy.” And like the 10 lepers, perhaps not all of us were asking for the same things. Let me show you what I mean.
If you notice in verses 16 and 17, while there were 10 lepers who cried to God for mercy, but again, only one returned to Jesus to thank and glorify His name: “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him--and he was a Samaritan.” I submit to you that this Samaritan leper was asking God for much more than money or food.
While it is true, that all 10 were healed of their leprosy, only one found the gift of faith and only one returned to worship Jesus. Only one heard Jesus say, “Your faith has made you well.” So what about the other nine? What healed them? Obviously, the answer is Jesus, but it would seem that faith was not a requirement to receive healing from Jesus! It would seem that the nine received a miracle without faith.
This teaching is in contrast to a common false teaching of the “word of faith movement” or the “name it and claim it” crowd, who say that "If you just had enough faith, God would heal you." Here we have an occurrence where faith is not mentioned before the healings, but comes afterwards. Did the other nine, who are not told, "Your faith has made you well" suddenly have their leprosy return? I doubt that! No, what we have here is a story of ten being healed and only one being saved.
The Samaritan was not only cleansed, but on account of faith he gained something much more precious, salvation through Christ Jesus. Somehow, Jesus removed the veil of the world from the eyes of the Samaritan; the veil that hides the truth that Jesus is God the Son. He allowed the Samaritan to see Jesus as Lord and Savior, and as God and Redeemer. This seeing comes only after God grants us the eyes of faith.
Christianity is a walk of faith, and faith is the gift of seeing Jesus Christ as He truly is; as He has revealed Himself to Christians in the past and as He still reveals Himself to us, the living yet crucified and resurrected Son of God. This seeing things as God says they are and not as they appear, is not something that people outside of Jesus can understand. It is completely foreign to them. Try explaining to your unsaved family and friends that in communion, while we receive bread and wine we also receive the body and blood of Christ. This eating and drinking of our God is a difficult thing to grasp without the eyes of faith. We Christians see differently because God sees things differently, and that is why our prayer, our worship, our actions, our whole way of being in the world, has its own distinctive accent and flavor.
Why did the Samaritan leper return and worship God at the feet of Jesus? Because when the Samaritan cried out “Have mercy,” his heart was crying out to God for much more than a healing from a skin disease, he was searching for right relationship with his God. When you sang the Kyrie this morning, were you just singing the old familiar liturgy or were you like the Samaritan seeking something outside of yourself that only God can give? Do you see a need for the love and forgiveness of Jesus in your life? Do you have faith to believe that God hears your cry of mercy from within the Kyrie and accepts that as praise? How is crying out to God “Have mercy” a cry of praise? Because you are confessing to God that you are broken in sin and that you need His help. You are praising Him for being your only hope. Do you have faith in the completed work of Jesus or are you still counting on something else? Friends, faith IS that something else!
II. THANKFULLNESS So what of Thankfulness? Well let’s look at that. In our text this morning, we see God consistently acting with how He always acts, namely, FIRST! Then our proper response to God's actions is praise and thanksgiving – because we see God's hand in what has happened.
Did you notice in our Old Testament lesson this morning that God did not tell Naaman of Aram, "If you only had enough faith, I would heal you." No, if you recall, Naaman didn’t even want to do what Elisha asked of him; instead, Naaman’s servant had to convince him to bath 7 times in the Jordan. That does not sound like faith to me. But God did heal him, and what followed was Naaman’s profound statement of faith: "Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.” In Naaman’s example, God provided the gift of faith and Naaman responded with a thankful statement of faith, but it didn’t stop with words alone; no Naaman brought to his new God great wealth and laid it at the feet of His prophet. He offered his time, talent and treasure, and in a sense he was saying, “All that I have Lord is Yours.”
God did not tell us, "If you only had enough faith, I would send Jesus to suffer and die for your sins." It was because we had no faith that he sent us Jesus. As Paul writes in Romans 5:8: "God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us." God doesn't wait for us to have enough faith. God acts first. God's actions lead to a faithful response. Are you being led by faith? Are you truly thankful for what God has done for you? Have you like Naaman and the Samaritan, laid your time, talent and treasure at the feet of Jesus?
Do we as Americans take God’s blessings for granted? I know I do! I remember in 1984, after a four year tour of duty in the Philippines and Thailand, I finally returned to the United States. I had become so much more thankful for many things we often take for granted in America: flush toilets, running water, drinkable water, gasoline stations, paved roads. Shouldn’t we thank God that we have such good things in our lives?
All people have been created by God. Many people (and most Americans) have food and clothing, home and family, daily work, and all that they need from day to day. I believe that God protects many people -- believers and non-believers alike in times of danger and guards them from evil. No one deserves this, yet God's "fatherly and divine goodness and mercy" touches many, many people. How are believers different from the rest of humanity? We are like the one leper. We recognize God's hand in the good that we have. We respond with thanks and praise to God through Jesus. We respond by serving and obeying God through Jesus.
The rest of the world may be like the nine lepers. They have been graced by God in many ways, but they don't recognize the source of such blessings. They don't offer the proper thanks and praise through Jesus and they don’t understand our thankfulness, praise and service we offer to Him.
ILLUSTRATION (source unknown):
It happened one day that a farmer from Wisconsin went to Chicago, IL to do some business. He stopped at a drive-in restaurant to get a bit to eat. As was his custom, before he ate, he bowed his head and gave a word of thanks to God. There were some city folk in the restaurant whose manners weren't quite so refined. They saw him praying, so in jest they asked him, "Does everybody where you're from pray before eating?" The farmer looked up and said, "Nope. There are some who don't. We call them pigs and they just dig right in."
III. APPLICATION Do you remember when I asked you if you were faithfully thankful or thankfully faithful? Perhaps by now you have figured out which is the correct response or which one applies to you. If not let me apply it to all of us. If I am continually remembering to thank God for all of the “blessings” or good things in my life, I am being faithful in performing the act of thankfulness. On the surface, this seems to be a good thing; anyone who observes this would quickly agree that I am a good Christian. But does that make me a Christian? Does that make you a Christian? No, it makes you religious. Mormons, Muslims, Jehovah Witnesses and Buddhists are continually thanking their god for the many blessings in their lives. They do not realize that God’s goodness is expressed to everyone of His creatures, even if they have rejected Him!
Now let’s reverse the order and look at it from a different perspective. What if you came to the realization that you, the real you, the one that no one else really knows but you, was completely sinful. You realized that your thoughts continue to give you away as a sinner. Perhaps you have said this to yourself before: “Thank goodness no one knows what I was just thinking.” Maybe you also realize that some of the things you do when no one else is around are shameful and self serving. What I am saying to you is this, if all of us are honest with ourselves, we must all admit that we are sinful—that’s what we said earlier in our confession of sins. If your confession was true, then you were crying out to God for help, because faith has let you see that you are caught up in sin and you can not get out on your own. This same heart of faith then hears the Word of God which say “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us;” “I have come that they might have life abundant;” “I have not come into the world to condemn it but to save it;” and “He who began a good work in you will complete it;” it hears this living Word of God and it grabs a hold of it and finds eternal life, eternal joy, and eternal peace with God. This then is what makes us thankful, believing in and trusting in the completed work of Jesus Christ! Friends, believing in Jesus, having faith in He who is faithful, frees you from your worries and you become eternally thankful that you have been given the gift of faith; you then are thankfully faithful! Are you thankfully faithful?
CONCLUSION: So what does all this mean? What should you leave here this morning with? I know that God would have you leave here being honest with your self, so that He may fill your empty hand and heart with some GOOD NEWS! The Good News is that God does love you and he does not want you worrying about things that are out of your control. He is asking you cast those “heavy burdens” upon Him so that you may begin to live a life of joy, peace and strength, with the confidence of knowing “You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. Now that is something to be thankful for!
I pray that God will enlighten the eyes of your heart and help you continue to be “Faithfully Thankful!”
In Jesus name…….AMEN