Thanksgiving Day: Where are the nine?

Luke 17:11-19

Thanksgiving is one of America’s favorite holidays. Unfortunately, in our modern culture it has come to be more identified with the Macy’s Day Parade or Dallas Cowboy football or turkey dinners. It seems fewer and fewer Americans set aside the day to give thanks to God for His blessings upon us.

Thanksgiving Day meant something far different to our forefathers. Our history reveals that our nation was settled by those who were followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t believe the revisionists who are rewriting our American History books. Ours is a Christian heritage. The first permanent settlement in America was at Plymouth. It was settled by the Pilgrims who were a group of Christian separatists that broke with the Church of England. On September 16, 1620 they sailed from Plymouth, England to America on the Mayflower. Before they landed they penned and signed what has come to be known as the Mayflower Compact. While still on board the ship they set forth the fact that they wanted to establish a colony that was based on biblical principles. Their signatures acknowledged God’s sovereignty in their lives and their need to obey Him. They signed a document that declared they were establishing a new colony in the New World “for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.” Out of the 103 who landed, 51 died the first winter. After the harvest of that first year, Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and prayer. The custom prevailed until Abraham Lincoln made it an official American holiday during the days of the Civil War.

Much of the secularization of America has done away with the original meaning of Thanksgiving. No longer do most Americans see their existence on this soil “for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.” If anyone on earth should be giving thanks to God it is those of us who are living in the United States of America.

Someone has noted that if you reduce the world population to 1,000 and put them all in one city it would have quite a distinctive look. Only 46 of that 1,000 would be Americans. Nine hundred and fifty-four would represent the rest of the world. Yet, these 46 would receive half of the income from the entire city. These 46 people’s life expectancies would be 75 years of age while the rest would be 40 years of age. These 46 people would eat 70% above the daily food requirement while 80% of the rest of the city would never get a balanced meal. In fact, the kitchen disposals of the 46 people would eat better than 80% of the city.

We are a blessed people. However, I fear we’re not a thankful people. Even within the American church, such things as pluralism, humanism, and secularism have seen to that. And yet, the giving of thanks is a powerful phenomenon with a liberating effect.

There is an encounter near the end of Christ’s earthly life that has been recorded for all posterity which gives a formula for putting thanksgiving into our lives in such a way that it brings wholeness and purpose. We find our Lord en route to Jerusalem. As He passed through the regions of Samaria and Galilee, as He enters a certain village, He encountered 10 men who are lepers who lifted up their voices calling out for mercy. Jesus spoke healing to them and sent them to show themselves to the priests. Only one of them returned to give thanks to God. Jesus asked a penetrating question, “Where are the nine?” The response to these ten lepers is revealing. The Lord Jesus is showing us there are three actions we should take to live life to its fullest. We should get up. This has to do with fortitude. If we don’t, we might miss the Master. We should get out. This has to do with attitude. If we don’t, we might miss the miracle. Finally, we should get back. This has to do with gratitude. If we don’t, we might miss the moment.

Get up. This has to do with fortitude. If we don’t we may miss the Master.

Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, “ Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:11-13).

Do you get the picture? Jesus passes through a certain village and is met by 10 lepers. They had heard the reports, strange rumors, how He had touched lepers and made them pure. They “stood afar off” because they could not get close. Mosaic law isolated lepers from social contact. They were forbidden to come within six feet of a whole person. If the wind was blowing they couldn’t come within 50 yards. If someone inadvertently approached them they were commanded to shout, “unclean, unclean.”

So what did these lepers do when Jesus was passing by? They got up. This showed a great amount of fortitude. They began to shout, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” They could have sat there in their hopelessness but they didn’t. Look at them. They’re all alike. They’re all lepers. They all suffer from the same hideous disease. It slowly eats away at the body erasing facial features first. Then the fingers; the hands are frozen into claws before they simply fall off. The feet are filled with sores and become bandaged stumps before they’re left behind. The odor was nauseating. The appearance was ghastly. The leper had no competitor. He suffered the fate of a long, slow, agonizing death lived out in some leper colony isolated from friends and family. The leper was an outcast. He was shut off. A leper in the first century was always simply an abandoned bit of human wreckage living in hopelessness.

All of these 10 men had a desperate determination to live. Though the future seemed futile, these particular men refused to give up. When they hear that Jesus is passing by they all go out to see Him. They all appeal to Him for help. It is interesting that they did not appeal for justice. They appealed for mercy. They did not ask Christ to bless them on the basis of what they deserved. They cried out for mercy.

Some of us live in constant defeat because we’re holding out for justice. Perhaps someone has wronged us and we harbor resentment for years. We want justice. Some of us have been abused. We want justice. However, justice belongs to God. Give it over to Him. Truth will always win in the end. Our plea should be one for mercy.

The Lord Jesus was passing by and here were ten men who got up with fortitude and did not miss the Master. Is there anyone sitting beside this road this morning? Time and again Jesus has passed by but you never called out to Him. Or, maybe you sought comfort in those around you but found generally just misery. On Thanksgiving Day it is time to get up. This has to do with fortitude. If we don’t we might miss the Master.

Get out. This has to do with attitude. If we don’t we may miss the miracle.

So when he saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed (Luke 17:14).

Do you have a mental picture? Not only do these men get up but they got out. They obey the Lord which is evidence of the fact that they believe. What an attitude we see here. They were not healed at this particular point. They were still lepers. A leper was to show himself to the priest after he had been healed. It took faith for these men to act in obedience to God’s word and go show themselves to the priests while they were still lepers. And thus the Bible says, “So it was as they went, they were cleansed!”

Jesus said, “Go show yourself to the priest.” This immediately presented a bit of a problem for these 10 men. Only cleansed lepers were to do this according to Leviticus chapters 13 and 14. To hear this command is one thing but to get up and get out with nothing but faith in Christ’s word is another thing. Implicit in this command was if they went, they would be healed. At this point they are still lepers. Thus, it all boils down to one simple fact. The only way to test the value of Christ’s words is to obey them!

And so they take him at his word and get out. What an attitude of faith. They start to walk. Many of us know little of this journey to the priests. They got up and got out by faith at the word of Christ when they had not seen it yet. Many of us live here in these verses. We have the word from God but we’ve not seen it yet. But we’re walking. We’re not going to stop at simply getting up, we’re going to get out. Too many lepers never start walking until they can see it. And thus they spend their days with hope lost and gone.

I like the way B. B. McKinney said it back in 1934.

Have faith in God when your pathway is lonely.

He sees and knows all the ways you have trod.

Never alone are the least of his children.

Have faith in God, have faith in God.

Have faith in God when your prayers are unanswered.

Your earnest plea He will never forget.

Wait on the Lord, trust His word and be patient.

Have faith in God, He’ll answer yet.

Have faith in God though all else fail around you.

Have faith in God, He provides for His own.

He cannot fail though all kingdoms shall perish.

He rules, He reigns upon His throne.

Have faith in God He’s on the throne.

He cannot fail, He must prevail,

have faith in God, have faith in God.

The Bible simply says, “As they went, they were cleansed.” The language of the New Testament, the passive voice here, leaves no doubt that it was God who performed the miracle! All of them, on the way, as they went, were cleansed! Think about it. All they had was the word of Christ. All they had was the promise of God. They walked in faith and obedience.

Get back. This has to do with gratitude. If we don’t we may miss the moment.

And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:15-19)

Look at these 10 men. They were all lepers. They all called on the Lord Jesus. They all stepped out in faith. They all were healed. They all got up. They all got out. But here the likeness ends.

Stand with them there on that road for a moment. They look at themselves and all of a sudden they realize they are clean. They’re amazed. They begin to hug one another. Then one of them says, “I haven’t held my wife in months.” A moment later we look and he’s running down the road to toward his home. Another says, “I have never seen my newborn son.” And he too is gone. Another quickly exclaims, “I haven’t been to my shop in almost a year.” And he is off and running. One by one they’re all gone. But no. There is one left standing in the road alone. The other nine are never heard from again. Oh, they got up and they got out, but they never got back.

Look at the one solitary man who stands in the road. He too is looking down the road toward his home. He too has a family. He too has a business. He too has friends. But something is more pressing. He has to get back. This has to do with gratitude. If he doesn’t, he may miss the moment. Is there anyone on that road today? Once you were in a crisis. Once you’ve gotten up and called for mercy. Once you too got out and walked in faith, but when the blessing came you forgot to get back with gratitude and in so doing you missed a moment, a very important moment.

Note the Bible says, “And one of them” (Luke 17:15). I’m sorry to say we do not know his name. He is simply referred to as “one of them.” His name is never left for us. He belongs to that vast company of people who live their beautiful lives and do their worthwhile deeds without ever telling us who they are. We do not know his name but he is shouting to us today to “get back.” It has to do with gratitude. If we don’t we might miss the moment.”

Look at him. He returned and “with a loud voice glorified God” (Luke 17:15). Why was he so demonstrative? I tried to put myself by his side on that road as I read this text. You know what I would have found myself doing? I think I might have been standing there alongside of him, putting my arm around his shoulder and trying to calm him. Some of us are not comfortable with loud doxologies and loud hallelujahs. Well, that is our loss, not His. For some of us it’s been too long since we’ve felt the touch of the Master’s hand.

Why is it that so many of us are like the 10 who call on the Lord Jesus when we’re in times of need and so few of us know much about praise and thanksgiving? This man went back and “fell down on his face at His feet giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan” (Luke 17:16). Do you see any difference here? In verse 12 they “stood afar off.” But now we find this man at Jesus’ feet. That is what cleansing will do for you. The Bible says, “And he was a Samaritan.” The “he” is emphatic. That is, HE was a Samaritan! Here was a man distant to the covenant promises. He was like the woman in Samaria and the man on the Jericho road. Here we see the missionary heart of our Lord.

Jesus then asks three rhetorical questions designed to cause us to be reflective upon this encounter. “Were not 10 cleansed?” Yes! “Where are the nine?” The question in Greek is emphatic and reads, “the nine …where?” He was not asking for an answer. He was making an observation. They had missed the moment. Then he asks , “Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this  foreigner?” I’m afraid too many of us in America find ourselves in the company of the nine. Once we got up and got out but then we went on our own way when the blessings came.

Why didn’t they return? Did they feel they deserved this miracle? Human nature has a way of always claiming our own rights. I put myself on this road recently. When I see so many heartbroken kids without mothers to nurture them, I ask myself did I deserve to have a mother who sacrificed so much for me? When I see so many kids with dads who have no time, did I deserve to have had a dad who always encouraged me and never missed an event in which I participated? When I visit folks in the hospital who are sick and now know I’ve had over a half a century of excellent health, I sense the blessing of God. When I see parents whose kids have broken their hearts and my wife and I have had two daughters who brought us nothing but joy and honor, do I really deserve this? When I know men whose wives have been unfaithful, do I deserve the good and godly one that Christ has given me? When I hear pastor friends whose church has caused them consternation and heartache and pain, do I deserve to have pastored the wonderful churches I was blessed to serve over the pastoral ministry I received from Him? When I hear men and women who talk of having no real lifelong friends, do I deserve the faithful friends I’ve enjoyed over the decades? When I see the heartbreak today in Third World countries around the world, do I deserve to have been born in the state of Texas with all the privileges it affords? When I see men and women who live their lives in sin and shame with guilt and defeat written across their faces, do I deserve to have been forgiven by the grace of God? The answer is a simple one. I deserved none of this. It is all unmerited favor and grace, marvelous grace.

I hope Thanksgiving is more to all of us than simply parties and football games and parades. The Lord Jesus is still asking, “Where are the nine?” Are any of the nine reading this volume?

Then Jesus said to this one, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19). The important fact here is that the Lord of this universe wants to be thanked. Hebrews 13:15-16 says, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”

Grace works in surprising places. Only the Samaritan heard the Lord Jesus say, “Your faith has made you well.” He became whole on the inside as well as the outside. The other nine hurried on to the priest to be declared clean. But this one was declared whole, well, by the Lord Jesus Christ himself!

Are we really that far removed from this scene? The disease of sin is far more dangerous than leprosy. One destroys the body but sin destroys the body and the soul. Desperation may bring you to Christ but only gratitude can keep you there. Where are the nine?

Thanksgiving Day. What will it be for you? Will you get up? Will you get out? The real question is, will you get back? May we begin to lead America back to our place at Christ’s feet and renew the pledge of the Mayflower Compact that we’re here, “for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.” Jesus is passing by. Where are the nine?

ON A PERSONAL NOTE:

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