From Forgiveness to Thanksgiving
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As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, perhaps some of you have already set your sights on Christmas.
We have a son-in-law whose Christmas decorations have been up since Nov. 1. He got a late start this year.
Do you know anybody like that — someone who just can’t wait for Christmas music to start on the radio? Someone who spends every night of November and December watching Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel?
This is the first year in my memory that we have put up our Christmas tree before Thanksgiving. Now that we have an attached garage where we can store all the decorations, they are easily accessible, so we decided to go ahead and get an early start on decorating, and I’m glad we did. I love looking at all the old ornaments we have on our tree — so many of them have special significance for each of our family members.
But I want to encourage you not to miss Thanksgiving in the midst of the rush for Christmas.
And by thanksgiving, I do not mean simply the holiday, but rather the grateful inclination of the heart to which we are all called as Christians.
“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice,” the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi.
In a year like the one we have had in 2020, it is easy to forget the “always” part of this directive. In a year like 2020, it is easy to focus on all the pain and suffering and loneliness and isolation and miss the many blessings that we have received from God.
I want to encourage you today to take some time and count your blessings.
A woman named Barbara Ann Kipfer gives us a good example of how to do that.
When she was a teenager, she began listing some of her favorite things in a spiral-bound notebook. She would add items to the list while riding the bus, while eating breakfast, and when she awoke in the middle of the night.
It began as a simple list with things like “the sun shining,” “blueberry muffins,” and “green peas,” and soon began to encompass many random and sometimes abstract things.
Twenty years later and after filling dozens of spiral-bound notebooks, she published in 1990 a bestselling book called 14,000 Things To Be Happy About. In 2007, she updated that book with 1,500 new entries, and a 25th-anniversary edition with more than 4,000 new entries was published in 2014.
So, over the course of nearly 50 years, Barbara Ann Kipfer has found more than 20,000 things to be happy about, even as her life, like all lives, saw its share of trials and burdens. That works out to about 400 things a year, more than one new thing every day.
Now, I do not know whether Ms. Kipfer is a Christian. If she is, then she truly epitomizes Paul’s idea of rejoicing in the Lord always. If she is not, then her life’s work should convict every one of us who is a follower of Jesus Christ.
We who have been given so much for which to be thankful should be the most thankful people on the planet. But the truth is that we often seem to be the most discontent people around.
Here’s the thing: Thankfulness is a sign of faith. We’ll see that today in a familiar story from the Gospel of Luke.
Go ahead and turn to Luke, chapter 17. We’re going to concentrate on the healing of the 10 lepers, beginning in verse 11, but I want to go back to the beginning of this chapter to set the scene. Jesus was teaching a set of lessons on obedience that was capped off by his healing of the lepers, and it’s important for us to get the full picture of what is going on to understand the importance of what happened with the lepers.
In the last half of chapter 16, He had been speaking to the Pharisees about self-righteousness and about their unwillingness to accept the gospel of grace that He had been teaching. And then, at the beginning of chapter 17, He turned His attention back to His disciples.
He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.
This is a warning about leading others — not just children, but the little people, the least of these, into sin. The Pharisees’ great sin was unbelief. And so, the context here is that causing others to reject the gospel by our actions is a terrible sin.
This has been the thing that has hurt my heart the most during 2020. We who have followed Jesus Christ in faith have a responsibility to live in such a way that the gospel is not tarnished.
The gospel itself is already offensive to the world, because the gospel says that there is nothing you or I could ever do to earn favor with God. The gospel says that we can only be saved from the penalty of our sins by the sacrificial blood of Jesus, shed on a cross at Calvary.
That’s offensive to the world. We who follow Christ, on the other hand, are called to be salt and light. We are called to offer no offense in our words or our deeds. But so many Christians have forgotten that in creating and joining the great divisions of 2020.
We can do better. We MUST do better.
And from warning against leading others into sin, Jesus now pivots to teaching about how to respond when others sin against us. Look at verse 3.
“Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. “And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
Forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us. That’s how Jesus put it in the Lord’s Prayer.
But forgiving isn’t easy. Jesus says here that we’re not to keep score. Forgiving seven times here means forgiving always.
“You may have to forgive beyond your tolerance level. Just think how much God has to forgive you for. Even if the brother sins against you a ridiculous number of times in one day, forgive him. Keep on forgiving. Do not stop to test the genuineness of the other person’s request. Just forgive. Thus, you help the other person to grow and do not tempt him to sin.” [Trent C. Butler, Luke, vol. 3, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 279.]
Forgiveness comes at a price. Forgiveness means that I forego the “right to retaliate.” Forgiveness means that you give up the right to condemn the person who wronged you.
And I think the disciples recognized just how hard it would be to keep this command of Jesus.
That’s why, in the next verse, they said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
We might have expected them to say, “Lord, increase our love so that we can be so forgiving.”
But, no, they ask Jesus to increase their faith. And we see from their question that forgiveness is a function of faith.
Forgiveness is putting retribution and condemnation into the hands of God. Forgiveness is recognizing that God alone judges justly and trusting that He will do just that.
But it’s interesting to note here that Jesus doesn’t respond by giving them what they’ve asked for. Instead, he chides them a bit. Look at verse 6.
And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.
In other words, they already HAVE all the faith they need to be people who forgive the way that He has called them to forgive.
They do not need great faith; they need faith in a great God.
And then Jesus tells a little parable to make the point that keeping His commandments is an expectation that He has of His disciples, and not something that should bring them any pride.
“Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? “But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? “He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’ ”
The master in this parable doesn’t thank his slave for doing the work he is supposed to do. And the slave has no reason for being proud of doing what he is expected to do.
He is simply expected to do it, and he does it with no expectation of praise for having done it.
So what we see in this first part of the chapter is that faith manifests itself in forgiveness and in obedience.
Now, as we look at the story of the 10 lepers, we will see that true, saving faith manifests itself in an attitude of thanksgiving.
We’ll pick up now in verse 11.
While He was on the way to Jerusalem, He was passing between Samaria and Galilee. As He entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; and they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When He saw them, He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they were going, they were cleansed. Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? “Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.”
Now, the first thing I want you to notice is the faith of the 10 lepers.
They called out to Jesus to have mercy on them. Clearly they had heard of His miracles, and they were praying for Him to help them out of their dire situation.
Lepers in Israel were considered unclean. They could not worship in the temple. Indeed, they could not live within the city, and they were expected to keep a distance of 50 paces between themselves and others in case their leprosy were contagious. These were truly outcasts from society, and they were hoping for healing.
But then Jesus responds: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”
Now, under the Mosaic Law, they couldn’t go to the priests in their leprous condition. But what we see in the text here is that they turned and headed that way, anyway.
They had faith that this great healer would take away the condition, even as they went away from Him.
And that’s just what Luke tells us happened. As they were going, they were cleansed.
Now, they could go to the priests, and they could be pronounced healed of their leprosy and then make the offerings that were commanded under the Law.
But one turned back when he saw that he had been healed, glorifying God with a loud voice, and falling on his face at the feet of Jesus and giving thanks to Him.
Each of us would probably like to think that we would have been that one leper who turned back to give praise to God and thanksgiving to Jesus.
But the truth is that most of us are less than faithful in our thanksgiving. We are quick to come to God in prayer and supplication and slow to come to him with thanksgiving.
We shout our needs from the hilltop and then hide our blessings under a bushel. We pray for God’s provision in the moment of need, but then we hold our thanksgiving until prayers at bedtime, and by then we’ve forgotten all that we have to be thankful for.
Oh that we were more like this one leper, the one who didn’t say, “I’ll go to the priests and have my position in society restored and then come back and thank Jesus for what He did.”
And Jesus did not miss the irony of what had taken place.
The one leper who had returned with thanksgiving was a Samaritan. He was a double-outcast, a leper and a Gentile. Among the 10 lepers, he was the one who was least likely to know anything about God, much less to know that the proper response for having received God’s blessing is to glorify God with a loud voice.
But the lesson was not yet complete.
“Stand up and go,” Jesus told the thankful former leper. “Your faith has made you well.”
Literally, what Jesus said, was, “Stand up and go. Your faith has saved you.”
Note that Jesus did not say this to all the lepers who had been cleansed. The word “your” here is singular in the Greek. He is speaking only of the faith that the 10th leper had shown.
Here was a different kind of faith than that of the other nine. The others all believed that Jesus could cleanse them. But this one believed that Jesus could cleanse more than his body. This one believed that Jesus could cleanse his very soul.
And what was the evidence of that kind of faith? Thanksgiving!
Remember that I have said that faith isn’t simply a feeling we have in our hearts. Biblical faith is like biblical love and biblical gratitude. None of these things is simply a feeling that we experience within ourselves. Each of them manifests itself in some action.
Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Love for Him is demonstrated by obedience to Him.
“What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me?” the psalmist asked. “I shall lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.” In other words, I will demonstrate my gratitude to God by proclaiming His name, by praising Him publicly.
And here in this chapter from the Gospel of Luke, we hear Jesus making the same points about faith itself.
Saving faith is demonstrated in forgiveness; saving faith is demonstrated in obedience; and saving faith is demonstrated in thanksgiving.
We have so much for which to be thankful. And we have a gracious God and a risen Savior who deserve our public praise and our loud thanksgiving.
Let us each commit today to being that 10th leper. Let us glorify God with a loud voice, let us fall on our faces before Jesus and give thanks to Him for all that He has done for us and for all He does for us each day.
There is still time to make 2020 the year of great thanksgiving. Go out and glorify God.
Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!