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Thanksgiving Eve

Luke 17:11–19

James T. Batchelor

Thanksgiving Eve
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Wed, Nov 25, 2015 

Since tomorrow is actually a national holiday and not the commemoration of a specific event or teaching of the Bible, there is wide leeway as to which readings we can choose for this day.  Over the years, the account of the Ten Lepers has become one of the traditional readings for a national day of Thanksgiving.

The facts of the miracle are clear enough.  Jesus was still in Galilee, but He was en route to Jerusalem with His disciples.  As they traveled, they encountered ten lepers.  Jesus instructed the lepers to present themselves to the priests in Jerusalem according to the Law of Moses.  While they were en route, they noticed that the leprosy was gone.  One of the lepers returned to worship Jesus in thanksgiving.  The Holy Spirit inspired Luke to emphasize the fact that the leper who returned was a Samaritan.  Jesus wondered what happened to the other nine who were also healed.

Luke informs us that Jesus and His disciples were traveling along the border between Galilee and Samaria.  Although there was a much more direct route straight south through Samaria, Passover Pilgrims could not take it.  This was because the Samaritans and the Jews hated one another, and the Samaritans simply refused passage to anyone who was headed for Jerusalem.  If it werent for the Roman occupation, Samaria and Judea would probably be at war, but because of the Romans, the Samaritans had to be satisfied with this token gesture of their hatred.  It is interesting to note that the hatred and violence that we see in the Middle-East today has been around for a long, long time.

The Samaritan hatred meant that Passover Pilgrims like Jesus and His disciples had to detour around Samaria to get south to Jerusalem.  Jesus had traveled south in Galilee until He reached the border with Samaria.  Now He was traveling along the border with Samaria until He arrived at the Jordan River and the eastern border of Samaria.  Then He would travel south until He arrived at the border of Judea where He could turn back toward the west and head for Jerusalem.

This little fact that Jesus was traveling along the border between Galilee and Samaria reminded the reader of the animosity between the Samaritans and the Jews.  Never the less, in spite of this animosity, Jesus gave His healing to one of those Samaritans.  That Samaritan even came back to give praise and thanks to Jesus.  Here we see that salvation in Jesus Christ is not just for Jews, but it is for all people.

The demonstration of grace for all people is a wonderful Gospel nugget in this account, but there is another Gospel nugget in Jesus response to the other nine who did not return.  While He seemed disappointed, He did not take back their healing.  Here we learn that Jesus does not take back His gifts just because we are not as thankful as we should be.  This is of great comfort to me because I know that I am not as thankful to God as I should be.  If God took back His gifts because I took them for granted, I could not even exist.

The Bible does not tell us what happened to those other nine healed lepers.  They probably finished their trip to Jerusalem and showed themselves to the priests according to Jesus instructions.  It is even possible that the Holy Spirit worked saving faith in them at a different time.  Since we dont have a clear word on what happened to them; we turn our focus back to the Samaritan.

The Samaritan returned and fell at Jesus feet with his face to the ground.  This is actually more than simple thanksgiving.  This is the posture of worship.  The returning, the glorifying God, and the thanking of Jesus added up to a confession that this Samaritan believed that Jesus was the Lord.  He confessed that, in Jesus, he was looking at the Son of God.  The one who had been dying not only in his leprosy, but also in his sin was now alive in Jesus.  The Holy Spirit had given him the gift of faith, and that faith received the gifts of God in Christ Jesus.

Jesus had told the ten lepers to show themselves to the priests.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Samaritan leper understood that there was no priest of a higher order than the one who had healed him.  He believed that Jesus was the true High Priest not just for Israel, but for all people everywhere.  This leper now understood that we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God. (Hebrews 4:14) The one leper who returned understood.  Jesus is the High Priest.  The priests in Jerusalem are shadows by comparison.  They are shadows who point forward to Jesus our Great High Priest.

Jesus dismissed the leper and said to him, Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well. (Luke 17:19) There are some scholars who wonder if the Holy Spirit led this healed Samaritan to go his way by remaining with Jesus and the disciples.  Perhaps when Jesus released the Samaritan to go his way, the Holy Spirit led the Samaritan to join the other Passover Pilgrims walking with the Eternal High Priest.  Perhaps He joined the other Passover Pilgrims with Jesus as they journeyed to Jerusalem.  We dont know.

If he did walk with Jesus to Jerusalem, he would have seen a very different high priest.  Jesus is the High Priest who not only offered up the sacrifice, but He Himself is the sacrifice.  The priests in Jerusalem offered lambs, goats, and other animals for the forgiveness of sins.  These were shadows that pointed forward to the sacrifice that God Himself would offer the sacrifice of his only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  If the healed Samaritan would have walked with Jesus, he would have witnessed his great high priest taken up from the earth on a cross.

It is on that cross that Jesus performed a miracle much greater than the healing of a leper.  For on that cross, He offered Himself up to endure the full wrath of Gods punishment against sin.  He satisfied Gods justice so that the Samaritan leper could not only receive cleansing for his leprosy, but also cleansing for his sin.

The Samaritan is not the only one who can receive cleansing for the sake of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.  That cleansing is available to all people in all times and places.  For the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle John to write, He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2) Are you included in the whole world?  Then this cleansing is for you.

Salvation came first to the Children of Israel, for Jesus was born of their people and He proclaimed the Gospel first to them, but this evenings reading from Luke proclaims that this Gospel is for all people in all times and places.  For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:2225)

You need this cleansing even though you dont have leprosy.  For we all have something that is much worse sin.  We may not need cleansing of the body, but we all need the cleansing of our sins.  We all need the gifts that Jesus earned for us with His suffering and death on the cross.  That is the reason that the forgiveness of sins is such good news.

Jesus has given us a promise that is much greater than the healing of leprosy.  Jesus has conquered death.  Jesus has promised that there will come a day when He will raise all the dead.  Some of those who sleep in death will awaken to shame and everlasting contempt, but those who believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sin will awaken to everlasting life.

We are gathered here this evening because the leaders of our nation have declared tomorrow to be a national day of thanksgiving.  The activities tomorrow will cover the spectrum of human behavior.  Some will just stuff their face and watch football and be happy for a day off.  Others will at least try to at least keep the spirit of the holiday even if they are confused about who should receive their thanksgiving.  Their thanks will consist mostly of a pleasant feeling.

In fact, only those who believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins can give true thanks.  They can give thanks to Almighty God for the physical blessings of this earth.  Most especially, they can give thanks for the forgiveness, life, and salvation that they receive by faith in Jesus Christ.  Christians are the only one who can give true thanks.  Those who do not know Christ can even give thanks in prayer, but their thanks will go to a false god a god who does not exist.  Only Christians give thanks to the true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  They can give thanks for life today and life forever.  Amen

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