What does giving thanks look like? In Luke 17:11-19, we have a vivid picture of what it means to give thanks. We find Jesus traveling with intent, straight through the lesser parts of Israel – Galilee and Samaria. The very fact that the Savior graces these parts tells us that He has come to seek and to save that which is lost (Luke 19:10). Ten men who are lepers intercept Jesus. They have a horrible skin disease. They are social outcasts and live outside the walls of the city. And yet Jesus takes time for them by traveling through their city. That’s quite a spiritual picture of the sinner’s condition outside of the cleansing power of Jesus Christ. A horrible heart, with horrible stains, cast out from the favorable presence of God. And yet it is these that Jesus has an eye towards. Does this not strike a chord of love towards the Savior believer? And that is what Jesus has come to do for leprous sinners. He always has time for sinners who intercept Him for mercy.
There is a loud cry as the lepers come near to Jesus, “Master, have mercy on us.” All their pain and suffering, all their social segregation and marginalization leads to this cry. They want to be heard by Jesus, and so they literally cry out, “Mercy us!” Look upon us in Thy mercy. And what does Jesus do? He upholds the Levitical law. He tells them to go and show themselves to the priests. He does not tell them that their leprosy is healed. No, He commands them to go and show themselves to the priests. The demands of the law must still be met for these leprous men and here we see the beautiful work of Jesus in not only upholding the law, but also fulfilling the law for leprous sinners. They turn and go their way and as they go they see that they are healed. Such is the power of Jesus in healing their leprosy, but look, one turns around and comes to Jesus.
Luke identifies this returning leper as a Samaritan, a stranger, a foreigner, a doubly despised one. Things couldn’t have been worse for this man. But notice that he turns around. He doesn’t go to the priests, but He returns to the great High Priest – the one who offers not only cleansing from leprosy, but cleansing from the leprosy of sin. This Samaritan leper shows himself to the Priest! He shows himself to the one who will shortly make the sacrifice for sin in which sinners can find mercy. He returns to give glory to God. He recognizes Jesus’ divinity and power as the Savior of sinners. He bows down humbly and gives thanks. Literally he blesses God for healing – both spiritual and physical healing. Here’s the best evidence of Jesus’ saving work – this man returns to offer thanks and give glory to God. He teaches us this Thanksgiving what our thanksgiving ought to be. It is not simply consuming the gifts and mumbling thanks. It is to demonstrate a heart and life of utter devotion to God for His gifts. So often we find ourselves like the other nine lepers who give no thought to Jesus anymore. They have received healing and go to the priests to show themselves. But here this Samaritan, this leper, returns and gives thanks and glorifies God.
Jesus responds, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?” That same question comes to us this Thanksgiving Day. Are we like the nine, or like the one? If we have truly tasted of the mercy of our High Priest, will we not return and bow at His feet and give Him thanks for everything? And look at the blessed assurance that this cured leper receives from His Lord. Jesus says to him, “Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.” This man receives confirmation from Jesus, the High Priest that he is indeed made whole. Faith, no matter how tenuously connected to Christ brings His healing and saving benefits. Surely that is cause for thanksgiving!