James Merritt - Thankful Living
What I want us to learn today is how to experience thankful living. What will you do if you thankfully live your life? How can you take your life to an entirely new level? Because here's what I want you to take out the door this morning. I've learned this in my life. Gratitude is the attitude that lets you live life at the highest altitude. Gratitude is the attitude that lets you live life at the highest altitude. Now, if you're sitting there and you're kind of giving yourself an exam and you say, "Well, I think I'm basically a thankful person. I think I know how to live my life thankfully". Well, if you do, four things, you'll see it in your life. You'll know that you're a thankful person if these are true of you, all right?
Number one, you'll see it. You'll see it. If you're thankfully living your life, you'll see it. Let me tell you what I mean by that, because I don't mean what you think I mean. To live a life that is thankful, you've got to see why you should be thankful for your life. To live your life thankfully, you've got to see why you should be thankful for your life. So let's go back, and I want you to see how these lepers address Jesus, and remember, they had never met Jesus. They had never seen this man, as far as we know, in their life. Listen to what they say to Him. "And as He entered the village, He was met by ten lepers who stood at a distance, and they called out in a loud voice, 'Jesus.'"
Now here's the next word that's so important. It's the word "master". "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us". Now, not too surprising they knew who Jesus was because at that day, He had been doing this for about three years, His fame had grown, His reputation preceded Him, and kind of everybody had heard about this man named Jesus. What is interesting is that of all the words they could have used to address Jesus, they call Jesus "master". I'll tell you why that's kind of really unusual. Number one, this word's only used by Luke. Matthew doesn't use it, Mark doesn't use it, John doesn't use it. Only Luke uses this word. Secondly, this is the only time that anybody other than a devoted follower of Jesus Christ ever addressed Jesus this way. And the word "master" literally means "commander-in-chief". And when you called someone "master," what you were saying was, "You've got the authority to do something that ordinary people don't have the authority to do".
And so it was a word that you just wouldn't use just for anybody just on a kind of a serendipitous basis. And somehow when they laid eyes on Jesus, they were absolutely convinced: You are the commander-in-chief. You're in complete command of life. You're in complete command of health. You're in complete command of death. You're in complete command of illness and sickness. You've got an authority that nobody else really has. And so somehow they just knew in their heart: You're not just the best hope we've got to get out of here. You're our only hope to get out of here. And so the moment all ten of these men, watch this, the moment all ten of these men are healed nobody has to tell them who did it. They knew God had done it. They knew it. And we know now what these men knew then.
We know that it's God that keeps us alive. We know that it's God that provides all of our needs. We know that it's God that answers our prayer. The question I want to ask all of us in this room right now, particularly in light of the Thanksgiving we're about to celebrate, can you honestly say every day of your life, 24/7, that you really do see reasons why you ought to be a thankful person, and do you really see reasons why you ought to always remember who you ought to be thankful to? Every breath you take is a gift from God, and every beat of your heart is a gift from God, and if you just realize that even the very life that you've got right now is a result of the goodness of God, when you see that every day, you'll be thankful.
Now, here's another way it'll show up in your life. Not only will you see it, you'll say it. If you're really thankful, you'll say it. Now listen to verse 14: When He saw them, He said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priest," and as they went, they were cleansed. Now, I want you to watch this. If you were to stop this story at this verse, if you just cut the rest of the miracle off right there, you would not notice anything unusual because it reads a lot like every other miracle that Jesus performed, right? I mean, this is the way it kind of works. Jesus is walking along minding His own business, somebody cries out to Jesus or somebody comes up to Jesus, "I've got a problem, can you heal my problem," Jesus heals that problem, and they go their merry way. That's the way it happens time after time after time. That's the way it's happened right here.
And if you just stopped, if there was no more story after this, you'd have said, "Well, that's typical, I mean, that's kind of the way it works," and you would have never thought about ingratitude. That would have never entered your mind that he didn't even say thank you, and then this happens in verse 15: Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. Now, I want you to watch this. This is so cool. This one guy... everybody else keeps walking. This one guy does a 180, turns around, and he goes back, leaves the group, and we're told he praises God with a loud voice. I'm going to teach you something about studying the Bible. When you read the Bible, pay close attention to the words because sometimes a little detail is very important, you won't even realize it, because, you know, Luke could have just said, "He turned back, praising God," stop right there.
Okay, wouldn't have thought anything about it. Why does Luke let us know he praised God with a loud voice? Why is that such a big deal to Luke? Well, remember, Luke's a doctor, and what you don't know about leprosy is leprosy almost always, without exception, always attacks the vocal cords, and when it does, it basically shuts your larynx down, so you'll get to the point where you either can't talk at all, or if you do, it's in a very squeezy, weak, raspy voice. Evidently, when these men got healed, this leper looked at the other guys and said, "Hey, we're healed," and the other guy said, "Hey, I can hear you". "Yeah, I just, I just spoke. I mean, I talk normal. I can talk like I've always talked". And all of a sudden this guy realizes: "I've not just been healed from the outside, outside in, I've been healed from the inside out".
And Luke said, when he goes back to Jesus, he cries out with this loud voice, and the two words that are put together literally mean "megaphone". We get the word "megaphone" from that phrase. He cried out in a megaphone voice. In other words, it had been so long since he even heard his own voice that now he can talk normally, he's just screaming at the top of his lungs because he's never heard himself talk in such a long, long time. So he praises God with this loud voice. You can hear the guy going for miles and miles and miles, and then listen to verse 16: "And he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving Him thanks. Now, he was a Samaritan".
Now, I don't know all he said to Jesus at that moment, but we all know two words he said to Jesus. What are they? "Thank you". Say it out loud. Thank you. Say it real loud. Thank you. "Thank you". He said, "Thank you". If I come up to you, you do something for me, if I say, "Thank you," what do you normally say back to me? "You're welcome". "You're welcome," right? So you would think, the guy comes to Jesus, he says, "Well, thank you," you would think that Jesus would have said, "You're welcome". Doesn't do that. Instead, He asks three questions. Verse 17: Then Jesus answered, "Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner"?
Now, in the Greek language, all of those questions are rhetorical questions. The answer is obvious. Were not ten cleansed? Yes. Where are the other nine? Not here. Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this farmer? Nada. So Jesus is saying right now, "What's wrong with this picture? If I take the time to heal them, couldn't they at least take the time to thank me? If I go out of my way to do something for them in such a wonderful way, couldn't they go out of their way just a little bit just to say thank you"? Now, let me just stop right here, right here, right here. Now, let me tell you how every one of you fit in this story. You are either the one or you are the nine. You're either the one or you are the nine.
Now, you may say, "I'm the one. Man, I get it. I see it. I realize I am what I am because of the blessing of God. I have what I have because of the blessing of God. I do say a blessing before I eat. I do thank God for what God has done for me. I do see it and I do say it". Time out. You can see it and you can say it and still not be thankfully living your life, because there's a third thing that will be true of you if you're living thankfully. You'll not only see it and you'll not only say it, you'll show it. You'll show it. Now go back to verse 16. Notice again what this man does. Look at this. He fell on his face at Jesus' feet. He didn't have to do that. He could have just, he could have gotten within shouting distance. He could have stayed 100 yards away: "Thank you. Hey, got to go. Got to do lunch, but, hey, thank you for what you did. See you later. Bye-bye. Toodaloo. See you. Go on. Bye-bye". But he doesn't do that. He takes the trouble to walk all the way back, and then when he gets to Jesus, he could have just said, "Hey, thank you". He doesn't do that. He falls on his face in the dirt just to say, "Thank you".
Here's what I want you to think about. Think about this. Let's suppose that Jesus had gone to those other nine lepers. He hunts them down. And Jesus goes to those lepers and He says, "Aren't you guys thankful for what I've done for you? Aren't you guys grateful that I have healed you"? All right, somebody tell me, now, what would they have said to Jesus? Somebody tell me. "Sure, we are. Oh, man, are we so grateful, yes. We're so thankful". There's only one problem. They didn't say it, they didn't show it. So remember this: Gratitude that is never expressed expresses ingratitude. Gratitude that is never expressed expresses ingratitude.
Now, here's what I want you to see. Watch this. Do you know why the Samaritan came back and the other nine guys didn't? It's real easy. It's not hard. Do you know why he came back and thanked Jesus and the other nine didn't? It's because he chose to come back? If you are basically an ungrateful person, it's for one reason. It's not because you got bad breaks in your life. It's not because you got the short end of the stick. It's not because your dad ran out on you when you were four years old. It's not because you grew up in a broken home. I'm sorry for all those things, but if you're basically today a whining, complaining, ungrateful person, the only reason you are is because you choose to be. You choose to be thankful or you choose to be unthankful. Nine people chose to be unthankful. One man chose to be thankful.
And, see, every day, every morning when you get up out of your bed, you got a choice to make. One man put it this way: You can either be humbly grateful or you can be grumbly hateful, but you're going to be one of those two things every single day. And if you really are thankful, you're not just going to say it and not just going to see it, you're going to show it. You'll see it, you'll say it, you'll show it, and then let me show you the last thing that really will turn thanksgiving into thanks-living. You ready? You'll share it. You'll share it. Now, when this Samaritan came back to Jesus and said, "Thank you," He didn't just say, "You're welcome". Let's listen again to what Jesus said to this man. Listen to this: And He said to him, "Rise and go your way," that's important, we're going to see what that means in a minute, "Your faith has made you well".
Now, this is where I'm going to show you something I would not expect you to see because you don't know the Greek language, that's why some of us go to seminary, and you wouldn't get this, so I want to show you something. This really is not a good translation. I don't know why the ESV does it. It's usually pretty reliable. This really is not a good translation of that phrase in the Greek language. Jesus didn't actually say that. He didn't actually say, "Your faith has made you well". First of all, that wouldn't make any sense because everybody was made well. Why would He say, "You've been made well"? Everybody got made well. That's not what Jesus said. The verb that Jesus uses for "made well" is not the word that's used for healing. This is a totally different word. The word that Jesus uses here is a word that literally means "salvation," and what Jesus really said to that Samaritan was, "Rise and go your way. Your faith has saved you".
Because, you see, that Samaritan, when he came back to thank Jesus, he didn't just come back to thank Jesus. He came back to surrender his life to Jesus. When he fell in his face at the dirt, here's what he was saying to Jesus, "I'm not just giving you my health. I'm giving you my heart. I'm not just thanking you for healing my body. I'm thanking you for saving my soul". And where all ten of those lepers had been healed, only one of them had been saved. And, see, here is the real sad part of this story. The sad part is not that the other nine guys didn't say "thank you". That's not the sad part. The sad part of the story is they had missed out on the greater blessing, because if you understand the Bible, you know this, the greatest disease those lepers had was not leprosy. The greatest disease they had was what? Sin. Their biggest problem was not their body. Their biggest problem was their heart. And what is so sad is they had their bodies healed but not their hearts healed.
See, this is not a story about them. This is a story about us. The vast majority of people in Atlanta, Georgia, the vast majority of people that live in your neighborhood, in my neighborhood, they get up every single day and they accept the good things from God, but they never accept the best thing from God. They get up every morning and they enjoy the light of the sun, but they never accept the light of salvation. They get up every morning and they drink the waters of the rain, but they never drink from the waters of redemption. It's so sad. This man had experienced both. He said, "Lord, you didn't just heal me. You saved me. You didn't just take my leprosy away. You took my sin away". And what does Jesus tell him to do? Watch this. "Rise and go your way".
Now, why does Jesus say that? Watch this. I know this is not expressed in the text, I get it, but this is not hard to figure out. Where do you think this guy went? As soon as he left, where do you think the guy went? Somebody tell me. Where did he go? Say it loud. I'm not going to, you're not going to, there's no wrong answer. Where did... he had to go somewhere. He didn't go to the mall. Where did he go? He went home. So he goes home, right? Goes to his family. Where else does he go? Somebody tell me. Where else did he go? He went to see his friends, okay. Yeah, he went to his neighborhood. So he's going home. He's going to his family and he's going to his friends. Now, when everybody sees this guy, what do you think they ask this guy? What do you think the first thing they asked this guy was? "What happened to you? How in the world did you get healed"? What do you think this guy said to them? Do you think he said, "Oh, I just met a man and he just, go to the priest and I got healed".
He didn't say that. You know what that guy said? Well, he said, "Yeah, I've been healed, but I didn't just get healed. I've been saved. You think I look good on the outside. You ought to see me on the inside. You see what Jesus has done for my body. Let me tell you what Jesus has done for my heart. I'll never be the same. I am not just physically different. I am eternally different". And I promise you, for the rest of his life, he didn't go around talking about just the healing. He went around talking about the Healer, and everywhere he went, you could rest assured, he was always telling people about Jesus, because when you're really thankful for God and what God has done for you, you will share that gratitude and you'll share that grace and you'll share that God with other people.
Let me tell you how this really works out. Do you understand this morning that if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, if you have a real relationship with Jesus Christ, you can always be thankful? No matter what, you can always be thankful. On the other hand, if you're not a follower of Jesus Christ, not only can you not always be thankful, you're probably basing your thanksgiving on the wrong thing. Let me give you an example. If you're basing your thanksgiving on the fact that you have life, well, one of these days you're going to die. If you're basing your thanksgiving on the fact that you've got health, well, one of these days you'll get sick. If you're basing your thanksgiving on the fact that you've got stuff, one of these days you won't have your stuff anymore. But there's one thing we can always be thankful for and that's Jesus. We can always be thankful for Jesus.
So here's the question I want to ask you. I understand what some of you may be saying right now, and I'd probably be saying the same thing. You know, big boy, it's real easy for you to get up there and tell me to be thankful, but, you know, you don't have to go to chemotherapy tomorrow, do you? No, I don't. You don't have to go through a painful burn-your-skin radiation, do you? No, I don't. And you're not battling through a divorce right now like I am, are you? No, sir, I'm not. You don't have trouble making ends meet at your house, do you? You get to buy groceries and you got a comfortable life. Yes, I do. But my question to you is this: No matter what you're going through and no matter how bad things may seem to be in your life, if you have Jesus, how can you not be thankful? If you have Jesus, how can you not be thankful?
So let me close with this. This will be, I told Teresa, I said, "Honey, the last story will be worth the whole sermon". And she says, "Well, tell them so they won't leave before your story is over, okay"? So, Teresa, I want you to go back to the back and watch and don't let anybody leave till I'm through with this story, all right?
Now, look, true story. Trust me, worth coming for. This man, his name was Ed, Ed just died not long ago. There was a man named Ed and he lived in Florida. He lived close to the ocean, and every Friday evening every week of the year every year, rain or shine, didn't matter, every Friday evening you could watch, and you could set your watch by it, Ed would drive up to the beach, park his car, get out. He'd stroll along the beach to this pier, his favorite pier. In his hand, he had a bucket of shrimp, and he'd go to this pier and he'd walk all the way out to the end of that pier and he'd just stand there with that bucket of shrimp, just real patient, just staring out into the distance, and you'd wonder: What's this guy doing?
And before long, you'd see what appeared to be 1,000 white dots that would come rushing toward him, screeching and squawking. And before long, there would be literally dozens of seagulls just at his feet. Ed would take that bucket of shrimp and he'd start tossing those shrimp out to those hungry birds, and if you could get close enough and got behind him, here's what you'd hear Ed say: "Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you". He did it every day for 31 years, never missed a Friday, every day. When he would finish with that bucket, he'd take the bucket, go back to the car, get in his car, drove home. Most people didn't see Ed around town, but every Friday, check your watch, same time, same station, same place, he got out every day, bucket of shrimp, walk to that pier, feed those birds, "Thank you, thank you, thank you".
People that didn't know him thought he was just an oddball, just kind of weird, just kind of strange. And he did that until the day that he died, and everybody thought he was weird Eddie until they learned how Eddie was and they learned his story. Some of you will recognize the name. Most of you will not. His name was Eddie Rickenbacker. For those of you who don't know him, he was a World War II hero. He earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. President Roosevelt had sent him and six crew members, seven crew members to a remote island to do a secret mission. They did not make it back. They crash-landed in the Pacific Ocean, and miraculously, all of them survived. They all got into a life raft and they floated for 24 days on those rough seas. They fought the sun, they fought sharks, but the biggest thing they fought was hunger.
By the eighth day, all their rations had run out. There was no more food. They were hundreds of miles from land. They had no radio transmission. Nobody knew where they were, and they knew they needed a miracle or they were going to die in that ocean. So they decided they would have a devotional service and they got together and they prayed and they just said, "Oh, God, if you want us to live, you've got to come through. If you want us to live, you've got to do a miracle or we're all going to die". They were exhausted. They decided they'd try to take a nap, and Eddie, telling the story later, said he leaned back in that little life raft and he pulled his military cap over his nose, and he said just about the time he fell asleep he felt something land on his cap.
What do you think it was? It was a seagull. Ed said, "As I sat perfectly still, I knew that the life of my crew and my life hung in the balance in the next five seconds of my life". And he said, "Oh, God, if you don't ever answer another prayer, let me catch this seagull". And with a flash of his hand, he grabbed that seagull, he wrenched its neck, he tore the feathers off, they ate every part of that bird that could be eaten except the intestines. They began to use that intestines for bait, and with those intestines, they began to catch fish which gave them more food and gave them more bait, and the cycle continued. With that little simple survival technique, they were able to stay alive for 24 days until they were found and they were rescued.
Eddie Rickenbacker lived another 31 years after that day, but he never forgot the sacrifice of that live-giving seagull, and every day for 31 years, every Friday, he'd take that bucket of shrimp and he'd go to those seagulls that had no clue what this weird guy was doing giving them shrimp, and he would just say, "Thank you, thank you, thank you".
Two thousand years ago, the greatest sacrifice ever known to the history of this world was made by a man by the name of Jesus who died on a cross, paid for our sins, not just so we could have a few years of life on this earth, but we could have eternal life in heaven for all the ages, and every day of our life we ought to carry in our heart a bucket of gratitude for that One who loved us and that One who saved us, and we ought to live thankfully giving and thankfully living.