Give thanks to the Giver, not the gift
In Luke 17, Jesus meets 10 men infected with leprosy. They come to him, they cry out, “have mercy upon us,” Jesus heals them, and one turns back in faith to give thanks. Because of the nature of leprosy, God often uses it in Scripture as an analogy for sin. Think about it: like leprosy, sin eats away, it separates us from God, it rots to the core, it is contagious, easily spreads, and it ruins our lives and the lives of those around us.
Because of the way the bible uses leprosy to teach about sin, you should know that you share a lot with those ten lepers in Luke 17. You might not have medical leprosy, but you are cursed with the leprosy of sin. Sin that is contagious, sin that cuts deep, sin that ruins lives, sin that separates you from God and sin that will kill you if Jesus doesn’t intervene.
Knowing that, I invite you to come to our church where Jesus is present and like these lepers, you can cry out with us their same prayer “have mercy upon us!” You and them both need to cry out the same prayer because you share the leprosy of sin and you share faith in the only one who is able to save you from it. Like them, you are healed by Jesus, like them — if you believe in Christ — you have saving faith, and like them, you give thanks.
We often think of giving thanks as just manners like “say thank you,” or “close your mouth when you chew,” but for the Christian, giving thanks is more. It is a disposition of the souls, a way of life where we give thanks to God for all the gifts that He gives.
I am not exactly sure what an atheist does on Thanksgiving. To whom do you give thanks? The turkey? Usually that is the case. For the unbeliever, thanks is often given to the gift and not to the Giver. But for Christians, our giving of thanks has two distinctions.
First, we give thanks to God for all things. Not just the good. We know that God is working all things for us who love Him and so we give thanks to Him for all things — even hardship, suffering and struggle. Just like when you give your kids brussel sprouts and cake. They probably thank you for the cake even though the brussel sprouts are better for them. We give thanks to God for all things, knowing that health and sickness, riches and poverty, good and bad — all things come from his fatherly hand and for all things we give thanks.
The second distinction of giving thanks as a Christian is that, like the leper, we don’t give thanks to the object we have received but we give thanks for it to the Giver. The worldly attitude of gratitude turns the thanks to the thing being received — but that is idolatry. Christian Thanksgiving is more. It gives thanks to the Giver. So now we as Christians are called to do that and give thanks to God for all things.
If you ever sat down and made a list of all the things you have to be thankful for, I promise you would run out of paper before you ran out of things. Jesus commands you to pray and when you don’t know how, just give thanks. Like the ten lepers, we give thanks to God the Father who created us, God the Son who redeemed us, and God the Holy Spirit who forgives us our sins and makes us holy. We give thanks to God for faith. And we give thanks that through that faith, Jesus saves us.