From the Green Fields of England to the Greenville of South Carolina
Counting back from late November 2014, a little short of 1,500 days ago from the time of writing, a small family set foot on US soil in Wayne County Airport, Detroit, Michigan. This was not for the first time, but it marked a major new chapter in their lives. As they boarded their connecting flight to GSP—Greenville Spartanburg Airport, South Carolina—their minds were filled with what had been, and what was yet to be.
What had been: A settled life in the United Kingdom… What was yet to be? The challenge of relocating to a new way of life in the USA. New living and working conditions; new school; new friends; new church; new currency; and new ways of driving an automobile—on the wrong side of the road, to start with.
That family? The Holmeses—that’s us. And the first major event in the USA? Thanksgiving 2010!
We have much for which to give thanks, and the season of Thanksgiving is always a time to stimulate these thoughts. On a previous Thanksgiving, I was asked to share some truths from the Bible at a family gathering of friends, and my mind turned to the account of ten lepers who encountered Jesus. In a remarkable display of His power, Jesus healed them completely—yet only one of them acknowledged it. See Luke 17:11-19.
Here are some of the things I shared along the lines of giving thanks and glory to God:
Living in the twenty-first century here in the sophisticated United States, we may find it hard to imagine what it was like to have an incurable and defacing disease. We will easily go to the doctor’s office or the pharmacy and get a cream or lotion to help with a skin infection or irritation (or plastic surgery if needs be). But here were ten men with a horrible leprous condition, one which was (humanly speaking) incurable.
Imagine You Are a Leper
Imagine your fingers rotting away; the presence of a bacterium that won’t go away until it has feasted on your body, flesh and bones.
Smell the stench of flesh as it pulls away from bone; you would fear to see yourself in a mirror.
Perhaps your nose eroded so that you only see a cavity into your skull; your larynx affected so your voice is weak and reedy
Your nerve endings have been destroyed so you have no feeling of hot, cold or pain; you can burn yourself picking up a hot item from the fire and yet feel no pain!
You are visibly deformed; you are ritually defiled; you have no place in company with the people of God.
It is, as it were, the end of the line for you. You are destined to die, separated from friends and family, excluded from pleasures and enjoyments, and would have people run away from you. Perhaps you would carry a bell, and you would call out, “Unclean, Unclean!” to warn others of your approach. No sports; no social life; no close friendships, no embraces from loved ones. You are an outcast, the lowest of the low.
In the Bible, sin is sometimes described in metaphorical terms as leprosy. So I think it is easy for you, in your mind’s eye, see the picture of how sin is like leprosy, defiling us, separating us from a Holy God, marring our image, causing us to be unclean, unacceptable in His sight and presence. Sin has taken us away from God. “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (Isaiah 64:6).
But God, in His wonderful purpose, had so worked the situation that Jesus was going to meet them. It was on His calendar for these ten men to meet the Savior.
Jesus was the only hope for these ten men. Jesus is the only hope for sinners today!
I believe it is on God’s calendar for you to meet the Savior of sinners. He is still calling sinners to Himself today, even though they are at a distance from Him (v 12). What will you do when He calls you? He calls you to cleanse you, not to leave you festering in your sinful condition. He calls you to repentance; He calls you to saving faith; He calls you to more than just an acknowledgement of His existence in general terms. He calls you to a personal relationship. He calls you to be a disciple, one who follows Him and learns from Him.
When the ten are healed, only one is serious in his response. People are happy to enjoy the kind providence of God, but do not want Him too near to them. They prefer a God-at-arm’s-length.
But let’s see what the one leprous man—this ex-leper—did:
He came personally to Jesus (v 15: He turned back)
He glorified God with a loud voice (v 15)
He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and gave thanks (v 16)
He, a foreigner, gave glory to God (v 18)
Let’s now try and connect this matter of glorifying God and giving thanks to God to our lives today. What are we taught in the Westminster Larger Catechism?
Question 1: What is the chief and highest end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.
What is the connection between glorifying and thanking God? I believe the answer is in Romans 1. Romans 1 (Romans is the manual that shows how people and God have become separated and how they can be reconciled, brought back into a right relationship) makes its starting point as follows:
For even though they knew God, they did not honor (Lit glorify) Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations and their foolish heart was darkened. Romans 1:21
But if we know the gospel, and if we are trusting in Jesus alone for our salvation, how will we intend to thank and glorify God? I believe there are three areas in which we may specifically cultivate glorifying and thanking God—words that theologians like to use, and words which we should ourselves love:
For His work of creation, for this reveals to us the wonderful, wise and powerful person that God is who could speak worlds and universes into being! Romans 1:20 makes it abundantly clear to us that “… since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made , so that they are without excuse.”
For His work in providence; consider how He preserves us in life, giving us life and breath and all things—health, strength, power to gain wealth, to labor and see results, to sow and to reap; to become well after we have been sick; to learn; to grow in experience. Consider the bounty and the beauty of what we enjoy. The lines have fallen for us in pleasant places. Who would not want to live in a place such as the upstate of South Carolina?
For His work, most especially, in redemption. He has appointed Jesus, a Prince and Savior, to save His people from their sins. Read about it in the Gospels, in Romans, in the New Testament, in the whole Bible. It’s all about Jesus. The apostle Paul said that there should be the giving of thanks (Ephesians 5:4); let us be giving thanks for Him who is God’s most wonderful gift (John 3:16)
2 Corinthians 9:15 urges us in these words “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” His indescribable gift is the person of Jesus.
A Call to Faith
Are you in a right relationship with the One of whom the Bible speaks? Is your heart drawn out in thankfulness to the Son of God who planted His feet on this planet? Consider how He became a real man—but without sin—and lived an ordinary life for over thirty years in order that by His living a life of active obedience to God’s law and requirements, and then by dying a death as if being punished as a sinner—for the sins of His people were imputed to Him in His sacrificial death—sinners like you and I can be brought back to a right relationship with God by turning from sin and unrighteousness, and by trusting in Him alone!
Image Credit: Luke Kapustka www.flickr.com/photos/lukekapustka/6688446127