Date: June 6, 1943
As He entered into a certain village, there met Him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off; and they lifted up their voices and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us! And when He saw them, He said unto them, Go show yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass that, as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back and with a loud voice glorified God and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks; and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus, answering, said, Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God save this stranger. And He said unto him, Arise, go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole! – Luke 17:12-19
Our God of Grace and Glory:
How mercifully Thou hast dealt with us! How marvelous are Thy ways of wondrous love! Bounteously Thou hast granted us food and shelter, support and protection. Even the agonies of war’s destruction have been kept from our shores. More than all this, Thou hast given us Thy Son, our Savior, in whom, through faith, we have forgiveness, the joy of life, and the assurance of heavenly bliss. Yet how thankless we have often been! How ungratefully we have disregarded these blessings! How sinfully we have exalted ourselves! For Jesus’ sake pardon us and remove these ugly transgressions! Enrich us with a grateful spirit which looks always to Thee in sickness and sorrow as in health and happiness! Make ours a repentant, devoted, Christian nation! Bless our armed forces with Thy guidance and protection! May they soon lay down victorious weapons and be brought back to us safely! We put them all into Thy hands, almighty God, as we beseech Thee to lead them to Christ. Check the horrors of this war so that neither we nor our enemies degenerate into brutal, barbarous killers! Hear us and help us, for we pray in Thy Son’s name! Amen!
IN 1568, when the Spaniards were conquering the Netherlands in cruel, bloody war, a persecuted Protestant preacher tried to escape death by fleeing across a frozen lake. A Spanish soldier saw him and started out in pursuit. It was March, and the ice, beginning to thaw, rumbled and cracked as they ran. The pastor, lighter and unencumbered, reached the opposite shore; but the ice broke under the heavier, armed soldier. He would have drowned had not the Dutch clergyman rushed back to rescue him. Yet, when they were both safely on land, the Spaniard, saved from a watery grave, turned on his deliverer, threw him into prison, and later personally lit the fire that burned him to death.
The present world war brings accounts of similar ingratitude. A Lutheran chaplain, wounded during the early, costly days at Guadalcanal recently told me that after a particularly heavy attack, when dead and bleedung Japanese lay in piles before our barbed-wire barricades, he went out with his commanding officer to help lessen the enemies’ suffering. The first Japanese they touched was lying on his face, mortally wounded. As our men turned him over, hoping to ease his last moments, that dying enemy summoned his waning strength, pulled a hand grenade from his shirt, quickly withdrew the firing pin, and threw it at the commander in a futile attempt to kill those who had come to relieve him.
This thanklessness is not restricted to battlefields. Ingratitude is one of the world’s most frequent sins. It is found in business and politics, among high and low, rich and poor, learned and illiterate, and it is often found even in the home, where it should least be expected. A wife works day and night to assist her husband; yet, after using her money, her labor, her counsel, as stepping stones to success, the ungrateful man discards her in favor of a younger and prettier woman. Parents deny themselves all but the barest necessities to send their son through college; but, as your letters reveal, too frequently after commencement the young graduate completely severs his connection with Father and Mother, refusing even to write them.
Among all forms of unthankfulness, however, unquestionably the worst is ingratitude to Christ, the spurning of His redemption, the refusal to recognize His love. Our text (Saint Luke, chapter seventeen, verses twelve to nineteen) deals with this thanklessness, and it tells us: “As He [Jesus] entered into a certain village, there met Him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off; and they lifted up their voices and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us! And when He saw them, He said unto them, Go show yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass that, as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back and with a loud voice glorified God and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks; and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus, answering, said, Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God save this stranger. And He said unto him, Arise, go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole!” Saint Luke’s remarkable record suggests this personal question:
ARE YOU THANKFUL TO CHRIST?
Are you one of the unappreciative 90 percent, or are you a member of that mindful minority, the thankful tenth? May God’s Holy Spirit bless this message that many recognize our Lord’s cleansing of their souls and daily show their gratitude for His redemption!
YOU HAVE EVERY REASON TO THANK CHRIST
The Savior was on His last journey through Galilee and Samaria, when at one of the forlorn villages a group of ten men called to him from a distance. Screaming hoarsely, they pleaded, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” They were the most despised and forsaken souls in that drab place, for they were lepers, the victims of a dread disease, the nauseous horror of which, in its worst forms, many today can hardly believe. It was a deep-rooted skin disorder that first of all makes the hair fall off, loosens the nails, destroys the eyebrows. As it becomes worse, the gums rot, the teeth fall out, joints, fingers, toes, shrivel and drop off. In its most hideous forms, face and features are consumed. Travelers in the East tell us how they are confronted by outcasts with eyeless, earless, noseless faces, raising handless arms in entreaty and gurgling weird sounds from tongueless throats. The disease was so repulsive that its victims, banished from their villages or cities, had to live apart in lonely, loathsome places. Their dress and appearance showed that they were lepers, since they were forbidden to comb their hair, and their garments had to be torn.
The ten lepers had heard of Jesus, for the startling news that He had cured hundreds, not once failing to restore health, had made its way even to their vile huts, dirty caves, and tattered tents. No wonder these ten diseased wretches eagerly awaited the Savior’s coming and greeted Him, as soon as they beheld Him approaching from the distance, with the plea, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
No appeal like that ever remained unanswered by the Savior. Others might hastily pass these sufferers or answer them with a snarling curse, but not Christ! He was always an unfailing Friend to the lonely and afflicted. Before the lepers could form their pointed request: “O Jesus, heal us from this terrifying scourge! Cleanse us!” the blessed Savior had provided for their cure. He called out to them, “Go show yourselves unto the priests,” since it was required that every leper who believed himself healed had to receive a certification of his cure. Without a moment’s hesitation, the ten tortured men started off; and hardly had they begun their hurried march into the village, when by a miracle that only God could perform new life began to course through their veins, the leprous scabs and sores disappeared, the consuming disease was stopped. They were completely restored.
The same almighty, all-merciful Savior has lost none of His curing power. Today is “Shut-in Sunday,” dedicated to the more than 4,000,000 temporary or permanent invalids within our borders. Think of their burdens! Many of them are tortured by unrelieved pain. Crippled, paralyzed, they cannot begin to take care of themselves but must live from the kindness of others. Weak and infirm of body, they are unable to attend church or behold nature’s beauty. Day after day, as they find themselves surrounded by the same four walls, their feeling of utter helplessness increases. This year our hearts should be moved especially by a new group of shut-ins, our disabled soldiers. When people read, for example, that 1,135 of our men were wounded at Attu, many glance over this dispatch without further thought of the agonies these injured men endure. Warfare is more destructive today than ever before; and if we could see all the wounded, blind, crippled, and realize that they fought and bled for us, assuredly we would count it a sacred privilege to encourage and sustain them.
Where can these sufferers find hope? What is the personal message that Shut-in Sunday should bring them—or have they no definite hope? Are they simply victims of cruel chance, who must exist in misery until the end graciously comes and then disappear forever? God forbid! Listen closely, my burdened friends! For heavenly sympathy in your pain, for the constant companionship of One who “sticketh closer than a brother,” for love that will not let you go, for unfailing guidance through the deepest darkness of your distress, for unwavering confidence that can dry your tears, look to the Lord Jesus, God’s Son, your Redeemer! When you trust Him entirely and believe with all your heart that He endured the agonies of the crucifixion to guarantee your redemption, you have the one promise which can sustain you throughout long, weary years of increasing pain or, should it be God’s will, during the anguish of approaching death.
On this Shut-in Sunday you will receive much sympathy and encouragement. You will be told: “Conquer your sorrows!” “Develop a heroic spirit!” “Strengthen your own powers of resistance!” “Look for the best!” “Strive after cheerfulness!” but deep in your hearts you know that these are all empty words unless they are fortified by divine power. Thank God, here in Christ’s mercy you have heavenly strength! If you have become embittered; if you wonder why you have been singled out to suffer; if, as some of you write, you are losing your reliance on the Almighty since He has not heard you, let this be a blessed day as you turn to Christ and learn these glorious, heaven-sent truths: First of all, when you have accepted Jesus as your Savior, whatever your sickness or injury may be; however weak and worn you are by age or infirmity, you can have the confident assurance that God has permitted these sorrows to beset you because He loves you; that each moment of crushing anguish, as contradictory as this seems to your limited reason, is but the evidence of His unfailing devotion to you. “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth,” the Scriptures remind us. It is not human theory, but positive, divine truth that, if illness or accident has overtaken you, as one of the eternally redeemed, your Father will use this affliction to strengthen you spiritually, to make you a more faithful follower of the Savior. Who knows what might have happened if you had been allowed to live your lives undisturbed by sickness, unbroken by reverses? You might now be on the road to hell. If the Father had not checked your health and prosperity, some of you would have become so self-reliant that you would have turned against Him and spurned your Savior. Because your souls were too precious in Jesus’ sight to be lost, the Lord let you come down on sickbeds that you might take valuable, soul-strengthening time, to consider what He has done for you. Hundreds of people, in various sections of the country, weakened by the most excruciating agonies, have written me that God has used the months and years of their sickness and pain to make them strong spiritually and to give the Savior a far greater place in their lives than He ever had before.
Again, many of you have been overtaken by illness, so that, fortified by faith, you can bring the message of Christ’s redeeming love to others. We have a blind friend who transcribes our messages into Braille (let me remind you sightless listeners that we will be happy to send you special literature in almost any raised-letter system you may use) and who has learned to thank God for depriving her of her sight. She feels that now she can do much more than she might have otherwise in spreading the message of the Savior’s love. All you shut-ins can become powerful preachers of patience, trust, resignation. In Marietta, Georgia, the “Sunshine Man” tells me that, although he has been confined to his bed for sixteen years and for the last ten years has been unable to move any part of his body, he daily tries to bring others cheer. In Montgomery, Alabama, a Christian woman who has endured pain for many years has also done much to spread Christ’s sustaining comfort. She writes: “Just keep on teaching and preaching the blood of Jesus as long as you live! I write to people all over the United States and Canada, and they ask me, ‘Why are you so happy when you are confined to your room all the time?’ My only answer is, ‘Because I have Jesus with me to lead me on, to comfort me.’”
Dark and lonely hours will come to you even when you believe; but then you have the radiant assurance that, trusting the Savior, you need never be alone; His promise, “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world!” is the heavenly guarantee that He will come to you, banish all loneliness, and watch at your side though all others may forsake you. Jesus spent more time with the sick and suffering than He did with any other class of humanity, and today He has thoughts of love for you.
Even more: Jesus can repeat His miracle of healing. Believe unquestioningly that no disease is too difficult for Him, no sickness too long and desperate to be cured if He, the world’s Savior, wills it. We should give Christ a more decisive place in modern medicine and surgery, realizing, as some of the world’s most celebrated physicians have acknowledged, that God alone is the great Healer and medical specialists but His human instruments. Among the most arrogant, and therefore most pitiable, of all men are atheist, infidel doctors, who despite their highly technical knowledge and their intricate study of the human body refuse to recognize the Almighty and ascribe their achievements to themselves. How different the attitude of Christian physicians who always invoke divine help, insisting that prayers are as essential as prescriptions, faith in the Bible as necessary as reliance on textbooks!
As I ask you medical men to accord the Lord His place in the sick chamber and the operating room, emphasizing that the Savior has lost none of His power to help and heal, I also warn you, the shut-in friends, against accepting the counsel of those who tell you to forget your doctor and medicine and who promise that they can cure you miraculously. Not a word of Scripture says that physicians are unnecessary, and so much fraud has been attached to the work of faith healers that their claims should be regarded with suspicion. Only last week a listener wrote that at a large faith-healing meeting a woman saw her maid, otherwise strong and healthy, come to the platform with crutches, to be cured—supposedly—on the spot and throw her crutches away.—Inquiry revealed that the woman received five dollars every time she practiced this deceit.—While I will defend with all my power the truth that Jesus can heal you, I will just as emphatically deny any one the right to insist that He must heal you or that certain persons have full power to cure. Put your whole trust in Christ! He knows what is best for you. If He restores your health, show your gratitude by walking closely with the Savior for the rest of your days. Should He permit you to linger on your sickbed, pray for the grace to say, “Thy will be done,” and to know in unshaken confidence that your suffering is for your eternal good, that the affliction you endure is to prepare you for the better land, where there shall be no more anguish! Look to your Savior for strength; as His love lessens your pain and builds your trust, you will know beyond question that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us”!
Though you have never been physically sick and you feel strong, you have an inner disease far more disastrous even than loathsome leprosy. You are suffering from sin’s curse. No human remedy can stop that treacherous cancer which destroys both body and soul. But Jesus came down from heaven to destroy the power of sin. Yet He did not remove your transgressions, as He healed the lepers, merely by a word. He had to satisfy the demand of divine justice that every sin committed by every sinner throughout long and corrupt centuries be fully atoned. Only in one way could that fearful, humanly impossible payment be made—by the Son of God’s self-sacrifice on Calvary’s cross. There, my fellow redeemed, He died for you. What question, therefore, could be more direct and necessary than this: “Are you thankful to Christ?”
YOU HAVE OFTEN REFUSED TO THANK CHRIST
Before you answer, see what happened when by that astonishing miracle the offensive disease left and the ten lepers were completely cured! What intense joy must have gripped these sufferers when they felt themselves cleansed, saw the ugly blotches of leprosy disappear, found their body whole and healthy! They were new men with opportunity and happiness greater than they had ever dared to hope. We should expect that as fast as they could, they would run back to the Lord, offering Him anything He might ask. Instead, however, nine of the ten men failed to return to Christ. They sent Him no word of gratitude. They forgot Him completely. A few moments before they had pleaded, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” A few moments later they were too preoccupied to say even, “‘Jesus, Master,’ we thank Thee!”
Pained by this thanklessness, our Lord says, “‘Where are the nine’ who were cleansed?” Today, too, we can almost hear the same sorrow in His voice as He beholds our marvelously blessed nation and asks: “Where is the thankful America? Where are the grateful homes that praise God for His mercies? Where are the appreciative young people who know what I, their Savior, have done for them? Where are believing fathers and mothers who are on their knees before the Lord? Where is the mighty coast-to-coast chorus of 135,000,000 Americans exalting the cross, the blood, the Gospel grace of salvation?” The Almighty has blessed us as the citizens of no other nation. War’s horror has not touched our shores. We have fewer casualties than our allies. The food supply in this country, despite rationing, is unquestionably more ample than in any other part of the world. Besides these material blessings, we enjoy individual and national liberties which the rest of the world can regard only with awe and amazement.
How have we acknowledged these unparalleled benefits? Have we raised a continuous, country-wide hymn of praise to the great and glorious God? ff every American would spend an hour each day on his knees in earnest prayer to the Lord, even that devotion would be far too small worthily to express our indebtedness to divine mercy for the overflowing bounty which Heaven has granted us. Yet to our dismay we see deep-rooted ingratitude throughout the land. Unbelievers are on the increase. The basis of our Christian faith is systematically attacked. Only recently a radio commentator published a so-called new Bible (which sells for five dollars a copy) in which the precious name of Jesus Christ is blasphemed, the Savior’s deity ridiculed, the atonement rejected, the message of the saving blood opposed, and the promise of salvation through faith swept aside. That false, treacherous book, masquerading under the title of the Bible, is only one of hundreds of volumes published every year to discredit the eternal truth of our redemption. Behind these books is a system of pagan culture which leaves no room for the Almighty, proudly insists that man must be his own savior, and confidently predicts that we shall win this war by our own might. A most disturbing factor in the present crisis is this, that too many leaders in American business, society, government, professional life, are without Christ or against Him; that despite their irreligion they are hailed as men and women of the hour.
We must fight this thankless tendency by doing everything we can to lead America to a repentant knowledge of its unspeakable indebtedness to God. Our missionary forces should be multiplied many times to warn our countrymen against the awful curse which ingratitude has laid on vast empires, their proud pillars now covered with deep debris. We must bring America back to God in Christ.
Of more personal importance than national ingratitude is the question I direct to every one of you in the Savior’s name: “Are you thankful to Christ? Or are you like the ungrateful nine lepers, who, after Jesus had restored their health, turned away from Him?” Here is the marvelous mercy which our Lord offers you: First, Jesus loved you despite your transgressions, your willful spurning of His grace, your rejecting the good and choosing the evil, your stubborn rebellion against God. With a devotion surpassing the love of friend for friend, of patriot for country, of husband for wife and wife for husband, of mother for child and child for mother; He cherished you though you hated Him. Second, He, the Son of God, atoned fully for your sins, shed His own lifeblood to redeem you, died to remove all your sins—the secret transgressions and the open vices, the small selfish mistakes, the scarlet and shrieking iniquities. Third, He freed you forever from the tyranny of hell. Fourth, He defeated eternal death for you and by His own Easter victory gave you the assurance of your resurrection unto life eternal. Fifth, He protected you in many dangers when unknowingly you faced disaster, even death. If He would withdraw His protecting hand, none of us would be alive this moment. Sixth, when human help is of no avail, He wants to enrich you with comfort, hope, peace, and rest. Seventh, He can turn all afflictions, bodily, mental, and spiritual, into advantages and blessings for your soul. Eighth, He offers you rebirth into a new existence, the strength to resist temptation, and the power to walk in His footsteps. Ninth, He has given you everything good and helpful in your life, all the material benefits you enjoy. Tenth, He offers you these miracles of His love by His mercy. You are saved freely, by grace! Eleventh, He assures you of all this without question or condition, without any “perhaps” or “maybe.” Twelfth, Jesus has ascended to heaven and, sitting on the right hand of God the Father, intercedes for those who are His. He grants them His constant companionship in every hour of trial and makes “all things work together for good.”
As you hear the invitation of this mercy, ask yourselves before God, “Have I thanked the Savior who gave Himself for me?” If even the world heaps scorn on the ingrate who forgets his benefactor, on the traitor who turns against his country, what will the Almighty say of you if, saved from eternal ruin, you continue to reject your Rescuer and Redeemer? The reason many of you have met with repeated reverses is to be found in the tragedy that you are leading thankless, thoughtless lives, with no time for Him, no prayer to your heavenly Father except self-centered requests, no honor for Him who died for you. The message you need, the pleading which I pray the Spirit will bless in your heart, tells every one of you: “Learn to think of Christ and thank Him! Approach Him in repentance over your stubborn pride, your selfish ingratitude! Kneel before Him to implore His forgiveness, to secure His pardon and the love required to praise Him daily for His immeasurable mercy!” If you do not acknowledge Jesus on this earth, how can you expect Him to acknowledge you in heaven? His own warning is unmistakable, “Whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven.” God prevent you from being condemned by denial!
YOU HAVE THE PROMISE OF BLESSING WHEN YOU THANK CHRIST
Only one of the ten lepers went back to Christ after he had been healed; and he, as our text particularly records, “was a Samaritan,” an outcast, while the other nine were our Savior’s own countrymen. So it is today. The spiritually underprivileged and the burdened are often more appreciative of the Savior’s love than those who have grown up in the churches. Some of the most encouraging letters we receive are from those recently won for Jesus. When we contrast their zeal with the indifference of many who call themselves Christians, but spend far more time playing cards in parish halls than worshiping Christ and working for Him, we can understand how real the danger is that the Gospel may be taken away from the smugly self-satisfied and given to those hungering and thirsting after righteousness.
The Samaritan, a member of a mixed-breed race, from whom sell-respecting Jews kept their distance, did not wait until he had shown himself to the priest. He “turned back and with a loud voice glorified God and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks.” I beseech you, follow this Samaritan’s humility and gratitude! For the Savior gladly accepted that despised man’s devotion, just as He recognizes no class, caste, or color distinction today, and the white man, the black man, the red man, the yellow man, all without discrimination, are welcomed into His kingdom. Looking down tenderly on the man who never before had received a smile of encouragement from an Israelite, Jesus tells him, “Arise, go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole!”
Linger for a moment on these words, “Thy faith hath made thee whole”! He had been doubly healed, cured of his leprosy and cleansed of his sin. That inner healing, the greater miracle, was wrought not by the Samaritan’s good works or good intentions, by payment or contribution, by superior merit or above-the-average worthiness, but by the simple, trusting faith which worshiped Jesus as His Savior. Through nineteen sin-bound centuries until this June Sunday the crucified but now gloriously risen and ascended Redeemer has constantly repeated the same assurance, “Thy faith hath made thee whole.” With the yearning of His deep love He now would have me tell you that you are saved not through church or family connection, not by your character and accomplishments, not by long prayer and impressive ritual, not by fastings and pilgrimages, not by believing parents and church-building grandparents, not by congregation offices or religious society memberships, not by a social gospel or an ethical gospel, not by self-denial and self-torture. Thank God, all this uncertainty has been removed! You and I are saved only, but wholly and eternally, by grace, through faith in the full, free, final, finished mercies of the Lord Jesus.
Have you thanked Christ for this compassion? Have you lived a life of daily gratitude for the glorious pardon which makes you free? As you confess your thanklessness, selfishness, lack of appreciation for His love, may you, the sick and invalid confined to your rooms; you, the wounded and injured in our military hospitals; you, the men and women of our widespread armed forces; you, the workers in our defense industries; you, the young and the old on the nation’s vital home front, all of you, be given the courage and confidence of faith required to raise your hand in this oath of undying allegiance: “O Jesus, Redeemer of my soul, I thank Thee with every fiber of my being for the mercy, the self-sacrifice on the cross, that redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature. Gratefully I accept the cleansing granted by Thy blood. Humbly I pledge myself to live with the Spirit’s help in gratitude for Thy grace. So help me God!” As you give yourselves to Christ, listen! From the Savior’s endless, ageless love comes this promise of pardon and peace, life and light, heaven and eternal happiness, “Thy faith hath made thee whole!” The Lord strengthen you to believe it! Amen!
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.