Thanksgiving Sermon: What Faith Is and What Faith Does

Thanksgiving (610x351)Our Old Testament reading had with these words: “Keep the commands of the Lord your God by walking in His ways and fearing Him.” So, how’s that going for you? How well are you keeping them, His Commandments, the Ten Words that God gave to Moses to give to the people of Israel?

So let’s take a look. And then we find out and are reminded once more that we don’t cherish them as we should. And so, we don’t live them out in our lives as we should.

The Ten Words of our Lord: Their simplicity is sharp as polished steel. But because we cannot live them out without failing in one way or the other, they cut and expose the leprosy of our sin. They unmask the truth of who we are: We are not well and still in need of healing.

Those ten words from God show how He wants us live as His people, for He has made us His own when He rescued us from sin and death. But because we can’t do what God expects, those ten words expose the sickness within us all.

But is it that hard? Honor your father and mother? We can do that. Love your spouse and do not lust after others? That makes sense. Tell the truth; don’t steal or covet what isn’t yours? Yes, that’s a good way to be and live. And even believe in God and love Him? Or course!

These rules aren’t unreasonable. And when we are at our best, we follow those rules quite well. But why don’t we always–and fully–follow those ten words from God. Why is it that we fail so miserably and so often? Are we that weak and foolish that we make such self-destroying decisions? Yes.

Even worse, at times, we have chosen to step into sin, hoping somehow to escape our weary existence. We have catered to an intoxication of the soul. We want to forget who we are, wanting to forget both our failures and our responsibilities.

And here’s where it gets crazier. We know that we will regret such choices later. And yet we make them–if only to forget for a little while, if only to escape, knowing that we will have to pay the reaper all the more, at some later time.

We have lashed out like a drowning man at the half-promise of a passing pleasure, seeking to take from God what He would’ve gladly given us in His own way and time. And what we have to show for it is pain, sorrow, and shame. We find ourselves with a lifetime full of poor choices, haunting us when we look honestly at the darkness that we try to hide from ourselves, from others, even from God.

And so our cry to heaven must not be for justice or fair treatment under the Law. To ask for that is simply to ask for Hell. Our cry, then, must become a plea for mercy, for undeserved pardon, for a redemption with someone else’s blood–the blood of Jesus.

Let us learn from those lepers who stood far off and prayed to Jesus, to God in the Flesh, for mercy. Let us boldly cry out to the One, who loved us so deeply that He took into Himself our lies, our failures, our excuses, our sins. In love, He chose to suffer and die in our place, for our sins, to give us mercy. Let our plea echo that of the lepers: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

Ah, the sweet mercy from the Almighty! Was there ever Love like this? Was there ever a reprieve so beautiful for criminals so drenched in guilt? Was there ever a God who entered His creation in full mutiny to let them kill Him for their own sins—and by doing do, they would go free, be clean, and become whole? Yes! Mercy is what the lepers prayed for and needed. And mercy is what our Lord gave them.

But they didn’t know it, not at first. Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests. And as they were going, with pieces of rotting skin falling off as they went, then, suddenly, they discovered that Jesus had healed them. Then, they knew His mercy!

But before they knew with their arms, hands, and eyes, they went at His Word. Without proof or evidence, they went at His Word. And His Word was what they needed to be rid of the decaying flesh that made them so despicable, unclean, and dying in their skin.

Tonight, those ten lepers teach us to cry for mercy and take Jesus at His Word. Tonight, we learn to seek no proof or evidence, but live by faith. All ten received mercy. They received a full reprieve from the guilt of their sin. They received a fresh washing in grace that they could never earn, a healing rescue from certain death. All ten, one for each of the ten words from God, received mercy.

But only one, and he an outsider, returned to praise Jesus, God in the Flesh. He didn’t just offer a silent prayer in his mind to a far-away God for the good that he had received. No, he went to where he had found mercy. He went to God in the Flesh!

Earlier, when he prayed for mercy, he was unclean. He cried out from a distance. But then, after being cleansed and receiving mercy, he was bold to approach this God-in-the-flesh soon to be crucified. He came to worship Jesus, praising Him for the life that Jesus had restored to him, glorifying Jesus for the mercy He had given.

Tonight, we learn from that one leper what faith is and what faith does. Faith receives God’s mercy. But faith does more than that: Faith comes back for more with thanksgiving and praise! It cannot get enough. The faith given us is not just thankful–oh, it is that–but it is also more. It is hungry!

Like the leper who returned, faith yearns for the One thing needed, the One thing that satisfies, the One thing that makes you righteous–Jesus Christ. Only Jesus heals the leprosy of sin that infects you in both body and soul with His wholeness of His body and soul. Faith wants what God gives–forgiveness, new life, rest, hope, love, peace, and eternal healing! And it’s all freely given to you from Jesus.

Jesus cleansed all ten, giving life and limb to their fallen flesh. But only one returned to worship. And in His return, we also learn the truth about worship.

It is true: The leper returned to thank and praise Jesus. But it’s then that we learn from Jesus what happens when we come running back to Him. The leper came to thank Jesus, but Jesus gave him more.

That’s what happens in worship. Faith runs to where Jesus is, where He says He will be. And we run to Jesus because we are so thankful for who He is and what He does. But Jesus needs nothing from us. But we, on the other hand, need everything from Him. And it’s then in worship that the reality about Jesus take on full force: “He did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for the many” (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45).

Jesus came to serve, to buy us back from death, and to restore us to health–all so we could live with Him as His beloved and spotless Bride. That’s the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel: We become Christ’s own and live with Him in blessedness forever.

Did you hear what Jesus told the leper? He said, “Your faith has made you well.” Where did the leper get the faith that made him well? He got that faith from the same place he got his physical healing–Jesus. The physical healing pointed forward to the spiritual healing that Jesus gives. When the leper returned, he received more of what Jesus had to give him: he received faith that made him well.

And so, tonight, we discover another truth from that blessed leper. Faith and Jesus cannot be separated. The faith that Jesus gives leads us back to Jesus, to receive only what Jesus can give. Jesus and the faith that He gives come together. Without faith, you don’t have Jesus; without Jesus, you don’t have faith.

And so, dear saints loved by God, you have come to the right place to receive Jesus. You are receiving Jesus, right now, through the Spirit that He promised to send to His Church as the Word of Jesus pierces your eardrums to enter your heart. On Sunday, you will receive Jesus Himself in His body and blood.

Indeed, Jesus and the faith that He gives you, has made you well, eternally well. And, like that blessed leper, how can you not be thankful for Jesus and the gifts that He gives you? Amen.