By: Sean Harris
No group of people on the face of the planet, without regard to gender, ethnicity or any other attribute that distinguishes one human from another, should be more characterized by a spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving than those who have been saved by the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
If what we believe is true (and it is), then no one has more to be thankful for on a regular and consistent basis than we who, by God’s grace, believe the truth. We are the recipients of God’s grace. While that sentence is short and concise, the implications are anything but short and concise.
We, like Noah in Genesis 6, have found favor in God’s eyes. If you are reading this and know that you have been born again as described by Jesus in John 3, then you are part of the “we” who have been recipients of God’s grace. You got what you did not earn or deserve. Anyone who has ever been caught speeding by a law enforcement officer understands what grace is and hopes to receive it. Running late and a bit more over the speed limit than you normally go, you find yourself pushing the envelope on the way to work. You can’t be late again. So you press down just a bit more on the pedal until you hear and see all the evidence needed to know you have been caught speeding. Those blue lights flashing in the rearview mirror alert you to the reality that you were speeding. You are guilty. You have violated the speed limit. As good of a person as you are (just yesterday you served at the homeless shelter), you are guilty of breaking the law. But at this moment what you really want is grace and lots of it. You roll down the window, you have your registration and driver’s license out and your hands on the steering wheel where the officer can see them both and let down her guard just a bit. (It was just a few weeks ago that a state trooper was shot to death after approaching a car for a routine traffic stop, so you know tensions are high.) Fully knowing you are guilty does not keep you from hoping for grace and mercy. You address the officer with all the appropriate courtesies; perhaps she will be merciful. She returns to the patrol car and you pray and hope for forbearance. She has the authority to write you a ticket but she doesn’t have to. She can be merciful. But will she?
As she returns to the car you hope for the best. Your heart is beating a little faster than normal. You have braced yourself for the ticket. You rehearsed in your mind what you are going to tell your spouse but there is always hope. Perhaps she will be gracious. She seems pleasant and her mood is good behind all the professionalism. She gives back your registration and license and you wait to hear the verdict. She reminds you that you were going 8 miles over the speed limit and gives you a warning. A warning! Immediately a spirit of gratitude overwhelms you. You stammer, “Thank you, thank you very much.” At this moment, you feel more appreciation for law enforcement officers than you have in a long time. Quickly you start the car back up and slowly merge back into the traffic on the way to work but your mood is different. You have something to be thankful for and it impacts your spirit and attitude all morning long. Words of appreciation flow more readily from your mouth as you realize you were a recipient of grace.
As we approach the annual season of compulsory thankfulness, we must not lose sight of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus our Lord through His death, burial and resurrection. The Apostle Paul writes, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.” He describes the “immeasurable riches of God’s grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:4-9). How is it that we are often guilty of being more thankful for not getting a speeding ticket than being saved from the eternal penalty of separation from God’s love?
Two thousand years ago, Jesus healed ten lepers of a dreadful skin disease that made one’s life utterly miserable. All ten were healed. All ten were told to show themselves to the priest to confirm their healing. Luke writes “as they went they were cleansed” (Luke 17:14) like us who have been cleansed from our sins and washed in the blood of Jesus Christ (Rev 1:5). Yet only one returned to thank Jesus (v. 16). At which point Jesus makes a big deal of the reality that only one returned to express gratitude. Only one. And the reader is left to ask himself, Would I have been the one to return and give thanks? When the world embraces a season of thanksgiving, let us who have found favor in the eyes of the Lord and been placed in the ark of salvation offer to God the sacrifices of praise and may the fruit of our lips continually give thanks beyond the season (Heb 13:15).
Sean Harris is senior pastor at Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville