What does gratitude look like? What does it mean to be thankful? First of all, there needs to be a recipient. You can’t give thanks to the air, or to an inanimate object. If you are grateful, it is to Someone! To get an idea of what true Thanks-giving looks like, this morning I’d like us to read and consider two fascinating stories from God’s Word.
Isaiah 6 Gratitude for experiencing God’s redemption
In the year of King Uzziah’s death…
During the time of the Divided Monarchy (Israel in the North, Judah in the South), with so much civil unrest, kings didn’t usually last very long. Yet one Judean monarch, named Uzziah, ruled for 52 years! During that same period of time, Israel in the north went through seven kings! One of them lasted only a month before being assassinated! So, imagine having one very good, wise ruler, not just for 4 or 8 years, but 52 years! You can appreciate, then, the stability and prosperity that the Southern Kingdom of Judah enjoyed. Uzziah truly was one of Judea’s finest kings.
Uzziah was loved and appreciated by the people. We’re told in 2 Chronicles 26 that he did right in the sight of God and continued to seek the Lord, and that God caused him to prosper. Uzziah was very industrious. During his reign many improvements took place in the nation. He subdued the Philistines and re-captured two of their key cities: Ashdod and Gath. He also recaptured Yavneh (modern-day Tiberias) and Eilat. He built towers around the wall of Jerusalem and fortified the walls. He assembled an elite army of over 300,000 valiant soldiers. No army could stand against Israel in those days. He commissioned the building of cisterns and towers in the outer villages and cultivated large herds and flocks. Uzziah was wise and planned ahead, and his fame spread across the entire Middle East region!
But he wasn’t perfect. At one point, after all the military victories, King Uzziah became arrogant, walked into the Beit HaMikdash (the Temple), and attempted to offer incense there, even though he wasn’t a kohayn (priest). God struck him with leprosy for such presumption, and he spent the rest of his life as a leper, living in isolation, his son Jotham ruling in his place. But because of all he had done for the people, and on account of his long and prosperous reign, you can see why Uzziah was appreciated, and understand the grief that the nation felt at his death. But you see, Israel had an infinitely greater King – One who lives forever. Isaiah wrote,
In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord…
It’s hard to imagine anyone more faithful than Yeshayahu – Isaiah, the ancient Jewish prophet. In his own day, Isaiah was arguably the most righteous man on earth. He is considered by many to have been the greatest of all the ancient Israeli prophets. In fact, the New Testament writers quoted Isaiah more than all the other prophets combined.
Isaiah had access to the royal palace. He enjoyed a personal rapport with King Hezekiah. Judah’s better kings valued his godly counsel and obeyed God’s word through him. On the other hand, Judah’s bad kings felt threatened by him and despised him, because to the wicked kings God’s word through him was one of judgment. Isaiah lived about 700 years before Yeshua, and his generation was characterized by a downward moral spiral in Israel. Against this backdrop of national wickedness, the prophet has a vision of the throne room in Heaven.
…I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two each one covered his face and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh, Adonai Tz’vaot, m’lo chol haAretz Kvodo – Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole Earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations and the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called out, while the Temple was filling with smoke.
Isaiah didn’t see God in all His glory. He wouldn’t have survived it, since God told Moses centuries earlier that no man could see Him and live. Yet, even in this brief, limited encounter with Adonai, the prophet was overwhelmed. The voice of just one of those Seraphim was enough to make the entire Temple shake! So we can understand just how terrified Isaiah must have felt. It is expressed in his cry…
Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
This perfectly illustrates the folly of trying to compare ourselves with one another spiritually. I think it’s safe to say that none of us measure up to the godliness, the courage or the dedication of the righteous prophet Isaiah. And if he saw himself as desperately sinful, where does that leave the rest of us? You see, the standard of righteousness isn’t the guy in the next pew, but God Himself. And we would all have to say right along with the prophet, “Woe is me!”. And this is the dilemma – the Bad News, as it were:
- Infinite holiness and sinful humanity cannot occupy the same space
- Our very best efforts, our own righteousness, falls lethally short
- We stand in desperate need of atonement
Nothing is written about Isaiah having committed sin or bearing any iniquity, but Scripture regards it as axiomatic that sinfulness is the default human condition, resulting from Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the Garden of Eden. Even if Isaiah’s sin isn’t named, in the presence of infinite holiness, he felt it keenly. He knew he deserved to die. Gratefully, the vision doesn’t end there. Mercy and forgiveness are about to be shown to him. And this is where we have a picture of the Good News.
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”
Gratefully, this is a vision, and the red-hot coal was symbolic, so Isaiah’s lips weren’t singed. That would have been painful! But this exchange is an expression of God’s wondrous grace and forgiveness. As Adonai affirmed to Moses, He really is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love and truth.
Imagine the overwhelming wave of relief Isaiah experienced when he heard those words! If you have embraced faith in Yeshua, you know what that feels like – the immense joy of being forgiven and brought into an eternal relationship with God and of knowing your name is written in the Book of Life. It fills you with love and gratitude. Such knowledge transforms a human being, and it translates into action, as we see in Isaiah’s reaction in the next verse.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
An appropriate response to overwhelming mercy and deliverance is gratitude and a desire to do something tangible to express your appreciation. No sooner was Isaiah declared forgiven than he jumped at the chance to do something to serve Adonai. It’s embodied in the very special Hebrew word Hineni – “Here I am!” A word that expresses your availability to Him, and your eagerness to do His will.
Mark 5 Gratitude for experiencing God’s rescue
They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Yeshua got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
This encounter took place right after Yeshua calmed the storm on the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) as they crossed at night. The first thing we need to know is just how dismal it was on the eastern shore. You may recall from the words of chapter 9 of Isaiah, that the Galilee was already looked upon with contempt. They called it “Galilee of the Goyim”. But even to rough-and-tumble Galileans, the area around the eastern shore, especially the Gerasenes, was a place you wouldn’t want to find yourself stranded without a cell phone. Matthew refers to the area by a similar name, the Gadarenes (Gerasa and Gadara were 2 of the 10 cities there), and notes that there were two dangerous demon-possessed men. Mark focuses on the one who ran to Yeshua, rather than away from Him. In any case, this horribly demon-possessed man reflects the spiritual pall that hung over that region. God’s light had not yet penetrated the Decapolis – the 10 Cities. Contrary to Jewish law, and contrary to common sense, he lived among the tombs. The demons living in him gave him superhuman strength, but also tormented him.
When he saw Yeshua from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of Him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Yeshua, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” For Yeshua had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!” Then Yeshua asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Yeshua again and again not to send them out of the area.
The man came running to Yeshua, but I’ll bet the demons inside him were trying to get him to run in the other direction. As he fell to his knees at Yeshua’s feet, it was a demon who cried out – apparently the spokesperson for a host of demons that had taken up residence in this poor guy. A Roman Legion consisted of 6,000 soldiers. That doesn’t mean there were precisely 6,000 demons in him – just that there were a lot!
But notice that they recognized who Yeshua was – calling Him the Son of the Most High God. Some scholars suggest they were not honoring Him; but trying to invoke His precise name, according to the belief that if you pronounced a person’s name precisely, you could take authority over them. That wasn’t about to happen. Notice too that they recognized His authority over them. Yeshua was commanding them to come out of the man, and they were desperately trying to negotiate with Him.
A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Yeshua, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened.
Demons apparently find it tormenting when they are unable to inhabit a body of some kind. Their preference would be a human body. If they can take up residence in a human, they can use that person’s mind and body for their dark purposes. From a comparison with Matthew’s account, they negotiated with Yeshua that He not immediately send them to the abyss, but at least allow them to go into a nearby herd of pigs. He consented, and no sooner did the demons enter the pigs than the pigs drowned themselves – probably the demons were hoping to flee at that point and seek human hosts elsewhere. Word of this got to town quickly, and everyone hurried out to see what happened. And the scene that awaited them was remarkable.
When they came to Yeshua, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man– and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Yeshua to leave their region.
Perhaps it was out of fear of Yeshua’s power and authority, or out of resentment that the death of the pigs represented a huge financial loss; in any case, the citizens of that town begged Yeshua to leave. What a tragic decision on their part! First of all, they had nothing to fear from Him. And, secondly, how do you measure the worth of a man? Here was this formerly violent, tormented soul, now sitting there calmly, dressed and in his right mind. Isn’t he worth more than a herd of pigs?
But it is the man’s response that is what is our focus this morning.
As Yeshua was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Yeshua did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Yeshua had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
The people of the town begged Yeshua to leave. This man begged Yeshua to let him accompany Him. What a contrast! And who can blame that man? After being set free from so many years of torment, out of deep gratitude, wouldn’t you want to stay right by the side of the One who rescued you? Wouldn’t you want to follow Him, learn from Him, serve Him?
But Yeshua had other plans for this man. So remarkable a deliverance was this, that by returning home and testifying to the wonderful grace of God in his life, many more people would become disciples of Yeshua and experience salvation, and the light of the Lord would spread in this once-dark, demonic region. What I appreciate is the obedience and zeal with which the man complied. I’m sure he was disappointed at not being allowed to go with Messiah Yeshua, but his obedience proved his love for Him.
Do you recognize that Yeshua rescued you? You may not have had a legion of demons tormenting you day and night, but you and I were every bit as lost in unbelief and in desperate need as was this Galilean Jew. In the blinding light of the infinite holiness of God, even righteous Isaiah saw his desperate plight and need of forgiveness. And when he received it, he wanted to express his gratitude by doing God’s bidding. The righteous prophet and the demon-possessed man each experienced the grace of God, and each responded with love and obedience. So, let me boil it down to this, as we continue to enjoy a long Thanksgiving weekend:
Because I am grateful for what Yeshua has done…
I want to serve Him
I want to follow Him
I want to tell everyone about Him!
So… what are you waiting for?