The Great Thanksgiving

November 19, 2006 / No. 3333

Dear radio friends,

     This week Thursday our nation will celebrate its annual Thanksgiving Day.

     What is Thanksgiving?  What is Thanksgiving for a Christian?

     Thanksgiving is an overwhelming sense of joy and gratitude to God for His saving grace to me, an unworthy sinner.  Then, to thank God out of that for everything.

     I would like to give you three examples of Thanksgiving taken from the events of our Lord’s ministry.  I will put them in a more modern context.  As I explain these events to you, I would ask you to answer two questions.  The first question will be simple.  Which one is an example of true thanksgiving?  The next question is this (perhaps a little harder):  Which one is true of you?

     The first example brings us to a temple.  A man who is noted as being a great worshiper of God has entered into this temple.  The temple has massive oak doors and a marble floor.  And there are many worshipers coming and going on this day.  It is Thanksgiving Day.  The man we are talking about is well dressed.  He has a very long and flowing robe.  And he occupies the central place of the temple.  In the presence of all he spreads forth his hands and he says the words:  “I thank thee that I am not as other men are—not like this tax-collector (whom he sees out of the corner of his eye).  That I’m not like those other men who are thieves, lazy, and adulterers.  I’m a notch up.  Look at all that I’ve done for God this year.  I thank thee that I’m the kind of man that I am.”

     As he leaves this temple, the wind blows as the doors open.  And his breast is exposed.  And we see a heart of stone.

     The second example brings us to the beautiful countryside of southern Indiana.  There are fields of corn and soybeans harvested.  It has been a good year.  And we arrive at a very large farm.  It is actually a complex of buildings and silos.  It has a beautiful long driveway with a white fence and spaced trees along the fence.  As we arrive we see that there is a new barn being built.  It is just begun.

     We come before a bay window and, looking through the window, we see a large gathering of a family.  There is all kinds of noise.  There are children and parents and grandparents.  A table is loaded with the very best.  It is filled with food.  And at the head of the table is a great big brown turkey.  A man is standing up before it with a carving knife in his hand.  He is ready to start carving the turkey when a rather slender and shy woman on his right says, “Dear, shouldn’t we first pray?”  And he says, “Hmm, yes, yes, we should.”

     So he prays.  And, strikingly, on this Thanksgiving Day these are his words.  “Lord, I thank thee for my diligence and my hard work, for my planning and for my foresight.  If others worked as hard as I did, they would succeed too.  I thank thee that all my grain is in all my big barns (and I’m building a bigger one yet).  I’m thankful that my brokers are holding out for the top dollar.  With all these things, I see the day is coming that I am going to be able to take my ease and all shall be well with my soul.  Oh, I thank thee for my industry.  Amen.”

     Then everyone digs into the food.

     Later that night, however, we are told that upstairs in his study, as this man spread the blueprints of his new barn before him, he was suddenly gripped with a heart attack.  Paramedics were summoned to the house.  They did everything humanly possible.  But he died.  And now we hear that his children are in court fighting over his assets.

     The third example brings us to a poor widow.  She lives in a one-room apartment.  She has two daughters.  One has moved out of the country and the other one lives six hundred miles away.  So she will be spending Thanksgiving Day by herself.

     She gets up in the morning as she always does and makes her way to church on Thanksgiving morning.  She has in her purse at the end of this month two five-dollar bills.  Two.  Not one ten-dollar, not one five-dollar, but two five-dollar bills.  The collection plate is passed.  And she reaches into her purse and gives both.

     She returns to her apartment that day for dinner by herself.  And later in the afternoon, around three o’clock, when she is taking out the garbage she slips and falls.  She breaks her hip and cannot get up.  She lies there for a couple of hours until her neighbors find her and she is taken to the hospital.  There the pastor is called to come and visit her.

     He arrives at nine o’clock on Thanksgiving night.  As the nurse shows him into the room with a curtain drawn around her bed, they hear, as if she is singing—yes, she is singing.  She is singing from Psalter 383, a versification of Psalm 139:   “All that I am I owe to Thee.  Thy wisdom, Lord, hath fashioned me.  I give my Maker thankful praise whose wondrous works my soul amaze.”

     And the pastor cannot move, but weeps.

     Which one of the three worshipers of thanksgiving are you?  Which one of the three gave thanks?

     Thanksgiving is rooted in the knowledge of God’s grace to me, an unworthy, hell-bound sinner in Jesus Christ, and therefore thanking God in Jesus Christ for everything, always, and every day.  Is that true of you?

     The apostle Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 1:3:   “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.”  That is Thanksgiving.  That is a wonderful doxology of thanksgiving.  That is profound and rich.

     The epistle that Paul wrote to the Ephesians is not unique in that Paul begins there with a thanksgiving to God.  He does that in all of his other epistles.  It was Paul’s customary method in the beginning of his letters to the different churches to have words of thanksgiving.  But the book of Ephesians is unique in the marvelous richness and fervor of the thanksgiving with which it begins.  In the other epistles the apostle drew the theme of his thanksgiving from the special conditions of those whom he was addressing.  Or, when he thought of certain persons whose faith had been shown in its brilliancy and power.

     For instance, in Philippians, Paul says in the beginning:  “I thank God on every remembrance of you.”  Or, in Colossians, he writes:  “We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you.”

     But here in Ephesians it seems that the apostle’s mind is not upon any particular person.  It is not upon any particular circumstance.  But his mind is thrown back on the great principles of the gospel of grace.  His mind, by the Holy Spirit, is face to face with the grace of God that has brought salvation through Jesus Christ.  With depths of feeling and magnificent statements he details the salvation that is in Jesus Christ.

     He describes, in the opening words of Ephesians (1:1-12), the loving activity of God, the triune God.  Of God the Father planning salvation; God the Son securing salvation; and God the Holy Spirit applying salvation to the heart of the sinner.  Paul traces the salvation that is in Jesus Christ for which he thanks God.  He sees that this salvation has been prepared in a grace of eternal election (vv. 4, 5), “according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:  having predestined us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.”  There Paul thanks God for the preparation of salvation in a gracious decree of election—God choosing out of mere grace whom He will save.  Not because of the work of any man, but out of His own good pleasure and will.

     Then the apostle goes on to say how salvation has been executed or accomplished (vv. 6, 7).  He says, “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved [that’s Christ].  In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”  There Paul sees that we have been accepted of God through the blood-shedding of the beloved Son of God upon the cross.

     And then the apostle goes on to talk about the publication and the application of salvation.  He says that it is by the Holy Spirit that we are now sealed in this salvation, and we have obtained a secure inheritance in salvation through the work of the Spirit in the heart.

     He brings, then, before us in those opening verses of Ephesians the whole salvation in Jesus Christ:  by grace, all of God, from eternity to eternity.  He contemplates the eternal purposes of the loving heart of the Father, the eternal consummation when all things in heaven and in earth will be summed in Christ under one head.  In high doxology, in a splendid and magnificent way, in clear and profound words, Paul sings of the salvation of grace that is come to sinners.

     And he says, “Blessed be God!”

     We ask ourselves this question as we look forward to a Thanksgiving Day:  Are these truths that are brought to the heart and mind of the apostle Paul, causing him to burst out in praise and thanks—“Blessed be God”—are these the truths that are upon your heart and mine?  Do you say “Blessed be God,” no matter your state in life, now?  No matter if the year has been good or bad, whether you have health or sickness, whether there has been life or death.  Do you say, “Blessed be God, the God of matchless glory, who has saved me by grace”?

     To say, “Blessed be God,” means to speak well of God.  It means to extol the worth of God.  It seems that on the apostle Paul’s lips only one word can come out as he thinks of all of these things:  “Blessed, blessed be God!”  Paul blesses God because God has so highly blessed him, so highly favored him with His grace.

     Now, as you contemplate having received the salvation that is in Jesus Christ, when you think of the entire graciousness of it, that it is totally undeserved, the magnitude of it—oh, how great is the salvation that is in Christ.  It is of inconceivable good and glory.  Do you then say today, in your state whatever it may be, “God be thanked, God be praised today”?

     And is that the theme of your life?  Is that the song, the repeated chord:  “Blessed be God”?  It must be.  For when you are brought to experience the saving grace of God, then thankfulness becomes the core of your heart.  Whether today, for the most part, everything goes your way; whether today there is a heartache, a weariness, a pain; or whether you stand in sunshine or in clouds:  Blessed be God.

     He hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.  I say again, it is as if the apostle Paul’s heart is running away with him.  He says, not only has God blessed us, but He has blessed us with all spiritual blessings, in the heavenlies, in Christ Jesus.  Paul seems to be piling it up.  They are spiritual blessings.  They are not vanishing, earthly, tarnished blessings.  But they are enduring, spiritual, glowing blessings.

     All spiritual blessings.  You cannot begin to count them.  Blessings of forgiveness of sins.  Can you count that?  Assurance of God’s love and mercy.  Can you fathom that?  The blessing of being adopted as a child of God.  Can you get your heart around that?  To be made a son or a daughter of God, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

     He has blessed us in heavenly places.  It is not that we receive all of these blessings for the first time in heaven.  No, Paul means to say that these are heavenly, other-worldly blessings.  The great blessings of God do not consist in the home or in the computer, the car, the investments, the land, the clothing, the jewelry, the honor, the fame that you might or might not possess.  But the great blessings are of that other world—the world of infinite glory.  In this world Jesus Christ has made us rich, rich in heavenly blessings.  These blessings are in Christ.  They all come to us through His work, through His work alone.

     Now, do you thank Him?  Is your life one of grumbling and discontent or despair?  Do you say, “I’m not very happy.  I can’t be happy.  I don’t like this.  I don’t like my job, my wife, my house, my car, or my friends.”  Or do you say, “But I bear in my heart something that is unbearable.  I can’t be happy anymore.”

     Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, are you, by faith, looking to the spiritual blessings that are yours in the heavenlies, in Christ Jesus your Lord?  “Blessed be God,” says the apostle, “for His grace of salvation and for all that is given to us in His Son, Jesus Christ.  For all the blessings that are deposited in His Son, Jesus Christ.  For Jesus Christ, the exalted conqueror of sin and death, seated now in the heavenlies, ruling over all things.  Everything that is His is ours.  He hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”  And all of this by grace, by grace alone!  It is all of God.  That is the keynote.  That is the striking note here in Paul’s doxology in Ephesians 1.   It is all of God.  It is not of our deserving.  It is not of our doing.  It is all of God!  Thanks be to God!

     Because salvation is all of the grace of God, a grace prepared from eternity, poured upon us by the Holy Spirit, given to us through the work of the Spirit in Christ Jesus—therefore we say, “Now thank we all our God.”  Do you?

     Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving does not depend upon your external situation.  You may be poor, sick, suffering from cancer, deeply wounded, hurt by others.  You may be ridiculed for your faith.  You may live, as the psalmist says, among lions.  Thankfulness does not grow out of an earthly situation.  Thankfulness does not grow on the tree of money, on the trees of property, on the trees of food, on the trees of skill.  Thankfulness proceeds only out of one place:  a heart that knows God’s grace.

     The early Christians had to endure all the hardships and difficulties of confessing Jesus Christ.  They had nothing in this world.  But they were characterized by a spirit of praise and thanksgiving.  They were a people known to have a spirit of peace and happiness and joy that the world had never known.  The world could not understand it.  Here is the test of our Christian profession:  Are you a thankful person?  Not on Thanksgiving Day alone.  Is the core of your life thanks?  So that God’s grace in saving you is not a glib word, but the treasure and joy of your soul in the wonderful grace of God, and the heartfelt expression of your life and heart is praise and thanks for His grace.

     The world in which we live today is miserable, afraid, unhappy, sour, filled with complaints.  But there shall be praise and thanksgiving upon the heart of every one who knows the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

     Now I know that we are sadly deficient in this.  You have to remember that you cannot make it up in one day.  You cannot say, “Well, I’ve fallen behind this year so I’ll pay my vow on Thanksgiving Day and I’ll be happy all day.”  No.  So much thankfulness is owed by us.  It is our whole life.  It is every day.  It is all eternity.  But we do well to ask ourselves this question:  Does thankfulness play a vital part every day in our life?  Does it play a vital part in our prayers?  How often during the day do you cry out:  “Blessed be God the Father who hath blessed me with all heavenly blessings in Christ Jesus my Lord”?  Is that thankfulness there?  It must be there.  It is there, by the grace of God, in our hearts.  And it must deepen within us.  It must deepen not in mere words, but in how we live our life.  We have so much to thank God for.  It is staggering.

     And when we are at last ushered out of this weary world into His presence and we shall stand before Him face to face, where no sin will detract and we will stand before the fullness of His grace, then it will be as if our hearts burst in thanks and praise.

     So, going back to the beginning, which one of the three that I spoke of gave thanks?  The man in the temple, “I thank thee that I’m not like other men”; the rich farmer, “I thank thee that I’m so industrious”; or the widow, “All that I am I owe to Thee”?

     The answer is obvious, is it not?  It was the widow after all, the lonely widow who knew what it was to give thanks and before whom the angels trembled and joined her that night in praising God.

     But now, here is the question:  Which one are you, today, tomorrow?  No, here is the question:  Which one will be the summary of your life?

     Let us pray.

     Father in heaven, we thank Thee for Thy precious word.  Write it upon our souls.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.