Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Thrill of Thanksgiving

The following is a slightly adapted "mini-sermon" that I gave at my church last Thanksgiving. I've highlighted words regarding thanksgiving in orange, just to visually present the emphasis that it deserves.


It is a joyous and glorious thing to give thanks to the Lord, isn’t it? It is so wonderfully pleasing to sing to Him songs of Thanksgiving, as we express our delight in knowing Him. In fact, can any of you think of anything more pleasing and more satisfying than ascribing to the Lord the glory that is due His name (Ps 29:2)? If you can, I pity you, because you haven’t known what it is to truly worship God in thanksgiving.

It is the most satisfying, exhilarating activity we can be engaged in. We know this, not only by our experiences (which do strongly testify to this), and not only by the thousands of verses throughout the Bible that teach this clearly, but we know this even just by surveying the activity of the saints in Heaven. Consistently throughout the book of Revelation, whenever there is a picture of the activity going on in heaven – in paradise –, the saints are worshiping God, praising Him, and giving thanks (Rev 4:8-11; 5:9-14; 7:9-12; 11:16; 14:2-3; 15:2-4). They see God face to face, and they worship Him out of delight in knowing Him so intimately and seeing Him so clearly. Worship, praise, and thanksgiving are indeed the most satisfying activities we can engage in, because as we do them we see Him. And that’s what causes the people in Heaven to worship.

And so this Thanksgiving, if you ask me about what I’m thankful for, I’m going to tell you that most foundationally, and most ultimately, I’m thankful that I get to be thankful. Because, ya know, not everybody gets to be thankful. Not everybody gets to enjoy giving thanks. Not everybody gets such a foretaste of heaven.

Romans 1:18 and following is not generally considered a “Thanksgiving text,” but I think there are very foundational and very ultimate things that are being taught about giving thanks in that passage. Try to catch the full weight of what’s being said.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

God Demands Praise, or Thanksgiving, in Everything

The first thing that I want you to see from this passage is that God demands thanksgiving – or praise or honor – in everything. He demands to be honored for what He does, and what He does is everything that comes to pass. It says that God made Himself evident to them, but they did not honor Him by giving thanks, so He darkened their hearts and gave them over to greater evil.

We see something about God here, then, and that is that He wants to be praised and enjoyed for who He is. He presents Himself to us in all His works – whether of special grace or common grace – and says, “Look at me! See my beauty in this circumstance.” And He expects us, then, to just look at Him, see Him, see how pleasant and beautiful and satisfying He is, and just by virtue of that (by virtue of Himself) give praise and thanksgiving to Him.

Again, the passage teaches that that which was knowable about God was evident to them, but they didn’t honor Him, or glorify Him, or give thanks to Him, like He was expecting, like He is worthy of. He presents Himself in everything He does, and expects worship and thanksgiving.

And that raises the point of the absolute sovereignty of God. God demands (and deserves) thanksgiving in all things because He Himself is the fountain out of which all things flow. Thanking God in everything acknowledges His sovereignty in everything: that absolutely everything that comes to pass in anyone’s life comes from Him.

  • Ephesians 1:11-12 – In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.
  • Romans 11:36For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
  • Romans 8:28And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

And so the fact that God ordains absolutely everything is central to God’s own requirement of us to give thanks in everything. In fact, denying that God is totally sovereign is how “they did not honor Him as God.” Being totally free, sovereign, and all-powerful is what it means to be God. That is God-ness. And so since God is God, and is the One from whom all things come, and since He is good, every time we receive from Him, we ought to thank Him for His goodness and His grace to us.

But like I said, not everybody can do that. In fact, by default, without any intervention on God’s part, nobody can do that.

It is the Very Nature of Unbelievers to Not Give Thanks

They are both incapable and unwilling.

Look back at the passage in Romans 1, and remember that Paul is commenting on man in his natural state. So what does it say? That it is natural for men to be thankless. “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks.That is how they suppress the truth in unrighteousness. They refuse to acknowledge Him as being worthy of thanks for all that He does.

All people, naturally, willingly, and actively suppress the revealed truth of God, demonstrating their unrighteousness and ungodliness. And that category includes all of humanity. Every human who was ever born (except one, more about Him later) has been born an unrighteous, God-hating, thankless, truth suppressor.

The Gospel

So if natural people – by nature – dishonor God by refusing to give thanks to Him in all things, that demonstrates that it is the Gospel that gives us our ability to glorify God – to honor God – by truly and properly giving thanks to Him in Christ. Do you follow me? If it is natural, unbelieving man’s nature to not give thanks, it is only the transforming power of the Gospel that enables us to give thanks, because it’s only the Gospel that can regenerate us (1Pet 1:23, 25; Rom 10:17; Jas 1:18), that can give us a different nature, a thankful nature (Jn 3:3, 5; 1Th 5:18).

And we’ve got to savor the beauty of that Gospel for a second. We established at the beginning of this post that singing praise and thanksgiving is the most satisfying, exhilarating, and pleasing thing for us to do. And now we’ve established that natural people can’t and won’t do that! Nobody could do that. But so that God would get what He’s worthy of He sent Christ to redeem us from every lawless deed, to purify for Himself a people for His own possession (Tit 2:14).

Do you see God’s purpose there? Do you see the design of His will (1Th 5:18)? We’re saved so that we can give thanks!

Ephesians 1 teaches that very thing: “We have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.

Do you see that? The end for which we were predestined to be saved was to praise and glorify God. What amazing grace! Now, because of what Christ has done, we who were doomed to never know the most satisfying activity in the universe, namely, praising God in thanksgiving, know it intimately!

And more than that, since God is glorified in our praise, He is manifested in glory when we praise and worship Him rightly. So when we truly praise Him – when we truly honor Him as God by giving thanks – we see more of Him. And He is the most satisfying thing to see. And so by the Gospel, by saving us, He benefits us – He graces us – with the privilege of worshiping Him in thanksgiving.

Which means, while it is the very nature of unbelievers not to give thanks, it is the very nature of believers to give thanks.

And so if you were formerly darkness, but now are Light in the Lord, walk as children of the Light (Eph 5:8). If your nature has been changed from a thankless one to a thankful one, act in accordance with that new nature! Be thankful! Give thanks and praise and glory to God!

The Greatness of Sin

And so we are to be most thankful that we’re able to be thankful. We are to be most thankful that we can enjoy this most exhilarating and satisfying activity that defines what Paradise is like. We are to be thankful that though we were dead, now we’re alive. Our sin was great. The end of Romans 1 begins to tell us how great. In Romans 1 starting in verse 29, it says we are “filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, [and] unmerciful”. That’s us. But it gets worse.

Because of that unrighteousness all of us could expect nothing but a terrifying expectation of judgment (Heb 10:27a) from a righteous judge who has indignation every day (Ps 7:11). Hebrews says that our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29) and the fury of that fire will consume the adversaries of God (Heb 10:27).

Our sin was great. We were under wrath.

The Triumph of Grace

But God’s grace is greater. He delivered us from all of this.
  • We were living in darkness, but Colossians 1 tells us that we have been rescued from that darkness and transferred to the kingdom of Light.
  • We were dead in our trespasses and sins, by nature children of wrath. But Ephesians 2 tells us that God was rich in mercy, and made us alive with Christ by grace.
  • The Law condemns us, but Acts 13 tells us that through Christ forgiveness of sins is proclaimed, and we’re freed from all things that condemn us.
  • We are God’s enemies, at war with Him, but Romans 5 tells us that since we have been justified, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • We are fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, covetous, and drunkards, but 1 Corinthians 6 tells us we were washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Our sin was great. And ya know what? Our sin is still great. But the Savior’s sacrifice was perfectly satisfying to the Father! And though we know Him, and we know that mercy, and we are beneficiaries of that grace, we still sin against Him. But because of the greatness of Christ, He still accepts us!

In Christ Jesus we are passed from death to life!

In Christ Jesus we are born again to be children of God!

In Christ Jesus we obtain an imperishable inheritance that cannot fade away!

In Christ Jesus we are given the privilege to worship Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength by honoring Him as God by giving thanks to Him in everything!

And so this Thanksgiving, we are thankful to God, for He has given us the greatest gift of all! He has given us Himself in the person of Jesus Christ our Savior. And so when asked what we are thankful for this Thanksgiving, we stop and remember the absolute privilege it is to worship God in Spirit and in truth, and we respond that most foundationally and most ultimately we are thankful that we get to be thankful. We are asked what we are thankful for this Thanksgiving, and we survey the Wondrous Cross on which the Prince of Glory died, where He purchased our right to enjoy worshiping God, and we exclaim at the top of our lungs along with the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 9:

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

Thanks be to God for His Son, Jesus Christ!

May all of our thanksgiving flow out of that, Lord! May your beauty displayed in the Gospel cause Your people to overflow in thanksgiving and praise to You in all the areas of our life. Be glorified in Your church.

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