Given at Grace Baptist Church on Sunday, November 22, 2020. Sermon begins at 35:00 in the video. Transcript is below.
I would invite you to turn with me in your Bibles to Psalm 100. And as you are turning there, I want to read for you a statement made by President George Washington in October of 1789. And this statement is known as the “Thanksgiving Proclamation.” Whether or not President Washington himself named it that or someone later did, I’m not sure. But as you’ll see, the name fits. Perhaps you’ve read this before. It was a little more than a decade after the conclusion of the Revolutionary War and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. And it was just a little earlier in the year that the first draft of US constitution was put forth. Here’s what President Washington had to say.
President George Washington’s “Thanksgiving Proclamation” given from New York City on October 3, 1789:
“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me ‘to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.’
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted—for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
[A]nd also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions—to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually—to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed—to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord—To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.”
A couple of things stand out to me about that statement. First, praise God for men who spoke like this while leading our country. It is increasingly rare to hear our governing authorities make acknowledgments such as these. And the second thing that stands out to me is that President Washington understands that thanksgiving is rooted in the very heart of the Bible’s message about the way that people should respond to the goodness of God. As he says, it is the duty of individuals and of societies to acknowledge God’s providence, obey his will, and be grateful for his benefits. We only know about God’s providence and his will from the Bible, and that knowledge should lead us to respond in thankfulness to him.
What I want to do in this message is to show you from the Bible that we have been Created to Give Thanks. I want you to see that one of the primary reasons you exist is so that you will express thankfulness to God. Everyone wants to know, “Why do I exist?” It’s a fundamental and important question. You and I exist to give thanks. I think that I’m agreeing with the biblical authors when I say that. The writers of historic Christian catechisms come very close to saying it. Many Christians answer the “Why do I exist?” question by saying, “To glorify God.” And to that I say, “Amen.” That answer is biblical. The catechisms understand this.
For example, The New City Catechism, which is a 21st century revision of the Heidelberg Catechism, asks in question #4: How and why did God create us?
Answer: God created us male and female in his own image to know him, love him, live with him, and glorify him. And it is right that we who were created by God should live to his glory.
Keep those categories in mind. It does not expressly say, “to give thanks to him.” The emphasis is more on glorifying God and living to his glory by knowing, loving, and living with him. It goes on to ask in question 6: How can we glorify God?
Answer: We glorify God by enjoying him, loving him, trusting him, and by obeying his will, commands, and law.
Notice here more categories, but especially the connection between glorifying God by enjoying him. This may remind some of you of the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism:
Westminster Shorter Catechism
Question 1: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
You may think that I’ve proven myself wrong from the outset. None of those statements say anything at all about thanksgiving. What I hope to accomplish this morning is to show that none of those priorities can be accomplished without thanksgiving to God. Starting in Psalm 100 we’re going to see, Lord willing, the connections between:
Thanksgiving and Knowing God
Thanksgiving and Glorifying God
Thanksgiving and Enjoying God
Thanksgiving and Loving and Obeying God
Thanksgiving and Trusting God
Thanksgiving and Living with God
And I should make this clear from the outset: I love Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite holiday and has been for most of my life. I like Christmas a lot, but I don’t want to hear Christmas music or see Christmas decorations or watch Christmas movies until after Thanksgiving. I remember some years of my youth we’d spend Thanksgiving in Michigan. My grandfather pastored a church in West Michigan and so my grandparents lived in a parsonage across the lawn from the church. And we’d have so many family members (parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents), that we’d have our Thanksgiving meal in the Fellowship Hall of the church. So we’d carry this feast across the lawn into this transformed banquet hall, and I look back and I think, that’s got to be a foretaste of glory divine. And then, after I got married, I realized pretty quickly that meant two Thanksgiving feasts per year. So, I love Thanksgiving, and I love the priority that the Bible puts on the necessity of Thanksgiving, not the holiday obviously, but the practice of it. The concept of Thankfulness is mentioned over 160 times in the Bible. And you have reason to be thankful because I’m not going to have us look at all of them. But let’s start in Psalm 100.
Thanksgiving and Knowing God
Psalm 100 “A Psalm for Giving Thanks” (There is good reason to think that the superscriptions are inspired by the Holy Spirit and therefore intentionally put there by the human author.)
Seven Commands (verses 1-4) All of these are plural commands, meaning that God intends for groups of people to obey these. Some are for “all the earth” and some are for his redeemed.
One Reason: “For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (v. 5)
The source of thankfulness is in the character of God. He is good and we are thankful. His covenant love and faithfulness are forever and for all generations. All our lives he has been faithful and good, so with every breath that we are able, we will sing of the goodness of God.
And that’s what the Psalmist does. He sings a song of thankfulness to God for his goodness and invites others to join him. Some scholars think that Psalm 100 is placed after Psalm 99 as a response to it. In Psalm 99 God is said to be a good King who rules in might and justice over the earth, and a good Priest who forgives those who call out to him. Therefore, the earth should give thanks to him, as Psalm 100 indicates.
Structure of Psalm 100:1-4 (ESV)
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth
Serve the LORD with gladness
Come into his presence with singing
Know the LORD, he is God; He made us, we are his
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise
Give thanks to him
Bless his name
In a structure like this, the middle command is the one that holds the rest together. It’s the hinge that connects the prior statements to the later ones. And the earliest statements correspond to the latest ones, and so on down the line. So the primary command here in this “Psalm for Giving Thanks” is “Know the LORD.” So an application question for you who are here today is do you know the Lord? He is God. He made us. You and I exist because God made us. And he has made a way for us to be his people, the sheep of his pasture. Know the Lord. Know him deeply.
And those who know the Lord will do what is said in those next closest commands, they will come into his presence with singing and they will enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. The psalmist is describing the way that God’s people in the OT would gather at his temple in Jerusalem for worship. The temple had outer gates, and upon entering through the gates you would come into the courts of the temple. And the further you walked into the courts the closer you would come to the presence of God in the form of his ark of the covenant in the innermost part of the temple. The word for “come” in verse 2 is the same as the word “enter” for verse 4, showing that these two statements correspond to one another. God is inviting his people who know him to enter with thanksgiving and praise into his presence.
Anything that happened within the temple was an act of service by the people of Israel especially the priests, to the Lord, which is why verse 2 begins with the command to serve the Lord with gladness. The idea of service extended not just to the temple, but it was also to characterize all of life for God’s people. That’s why in the NT, Paul taught the churches to serve others as though we are serving the Lord (Eph 6:7; Col 3:23).
This is an imperative for the redeemed, but it is an invitation to all the earth. Notice who is addressed in verse 1. Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. If you’re here today and you don’t know the Lord, you are invited today to know the Lord and make a joyful noise to him by finding your joy in him.
The beginning commands to make a joyful noise and serve the Lord with gladness match the last two commands at the end of verse 4: give thanks to him, and bless his name. By structuring it this way, the Psalmist matches the theme of thanksgiving with the themes of knowing God, as well as the theme of enjoying God, making a joyful noise to him, serving him joyfully and gladly, and coming into his presence with joyful singing.
And remember the reason for all of this: “The LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. Know the Lord and his goodness. He made us, therefore we are his. He extends his steadfast love and faithfulness to us so that we can be his people and the sheep of his pasture forever. Then our lives will reflect a joyous thankfulness to him as we come into his presence.
But what about those who are not thankful? What about when you and I aren’t thankful, but instead we have a sense of entitlement or we become discontent with our circumstances? We have all failed to glorify God, and perhaps the primary way is that we have failed to be thankful. This seems to be Paul’s diagnosis in his opening to his letter to the Romans. To what does he attribute the unrighteousness of man that brings about the wrath of God? Notice his answer.
Thanksgiving and Glorifying God
(ESV) “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
(NIV) “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
Not glorifying God = not giving thanks to him
Glorifying God = giving thanks to him
A lack of thankfulness is what doomed humanity back in the garden of Eden, and every human since then has failed to glorify God and failed to give thanks to him. We are a naturally unthankful people, even when we know God. And our lack of thankfulness causes our thinking to become futile and our foolish hearts to become darkened, and it merits the righteous wrath of God.
All of this begs the question: if the Psalmist says we must come into the presence of God with thanksgiving, and yet we are a naturally unthankful people under God’s good condemnation, how can we hope to ever enter into God’s presence? The answer is that our good God sent his only son to be the shepherd who would gather God’s sheep into his fold. Ps 100 called God’s people the “sheep of his pasture.” Jesus is the door of the sheep, which means that access into God’s presence is not found through the gates of a temple but through a person, namely. Jesus is the good shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep. No one took his life from him, he laid it down willingly He has the authority to lay it down and the authority to take it up again. He knows his sheep, and his sheep know him. And because of Jesus’ substitutionary sacrificial death on the cross, you can be forgiven of your failure to glorify God and your failure to give thanks to him if you will seek God’s goodness by turning from your sin and trusting Christ completely. If you will do this, he will extend his steadfast love and faithfulness to you forever. And you will then know God, and be able to live for his glory by living a life of thankfulness to him. If you’d like to know more about this good news, please talk to someone you’ve seen on stage today, or even just talk to those standing at the door on your way out. We’d love to share more with you.
If thankfulness is tied to glorifying God, then it must also be tied to enjoying God. That’s what we see in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.
Thanksgiving and Enjoying God
1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 (ESV)
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Joyful calling out to God = Thanksgiving = The will of God
There is one other place in the same letter where something is said to be “the will of God.”
Thanksgiving and Loving/Obeying God
1 Thessalonians 4:3 (ESV)
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification.” – Sanctification is the process of being made holy and Christlike; being conformed to a greater degree into his likeness. It is the will of God for this to happen for us. Elsewhere in the Bible, we see that those who do the will of God are those who love him. Which is why obeying God and doing his will are both tied to loving him. When we give thanks, we are doing his will, and displaying our love for him. The same goes for when we pursue holiness. To be holy, then, requires that we be thankful. They are both the will of God. Heb 12:14 says that without holiness, no one will see the Lord. Holiness matters, and holiness requires thanksgiving. So thanksgiving matters.
Thanksgiving = the will of God
Sanctification = the will of God
Thanksgiving = Sanctification (holiness)
Let me try to make another point of application here. How can I practice thankfulness in a way that will increase my holiness? Let’s say that you are tempted to covet, or to lust, or to steal. The reason that you would consider acting on those temptations is because you are not content with what God has given to you. You are not thankful. So rather than covet the possessions of others, give thanks to God for what you do have. Rather than lusting after another, give thanks for the spouse that you have, or for the one God will see fit to give you in the future. Rather than taking what is not yours, give thanks for the ability to work and to provide for your needs honestly. Thankfulness can keep us holy. Thankfulness can keep us trusting in God even when circumstances may cause us to think that we don’t have reasons for thankfulness.
For example, when a tornado devastates neighborhoods and homes and churches and schools, it may seem that we have no reason for thankfulness. When a pandemic terrorizes the globe and maxes out hospital beds and shuts down schools and takes hundreds of thousands of lives and altars society as we know it and causes job loss, it may seem that we have no reason for thankfulness. For some, the results of a presidential election seem to bring about worry and fear. So we have to ask ourselves, is our trust in buildings and property and health and paychecks and politics and presidents and FEMA, or is our trust in God?
Paul gave instructions to Timothy about how the church he led was to respond to opposition.
Thanksgiving and Trusting God
1 Timothy 2:1-2 (ESV)
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”
In Timothy’s context, the “kings and all who are in high positions” were not saying making proclamations like George Washington. They were denying the God of the Bible and promoting violence against Christ and his church. And Paul taught that the church should display its trust in God by offering to God prayers and thanksgivings for those governing authorities. The application for us then, is this: regardless of which way you voted in the election, the best way to enjoy a peaceful and quiet life is to pray for the men and women who were elected. Give thanks to God for them and for our government. Pray for them so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way. Giving thanks to God for them will show that our trust is not ultimately in the ones who have authority in this age, but it is in the one whose authority will go on for ages without end. Giving thanks in this life prepares us for the life to come.
Thanksgiving and Living with God
Revelation 11:15-17 (ESV)
Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.”
At the end of all things, the kingdom of Christ will overtake and outlast all other rulers and authorities. And the elders, representative of all the nations, will fall before God in thankful worship. And forever we will join them in saying, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty.”
The catechisms were right. We were created by God to glorify him and enjoy him forever. We were made in his image to know him, love him, live with him, and glorify him. And the biblical authors were right. We can’t do any of those things without thanksgiving. The thanksgiving that Adam and Eve and all of us since have failed to offer we will spend eternity offering back to God, because he is good. His steadfast love endures forever; his faithfulness to all generations.