You don’t have to go far today to hear someone complain about something. Just stand in your local coffee shop waiting for your coffee or wait to be seated at a restaurant and you’re bound to hear at least one person complain about something. We’re all guilty of complaining every now and then, some more than others perhaps. However, when it comes time for mid-November, suddenly, the brakes are applied to the vehicle of complaining for nearly everyone and there is a reverse in direction. Instead of finding all parts of life to complain about, people begin to find things they are thankful for. It could be a job, family, an education, the weather, a home, an apartment, new clothes, a new car, or even an old car that works. People find things to be thankful for which more often than not, they would most likely be complaining about for at least 11 months of the year. What happened? What changed? Well, people didn’t change; Thanksgiving happened.
Every year, Thanksgiving, traditionally a time that commemorates the peace and harvest between the natives and the colonials, becomes a time today where everyone begins to think of what they are most thankful for in life. As Christians, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the holiday hype that surrounds Thanksgiving and other holidays. We think of family and jobs and homes and friends to be thankful for, no doubt, but the question I want to ask is how often do we thank God not for the things He has provided us with in our immediate lives, how often do we thank God for the grace He has shown us in Jesus Christ?
Sure, many of us sit around the Thanksgiving table to say “grace” before we indulge or overindulge ourselves with perhaps an overabundance of food (that could be a different post altogether), but when we thank God do we thank God for the person and work of Jesus Christ? Do we thank God for the Gospel?
It can seem odd to thank God for the Gospel and to even consider the Gospel at the dinner table on Thanksgiving. After all, we think about the Gospel at worship, we think about the Gospel when we participate in Communion/Eucharist, we think about the Gospel on Easter, so why should we think about the Gospel at Thanksgiving?
I’ll tell you why. If Thanksgiving is indeed a holiday we dedicate to giving thanks, there is no one more deserving of our thanks and praise than God. When it comes to giving thanks, there are a lot of great things that we enjoy in life, but how many of those things will last? Not many. We need to remember to thank God for His gracious gift of Jesus Christ on the cross who died for our sins and was raised for our justification so that by grace through faith we might enjoy the lasting, eternal reward of life in Christ.
The Apostle Paul gives thanks at the beginning of all of His letters. What is he thankful for? Let’s look at 1 Timothy:12-17:
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Paul begins by thanking the One who has given him strength in his life and ministry, but then he does something interesting. Paul focuses on who he is in relation to God. You don’t find Paul boasting of his status as theological “rock star” and apostle. Paul looks at himself and what does he see? He sees a persecutor of the church, a blasphemer, a sinner in need of grace. Then, he acknowledges that it is only by the mercy and grace of God that Paul has been given life in Christ and entrusted with the ministry he was entrusted with to the Gentiles. Paul is thankful for the Gospel because without the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he would be nothing. It is only in Christ that Paul finds his value, worth, significance. Apart from Christ the Apostle Paul acknowledges that he is dead in his transgressions and an enemy of God. Though, Paul was a fierce persecutor of the church, it doesn’t take being a fierce persecutor of the church to be an enemy of God. It takes only sin. We know that all are sinful and fall short of the glory of God, as Paul has said, and we are all by nature enemies of God. We are utterly incapable of doing anything to save ourselves because we are separate from God because of our utter depravity and rebellious opposition to God in the face of God’s utter holiness.
Paul looks at himself in relation to the a perfect, sinless Savior who was sent into the world to die for the sins of the world, not to mention his own. Likewise, when we look to the cross of Christ, we who have ears to hear and eyes to see as Isaiah and the gospel writers say cannot help but behave as Paul does in 1 Timothy. We see a holy, spotless, Lamb of God, and then we see ourselves – filthy, sinful, depraved, unworthy of the sacrifice offered on our behalf, undeserving of the grace shown us. As Paul responds with thankfulness for the Gospel and reflects on who he is in comparison with Christ, we should look with eyes of faith toward the cross continually thanking God for the Gospel of Jesus Christ while reflecting on who we were apart from Christ.
After all, what do we truly have outside of the Gospel? Does anything else REALLY matter? There are things that are important, but eternally important? I don’t think so.
Peter gives thanks in his letters as well. Let’s look briefly at 1 Peter 1:3-12:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
Peter begins his message of praise by not only thanking God, but telling believers why they should have reason to praise God and rejoice and give thanks. Believers should be thankful for their new birth in Christ who has given us hope by His resurrection. It’s nothing we have done, but all that God has done in Jesus Christ. We are merely the one’s receiving the inheritance by God’s grace and mercy and immense love. Even our faith is a gift of God’s grace as Paul tells us in Ephesians 2. In summary, Peter thanks God for salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. As a result of the salvific work of God in Christ, there is hope beyond death. Death has lost its sting as Paul says.
So, both Paul and Peter give thanks to God for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, all of their letters have a thanksgiving portion to which they give glory and praise and thanks to God for the Gospel, for their being called by God for the work of the Gospel, and for those churches who embrace the Gospel. Why all the thanks in all these letters? Couldn’t just one reminder or one instance of thanks be sufficient in a letter to those churches and individuals?
No. That’s not sufficient. As those early Christians needed to be reminded of their need of God’s grace daily and their need of the Gospel continually, we need to remind ourselves of our need for the Gospel and we need to constantly give thanks to God for the Gospel. Now, this isn’t simply a shout-out prayer at the dinner table on Thanksgiving, though hopefully that is done, but we’re called to offer our lives as a living sacrifice poured out for God and others as response to what Christ has done for us. Our very lives are to be thanks to God for what He has done for us in Jesus Christ. As God glorified Himself in sending Christ to the cross out of love for us, so are we then to glorify God by looking to and pointing others to the cross of Christ and giving glory to God in our lives.
So, on Thanksgiving, it can be easy to thank God for that fantasy football win we needed, that job we wanted, those clothes we wanted to go on sale and buy, that new Apple/PC or electronic device, that new car we’ve been wanting, or whatever. However, we need to remember that our lives, if we truly believe in the Gospel, are not about us, they are to be lived for God’s glory. They are to be lives of thanks to God for what He has done for us through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the great promises we cling to as our hope in Him.
So, when we sit around the table this Thanksgiving may we remember the Gospel of Jesus Christ and give thanks to God for it. But also, may we remember the Gospel when we wake up the day after Thanksgiving and go to work or rush to buy that one item on Black Friday. May we remember the Gospel next week when there isn’t a holiday. May we remember to give thanks to God for the Gospel during Christmas which is ultimately about the Son of God coming into the world to die for the sins of humanity (The Gospel). May we remember to thank God for the Gospel every single day, not just in the good times and prosperous moments of our lives, but especially in the times when it’s hard. When we forget what we’ve been given and feel that we have nothing in life – may we remember the Gospel of God and give thanks for what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
May we remember, all of us, to look to the cross of Jesus this Thanksgiving and every day. May our lives be marked by thankfulness to God for the Gospel as we acknowledge what God has done for us, looking to the cross, and pointing others there as well.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone!