by Pastor Mike Stine
There is a story that tells of an attempted assassination of Queen Elizabeth I. The woman who sought to do so dressed as a male page and hid herself in the queen’s boudoir awaiting the convenient moment to stab the queen to death. She did not realize that the queen’s attendants would be very careful to search the rooms before Her Majesty was permitted to retire. They found the woman hidden among the gowns and brought her into the presence of the queen, taking from her the knife she had hope to plant in the heart of Queen Elizabeth. She realized that, humanly speaking, her case was hopeless. She threw herself down on her knees and pleaded and begged the queen as a woman to have compassion on her, a woman, and to show her grace. Queen Elizabeth looked at her coldly and quietly said, “If I show you grace, what promise will you make for the future?” The woman looked up and said, “Grace that has conditions, or grace that is fettered by precautions, is not grace at all.” Queen Elizabeth caught it in a moment and said, “You are right. I pardon you of my grace.” And they led her away, a free woman. History tells us that from that moment Queen Elizabeth had no more faithful and devoted servant than that woman who had intended to take her life. That is exactly the way the grace of God should work in the life of an individual–he or she becomes a faithful servant of God.
God’s grace is something that we certainly ought to be thankful for. We have done nothing to merit it and there is nothing we can do to ever pay back what we truly owe for grace. Grace goes beyond human comprehension. There was no reason why Queen Elizabeth should have left her would be assassin go. Logic said that she should have feared for her life if she let the woman go. The only way she would truly be safe would be to have the woman put to death.
Just as this woman was an enemy of Queen Elizabeth, we were once enemies of God. As Romans 5:10 says, “…we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son…” We should be thankful though because as Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrated his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God had no reason to do as he did and yet he did it anyway.
Imagine for a moment that you are that woman pardoned by Queen Elizabeth; guilty of attempted murder of the queen and absolutely worthy of death. Yet for some reason, nothing you deserve at all, you are pardoned and told you could leave. How would that affect your life? Would you live your life differently knowing that each day you had now was because of the grace of the queen?
Now imagine that you’re a sinner, filthy and deserving of death. Yet for some reason, nothing you deserve at all, you are pardoned by God and granted eternal life in heaven. How would that affect your life? Would you live differently knowing that each day you had was a gift of the King of Kings?
This is why we thank God. Rather this is one of many reasons that we thank God. As I began researching thanksgiving and thankfulness, there was no passage that jumped right out at me as being the pinnacle of thankfulness. I did find, however, that the Bible is completely full of areas of thanksgiving. I was nearly overwhelmed by instances all throughout the Bible where God is given thanks. I had titled this “Why should we give thanks?” but I believe that the question to really answer is why shouldn’t we give thanks because I could spend all night giving reasons to give thanks. There are a number of places where thanksgiving should be though, but isn’t.
It is interesting to note that there is no Hebrew word that can only be translated as thanksgiving. There are two words in the Hebrew language that can be translated as thanksgiving but typically are translated as praise which does at least convey the concept of thanksgiving as well.
There are numerous places in the Old Testament where thankfulness is absent from a person’s life. In many of the places, the consequences of their apathy toward God is shown clearly though. In the story of Cain and Abel, we know that Abel’s animal sacrifice was acceptable to God, but Cain’s sacrifice of fruit was not. While there are theological implications behind a blood sacrifice, much of the reason Cain’s sacrifice was not acceptable was because of unthankfulness. Abel presented his best before God while Cain presented “some of the fruit of the soil,” as it is stated in Genesis chapter 4. Cain had an unthankful heart when he presented his offering and God rejected it. He did not present his best to the Lord. And of course we know how the story ends. Cain’s unthankful heart leads to jealousy which in turn leads Cain to eventually murder his brother.
This is not the worst case of unthankfulness though. The height of it is found in Exodus. After God’s miraculous deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, the people were not thankful. They grumbled and complained, first about not having enough food and water. God provided both. Then instead of being thankful for the manna that God had provided for them, they complained again, saying that it wasn’t good enough. And God provided quail. The moral of the story is if you bug God enough, he’ll give you what you want… No of course the Israelites paid dearly for their lack of thankfulness. In one such instance, recorded in Numbers 21:5-6, the people are struck dead by serpents. “5 The people spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.” 6 The LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.” When we are not thankful, it is possible that consequences, even dire lack in Israel’s case, could follow.
On a more positive note of people who did give thanks to God, the book of Psalms is filled with thanksgiving. At least twenty psalms invite or command people to give their thanksgiving to God. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,” is a common phrase in the psalms. Also the idea of praise, which as I mentioned earlier is often substituted for thanksgiving and means much the same in many instances.
Perhaps the greatest Thanksgiving Day in the Old Testament is found in the book of Nehemiah though. The situation is this…In 538 BC the Israelites are allowed by Cyrus to return to their native land after seventy years of captivity in Babylon. Approximately 50,000, only a small number of the Israelites now living away from their homeland now, return. The people rebuild the temple of God in Jerusalem. However it is almost 100 years before Nehemiah’s time. 100 years later, Nehemiah is cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, a very influential position at the time. He is sitting comfortably with his job and is probably living a rather nice life. But when he hears that Jerusalem is without a wall he is very upset. Jerusalem is a city that he’s probably never even been to but he realizes that it is the city of his forefathers and knows that it is important to his people. The reason he is so distressed is because at the time, a city without a wall is essentially a sitting duck, open to raiders and thieves, anyone who might come by and decide that they want to plunder the city. Nehemiah gains permission from the king to go to Jerusalem to lead the building of the wall. He sets to work, overcoming some opposition along the way, and at the end of only 52 days, the work is done.
Nehemiah plans an incredible thanksgiving service found in Nehemiah 12:27-47. I’ll read parts of it to give you a feel for what happened. “At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres. The singers were brought together from the region around Jerusalem…(31) I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right…(38) The second choir proceeded in the opposite direction. I followed them on top of the wall, together with half the people…(40) The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God…(43) …on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.”
This was a thanksgiving celebration to remember for all time.
What should we thank God for? We no longer offer sacrifices to him in the form of animals. Food doesn’t miraculously appear every morning for us to gather. And we haven’t constructed a wall around churches to protect us from possible thieves and raiders (at least not any I know of). So why should we be thankful? Just in case you’re having trouble thinking of some reasons, the scriptures have a lot to say on this as well. I’ll offer just a few…
We are to give thanks before eating. When Jesus fed the 5000, he first gave thanks to God for the food. John 6:11 says, “Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and passed them out to the people. Afterward he did the same with the fish. And they all ate until they were full.” If Jesus gave thanks for food he was going to miraculously create, how much more should we thank God for food he gave us?
We are to give thanks for God’s goodness and his love, just one of many such Psalms is 106:1, “Praise the LORD! Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.” God’s goodness and mercy are clear in our lives. As I mentioned before, like the would be assassin of Queen Elizabeth we were pardoned, all because of God’s faithful love.
We are to thank God for the gift of his son, and for victory over death. II Corinthians 9:15 says, “Thank God for his Son – a gift too wonderful for words!” while I Cor. 15:57 says, “How we thank God, who gives us victory over sin and death through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Certainly this is something to be thankful for, because Jesus holds power over death, we have no reason to fear.
And just in case these aren’t enough things to thank God for, we’re thank God for everything, always, and in public! I Thess. 5:18 states, “No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” And Ephesians 5:20 says, “And you will always give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And as David says in Psalms 35:18, “Then I will thank you in front of the entire congregation. I will praise you before all the people”
We have absolutely every reason to thank God for what he has done for us. We should even thank God for our sufferings and trials as James states in chapter 1:2-3, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” We should even praise God for all the things we don’t want to praise him for, because our trials are proof that God is still working within us.
We have so many reasons to praise God, and I’ve just scratched the surface of biblical reasons to be thankful. Obviously there are many more. Perhaps we can’t have a celebration everyday like Nehemiah held after completion of the wall but we need to remember daily what the Lord has done for us. Thanksgiving isn’t just another holiday, but it should be an act; an act that occurs everyday. And for this I’m truly thankful.