Sermon for Sunday, November 28th, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[2Ch 7:1-6 ESV] 1 As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. 2 And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’s house. 3 When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the LORD on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” 4 Then the king and all the people offered sacrifice before the LORD. 5 King Solomon offered as a sacrifice 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep. So the king and all the people dedicated the house of God. 6 The priests stood at their posts; the Levites also, with the instruments for music to the LORD that King David had made for giving thanks to the LORD–for his steadfast love endures forever–whenever David offered praises by their ministry; opposite them the priests sounded trumpets, and all Israel stood.
New Testament reading:
[1Th 5:12-24 ESV] 12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil. 23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
[Mat 15:32-39 ESV] 32 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” 33 And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” 34 And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” 35 And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, 36 he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 37 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 38 Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. 39 And after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.
I. Thankful to God
Thankfulness requires that we have in mind someone to whom we are thankful. [REPEAT: Thankfulness requires that we have in mind someone to whom we are thankful.]
There are some persons today who will say “I am thankful” but they will end it there. The one to whom the person is thankful is left out.
Both ardent atheists (those who actively oppose God) and practical atheists (those who live as if there is no God) give thanks into nothingness. They fail to recognize that all good things come from the hand of God.
In the Bible, “giving thanks” is always “giving thanks … TO GOD.”
“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”
“Give thanks to his holy name and glory in your praise.”
“In God we have boasted continually and we will give thanks to your name forever.”
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the people, I will sing praises to you among the nations.”
There is but one exception to this rule that I was able to find. In Romans 16:4 Paul says he gives thanks to his fellow workers in Christ and to the churches of the Gentiles.
Every other time thanks is given to God.
“Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in a triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.”
“We give thanks TO GOD always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers.”
So it is clear that we are to give thanks to the Lord, we are to give gratitude to God.
II. God’s Providence
That which we are to be thankful for can is understood in two parts: providence and grace.
It is God’s providence and God’s grace that we are thankful for.
First and foremost is God’s grace.
It is grace by which we are justified as a gift of God. (Romans 3:24)
It is grace on which the promise rests. (Romans 4:16)
It is the abounding grace of God which brings us forgiveness of sin, imputes righteousness to us, and saves us.
We are thankful for God’s grace. And we are thankful for his providence.
In God’s providence he provides temporal goods for each and every person. While the grace of God in Jesus Christ is particular — it is for His people — the good providence of God extends to all.
God indeed gives good things to all people, even those who refuse to give thanks to him.
This week, I pray, you had good opportunities to say what you are thankful for. And it is this “counting of our blessings” which lists the good providences of God.
We are thankful for houses, jobs, a church, and so many other things. We are thankful for food, for family, for friends. And I must say, I am exceedingly thankful for my college football team yesterday finally winning their rivalry game this year.
As we count our blessings, we count blessings from God. All of this goodness of God is His providence.
There are some who have spoken of this common goodness as “common grace.” I’m not alone in thinking that this is a poor term. Scripturally, grace is God’s good favor in Jesus Christ for salvation. It is neither universal nor general.
A better term for this common goodness is, as I’ve been calling it, God’s providence. This the term our Catechism uses.
“God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.”
While God’s grace is upon God’s people, God’s providence is over “all his creatures.”
The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. The sun rises on the evil and on the good.
All people therefore should be thankful … they should be thankful to God.
III. A Puritan Revival?
It is indeed right that we should at all times and all places be thankful to God. And it is well for us also to have particular times of thanksgiving.
Our confession of faith says that in additional to the ordinary elements of worship, there are “religious oaths, vows, solemn fastings, and THANKSGIVINGS upon special occasion, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in a holy and religious manner.”
It is perhaps ironic that “fastings” are mentioned besides “thanksgivings.” But, of course, the Divines (that is what they called the ministers) at Westminster did not particularly have in mind feasts when they wrote of “thanksgivings.” They had in mind times of focused prayers or even worship services dedicated to giving thanks TO GOD. It is interesting to note, however, that the only times in the Gospels in which Jesus is said to “give thanks” are in fact in the context of eating. There is the last supper in which he gave thanks before breaking the bread and drinking from the cup. And then there is our reading today of the miracle of the loaves and fish in which Jesus first gave thanks TO GOD.
We can (and should) conclude that giving thanks may be in the context of feasting or of fasting. Give thanks at all times, says the Apostle Paul. We are to thank God in times of plenty and in times of famine.
The national day of Thanksgiving and its feast celebrated in America is based on events now 400 years past. In 1621 a group of Puritan separatists from the Church of England, later called Pilgrims, celebrated and gave thanks … TO GOD … for HIS provision in their survival of the previous harsh winter. The Wampanoag’s were instrumental in their survival, having given the Pilgrims food in a time of scarcity. And while one must imagine that these Christians thanked their heathen neighbors, they specifically and publicly thanked God. Ultimately it was God who brought them through.
Jesus proves this his Sermon on the Mount when he says “Look the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” God provides. And so TO HIM we give thanks.
A moment ago I used the word “heathen.” And I recall in German language class in High School the teacher (who we disrespectfully called “Frau” (meaning Mrs.) rather than her full name “Frau King”), and how she one referred to a student in our class as a heathen. And he was in an uproar … until Frau King explained the meaning of the term. You see, words have connotations and denotations. While “heathen” has terrible connotations associated with it — connotations of barbarism and savagery — the meaning of the word, what the word denotes, is merely this: a heathen is one who does not worship the God of the Bible. And when the student in class (public school, mind you) understood this, he (sadly) said “Oh, I suppose I am a heathen.”
Now, in my earlier years, and likely in yours as well, you’d rarely if ever hear something positive said about the Puritans. While the term “Pilgrims” may bring up good thoughts of eating turkey on holidays past, the term “Puritan” (that more overarching term of which the Pilgrims were but one group) has long been out of favor. The Puritans, it is said, were “Puritanical.”
Well, in more recent years, I’m glad to say that there has been somewhat of a Puritan revival. And I’ve come to know, although in only slight ways, some great aspect of Puritan culture and thought.
There are now publishing houses who regularly reprint old Puritan works. There is even a seminary in Michigan called Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. And our denomination, the Bible Presbyterian, has a positive fraternal relationship with the denomination that runs that school. They are called the Heritage Reformed Congregations.
Some years ago I preached a sermon in California at a church called “Puritan Evangelical Reformed Church.” Imagine that, people self-identifying as Puritans. This may sound strange to you as it did to me some years ago. But, the truth is that the Puritans were Reformed Christians, in many ways like ourselves.
These terms are nearly synonymous: Presbyterianism, Reformed, and Puritan. Yes, there are differences, but the commonalities are great.
Many Presbyterians and Reformed Christians today are reading the Puritans. John Owen, John Bunyan (of Pilgrim’s Progress), Matthew Henry, Jonathan Edwards. Even Charles Spurgeon has been called “the last of the Puritans.” We do well to read the works of these great Puritans.
And, as there is a revival of interest in Puritan thought, so I pray there is a revival in giving thanks … to God … as the Pilgrims did.
It is indeed a sad world where one “give thanks” but has no one in mind. Such giving of thanks is general and therefore quite meaningless. There must an object to whom our thanks is given.
And the object of our thanks is the object of our faith; that is, the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
As we “count our blessings” and “give thanks” for WHAT we have received, let us do so TO GOD.
When it is asked, “what are you thankful for which God has given you?”this shouldn’t narrow your list of thanksgiving, for all things are given you by God. Sometimes more directly and sometimes more indirectly. You perhaps thank another person for something they have given you, yet you know they are merely an intermediary. They have given you only what the Lord has provided for them and it now becomes what the Lord has provided for you. For all things are worked out according to the counsel of his work.
So in everything we are to give thanks.
1 Thessalonians 5:18
[1Th 5:18 ESV] 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
The King James Version of that verse is more well known.
[1Th 5:18 KJV] 18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
In every thing give thanks. In all circumstances. From the lowest lows the highest highs in life, we are to thank God.
The blameless and upright man Job with no sin on his lips said “Shall we receive good from God and shall we not receive evil?”
When we receive good things from God they are clearly a blessing. But when we are disciplined by God is that not also a blessing? He corrects our path, redirects us toward him when he chastises us. Knowing our sinfulness, Job is arguing, should we not expect to get what we deserve? Let us then be satisfied in times of plenty and in times of little.
As we thank God, even in difficult times, we are to be encouraged that all things are from God and all things work out according to his purpose. We need not worry because we know that God loves us and that his purpose is great. This is nowhere attested to us better than in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even the evil done to Christ on the Cross was for the purpose of God. His plan, from all eternity, to save unrighteous sinners through a righteous savior.
In the sermon this evening, God willing, we’ll be looking more into that point in Acts 4 when it says “27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”
The point is that God was in control even in the death of Jesus Christ, and uses the evil of the people for the good of our salvation.
So we ought not to lose trust in God when something happens which we can only understand as bad. We often don’t know how the Lord will use such events for his purpose.
There is nothing for which we should be more thankful than the death of Jesus Christ, which at first appeared so terrible and hopeless to his disciples, but which soon came to be understood as a great display of God’s grace. In the blood of Jesus Christ we were saved. We have been giving new life because of his death, and we have the hope of life eternal because of his resurrection.
As our salvation is 100% of God, we are thankful TO GOD.
If our salvation was of our own work or will, we’d have something to boast about. But we boast only in the Lord and we give our thanks TO GOD.
Let us therefore, as we give thanks for particular things (of which there are many things to be thankful for), gives thanks above all for the grace of God, and always direct our thankfulness to our gracious God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and in whom we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Amen.