This is an excerpt from a Thanksgiving sermon from a few years ago.
This week a Milwaukee radio host spent some time talking about the changes that have taken place with regard to how we celebrate Thanksgiving in America. The Christmas shopping season has traditionally begun after Thanksgiving, but in recent years, we have seen Christmas gradually creep up the calendar until this year, we have had almost every major retailer in the country opening its doors on Thanksgiving day in order to get a jump start on their most lucrative time of year. This radio host pointed out that Thanksgiving and Christmas are two very different holidays, and it is just this distinction which I believe we are in danger of losing altogether, and with it, we will lose something very precious, something right and good, something which pleases God.
He explained, in his opinion, the significance of the Thanksgiving holiday, “…It’s a time that people get together to give thanks for what they have, and it often means get together with friends and relatives to share that experience with one another. It’s a classic American holiday. It was invented here.” But, he says, that American retailers are beginning to attempt to act as if Thanksgiving simply does not exist. I’d like to consider the Thanksgiving holiday and take time to focus our attention on the practice of giving thanks.
There was, in the Old Testament, an entire system of sacrifices and offerings that the Israelites were instructed to give to God, but you may not be aware that one of the offerings which the Jews could give was a sacrifice of thanksgiving. In Leviticus 7:11-14 we have a description of the thanksgiving sacrifice, which was one form of a peace offering. In Leviticus 22:29 we find that this offering was wholly voluntary in response to the goodness and provision of God. Notice the instructions for this offering in Leviticus 7.
11 ‘This is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings which he shall offer to the Lord: 12 If he offers it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer, with the sacrifice of thanksgiving, unleavened cakes mixed with oil, unleavened wafers anointed with oil, or cakes of blended flour mixed with oil. 13 Besides the cakes, as his offering he shall offer leavened bread with the sacrifice of thanksgiving of his peace offering. 14 And from it he shall offer one cake from each offering as a heave offering to the Lord. It shall belong to the priest who sprinkles the blood of the peace offering. 15 ‘The flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offering for thanksgiving shall be eaten the same day it is offered. He shall not leave any of it until morning.
In many ways, this offering was similar to our modern day practice of Thanksgiving. It was a feast, a meal to be eaten by the entire family and shared with the priests. The peace offerings were times of feasting, drinking, talking, singing and celebrating God’s salvation. A couple of things distinguish the thanksgiving offering from the other peace offerings. One was that a portion of the bread and meat was waved over the altar. This was done to acknowledge God as the gift-giver, and then the food that was waved was given to the priest as a portion for he and his family. A second thing that was unique to the thanksgiving offering was the fact that all the food had to be eaten on the day it was prepared, nothing could be left until the next day. This was done to signify their trust in God to provide food for the coming day. It was truly a celebration of praise and thanks to God, and I think we can safely say that the practice of thanksgiving finds it roots in God’s Word.
Let me make it clear, that I am not saying our modern Thanksgiving holiday is taken directly from Scripture, just that we find a precedent for it in God’s Word. With that in mind, I’d like to consider what the Bible has to say regarding our thanksgiving, and specifically the questions Who should give thanks? Why should we give thanks? and How should we give thanks?
- Who should give thanks? In Scripture, only believers give thanks to God. In fact, the presence or lack thereof of thankfulness is an indicator of one’s true spiritual condition before God. This is implied by the very nature of the sacrifice of thanksgiving in Lev. 7, because the peace offerings were not made for the forgiveness of sins or for cleansing. The peace offering presupposed that the man who gave it had already been forgiven and was enjoying a fruitful and blessed relationship with God.
- Why should we give thanks? We give thanks for a variety of things including the nature and works of God (Ps. 30:4; 136:1-3), our fellowship with other believers in Christ (2 Thess. 2:13-14), and our assured confidence of victory over death which has been purchased and guaranteed by the blood of Jesus Christ our sacrifice (1 Cor. 15:51-57).
- How should we give thanks? There are at least two biblical characteristics of thanksgiving that is pleasing to God. Our praise must be sincere, accompanied by our obedience (Ps. 50:23; Heb. 13:15-16), and it must become our constant attitude and lifestyle (Ps. 50:23; Heb. 13:15-16).
So, how should we respond? If you know Jesus Christ as your Savior, you ought to direct your praise and thanksgiving to him, not simply once a year on Thanksgiving Day, but as a regular part of your daily worship. It ought to make you consider how much you actually give thanks on a holiday ostensibly established for that purpose, and how thankful you are the rest of the year.