First Mennonite Church
November 23, 2014
Sacrifice of Thanksgiving
Text: Psalm 107: 1-22
Thanksgiving Day is coming once again. This national holiday typically is the occasion for family gatherings, relaxation, enjoyment of delicious meals, shopping, and maybe some actual time for thanks giving. Christians celebrate this day by adding a religious touch or biblical grounding to it. As for us as a congregation, we are celebrating it today by giving a special emphasis on the importance of gratitude, especially toward God and by having a meal together.
In Psalm 107, the people of Israel were encouraged to give thanks to God for his saving acts. The psalmist gives various reasons why thanksgivings were due to God. God redeemed his people from trouble, by bringing them home from the east, the west, the north and the south. He filled their mouth with goodness and quenched their thirst with refreshing water. He set them free from their bondage, and lifted up their downcast spirit from distress and hopelessness. God also healed their body and their soul from their sinful ways. He rescued them from drought and then from the flood and stormy wind. God did all of this and more when they cried to him in their trouble. However, the underlying factor for which Israel was called to give thanks was because “the Lord is good and his steadfast love endures forever” (v. 1, 8, 15, 21, 31, 43). Israel was called to remember that each of God’s act [acts] of salvation flowed from his goodness and enduring love and faithfulness. God’s miraculous works in delivering his people was not only because he was a miracle-working God, but because of his enduring love for Abraham and his children. God fed his people, protected them from dangers, released them from bondage, and cleansed them from their sins all because of his love for them. And the psalmist encourages Israel to respond by giving thanks: “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love…”
The American Standard Version has a beautiful refrain which some other versions do not translate in the same way. After enumerating each of God’s works of love and faithfulness for his people, the ASV has this refrain: Oh that men would praise Jehovah for his lovingkindness, And for his wonderful works to the children of men! (v. 8, 15, 21, 31). This translation reveals the beauty and joy there are when men acknowledge how much God has done for them. It shows that the readiness for worship comes when we realize how good and faithful God has been to us. Praising God will freely and spontaneously flow from our heart if we only open our eyes to the goodness of God. Oh, that men would praise Jehovah and wouldn’t forget the His goodness! Oh, if we only realized how much God has done for us! Praises, worship, thanksgiving would pour out of our heart if we take time to count our blessings. Oh, if we would only count the many blessing we get! Our heart would be eager to sing praises to God and to offer prayers of thanksgiving continuously to Jehovah for his steadfast love. But very often our selfish nature takes control over us and we begin to complain about the things we do not have while forgetting everything else we already have.
The words of one of Shakespeare’s characters is revealing about having an ungrateful heart when he says:
How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is To have a thankless child! (From Shakespeare’s King Lear, 1605)
Let us open our eyes to see not only the big ways in which God has blessed us—the life we can enjoy, the family that surrounds us and loves us, the house that shelters us, our good health, etc., but also those things we so often take for granted: our ability to enjoy a meal, the air that fills our lungs, being mobile and able to take care of ourselves, being able to see the morning light every day. Oh, that men would only praise Jehovah for his lovingkindness and the wonderful works for the children of men! Then each and every day would be a thanksgiving day for us before our God.
Psalm 107, verse 22 calls for something very interesting regarding thanksgiving. Again, this is from the American Standard Version. And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing. After the refrain about the beauty and joy of praises for God’s steadfast love, the psalmist calls the people to “sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving to God.” When we think of sacrifices, we think of something that requires giving up more than the usual. To make a sacrifice, for example, parents for their children, means parents deprive themselves from sleep to provide care for the baby or avoid buying things for themselves to save for their children’s needs, etc. When sacrifice is done for God, as was the case in the OT, an animal is offered over the altar as part of the worship given to God. The sacrifice of thanksgiving was a practice that accompanied the sacrifice for atonement. In ancient Israel, the Hebrew people celebrated the Day of Atonement every year. It was a religious feast in which the people brought their animals to be sacrificed for the atonement/forgiveness of their sins. This blood offering was a symbolic act in which God offered the penitent forgiveness for his sins. Once the sacrifice of Atonement had been completed, the penitent had the opportunity to make another sacrifice of thanksgiving. In Leviticus 7, verses 12 to 14 says: “If they offer it as an expression of thankfulness, then along with this thank offering they are to offer thick loaves made without yeast and with olive oil mixed in, thin loaves made without yeast and brushed with oil, and thick loaves of the finest flour well-kneaded and with oil mixed in. Along with their fellowship offering of thanksgiving they are to present an offering with thick loaves of bread made with yeast. They are to bring one of each kind as an offering, a contribution to the Lord.
The sacrifice of thanksgiving was a separate sacrifice from that of the blood sacrifice. It was a voluntary sacrificial gift intended to express thankfulness towards God. This sacrifice was not required, yet God opened the door, so to speak, whereby the penitent would have the opportunity to come forward and say to God, “Thank you! Thank you for your forgiveness and for sustaining our lives.”
In the book of Hebrews chapter 13 we find references to this practice but in relationship to Jesus’ sacrificial death for our sins. The writer of Hebrews makes a clear connection between the sacrifices carried out on the Day of Atonement and Jesus’ death on the cross. But the writer also makes references to the sacrifices of thanksgiving mentioned in Leviticus 17. In Hebrews chapter 13, verses fifteen and sixteen read: Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. This sacrifice of praise or of thanksgiving is not a blood sacrifice, but of fruit of lips that openly profess the name of God. Just as in the Old Testament, the sacrifice of thanksgiving was not a blood sacrifice but of produce of the field—wheat or barley and olive oil, today we are asked to offer God sacrifices of praise; that is, fruit of our lips that extol the name of Christ as Lord and Savior.
The New Testament reading of this morning can help us understand this idea of sacrifice. In Romans chapter twelve, verses one and two read: Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
As you prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving next week, bring to mind the many blessings God has given you: life and health, a job and the ability to carry it out, the ways and means to travel and God’s protection as you did it, among so many other ways God has blessed you. He gave you strength and healing when you felt weak and sick. Oh, if you would only praise the Lord for this steadfast love and tell of his goodness to you and your family.
As you celebrate Thanksgiving, remember how God has sustained your faith and kept you strong. His grace has been abundant and ready to forgive when you confessed your sins to God. The Lord is your Healer and the One who rewards your faithfulness. His love makes you feel at home because you are in Christ.
Give thanks to the Lord. Offer to Him sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. Offer to God sacrifices of praise, which are the fruit of your lips that openly confess His holy name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Amen!