By Mere Agency / Dec 3
Now if you would please take your copies of God’s Word and turn with me to Psalm 136. We read it together earlier responsively; we’ll not read it again now, but if you would open your Bibles to Psalm 136. In the church Bibles you’ll find that on page 520. Psalm 136.
The Object and the Ultimate Reason for our Thankfulness
Thanksgiving, for me and for my family, is of course an adopted holiday, one that I enjoy immensely. It means that many of the foods that in Britain we would eat at Christmastime we get to eat twice. We get them at Thanksgiving and we get them again at Christmas in our home. So thank you for that! We love Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving. One of the things that I particularly enjoy is a tradition I’m sure many of you practice around the Thanksgiving table. After your meal you may go around the room and talk about what you are thankful for. And I wonder what that would be. Perhaps it would be family. Some of you are here with your family today. Others of you are leaving shortly after the service to go and be with sisters and children and grandchildren and parents and family members and that’s always one of the great joys of this time of year, to be with those that we love. Perhaps you’re very thankful for your family. Maybe you’re thankful for health. Some of you have been battling with chronic illness of one form or another and to see another Thanksgiving is something for which you are deeply grateful to God in itself. There may be many other reasons for your thankfulness. Some of them that you’re not entirely able to vocalize as you express your gratitude to God.
It is perplexing to me, as I’m sure it is to you however, that in many households where that tradition still obtains, people know what they’re thankful for but they seem to have forgotten who they’re thankful to. Thankfulness has become a sort of abstract idea in many a home and we forget that in order to be thankful we are recognizing that what we have received we receive as a gift from someone who has given it to us. We are thankful to Someone. And Psalm 136 is one place where we are reminded about the object of our thankfulness, the One to whom we are to be thankful, and the reasons for our thankfulness, our ultimate and deepest gratitude. So let’s turn our attention please to Psalm 136. Wiley put it so very well in his prayer, didn’t he? One of the greatest problems, the greatest enemies of our thankfulness is our forgetfulness. Psalm 136 helps us deal with our forgetfulness and refocuses our attention on the God of all grace and on His steadfast love.
A Psalm of Thanksgiving and The Steadfast Love of God
It is a psalm of thankfulness and thanksgiving – verses 1, 2, 3, and 26, “Give thanks to the Lord. Gives thanks to the God of gods. Give thanks to the Lord of lords. Give thanks to the God of heaven.” The One to whom we are to give thanks is the Lord God our Maker and our Redeemer. And the great reason for our thankfulness I’m sure was driven home as we recited the psalm together. There is a beat, a rhythm, running through this psalm. “His steadfast love endures forever.” Behind and above ever earthly reason for gratitude stands the unfailing covenant love and grace of Almighty God towards us. And so here we are reminded of the object of our thankfulness and the great and ultimate reason for our thankfulness – the Lord our God and His steadfast love.
The steadfast love of God, of course, is a theme that runs throughout Scripture. It is, perhaps given its classic expression in the New Testament in Romans 8:35 through 39, “Who shall separate us from the love of God? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written, for your sake we are being killed all day long. We are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That’s what the psalm means when it talks about the steadfast love of the Lord that endures forever. Nothing can break the grip of the love of God toward you, believe in Jesus Christ. Nothing. It is steadfast and the love of God for you will endure forever.
And if you look at Psalm 136 it gives us four facets of the love of God or four demonstrations of its steadfast endurance forever to help garrison and bolster our gratitude for His love towards us. Would you look at the psalm? Four demonstrations of the steadfast love of God.
I. God’s Being: The Grounds of His Love
First of all, notice we are reminded of God’s being in verses 1 to 3 and again in verse 26. Here are the grounds of His love. God’s being. “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good. His steadfast love endures forever.” The goodness of the Lord stands behind His steadfast love. Because God is good you can be sure that His love will be fixed on you forever. Verse 2, “Give thanks to the God of gods. His steadfast love endures forever.” His uniqueness. He is the one, true God, the Lord your God who is One. There is no other like Him. All the idols of the nations are dumb. And when we exchange the truth of God for a lie and worship the Creator rather than the created thing God places us under His condemnation and judgment because He is the only God there is. He is the God of gods. He goodness and his uniqueness, His love is fixed on you because He is the only God there is and He is a God of unfailing love.
His governance, verse 3, “Give thanks to the Lord of lords.” He reigns and He rules. He is the sovereign Lord. And because He is in sovereign control working all things together for His own glory and the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose, who does all things according to the counsel of His own will, His love is steadfast and endures forever. And His transcendence, verse 26 – “Give thanks to the God of heaven.” He reigns and is enthroned above the circle of the earth. He is the Lord unlike any creature. He is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. And because of who He is in His goodness and uniqueness and sovereign governments and perfect transcendence, when He fixes steadfast love on you from eternity through time via the cross to eternity, His love is unfailing and sure and true and you are held in its grip forever. Underneath are the everlasting arms. God holds you in the grip of His love and that is the ultimate grounds of our deepest gratitude. And as you give thanks, give thanks for the steadfast love of God for you that will never fail nor fade nor perish. It is His always, forever, stable, constant, unshakeable love fixed on you. So God’s being, His character, who He is, is the first reason or demonstration of the steadfastness of God’s love.
II. God’s Creation: The Theater of His Love
Then secondly, verses 4 to 9, we’re pointed to the creation. God’s being is the grounds of His love. The creation now, verses 4 to 9, is the theater of His love. Romans 1:18 and following tells us that God is revealed in the things He has made so that human beings, looking at the creation, are left inexcusable in their rejection of Him and therefore justly faces condemnation. To the world rejecting Jesus, creation reveals the justice and holiness and ultimately their accountability to the wrath and righteous standards of a holy God. But here we’re told in verses 4 to 9 that creation reveals the love of God to the people of God. If today you are a Christian, a member of the covenant community through Jesus Christ, when you look at the beauty of the world you see testimony to the character of God, to the greatness of God, in all the things that He has made and it strengthens your confidence in the things that you cannot see in His steadfast love towards you. He does great wonders. “His steadfast love endures forever,” verse 4.
And then we have a list, an itemization of those wonders. “Who by understanding made the heavens” – His wisdom. “Who spread out the earth above the waters; who made the great lights, the sun to rule over the day, the moon and stars to rule over the night; his steadfast love endures forever.” What are we being told to do? We’re being told to garrison our confidence in the love of God for us by observing His handiwork, seeing His wisdom and power, seeing the beauty that God has inscribed in all the products of His wise craftsmanship in the created order, and to learn from the creation something about His character. If this is the skill and attention to detail, this is the beauty He has laced into His workmanship, if this is the way He displays His wisdom in the creation, how much more in redemption, in fixing love upon His own people? There is a greater beauty, a greater wisdom, a greater stability, a greater solidity, a greater perfection in the world of the love of God than there is in the world of the creative wisdom of God. So we garrison our confidence in God’s love for us and generate a depth of thankfulness in that love by observing the beauty of the world that He has made.
III. God’s Redemption: The Display of His Love
God’s being the ground of His love, creation the theater of His love, then thirdly, redemption, verses 10 to 22 – the display of His love. “God demonstrates His love for us in this” – Romans 5 and verse 8 – “in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Here we are pointed to the two parts of the great redemptive story of the Old Testament Scriptures. In verses 10 to 16, the exodus story is summarized – God’s deliverance of His people from slavery and bondage in Egypt and in 17 to 22 the conquest of the land. God setting them free from slavery and bringing them into an inheritance of their own, defeating their enemies and providing them with a land and with rest. Exodus and conquest – saving us from slavery and giving us a home and triumphing over our enemies. All of it points to the work of Jesus Christ, who by His life of obedience, His death and by His resurrection, has triumphed over sin and death and hell, has triumphed over Satan and the great enemies of our soul, has won for us full and perfect redemption. God has demonstrated His steadfast love for you in giving Jesus Christ to the cross for you. “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whomsoever should believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The love of God supremely demonstrated in redemption.
IV. God’s Providence: The Persistence of His Love
And then fourthly, we are pointed here to providence – verses 23 to 25. The being of God the grounds of His love, the creation the theater of His love, redemption the display of His love, and now providence- the persistence of His love. He cares about our weaknesses. Verse 23 – it is He who remembered us in our lowest state. As you look back over the year since last Thanksgiving, can’t you trace out the many ways in which this has been true for you, that God has remembered you in your low estate, in your weaknesses, in your frailties, where He has been tender to you, when you have cried out to Him to deliver you from some disaster and He has been gracious and patient with you? Or as you have plunged through dark valleys where He has walked with you and sustained you and His rod and staff have comforted you? Has He not been faithful to you day after day after day? His steadfast love endures forever.
He delivers us from our enemies, spiritual and physical. Verse 24 – “He rescued us from our foes.” We are locked, are we not, in a daily spiritual battle? And yet in it all, Christ gives us victory. Though sometimes it feels like three steps forward and two steps back. Isn’t that the case? Progress in the Christian life – we seem to make progress then we stumble and fall, then we get up and make some more progress and then we stumble and fall. It has been a long, hard road in the year almost now behind us, and yet the love of God has never wavered towards us. Jesus Christ has been a perfect and sufficient Savior for you in all your struggles and daily battles that there has been provision for your sin in His wounds to cleanse you and to have mercy on you. And He has purchased for you the help of His Spirit to strengthen you so that you can pick yourself up from the dust and press on and stay in the fight and win victory after victory by His grace. And He feeds and sustains us. Today’s all about food, isn’t it? Family and food. People call it Turkey Day. I think that’s dreadful but I know what they mean. I’m sure your mouths are watering already in anticipation – mashed potatoes and sweet potato casserole, maybe sweet potato pie or pumpkin pie, and turkey and all the trimmings, stuffing. He cares for us and He has provided for us. Every good and perfect good has been given to us and freely by His grace. We have all that we need and an abundance.
The Christian Life: A Life Marked by Thankfulness
How thankful have you been? How far have you presumed upon His kindness toward you? As you look back over the past year, how often have you punctuated your days with gratitude and expressions of thankfulness? Have you remembered when He has answered your prayers and heard you when you cried to Him? Is your heart marked and characterized by gratitude? What have you that you have not received? It’s all gift, all grace, from the clothes on your back and the roof over your head and the food in your belly to the love of your family to His grace for you in Jesus Christ that has provided for you salvation for time and eternity. What have you that you have not received? Let your gratitude overflow and let today be marked by songs of praise and cries of thanksgiving to the Lord your God, your Father, and in Christ your Savior and your Friend, whose steadfast love endures forever.
Shall we pray together?
O Lord our God, we confess to you that indeed the greatest enemy of our thankfulness has been our forgetfulness. So much of what we have enjoyed we have credited to our own efforts and our own energies. We have sometimes been entitled, sometimes taken things for granted. Today we come repenting of all of that and bowing down, asking You to forgive and cleanse us and registering here and now before You the depths of our gratitude and our thanksgiving. All that we have, we have received from Your hand. We bless You for the loved ones around us. We thank You for the memory of those whom we have loved who have gone ahead of us, bittersweet perhaps for many of us today. We thank You for Your kindnesses, Your faithfulness, Your mercies which are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness. And we praise You supremely for the cross and the empty tomb and Christ who is seated on Your throne who is able to save to the uttermost all who come to God by Him, a full and perfect Redeemer. Thank You for Jesus. We ask, O Lord today, as we enjoy the many gifts of Your common grace, that You would help us to transpose our gratitude for these creaturely comforts to a higher key and to express our praise and thankfulness for Your redemptive love in Jesus Christ. For we ask this in His precious name. Amen.