Grief, Grace, Gratitude

By / Dec 3


Taste and See

By / Nov 23


His Love Endures Forever

By / Dec 2

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.



No Continuing City

By / Nov 27


Give Thanks

By / Nov 23

Thanksgiving Day
Worship Service

November 23,
2006


Psalm 103
“Give Thanks”

Dr. William
Wymond

[Prayer: Mr. James Elkin]

Our Father, we know ourselves to be the most blessed
people in the world. We know, too, that the God of heaven is our Redeemer. Our
blessing from your hand astounds us. We thank You that the Creator of all the
universe has loved us. We are startled. We know ourselves to be great sinners,
we know ourselves to have no right before you to receive the blessing from the
hand of God, and yet You chose to love us. We cannot imagine, but we’re
grateful.

This is a day of great thanksgiving. We’re
thankful for the food that You provide, for the health that You bring to us, for
peace of life, for calmness. We thank You that this congregation is a home for
us, giving us a sense of heaven. We are grateful that our anticipation is of
much more glory and benefit than we know exists right here and now. We are a
blessed people. We remember the blessing that You have brought to our ancestors,
as we read this from the ancient days of Your glory and blessing being laid upon
Your people in the Old Testament day, and in the New Testament day, and in the
days in between. We’re grateful that You have blessed us as a people, as a
country, with freedom that is unmatched around the world: freedom to be here
unmolested, unthreatened — and we’re grateful.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within
me, bless His holy name. The God of heaven is our God. The God of redemption is
our God. The God of sanctification is our God. The God of our future
glorification is our God. In Christ, we are the most blessed people who have
ever existed.

We thank You for the preaching of the word this
day. We thank you that You nurture, Spirit of God, our souls toward heaven. We
pray for those in our midst who are afflicted–who are afflicted by maladies of
one kind or another. We pray for those in this congregation who are experiencing
the ravages of cancer and of other poor health; but we do remember that the
afflictions of this life wean us away from the affections of this life. We know
that this is not heaven, that You turn our mind’s eye toward the glory that we
shall experience of being with You.

The angels of heaven are eternally praising God.
We pray that that would be our outlook as You mature us in the faith; that we
would not simply have a day of thanksgiving, but that whatsoever we do, we would
do heartily unto Your name and not unto men; that we would be not ceasing in our
prayer, but praying at all occasions; that we would be experiencing fellowship
with You because of the work of the Spirit of God. Enable us to work out our
salvation with fear and trembling, for we know that it is You who is at work in
us, causing us to will and do of Your good pleasure. Our heavenly Father, our
Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, and our Comforter, the Spirit: thank You for
blessing us in ways that astound us, beyond our imagination.

We who are great sinners confess our sin, and by
the mercies of God and the Lord Jesus Christ we ask that You forgive us afresh,
that You give us the joy of Your salvation, that You cause us to be people who
are more and more dedicated to Jesus in all we do.

We have gifts and offerings now to bring to You.
We thank You for this small pleasure and privilege, too, and we ask that You
would use this of Yours which we return to You for the name of Jesus Christ
being exalted, here and in many places. Would You, our heavenly Father, hear our
prayer. Grant Your blessing, because we come to You in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[Vocal Solo: Come,
Harvest Time
]

I have put in the bulletin today the call to
have Thanksgiving that President Bush issued, and I’ve also put on the back page
some other calls for Thanksgivings — some proclamations — because you can see by
them that even before our country was founded there were these calls for
national thanksgiving. President Washington issued more than one call…and I’ve
listed one there. But it was left to a lady whose name was Sarah Jones Hale, who
steadily and patiently agitated to a magazine that she had, a women’s magazine,
to establish a permanent national Thanksgiving Day. And after many years (she
began in 1846), President Lincoln, in October of 1863, issued a call for a
national Thanksgiving which established the day every year. And he said that the
reason he was calling for this national Thanksgiving, even though it was in the
midst of the Civil War, is based on the fact that the crops were still being
grown and they were still able to harvest, and that outside of the war zone
there was peace and civil order.

Because Jackson was in the war zone, I doubt they
celebrated this Thanksgiving service in 1863. If you know anything about our
history, you know that that was when great tumult was happening in Jackson, and
there were occupation troops here. There were four different battles, I
understand, here in Jackson, and the citizens had to go hide sometimes just for
protection. We have the diary of our minister during that time, and it’s
fascinating reading to see how he had to go hide over in Rankin County somewhere
just for protection from the federal troops. As you know, everything was burned
here, so it was a difficult time during Thanksgiving at that time.

But somewhere along the way, the church started
observing Thanksgiving services in the morning, and the earliest bulletins I
could find complete enough to let me know what they did on Thanksgiving was
1926, and it calls for a service at 7:00 a.m.! I can remember when I first came
here that the services were at 7:30 and I thought that was pretty early, and
I’ve never gotten a good explanation as to why those services were so early in
the morning. Some people said it was so that people could get up and get going
before they had to fix the dinner; other people told me it interrupted fixing
the dinner; some tell me it was so that those who had to get on the road to
visit relatives could still worship and then get on the road. But whatever it
was, it was a nice way to begin the day, I think, and an appropriate one, and
I’m glad that we do it, albeit that it’s now at 8:30 in the morning!

I can remember a lot of Thanksgiving morning
services here. I can remember sermons preached. I remember one that Dr. Miller
did on Psalm 136, which we read together antiphonally. I remember another one
that Dr. Patterson preached on Psalm 103, which is the Psalm that we’re going to
look at today. And I remember “Pilgrim”, Dr. Baird! I remember that wonderful
sermon which touched on our national heritage.

Nevertheless, I remember a lot of people who were in
those early services who are now gone, and they’re in a better place in a
perpetual Thanksgiving service. It kind of sobered me to look at an early
bulletin and to realize that everybody who was on the Session when I first came
here is now in heaven, but I have fond memories of those services, and our Psalm
today, which is Psalm 103. You may want to turn to that now. Our Psalm talks
about remembering – the importance of remembering. I’m going to read that Psalm,
but before I read that Psalm, let us look to the Lord in prayer.

O heavenly Father, You have promised that You
will illumine our minds as we read the Scriptures, and You have promised that
You will lead us into even the deep things of the Lord, and so we just ask that
You would give us understanding today. At whatever age we are, we pray that You
would help us to see what the word has to say for us, and we pray that You would
also give us hearts that would be willing to do what the word tells us to do.
And we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Psalm 103:

“Praise the Lord, O my soul;

All my inmost being, praise His
holy name.

Praise the Lord, O my soul,

And forget not all His benefits;

Who forgives all of your sins

And heals all your diseases;

Who redeems your life from the
pit;

And crowns you with love and
compassion;

Who satisfies your desires with
good things,

So that your youth is renewed
like the eagle’s.

“The Lord works righteousness and
justice for all the oppressed.

He made known His ways to Moses,

His deeds to the people of
Israel.

The Lord is compassionate and
gracious,

Slow to anger and abounding in
love.

He will not always accuse, nor
will He harbor His anger forever.

He does not treat us according to
our sins, or repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are
above the earth,

So great is His love for those
who fear Him.

As far as the east is from the
west,

So far has He removed our
transgressions from us.

As a father has compassion on his
children,

So the Lord has compassion on
those who fear Him.

For He knows how we are formed;

He remembers that we are dust.

“As for man, his days are like
grass;

He flourishes like a flower of
the field;

The wind blows over it, and it is
gone.

Its place remembers it no more.

But from everlasting to
everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear Him,

And His righteousness with their
children’s children,

With those who keep His covenant
and remember to obey His precepts.

“The Lord has established His
throne in the heavens,

And His kingdom rules over all.

Praise the Lord, you His angels,

You mighty ones who do His
bidding,

Who obey His word!

Praise the Lord, all His heavenly
hosts,

You, His servants who do His
will.

Praise the Lord, all His works
everywhere in His dominion.

Praise the Lord, O my soul!”

So this song calls us to remember. It says first of
all: “Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name.
Praise the Lord, and do not forget all of His benefits.”

This Psalm is interesting because we find the
psalmist talking to himself. It’s sort of like a soliloquy, and he is saying,
“Soul! Praise the Lord!” Do you ever talk to yourself? We all talk to ourselves,
and most of the time it’s innocent and it’s OK to do, and it’s especially OK if
you are telling your soul to do what David is telling his soul here to do — to
praise the Lord. And he’s saying it’s important not to forget. That theme runs
all through this Psalm — the importance of remembering what the Lord has done
for us.

He also says that he wants his whole inmost
self to praise the Lord. The children of Israel thought that their soul resided
in their liver and in their hearts, and in their organs, and so he’s saying to
all of his truncated self, “Remember…remember what the Lord has done for you.”

I had a sort of interesting thing happen to me a
couple of years ago. I was fortunate enough to take a trip to France, and I
called it an official trip to look at pipe organs of a very famous builder,
whose name was

Aristide Cavaillй-Coll
.
He built the organ for Notre Dame and all the main churches of Paris, and a lot
of other churches in France. They are wonderful pipe organs, and I wanted to see
a little bit more about them so that maybe we could incorporate a little bit of
his ideas in our new pipe organ. And so I caught one of these fast trains from
Paris to Reims to hear one of these organs. That trip was supposed to take an
hour, and if you know anything about those European trains, these rapid trains
are luxurious, and they are fast!

So we were riding along in this train (and I was
reading a book, I think), and we suddenly stopped in a station…and we weren’t
supposed to stop in this station. It was supposed to be a through trip. And we
sat there for about ten minutes, and then finally they came on the train and
they said, “There’s something wrong with the train, and we had to stop here to
get it fixed. We don’t know how long it’s going to be, so you’re welcome to get
off the train and do whatever you want. We’ll let you know when it’s going to
start again.” They said that it wouldn’t start at least for two hours, and so I
thought, “Well, I think I’ll try to take advantage of this.” And I looked up at
the little station sign, and it said “Chateau-Thierry.”

Now, most of you are too young to know what
Chateau-Thierry was in history, and especially in the history of World War I,
but that’s where the American troops fought very important battles: the Battle
of Belleau Wood was one of them, and so I thought, “Well, I think I’ll just look
at this little town.” And it was fascinating to walk through the town, because
the houses looked as though they’d been there from before World War I, and
everything was centrally located. It was easy to look at the town.

And as I got into town center, I looked way up on
the hills beyond and I saw this beautiful monument. And I read in the little
guide that that was the monument that the Americans had placed there after World
War I to remember their troops. And I looked in the square of the town, and
there was a gorgeous church there that had been built by British troops who had
fought there. It’s a little Anglican church. And then I walked along the River
Marne, which is where the battle was, that runs right through the town. And
everywhere I looked there were these little plaques or small monuments to the
memory of the men who had fought there. And I know that after World War I, many
family members — brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers — made trips over to
France and especially to this area where the Battle of the Marne — or, the
Battles
of the Marne were fought, and to see those places and to put up
these markers and these monuments to their sons and to their brothers, and to
their fellow soldiers. There were regular companies established for these people
to plan these trips for these people, so they were constantly coming all during
the 1920’s and into the 1930’s.

But there I was now, many, many years…nearly 90
years after that battle occurred there…those battles…and I was the only
tourist I saw. I didn’t see anybody else walking around looking at these. All
the mothers and the fathers were gone. Most of the brothers and the sisters had
passed away, so all the people who were remembering were no longer there. And so
the memory fades.

And it’s the same with us. It’s so easy for we who
were not there crossing the Jordan River or involved in the conquest of the land
of Israel to forget the importance of this, and the ones who were there are long
gone. And yet God tells generation after generation to remember what He did. And
so we will talk about the things that He did as we look at the admonitions to
remember here.

In this Psalm, he tells us about six things. Don’t
get worried — these are six quick things — six things that we are to remember
about His dealings with us.

I.
The first thing (he says in verse 3) is remember
forgiveness.
Remember that I have forgiven your sins. He forgives all
of our sins.

I think it’s really important to remind ourselves
that the forgiveness of our sins is the central theme of the Bible. When we get
together and we thank God for what He did for us, this is always the theme. It’s
the theme of the cross. It’s the theme of redemption, of deliverance. The
children of Israel were constantly reminded by God in the song book, in the
Psalms, of His deliverance of Israel. You read it there in Psalm 136, it’s in
Psalm 105, Psalm 106, and it’s scattered throughout the Psalms. Over and over
again, he reminds them that He delivered them from the hand of the Egyptians. He
saved them crossing the Jordan River. He gave them the promised land. (And that
we call a type of the salvation of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ on
the cross.) And so it was the central theme for the Israelites, and it’s the
central theme for us: we have been redeemed. And I think about that hymn that we
sing sometimes, especially on Sunday nights: I Love to Tell the Story of
Jesus and His love, and it’s going to be my theme in glory, we say. It’s not
going to be a song that we forget. It’s going to be the song that we sing in
heaven. He saved us from our sins.

II. The second thing he tells
us to remember is that He heals us.
It says here He heals all
your diseases. Now that word all really is important, because it’s not
talking just about physical illness that He heals us from, but it’s kind of a
comprehensive thing. He heals all of our diseases. He heals our mental diseases.
Yes, our physical diseases, but our spiritual diseases, too. It’s a
comprehensive word. When we are healed, in addition to all the wonderful modern
medicine and machines, skilled physicians, and so on, it’s always God who heals
us, and we should never forget that. That means that prayer matters. We pray for
our sick people all the time, and it matters. God uses that as part of His
instrument and of His overall plan for our lives in our healing.

“He heals all of our diseases” does not mean
that He heals all of our diseases, because sometimes He does not heal our
diseases. Sometimes He has a better plan than to heal us from a certain
sickness. That providence which may seem very dark to us in the time in our
lives is also a good providence. God heals our diseases when it is the best
thing for us. We in faith ask Him to do it, knowing, though, that He knows what
is best.

III. The third thing that He
does is to redeem us from the pit.
We’ve already talked about
redemption, how He saves us, but this goes a little bit farther and elaborates
on exactly what happens. He not only saves us from something, but He saves us to
something. God has a wonderful plan for our lives as His children. There is a
future for us. We are not left in the grave. He delivers us from the grave. Now,
I wouldn’t want to upset the people from Wright & Ferguson, but I would just say
don’t put too much money in on that coffin as though you think you’re always
going to be there, because it is a temporary resting place for your body — and
that’s a wonderful thing! One day those graves are going to open. We will be
delivered from that grave, and that implies also eternal death. We will be
delivered from that, and our souls and our bodies will be joined together again
forever to live with the Lord. It’s a wonderful promise that the grave cannot
hold us.

Verse 5 tells us also
that He satisfies our desires with good things, so that our youth is renewed
like the eagle’s.
That’s one of those wonderful promises that most of
us have memorized. (It’s such a beautiful promise that it’s sung in many songs,
by the way.) What it means here is that He truly satisfies us. It doesn’t mean
He gives us everything that we want. It means that He gives us ultimate
satisfaction, our souls are satisfied; and if your soul is not satisfied, it
doesn’t matter what else He gives you, you’re not going to be satisfied. Solomon
tells us that. We know that he had everything and he was not satisfied. But when
God satisfies us, we are invigorated. We are like an eagle who has molted and
looks young again, and we are invigorated. We are young and new again in our
souls and in our spirits.

IV. Next he tells us, in verse
6, that He works justice for us: “The Lord works righteousness and justice for
all the oppressed.”
This is a really important fact that silences the
critic or the skeptic of God…the non-believer who says, “OK, if there really
is a God in this world, what about this? Why didn’t He do this?” That’s
especially mentioned in those huge tragedies like the loss of the six million
Jews, or the loss of those 900,000 people in Rwanda in our own time; or the 20
million who were lost during the days of Stalin. This tells us that God does
exercise justice. We may not have justice immediately in this life, but this is
not a just world in which we live, and
one day there will be justice. We don’t have broken justice in heaven, and in
that great Courtroom the legal system of God is more than adequate to take care
of anything that happens, whether it be a mass tragedy where millions die, or
just that one lone person whom we love who is taken by murder from us right here
in Jackson. And nothing there is forgotten. Nothing is left un-dealt with.

VI. The sixth thing that is
mentioned here in verse 8 is remembering the compassion of God.
I’m
going to break this down into several different groups, but these verses here
are probably the largest collection of verses that talk about the compassion of
God anywhere in a concentrated way in the Bible. The compassion of God
also means the mercy of God. Sometimes that beautiful Old English word
the lovingkindness of God is used. It just takes a lot of words to try to
describe the compassion of God as it’s found here.

I’m going to go back up to verse 4 and just pick
up one phrase. It says “He crowns you with love and compassion.”
You know,
that’s sort of a contradictory idea, if you think about it…crowning us with
love and mercy. If you need mercy, it means that you have done something that
needs God’s mercy, needs God’s love; and yet it says He crowns us, as it were;
He honors us with love and compassion.

I don’t want to demean this concept here, but I
can’t help but tell you about the funny thing I saw on the internet just
yesterday. I think it came as a result of reading something on The New York
Times
site, but there was a Dutch department store very recently that filmed
something they did. It started in their security office, and they were looking
for the 10,000th person to be arrested for shoplifting. And so they
had their cameras going all around the store, and finally they zeroed in on this
young girl and she was seen shoplifting. This really happened! It was almost in
real time, as we were watching it. And so we see her shoplifting and they send a
security guard to get her, and then the people who are in the room all run out
excitedly and they run through the store and they find the girl and they hang a
sign on her: “The 10,000th person to be caught for shoplifting!” And
then a band comes in and starts playing! And they actually had cheerleaders
there, or high-steppers who were walking through the store, and they bring her a
cake. You know, they give her this cake and they put a little dunce cap…they
put a little cap on her. Here is this girl who is caught for shoplifting being
given all these honors as she is crowned, as it were, with a dunce cap. And of
course it’s kind of interesting to see her reaction to all this. She walks away
in shame.

But we don’t walk away in shame, because this crown
is a kind crown. Even though we don’t deserve it, this crown of compassion.
Spurgeon puts it this way:

“This crown is studded with the gems of grace, and lined with the velvet of
lovingkindness. It is decked with the jewels of mercy, but made soft for the
head to wear by a lining of tenderness.”

Also concerning this compassion of the Lord, we
read that the Lord is compassionate and gracious, and slow to anger, abounding
in love.
And I look especially at that phrase “Slow to anger….” This does
not mean that the Lord just sits there fuming and finally, after He can’t stand
it any longer, bursts forth in anger. What it’s really talking about here is not
a tantrum that God has, but it’s talking about a very fair, just, and measured
way of dealing with our sin. He waits very patiently, urging us on to obey Him;
but if we forever persist in rebellion, then there is this measured, just
response. That’s what that word anger there means.

And then it goes on to say that God does not hold
a grudge. In His compassion, it says “He will not always accuse, or harbor His
anger forever.”
What it means is that God is not vindictive of spirit. His
arms truly are open with no reservations to receive us back in mercy and in
love, and He just doesn’t hold grudges. The Scripture verse that says “His
mercies are new every morning” means just that: that He greets us, as it were,
every day with mercy and love, and with His heavenly Fatherly smile, to begin
the day with us and to help us throughout that day.

Also, this verse says about the compassion that
He removes our sins.
It says He does not treat our sins…or repay us
according to our iniquities:

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those
who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our
transgressions from us.”

Isn’t that one of those verses that you claim, and perhaps
you quote in prayer a lot? It’s an important verse because it lets us know that
God does not hang on to the guilt of our sin. And there are a lot of people who
hang on to it when God has let it go. When we come in genuine confession, we
should let that sin go and not let Satan keep accusing us with that
sin…bringing that sin back up to us.

It’s not that God dismisses the sin as though it
didn’t matter. No, He really dealt with it in a very dramatic way. That’s what
the cross is about. God sent His Son to die for that sin. That’s why, the sin
having been paid for, He can say to us ‘OK. That sin is taken care of. I have
taken care of the guilt of that sin. Don’t dishonor me by carrying that sin in
your memory and in the future.’

And finally, His compassion takes account of our
flaws:

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on
those who fear Him. For He knows how we are formed, and He remembers that we are
dust.”

I love that verse. I’ve always appreciated that verse.

There’s a book that has been popular, and I think a
movie has just come out about it, called Flags of Our Fathers. It talks
about the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima and about the men who were there, and
about their subsequent lives. As it turns out, after the raising of that flag
two of those men were killed. And the Army was anxious to use that picture and
that event to raise money for bonds, and so they brought back the men who were
living to go on a tour of the country to raise the money. But it took them a
while to figure out who was actually in the picture. They couldn’t recognize
some of the people, and especially they couldn’t recognize one guy because his
back was to the camera and nobody seemed to remember who it was–except for one
fellow, the Indian who is in there. And he carried this memory of who it
actually was, and made it his cause to go see the boy’s mother. The boy’s mother
lived in Texas, and he just wanted to go and tell her something about her son.
And so when he got there and he told her, yes, that was your son, she said, “I
knew it. I always knew it, that that was my son. In fact, I told everybody! I
told my other children–nobody believed me, but I knew that that was my son.” She
said, “I cared for that son all through his life, and even though I only saw a
picture of the back of my son, I knew that that was my son.” There was such an
intimate acquaintance that that lady had, having raised that son, that she knew
who it was.

And it is that picture of intimacy that we get here.
God knows us through and through. There isn’t anything that we’ve hidden from
Him. He knows all of our weaknesses, He knows where we stumble, He knows where
we fail Him, He knows where we’re going to do all these things. He knows that we
are dust, and yet He has redeemed, as it were, this dust through the death of
His Son. And so He has compassion on us, and plans to have compassion on us for
our failures in the past, our failures in the future–all those have been placed
on the Lord Jesus Christ.

That does not give us warrant to continue to sin. We
can’t use that as an excuse: we use that as a wonderful word of comfort to
ourselves when we are so chagrined that we have failed God once again.

In closing, this Psalm says:

“As for man, his days are like grass. He flourishes like a flower of the field.
The wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.”

Our lives are short, in other words.

“But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear Him,
and His righteousness with their children’s children; with those who keep His
covenant and remember to obey His precepts.”

So today when you get together with your family or
your friends and you have your Thanksgiving prayer, remember that it’s for
spiritual things that we are really gathered to thank God. Yes, we acknowledge,
and He says, that He provides us all of our food and our clothes, and our houses
and our toys. But when the Bible really gets serious directing our attention to
what we ought to be thankful for, it’s for these spiritual benefits: redemption;
deliverance; mercy; forgiveness; patience; compassion. Make that the language of
your prayer today as you have your Thanksgiving.

Let us pray.

Our heavenly Father, we do thank You for these
spiritual riches that we see in the Psalm. We pray that You would help us to be
truly grateful for these gifts — more than all the toys, the houses, the cars,
all those things that we think that we need and all those things that we so
value. We pray this in the name of the Lord Jesus. Amen.

The Psalm calls for all of the hosts, everything
that is made to praise Him, and so let’s do that through Hymn 715, Come, Ye
Thankful People, Come
.

[Congregational hymn]

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statement.



Giving Thanks in Hard Places

By / Nov 24

Thanksgiving Day

November 24, 2005

Acts 13:52; 14:27-28

“Giving Thanks in Hard Places”

Mr. Brad Mercer

If you would, turn in your Bibles to Acts, chapter
15….now I might have just said 15; I meant 13. I’m still shaken up. I
received when I walked into the sanctuary this morning a challenge. A mother
walked up to me and looked me in the eye and said, “This is the first time my
toddler has ever been in a worship service at First Presbyterian Church. That’s
my challenge to you, Brad Mercer!” And so I’m being forced to give thanks for
that as a…… But as you can see, the passage is Acts 13:52.

We will not read the entire account this morning of
Paul’s first missionary journey, but I do want to read one verse from the middle
of this account, and two verses at the end. So we’ll be looking at chapter 13,
verse 52, and then we’ll be looking at chapter 14, verses 27 and 28. Before we
read the word together, let’s pray.

Lord, we do thank You this day. We’re especially
mindful this day of all Your good gifts. We thank You for the opportunity to
come and gather with Your people at the outset of this day, this day that we
look forward to being with friends and family members. And as Christians, those
who know and walk with the Lord Jesus Christ, we know that we should be
characterized by an ongoing daily thankfulness, but we aren’t always
characterized by an ongoing daily thankfulness. We need Your help. We pray that
You would make Your presence known and felt to us at this time as Your word is
read and proclaimed, and we pray that You would glorify Yourself in our midst.
We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Acts 13:52 – “And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the
Holy Spirit.”

[Now look at chapter 14:27, 28.]

“And
when they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all
things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the
Gentiles. And they spent a long time with the disciples.”

May God bless to us His word.

We would expect disciples to be characterized by joy
— rejoicing, looking forward to fellowship with one another. We would expect
disciples to overflow with enthusiasm about the Gentiles’ receiving the gospel,
hearing the gospel, being converted to Christ. We would expect disciples to be
characterized by a daily ongoing thanksgiving in their lives, like these
disciples are.

But remember the context. Remember the context
here. Paul and Barnabas are commissioned by the Holy Spirit through the church
and sent to preach the gospel, and so they sail to Cyprus and they preach their
way 90 miles across the island of Cyprus, preaching in synagogues. And the
governor of Cyprus wants to know more — a Gentile, a man with no Jewish
bloodline, a man with no connection with the synagogue wants to know more. And
they (Barnabas and Paul and John Mark) meet with him, and he receives Christ.
He’s converted to Christ.

In this context there is a sorcerer, a magician, who
finds out, who is very concerned and confronts Paul, Paul confronts him, Paul
wins this battle and the sorcerer wanders away blind. They continue. They sail
to Asia Minor, modern day Turkey. They find that upon landfall John Mark goes
back to Jerusalem — why, we’re not exactly sure, but he leaves. He’s had
enough. They travel 100 miles inland to Pisidian Antioch and they continue to
preach the gospel in Jewish synagogues, and Paul proclaims loudly to all who
will hear, ‘The Messiah has come! God has kept His covenant promises! We preach
to you the good news, the promise made to our fathers.’

He stays and preaches on the next Sabbath in the
synagogue, and the synagogue this Sabbath is mobbed. Many people respond. Many
people come — the whole city, Luke tells us. But many Jews become jealous,
resistant, and they stir up some Gentiles and Paul and Barnabas are driven out
of town.

They move on to Iconium. They continue preaching in
the Jewish synagogues. Many respond, many are converted, many believe; but once
again we have resistance, confusion, persecution, and a mob with stones. So
they flee again.

They flee to Lystra this time, but this time they’re
preaching to illiterate pagans. They’re preaching the word of God, forgiveness,
redemption, reconciliation, salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ, to illiterate
pagans. And in the context of preaching, Paul heals a man who was lame from
birth and this man walks, and these pagans declare, “The gods have come down and
taken the form of men! Zeus and Hermes are in our midst!” and the priest of Zeus
comes and brings an oxen and wants to sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas and worship
them. And of course they say, ‘We are men like you. Look to Christ. We are but
men. Jesus Christ is your hope and salvation.’ But again, division,
resistance: they’re being followed by Jews from Antioch and Iconium, and they
bring stones. They stone Paul, drag him out of the city and leave him for dead.

They flee again to Derbe and retrace their steps
back to Antioch. And what do they say when they get back? What do they say
when they get back to report to the church that commissioned them? They say,
“The Gentiles are coming in through the door of faith,” and they spent a long
time there. But this door of faith has many tribulations.

This door of faith has many tribulations, but
there’s no complaining, no criticizing — only enthusiasm. The Gentiles are
hearing the word of God, they’re responding, they’re coming to Christ! They’re
being converted!

Now, how is it — here’s the question: How is it
that Paul can go on? How is it that Paul can go on and continue to be
characterized by joy, praise, thanksgiving in the midst of this resistance and
division and persecution and violence, and fleeing from one city to the next?
How? Obviously he was struck down on the Damascus road, called to be the
apostle to the Gentiles, and there are many events, circumstances in Paul’s life
we could possibly look to for answer. But I would submit that Paul’s experience
several years earlier when he went home after his conversion to Jesus Christ is
key.

Paul went back to Tarsus after his conversion to
Christ. During the silent years, what we call the silent years, what would have
happened to Paul when he went back home after his conversion? He would have
been disowned, disinherited, rejected by friends and former teachers, and it’s
at this time, this period of the silent years when he goes back home, probably
that he has an experience that is intimate, that is profound, that he hesitates
to talk about, that he can’t fully explain. But I would agree with Philip
Hughes here who says that this experience is the summit from which to view the
entire mountain range of Paul’s life and ministry — the summit from which to
see, to view, to understand Paul’s life and his ministry.

It involves his highest exaltation, his deepest
humiliation; but he is compelled in defense (in II Corinthians 12:1-10) of his
apostolic authority to reveal it to us. What happened? He’s taken up into the
third heaven, as Calvin says “the heaven of heavens.” He’s caught up into the
third heaven and sees and hears and experiences words and sights that he can’t
put into words. He can’t explain. And at the same time, he’s given a thorn.
He’s given a thorn in the flesh, he says, “to keep me from being exalted above
measure.”

Now, we don’t know what the thorn is — whether it’s
an eye ailment or a fever or epilepsy, spiritual warfare, some other kind of
sickness — but Paul’s response, just like the Lord Jesus Christ’s – three times,
“take it away.” Take the thorn away, Paul prays to Christ. Christ prays to His
own Father, “If it’s possible…if it’s possible…to remove this cup,” and the
answer of course both times, with Paul and with the Savior, is No, there’s a
better way. There’s a better way. And the response again of Christ to Paul’s
request: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”

How does Paul respond? “Therefore…” — one of the
most amazing passages to me in the Scriptures, and sometimes we overlook it
because of Christ’s emphasis on His grace being sufficient and powerful,
perfected in weakness — Paul responds to this “No” by saying, “Therefore I am
well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions,
with difficulties….” Why? …for Christ’s sake. For Christ’s sake — “For
when I am weak, then I am strong.” When I am weak, I am strong. Paul, in
context of this weakness, this thorn, this ‘No, there’s a better way; power is
perfected in weakness,’ boasts about his weaknesses and sufferings.

How? Why? Because he’s seeking to be what Martin
Luther called “a little Christ.” Not that he’s seeking to be divine, but he
understands the purpose of a believer’s life, and that purpose is to in all
circumstances unveil, display, proclaim the glory of Jesus Christ…in all
circumstances. He’s not suffering from some kind of unhealthy martyr complex
here; he is leading from weakness. He is leading from weakness. He understands
that [you’ve experienced this] it is just at those times when we’re most
disappointed, vulnerable, fearful, hurt, that Christ’s glory and goodness and
mercy and power are made most manifest. It is just at those times God’s very
saving plan is most clearly revealed, when — what? Jesus Christ empties Himself,
takes on the form of a servant, even unto death. The power of salvation comes
through the weakness of the incarnation; triumph through failure; salvation
through destruction. The supreme expression of Jesus’ saving power is revealed
at the precisely same place where we see the supreme expression of His weakness.
As Dorothy Sayers says, “He will be victor and victim in all His wars, and He
will triumph in defeat.”

Think of it. Paul does not say ‘Power is perfected
in anticipating every possible contingency. Power is perfected in carefully
measured and appropriate responses. Power is perfected in strategic networking
relationships. Power is perfected in self-centered martyrdom. Power is
perfected in fear, or cowardice or lack of faith.’ No. Power is perfected in
weakness. Power is perfected in Christ-likeness: being “little Christ.”

But think of it. No more valiantly trying to sort
of tip the heavenly scales of merit in our direction; no more posturing to gain
worldly attention; no more trying to merit self-worth; no more pretending that I
have all the answers; no more being surprised when I realize I’m not in
control. I can just say, “Jesus Christ, I am here for You. I trust You. I don’t
understand, but You don’t have to explain, and I give thanks for everything You
have done, You are doing, and will do. And You don’t have to explain.”It’s
almost as if He Himself says, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand. I trust you.’

My son and I have had several long, marathon
sessions of watching — we’ve never done it in one day, I don’t know that it’s
possible, but we’ve done it in the week — watching the film series The Band
of Brothers
. I don’t know if you’ve seen that. It’s rough, but it has
given me a respect that I never had for the World War II generation. There’s a
scene in that film, a low point in the battle, where a soldier is paralyzed
with fear in a foxhole. He can’t move. He’s had enough of the shelling, he’s
had enough of the shooting, and he can’t get out of his foxhole. And another
soldier walks over, leans down, looks him in the eye, and he says, “You know
what your problem is? You haven’t realized that in order to be a good soldier
you must come to terms with the fact that you’re already dead. Your life is not
your own.”

For a Christian, yes, we’re already dead; but we
have been raised with Christ in glory. We know how the story ends, and as C.S.
Lewis so wonderfully says, “We’ve only lived in this life on the cover page. The
book hasn’t been opened yet.” You’re already dead in Christ, raised with
Christ.

Now, I would be remiss on this day if I didn’t
mention — some of you know this — my mother named me after the second governor
of the Plymouth Colony, William Bradford, and so I’ve been interested in this
man for a number of years. He was a separatist Puritan from Yorkshire in
England, traveled over on the Mayflower with 102 people, helped plant this
colony in Plymouth.

What you may not realize is when the Mayflower came
over, it didn’t land at Plymouth. It landed at the very tip of Cape Cod. And
William Bradford and William Brewster and Miles Standish and all those names we
know went off on an exploring party for six weeks in order to find a place where
they might make a permanent settlement, and they encountered all kinds of trials
along the way. But when William Bradford came back to the Mayflower after they
had found Plymouth where they would permanently settle, his wife had died. She
had fallen off the boat and drowned. And after all that he had been through —
bad food, sickness, a crew dying, passengers dying – later they would go through
a brutal winter, and of course the first Thanksgiving, and families would die.
This was only the beginning, his wife dying. But toward the end of his life he
gives a challenge to future generations, and he does it in poetry, and here’s
what he says. This is, again, toward the end of his life, long after he’d
written Of Plymouth Plantation and lived his long life there of 30 years
there as governor:

“But keep the truth in purity,

Walk in all humility;

Take heed of pride and
contention,

For that will bring destruction.

Seek love and peace and purity,

And preserve faith and sanctity,

And God will bless you

With His grace,

And bring you to His resting
place.”

This is a challenge to remember God’s continuing
thankfulness, in light of all the suffering that he had been through.

One other man that landed at Massachusetts Bay ten
years later ended up being governor there: John Winthrop, and he wasn’t able to
bring his wife, but on the passage over his son fell out of the Arabella
and drowned. But before he left, he made a commitment to his wife, and she
with him, that every Monday and every Friday between 5 and 6 in the evening,
they would think about and pray for each other. And after he had landed and his
son had died and they’d been through many trials and difficulties, in his first
letter home…his first letter home to his wife…he says this:

“Yet for all these things, I praise God. I am not discouraged, nor
do I see cause to despair of those good days here, which will make amends for
all.”

Two men in our past we often think of who understand what
it means to be “a little Christ”; that grace is sufficient and power is
perfected in weakness.

Finally, do you know how the Book of Acts ends? Do
you remember how the Book of Acts ends? More specifically, do you know what the
very last word of the Book of Acts is? anempodistos
– unhindered.” The very last Greek word in the Book of Acts –
“unhindered,” in reference to Paul:

“And he stayed there two full years in his own rented quarters, and was
welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the
Lord Jesus with all openness, unhindered.”

Paul is in house arrest; he’s chained to a Roman
soldier, but the kingdom advances, the proclamation goes on unhindered even with
Nero rampaging and Paul shortly paying for his faith with his life. “My grace
is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”

Finally, I would also be remiss if I didn’t say
something about this. It’s right around the corner, what may be my favorite
scene. (No, it’s not in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe!) It’s in
Prince Caspian, and things are looking bad for Narnia. Narnia has been
conquered; great deceit, suffering, death is everywhere; and Lucy one night out
in the moonlight looks up on the hill and sees the large imposing presence of a
Lion in the moonlight. She walks up to him and gazes at him, and he gazes down
[pick up on this as you read the book] this gaze…he gazes at her with his
large, wise face, and says this:

“Welcome, child.”

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “You’re
bigger.”

“That is because you are older,
little one.”

“Not because you are bigger?”
said Lucy.

“I am not. But every year you
grow, you will find me bigger.”

As we grow in Christ, as we come to know Him, as we
walk with Him, as we understand what it is to be a little Christ, and know and
experience power perfected in weakness, every year we grow we will find Him
bigger. Let’s pray.

Lord God, we have the opportunity to live lives
of thankfulness, and we live in a world that is fallen. We live in a world that
is racked by sin. We have sin, indwelling sin, remaining sin; we’re not enslaved
to it, but it nips at our heels. We pray that we would remember this day Paul
and his convictions about what it is to be and to live the life of a Christian;
and more importantly, we remember this day the Lord Jesus Christ, who emptied
Himself, became poor, took on the form of man, a bondservant, a slave even unto
death, and conquered that death; and in Him we have a great hope. Give us this
day our daily bread, and enable us to be happy with that and to trust You, and
to not look for every answer and every explanation, but to trust and obey. We
pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

If you’ll turn now to Hymn No. 715, Come, Ye
Thankful People, Come!
and we’ll stand as we sing. [Congregational hymn.]

Now receive the Lord’s benediction.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the
love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.



We Give Thanks

By / Nov 28

Psalm 105
We Give Thanks

Thanksgiving
2000

I invite you to turn with me to Psalm 105. The
contemplation of God’s mercies to us is essential to our ability to thank Him as
we ought.

Why are you thankful today? What are you here to give
thanks for? Why do we give thanks? We may be here very mindful of family
blessings of various sorts that God has given to us today–children,
grandchildren, healthy parents, healthy children, happy relationship with our
spouse–there may be many thanks on our hearts as we gather in this place for
family blessings. We may be thankful for material prosperity; the Lord may have
blessed us individually or we may sense that even if it has been somewhat of a
lean year for us, we nevertheless live in a land of great prosperity all things
considered. We may be thankful for other national mercies, that we live in a
free land still, and that despite all the concerns of these last days, there are
not tanks in the streets, there are not battle lines drawn, and the peace
holds. We may come here today with many things on our hearts that we’re
thankful for, but God wants us to make sure that we are contemplating the most
important things as we come to give Him thanks, and we will not be the thankful
people that we ought to be unless we contemplate the real and the deepest
reasons for which we ought to give thanks, and that’s why I want to turn us to
the Psalms, this Christian book of thanksgiving and experience, and the 105
Psalm, and think with you for a few moments about the directions for
thanksgiving found here.

Let’s hear God’s holy and inspired word in Psalm
105:

O give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name; make known
His deeds among the peoples.
Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; speak of all His wonders.
Glory in His holy name; let theheart of those who seek the LORD be
glad.
Seek the LORD and His strength; seek His face continually.
Remember His wonders which He has done, His marvels and the judgments uttered by
His mouth, O seed of Abraham, His servant, O sons of Jacob, His chosen ones!

He is the LORD our God; His judgments are in all the earth.
He has remembered His covenant forever, the word which He commanded to a
thousand generations, the covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath to
Isaac.
Then He confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, to Israel as an everlasting
covenant, when they were only a few men in number,
very few, and strangers in it.
And they wandered about from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another
people.
He permitted no man to oppress them, and He reproved kings for their sakes:
“Do not touch My anointed ones, and do My prophets no harm.”
And He called for a famine upon the land; He broke the whole staff of bread.
He sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
They afflicted his feet with fetters, he himself was laid in irons; until the
time that his word came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him.
The king sent and released him, the ruler of peoples, and set him free.
He made him lord of his house and ruler over all his possessions,
to imprison his princes at will, that he might teach
his elders wisdom. Israel also came into Egypt; thus Jacob sojourned in the
land of Ham.

And He caused His people to be very fruitful, and made them stronger than their
adversaries.
He turned their heart to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servants.

He sent Moses His servant, and Aaron, whom He had chosen.
They performed His wondrous acts among them, and miracles in the land of Ham.

He sent darkness and made it dark; and they did not rebel against His words.
He turned their waters into blood and caused their fish to die.
Their land swarmed with frogs even in the chambers of their kings.
He spoke, and there came a swarm of flies and gnats in all their territory.
He gave them hail for rain, and flaming fire in their land.
He struck down their vines also and their fig trees, and shattered the trees of
their territory.
He spoke, and locusts came, and young locusts, even without number,
and ate up all vegetation in their land, and ate up
the fruit of their ground.
He also struck down all the firstborn in their land, the first fruits of all
their vigor.
Then He brought them out with silver and gold, and among His tribes there was
not one who stumbled. Egypt was glad when they departed, for the dread of them
had fallen upon them.
He spread a cloud for a covering, and fire to illumine by night.
They asked, and He brought quail, and satisfied them with the bread of heaven.

He opened the rock and water flowed out; it ran in the dry places like a river.

For He remembered His holy wordwith Abraham His servant; and He brought forth
His people with joy, His chosen ones with a joyful shout.
He gave them also the lands of the nations, that they might take possession of
the fruit of the peoples’ labor, so that they might keep His statutes and
observe His laws, Praise the LORD!

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy and
inspired word. May He add His blessing to it. Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, we bow before You this day, and
we thank You for this word. Stir up our hearts to thankfulness, even in the
contemplation of this, Your truth. Speak to us of eternal things, things of
Christ, and as we are united in Him by faith, enable us to hope for the city
which has foundations, whose architect and builder is god. These things we ask
in Jesus’ name, Amen.

You may have noticed as
we read through that Psalm, that the first 15 verses David chose to be part of
the words that he spoke during his enthronement ceremony, we’re told in the
Chronicles. David went to these words, and we’ll see why he went to these words
in a few moments, but one of the things that stand out is the repetition of
matters for praise: the repetition of matters for thanksgiving, reasons why we
ought to give thanks, which are heaped up by the Psalmist in this great Psalm.

I’d like to
consider those things with you today, in fact, I think you’ll see eight distinct
sections in this psalm which provide for us matters of praise. If you’ll look
at verses 1-7, you’ll see general directions for praise. Then, the specific
reasons why we ought to praise God, the things for which our thanksgiving is
anchored, are successively listed for us in the sections that follow. In verses
8-11, we see thanksgiving for God’s covenant. In verses 12-15, we see
thanksgiving for God’s watch care over His people. In verses 16-22, thanksgiving
for God’s revealed design in providence. In verses 23-25, appreciation for even
God’s dark providences. In verses 26-36, thanksgiving for God’s judgment
against the wicked. In verses 37-45, thanksgiving again for God bringing Israel
out of Egypt because of His covenant. And then, finally, in verses 44-45,
thanksgiving for this blessed hope, for the conquest that God has given to His
people, and for the purposes of our redemption. And I’d like to walk through
these with you today, because I think there’s a lot to help us as we stir up our
own hearts to praise.


I. A call to praise God with the whole of our being.

First, look at verses 1-7. Here we see a call to praise God with
the whole of our being. The Psalmist gives us nine imperatives in just five
verses, and if you look at those imperatives that he heaps up in those first
five verses, they constitute a call for us to praise God with the whole of our
being, to praise Him with the whole of our memory, with the whole of our
hearts. He’s calling for whole-soul praise of God, and we learn here that we
ought to praise God for who He is, for what He has done, and for who He has made
us to be. Look at verses 1-5, and there are nine directions. Give thanks to
the Lord, call on His name, make known His deeds among the peoples, sing to Him,
speak of His wonders, glory in His holy name, let the heart of those who seek
Him be glad, seek the Lord and His strength, and remember His wonders. Over and
over, the Psalmist piles up these directions for praise, and each of those
individual directions has hidden within them specific clues for how to stir up
our hearts to thanksgiving.

For instance, isn’t
it interesting, that in verse 5 he calls us to remember what God has done. It’s
so easy to forget what God has done, isn’t it? Especially when we are in times
of hardship. It’s as if all the things that God has done for us have evaporated,
and all that we can remember is what we are surrounded with, and we seem to be
surrounded in desolation. And so, it is doubly important for the saint, when he
is in that particular place of desolation to remember what the Lord has done and
to seek in remembrance of what the Lord has done, an oasis in the middle of an
experiential desert. And so the Psalmist gives us clues as to how we can stir up
our hearts.

But notice also in
verse 6 that he reminds you of who you are. Having given you those divine
directions on how you ought to praise Him, he reminds you who you are. “O seed
of Abraham, His servant, O sons of Jacob, His chosen ones…”–that’s who you are.
He’s reminding you that, by faith, you are the children of Abraham. You are the
seed of His choice; you are His people. He has chosen you for His inheritance.
And isn’t that, in and of itself, a matter of thanksgiving, despite who we are,
despite our sinfulness, as we’ve already prayed this morning, that He has chosen
us to be His people. And so, the Psalmist reminds us of who we are, even as we
prepare to praise.

And then two very
important little phrases in verse 7. Notice what we are told here. What is it
that the sons of Abraham, the sons of Jacob, lift up to the Lord in thanksgiving
here? He is the Lord our God. Do you
remember what God had spoken to Israel at Sinai? Before He ever gave them the
Ten Commandments, He said a preparatory word. He said a word of introduction
before the commandments were given. And what was that word? “I am the Lord
your God.” Do you see that the first
phrase of verse 7 is the people of God’s response to what God has said to them?
He said to them, “I am the Lord your
God.” They say back to Him, “Yes, indeed, you are the Lord our
God,” or, as it is put here, “He is the Lord our
God.” So God speaks declaring who He is and His people echo back to Him. “Yes,
Lord, that is precisely who You are. You are the Lord our God who brought us out
of the land of Egypt and out of the house of bondage.”

Notice, my friends,
and it’s made clear even in this passage where the imperatives of praise are
being given, that God never calls on us to praise Him without reason. We always
praise God with reason. That’s very important. It is not uncommon today to
have songs of praise to God wherein there is never mentioned the reason for why
we praise God. That is a very unbiblical pattern
. God never asks us to
praise Him without asking us to contemplate the reasons we ought to praise Him.
And if we ever disjoint the praise of God from the basis of the praise of
God, we will find our thankful heart evaporating because we are all too quick to
forget the reasons why we ought to praise God
. So, even here, as God calls
us to praise, He reminds us of all the reasons why we ought to praise Him.

Notice one more
thing. In the second half of verse 7, the Psalmist goes on to say, “His
judgments are in all the earth.” Friends, this is a declaration of God’s
universal sovereignty. This is a declaration that God’s supreme court rules over
all of heaven and earth. I suspect that if I were to take a poll, there would be
many in this sanctuary today, who are glad that the Florida Supreme Court
judgments are not in all the earth. But the Psalmist is declaring that God’s
judgments are in all the earth. In other
words, there is no place in the world where His judgments are not binding,
final, authoritative and valid. God’s judgments are in all the earth; He is the
Sovereign. And for that reason, as well as the fact that He is our covenant God,
and that we are His covenant people, we ought to praise God. The Psalmist
doesn’t finish there; that’s just his preface. He wants to take us back through
the history of Israel and run it up to that point in time in order to remind us
of the specific reasons that we ought to praise God. And I think there are some
things in here that might be of great encouragement for you to contemplate.
Let’s walk through them briefly this morning.


II. Thanksgiving for God’s covenant.

First of all, if you look at verses 8-11, you’ll see that
Thanksgiving is anchored in God’s binding commitment to us, and in the
inheritance He has promised to us. We ought to praise God because of the
certainty of His covenant promises, and because of His inheritance. Notice
again, in verse 8, “He remembered His covenant. He has remembered His covenant
forever the word which He commanded to a thousand generations.” We need to
remember that He remembered. We need to remember if we’re going to have thankful
hearts, we need to remember that He remembered and that He remembers. Again,
when we are in times of hardship, it is easy to think that the Lord has
forgotten us. The children of Israel cried out at the end of Exodus 2, and we’re
told that God remembered the covenant that he had made with Abraham. We are
being reminded here again of that in the Psalm. “He has remembered His covenant,
the word that He made to Abraham.” The promise He made to Abraham. And it is
so important for us, as well, to remember that the New Testament makes it amply
clear that this promise to Abraham is a promise to us.
What is the point
of the Book of Galatians, but to make it clear that we as those who have faith
in Christ Jesus, are heirs of the promise that God has made to Abraham. Yes,
this is the story of Israel, but as believers, this is our story
. We are all
part of these covenant promises, and we ought to praise God because of the
certainty of those promises; just as God was certain and sure and faithful of
the fulfilling of His promises to His people in the Old Testament, so also He is
faithful in fulfilling His promise to us.

And here, if you
look at verse 11, you also see a mention of that land of Canaan, which God has
promised in His covenant with Abraham. And this promise of Canaan points to the
city that has foundations. And, of course, it points ultimately to fellowship
with God Himself. Just as He has chosen us for His inheritance, so also, Paul
says in Romans, chapter 4, that He has given us the world as our inheritance;
and, of course, beyond that, He has given Himself to us as our inheritance.

And so, why ought
we to be thankful? We ought to be thankful because of the certainty of God’s
covenant promise and because of the inheritance that He has in store for us.
That’s fuel for praise; that stirs us up to praise.


III. Thanksgiving for God’s watch-care over His people.

But, he is not finished; he goes on to verse 12-15. And there he
reminds us that thanksgiving is anchored in a realization of God’s sheltering
watch care. He reminds us a little bit of the history of the patriarchs. They
wandered about, a very small band. They could have easily been taken advantage
of, conquered, destroyed, or wiped out. Yet God reminds us that even though they
were few and strangers in the lands in which they dwelt, His sheltering
watch-care protected them. And also, so we ought to praise God for His gospel
protection, for His special providence over us. Though the patriarchs might not
have always realized it, God was watching over them to keep them. And though, we
might not always realize it, God is watching over us to keep us.

This realization
may be the thing that motivated David to use this Psalm. Think of David. He knew
what it was to be forgotten by everybody else. He knew what it was to dwell in
the wilderness. He had been given the promise of God to be the King of Israel,
and yet, he had dwelled as an exile, as a fugitive, as an enemy of the state in
the deserts for so many years. And suddenly, here he is on his way into
Jerusalem to be enthroned. And his mind immediately goes to Psalm 105. I wonder
if it is this very truth–that God protected the patriarchs in the wandering
years in the wilderness–that motivated David to lift this psalm up to God as a
psalm of praise in his own circumstances. Because so often in David’s own
expressions of his experience, for example, he had refused to take the
initiative in crowning himself king, but had waited for God to provide what He
had promised to him. Now God, in His promises provided it, and David goes back
and remembers God’s providences over him. My friends, are you mindful of God’s
providential protection of you?

Do you realize that
God is sheltering you day by day? Do you realize that when you get to glory,
there will be a thousand, thousand incidents that you have never known about
that will be revealed to you in which you will see how God has protected you.
Are you mindful of that? We see that in His providences amongst His saints in
time’s past. Do we realize that it is just as true for us today? Do we lift up
our hearts in thanksgiving? Or, do we only see those things wherein we think,
“What’s going wrong here? Where was God when I needed Him?” God, in His gospel
protection, has a special providence over us.


IV. Thanksgiving for God’s revealed design in providence.

Then in verses 16-22, notice here that thanksgiving is anchored in
a contemplation of God’s revealed providential designs. This is the story of how
God came to bring about a famine in the land of Canaan to bring the children of
Israel down into Egypt to prepare the way for them through Joseph. And we ought
to thank God for His providential designs. We don’t always know what God is
doing in our lives, and so it is very important for us to reflect upon it when
God’s providence is revealed to us. And one of the places where God’s providence
is revealed to us is in His word. Sometimes we don’t know what God is doing in
our lives; we don’t know why God is doing what He is doing in our lives. We may
have a general conception, but we don’t have any idea of the specific purposes
for which He is doing something in our lives and in those times it’s very
important to go back and to reflect upon His providence where it is revealed.
Here the psalmist is reminding you precisely why God did what He did in Egypt.
In this instance God’s wisdom is revealed by preparing the way for His people
through Joseph. And so the psalmist is actually providing a reason to praise
God. “God, you had good reason to do what You did in taking the children of
Israel down in Egypt, and preparing the way through that godly, but
unrighteously-accused man, Joseph.” You had good reason for doing what you did;
you are a wise and good and loving and caring God.

Over and over, in
both Old and New Testaments, the sovereignty of God, the providence of God, is
coupled with God’s care, concern, and compassion for His people. Because we are
tempted to think that God’s providence is an unfeeling fate, especially when we
are experiencing inexplicable tragedy. And so, over and over God reminds us that
His providence for His people is an expression of His compassion. That is what
He does right here. His wisdom and His compassion are revealed in His
providence. But it gets tougher, friends, you turn further on to verses 23-25,
and you see that thanksgiving is anchored in an appreciation of God’s revealed
providential designs even when they are hard. Here I want you to not three
things.


V. Thanksgiving for God’s dark providences.

Look at these verses in 23-25. The psalmist is teaching us that we
ought to give thanks, we ought to praise God for His providential designs even
when they involve hardship and pain for ourselves. Look at three things that you
see here. First, it is explicitly said, with apology, that it was God’s plan for
Israel to be in Egypt. And that means that it was God’s plan for Israel to be
oppressed. In fact, the Psalmist gets even more explicit than that. The first
thing he says is that it is God’s plan for Israel to be in Egypt. But notice
also that we are told in verse 24 that He caused Egypt to hate Israel. And then
we’re told again that He caused Egypt to deal deceitfully with Israel. Now, let
me just remind you that John Calvin didn’t write that phrase. That’s the Bible.
God caused that hardship. And I don’t know what hardship you’re facing right
now. It’s tempting, isn’t it, to alleviate our angst over a situation by pushing
God out of that situation. “God, You had nothing to do with that.” And the
Psalmist doesn’t take that route with the oppression of Israel and Egypt. He
says, “No, Lord, You caused Egypt to hate Your people. You caused Egypt to deal
deceitfully with Your people. You caused Egypt to oppress Your people. No
apology; You did it.” And he tells us that because he wants us to understand
that God has wise purposes even in those dark providences. And I don’t know what
the dark providences are that you’re dealing with in this year. Some of you I
know, but most of us hide these things from one another. But I know this: even
those things are matters of praise. How else could a broken- hearted Job have
fallen on his face and said, “The Lord gave. The Lord takes away. Blessed be the
name of the Lord.” Even His hard providences are a matter for praise.


VI. Thanksgiving for God’s judgment of the wicked.

And then in verse 26-36, we see thanksgiving being anchored in our
contemplation of God’s righteous judgments revealed, in this case, revealed in
the plagues of Egypt. And we ought to praise God for His just judgments against
His enemies and ours. The plagues of Egypt were signs and wonders that revealed
God’s power, His righteousness, and His sovereignty, and served as warnings
against wickedness. Here the psalmist praises God for these–for His judgments,
for His wrath visited against the wicked. And Christ too, in His redeeming work,
has torn down the strongholds of Satan and performed the redemptive work of
destruction on our behalf, and we ought to praise God for that. To praise Him
that He has vanquished powers and principalities, that He has made a public
mockery of all in the spiritual world which was arrayed against Him; and He has
done it as part of our redemption. And we are a part of that story too, if you
understand the Book of Ephesians.


VII. Thanksgiving for His covenant faithfulness.

But he’s not done. In verses 37-43, he tells us that thanksgiving
is anchored in a contemplation of God’s work of redemption by the covenant. If
you look at verses 37-43, he’s reminding us that we ought to praise God for the
deliverance that He has accomplished for us. He tells us that that deliverance
started with His covenant love. He set His covenant love on us. He tells us that
that deliverance was accomplished because God remembered His covenant with
Abraham. And ultimately, my friends, that deliverance was accomplished for the
sake of the covenant, for the sake
of our communion with God forever. And so, it began with His covenant love; it
continued as He remembered His covenant promise; it was accomplished through the
shed blood of the Passover lamb; the blood of the covenant literally brought
Israel out of Egypt, and that reminds us that our redemption is in Christ who is
the Passover Lamb; and that redemption is
one which leads us into an enjoyment of the fellowship of God forever. We ought
to praise God for the deliverance He has accomplished for us in Christ.


VIII. Thanksgiving for His promise of redemption.

And then the Psalmist concludes in verses 44 and 45, praising God
for the conquest that He has accomplished for us, and reminding ourselves of
what we were made for. Our hope is in the land which God has given to us as our
possession; the place prepared for us by Christ. There’s a reason why He said to
His disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you.” There’s our hope. There’s the
land of conquest that God has given to all His people.

And in verse 45, he
concludes with these words. “So that they might keep His statutes and observe
His laws, He gave us the conquest that we might be what He made us for.” That
is, those who glorify Him in their obedience. All the blessings are heaped on us
so that we might be what He made us to be–a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, a
nation that does the will of the Lord. And do you see again that same thing that
we saw during the prayer conference in John 17? The linkage between sonship and
inheritance, and service and obedience, wherein we are given all the blessings
of God in order to be what He originally made us to be and what He re-created us
to be in redemption–those who glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. We have plenty
of reasons to be thankful today, and the Psalmist has just reminded us of them
again. Let’s pray.

Our Lord and
our God, we are not as thankful a people as we ought to be, and perhaps it is
because we have not reflected upon who You are and what You’ve done, and what
You hold in store. So, we ask that, by Your Spirit, you would sanctify our
hearts to glory in You, to be grateful for You and for Your grace, and so become
a thankful people. Hear our prayers then, bless our land, forgive our sins, all
for Christ’s sake. Amen.



In Everything Give Thanks

By / Nov 22

Thanksgiving 2001
1 Thessalonians 5:18
In Everything Give Thanks

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to 1 Thessalonians 5. Since we’re worshiping together on Thanksgiving morning, it seems appropriate that we think for a few moments about the distinctive nature of Christian thanksgiving. We know friends who perhaps have no saving faith in Jesus Christ that we might characterize as thankful people. They are not people that are ungrateful in general about life, and they show an appreciation to us, perhaps in our friendship and for many blessings that they enjoy in this life we might even characterize them as cheerful people, even cheerful people in many different circumstances. But what is distinctive about Christian thanksgiving? What is distinctive about this joyful and thankful attitude of heart that the Scriptures exhort us to have and which the Scriptures explain how we are able to have and evidence? What is distinctive about it? That’s what I want us to think about with you for a few moments this morning.

Before we read our text, I want you to note that verse 18 is in a set of three directions that Paul is giving to the Thessalonian church, and indeed, to you and me. He has first said to “rejoice always,” and then he has said, “pray without ceasing,” and to it he adds, “in everything give thanks.” Clearly, in the context he’s thinking about prayer in general, but he’s also talking about prayer in general reflecting a general attitude toward life that the believer ought to have. He’s to be prayerful, but in his praying he’s to be joyful and rejoicing, he’s to be thankful and giving thanks. And so a general attitude of life, Paul says, is to reflect itself, Christian, in your prayers. Now, by focusing on only one of these specific directions, I do not mean to separate Paul’s direction about thanksgiving from this general exhortation about prayer or about life, but it is, after all, Thanksgiving Day, and we are focusing on what it means distinctively as Christians to give thanks. So, let’s hear God’s holy and inspired word in 1 Thessalonians 5:18:

In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Amen. This is God’s holy word, may He write it’s eternal truth upon our hearts. Let’s pray.

Our Father, we bow before You and we ask that by Your grace You would enable us to see and do Your will, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

When you hear those words of the Apostle Paul, they sound good, and they sound right, and they sound biblical, and they sound Christian, and they sound beautiful, and they are. But you may be tempted to tack a “but” onto the end of that sentence. It does sound beautiful, and it does sound good, and it does sound right, and it does sound Christian, and it does sound spiritual, but, it just isn’t practical! We tend to dismiss hard things that way, don’t we? The theory sounds good, but it just won’t work.

I remember Gordon Reed telling me a story of sitting in on one of Steve Brown’s Doctor of Ministry classes at the seminary in which Steve was expounding a particular theory about how congregational life ought to be conducted, and all of the students were rapidly writing down every word which fell from his lips, and learning this great wisdom; and at the end of this particular section Steve turned to Gordon, and said, “Well, Dr. Reed, what do you think?” And Gordon said, “Well, that’s real nice, Steve, but it won’t work north of Tampa.” And suddenly the bubble was burst in the minds of all the students who listened to this great theory, and we’re tempted to do that with this kind of a phrase. Well, that sounds nice, Ligon, to say that we ought to give thanks in everything, but it just won’t work.

But Paul is serious about this direction and I think by even raising that issue of the difficulty of obeying, and the seeming impracticality of obeying this direction, we see that this direction is far more than a sentimental expression of some sort of moralism that Paul wants us to inculcate in life. This is a profoundly difficult thing that Paul is asking us to do. Thanksgiving in a certain way is easy to do when the blessings are falling around your ears, but it can be very difficult to do when it seems that the trials are falling down around your ears, and still in those things, Paul wants us to give thanks. So I want you to see three things that Paul is particularly saying to us in this one little verse–this tiny, but difficult and beautiful directive that he’s giving.

The first thing I want you to see is that Paul is telling us what we need to do. “In everything give thanks.” Then he’s telling us why we need to do it. “For this is the will of God for you.” And then, having given us a direction that no one can keep in his own strength, he says how to do it–“In Christ Jesus.” Those three things I’d like to meditate with you about this morning.

I. In everything give thanks.
First of all, this direction, “In everything give thanks.” Paul is telling you there what you are to do. He’s telling you that in every circumstance of life we are to be thankful. He is saying globally our thanksgiving, though it may be prompted time to time, by the sheer goodness of our circumstances, is not to be circumscribed by the goodness of our circumstances. That thanksgiving is to be derived from some other source, and therefore, in every circumstance, be that circumstance good or bad, be that circumstance delightful or even positively evil, we are to give thanks.

Now, I want to pause right there and say, notice what Paul does not say here. He does not say, “for” everything give thanks. He says “in” everything give thanks. There are some circumstances in our lives, there are some circumstances in your lives this morning which it would be improper to give thanks for. You may have found yourself on the receiving end of some evil, some personal evil, some impersonal evil, for which God is not asking you to give thanks. Paul is not saying to the people who have lost loved ones, for instance, at the World Trade Center or at the Pentagon, “Thank God that your loved one was murdered.” That’s not what Paul is asking you to think or to do or to pray.

But Paul is saying that in every circumstance, no matter how catastrophic, you are to give thanks. Many of you know the story of Helen Keller. She was born in 1882. I didn’t know until this morning that she didn’t die until 1968. Helen Keller was born in 1882, and when she was 19 months old, a beautiful, precocious little girl, she caught a fever that so ravaged her and that left her without sight and without the ability to hear. She was locked into a world of darkness and silence; but she was determined and she was extremely smart. Now, I want to pause right now. Fathers of daughters, can you feel the intensity of what is going on here? Can you imagine that precious little girl that you hold in your arms and you delight in, and suddenly, she is locked away from you in darkness and silence. And she was determined to be able to communicate with the outside world, and she began to be able to imitate to her family things that she wanted. When she wanted a piece of bread she would make a hand motion as if she were cutting a piece of bread to let her family know. When she wanted ice cream, she would wrap her arms around herself and she would shiver. And she developed about sixty different motions that she could do in order to communicate with her family, but it frustrated her as she understood that people communicated with their lips and she couldn’t communicate with her lips to her family. And as she grew, she became more and more frustrated and more and more violent because of her frustration. She would smash things; she would throw objects. She was out of control. At age seven, her parents got her a tutor to help her learn to communicate. And very instrumental in Helen Keller’s ability to cope with this was her trust in the living God.

Now, my friends, a person in Helen Keller’s situation would be very tempted to become bitter and angry, and the last thing that would be on the agenda for a person like that might well be gratefulness and thankfulness. But I want you to listen to what Helen Keller once said. She said, “For three things I thank God every day of my life. Thanks that He has vouchsafed me knowledge of His works; deep thanks that He has set in my darkness the light of faith; deepest thanks that I have another life to look forward to–a life joyous with light and flowers and heavenly song. Helen Keller may not have been thankful for the circumstance that God had dealt to her, but she was thankful in that circumstance. And that is precisely what Paul is saying to us. In every circumstance, we are to give thanks.

II. Why we should give thanks.
Now, why in every circumstance are we to give thanks? Well, Paul tells us here in verse 18. “Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you.” You know, the Bible piles up reasons that we’re to be thankful to God. In the Psalms, we learn that we give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. We thank God because the sovereign God of the heaven and earth is not some sort of a tyrant with a bad sense of humor. He’s a loving God that is good and cares for us. The Psalms thank the Lord because He watches over us; He protects us; He spares us. The Psalms thank God because He redeems us, and because He loves us. The Psalms thank God because He gives us good gifts, and He establishes justice, and He shows mercy. The Bible has a whole catalog of things for which we ought to give thanks, and Paul doesn’t mean to exclude that from this direction. But here he says, “Give thanks because it is God’s will for you.” You hear that, friends? That’s a gospel command. Give thanks because it’s God’s will for you. And I think, my friends, that that means at least two things.

I think it means, first of all, that God wants you to give thanks in everything, and therefore, you ought to do it. It’s just like when your mother said, “Eat your broccoli, son.” And you said, “Why?” And she answered with that incredible metaphysical phrase, “Because I said so.” And Paul is saying, “God wants you to give thanks because it’s His will for you.”

But there’s something bigger and greater behind that, I suspect that Paul is saying. Paul is saying, “It is the will of God for you that you give thanks in everything,” because Paul is indicating to us that it is God’ grand design to create a joyful, rejoicing people. His purpose is not to create shriveled up, shrill, ungrateful, grudging, miserly people. His grand conspiracy, in the work of redemption, is to enlarge our hearts, and to show the world what humanity was intended to be in the first place. And the very first thing humanity ought to have been in the view of the greatness of the Creator’s gift to us, was thankful. And Paul is now saying that, even though you live in a fallen world in which there are many things not to be thankful for, that should not overshadow in your experience the things for which we ought to be profoundly thankful. And therefore, it is God’s will in His plan to create in you a heart large with thankfulness, and therefore, you ought to give thanks.

You know, it was said that the joy in the midst of pain and persecution that was displayed by the early Christians often caused heathens to say, “I don’t know what they have, but I want it.” Billy Joel said, about twenty years ago, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.” And God is saying, “I am desirous of creating believers who portray in their thankfulness a joyfulness of a heart, in spite of circumstances, that causes unbelievers to say, ‘You know, I think I’d rather cry with those saints than laugh with my friends who are sinners, because they are joyful, thankful people.’” And the Apostle Paul says, “Give thanks in everything because it’s the will of God for you.”

III. How to give thanks.
But you’re saying, “How in the world can I do that? You don’t understand my circumstances.” You’re right, my friends, I don’t understand your circumstances. I don’t have the slightest clue of the circumstances in which God has called you to give thanks. In some of your lives, I have a little tiny sliver of an inkling, but I have no idea how great a challenge it is to you to give thanks. You don’t have any idea how great a challenge it is to me to give thanks sometimes. But the apostle tells us how, and it’s here in just three words, “In Christ Jesus.” It is only possible to express thanks to God in everything if you have a faith relationship with Jesus Christ–if you are in Christ. It is only in and through Jesus Christ that we are able to give thanks in every circumstance.

I’ve had a friend look me in the eye when her 15 year-old granddaughter was killed in an automobile accident and say, “Ligon, the Lord is good in all He does.” And I’ve had a mother holding a two-year-old infant in her arms as he took his last breath look up at me and say, “Ligon, would you sing the doxology with me?” And I want to tell you that I’ve wondered how in the world can these people do this? And Paul is telling you the answer here. Because they have seen the face of God in Christ; they know the Lord. They’ve tasted and seen that He is good. They’ve rested in His grace, are able to give thanks in anything.

It’s just like what Augustine said many years ago. He said, “Lord, command what You will, but give what You command.” He’s saying, “Lord, I can’t do the things that you tell me to do, but You can command them and then You can give me the ability to do what You command.” And the Apostle Paul is saying, “You want to give thanks in everything? You want to foil your foes with joy?” Then you trust in Jesus Christ; you rest in Him. And when you find that when you are connected to the One who is the spiritual source of the capacity to be thankful in every circumstance, then you’ll be able to give thanks in everything. May God grant that we would be a thankful people this year. Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, we praise You for the Lord Jesus Christ in whom we are able to give thanks in everything. Amen.



The Greatful Heart

By / Nov 25

Thanksgiving
1999
1 Thessalonians 5:18
The Grateful Heart
Dr. Derek Thomas

Turn with me, if you would, in your Bibles to a text
in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. While your doing that, I was just wondering, as Ligon
and I were walking to the sanctuary this morning, how honored I am to be asked,
as a citizen of the United Kingdom, to give the Thanksgiving Day sermon. And I
was conscious and reflective that this isn’t July 4.

“In every thing give thanks for this is God’s will
for you in Christ Jesus. In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for
you in Christ Jesus.”

I was looking at Eugene Peterson’s New Testament
translations, and this one was particularly good and insightful. He translates
this verse, “Thank God no matte what happens, this is the way God wants you,
who belong to Christ Jesus, to live.”

“Fill Thou, my life, O Lord my God, in every part
with praise, that my whole being may proclaim, Thy being and Thy ways. Not for
the lip of praise alone, nor in the praising heart, I ask but for a life made up
of praise, in every part.” Well, of course, you’ll remember those words of the
beautiful hymn by Horatius Bonar, written toward the middle of the last
century. And they more or less encapsulate the thought of this verse, this text
that we have before us this morning. It falls, as you can see by a quick
glance, in the section towards the end of First Thessalonians, where the Apostle
Paul seems to be giving a whole array of instructions that at first seem to bear
no logical sequence to them. He seems to be doing what you and I often do when
we write letters, or in these days send email, but when we come to the end of
what we really want to say, we add, almost in broken sentences, all the ideas
that suddenly come into our head that we haven’t had time to expand upon. And I
feel somewhat safe this morning in extracting this particular verse from its
context, and looking at just at it alone.

There are three things in this verse that I want us
to see, and I want us to see these three things not simply as individuals,
because all of these admonitions that are given here in the closing verses of
Thessalonians, are given in the plural. And I think Paul had in mind not simply
the life of the individual believer, but he had in mind the corporate life of
the people of God.

And the three things I want us to see from this text,
for us as a corporate community, a covenant community of God’s people, are
first, there is a command: give thanks unto the Lord. And secondly, there is
also a context, because he tells us “in everything,” that is to say, in every
circumstance, in all circumstances give thanks. And then there is a
constraint. “This is,” Paul says, “the will of God for you.”

I. The command to give thanks
unto the Lord.
This is an imperative. Paul is commanding the people of God,
as the apostle of the Lord, that this is what they must do. They must give
thanks to God. We say to our children, don’t we, especially when they are
little, if they’re given a gift of some kind, you listen, and then you say,
“What do you say?” Because we don’t want them to grow up like spoiled brats.
We want them to be grateful, we want them to be thankful, and Paul is saying
that one of the hallmarks, one of the marks of identity of the children of God,
is that they are thankful.

Now, what does Paul mean here by thankful. Of
course, he means thankful to God. Thankfulness to God as recognition of His
goodness and His faithfulness to us in providing for us and keeping us and
caring for us day by day, both physically and spiritually. It means a
recognition that you and I are dependent, in an absolute sense, upon the grace
and goodness of God for all that we have. That everything we have this morning
comes from the Lord.

You remember how Paul, writing to the Romans in the
very first chapter, begins to describe one of the characteristics of the natural
man, the unconverted man or woman. And the ungodly man or woman, Paul says, is
characterized by unthankfulness. God has given them over to a reprobate mind,
Paul says, and one of the hallmarks of a reprobate mind is unthankfulness.

You remember that astonishing story in the gospels
where Jesus heals 10 lepers. Lepers who by reason of their infirmity and
sickness had been ostracized from their families and from their society, having
to live somewhere outside the city. And Jesus heals these 10 lepers. And you
will remember how Jesus bids them go to the priest in order that they might be
declared ceremonially clean. And the staggering thing about that story is that
only one of them, only one, returns to Jesus to give thanks. And were it not
for the fact that we find an echo in our own hearts of that native ingratitude,
we would be more shocked by that story than we are.

You remember the incident of Apollo 13, that
ill-fated mission to land on the moon. As I look down, many of you don’t
remember it, but you’ve seen the movie, and you remember what happened. There
was an explosion and the rocket was sent off course and there was a moment in
time when they thought these astronauts would not be able to return. And then
there was problem with carbon dioxide, the build up of this gas that even if
they did return, would make it impossible for them to survive, and how they
cobbled together some means using duct tape and all kinds of bits and pieces in
order to extract this carbon dioxide. And you remember how the President of the
United States went on television asking the nation to pray, and then when that
space craft successfully landed in the ocean, and those three men emerged alive,
all the thanks, and you can read it, all the thanks was given to the scientists
and human ingenuity, but there was no call for a national thanksgiving in answer
to the prayer of Almighty God.

Paul, on 10 occasions, as he writes these letters,
exhorts the people of god to give thanks. And on 18 occasions, he mentions
personal thanksgiving on his own behalf. We remember, perhaps, as we’ve just
read together in our responsive reading, those wonderful words of the 100th
Psalm, “Enter His gates,” the Psalmist says, “with thanksgiving.” And five
psalms earlier, in Psalm 95, “Let us come before His presence,” the Psalmist
says, “with thanksgiving. Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.”

And what this says to us this morning, that a
failure to give thanks to Almighty God is a sin
. It is a just as much a sin
as adultery is a sin. That an unthankful heart is something that rends the
heart of Almighty God as much as any other sin does. And I wonder this morning,
as we gather together on this wonderful day, this day that seems yet to be
uncluttered by the commercialism that so marks so many of the national days we
celebrate in this country, and there’s something wonderful about being able to
gather together, especially the reunion of families and friends, and I wonder
this morning, if at least a part of what we need to do this morning is to come
to God and confess that you and I have not been as thankful as we ought to have
been, and that we need to confess to Him the sin of unthankfulness.

II. The context of the command.
The context in which the command to be obeyed is altogether
comprehensive. Paul puts it like this, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” Or,
as your pew Bibles have it, “in everything give thanks.” And I wonder if we
can look at the first epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians to provide for us
this morning some means of attaining what it was that Paul was actually saying,
“in every circumstance.” If you turn back to chapter 3 verse 6, for example,
beginning at verse 6 through the end of the chapter, Paul is recounting with a
sense of joy and gladness the report that Timothy was giving to him of the
Church of Thessalonica.

This epistle of First Thessalonians is probably the
first epistle that Paul wrote, and was probably written not long after the
establishment of the church at Thessalonica. Paul is eager to know how the
people of God are growing in the Lord, and Timothy brings a wonderful report.
“But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about
your faith and love.” And then notice what he says in verse 9, “how can we
thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of
our God because of you.”

That is to say, there are favorable circumstances in
which the rendering of thanksgiving is altogether appropriate, and these were
favorable circumstances. I wonder this morning how often ministers of the gospel
long to hear such glowing reports about churches in which they have been
involved, as Paul was privileged to hear about the Thessalonian church, for
which he could not but give thanks to God. And there are many, many favorable
circumstances in each one of our lives.

I wonder this morning if you can think about some of
the favorable circumstances in which you find yourselves? For some of you, it
will be your marriage, your spouse, your children, your homes, your jobs, and
the sense of financial security that God have privileged you with. And a
million other things that ought to come flooding into our minds as we think of
the way in which God has been so gracious to us and so good to us, far beyond
what we deserve. And O that our hearts this morning, as we contemplate all
those issues, might overflow with thanksgiving.

But think, my dear friend this morning, think as some
of you here, and as many of you here indeed this morning can, that you are saved
and redeemed and washed in the blood of Jesus Christ, and that your sins are
forgiven, and you think and contemplate of what that involved in terms of God
the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit entering into a covenant of
redemption in eternity to save a people for Himself. And how, in the process of
time and history, God entered into a covenant of grace, that you can trace from
Genesis to Revelation, no matter what book you are in, no matter what century
are in, you can trace the signature of Almighty God as He is determined to save
His people. And think this morning of how God in His providence applied that
redemption to us, in the homes in which we were put, in the families that loved
us and cared for us, and the sermons that we heard, and the prayers that were
prayed over us, and how the Holy Spirit entered into our hearts and lives and
transformed us and gave us new hearts so that this morning we sit in this
congregation with the assurance that our sins are forgiven and that we have
peace with Almighty God. And is not that, my dear friend; is not that alone
something for which to give thanks to Almighty God?

But I know this morning, that for some of you, it
isn’t the favorable circumstances that impinge upon your mind and upon your
consciousness this morning; it is rather unfavorable or difficult circumstances
that weigh down upon you. I was reminded this week of how Shakespeare in his
accounts of Henry V and the Battle of Agincourt, and when the soldiers had been
victorious, you remember that they were bidden to sing the words,
Non nobis, Domine,
Non nobis, Domine
from Psalm 15, “Not unto us, O Lord,
not unto us, but unto Thy name be the glory.” That’s an easy thing to sing,
Non nobis, Domine
, in favorable circumstances, but it’s
altogether different to sing that song when we find ourselves in difficult
circumstances.

Turn back to chapter one and verse six and I think
you’ll see something of what Paul is alluding to. He speaks of the Thessalonian
Christians, and he says about them, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord
in spite of severe sufferings. You welcomed the message with joy given by the
Holy Spirit.” In spite of severe sufferings. And Paul is alluding there to the
fact that it is part of the experience of the people of God to experience the
thorns and thistles and pains and losses and crosses that accompany life in
fellowship and communion with Jesus Christ.

Do you remember that wonderful passage in the book of
Daniel, when certain officials persuade King Darius that he should issue a
decree that for 30 days anyone who prayed to any god or man other than to King
Darius should be sent to the lion’s den. Now, those were difficult
circumstances, to be sure, and you remember the response of Daniel, as it’s
recorded for us in Daniel 6, that “three times a day he got down upon his knees
and prayed, giving thanks unto the Lord, that in the midst of difficult
circumstances he found it within himself to be able to give thanks to God. And
you see, it teaches us a very profound lesson. That his long years of spiritual
discipline in giving thanks in every circumstance meant that his spiritual focus
was not destroyed by the sudden crisis that came into his life. He was able to
give thanks in difficult circumstances because he was disciplined in giving
thanks in every circumstance.

But turn to chapter 4:13, and you’ll see yet another
possibility that Paul may be alluding to. And you remember this particular
section in chapter 4, how these young fledgling Christians in Thessalonica were
troubled. They were troubled by the loss of their loved ones who had departed,
and they were troubled in a two fold way, because in the first place they were
eager to know what had happened to them, but in a second way they were troubled
because they thought that their departed loved ones might now have missed out on
the blessings that would accompany the second coming of Jesus Christ. And so
Paul writes to them in these difficult circumstances in which they found
themselves, and reassures them, first of all, that those who have departed in
Jesus Christ have merely, have merely, fallen asleep, Paul says.

Now, don’t misunderstand the Apostle. He is not
advocating in any way, shape or form, not in a million years is Paul suggesting
that they have gone into some kind of soul sleep. That’s not what he’s saying.
But he’s saying that we need to fear death no more than we fear the blessing of
being able to put your head down on a pillow at the end of a busy day and simply
fall asleep. But Paul says something else to them that’s far more profound than
that. Far, he says, far from missing out on the blessings that will accompany
the second coming of Jesus Christ, they will be the first in line. They will be
the first in line. And in these circumstances of pain and hurt and loss, Paul
says, we are to give thanks to Almighty God. We may not be able to understand
and comprehend this morning everything that God is doing in our lives, and the
complexities that mark out some of your lives this morning are unfathomable.
“Deep in unfathomable mines of never failing skill, He treasures up His bright
designs and works His sovereign will,” William Cowper said.

And it may be this morning, that as you come on this
Thanksgiving Day, that your heart is heavy and your spirits are low because of
the difficulties of the circumstances that you find yourself in. And the word
of Scripture to you, my friend, this morning, and hear it, hear it: is not that
you will be able to comprehend those circumstances, because you may never be
able to comprehend them. But the word of Scripture to you, this morning my
friend, is that you must trust Him, trust Almighty God that though you may not
understand what He is doing, He is understands perfectly and fully, so that we
are enabled, you and I as the Lord’s people, to give thanks in every
circumstance.

III. The constraint — God’s will
But there is also a constraint.
There is a command to give thanks, and there is a context in every circumstance,
but there is also a constraint. And that constraint is, and Paul puts it in
typical apostolic fashion, “This is,” he says, “God’s will for you.” Now, Paul
had said this before. He said it in chapter 4 verse 3 about sanctification, “It
is God’s will that you should be sanctified.” In precisely the same way, it is
God’s will that you should give thanks to God in every circumstance.

This is a strange age in which we live, isn’t it.
And part of that strangeness is that this is an age amongst the people of God
when confusion reigns about the will of God and guidance. If you were to go
Amazon.com or RTS, if you go there this morning and look at the religious book
section, at the number of books that are now currently in print on guidance, you
will find that there are 36 of them currently in print on the subject of
guidance. Now, I put it to you, that if it were possible to go to that spot on
the internet and look for books on guidance written in the 18th and
19th centuries, you will come up with “0” books. Because they
didn’t write books on guidance. And you’re asking, as I hope you’re asking,
“Why is that the case?” And let me suggest to you a possible reason: because
this is an age in which antinomianism abounds. This is an age that does not
want to hear and does not immerse itself in the law of God. One of the
characteristics of the 18th and 19th centuries of our
forefathers, and of the pilgrims, was that they so immersed themselves in the
law of God that Spurgeon said of Bunyan, “This man is a living Bible!
Prick him anywhere – his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows
from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of
the Word of God. I commend his example to you, beloved.” So that we ought to be
so much in the word of God and our thoughts an principles so molded and shaped
by the principles and statutes of the word of God, that if we did that, my dear
friend, 95 percent of the questions that we ask about guidance would be solved
in an instant. Paul says, “You don’t have to pray about this one, it is God’s
will for you, that you be thankful.”

But let me say something by way of a conclusion,
because you’re asking, as indeed I am asking, “How in the world is it possible
for me to give thanks in these circumstances, in this difficulty, in this trial,
with this hurt, how can I give thanks to Almighty God when the world seems to be
coming apart all around me?” And Paul gives the answer: “It is God’s will for
you,” he says, “in Christ Jesus.” It is because of your relationship to Jesus
Christ that you will be able to give thanks.

Do you ever watch those programs on TV about
antiques? These scholars and professionals who can look at a piece of furniture
or painting or a piece of porcelain, and though it may be unsigned, they can
detect the signature of its creator and author. And I put it to you, that when
you read the pages of the New Testament, you can detect the signature of the
Apostle Paul, because 167 times he uses this little signature, “in Christ
Jesus.” And I’ll tell you why. It was because of what had happened on the road
to Damascus, after he was involved in the death of Stephen, and he heard a voice
on high that said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” So that when he laid
a finger on one of Jesus’ disciples, he was laying a finger on Jesus Himself.
Paul never forgot that. Not for all the length of his days did he ever forget
that. And he couldn’t put pen to paper without adding that familiar signature,
“in Christ Jesus.”

My dear friends, this morning will you think with me
and meditate with me on your relationship to and union with Jesus Christ the Son
of God? Do you remember how Paul puts it, when he writes to the Colossians, and
he writes to the Colossians in chapter 2 verses 6-7, “So then, just as you
received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in
Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with
thankfulness.” Isn’t that a beautiful metaphor? That as you think about your
relationship to Jesus Christ, you will overflow with thanksgiving.

From the annals of the rich heritage of this country, there has
been preserved this announcement that was made 376 years ago. “Inasmuch as
the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn,
wheat, peas, squashes and garden vegetables, and made the forest to abound with
game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as he has protected us from
the ravages of the savages, has spared us from the pestilence and granted us
freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience, now I,
your magistrate do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little
ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of nine and
twelve in the daytime on Thursday, November ye 29th, of the year of our Lord one
thousand six hundred and twenty-three, and the third year since ye Pilgrims
landed on ye Plymouth Rock, there to listen to ye Pastor and render Thanksgiving
to ye Almighty God for all his blessings
. William Bradford, Ye Governor
of Ye Colony, AD 1623
.”

Let us, this morning, do the same, with all of our hearts, for
Jesus’ sake, Amen.



The Blessings of Release from Captivity

By / Nov 27

Thanksgiving 1997
Psalm 107

Dr. Ligon Duncan

Before we turn to the Scriptures, I’d like to turn your attention to your order of service, and just point out, under the record of Thanksgiving as viewed by a citizen, exactly 150 years ago this Thanksgiving, John Munn, who was a native of Connecticut, recorded in his journal his experience of the first Thanksgiving in Canton, MS. If you’ll look at the last couple of sentences of his description, he tells us there was a general attendance at church to listen to The Rev. Mr. Halsey of Jackson, and seldom have I listened to a more interesting and appropriate sermon. It was well adapted for a people who were assembled for the first time for such a purpose and those listening attentively could not have been but instructed in the objects of those who first established the custom and the reasons that demand its observance. That Mr. Halsey was one of your ministers, a minister of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson. He had apparently been called to preach the first Thanksgiving services in Canton, MS, and we had that record. Our ruling elder, Otho Johnson, kindly shared with me a collection of stories connected with Mississippi Thanksgivings, and I found that delightful story in it and thought that you might be enriched by it.

If you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to the Psalm 107. It is an appropriate place to go on Thanksgiving morning, to the Word of God and particularly to the Psalms that give us so many instructions in how we can show our gratitude for the grace of God. Psalm 107 is the first Psalm beginning in the final Book of the Psalms. Let us hear God’s holy and inspired word.

“O give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from the hand of the adversary
And gathered from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
They wandered in the wilderness in a desert region; they did not find a way to an inhabited city.
They were hungry and thirsty; their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble; He delivered them out of their distresses.
He led them also by a straight way, to go to an inhabited city. Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men!
For He has satisfied the thirsty soul, and the hungry soul He has filled with what is good.
There were those who dwelt in darkness and in the shadow of death,
Prisoners in misery and chains, because they had rebelled against the words of God
And spurned the counsel of the Most High.
Therefore He humbled their heart with labor; they stumbled and there was none to help.Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble; He saved them out of their distresses.
He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death and broke their bands apart.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men! For he has shattered gates of bronze and cut bars of iron asunder.
Fools, because of their rebellious way, and because of their iniquities, were afflicted.
Their soul abhorred all kinds of food, and they drew near to the gates of death.
Than they cried out to the Lord in their trouble; He saved them out of their distresses.
He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men! Let them also offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of His works with joyful singing.
Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters;They have seen the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep.
For He spoke and raised up a stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea.They rose up to the heavens, they went down to the depths; their soul melted away in their misery.
They reeled and staggered like a drunken man, and were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distresses.
He caused the storm to be still, so that the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad because they were quiet, so He guided them to their desired haven.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men!
Let them extol Him also in the congregation of the people, and praise Him at the seat of the elders.
He changes rivers into a wilderness and springs of water into a thirsty ground;
A fruitful land into a salt waste, because of the wickedness of those who dwell in it.
He changes a wilderness into a pool of water and a dry land into springs of water;
And there He makes the hungry to dwell, so that they may establish an inhabited city,
And sow fields and plant vineyards, and gather a fruitful harvest.
Also He blesses them and they multiply greatly, and He does not let their cattle decrease.
When they are diminished and bowed down through oppression, misery and sorrow,
He pours contempt upon princes and makes them wander in pathless waste.
But He sets the needy securely on high away from affliction,
And makes his families like a flock. The upright see it and are glad;
But all unrighteousness shuts its mouth.
Who is wise? Let him give heed to these things, and consider the lovingkindnesses of the Lord.

Thus ends this reading of God’s holy and inspired word. May He add His blessing to it. Let’s look to Him in prayer.

Our Father we thank You for giving us this word on this day. We acknowledge that we have many reasons to be thankful for things temporal and things eternal that You have given us. As we come into this house this day, with all our burdens and all our joys, we pray that for a moment You would unburden our hearts to focus upon the things of greatest importance that You have given us for which we ought to be thankful. Make us a grateful people because of Your grace. We ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.

It is a difficult thing to foster true gratitude in an age of entitlement and of prosperity. Not only does our generation seem to think that it deserves the most lavish riches, but it has also enjoyed the most lavish riches of any generation before. Someone was saying in a letter that I received this week, “It is ironic, isn’t it, that Thanksgiving Day, the day on which we give thanks for the Lord’s blessings to us, particularly in the year previous is the day immediately before the biggest shopping day in the year where we go out to get more. So we come into the Lord’s house and we give thanks for all that He has given us–all the time with our minds on what we’re going to go out and get for ourselves tomorrow.” It’s an irony, isn’t it? And it’s typical of our consumer day in which we live. It’s difficult for prosperous people who have learned to be entitled to certain blessings to be truly grateful for them. And that’s a real spiritual struggle because gratitude is a key component to biblical spirituality. And when we begin to feel that we deserve everything that we have and that we ought to have more, it’s hard to be truly grateful in that setting.

However, it is possible to be temporally wealthy, to be temporally prosperous and to feel temporal entitlement and yet to be spiritually impoverished. And that is actually a very important key to waking up ourselves out of our slumbers and paying attention to things of spiritual significance. It doesn’t matter much to be temporally prosperous and to be spiritually poverty stricken. And that would be a terrible way to go through life. This psalm reminds us of the reasons why God’s people ought to be grateful, and it gives us some things by which we may spiritually diagnose ourselves in the midst of our prosperity and maybe even in our sense of being entitled.

This psalm gives us a series of pictures about the same reality. It’s really about God’s people being brought out of captivity. You notice that in the opening words it speaks about God gathering His people from the north and from the south and from the east and from the west. They’re being brought from their dispersion. Because of the sins of God’s people and for their discipline, God had sent His people Israel into captivity into Babylon, but in His grace and covenant love He gathered back out. As He gathers them back out, He gives us a series of pictures of what it was like for them to be in that captivity. Those pictures describe spiritual aspects of being under the discipline of God and give us reasons why we ought to be grateful for his redeeming grace.

I’d like to think with you for just a few moments about the pictures that are set forth before us. Before we do so, I would like you to see the repeating refrain that occurs over and over again in this particular psalm. In verse 8, you see it for the first time. “Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness and for His wonders to the sons of men. Two things are set forth there. They are to give thanks because of the covenant love of the Lord, because of the unfailing love of the Lord–His lovingkindness, His undeserved mercy. They are to give thanks for that and they are to give thanks for the wonders that He’s done. So, it’s not only God’s love, His character, His person, His love for His people, and the deeds that He’s done on their behalf–wondrous deeds. Those two things are at twin focus of the gratitude in this psalm.

Look again and you’ll see it in verse 15. “Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness and for His wonders to the sons of men.” Again in verse 21. “Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men.”

And then again we are called upon to praise the Lord in verse 31. “Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men!” And of course, verse 1 and verse 43 encapsulate this psalm with calls for us to “give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” Verse 43 asks us to consider the lovingkindness of the Lord. So, the one-point sermon that the psalmist is trying to preach is very clear, and I’m going to try and preach that same one-point sermon here with the illustrations which the psalmist gives us of the blessings of being brought out of captivity.

I. God’s people are called upon to give thanks
First of all, look at verses 1-3. There we see God calling on all of us, all of His people to give thanks. “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from the hands of the adversary and gathered from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.” This is a call for all God’s people, from the west, from the north, from the east, and from the south, this is a call for all God’s people to give thanks to Him because He’s redeemed us. He’s redeemed us from our dispersion. And the basis of the thanksgiving is the goodness of the Lord; He is good in His nature. He is showing covenant love to His people. His people didn’t deserve to be brought back from the dispersion. He did it because He was faithful to the promises that He had made to them, and we can say the same things. The wonderful thing about these psalms of Israel is we can join into Israel’s experiences; we are connected with her spiritually because all of God’s children know what it is like to be redeemed from that dispersion. We may not have been in the wilderness with Israel, but we all have our own experiences as believers that God has redeemed us from. And so, we can join with them in thanking God for who He is, for His nature, for His lovingkindness and for His actions–specifically, His redeeming us from sin.

Now, beginning in verse 4, we see the first of several pictures of what this captivity was like. We read here that they wandered in the wilderness in a desert region and we have a picture of people wandering out in the desert–thirsty, and hungry, stumbling under the heat of the sun, not finding an inhabited city, and we learn here in this passage from verse 4 to verse 9, that God’s people are to give thanks because of their redemption from isolation. One of the things that we see in the picture of the children of Israel wandering in the desert is a picture of isolation, of fragmentation. There off from inhabited reality; they’re off from the city; they’re off from the place where people are gathered; they’re isolated. That’s one thing that sin does to us; it isolates us. And so, in the captivity, the people of God experience isolation because in the captivity, one thing that God wanted to drive home to His people, is the effect of sin. And as we are redeemed from that isolation, as we are redeemed for reunion, as we are gathered together from the east and the west and the north and the south, the Lord wants us to thank Him for His lovingkindness because when we are redeemed, we are reunited.

That is one of the blessings of redemption, is it not? The communion of the saints. When people who have been fragmented or brought back together again, when families are reunited, when friends are reunited, when those who have been estranged are reunited, is that not one of the blessings of redemption? And the Lord is saying, “Give thanks for those things.” It will be good for you to give thanks for those things. You’ll be reminded of what I did for you even in the giving of thanks for that redemption from isolation.

In verses 10-16, another picture is given. There it’s a picture of prisoners. Look at verse 10. “There were those who dwelt in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in misery and chains.” There God looks at captivity and its effect of imprisoning Israel. Israel had been sinful; Israel had gone after other gods; Israel had neglected the Lord Her God, and the Lord took her into captivity. And of the glorious lessons He taught her is that sin does not liberate you; sin enslaves you. And He gave them a tangible imprisonment to remind them of that truth. Sin is not a good thing; sin is not a good thing that makes your life better; sin always makes your life smaller, and narrower, and worse. It may take it a while for that to seep home to us, but that’s the way it always is. And so, in this picture of the prisoner, He reminds us that sin imprisons; it takes dominion over us.

But, He tells us in verse 15 that we are to give thanks because the Lord has redeemed us from that bondage to sin. One of the things that He does to us when He saves us is that He redeems us from that captivity to sin; He redeems us from that domination of sin. Sin no longer is our master; we’re no longer imprisoned by sin. The Lord Jesus Christ takes dominion of our life and we are not dominated anymore by that sin. It doesn’t mean that we don’t cease to struggle against sin, but it does mean that sin is no longer our master.

Again, in verses 17-22, He gives another picture. There He gives a picture of people that the Lord has afflicted with certain maladies because of their sin. Look at verse 17. “Fools, because of the rebellious way, and because of their iniquities, were afflicted. Their soul abhorred all kinds of food, and they drew near to the gates of death.” In other words, they were so sick, they couldn’t even eat. Now, He says directly here that the physical consequences in these people in the captivity, were due to their sin.

Now, it doesn’t always work that way; every time we’re sick, it doesn’t mean that the Lord is punishing us for a particular sin. But here, He tells us that He was punishing these people physically for their sin against Him.

This is one of the most precious of these commands to thanksgiving to me because it’s kind of noble to suffer for something that you haven’t done, but it’s hard to suffer the consequences of something that you know that you’ve done. At least, it is for me. When I look at my friends going through trials and tribulations for things that are just completely out of their control, I sometimes envy that when I think of the trials that I go through because of my sin. But the beautiful thing about this passage in verses 17-22, is that we are told that God redeems us even from the consequences of our own sin. That is a very exceedingly precious thing to me to know that even when I have messed up, and I’m paying the consequences for it, I love and serve a God who wants to redeem me even from the consequences of my own sin. It’s noble to suffer for things that we haven’t done; it’s not noble to suffer for things that we have done, and yet, the Lord desires to redeem us from those consequences. And so, God’s people are to give thanks because He redeems us from the consequences of sin. He’s a forgiving God and He desires to restore us. And it is not surprising to me that, in verse 21, we not only have a repetition of the phrase, “Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness and for His wonders to the sons of men. Let them also offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and tell of His works with joyful singing.” In verse 22 we read that He adds an extra phrase in that particular section. This redemption of the Lord deserves some thanksgiving in the midst of God’s people and a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Lord because He redeems us from the consequences of sin.

Again, in verses 23-32, the scene shifts. Now we go to the sea. This is not a normal Jewish or Israelite scene. Israel was never known for her navy. There’s not a record book titled “History of Famous Jewish Admirals.” That’s not one of the books that you read about out there. Israel was never known for its navy, but here in verses 23-32, there is a picture of those who go out onto the sea and they face those storms and the swelling waves and the chasms that those waves seem to plunge one into. The sea, in ancient Israel, was a picture of the fallen world out of control. And in this passage, the people of God are called upon to give thanks because God is even in control of that which seems like its out of control–the raging sea. So, we’re called upon here to give thanks because of God’s providential care of us in the midst of the dangers of a fallen world.

This uncontrollable sea, something that’s completely out of our human control. We can be great pilots; we can be great navigators; we can be as safe as we can possibly be, but we’re not in charge of the weather. We may be able to predict the weather a little more successfully in our day and age than they. I don’t know. Weathermen still have a reputation for missing it. But we can’t control the weather. This section of the psalm thanks God because He cares for us even in those circumstances, where out best intentions and preparations and efforts can’t help us. When we’re out at sea in the midst of the storm, God’s people are to give thanks because of His providential care in the dangers of a fallen world.

And then, in verses 33-42, another scene is given to us. It is a description of God raising up the humble and bringing down the proud. A picture of God helping and securing those who are oppressed, and God bringing down those who are oppressors. This is a picture of God’s sovereignty in the lives of His people. From His throne in heaven, He administers justice. He punishes the wicked; He rewards those who love Him and who do justice and love mercy. God’s people, we are told in this section, are to give thanks because of His sovereignty in their lives. For all these reasons, God calls us to give thanks in this psalm. All of these are spiritual matters. One can be rich or poor and know all of these blessings. One can be wise or one can be not so wise and know all of these blessings. One can be famous or one can be obscure, and you can know all of these blessings. These are the things for which we ought to be thankful. But verse 43 culminates on the focus of the love of God itself. God’s people are to give special care to meditate on His covenant love.

In verse 43, the psalmist asks, “Who is wise?” Who is the wise man? “Let the wise man give heed to these things, and consider the lovingkindnesses of the Lord.” The focus of the Psalmist is on the lovingkindness of the Lord. When we are unfaithful, He remains faithful. That should be something that comforts us all in this season of Thanksgiving. For, if we know ourselves, we know that at our best, we fall short. And so, ultimately, our realization of grace, the Lord’s grace to us, provides the foundation of our gratitude. Show me an ungrateful person, and I’ll show you someone who has never tasted grace, because once you’ve tasted grace, you can’t help but be grateful. May the Lord make us grateful people. Let’s look to the Him in prayer.

Our Lord, in the midst of abundance, it is tragically possible to underestimate our debt to grace. Through all these pictures in this great psalm, remind us again of our debt to grace. For it is precisely those people who have the greatest sense of indebtedness, even unworthiness, who are the happiest.