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The Necessity and Sacrifice of Thanksgiving
Posted by: Church of Christian Liberty | more..
5,350+ views | 750+ clicks
The history of Thanksgiving in this nation increasingly becomes the subject of confusion and even riots. Two years ago I heard Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. on the radio suggesting that Thanksgiving really doesn’t have as much to do with the Pilgrims as it does with the abolition of slavery. In Plymouth, MA Doug Philips reports that plaques or markers have been set up proclaiming that Thanksgiving Day should be a day of mourning due to the murderous and genocidal actions of the Pilgrims.[1] On the other hand, our Pilgrim Fathers would probably look with abhorrence on our modern American celebration of Thanksgiving. The pilgrims celebrated Thanksgiving not to start a holiday or a good tradition, but because Thanksgiving was the only proper response as they considered the hand of Providence in their lives. Thanksgiving is a necessity!

The pilgrim thanksgiving feast that we rightfully remember was not even called specifically a Thanksgiving meal, but it was a meal called for the purpose of rejoicing together in the goodness of God. Their first feast lasted three days and included games and contests of skill and strength. Together with their Indian friends, the pilgrims enjoyed the goodness and Providence of God. No doubt that first celebration was made even more profound by the death of 46 of the original 102 members of the Mayflower. Only 12 of the original 26 heads of families survived and only 4 of the original 12 unattached men or boys survived. Most of the women perished.[2]

Many other services and days for giving thanks could be mentioned. Of course it is not until later that Thanksgiving would be proclaimed a national holiday and by 1942, Congressional legislation established Thanksgiving as the 4th Thursday in November.[3] President Roosevelt had wanted to make Thanksgiving Day the third Thursday in November in order to extend the Christmas shopping season, but not all the states agreed to his idea.[4]

As we focus our attention on the theme of Thanksgiving, I would like you to consider two main points:

1. The Necessity of Thanksgiving

2. The Sacrifice or Cost of Thanksgiving

1. The Necessity of Thanksgiving

The ultimate tradition of giving thanks and celebrating goes back much earlier than the Pilgrims, Huguenots, and others. God himself established for his people a formal way of expressing thanksgiving and rejoicing.

In Leviticus 7:11-18, we have the instructions given by the LORD for the peace offering. The book of Leviticus describes a number of different sacrifices that were offered – the ascension or burnt offering, the sin offering, the trespass offering, and the peace offering. According to Alfred Edersheim, the most joyous of all the sacrifices was the Peace Offering, and I think we can understand why this is the case.[5] The Peace Offering was always offered last when other sacrifices were to be offered. The Peace Offering also was the only sacrifice where a portion was eaten by the worshipper.

In Lev. 7, we read that the Peace Offering could be offered for three reasons. The first reason given is that of thanksgiving. This word for thanksgiving also can include the idea of confession - confession of sin and also a confession of faith. Peace offerings were also offered for vows and strictly voluntary offerings.[6]

The peace offering as an expression of thanksgiving is found in a number of other places of the OT.

Psa. 50:14 Offer to God thanksgiving, (Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,) And pay your vows to the Most High.

Psa. 116:17 I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving, And will call upon the name of the LORD.

Of course, this peace offering of thanksgiving was not the only time that God’s people were to give thanks. They could give God thanksgiving at any time in their prayers or in their songs. They didn’t always have to bring a sacrifice in order to show thanksgiving. God of course wanted both a thankful heart and also took delight in the proper offering of these sacrifices. And of course, bringing a sacrifice before God demanded a great deal of expense and effort. Though I think many of the details and regulations were much more easily understood by God’s people of old than they are for us, it still was a major process to offer up a peace offering. And this is part of the reason that God gave clear instructions, because often commands are twisted by laziness.

And so the real foundation and heritage for our own Thanksgiving Day should be seen in Scripture. Being thankful and showing expression of thankfulness is a command in Scripture. And even though Thanksgiving as a Public Holiday has become commercialized and misused, I think we can still give thanks for the fact that in God’s Providence there still is a public day designated for giving thanks. Thanksgiving is a necessity!

2. The Sacrifice or Cost of Thanksgiving

Related to this first point, we see that true Thanksgiving is a sacrifice, involving time, money, and effort. To offer to God a sacrifice of a peace offering meant that you had to give up one of your animals to the Lord. Offering such a peace offering involved time for travel and other related costs. The word sacrifice denotes something that is given up. Recall the very sad story of David conducting an improper census of Israel. At the end of the story, David purchased a threshing floor in order to build an altar for sacrifice so that the terrible plague God had sent would be withdrawn. The owner of the threshing floor, Ornan, wanted to simply give it to David. But David said to Ornan, “No, but I will surely buy it for the full price, for I will not take what is yours for the LORD, nor offer burnt offerings with that which costs me nothing.”[7]

Now certainly the Lord is not merely impressed by outward shows of giving or generosity. Psalm 51:17 declares, The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise.

We also have to be careful that in giving thanksgiving to God we do not turn it into an occasion for our own boasting. We are familiar with the parable that Jesus told about Pharisee and the publican in Luke 18. The Pharisee opened his prayer with these words, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.”

I think an excellent text that summarizes the sacrificial aspect of giving thanks to the Lord is found in Hebrews 13:13-16

13 Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. 14 For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. 15 Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. 16 But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

There is a cost to following Jesus Christ. We are called to bear His reproach. We don’t merely then focus on earthly things but we keep in mind that we are seeking a heavenly city. And then in verses 15-16 we see two aspects of sacrifice and the cost of sacrifice. Through Christ we are to continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. The idea of continually isn’t so much that we do this constantly, though that it is the ideal, but more that this should regularly be something we do. Do you give time and effort to the giving of thanks?

And then verse 16 connected with verse 15 calls us to be generous with others. Do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well-pleased. Thanksgiving is both giving thanks unto the Lord and then giving of time, money, and effort on behalf of other believers and servants of the Lord. There is both the necessity of thanksgiving as well as a cost or sacrifice that is part of thanksgiving.

Make sure in your celebration of Thanksgiving that you are not just following the ways of the world, perhaps with a prayer thrown in for good measure. Pour out your heart in thanksgiving to the Lord. Seek to do good and to share. This is true Thanksgiving.

[1] Doug Philips, Audio Lecture entitled “Pilgrims and Indians.”

[2] Boice, p. 863-867.

[3] Much of the info coming here from an article by Dennis Rupert.


[5] Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministries and Services, 99-100.

[6] Edersheim, 100.

[7] 1 Chronicles 21:24.


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