What a wonderful thing that we live in a land that still sets aside a day to give thanks to God for His many blessings. I suspect that Thanksgiving Day may be one of the more potent things the Lord has embedded in our culture, a secret weapon, unleashing far more than we realize, even in the midst of so much gone wrong.
In the gospels, one of the striking things is how Jesus embodies the cleansing power of the priesthood and temple. This was one of His great offenses. Who can forgive sin but God? Who can declare clean but those authorized by God? But Jesus goes around declaring lepers clean, being touched by unclean people and instead of Jesus being infected, He infects them with purity (Lk. 6:19). The woman with the flow of blood touches the hem of Jesus’ garment, and power goes out of Him and she is healed and cleansed (Mk. 5:29-30).
But remember that ceremonial cleanliness was connected to food and eating: “And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common” (Acts 10:13-15). And this is in turn related to thanksgiving, since some people command us “to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:3-5).
So, putting this together, we should understand that the power of Jesus was centered in His gratitude. How was it that everything that touched Him became clean? How was it sanctified? It was sanctified by His thanksgiving. When Jesus healed, He received the illness, the disorder, the person infected with uncleanness with thanksgiving, and so it was sanctified by the truth, by the word of God and prayer. And the central act of His thanksgiving was the Cross. In the Cross, Jesus offered Himself as the Great Thanksgiving. But how could this be, since the Cross was a sacrifice for sin? The Cross was the Great Thanksgiving precisely because it was the great and final sacrifice for sin. Jesus went to the cross willingly, gladly, freely. He laid His life down for sin, and He did so in fullness of gratitude. He was thankful to be able to die for sin. He was thankful to be able to save the world from our sin. He was thankful to pay the wages of sin and inherit the entire world and make all things new.
And just in case we doubt that the cross was the Great Thanksgiving, Jesus told us this very thing on the night before He was betrayed when He instituted the Lord’s Supper, in which He gave thanks for His body broken and His blood shed. The power of Jesus to cleanse is His gratitude, and His central act of gratitude was the Cross in which He took upon Himself all the sin, all the uncleanness, all the condemnation of the world.
So we live in an unclean land. Our lips are unclean, our hands are unclean, our eyes are unclean, our hearts are unclean. We are foul and covered in grime. But Jesus came into this unclean world as the spotless Lamb of God in order to take away the uncleanness of the world. And on the Cross the spotless Lamb gladly took all our blemishes, all our uncleanness, all our grime. And not only that, but in His death and resurrection Jesus began to make all things new. He broke into the old system, the old world and infected that old world with His purity, with His gratitude.
As we have seen, gratitude is tied directly to the truth and the word of God and prayer. You can’t really give thanks for lies. You can’t really give thanks for sin. But you can give thanks for mashed potatoes, pecan pie, another year of life, parents, a spouse, children, cousins, and a warm house. You can give thanks for the good gifts of God in the midst of uncleanness, in the midst of confusion, in the midst of hypocrisy, in the midst of a culture currently careening toward destruction. While there is nothing magical or automatic, real gratitude to the living God is really infectious. It is really powerful.
In fact, it is this gratitude that is overcoming the world, overcoming all the greed, all the lust, all the bloodshed — because it is the thankfulness of Jesus. The power of His Thanksgiving is that it infects the uncleanness with purity. It swallows up the uncleanness. It purifies and sanctifies. Above all else, it is His Thanksgiving, the gratitude of Christ that has turned back the tide and will overrun the world.
And so at its heart, Christian gratitude is nothing less than holding up the gratitude of Christ. This is because a Christian heart is a heart that has been filled with the gratitude of Christ. Our gratitude is His gratitude in us. Our gratitude by itself is never pure but always full of mixed motivations, hypocrisies, and selfishness. No one offers up a pure thanksgiving in themselves — no one but Christ. And so it is that we may offer up a true thanksgiving in the Great and Perfect Thanksgiving of Christ. We can offer up the gratitude of Christ, which is perfect and holy and wonderfully potent.
So rise and eat, give thanks and rejoice. Lift your glasses, lift your voices, lift up the gratitude of Christ. His thankfulness infects all the uncleanness.
“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” (Heb. 13:15).
I’ll be speaking in Minneapolis next week. More details here.
New e-book Death by Baptism available here.