Wednesday, November 25, 2020
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Wednesday, November 25, 2020.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The Importance of Thanksgiving for God’s People: Reflections on Psalm 100
Well, here we are in the year of our Lord 2020 on the brink of Thanksgiving in the United States of America, an official national holiday made so by action of American presidents, most importantly regulated under the leadership of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt back in the midpoint of the 20th century.
But we're looking at Thanksgiving going all the way back to the nation's first president. And of course, before President George Washington, we're looking at it going all the way back to the Pilgrims, those Puritan Christians who came to what we now know as the United States, what we now know as New England in hopes of establishing a covenant community, whereby they could live out their faithfulness to Christ. And thus the issues of religious liberty and Christian identity, and of course, the idea of covenant, all these were actually central in the beginnings of the American experiment dated to those Puritans that we call the Pilgrims.
But picking up on the theme of Thanksgiving from those pilgrims, it was picked up by the President, George Washington, who made very clear the fact that he thought the nation ought to be thankful. And that was continued by presidents, perhaps most famously, including Abraham Lincoln in one of the nation's darkest hours. And then of course, in another very dark hour. In this case, it was a Thanksgiving in the darkness of the Great Depression, even before World war II, that Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke similarly.
But the reality is that what you have in American history and what is now the holiday of Thanksgiving coming on this Thursday so late in the month of November every year, it's a national observance, but that raises a huge question: why? And it raises an even more urgent question: why now? In the year 2020 with a world becoming far more secular all the time around us, what is the meaning of Thanksgiving? What does the culture around us think of Thanksgiving? To whom are they thankful and for what are they thankful?
Interestingly, this year there's been on the one hand more and on the other hand less conversation about Thanksgiving than it has been normal. More in the sense that there is a lot of attention to what we should and shouldn't do we are told by health authorities in the context of the pandemic COVID-19.
But it's also interesting that there is less than usual and that there has been less conversation for instance, in the mainstream media and in the larger culture about why we even celebrate Thanksgiving and what it means. It's interesting to note that with the rise of organized forms of unbelief, agnosticism, and atheism and forms of very institutionalized secularism, you have open declarations that we ought to be thankful, but not of course, thankful to God whom they reject, but rather just thankful as some kind of attitude.
But here's where Christians need to think very carefully. Thankfulness is not actually an attitude at all. Now you may hear preachers talk about the platitude of an attitude of gratitude. But the reality is thankfulness according to biblical theology, according to Scripture is not something that is basically, first of all, attitudinally. It is concrete. It is the relationship. It is the creatures understanding of absolute dependence upon the Creator and the fact that we are dependent upon God, the God of the Bible, the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for everything, for every good gift. The Bible tells us that he is the author of every good gift, that every good gift comes from God.
And we're also told that that begins with the gift of our existence. It begins with the gift of every breath that we take. It begins with the gift of life. It begins with of course the gift of a God who not only created us, but speaks to us, of a God who made us in His image, of a God who redeems us by the blood of the lamb. Our Thanksgiving as Christians is quite easy to understand. It is based upon the very clear declarations coming to Israel in the Old Testament of an obligation to thankfulness and of course, even worship that was centered in thankfulness.
Just think of the Psalms, think of one of the briefest, but most famous of the Psalms, the 100th Psalm. As we hear in this psalm, there is an instruction to giving thanks. "Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness. Come into His presence with singing. Know that the Lord, he is God. It is he who made us and we are his. We are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him. Bless his name for the Lord is good. His steadfast love endures forever and His faithfulness to all generations."
Now in just those five verses of this one psalm, the 100th Psalm, you have an entire theology of gratitude. It's just an economy of words, but let's look at it. Our Christian worldview based upon scripture has to be a worldview of thankfulness, a worldview of gratitude, but what does that look like? Well, the psalmist begins by praising God. "Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth." This is about worshipers who are gathering together. The implication here is the temple, but of course, every time you look at the Old Testament, even when there's a reference to the temple, it's not just to the temple. That is also to the cosmos as itself a temple of God's glory. This is not just for the worshipers in the temple, in Jerusalem. This is for all of God's children, wherever we may be found all over the earth. We are the inhabitants of the habitation that he has made for his glory, a temple, which is the entire created order the cosmos.
As we worship God, we are then told to serve the Lord with gladness. There is an eagerness here. We are to come into His presence with singing. There is celebration, but then there is the declaration of God's identity in verse three. "Know that the Lord He is God." Now, what does that mean? Is it just the declaration we know who He is? The Lord God of Israel is God? No, it means He is God. That means He is the beginning and the end. That means that He is the author of everything. That means that there isn't an atom or molecule in existence that cannot and must not trace its existence to the fact that He is God. It means that He is indeed the sovereign over all the cosmos that He has made. It means that not even a bird, a sparrow falls without his knowledge. It means that everything that takes place in the world and every place in the world is in accordance with His sovereignty. Ultimately, we understand that.
But then of course, this is speaking of humans where the psalmist says, "It is He who made us and we are His." Just think about that. It is He who made us. The next part just flows naturally. If He made us, then we're His. If we make something, it belongs to us. God made us, we belong to Him. And of course He made us in His image. We are His people in the next phrase and the sheep of His pasture. So it gets very personal. We're not just those objects that He made. We are subjects that He made. He made us in His image and He has a relationship with us. He has made us in order to know Him, in order to worship Him, in order to serve Him and to obey Him. We are His people, but pastorally, we are described as the sheep of His pasture.
And then with the context of worship, and it's not just, again, the event of worship, it's the life of worship. We are to enter his gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Thanksgiving. What does that mean? Well, literally just think about it for a moment. It is the giving of thanks. What does Thanksgiving as a holiday mean in the United States? Well, it is a giving of thanks. But giving of thanks is not just a verbal description as saying thank you. It is actually a giving. That is to say the biblical understanding here is that we are worshiping. We are serving. We are obeying. We are glorifying. We are knowing. We are declaring the fact that we're thankful to God. It is the shape of our lives, or is to be the shape of our lives as Christians. And it was, as we shall see. As Paul makes very clear in the book of Romans, the shape of our lives intended for all human creatures throughout all time. We'll get to that in just a moment.
But as we look at the Psalm, we are told to enter his courts with praise. After we enter his gates with thanksgiving, we're to give thanks to Him. Now, do you know to repetition here? We are to give thanks to him. We were just told we were to enter his gates with thanksgiving. Well, that's very typical of Hebrew poetry we find in the Old Testament and in particular, in the book of Psalms. It is a repetition that reminds us in parallel the fact that we better get this. We better understand this. It's so fundamental that it's repeated over and over again. Not only do we enter his gates with Thanksgiving, but we give thanks to Him and in so doing, we bless his name.
But verse five gives the most fundamental truth. That is the very foundation of our thanksgiving. And that is that the Lord is good. What a declaration! The Lord is good. He's a God of light and not a God of darkness. He's a God of love. And towards those of us, especially who are in Christ, he is not a God of hate. He's a God whose mercy endures forever. His steadfast love, his covenant faithfulness endures forever. And by the way, that's the only hope we have. There is no way that we could keep ourselves in a state of constant thanksgiving or gratitude, or even acknowledging God. But He is faithful even when we are faithless. His steadfast love endures. How long? Forever. His faithfulness. How long? To all generations.
Now just consider that one psalm, those just few words and five verses from the 100th Psalm and recognize how an entire biblical theology is revealed there. Everything from creation. He is God. It is he who made us. All the way to God's providence. Know that the Lord, he is God. All the way to his love for us. We are his people and the sheep of his pasture. All the way to right worship and right living, all the way to the fact that God's character is made known to us. The Lord, he is good. And the assurance of his steadfast love, his covenant faithfulness. It endures forever, his faithfulness to all generations.
What Is Behind All Human Sinfulness? A Refusal to Honor and Give Thanks to God. A Look at Romans 1:21.
But of course, we, as Christians also have the New Testament. And I want to point to one particular text, as we're thinking about Thanksgiving in 2020. And even as we're thinking about the secular confusions around us as contrasted with what must be biblical clarity among Christians, I want to point to a text that is about thankfulness or gratitude that many Christians do not actually recognize to be so.
One of the things we as Christians are dependent upon are certain keys, certain biblical keys that unlock mysteries. And there are certain words, there are certain verses or texts that serve to unlock those mysteries so that we can understand the world. And we can understand ourselves so we can understand God and what God has done for us in Christ.
One of those keys that unlocks the mystery is found in Romans 1:21. Speaking of rebellious humanity, and this means all human beings, remember that we are being told that God has revealed himself, even his invisible attributes and his eternal power and divine nature in the things that are made. But nonetheless, in verse 21, we read this, "For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things."
Now about whom is Paul speaking here? Well, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul is talking here about all humanity. He's not talking about certain humans who have after all rejected the knowledge of God, refused to honor him as futile, refused to give thanks to him. Rather, this is a picture of the Fall. So what we see is the truth of Genesis 3 and the sin of Adam and Eve, the fall of humanity in the sin of disobeying God, we find it explained here in the theological commentary that again is that key, a scriptural key that just unlocks a mystery. We're being told that the very essence of human sinfulness is the refusal to give thanks. That's an amazing thing.
If we ask what is the most basic sin, and by the way, every tradition of Christianity has theologically struggled with that question. What is the first sin that leads to all other sins? There have been Christians throughout history who have said that original sin, that deepest of sins, that foundational sin is a sin of the flesh. It's something like lust. Now, there is no doubt that lust is common to humanity and that it is a horrifying sin. And there's no doubt that lust leads to other sins. No question about it.
But in the Western Christian tradition, that is the tradition that has produced the churches that we know today here in the United States, this is the tradition that has led to virtually all of the churches and denominations that emerged in the Western world or in the cradle of Western civilization that Western theological tradition epitomized in, for example, Augustine, the greatest of the early church fathers argued that that original sin, that primal sin, that first sin that leads to every other sin is pride.
But how is pride demonstrated? It is demonstrated as Paul makes clear in Romans 1 verse 21 in the refusal to honor God or give thanks to Him. Now what's interesting is whether or not that's actually two things or one. The refusal to honor God or give thanks to Him. Is that two sins or is it one? Well, they're both horrifying and it's good for us to think about it that way, but actually I think it's most appropriate to see that as one indictment. It's one great sin that explains in this first verse, again a scriptural key to unlock a mystery. What is it to be fallen humanity? It is to refuse to honor God as God or give thanks to Him. It is the refusal to honor God. How? As God.
Now think back to that 100th Psalm. Think back to verse 3, "Know that the Lord, he is God." And then understand what we're being told in Romans 1:21, that the basic sin of humanity is the refusal to honor God as God. Well there you have it. And not honoring God as God, refusing to honor God as God means that we are not giving thanks to him. Again, I have to see a link between Romans chapter 1:21 and the 100th Psalm because it actually is where all of this is combined. We are to enter His gates with Thanksgiving. We are to enter his courts with praise. We are to give thanks to him and bless his name.
You see it all tied together here and the relationship between these two texts, one in the Old Testament in the Psalms, one in the New Testament and the book of Romans. But just think about this. That originating sin that most foundational sin is the refusal to honor God as God or give thanks to him. Again, honor and thanksgiving, also found in the 100th Psalm.
So what are we looking at here? Well, in the secular confusion of our age, there are people who know they're supposed to be thankful. Well, that's a good place to start. But the problem is that in a fallen world, apart from Christ, we honor someone other than God as God. And we give thanks to someone or somebody or some force or something other than God. It's all tied together. It is very interesting to look at the secular conversation in the modern age. And yes, this basically has only emerged, that is established, organized forms of non-theism or unbelief in the sense. This has really only come in the modern age.
It's very interesting to see in the modern age that people continue to have the impulse to thankfulness, but they're not at all sure what to do with it. It's very interesting to see discussions among secular folk about the fact that they need to come up with some Thanksgiving ritual of their own. And on The Briefing in preceding years, I've actually gone into detail looking at some of the writings of these who are unbelievers about what they mean to be thankful. And many of them will say, "As tempting as it is to think that we're thankful to somebody, but of course, as atheists, we don't believe in anybody that is a personal god. We don't believe in the existence of any god at all. So instead we are simply in awe, sometimes breathtaking awe of the thisness of the world, the thatness of the universe."
Well, just think about that for a moment. Just how exactly are we as human beings who have such a hard time remaining thankful in the first place, just how are we to maintain any kind of conscious thankfulness if it means being thankful to this or thankful to that for thisness and thatness?
To Whom Are We Thankful and Why? Thanksgiving as a Powerful Christian Apologetic
So one of the issues I want to make, one of the arguments I want to make, and take this opportunity on this Wednesday before Thanksgiving, is to argue that thanksgiving is actually a powerful Christian apologetic. It really is an incredible opportunity. We need to say to the world around us, it is absolutely right to celebrate Thanksgiving, not by the way, just on a national holiday, one day we set apart with a diet of turkey and all the other things. Rather thanksgiving is to be understood as something that is to be the disposition of our hearts.
But that raises the question: to whom are we thankful? And that raises another issue. This is the apologetic angle at the first level. It comes down to this. How in the world can one actually call an attitude that isn't directed in gratitude to another as Thanksgiving? The gift implies a giver. That's so important. Just understand that. That's a basic Christian theological formula. The gift implies a giver.
And thus, if you say, "I'm going to celebrate the gift, but there was no giver," then guess what? It really wasn't a gift. It's just a this, or it's just a that. And when, by the way, if the cosmos is simply a giant cosmic accident without a creator God who made it and rules over it, then we each are just a this or that. And all, if we follow this worldview, all thanksgiving means is some kind of orchestrated mood or attitude we try to conjure up among various thises and thats about various thises and thats. That's all there is to it.
But here's the apologetic point. It's the spiritual diagnosis. Human beings actually have a yearning to be thankful to a who. It's there. You can see it even in the denials of the who. You can see it in the fact that even those who are trying to argue for some kind of thankfulness without God, they basically have to argue. They have to argue in order to try to persuade themselves. Now, I want to be clear. I'm not saying that internally speaking to themselves, atheists or agnostics are trying to pull off some kind of dishonesty, but I am saying it's more fundamental than that. The Bible makes clear that there are certain things we cannot not know. And that includes the fact that we are made. And the fact that we are known, we were known before we were made.
This gets to a second level of Christian apologetics. And that is the opportunity to tell people to whom we are thankful and why, to speak of God, not only the Creator God of the Bible, but the Redeemer who saved us through the atonement accomplished by the Lord, Jesus Christ, the God who rules over the entire universe and Jesus Christ, who is himself, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. It's a good point of conversation with the world around us. Why do we have this impulse to thankfulness and what exactly would satisfy or satiate or fulfill that impulse to thankfulness? And where does that come from?
And this gets to a third apologetic issue. Even as the gift implies the giver, gratitude implies consciousness, consciousness implies person. And as we think about it, we recognize the only reason that we are persons who can know ourselves at all is because God has made us in his image, and a part of what it means that the Creator has made us in his image is that he put his own stamp on us in such a way that, as we said, there are things we can not actually not know. And His existence. And his knowledge of us is one of those truths that in the end, we cannot not know.
So as we come to Thanksgiving in the year of our Lord 2020, are we thankful? You bet we're thankful. Are we thankful in a way we might not have been thankful before? Yes we are. We're thankful in a way that is a yearning thankfulness. And there's a biblical background to that too. We are thankful, but we're thankful in anticipation of something that is even greater and better that is to come, a world that is actually even more real. And this is something Christians need to say to each other. We need to affirm to ourselves. We need to acknowledge before God. We are awaiting a kingdom that is very different than any kingdom of this world. We're awaiting a place where every eye is dry and every tear is wiped away.
Right now, 2020 is a very strange year. It's a very difficult year. In some ways it's been a very deadly year, and we're facing challenges that are going to continue into 2021 politically, morally. Looking at the headlines, this has been a trying year and a particularly trying age, and we're going to be tried. We're going to be tested in the weeks and months to come as we enter into the year of our Lord 2021. And we understand that. But still we're thankful.
We're thankful that God has made us, that He made this world, that God made us in his image. We're thankful that God has given us such good gifts. He's the giver of every good gift. We are thankful for the honor of knowing him in Jesus Christ, our Lord. And we're thankful for the salvation that he has accomplished for us. We're thankful for our adoption in Christ as his joint heirs. We are thankful for the fact that we are made for glory and made for eternity. We're thankful for the opportunity to know him. And that means the opportunity and the mandate. Not only as we have seen in the 100th Psalm, but as we see in the very first chapter of Romans to honor God and to give thanks to him.
As always, I thank you for listening to The Briefing.
And I hope you understand why on this day, I decided not to talk about the headlines, but on issues that are even greater in importance, even more urgent and priority, and that is giving thanks. I think it's healthy every once in a while for us to look at these biblical truths and recognize these are not merely truths we believe. This is the very architecture of our lives. This is the very structure of our existence. It's the very purpose of which we are made to honor God as God and give thanks.
So I wish for you and your family in its own way, in this strange moment of distance and of pandemic, I pray for you and your family, a safe, God-honoring and glorious Thanksgiving. And I hope and pray that Christ people all over the world wherever they are found are found honoring God as God and giving thanks and telling the world around us why we do so and how they too can come to know God, to honor God, and to give thanks to him. So to you and your family and all those whom you love, Happy Thanksgiving 2020.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, just go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.