A Sacrifice at Your Thanksgiving Meal

Whenever financial needs are brought up in Christian circles there is statistical certainty that someone will also quote Psalm 50:10, “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.” When I hear that verse quoted, somewhere from the deep recesses of my mind comes the voice of Mandy Pitinkin (Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride) saying, “I do not think that verse means what you think it means.” In Psalm 50, God is not extolling his abundant provision for his people. He does do that elsewhere (Matt. 6:25-34). Instead, in Psalm 50, the Lord is talking about cattle as potential sacrifices. He is rebuking his people for thinking that the empty religious ritual performance was the appropriate response to God’s grace. If it’s just about bulls, God already has enough. A verse quoted about provision is actually a searing admonition for ungodly worship.

In Psalm 50 God is disciplining his people, a “don’t do this” followed by a “do this instead.” It is a gracious discipline, offering to his people a better way to walk with God in holiness than just going through the spiritual motions. God does commend a sacrifice—the sacrifice of thanksgiving (v. 14). God has now moved from the range of literal to spiritual, but no less practical. You can’t haul an object called thanksgiving onto an alter and sacrifice it there but there is such thing as tangible, heart-felt thanksgiving to God for all he has done. It is this that God wants from his people.

This is the kind of bar-raising we see Jesus do in his sermon on the mount. Jesus walks his way through the law with his serial, “you have heard it said…,” each time showing that shallow, external obedience is not true godliness. Anyone can bring a bull to the temple but to be thankful to God, truly thankful, for salvation and all the benefits that come along with it, that is something that only God’s people can do through the prompting and enabling of the Holy Spirit. Christian thanksgiving is a God-prompted, God-powered work, categorically different than the external motions of public worship.

When God asks his people to be thankful he is asking them to do practical theology. “Tell me how good you’ve found me to be. Tell me about all the ways I’ve walked with you through trials. Tell me what you think about my Son, your Savior, Jesus. Tell me what my Spirit is up to in you, sanctifying you.” These are God’s overtures of thanksgiving. Only a converted, God-loving person can offer this kind of worship to God. Because only a Christian discovers God to be the author of every good gift.

But don’t breeze past the fact that God calls thanksgiving a sacrifice. Like all sacrifices it will cost you something and it will cost someone their life. In order for you to be truly thankful to God Jesus had to die. The renovating work begun in you, Christian, the atonement needed to justify you, these reasons for eternal thanksgiving to God, they all came at price. God gave his Son because he loved the world, and specifically, because he loved you. The sacrifice of thanksgiving was first offered at the cross.

But the sacrifice of thanksgiving will also cost you something. It will cost you your pride. You cannot simultaneously boast in yourself and your God. To be thankful to God is to recognize him as the fountain of all goodness for you. You didn’t craft your prosperity with your own hands. Thanksgiving can only be offered to God from a place of humility. Thanksgiving will also cost you your time. God does not just ask for a heart posture of thankfulness. He wants thanksgiving, robust and audible. He wants his people to take the time to articulate in worship, prayer, and before the watching world that they are thankful to their God, the only true God. Thanksgiving, like all sacrifices, is incredibly costly.

So as we move into a week focused on thanksgiving, will you be going about the motions or stopping to give thanks to God from a heart changed by the gospel of God? What habits of thanksgiving are you building in your life and family? Where does thanksgiving need to cost you something? And remember that God isn’t looking for slavish conformity to the concept of thankfulness. He is a God of all grace. He is the God of the cross and the empty tomb. He is amazing. He commands thanksgiving because he commands joy from his people. Hear that, our God commands joy. He won’t stop until we find our ultimate happiness in his maximum glory.

Updates

  1. Christmas Worship - We will worship on Christmas morning at our usual time. Don’t miss this time with your faith family.
  2. Orange Community Group - Interested in our new community group starting up in Orange? Why not attend our informational lunch on December 4, after the service. Click here to RSVP.
  3. Advent is Here - Advent starts this Sunday. This year we’ll be working our way through the messages of the angels scattered throughout the Christmas narrative asking ourselves the question, “What does God think about Christmas?” Invite your friends.