Why Thanksgiving?

Today, the Thanksgiving holiday is characterized by certain traditions that have made it distinctly American. Traditions such as the Macy’s Parade, the Charlie Brown Special, Hunting, Football, and of course, families and friends gathered around the table to eat turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce, and sweet potato pie.

While traditions are only traditions, they are still important in the establishment of an identity. I’m sure everyone reading this has their own family traditions that they have incorporated into the holiday. This is what makes the holiday uniquely American.

However, of all the holidays that we celebrate in this country, Thanksgiving is the only day with an explicit command in the Bible to be celebrated. Now, I’m not talking about the holiday in terms of the traditions, but thanksgiving itself. Throughout the psalms, believers are commanded to give thanksgiving and praise to God. In fact, when President Abraham Lincoln first proclaimed on October 20, 1864 that Thanksgiving should be a national holiday to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November, he said that he desired all US citizens “wherever they may then be” on this day, to give “thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe.”

And above all, we must be thankful for the salvation we have in the Lord Jesus Christ. The prophet Isaiah said of our nature, “we are ALL as an unclean THING” (64:6) before God, and yet we read in the New Testament that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). It is not often that I agree with John Calvin, but he said in his Institutes of the Christian Religion (p. 38):

“Suppose we but once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and to ponder his nature, and how completely perfect are his righteousness, wisdom, and power — the straightedge to which we must be shaped. Then, what masquerading earlier as righteousness was pleasing in us will soon grow filthy in its consummate wickedness.”

Psalm 100, the great Thanksgiving Psalm gives us all instructions on why we ought to be thankful. Verse 4 states:

“Enter in His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name.”

A thankful heart is necessary for entering into the presence of God. In fact, when Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper, the scriptures say, “He took the cup, and gave thanks” (Matthew 26:27). The last verse, then, of Psalm 100, gives three reasons for thanking the Lord:

“For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting; and His truth endureth to all generations.”

First, He is good; second, His mercy lasts forever. This can be explained in the word longsuffering. The prophet Jeremiah said, “It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). Thanksgiving is essential because we need new mercy from the Lord with every new morning, and the very fact we have a new morning is cause enough to thank the Lord.

Third, we ought to thank the Lord because “His truth endureth to all generations.” This is the most important because it tells us emphatically that the Bible is the only unchanging truth. The saints of the past could rely on it, you can rely on it today, and your grandchildren will also be able to rely upon it. We ought to be thankful above all for God’s Word that is unchanging and leads us into a closer relationship with Him.

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