The True Story of Thanksgiving

Redeemed by Thanksgiving

Third, God himself, in the person of his Son, Jesus, entered into our thankless world, lived in flawless appreciation of his Father, and died on our behalf for our chronic ingratitude. It is Jesus, the God-man, who has manifested the perfect life of thankfulness. If you’ve ever tracked the texts where Jesus gives his Father thanks, you’ll know it’s quite an impressive list.

Matthew 11:25]: “At that time [note the context of unrepentant and unthankful "cities where most of his mighty works had been done,” verse 20] Jesus declared, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.’”

John 11:41: “[T[T]y took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me.’” [J[Jesus then raises Lazarus from the dead.]em>

Matthew 15:36, which refer to the location as “the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.”]

Luke 22:17–20 “took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it.”]

1 Corinthians 11.23–24″ data-version=”esv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>1 Corinthians 11:23–24: Our “Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it.”

Jesus is not only God himself but also the quintessentially thankful human. The God-man not only died to forgive our failures in giving God the thanks he’s due, but also lived the perfect life of appreciation on our behalf toward his Father.

Freed for Thanksgiving

Finally, by faith in Jesus, we are redeemed from ingratitude, and its just eternal penalty in hell, and freed to enjoy the pleasure of being doubly thankful for God’s favor toward us—not only as his creatures, but also as his redeemed.

It is fitting for a creature to be in a continuous posture of gratitude toward his creator. And it is even more fitting for a redeemed rebel to be in an ongoing posture of gratitude toward his redeemer. The kind of life that flows from such amazing grace is the life of continual thankfulness. This is the kind of life in which the born-again Christian is being continually renewed, progressively being made more like Jesus.

And so the apostle Paul encourages Christians to have lives characterized by thanksgiving.

Colossians 1.11–12″ data-version=”esv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>Colossians 1:11–12: “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”

Colossians 2.6–7″ data-version=”esv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>Colossians 2:6–7: “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

Colossians 3.15–17″ data-version=”esv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>Colossians 3:15–17 [n[note the hat trick (3x) in this one text]“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Ephesians 5:20: “[G[G]ing thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Only in Jesus, the paragon of creaturely appreciation, are we able to become the kind of persistently thankful people God created us to be and fulfill the human destiny of thanksgiving. For the Christian, with both feet standing firmly in the good news of Jesus, there are possibilities for a true thanksgiving which we otherwise would never know.  

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David Mathis
David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor at desiringGod.org and an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He has edited several books, including Thinking. Loving. Doing., Finish the Mission, and Acting the Miracle, and is co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.