There is one word which should not be part of Thanksgiving celebrations. What is it? Keep reading to find out! But first, let us continue to dig into Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi:
And being found in appearance as a man,Philippians 2:8-11 (NIV emphasis added)
[Jesus] humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death —
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
We are so steeped in a love for democracy, and a desire for individualism, that we might read this and think, “Wait, I didn’t vote for Jesus!”, or “One person is in charge? Isn’t this tyranny?” Many people don’t like the idea of Jesus having an exclusive reign and reject the Christian message outright. Meanwhile, we Christians can be demurring in our attitudes, “I guess if Jesus is in charge, I should commit to him. If every knee is going to bow, I should go ahead and bow my knee.”
These are two possible responses to the idea that Jesus is Lord, that God is in charge. Our response may be rebellion, that this does not sound like the kind of God we want to believe in, or our response may be acquiescence, that we should follow whether we want to or not, and, being Thanksgiving, we should give thanks that Jesus is Lord. Thanksgiving is something we should do. Praise is a matter of duty.
There is a third response to the idea that Jesus is Lord, that God is in charge. Let us consider the response of the people to the dedication of the Temple in king Solomon’s day:
When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. 2 The priests could not enter the temple of the LORD because the glory of the LORD filled it. 3 When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the LORD above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying,
“He is good;
his love endures forever.” . . .
On the twenty-third day of the seventh month he sent the people to their homes, joyful and glad in heart for the good things the LORD had done for David and Solomon and for his people Israel.2 Chronicles 7:1-3,10 (NIV)
When the people get a sense of the presence and glory of God, they bow in worship, but not out from a sense that this is something they should do as a matter of duty. Rather, their thanksgiving is genuine, spontaneous, and joyful. Thanksgiving is a joyful and genuine response to God upon the recognition of who God is and what God is like.
When we know God well, we will recognise the news that Jesus is Lord, and therefore God is in charge, is good news! Thanksgiving will be a natural and joyful response as opposed to a duty or obligation.
We often frame the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus, as being that we are saved from sin and so gain eternal life through Jesus. While this is true, and is very good news indeed, the fact that Jesus is Lord is also very good news. The early Christians in New Testament times would have known that.
Those coming to faith in Jesus from a Jewish background would have had a sense of their history, that the succession of kings seemed to go from bad to worse and the current king was no king at all. Over the years the people suffered, especially the vulnerable of society, the very ones a king was supposed to watch out for. The thought, given through prophecy, that God himself was coming some day to take charge, would be met with “thank the Lord for that!” When Jesus says things like “the Kingdom of God is at hand,” those who trusted him would naturally say “thank the Lord, this is good news!”
The news that Jesus is Lord would also resonate as good news among those from a non-Jewish background. In Roman society where the politics around the emperors rivalled what we see on CNN, where the people were left wondering if the next ruler would be better than the last one, the news that there is one true God who has come to take charge would be met, by those who believed, with “Thank God, this is good news indeed.”
We can think of the song “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who, a song about revolution with a very cynical concluding line: “meet the news boss, just the same as the old boss.” With the news that Jesus is Lord, the new boss is very different from any boss ever known before! The new boss is none other than the creator of the universe who has shown himself to be for us and not against us.
The news that “Jesus is Lord” would have brought the response of joyful and genuine thanksgiving in New Testament times to those who believed. Does it today?
For many people it is not quite as joyful, because they can only think of God in terms of a judge. When we think of God only as judge whose relationship with us is primarily about looking at our deeds with judgement, with the expectation of either a “pass or fail,” praise and thanks may be a thing we do out of mere obedience.
When we think of God also as Redeemer, as Father and Ruler, as Shepherd, as the Good Shepherd Who has given His life for the sheep, praise and thanksgiving become a natural and joyful response to God. Throughout the Bible, God is presented as judge, yes, but also as a good ruler and good father whose heart is inclined to seeing his loved ones fare well.
What is the one word that should not be part of Thanksgiving celebrations? It is the word “should.” It is the idea that we should give thanks to God. When we really grasp just who God is, what God is like, what God’s relationship with us is like through Jesus, then thanksgiving will just happen.
Is thanksgiving to God naturally happening in your life? Is thanksgiving genuine and joyful? If not, I’m not going to say you should thank him. I am going to say we have the amazing opportunity to get to know Him. We will be grateful when we do.