A Short Bible Study On Celebrating An Annual Thanksgiving To The Lord
Thanksgiving is not something relatively new. God's believers have been giving thanks to him from the beginning of time and throughout history. I think of the first recorded thanksgiving having taken place in the beginning of history when Cain and Abel each brought a sacrifice for the Lord, probably like they had seen their father Adam do before them. Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord, and Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock as a sacrificial offering for the Lord. God did not command these sacrifices. Such sacrifices originated on man's part as an expression of a devout spirit and of gratitude, or thanksgiving, toward the almighty Giver of all good things. But Cain was only going through the formal motions of bringing a sacrificial offering of thanks to the Lord. His offering was not given from his heart as a true act of faith. Abel, on the other hand, was a humble believer in the Lord, who by faith was giving proof of his sincere gratitude and thanks to the Lord for all the mercy and goodness the Lord had previously shown to him. Cain's offering was not acceptable to the Lord; Abel's offering of heartfelt gratitude and thanks was acceptable to the Lord.
Another early sacrificial offering of thanksgiving in the history of mankind took place after the universal flood was over. The Lord had saved Noah and his family members from the catastrophic flood that covered the whole earth and destroyed the entire human race except for Noah and his family. The Lord had kept those eight souls safe on the ark throughout the entire time of the flood, which lasted three hundred and seventy-five days. So filled with gratitude and thanks for all the mercy and goodness and grace the Lord had shown them, we are told in Genesis 8:20, "Then Noah built an altar to the Lord; and he took from every clean animal and from every clean bird, and he offered burnt offerings on the altar." Verse 21 states that the Lord was pleased with Noah's thanksgiving offering.
Thanksgiving Day is our day for a special service of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving Day is different from the thanks that we give to God each day in our prayers. It is different in this way: It is a giving of thanks especially for the year's harvest. Thanksgiving Day is also called a Harvest Festival and Festival of Harvest. God commanded such a Thanksgiving and Harvest Festival to be observed by his Jewish people each year during the Old Testament time of history. It was called Pentecost. In Exodus 23:16 the Pentecost Thanksgiving Festival was called "the Feast of Harvest." The verse reads: "You shall also observe the Feast of the Harvest, the firstfruits of your labors that you sow in the field." The Pentecost Thanksgiving Feast of Harvest, was also called the "Feast of Weeks" in Exodus 34:22, which states: "And you shall observe the Feast of Weeks the firstfruits of the wheat harvest . . ." It was called the Feast of Weeks because seven weeks were counted for the harvest season from its beginning to its end, which then ended with the Pentecost Thanksgiving Feast of Weeks’ giving of thanks for the completion of the harvest. It is clear, then, that already in the ancient past God commanded his Old Testament Jewish people to observe a Thanksgiving celebration each year.
Now we Christians in this New Testament time of history have no such specific command to celebrate an annual day of thanksgiving. God has not made such a law. We are free from all such ceremonial laws. We don't need such a ceremonial law, because we do it freely on our own as a fruit of our faith. Christians in the past have observed a time of thanksgiving as a matter of faith. By faith we want to give thanks to God for the bountiful harvest of fruits and vegetables and foods with which he has blessed us each year. So when the fields and orchards in our country have been harvested, that is a fitting time of year for a Thanksgiving Day service to give thanks for the harvest. By our altar in our church we can place and arrange for our Thanksgiving service various kinds of fruits and vegetables that have been harvested that year as a visible display of the kinds of things for which we are giving thanks. In addition to the harvest, in our Thanksgiving Day service we can also give thanks to God for all his great many blessings that he has poured out upon us during the year -- including the spiritual blessings of his Word and the faith he has given us, his gift of eternal life and salvation, for the good weather we have had, for keeping us safe from harm and danger, for our health, and other such things, as well as for our loved ones and family and fellow Christians.
Our Lord in the Bible tells us and urges us to give thanks to him. Here are a few such Bible passages:
Psalm 100: 1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth. 2 Worship the Lord with gladness; Come before him with rejoicing. 3 Know that the Lord himself is God; He himself has made us, and not we ourselves. We are his people and the sheep of his pasture. 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, His courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name. 5 For the Lord is good; His love endures forever, And his faithfulness to generation after generation.
Ephesians 5:4: . . . nor filthiness and foolish talk or coarse jesting, which are not proper, but rather thanksgiving.
Philippians 4:6: Be unduly concerned for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Colossians 2:6, 7: Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 having been firmly rooted and now being built up in him and established in the faith just as you have been taught, and overflowing with thanksgiving.
Colossians 4:2: Be busily engaged in prayer, being on the alert in it with thanksgiving . . .
1 Timothy 2:1: I urge, then, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, be made for all men . . .
1 Timothy 4:3-5: . . . (men) who forbid people to marry and command them to abstain from food which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected as unclean if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.
In Luke 17:11-19 is the account of Jesus' healing the ten lepers. Jesus healed all ten men of their leprosy. Only one, however, came back to Jesus to give thanks to God for Jesus' having healed him. Jesus asked, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the other nine?” Jesus' questions make it very clear that as the Lord our God he does indeed look for us to come to him to give our thanks to him. Therefore our coming to our Lord in worship to give thanks to him for his many blessings on a special day of Thanksgiving is most fitting and proper. But let us not forget to also give thanks to the Lord everyday of the year for his salvation and blessings.