Thanksgiving sermon preached on Psalm 100 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 11/18/2012 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“Know that the LORD, He is God”
Thanksgiving. This Thursday our nation has set aside that day as a day of national thanksgiving. Being thankful is a good thing. In fact the Bible describes one characteristic of the ungodly as people who are unthankful. As a church, and as a nation, and as individuals, we should be thankful people. This is true in general. We should always be thankful. But certainly it is appropriate to set aside special times and seasons where we particularly thank God for all his many blessings. And yet, whenever you make something an annual holiday, the temptation is to miss what it really should be about. That certainly is a real possibility with Thanksgiving in our nation.
And so we’ll think a little bit about that at the end of our message today. But I’d like to inform that thinking with Psalm 100. What a fitting psalm for before a season of thanksgiving. This is the only psalm that is titled specifically a “Psalm of Thanksgiving.” There are many thanksgiving psalms in the Bible, but this is the only one donned with that title. Well, as we study this psalm today, observe with me the basic structure. You can divide the psalm into two parallel halves, verses 1 through 3 and verses 4 through 5. Each half contains two parts: a call to thanksgiving, and then a reason or rationale for that thanksgiving. And so in the first half, verses 1 and 2 are the call to thanksgiving. Verse 3 gives the reason for that call. And in the second half, verse 4 is the call to thanksgiving, and verse 5 gives the reason for that call.
And so given this structure of the psalm, we’ll organize our sermon much the same way. Two main points for today. First, a call to thanksgiving and praise. Second, we’ll consider the reasons for that call. At the end we will then spend some time applying this to us and our upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. So let’s begin then with the call. We find in this psalm seven commands. Seven verbal imperatives. Six of those seven are words that call us to thanksgiving and praise. These six verbs of command are equally divided between the two halves or sections in this psalm. Verses 1 and 2 the commands are, shout, serve, and come. Verse 4, the commands are enter, be thankful, and bless. All of these are different ways this call to thanksgiving and praise is being expressed. Six different explicit commands to such worship. We have an obligation to thank God and to praise him.
These six commands describe the nature of this thanksgiving and praise. I could go through each of these six verbs individually, but what I’ll do instead is to group them into two sets. One, we see that there is a dimension of corporate worship to this thanksgiving. And two, we see that there is a call, for what you might say, to raise the volume of our joy as we thank him! We’ll flush those both out. First, this call is a call of corporate worship. Specifically, what we are to recognize is that this is worship language. And it’s a worship that is put in a corporate sense.
And so notice that verse 1 begins by calling all the lands, all the earth, to this thanksgiving. There is an obligation for all to give this worship to God. Now that doesn’t mean that everyone necessarily answers that call. But the obligation and call is issued nonetheless. Verse 3 then talks less universally. There’s a reference to God’s people, the sheep of his pasture. That would have referred originally to Israel as a nation. Now, in application, it would include all God’s people in Christ. And so we see to whom this call is made. The world in general, but more specifically God’s people.
Verse 2 uses the word “serve”. We are to serve him with gladness. Some translations say “worship” instead of “serve”. The word there is literally “serve” but it’s being used here in a worship sense. Kind of like how the Levites served in the temple. All believers are serving God when they come before him in worship. In English we acknowledge this when we call it a worship “service”.
Then note the emphasis on God’s presence here. Verse 2, we are to come before his presence. Verse 4 talks about how we are to enter God’s gates and courts. This has a heavenly connotation to it, but surely is a temple reference. The people of Israel were to come into the temple and so they came spiritually before God’s presence as if they were entering the gates and courts of heaven itself. And we too worship in much the same way. Yes, we don’t go to a physical temple anymore. But the Bible says that the Christians, the people, they are a temple now. This means that when we gather as the church in formal assembly, that is where and when we draw near before his holy presence. Then we draw near the throne of grace as a corporate body. And this is done in anticipation too of heaven itself, when God will make his dwelling with man in the New Jerusalem come down out of heaven, according to Revelation 21.
And so as we think about thanksgiving from this passage, we learn here that there is a corporate side of it, and a worship side of it. Not only do we thank God at home in our own prayer life. Not only do we thank God as a family around the dinner table. But we also need to see a call to come together corporately in worship and to thank him in that. That of course is what we do each Lord’s Day service. And yet some services such as today we especially set aside to focus on thanksgiving. That is what we are doing today. We are gathering in corporate worship for a special offering of thanksgiving.
So then, I mentioned that a second aspect of this call to thanksgiving was “raising the volume of our joy.” Raising the volume of our joy. That’s my creative summary here. What you’ll notice is that as it calls us to worship, there’s a sense of volume to some of these commands, as in terms of audible loudness. There is also a sense of joy and gladness. These verses seem to mesh those two ideas together. So, for example, in verse 1 we see the call to make a joyful shout. This is literally a word for making a shout. Verse 2 has the call for singing, but it too could be translated as a shout of joy, or a ringing cry. Both of these verses have an element of loud volume and joy. These shouts are not the annoying shrieks of some uncontrolled tongue. James Boice likens this to the people loudly praising a king as he walks by. Think of what they shouted when Jesus rode in on Palm Sunday. Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! This is to be a character then of our corporate worship and thanksgiving. It’s to include pronouncements and songs of our thanksgiving and praise.
But it’s more than just the action of singing and declaring thanksgiving. It’s getting at the attitude of the heart. As verse 2 says, we serve him this way in gladness. Notice the words of joy and gladness here. You see, this is why I talked about raising the volume of our joy. The idea is that it’s telling us here what it looks like to be thankful. Think about it. If someone gives you a gift, you don’t give a loud sullen sigh and mumble some lifeless thank you. No, you brighten up, smile, and gladly thank them and tell them how and why you appreciate the gift. The same is true for our thanksgiving to God. Especially in a worship setting. Just because we have reverent worship, doesn’t mean we are sullen or somber. No, God says that our thanksgiving should express the joy that we are supposed to have as a Christian. We can thank him by letting him know how much joy he’s given us. That joy should infuse every song we sing, and every declaration we speak in our worship.
Well then, let’s turn then to the other part of this psalm. Let’s consider the rationale given for why we are called to this thanksgiving and praise. Now I mentioned that there were seven commands and six of them had to do with the call to this worship. The lone seventh command is regarding this rationale for our thanksgiving. Yes, the fact that there are six commands about the call to worship, versus one about the reason for this thanksgiving says something about the emphasis. And yet this seventh command does stand right in the middle of this psalm. It’s verse 3. Know. That’s the command. Know that the Lord is God. That command to know may be the only command about the rationale. It’s only one command out of seven here. But standing right in the middle, it does take on a great significance as well. It’s at the heart of this psalm. It’s telling us why we can be demanded to worship with such thanksgiving and praise. This call to “know” really ties together the whole psalm.
So why should God’s people give thanks? What are we to know about this? What reasons are here for why we thank God? Three things stand out. First, because God is God. Verse 3 says that we are to know that the LORD, he himself is God. This is placed emphatically in the Hebrew. This is one of the things that might not quite be appreciated very well in the English. Note that in verse 3 the word LORD is all capitals. That’s to tell us that in the Hebrew this is the word Yahweh. It’s the personal, covenantal, name God had revealed to Israel. Roughly it means “I am.” This was the personal name for God. It’s not a generic word for God or Lord. This is Yahweh. And so it’s saying, know that Yahweh, he is God. In other words, Yahweh, and not some other so-called god. At that time, the world had lots of false gods that it worshipped. Baal, Moloch, Chemosh, Ashtoreth, Zeus; these all claimed to be God. None of these were. Yahweh, he is God. There is no other. And so it’s this God of the Bible, revealed in the Old Testament as Yahweh, he is God. This same God who’s recorded therein as saving a people from their sins. This same God who sent Jesus to die on the cross to save us. This same God who continues to reach out to this world through the gospel, calling people to faith and repentance. The God of the Bible, he, and he alone, and specifically he as revealed, he is God! Not some other religion’s false god. Not some generic sense of a deity. This one, he is God! This is given as a reason to thank him.
A second reason to thank him is related. The second reason here is because of our relationship to this God. That relationship is spelled out in verse 3. He made us. And we are his special people, the sheep of his pasture. In other word, God is our creator, and he’s our redeemer. When we think of the fact that he’s our creator, we realize how that flows out of the fact that he’s God. Yahweh, he is God, and thus he’s the creator. That’s one of things that defines God; he’s the creator. But this creator is also our savior. Though this call to thanksgiving goes out to all the earth, verse 3 especially directs it to the people of God. Scripture in so many places uses these two descriptions to describe God’s people. We are God’s own. And we are his sheep. Sheep in his pasture. What terms of special love. Surely, all humans belong to God. Everything belong to him. But there is a way that those who’ve been saved by God’s grace, are specially his people. Christians are his own, in a way that the world is not. And what good thing it is to be a part of his pasture. God surely has the best pasture. Think of Psalm 23. He cares and tends for his flock in the best way. And so all these aspects of our relationship with him, are reasons to give him thanks. We thank him that we’ve been created, like all humanity. But we also thank him for our salvation in Christ, in which we have been made his own special treasured possession. And we thank him for the care of us, that comes along with that special standing.
A third reason to thank God lies in his own nature. It’s the final verse of the psalm that brings this out. Verse 5, notice the word “for,” it’s giving another reason for this thanksgiving and praise. Verse 5, “For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations.” And so the text has his goodness, mercy, and truth highlighted. These are obviously qualities of God’s nature. And yet these attributes especially have meaning to us, as they interact with us. That makes them all the more a reason why we would thank and praise God for them. For example, take his goodness. The fact that the Lord is good, is pretty far reaching. But how we have personally experienced his goodness is what especially draws us to thank him. About these attributes of mercy and truth that are mentioned here, more could be said of their translation. The word for mercy is also translatable loyalty. It’s essentially a word that carries both nuances. It’s the kindness and mercy that stems from someone’s loyalty to their commitments. With God toward his people, he is kind and merciful to help us in our needs, being loyal to his covenant promises. On the word for truth, most translations have the word “faithfulness.” The idea here is that God is trustworthy and true to all his promises. And so these last two attributes are actually somewhat synonyms. His merciful loyalty, and his trustworthiness in all that he’s spoken. As Christians, we have benefited from this. It’s what led him to send Jesus to save us. And it’s why God continues to be with us, to keep and preserve us, until the day of Christ’s return. It’s why he works all things together for good for us – because he covenantally promised, and so he will be merciful, loyal, and true to his Word. And so these three divine attributes of verse 5 are reason for us to thank God and praise him. And surely that means we can meditate on all the attributes of God, think of how we’ve been blessed because of them, and those too then give us reason to praise God.
So, we’ve seen now three reasons why we should thank God. And we’ve seen the call for thanksgiving and considered how that thanksgiving might be expressed in our life. Let’s spend a few moments applying this to our upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Now I would note that obviously what many will celebrate this Thursday isn’t going to be expressed in a worship service. Some churches do have services on Thanksgiving and that’s great. Today we are gathering in formal worship to thank God and can apply this right now. But even though this psalm has a corporate worship emphasis, doesn’t mean we can’t find any application to what we do outside of church like on a national Thanksgiving holiday.
And so, one thing I’ve noticed is that the Thanksgiving holiday in our country in many places seems to have become either secularized or syncretized. Both of these trends would be challenged by Psalm 100. In terms of Thanksgiving becoming more secularized, what I mean is that this holiday is increasingly become about everything but a time to thank God. Just like how Christmas has become so focused on presents, Thanksgiving can become largely about turkey and mashed potatoes. Thanksgiving in our nation means many good things to many people. It’s a time to celebrate the harvest and life. It’s a time to spend with family and let them know you appreciate them. Thanksgiving often involves a lot of thanking other people who have been important in your life this last year. Don’t misunderstand me. These are nice things. I think they should be part of Thanksgiving. But Psalm 100 would remind us that we should understand all these in light of God. God is the reason we can have turkey and mashed potatoes. He’s the reason for our family members and loved ones in our lives. Every good and perfect gift comes from him. And so as we celebrate all these good things we must especially remember to be thanking God. And so even though a national Thanksgiving holiday in November is not something specifically commanded in Scripture, the idea is scriptural. The idea of thanksgiving in general, and even having times of special thanksgiving is certainly well founded in the Bible. But we should remember that such thanksgiving needs to particularly be about thanking God for all these good blessings. A secularized thanksgiving misses the whole point and robs God of the glory who is the giver of all these good gifts.
So that’s the threat of secularized Thanksgiving. But I mentioned we also have the threat of a syncretized Thanksgiving. As a nation, we’ve become religiously very pluralistic. There are peoples of many different religions in the U.S. As these different faiths have interacted with each other, there seems to be an increasing sense of many in this country that all religions are basically the same. What seems so typical then during this time is that people who aren’t necessarily that religious start praying at this time. They might have their annual Thanksgiving day prayer as a family, when otherwise they might not pray at all. So often the people who pray such prayers have either some generic sense of a god, or they have some sense that all religions are basically praying to the same one god. This is all what is called “syncretism”. It’s the faulty effort to try to blend all these religions into one. But did you notice how Psalm 100 won’t accept that? It’s that key verse right in the middle. Know that the LORD, he is God. Yahweh is God. There is no other God. The gods of the nations are idols. It’s the LORD who created the heavens. There is no other. When people today try to make one blended god out of all the world religions, they aren’t worshipping the God of the Bible. All they’ve done is created another idol; another false God. When they thank that so called deity, they aren’t thanking the God of Psalm 100.
You see, if we are to thank the one true God, we need to know the one true God. Remember the Apostle Paul when he went to Athens saw that they worshipped many idols and they even had an altar for worshiping an unknown God. Well, Paul said they needed to know that unknown God. Psalm 100, verse 3 says we need to know this one true God. Know him. Then you can really thank him. The bad news is that the Bible says none of us can know him on our own because of our sin. Our sin estranged us from God. But the good news is that the Bible also says we can have our sins forgiven if we put our faith and trust in Jesus. That we confess our sins and believe that Jesus paid their price when he died and rose again. Through knowing Jesus by faith, the Bible says we know God. This will make our Thanksgiving holidays truly meaningful. This is the blessing of being a Christian. We know God. We are his own people, his special sheep. We have known his goodness and grace and faithfulness. And so we thank him. We thank him all the time. We thank him especially weekly in corporate worship. And we thank him even on special occasions like this Thursday. We thank him individually, and as a nation, and as a church. We thank God, and not just some fuzzy concept of a deity. We thank the God who made the heavens and earth. We thank the God of Psalm 100 who has saved us. We thank him with great joy!
It’s a high privilege to know God like this. To be able to thank God like this. But don’t mistakenly think that’s something to keep to yourself. We see it here in Psalm 100. The call to worship God in thanksgiving is especially given to his redeemed people. That’s us. But this God to be thanked is said here to be the creator. He’s created all people. All people should thank him. And that’s what this Psalm said at the start. The call in verse 1 was given to all the lands. To all the earth. That is what God’s people do in their thanksgiving and in their corporate worship. Together we celebrate what we have. But we remember that there’s an evangelistic thrust in it all. There’s a call in this all that has to go out to the world. Here today, if there are those who don’t know God, well, we’ve called them to know God in Christ. We’ve called them to then thank God. And this week as we meet with family and friends who don’t know Jesus — let us call them to thank God too, by first coming to know him as well. Amen.
Copyright © 2012 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.