Wednesday, 18 January 2017
The Thankful One
Today as we gather around a table loaded with food, each of us will pause to be thankful, then to give thanks to God. What will you and I say?
I often struggle with what to say. Do I stick with the Big Things that mark the changes of the past year, like a birth, a death, a healing, a move, or a job change? Or do I ramble on about the Little Things that bless my daily life, like my neighborhood, my dog, my favorite sweater that was lost and then found, my smiling postal carrier?
In case you, too, go blank or become overwhelmed, I want to prime the pump for us by reflecting on how Jesus gave thanks. The ripples of his thanks-giving stirred those around him, and they continue to ripple out through the centuries to stir us year after year.
The Thankful Man
The Gospels highlight three occasions when Jesus gave thanks. The first occurred when he multiplied a few loaves of bread and fish to feed a massive crowd.
“Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted” (John 6:11).
A crowd of thousands were satiated by the lunch of one small boy. This miracle of multiplication occurred two separate times, and both times Jesus gave thanks before he broke the bread and began passing it to his disciples to distribute. This jaw dropping display of divine power seemed to be meant primarily for the eyes of the twelve. Only they were close enough to see how little he started with and how much was left over.
Yet when they talked about the event shortly afterward, John says they didn’t just remember the statistics, they remembered the thanks he gave. Jesus revealed himself as the thankful man. His disciples saw it.
“Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks” (John 6:23).
What was it about how Jesus gave thanks that captured their attention? The second occasion might shed some light for us.
The Thankful God
Both Matthew and Luke record the second occasion when Jesus gave thanks.
Luke, with the precision of a historian, documents the day that 72 of Jesus disciples returned from a highly successful ministry trip. Their boastful joy reminds me of junior high students returning from a missions trip to the inner city. Wide-eyed terror about their assignment turned into wild joy of relief and success.
Jesus pushes the pause button on their celebration. “Don’t rejoice in this,” he says, “that the spirits are subject to you.…” I can picture them deflating like balloons punctured by parents after a birthday party. “…but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
He redirected their joy into what gave him joy. Then, full of joy, Jesus gave (loud!) thanks to his Father in the exultation of the Holy Spirit:
“In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘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…” (Luke 10:23).
Imagine seeing Jesus full of joy and loud thanksgiving to his heavenly Father. And for what? For us! He was thanking his Father for opening the eyes of all who believe, including you and me.
This moment made an impression on the 72, because they remembered the thanks he gave. How do we know? Because Luke wasn’t there. His research uncovered the story from these eyewitnesses.
The 72 saw something even more spectacular than a thankful man. They were seeing the Thankful God. A Trinitarian display of joy and gratitude for the revelation of the Savior.
Our Thankful Savior
Jesus gave thanks a third time in the upper room, the night of his betrayal.
It is a ritual thanksgiving, prescribed and observed as part of the Passover meal. Yet far more than mere ritual, it is the the moment when the Fulfiller of the Passover Promise revealed the meaning of the bread and wine.
He connected the dots for them first with the bread. He took it, “and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me’” (Luke 22:19).
Later in the meal, he took the cup and announced, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).
Jesus gave thanks, not just for the bread and wine of the Passover meal, but for his own body broken for us. He thanked his Father for his own blood spilled for us.
This means Jesus wasn’t a reluctant Savior, a victim of the crowd, martyred by bullies. He was—and is—our thankful Savior, giving thanks for our salvation.
Let’s remember his thanks as he gave himself for us.
This Thanksgiving Day, you aren’t just giving thanks to God, you are giving thanks with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the greatest gift of all, the salvation that reunites you with him forever.
Rejoice and give thanks!