Joyful Thanksgiving

The Voice of Hope
The Voice of Hope
Joyful Thanksgiving
11 27 22 sermon qt

Joyful Thanksgiving

Psalm 95:1-11

It was October of 1942 and Captain Eddie Rickenbacker was on a mission in a B‑17 to deliver an important message to General Douglas MacArthur in New Guinea. But somewhere over the South Pacific the B-17 became lost. Fuel ran dangerously low, so the men ditched their plane in the ocean, hurling them into the most harrowing adventure of their lives.

For nearly a month Captain Eddie and his companions fought the water, the weather, and the scorching sun. They spent many sleepless nights recoiling as giant sharks rammed their rafts.

But the greatest enemy they faced was starvation. Eight days out, their rations were gone. It would take a miracle to sustain them. And then… a miracle occurred. Captain Eddie’s own words describe what happened. “Cherry,” that was B‑ 17 pilot, William Cherry, “read the service that afternoon, and we finished with a prayer for deliverance and a hymn of praise. There was some talk, but it tapered off in the oppressive heat. With my hat pulled down over my eyes to keep out some of the glare, I dozed off.”

“Then, something landed on my head. I knew that it was a sea gull. I don’t know how I knew; I just knew. Everyone else knew too. No one said a word but peering out from under my hat brim without moving my head, I could see the expression on their faces. They were staring at that gull. The gull meant food…if I could catch it.”

And the rest, as they say, is history. Captain Eddie caught the gull. Its flesh was eaten. Its innards were used for bait to catch fish. The survivors were sustained, and their hopes renewed because a lone sea gull, uncharacteristically hundreds of miles from land, offered itself as a sacrifice. By now you know that Captain Eddie and his crew were rescued.

But what you didn’t know is that he never forgot. It was gratitude that prompted the old man to visit an old broken pier on the eastern coast of Florida. Every Friday night, until his death in 1973, he would return, walking slowly and slightly stooped with a large bucket of shrimp. His bucket filled with shrimp was to feed the gulls…to remember that one which, on a day long past gave itself without a struggle to sustain life…like manna in the wilderness.

If someone would ask you, “what’s the most distinguishing characteristic of a follower of Christ,” what would you say? Would it be love, faithfulness, obedience, or something else? I believe love is the most distinguishing characteristic of a Christian because Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.” But there are some other qualities that follow closely behind love. And we want to look more closely at one of those qualities today, the quality of gratefulness.

A grateful spirit should be one of the defining characteristics of a Christian. When we realize who we are outside of Christ, and who we are in Christ, the only logical result will be a life of gratefulness.

Our text today is Psalm 95. If you’re in a position where you can get your Bible and follow along, I invite you to do that as we look at this Psalm together. That’s Psalm 95. I’ve titled the message, “A Joyful Thanksgiving.”

Read Psalm 95

This Psalm highlights three BLESSINGS that should call us to joyful thanksgiving.

The First Blessing that should call us to joyful thanksgiving is,

The BLESSING of Salvation

The psalmist begins by inviting us to praise the Lord as the “rock of our salvation.” Our salvation is the greatest blessing we have from God. But how is God the “rock” of our salvation? This imagery is common in the Psalms. The Hebrew word translated here as rock, literally means a cliff or an outcropping of rock. It is solid, immoveable, and permanent.

Figuratively, the word rock means refuge. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” Psalm 46:1. When David was fleeing from his pursuers, the cliffs and crags were a refuge, a place of protection. They provided places where he and his men could hide. The cliffs gave them a natural advantage over their enemies because they had the high ground. What does that mean to us as we meditate on the blessing of our salvation?

It means that the author of our salvation is secure, He is steadfast, He is unchanging. If this were not the case, we would have continual anxiety. We wouldn’t have assurance because the foundation of our salvation could shift under our feet. But God isn’t like that. He is solid immovable, and permanent. Our salvation is secure in Him; praise God!

The Hebrew word for salvation is yesha. It speaks of liberty, deliverance, prosperity. Under the first covenant, God promised His people deliverance and prosperity if they obeyed His laws. Under the new covenant, established by Christ, salvation sets us free from our sin, delivers us from the power of sin and provides a prosperity that far surpasses anything material. Let’s think about these aspects of our salvation.

First, deliverance from sin. Do you remember when you said yes to the call of God’s Holy Spirit in your life for salvation? The indescribable feeling of being cleansed from sin, the load of guilt being lifted, the peace that flooded your soul? You had the wonderful assurance that you had been adopted into God’s family and all the promises of His Word became yours in that moment! You had exchanged masters. Before, you were a slave of yourself and the devil, now you are a slave of Jesus Christ.

And as a follower of Jesus, not only have you been cleansed from sin, but the power of sin is broken in your life. Now, by the power of the Holy Spirit, you can say NO to the desires of your flesh. You can say No to the temptations the devil brings to you. You couldn’t consistently do that before. That reality should make you and me very thankful!

Then there’s the concept of prosperity. I feel sorry for people who preach a “health and wealth gospel.” They encourage others to pursue a relationship with God who will provide them with wealth, health, and an easy life. Not only is that contrary to the whole tenor of the New Testament, but it gets people’s focus on things that only last for time. The greatest prosperity for the Believer is in the future, in eternity. Our prosperity is found in the promises of God.

Listen to what the Apostle Peter wrote. “Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power has given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to glory and virtue: by which have been given unto us exceedingly great and precious promises: that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” That’s real prosperity! I’m a sharer of the divine nature, I’m an heir with Jesus Christ of all that belongs to our Father. And so are you if you are a Christ-follower.

Do you see why David urges us to get excited about our salvation? In verse two of our text, he says we should come quickly before the face of God with our thanksgiving. Quickly doesn’t mean suddenly or carelessly; it’s the idea of being quick to realize the source of our blessings and acknowledge Him. Our thanksgiving is a declaration of praise, a confession of God’s character and His works. It should be our daily experience. Twice in these two verses he urges us to make a joyful noise to the Lord. Our praise should be enthusiastic, exuberant. We should be excited about the blessing of our salvation.

The Second Blessing that should call us to joyful thanksgiving is,

The BLESSING of Creation

In verses three through five, we’re reminded of the greatness of God in creation. Here, the psalmist clearly states the supremacy of the LORD, Jehovah. He is the Great God, none of the gods of the heathen can compare with Him. “In His hand are the deep places of the earth.” Even the things in nature that are not visible to our eye are under God’s control. His outstretched hand maintains the delicate balance of our universe, and of our planet.

“The heights of the mountains are His also.” This phrase takes me back to verse one where the psalmist talks about God as a rock. When I look at a mountain, I see strength, stability, permanence. When Jesus wanted an illustration of something that was humanly impossible, he said, “Truly I say unto you, That whoever shall say unto this mountain, Be removed, and be cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he says shall come to pass; he shall have whatever he says.” That statement astonished the disciples.

The Psalmist goes on, “the sea is his, and he made it.” I can never stand on the seashore without a sense of awe. Looking out into the distance to the point where the water meets the sky, hearing the thunderous crash of the waves against the rocks, and thinking of the teeming life beneath the surface, all contribute to my sense of smallness and the wonder of God’s greatness.

Finally, he says, “his hands formed the dry land.” Like a potter at the wheel, molding and shaping the clay, that is the picture given here of God’s creative ability. The marvels of the earth we live on are too numerous to mention. But they are proof of God’s existence. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “All I have seen teaches me to trust the creator for all I have not seen.” 

When was the last time you thanked God for the marvels of his creation? Psalm 19 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork.” When was the last time you stood enthralled by a beautiful sunrise or sunset? When was the last time you went outside at night and looked up into the heavens at the numberless stars and remembered that God has a name for every one of them? And then remembered that you are much more important than a star in God’s sight. Have you ever thanked God for the endless cycle of the seasons and the regularity of day and night? All these and so much more should call forth praise and thanksgiving from the people of God.

The Final Blessing that should call us to joyful thanksgiving is,

The BLESSING of Relation

In verse six, we are invited again to come into God’s presence, this time to prostrate ourselves before the Lord in worship. Why? Because He is our maker. He is the one who has created us in His likeness and image. He gives to us the very breath of life. Everything we are and everything we have is a result of His blessing. As I think about those things, that’s reason enough to be joyfully thankful. But there’s more, so much more.

Notice verse seven. “He is our God; and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.” These words don’t just speak of provision; they speak of relationship, they are personal. I can’t think of anything greater than our personal relationship with God the Father that should call us to joyful thanksgiving. To think that the sovereign God, the One who created all things and sustains all things, the One who is absolutely holy and just in all He does, would desire a relationship with you and me?  He lives within our hearts! Ponder that, it’s astounding!

And beyond that, realize this; any successful human relationships we enjoy are a result of our relationship with God through Christ. You cannot truly love someone unless you have accepted and experienced the love of God in a personal way. My wife and I talk about this occasionally. It’s only because of God’s work of grace in our hearts that we’ve had a wonderful marriage of more than 40 years. Without Him, we’d be selfish, proud, and wanting our own way. No, we’re not perfect, but because He lives in our hearts by His Holy Spirit, and because we love Him and strive to walk in obedience to the principles of His Word, we can experience the blessings He intended in our relationship. You can apply those same principles to any relationship. If you love God and follow His Word, your relationships will be successful; not easy, but successful.  

We can’t leave this text without mentioning the warning given in the final verses. This warning makes up about one-third of the psalm. And you’ll notice that it is addressed to those who are God’s people. Within every one of us is the possibility of turning away from the Lord.

The psalmist says, “do not harden your heart…” That will only happen if you refuse to give God His rightful place in your life. If you do not worship Him, if you are not thankful to Him for all His blessings, your heart will become hardened. Romans 1:20 warns us of this very thing. Please, don’t go down that road.

You know, a life characterized by thankfulness is a life of contentment, a life that will be at rest. A grateful spirit rejoices in what God has provided. It frees us from the constant longing and struggle for more, more, more. The Scriptures remind us that “godliness with contentment is great gain.”  Contentment and thankfulness are closely related.

It is my prayer that as you reflect on the blessings of salvation, creation, and relation, your heart will swell with joyful thanksgiving to God. And not only at this special time of year, but every day, you will thank God for His marvelous blessings.