Thankful For the Right Things / Eve of Thanksgiving

1 Timothy 2:1–4

1First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

If each of us were to make a list of all the things for which we are thankful, each list would be unique, and many would be quite extensive. However, most of us are mature enough in our faith to recognize that Thanksgiving can be a most dangerous holiday. No, I’m not referring to the calories we’ll consume or the risks we’ll take being on the highway traveling home to Grandma’s. No, I am suggesting that Thanksgiving can be dangerous in a spiritual sense if we’re not conscious of the needs of others.

Give it some thought for a moment. When we give thanks for our good health, what does that say to people who are not? Does that say that we’re more deserving than they, or that somehow God loves us more? When we thank God for our nice homes or our families or our freedom as Americans, what does this say about good, decent God loving people around the world who don’t share these blessings? I don’t have answers for these questions and neither does anyone else. I would prefer, though, as we give thanks this thanksgiving and all the rest of the year, that we do it for the right reasons.

What are some of the things that every Christian, regardless of his or her circumstance, in every corner of the globe can be thankful for this Thanksgiving season?

In our lesson for tonight we can glean some solid suggestions. Paul prays that indirectly that we, might be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father. Paul taught that we should be thankful in all circumstances. But what are the right circumstances for which we ought to give thanks?

You may receive a large inheritance not because you are so smart or energetic, but because you had a grandfather who was. Or in some cases you had a grandfather who was never caught. Just kidding.

Wasn’t it Mark Twain who said he spent a large sum of money to trace his family tree and then spent twice as much trying to keep his ancestry a secret?

A little baby can come into a large inheritance simply by accident of birth. One of the consequences of the new birth in Christ Jesus is that we automatically, immediately, at that moment become heirs of all that God has in store for His beloved children.

That’s a staggering fact that many of us who have been in the church all our lives have difficulty accepting. There’s a story going around that makes this point painfully clear. There was a believer who wasn’t everything he ought to be and he knew it! In fact, when he finally passed from this life to the next one, he was deeply concerned that Peter wouldn’t let him through the Pearly Gates. But when he got to his destination he was welcomed with open arms. Are you certain that you didn’t make a mistake? he asked Peter. There are certain parts of my life of which I’m sort of ashamed. Peter answered, no, we didn’t make a mistake. You see, we don’t keep any records.

The man was greatly relieved and overjoyed. Then he saw a group of men over in a corner beating their heads against a celestial wall and clinching their fists and stomping their feet in disgust. What’s the matter with them? the man asked Peter. Oh, they also thought we kept records.

I’m not suggesting that what we do is unimportant. Nevertheless, at the top of our list for which we need to be thankful this day is that salvation is the free gift of God. It’s an inheritance that is bestowed upon us the moment we become children of God.

A chaplain serving in Germany had a little nun, 87 years young, and was assigned to care for his room. He says that every time he left the room, even for a moment, the good sister cleaned it. She would wax the floors, polish the furniture and so forth.

On one occasion when he left the room for a short walk, he came back to find her on her knees putting a final sheen on her waxing job. He laughingly teased her, Sister, you work too much. The dear, devoted little sister straightened up (though still kneeling) and looked at him with a seriousness that bordered on severity. She said firmly, heaven isn’t cheap, you know. No, heaven isn’t cheap. It cost Jesus His life. Eternal life, however, is part of our inheritance. We don’t earn it, we simply receive it because of what Christ has done on the cross.

You see, it troubles some of us that no records are kept in heaven because we are afraid that a few scoundrels will slip in. We forget that if heaven was based on merit, each of us would be in great difficulty as well.

Think of it this way. Most of us had the privilege of being born an American. It is nothing that we earned or deserved. We could just as easily have been born to a starving family in some obscure part of the earth. Freedom is part of our inheritance as children of this nation. Of course, the parallel is not exact. Most of us were born in this country. It wasn’t something we chose. However, we have been given the inheritance that Christ bestows upon us. That is the only requirement. We must believe it. Nevertheless, it is free.

Every believer can give thanks for that this evening. That’s the first thing for which we can be thankful according to our text—our inheritance.

Here is the second: The Incarnation. Paul writes, He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he may be pre-eminent. Who was Paul speaking? Certainly—it is the risen Christ. Without the incarnation, God becoming flesh and reconciling the world unto himself, there would be no inheritance.

When Robert Louis Stevenson retired to the Samoan Islands for his health he became to the natives of that island a kind and generous friend. Stevenson was concerned that there was only a path leading from the harbor of his island over which his new friends must walk in order to bring provisions to the interior. With his own money and personal efforts, Stevenson had a good road constructed for his people. In gratitude the Samoans called it, “the road of a loving heart.”

I know of another road of a loving heart, don’t you?

A young boy came to a missionary’s side and said, I love you and I want you to have this. He pulled from a straw basket the most beautiful shell the missionary had ever seen. As she admired its beauty, she recognized it as a special shell only found on the far side of the island, a half day’s walk from the village. When she confronted the boy with this, he smiled, and said, long walk part of gift.

Crucial to everything we believe as Christians is this truth that God so loved the world that He made that long walk to come from where He was to where we are. When it was impossible for us to reach out to Him, He reached out to us. There may be differences among Christians on a host of other things. We may be divided by theologies, how we baptize people, and even who we allow around the Lord’s table. But on one point we all agree; God became flesh and dwelt among us. That’s the incarnation. That’s the second thing for which every Christian can give thanks. God became one of us.

Do you see that there was no other way God could have done it? It was essential that the God of all creation take upon Himself the flesh and frailty of humanity.

We are thankful for our inheritance, for the incarnation that makes that inheritance possible, and finally, we are thankful for our inclusion in the family of God. God has reconciled all things unto Himself. Paul says, making peace by the blood of the cross of His Son.

A missionary to China who was also a doctor, discovered a strange disease that was killing people, for which he knew there was no remedy. There was no research laboratory for this disease, so he conducted his own research. He studied the disease, filling a notebook with his observations. He then acquired a vial of disease germs and sailed for the United States. Before he arrived, he injected the germs into his own body, then went to Johns Hopkins University Hospital to be observed.

He became very sick and allowed his old professors at Johns Hopkins to use him for experimentation. A cure was found, which now being healthy, he took the cure back to China. His efforts saved countless lives. When asked about the experience, he replied, anyone would have done the same thing. I happened to be in the position of vantage and had the chance to offer my body.

I doubt not just anyone would have done that. Only a person with a very special kind of love in their heart would make that kind of sacrifice. It’s that very special kind of love proceeding from the heart of God that holds this world together. Without that love we’re all orphans in a strange and hostile universe. But that love does exist. It exists in this church, and it exists among people around this earth who have had an encounter with the man from Nazareth.

Have I helped you take your mind off of the superficial reasons for celebrating Thanksgiving? I hope so. Let’s give thanks, but let’s do it for the right reasons. Let’s give thanks for our inheritance as children of God, for the incarnation that makes our inheritance possible, and for our inclusion in the family of God, an inclusion made possible by one who took creation’s longest walk, from the throne of heaven to a stable in Bethlehem to a lonely cross on a hill called Calvary. Those are things for which all of us can be thankful.