We have a rich tradition of thanksgiving in the United States that started with the first permanent settlement by Europeans in New England. Pilgrims (separatists from the Church of England) immigrated seeking a more abundant life along with religious freedom. They negotiated with a London stock company to finance their enterprise. It was the Native Americans who gave them food during the first winter which allowed them to survive. They were taught by them how to grow corn, and over the next year “by the goodness of God” gathered an abundant harvest. As they gave thanks and celebrated, they did not allow culture or language to prevent their Native American friends from joining them.
This heart of thanksgiving has not always been predominant throughout history. Daniel Doriani in his “Evangelical dictionary of biblical theology”, suggests that “Early in the Old Testament, both the language and the concept of thanksgiving are conspicuous by their absence … Neither Adam nor Eve thanked God for his creation, and … The families of Isaac and Jacob contended over God’s blessing rather than thanking him for it … (and) after the exodus, Israel grumbled again and again, rather than thanking God for his deliverance and for food that literally fell from heaven”. It is only later when the Law is given through Moses that we find Leviticus 7:13 “the sacrifice of thanksgiving” which is part of “peace offerings”.
God has revealed His covenant of salvation and atonement for sin is only accomplished by the payment of blood. However, God does not stop with the offering for sin. He instructs Moses to include “peace offerings” that are not required but are accepted by God as freewill offerings. These offerings are given not to cover the blight of sin, but they are given with thanks from a heart of gratitude for God’s goodness. This revelation to Moses marks a shift in the Old Testament and we later find in scriptures like Psalm 50:14 “Offer unto God thanksgiving; And pay thy vows unto the most High” and Psalm 107:21–22 “Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, And for his wonderful works to the children of men! And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, And declare his works with rejoicing”. This shift permeates the whole of corporate worship for the children of Israel as in 2 Chronicles 31:2 “And Hezekiah appointed the courses of the priests and the Levites after their courses, every man according to his service, the priests and Levites for burnt offerings and for peace offerings, to minister, and to give thanks, and to praise in the gates of the tents of the Lord”.
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ fulfills the plan of salvation. He is the final sacrifice, and the power of sin and death is broken Mark 15:38 “And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom”. We can now “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” Hebrews. 4:16. God has given us His Holy Spirit Ephesians 1:13 “after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise” and He has given us a new heart as in Ezekiel 36:26 “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh”. In Romans 8:15 “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father”.
The Pilgrims and many others that came seeking religious freedom, were subject to the world financial system of their day. In 1619 it was a system where “the slave trade was a global institution”. Even so, they sowed the seeds for a new nation, “one nation under God”. This later prompted the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to write “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the ‘unalienable Rights’ of ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ ” That’s what the Born Again experience produces. When one comes to Christ they receive new life, freedom from sin and happiness from within, culminating in the gift of eternal life.
As we enter this Thanksgiving season, let us be thankful. Happy Thanksgiving!