The Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

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The Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

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The holiday of Thanksgiving, celebrated in the United States on the fourth Thursday of November, is an annual occasion for family togetherness, food, relaxation and (hopefully) thanksgiving toward God for His blessings. Other nations observe similar holidays on other days of the year.

The original Thanksgiving took place in 1621 as the Pilgrims, along with a number of the local Native American Indians who brought deer and other food, held a three-day harvest celebration. Following is an excerpt of that first Thanksgiving, written by Edward Winslow in Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth:

“At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and other. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

The Pilgrims didn’t make Thanksgiving an annual celebration. Two years following that original celebration, during the summer of 1623, they suffered a terrible drought. With the crops withering and the ground cracking open from lack of rain, Governor Bradford called a council of the leading men of the colony in July. He appealed for a day of fasting and prayer as they sought for God’s intervention in their crisis.

Late in the afternoon, after much fasting, prayer and soul-searching, they emerged from their council to find the sky covered with clouds. The next morning, a gentle rain began that lasted, off and on, for 14 days. They had an abundant harvest, and the governor proclaimed another day of thanksgiving that autumn, inviting the Indian chief Massasoit and a number of his men to celebrate with them once again.

Thanksgiving proclaimed a national holiday

Thanksgiving was made an annual holiday during the American Civil War by President Abraham Lincoln with his 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation. The proclamation began with the following sentence:

“The year that is drawing to a close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.”

After listing many national blessings while noting the great human loss and destruction of war, he went on to say: “They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”

Our forefathers may have been more aware of God and His blessings, but most Christians today would recognize the value of showing thankfulness to our Creator.

Most would also agree that thankfulness doesn’t come naturally to human beings. How do children know to thank others for the gifts they are given without being taught by their parents? And if we don’t remember to stop and thank our Creator for His blessings, how ungrateful and self-absorbed might we become?

Offering of thanksgiving

The ability to pause, give thanks and be satisfied with our blessings is something God wants us to learn. It is something He knows can greatly increase our happiness. In fact, there are biblical commands for thanksgiving, both in the Old Testament for the nation of Israel and for us today in the New.

Ancient Israel, as a nation, was required to make sacrifices to atone for their sins. This involved an animal sacrifice made on behalf of the individual by the priests (Leviticus 7:1-5 Leviticus 7:1-5 [1] Likewise this is the law of the trespass offering: it is most holy. [2] In the place where they kill the burnt offering shall they kill the trespass offering: and the blood thereof shall he sprinkle round about on the altar. [3] And he shall offer of it all the fat thereof; the rump, and the fat that covers the inwards, [4] And the two kidneys, and the fat that is on them, which is by the flanks, and the lobe that is above the liver, with the kidneys, it shall he take away: [5] And the priest shall burn them on the altar for an offering made by fire to the LORD: it is a trespass offering.
American King James Version×

Notice, though, that another sacrifice is described in verses 11-12: “This is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings which he shall offer to the Lord: If he offers it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer, with the sacrifice of thanksgiving, unleavened cakes mixed with oil, unleavened wafers anointed with oil, or cakes of finely blended flour mixed with oil.”

This passage goes on to describe how the offering should be made and when it should be eaten. This was a separate sacrifice from the animal sacrifice for sin. It was a sacrifice that the Israelites could make simply as a thanksgiving offering to God.

Later, when the nation of Israel had broken apart into the separate kingdoms of Judah and Israel, they strayed from God many times, with intervening years of repentance and obedience. When repenting and turning back to God, they would sometimes offer sacrifices of thanksgiving on the altar. Accounts of this are recorded in 2 Chronicles 29 and 33.

A new offering of thanksgiving

There is no need for sin sacrifice since the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. His death atoned for all the sins of mankind. There remains another kind of sacrifice, however, for the present-day Christian.

Hebrews 13:10-14 Hebrews 13:10-14 [10] We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle. [11] For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. [12] Why Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. [13] Let us go forth therefore to him without the camp, bearing his reproach. [14] For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.
American King James Version×
talks about the sacrifice of Christ for our sins, and how we can seek the coming “city”—the coming Kingdom of God—as a result of that sacrifice. Verse 15 tells us what God requires from us in return: “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”

This is the second type of sacrifice mentioned in Leviticus 7. It is the sacrifice of thanksgiving. The Old Testament sacrifice of thanksgiving required fruit of the ground to be offered before God. The New Testament sacrifice of thanksgiving requires the “fruit of our lips,” but it is the same central idea. God requires our thankfulness to Him for our many blessings.

In our modern world, we tend to think of a sacrifice as doing without something we wanted. We think of it as self-deprivation for the purpose of achieving a higher goal for ourselves or perhaps for a loved one. Remember, though, that the sacrificial system of the ancient Israelites was simply a method for offering something to God.

The American New Heritage Dictionary lists one meaning of sacrifice as “the act of offering something to a deity in propitiation or homage.” That is what our personal sacrifice of thanksgiving should be. We offer our humble thanksgiving to our Creator for His many blessings.

Thanksgiving today

We’ve all heard about or perhaps experienced the dilemma of finding a present to give to someone who has everything. The difficulty lies in finding something that the recipient doesn’t already have, and the thought and feelings behind the gift are generally more important than the gift itself.

Our God truly has everything. He created and owns the universe and everything in it. What could we possibly have to offer Him? One important thing He desires of us is found in the scripture just quoted, Hebrews 13:15 Hebrews 13:15By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.
American King James Version×
. He desires our thanksgiving before him.

King David of Israel was considered a man after God’s own heart. Consider his admonition in Psalms 107:21-22 Psalms 107:21-22 [21] Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! [22] And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing.
American King James Version×
: “Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! Let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare His works with rejoicing.”

Thanksgiving is a habit that must be learned and practiced. What better time to begin than on a national day of thanksgiving for our many blessings? GN

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