Giving Thanks to God Psalm 136

His steadfast love endures forever

Psalm 136

Good Morning! Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving! Christmas season has officially started! Go ahead and turn in your Bibles with me, we will be anchored in Psalm 136. If you do not have a Bible, or do not own one, please grab one from the back table as our gift to you.

Luke recounts a story in his Gospel about Jesus walking between Samaria and Galilee, on his way to Jerusalem. He came upon a group of 10 lepers. The lepers called out to him and asked for healing. Jesus cleansed them from their leprosy and sent them to the priest for their ceremonial cleansing. One of those lepers returned to Jesus and gave thanks to him for his healing and cleansing, a Samaritan. Luke then recounts Jesus exclaiming, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” ( Luke 11:17-18) He speaks as if expecting all ten to return thankful, not just the one.

One of the clearest messages from the Bible is that God deserves our thanks. Were all 10 lepers grateful for their healing? Sure, but only one was thankful, full of thanks, with thanks in one’s heart. We are going to see that we are to give thanks to the LORD for two reasons. First is Who he is. The second is what he has done for us.

So Who is God? Why is who he is a reason to worship him, to praise him and to give thanks to him? God has spent the entire Bible (and all of time before and since then) revealing himself to us. First, he created the universe, the world, the heavens and earth, and us. He is more awesome and powerful, more loving and merciful and good, the Most knowing and creative being that has ever been. He has spent the entire Old Testament doing mighty works, performing miracles, delivering and saving people, making himself known to the Jewish people and the nations around them. He saved nations, destroyed cities and had individuals turn to salt or swallowed by fish.

We also see that God instituted the sacrificial system in the Old Testament to make atonement for our sins. Sin requires blood and God allowed us to sacrifice animals in our place for the forgiveness of our sins. But those were not the only sacrifices, or offerings that were instituted. Leviticus 22:29 also makes reference to giving a sacrifice of Thanksgiving. Psalm 50, a psalm of Asaph tells us the same thing, saying in v 14: “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the most high.”

What’s really neat is that when we look at the Old testament sacrifice of thanks, is what is required in it. The sacrifice requires a blood offering of a lamb or goat with no blemish. It requires bread or crackers made with yeast and bread or crackers made without yeast.

These three pieces are symbolic in what they represent. A lamb without blemish is a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ. His blood was sacrificed for us and poured out on the cross just like the lamb here.

The unleavened bread, or bread made without yeast is very specific as well. Yeast and leaven are associate with sin, and so bringing bread without yeast represents a life without sin, a life of holiness and purity. Again, who amongst us has lived this life? Only one man. Also a part of the unleavened bread was that it was mixed with oil, which is often times associated with the Holy Spirit.

One commentator brings it together this way,

So, all three persons of the trinity are represented in this offering:
(1) God the Father to whom the offering is given, (2) Jesus represented by the unleavened bread and (3) the Holy Spirit represented by the oil.”

The commentator continues on, bringing in the last piece of the sacrifice, again, saying,

Now there was one more part of the thank offering, I mentioned the sheep or goat, the unleavened bread, and then the third part of the offering was cakes of bread made with yeast or leaven. This represented the person offering it, that is the sinner… you and I. This is symbolically saying, God, you’ve done so much for me,
You’ve given me all that I have, and I not only thank you,
but I give myself to you. That’s what the offering,
of this leavened bread was really saying. So God set up this system in the OT so that people would be giving him thanks, on a regular basis, by sacrificing to him.”

God has so many attributes that make him worthy of our thanksgiving and our praise and our worship. Psalm 136, gives us 26 verses of things that God is and things that God has done that make him worthy of thanks, but it repeats the same thing in the second part of every verse. I want to read you the first 9 verses of Psalm 136 and Im reading out of the english Standard Version:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
2 Give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

4 to him who alone does great wonders,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
5 to him who by understanding made the heavens,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
6 to him who spread out the earth above the waters,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
7 to him who made the great lights,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
8 the sun to rule over the day,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
9 the moon and stars to rule over the night,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

Now as I said, this continues on for an additional 17 verses and each one repeats “his steadfast love endures forever.” The word here translated as steadfast love, is also translated “lovingkindness” in this psalm. The Hebrew word, “checed”

Now, I don’t actually know if I’m pronouncing it correctly, but that’s the word. In other passages, this is often translated mercy, kindness or goodness. One commentator explains the use of the word in this psalm this way: “The LORD’s loyal love, mentioned in each of the 26 refrains, is his covenant faithfulness to his Chosen People whom he loves.” Forever means forever. God’s love endures forever. Nothing can take it away, nothing can change it. It always was and always is. His steadfast love is part of who he is. This is based on his qualities, not ours. Just like the other things the psalmist lists in Psalm 136.

What I like about this psalm in particular, is that it so completely lists that many reasons to be thankful to God, and as I mentioned earlier, it splits it in to two categories, Who he is and what he has done. The first 9 verses, what we just read, are about who God is. HE is the God of gods and the Lord of lords. He is good and he alone does great wonders. And it starts talking about the wonders of his creation. Genesis 1:1 starts off everything, “In the beginning, God created…” The first words of the Bible. Out of nothing, nothing! God created the Heavens and the earth, the seas and the lands, the skies and the mountains, the animals, the birds and the fish. And he created man.

Have you ever created anything out of nothing?

There is a joke about that. A scientist thinks he has finally figured out how to replicate Gods miracles. He thinks he knows how to make man out of dust. Remember this is a joke. God doesn’t believe the scientist and says, Ok, prove it. The scientist begins to gather up a pile of dirt and dust. All of a sudden, God cries out, “no, no, you have to make your own pile of dust.”

Now we are made in Gods image, so we are born with the ability to create with the gifts and materials that he has given us, but we cannot create something out of nothing. God is greater than us and deserves our thanks, and our praise.

The next section of the Psalm takes us into some of the things he has done. In the specific context of the Psalm, they start looking back at God freeing the Israelites from Egypt and bringing them to the promised land. But towards the end, it also becomes more general so that it applies to us as well. v. 23-26 reads:

It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
24 and rescued us from our foes,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
25 he who gives food to all flesh,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

26 Give thanks to the God of heaven,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

The psalmist points out here that when we give thanks for what God has done for us, it’s not enough to just give thanks to him for the good things in our lives. The Bible makes it clear that we are to give thanks in all circumstances. Here in psalm 136, the psalmist is saying that they were in low estates.

They were down on their luck, nothing was going right. This would be where we start to wonder where God is. We wonder what possible reason we have to give him thanks. We have some of the moments and feelings that we talked about last week.

This is where chesed comes in. It is his ability to be faithful, not our ability to see or not see him working. But the psalmist points to Gods grace. First, specific grace that is given to his people. V 24 says that God rescued us from our foes. Second, he points to common grace. This is grace, love and gifts that are given to all people, He says in v 25 that God gives food to all flesh.

Jesus parallels this in the Sermon on the mount. In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us not to be anxious, not to worry about what clothes we will where and what food we will eat. He says in v 26, “26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

Jesus is not telling us not to plan, not to be prepared, but what he is telling us is not to doubt the love and the goodness of God. We will always have this common grace to be thankful for. Charles Spurgeon speaks of these times in our lives, saying:

Some of us think at times that we could cry “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” There are seasons when the brightness of our father’s smile is eclipsed by clouds and darkness; but let us remember that God never does really forsake us. It is only a seeming forsaking with us, but in Christ’ sake it was a real forsaking. We grieve at a little withdrawal of our fathers love; but the real turning away of Gods face from his son, who shall calculate how deep the agony which it caused him? In our case, our cry is often dictated by unbelief: in his case it was the utterance of a dreadful fact, for God had really turned away from Him for a season. O thou poor, distressed soul, who once lived in the sunshine of God’s face, but art now in darkness, remember that He has not really forsaken thee. God in the clouds is as much our God as when he shines forth in all the lustre of his grace.”

God wants us to see him in the good and the bad, and see that he is in control, that he is our creator King and he will continue to take care of us, no matter what. James tells us right at the beginning of his letter, in verse 2, “Count it all joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of various kinds.” God has a way of working things together for his glory, that we can’t always see now, and we may not ever see.

When we read the Bible, we have the advantage of seeing from 30,000 feet. What I mean by that is that we often get to see the big picture, how God uses different circumstances and brings them around to his will and his glory. Two narratives that come to mind in the Old Testament are that of Joseph and of Job.

In Genesis, Josephs brothers do not like him and are jealous of him being their father’s favorite. They sell him into slavery and he ends up in Egypt. He is faithful to God, becomes respected, ends up in jail on false charges, becomes respected again and ends up being the Pharaohs right hand man. He is the one who is essentially running the country.

When there is a huge famine in the area, Egypt is the only country with food and people are coming from all around to try to buy food. This includes Josephs old family. He reveals himself to them and moves his family down to Egypt. His brothers show regret and think that their will be retribution for what they did to Joseph. In Genesis 50:20-21, Joseph tells them:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people[b] should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

Joseph was able to look back and see why God had put him through all the trials that he was put through. He saw the bigger picture. Job was not so lucky. We, reading the Bible see the part in the beginning of Job where Satan and God are talking and God gives him permission to put him through many various trials. So Job was put through all this to prove that he would not turn against God when everything he has was taken from him. See, Jobs fear of the LORD, his worship of God, his giving thanks to him was not only based on what God had done to him and for him, but because of who God was. Job got through the trials and God restored all that he had and more. But during the entire time that God was revealing to Job who he was and talking with him, Job never found out why he went through all the trials he did.

So we can see in each of those stories what there is to give thanks for, what good has come of them, and who God is in them. We see them from high up in the air, putting the puzzle together and seeing it in totality. When things are happening to us, we don’t see it from up in the air, we are seeing it from the ground and we can’t always, or even often see the big picture.

But what we do have is Gods word, his promises. And his promise is that we go through the things we go through for a reason. Lets go back to James. He tells us to be thankful for the trials that we are put through, but he goes onto tell us why. Starting in v 3,

 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

When we give thanks to God during times of trials, our faith grows and we come to know God better, growing closer to him. Paul tells us that no matter what, God’s will will be done. That He is in control and that he has our best interest in mind. Our job is to worship him and to follow him, giving him thanks and praise. Paul tells us on Romans 8,

 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

The point of this passage is not just that God is good and will work everything to his will, which he will. But more than that it tells us a part of what his will is. That those of us that know him will be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. That we will grow to be more like Jesus and that we will grow to be closer to God. That we will give thanks and worship and praise to he who is our creator King and is all good all the time.

Now let’s be clear. The bible is not saying and I am not saying that these times aren’t hard, that they arent difficult and that we shouldnt hurt. When Lazarus died, Jesus wept. His friend’s death hurt him and he mourned. What the Bible is saying is that when we know him, we can look at these circumstances and we can know that somehow, someway, someday, sometime, God will use this for his glory. Charles Finney said that, “A state of mind that sees God in everything is evidence of growth in grace and a thankful heart.”

This past Thursday, our nation celebrated Thanksgiving. Many Americans sit down as a family, tell each other what they are thankful for and spend time together. Many Americans do this only on this one day of the year. But I want to challenge us to something more. Each day, tell each other what you are thankful for. Each day, whoever you are spending your time with, family, friends coworkers, tell them what you are thankful for in your day, in your life, big and small. And let everyone know who you are thankful to.

See, just like forgiving others and praying, having a thankful heart towards God has an actual effect on us. A few of the many benefits of having a thankful heart towards God include It honors Him, It refocuses our attention, It releases us from anxiety (Phil. 4:6-7), It refreshes our relationship with Him, It reinforces our faith, and It protects us from attacks and temptations from the enemy. Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke on the importance of biblical thanksgiving, saying:

“The way out of spiritual trial leads through thanksgiving.  . . . When thanksgiving fails, all else fails.  If there is something in our lives that we cannot include in thanksgiving, the Devil has found an open gate.  .

Giving thanks to God, having a thankful heart and mind towards him are vital for our well-being, for our growth and for our worship and right understanding of God. I think that thanksgiving to God is very similar to prayer to God. He wants to hear us pray for the big things. My old Pastor used to teach about how our prayers tend to not be very big, compared to Gods immeasurable greatness and power. But we also know that God loves us individually as singular people. And he wants to hear our prayers, not matter what they are, no matter how small they seem to us.

See, most of us fall into one of to categories. Either we believe that God is big enough powerful enough, to have the ability to create everything in existence, the entire cosmos, but does he really love and care about little old me enough to care about and do anything with my prayers? Or we go the other way, God loves me and cares about me, wants to hear about my wants and my problems, but he is not really going to do anything about it. Intellectually we may know that he is both, but viscerally, we have a hard time with that and tend to lean one way or the other.

He is both big enough to warrant thanks for life, salvation, this world. And he is also personal enough to warrant thanks for fried chicken, my kids and wife, for a heating system, for padded pews and chairs.

It matters to God. It should matter to us. It matters to the point that Revelation shows us in Ch 7 that the angels are on their faces before the throne of God and in v 12, : saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

The most important reason for us on a personal level, to give thanks to God is what we saw earlier in the quote by Charles Spurgeon. Our sins needed to be dealt with. We turned our back on God, we disobeyed his directions and found our selves separated from him. Because he wanted to restore that relationship, God sent Jesus Christ to take our punishment. We see that God had to forsake Jesus, to turn away from him, so that Jesus would feel that separation from God. We see the agony and the utter torment that cause jesus on the Cross. That was supposed to be us. Instead Jesus took it so we didn’t have to. Doesnt that deserve Thanks?

We look back at the story I opened with and Jesus healing the ten lepers. Do we want to be the one who came back or the ones who didn’t? I found a poem of giving thanks to God that I want to read to as we finish up.

When times are lean with nought to share
When love is hard to find
Where cold nights reign with cupboards bare
Then God is on the mind
But who gives praise when life is grand
When God has seen us through
Who’ve learned in truth to understand
That God remembers too
How oft we fail to thank the Lord
For all His kindness done
Through love He’ll turn His vengeful sword
In Christ His faithful Son
Give thanks to God for large and small
Give thanks for life on earth
From deep within or not at all
Give praise for all you’re worth

Worthy is God of all our praise
For all His wondrous deeds
Who serve The Truth in all their ways
May find they have no needs
Yet still the nations live in stress
Where harvest brings defeat
They need to turn so God can bless
With food for all to eat
Yet those who have can ill afford
With belly’s full to sit
We need to pray through Christ our Lord
We need to do our bit
For things can change as times before
When God held back the rain
For who can tell if sin once more
Won’t change our times again

Lets Pray

O Lord, Accept our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.
We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.
We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.
We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.
Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.
Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things.
Amen

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