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A Psalm for Thanksgiving

Tom Pennington Psalm 100:1-5


I'd like for you to turn with me this morning to one of the classic expressions of thanksgiving in all of Scripture, Psalm 100. It's a Psalm that if you grew up in the church you may have memorized as a child, but I'm afraid that while we know the words of this Psalm we don't always fully appreciate the incredible depth and riches that are here. So I want us to look at it together this morning. Psalm 100 has affixed to it a title, some of the Psalms do. The title of this Psalm is "A Psalm for Thanksgiving." Now the titles were probably not part of the original inspired texts, but they are ancient. In fact, in Luke 20 our Lord mentions one of the titles of the Psalms and affirms it as accurate and true. So these titles pass along to us the ancient tradition of how these Psalms were interpreted and how they were used. This is the only time out of 150 Psalms that this title occurs.

Now to fully understand the significance of this title you really have to understand a little bit more of the Old Testament. You see, God had given His people five great sacrifices that they were to offer as individuals to Him. One of those five sacrifices that God had prescribed for individuals to offer is called the peace offering. And the peace offering could be offered for three different reasons. You could offer a peace offering as what was called a free will offering. That is, it was simply a spontaneous expression of your love and gratitude to God. You could also offer a peace offering as what was called a vow offering. That is, it was to express deliverance, either when a vow was made or once a vow had been completed.

And thirdly, you could offer a peace offering as a thank offering. That is, it was offered as an expression of thanksgiving to God for His blessing upon you and your family and the life that He had given you. You can read about this, by the way it's often called "a sacrifice of thanksgiving," it's one of the peace offerings, you can read about it, if you desire, in Leviticus 7:12-15.

Now, Psalm 100 then was probably used along with the thanksgiving sacrifice. It was a Psalm that was sung in conjunction with the offering of "a sacrifice of thanksgiving," but it's benefit is not restricted to the Old Testament believer. Throughout the history of both Israel and the church, this Psalm has called the people of God to lift up their hearts to offer to God the "sacrifice of praise, even the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name."

And as we think about how we should properly celebrate Thanksgiving this week, although for the believer Thanksgiving is not an annual event, it's a daily event, nevertheless, I thought it would be appropriate for us to briefly examine this Psalm, or song, that accompanied the "sacrifice of thanksgiving." Because this brief Psalm outlines for us exactly how we are to offer thanksgiving to the Lord. It's structure is simple. It's composed of two stanzas or pericopies. The first stanza is in verses 1 to 3, the second stanza verses 4 and 5. Both of these stanzas are a call to thanksgiving. And both stanzas consist of two simple elements. First of all, in each stanza you will find the expression of thanksgiving, how thanksgiving is to be offered, the form in which thanksgiving is to be displayed. And secondly, the reasons for thanksgiving. So both stanzas call us to thanksgiving, they tell us how to express thanksgiving and why we should express thanksgiving.

Now each stanza points to us, or I should say points us, to one main truth about God that lies behind all thanksgiving. The first stanza in verses 1 to 3 commands us to offer thanks because God is God, or we could put it this way, because God is great. The second stanza calls us to offer thanks to God because God is good. There was a book written a number of years ago by the name, Everything I Needed to Know I Learned In Kindergarten. There's a sense in which that's true theologically. This great Psalm finds at its core two foundational truths, God is great and God is good.

Let's look at them together. Take first the first stanza, we are to give our thanks to God because God is great. Notice, first of all, that giving thanks is not optional. There are seven different ways to offer thanks in this brief Psalm and every one of them is a command. Notice verse 1, "Shout joyfully." Verse 2, "Serve with gladness." Also verse 2, "Come before His presence with singing." Verse 3, "Know that the Lord He is God." Verse 4, "Enter His gates with thanksgiving." Also verse 4, "Give thanks and bless His name." All of those are commands, they're imperatives.

For both the Old Testament believer and for us in the church giving thanks is not optional. The New Testament also issues for us sweeping comprehensive commands to give thanks. In both Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, those parallel passages, as Paul outlines what it means to be filled with the Spirit, in Ephesians 5, or as he expresses it to the Colossians, to be controlled or dominated by the Word of God or the Word of Christ, he says when that's true, when our lives are filled with the Spirit, or in other words are dominated by, permeated by the Word of Christ, one of the outflow, or overflows if you will, of that reality is that we will give thanks. But it's also a very straight forward command. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 Paul puts it very bluntly, "in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus." We find our Christian lives chasing around for the will of God, here it is very simply, give thanks in everything.

Now in this first stanza of Psalm 100 we are commanded to express our thanksgiving in four different ways. There are four different forms, if you will, that thanksgiving can take in this first stanza. You find the first in verse 1, "Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth." The Hebrew word that's translated as "Shout joyfully" was used of the welcome that was given a king as he entered his capital and took possession of his throne. It's a way of saying, acknowledge God as Sovereign and King. That's one way we can express our thanks because by acknowledging His sovereignty we're acknowledging that everything we have ultimately comes and flows to us from His hand. And notice that Israel's God is not a local or ethnic deity. "Shout joyfully to the Lord all the earth." All the earth is called to recognize Him and to worship Him as their King.

There's a second form, not only acknowledging Him as King, but there's a second form our thanksgiving can take, in verse 2, "Serve the Lord with gladness." Now in this context the word "serve" could be translated as worship, and probably should be. It's a word which describes the reality, in this context, of worshipping God with gladness. But while it describes worship, ascribing to God thanks in the context of a thank offering, there is in this word "serve" a reminder that God will not accept our worship if it comes from lives that do not demonstrate a commitment to Him.

You see, in the Old Testament sense, to "serve" the Lord was not simply to worship Him. It was to walk in His ways. It was to love Him. It was to keep His commandments. As Moses told the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 10, "Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul." You and I are responsible to express our thanks through acknowledging God as our King, verse 1, and the beginning of verse 2, we're to express our thanks in worship.

Notice that our worship, or our service as it's called in verse 2, is to be carried out with gladness. Very interesting verse in Deuteronomy 28:47, Moses is telling the children of Israel before they go into the promised land that if they do not follow God they will inherit the curses that they have publicly recited. And he says this to them,

"Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and the glad heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things."

You can either serve the Lord with joy and gladness "'for the abundance of all things'" he says, or you can "'serve your enemies,'" with a "'the lack of all things.'" We are to worship our God.

Now also in verse 2 there is a third expression of thanksgiving. Not only acknowledging His sovereignty, not only coming before Him in worship, but we are to "Come before Him with joyful singing." The word "singing" is the word for voicing music, voicing the lyrics of a song. You see, God created music to bring Him glory. In Romans 11 we're told that everything comes from God, is sustained by God, and ultimately results in the glory of God, "from Him and through Him and to Him are all things." Music was created to bring Him glory.

Music predates the creation of the world in which we live. We're told in Job 38:7 that when God created the earth the angels, who had already been created, sang for joy. Music predates even the creation of the world. As soon as there was an intelligent being in the universe, that being filled his lungs with song in the worship of God. And music will always exist as a channel for worshipping God. In fact, if we were to take time and turn to Revelation 5:9, as John lets us into the very throne room of God in heaven in a time to come, we find there that there is singing to the glory of God. I don't understand Christians who don't like to sing. I can understand Christians who can't sing well, but I don't understand not wanting to sing. It is the spontaneous overflow, according to Paul, of a heart that is dominated and controlled by the Word of God or the Spirit of God. "Come before Him with joyful singing." This is an appropriate expression of our thanksgiving to God.

In fact, in the Old Testament there were even thanksgiving choirs. Turn back to Nehemiah for a moment. I find this fascinating. I really don't have the time to do this, but I'm going to do it anyway. Nehemiah 12:8. As Nehemiah restructures things in the return from Babylon, it says in verse 8 of Nehemiah 12, "The Levites," and it names several of them, they were "in charge of the songs of thanksgiving." You find out a little more about this over in the same chapter, verse 46, "For in the days of David and Asaph, in ancient times, there were leaders of the singers," and they sang "songs of praise and hymns of thanksgiving to God." There were literally thanksgiving choirs in the Old Testament worship of God. By the way, that's why we have a choir. I know it's not a popular thing in some circles, but there have always been, even from the Old Testament times, leaders of choirs and singers and musicians lifting up praise to God. So we are to express our thanksgiving with joyful singing.

There's a fourth way in this first stanza we're told to express our thanksgiving. It's found in verse 3 and it's a bit unusual. "Know," here's another command, "Know that the Lord He is God." Now the word "know" doesn't mean to gather intellectual information. It means instead that we are to intimately know, we are to acknowledge, we are to confess, certain things to be true. Here is another legitimate form of, or expression of, thanksgiving: confessing the truth as God has revealed it. And that brings us to the second part of the first stanza, what we know or acknowledge or consider takes us beyond the expression of thanksgiving or how to and introduces us to why, the reasons for our thanksgiving. It's in the rest of verse 3.

In verse 3 those reasons for thanksgiving are all about the greatness are the "godness" of God. Notice what he says, "Know that the Lord Himself is God." Now you'll notice that the word "Lord" in that verse is in all capital letters. As I've told you before, when you see that in your English Bible realize that the translators are tipping you off to the fact that this is not the normal Hebrew word for Lord, the word Adonai, which means master or sovereign. Instead, when you see the word Lord in all caps it's telling you that at that place in the Hebrew text the sacred tetragrammaton, as theologians call it, the sacred four letters, occurs. Those letters are Y H W H, probably pronounced as "Yahweh." When it was Anglicized it became "Jehovah." This is God's personal name. When he speaks to Moses and Moses says, "Who shall I say is sending me?" God says, "Tell them I Am." When God uses His name He's "I am." When we pronounce the name of God we say "Yahweh," which means "He is."

So verse 3 is an affirmation, not only of monotheism, that there is only one God, "Know that the Lord Himself is God," but it's also an affirmation that the one God is the God who has eternally revealed himself as "Yahweh," "I am." The one and only eternally existent, absolutely self-sufficient one, that's what that name means. Think about this for a moment. God is the only being in the universe whose existence depends entirely upon Himself. He needs nothing and He needs no one. That's what the name means. There is no greater way to point to the greatness or the "godless" of God than that. And God's greatness is most powerfully demonstrated in His actions, even as we read from Psalm 111 this morning.

And God's three greatest acts are all found in verse 3. The first is creation. "It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves." We are to thank God for His great creation, including that of ourselves. Secondly is His providential care. Not only did He create, but He providentially sustains and cares for everything He made. "We are His people and the sheep of His pasture." The image of that last phrase is one of real tenderness, that of a shepherd having ownership and then taking responsibility to feed and provide for and to tend and to heal and to protect his sheep. God does all of that for us. All of the ways that He providentially cares for us, like a shepherd does for his sheep, should be the focus of our thanksgiving.

But there is a third great act of God, it's the act of redemption. Listen carefully, while both creation and God's providential care of us as sheep are implied in verse 3, neither of those is the main point. What is the main point of verse 3? Here's what the Psalmist is trying to say, it is God who has made us to be His people and His sheep, not we ourselves. There is in these words a kind of shock and amazement. We could paraphrase the Psalmist like this, imagine it for a moment, we of all people made to be God's people and not by our efforts but by His doing. The Psalmist is rehearsing the reality that Israel is God's people because God made it so. This is really a profound statement of God's electing love. Reminds me of the words of the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 43:1, "But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob. And He who formed you, O Israel. 'Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!'"

The same is true of us as New Testament believers. We are to thank God, not only for creating us, not only for His ongoing providential care of us, although we should thank Him for those things, but we are especially to thank Him that by an act of sovereign grace He chose us in eternity past to be His own, to be the sheep of His pasture. He made us His people. That's the idea of verse 3. Paul, in 2 Thessalonians, turn there with me for a moment, in 2 Thessalonians 2, puts it in New Testament terms. Second Thessalonians 2:13, Paul writes to the Christians in Thessalonica,

But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, [Why Paul?] because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul says, I, and the gospel I spoke, was merely a tool, we were merely a tool to accomplish the eternal plan of God. He is the one, by His efforts and not your own, that has made you to be His people.

So in thanksgiving, this first stanza tells us we are to declare God to be our King with joy, verse 1. We are to worship Him with gladness and to "Come before Him with joyful singing," verse 2. We are to affirm that God alone is God and that He's great, verse 3. Why? Verse 3 tells us. Because of His creation. Because of His providential care. But mostly because of His sovereign grace. May God help us never to get over the reality that not of our own efforts, not because we were special, not because we deserved it, if we got what we deserved hell itself wouldn't be hot enough for our rebellion against God, instead, God acted in sovereign grace to make us His people.

The first stanza shouts, doesn't it, with the greatness of God? The second stanza in verses 4 and 5 reminds us that we're to express our thanks to God because God is good. Now, understand, there's not a clear line of demarcation here. God's greatness and His goodness are all part of who He is, but this is merely the emphasis of this second stanza. And notice in verse 4, we learn of three more legitimate ways to express our thanksgiving. Verse 4 says, "Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise." There is obviously a word picture involved in that expression. It pictures the Old Testament worshipper entering into the temple and approaching, as it were, the throne room of God. And as he approached that throne room he was to come overflowing with thanksgiving and with praise.

You understand, the Old Testament temple didn't confine God. Paul said, "God doesn't dwell in temples made with hands." God doesn't live in a box. That temple was merely God's physical address, if you will. It marked for the children of Israel the reminder that He was their King and that box represented His throne room. And so, as an Old Testament believer in God came into the temple, he was coming as it were to the throne room of his King. And the Psalmist says, as you enter into His gates, and as you come into His courts, into the courts of your King, let your heart be spilling over with thanksgiving.

In the same way, we come before God's throne, not physically, we don't come to a place to enter the presence of God, we come through a person, the Lord Jesus Christ, spiritually, to enter the presence of God in prayer. And as we come before God's throne in prayer, we too must come overflowing with thanksgiving. In Colossians 4:2 Paul says, "Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving." In Philippians we're told that were to "be anxious for nothing, but in everything with prayer and thanksgiving we're to let our requests be made known unto God."

Also you'll notice in these words in verse 4 a wonderful invitation. Everyone is invited to come. All who are willing, as verse 1 says, "to shout to Him as King," to bow before Him as it were as Sovereign, can "Enter into His gates and into His courts." If you're here this morning and you've never really bowed your knee to God as your Creator, as your Sovereign; you've never bowed to His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and acknowledged His right to rule your life, and received Him as Savior, if you're willing to bow you're welcome to enter into His gates and into His courts.

Notice verse 4 again, there's another expression our thanks can take. "Give thanks to Him," the middle of the verse says. This Hebrew word is never used of thanking a fellow human being. It's only used of God. The basic meaning of this word "to give thanks" simply is to confess. It can be used and is used in other places in the Old Testament of confessing sin, but when it's used of confessing who God is and what He's done, it's usually rendered as thanks. We are to confess to God, we are to confess to God all that He is and all that He's done and we're never to stop. In fact, this is a skill that we need to learn here because we'll be doing it forever in heaven. If I were to take you to Revelation 4:9, and other places in the book of Revelation, you would see that those gathered around the throne of God for all eternity will always continually be offering to God thanksgiving.

Verse 4 gives us one more expression or form our thanksgiving can take. The end of the verse it says, "bless His name." We're used to God blessing us, what does it mean to bless His name? To bless God means to respond in gratitude to the blessings He's bestowed on us, to acknowledge all that He's done and to call Him blessed because of who He is and what He has done. Those are all appropriate forms of thanksgiving.

So the Psalmist has told us, in this series of seven commands or imperatives, how to give thanks. But again, in verse 5 here in the second stanza, he tells us why we should give thanks. There are three reasons given in verse 5 of Psalm 100. He says, I want you to "Enter His gates with Thanksgiving, His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For," because, "the Lord is good." This is a common Biblical reason given to thank God. In fact, if you turn over just a couple of pages to Psalm 106 it begins, "Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting." Psalm 107, "Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, For His lovingkindness is everlasting." And over and over again the Psalms recite the same reason for giving thanks to God, His goodness.

What is God's goodness? Well, Louis Berkoff writes that, "When we speak about the goodness of God we mean that perfection of God which prompts Him to deal bountifully and kindly with all His creatures." That's God's goodness. The major idea behind this word goodness is that God is concerned. He's concerned about the well-being of His creatures and He acts to promote it. The amazing thing about God is He is good to all of His creatures. As Paul puts it in Acts 14, as he preaches a sermon to a bunch of pagan idolaters, he reminds them of this. He says, "'God did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and He gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.'"

This week people all across this country, and in other parts of the world as well, will be satisfied with the joys of this life, with friendship and family and food, and all of the rich things that we enjoy. But they won't pause one moment, one breath, to thank their Creator. But God still gives them those things because He's good. As we learned in James 1, "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above." For the amazing goodness of God to us we owe Him gratitude.

A.W. Pink writes these profound words, he says, "Gratitude is the return justly required from the objects of His beneficence," or His goodness. We're the objects of His goodness. We ought to return gratitude. "Yet it is often withheld simply because His goodness is so constant and so abundant. It is lightly esteemed because it is exercised toward us in the common course of events. It is not felt because we daily experience it." It's like the fish in water who doesn't feel that he's in water because he's in it all the time. Our lives are so surrounded by the goodness of God that we're often not even aware of it. And we don't give Him thanks for it. "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good."

There is a second reason, notice in verse 5, to give thanks to God, "His lovingkindness is everlasting." The word "lovingkindness" is an interesting word, a tender sort of word, and yet it's not really a good translation of the Hebrew word. There is no single English word that captures this Hebrew word because there are two elements, two equal elements in this Hebrew word. One is love, a deep intimate love, and the other is loyalty. So we could translate this as "God's covenant love," "His loving loyalty," "His steadfast love," or as some translations have it, "His unfailing love."

Do you understand that God has made promises to you, He has made a covenant with you, and God is absolutely committed to that covenant? His lovingkindness, His loving loyalty, His steadfast love, His unfailing love means that He will always be true to the covenant He's made with you. "His lovingkindness," His unfailing love, "is everlasting." It spans back into eternity past when He chose you and it reaches across your life here and it stretches into eternity future when He will lavish forever His grace upon you. "His unfailing steadfast love is everlasting." Give Him thanks.

There's one more reason we're told to give Him thanks, the end of verse 5, "And His faithfulness is to all generations." The word faithfulness is a rich Old Testament word. It has the basic idea of being steady or firm. It refers to God as being totally dependable, utterly reliable. We could say, God is trustworthy. You know, my wife and I were talking recently about this. So often, we find ourselves, or we find ourselves telling others, to trust God, trust God. And we ought to trust God, but we can't work up trust. Why do we trust God? We trust God because He is trustworthy. He is worthy of our trust. That's what this word means. God is trustworthy. He's faithful. And notice, "to all generations." There will never be a generation when human beings exist, whether in this period of time or in eternity, when we find God to be anything other than steady and reliable and consistent and trustworthy. Give thanks to God.

I began by telling you that this Psalm was often sung along with a thank offering. If you had lived in Old Testament times you would have offered, almost certainly, a sacrifice of thanksgiving. You would have been responsible to have, depending on your wealth, to have chosen a lamb or a goat and to have brought that animal to the temple. So you would have brought that animal to the temple door and there at the door of the temple you would have met the priest and under the priest's authority you would have laid your hands on the head of that animal, signifying your own connection to that animal, and then with your own hand you would have been given a knife and you would have killed that animal by slitting its throat.

The fat of that animal and it's entrails would have been burned on the brazen altar. Its blood would have been thrown by the priest against the altar. Portions of the meat of that animal would have been given to the priests; that was part of the way their lives were sustained. But the peace offering, or the thank offering is one of the peace offerings, was a unique offering because it was the only one in which the worshipper ate some of the sacrificed animal. You see, if you had made a sacrifice of thanksgiving you would have taken the rest of the animal, cooked it, and have eaten it that day in a fellowship meal with the priest. But it wasn't about you and the priest enjoying a meal together. The real significance of that meal was this, it was as if you were enjoying a meal with God Himself. When you understand that the idea of giving thanks takes on a whole new richness.

You and I as believers should express thanks all the time, but we have, in God's providence, a national day that was originally set aside in generations past to express thanks to God. Let me encourage you, let your thanksgiving be more than family and food and football. Enjoy those things, those too are God's gifts, but let it be more, let it be a sacrifice of thanksgiving. How? Well, let me suggest a couple of practical ways that grow out of our application of Psalm 100.

Here's how you can make this Thanksgiving a true sacrifice of thanksgiving. Number one, throughout the day and the week rehearse to one another in conversation what you're thankful for. The Psalmist often does this, he often tells others what he's thankful for. My family and I have a little routine, a little game I guess you could call it, where, we call it The Thankful Game, where we sit at the table and we take turns going around and one at a time will recite one thing they're especially thankful for. And we'll continue to do that until we feel we have exhausted all of the possibilities that we can.

Number two, set aside time to sing together to and about God. Remember, that's one of the appropriate expressions of thanksgiving, "Come before Him with joyful singing." Set aside time to sing together to and about God. Number three, take time to pray and to give thanks directly to God for all of those things you appreciate. Number four, as you eat your Thanksgiving meal do it in the same attitude as the Old Testament worshipper, as if you were having a meal with God, expressing your thanks for His goodness to you and your family. Number five, make the focus God: what God has done, His creation, His providential care, and especially His sovereign grace, and who He is, His goodness and His steadfast love and His faithfulness.

Psalm 69:30 says,

I will praise the name of the Lord with song and magnify Him with thanksgiving.
And it will please the Lord better than an ox or a young bull with horns and hoofs.

The Psalmist understood two very profound lessons. He understood that the thankful heart pleases God more than a sacrifice of an animal. And secondly, and this is amazing, he understood that our thanksgiving magnifies God. It promotes His greatness. And as for us as believers, the primary focus of our thanks ought to be the reality that God has made us His own, our redemption. That's why the writer of Hebrews says, in Hebrews 13:15, "Through Christ then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name." That's what we do when we celebrate the Lord's table together.

Our Father, we thank You for the blood of Christ. We thank You that He who was innocent, who never knew sin, became sin for us, "that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." Lord, we thank You that He willingly laid down His life under the hand of Your wrath, suffering for our sins, suffering the penalty that our sins was due.

Lord, we thank You for Your great grace. We thank You for this reminder. We thank You for this way to express our thanks for the perfect life and the violent death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Help us to live this week, Father, in a way that honors that sacrifice. And I pray that You would help us to continually offer to You a sacrifice of thanksgiving, even "the fruit of lips giving thanks to Your name." We pray it in Jesus' name, amen.