“Songs of Praise & Thanksgiving”
A Scottish pastor called Alexander Whyte always seemed to be able to find something for which to give thanks. One Sunday morning in winter when the weather was freezing cold, & the rain was pouring down & the wind was howling, one of the deacons in his church whispered, “I am sure Pastor Whyte won’t be able to thank God for anything on a day like this. It is so absolutely horrible outside!” Pastor Whyte began the service by praying, “We thank you, O God, that the weather is not always like this.”
Today is our Thanksgiving Sunday & the weather is beautiful outside. But even if the weather was terrible there is so much for which we need to give thanks. Not least, we want to thank the Lord for our lovely church building which we have enjoyed now for the past 3 years.
There is a short but powerful chapter in Isaiah that serves as an ideal passage of Scripture for us to consider on this day of thanksgiving. It is Isaiah chapter 12. First of all however let me give some background.
1. Giving Some Background
The ministry of the prophet Isaiah spanned about 60 years. In 722BC, when Isaiah was still a young man, the northern kingdom of Israel was overrun by the Assyrians & the people were taken into exile. Isaiah, who lived in Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah, warned the people of Judah & Jerusalem that unless they turned from their sinful ways they too would be destroyed & taken into captivity. This actually happened in 586 BC – about 100 years after Isaiah’s time.
The first section of Isaiah (chapters 1-39) consists of messages given when Isaiah was still a young man, & record the warnings he gave to Judah, Israel & the surrounding nations. From chapter 40 to the end of the book (a total of 27 chapters) – which we studied as a series just over a year ago – Isaiah brings a message of comfort & hope as he tells more about God’s promised Messiah.
In chapter 11, Isaiah speaks of the return of God’s people from exile – both from exile in Babylon (all those years ago) & also their return from being scattered around the world – something we see being fulfilled in our day. Having your homeland destroyed & being taken off into exile must have involved terrible suffering. So imagine the joy, after long years in captivity, of being able to return home! Chapter 12 is a song of praise, describing their joy & it also describes how Christians feel having been set free from captivity to sin & Satan. This brings us to our second heading:
2. Giving Thanks For Our Salvation (vrs 1-3)
When the Lord brings His people back from exile, they are full of praise & thanksgiving for His deliverance. They praise Him for saving & restoring them. And as we said, these words of Isaiah also express how we as God’s people today feel as we remember all the Lord has done, all that He is doing & all that He will yet do for us who have put our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Isaiah writes, “In that day you will say: ‘I will praise you, O LORD. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away & you have comforted me.” God allowed His people to be taken into exile because of their sin & their refusal to repent. Because He is holy & just, God had to judge their sin. However, in love, He promised that if they turned back to Him, He would forgive them, comfort them & restore them.
As Christians we too have to suffer the consequences of our sin & rebellion. When we disobey the Lord, we get cut off from Him. It is like being in exile. The wonderful truth is, however, that God longs for us to be restored to intimacy & blessing. A loving father disciplines his children in order to teach them important lessons & in order to restore the broken relationship caused by the bad things they have done. What happens when his disobedient child comes in tears & says ‘Sorry, daddy’? The father hugs his son or daughter & comforts them. All is forgiven. Their relationship is restored. So too the Lord, like a loving father, comforts His children when we come back & say sorry. God hates sin for He knows sin destroys us. However, He loves us & wants to deliver us from sin.
I have just been speaking of God’s people, of those who believe in Jesus. However something everyone, even non-believers, needs to know is that unless we repent of our sin & come to Jesus, one day we will have to face God as Judge. It will be no use for the atheist, for example, to say, “O God, I didn’t think you existed, so please excuse me!” No one can use the excuse, “O God, I was too busy to become a Christian.” Nor can we say, “God, I sometimes went to church & I even put money in the offering bag, & God my wife was a Christian.” None of these excuses count for anything.
Quite a few Scriptures speak about the wrath or anger of God. For example, Romans 1:18 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness & unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” Sinful men & women may try to ignore or to suppress the truth. However the fact remains, sin is sin & will be judged. The wonder of the Gospel is that although God hates sin & ungodliness, He loves us sinners. God hates sin because He is holy & He is just. But because He is also love He gave His only Son to be our Saviour.
Isaiah goes on in v.2, “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust & not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD Himself, is my strength & my song; He has become my salvation.’” We can say that God is our salvation because, as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 5:19, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” God sent Jesus to be our Saviour. What a comfort this is! No longer do we need to fear God or run away & hide from Him, as Adam & Eve did in the Garden of Eden after they sinned. There is no greater comfort for the sinner than to know that God loves us & is ready to forgive our sins.
I know I have shared this before, but John Newton in his famous hymn, Amazing Grace, that we sang last week, expresses it well: “T’was grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace those fears relieved.” In other words, God by His grace showed us our sinfulness & the fact we deserve His judgement – His grace taught us to fear, to fear the punishment our sins deserved. The fact we realise we are sinners in need of a Saviour is a sign of grace – why? Because many people do not even realise they are in need. They do not even think of themselves as sinners. They have no fear for they are spiritually blind & see no danger. They are like a blind person about to fall over a cliff – unaware of the grave danger they face. They do not hear any warning bells for they have suppressed their conscience for so long.
So, dear friends, when we do hear those warning bells, when we do realise we are sinners in need of a Saviour – that is a sign of grace, God’s free unmerited kindness to us. God by His grace shows us our sin & teaches us to fear. But then, wonder of wonders – that same grace points us to our wonderful Saviour, the One who died in our place, taking our guilt & shame. Yes, “grace those fears relieved.” It relieves or takes away our fear.
Knowing these wonderful truths about Jesus let all of us do what Isaiah encourages his listeners to do. He says in v.3, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” The picture here is of someone who is desperately thirsty putting down their bucket into a well & drawing up cool, fresh, pure water, water to quench their thirst. They would be so happy, so full of joy. And what is this well called? It is called the well of salvation.
When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, He asked her for water & then went on to tell her about the living water He could give her. He explained, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13 & 14) This is the same water about which Isaiah was speaking when he said, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Jesus is the source. He gives us the water of life. He gives us salvation. Only He can quench our thirst. So if you are a Christian today, lift up your heart in praise & thanksgiving for the wonderful salvation you have in Christ. If you are not yet a believer, I urge you to come today & drink. I urge you to open your heart to the Saviour & draw water from the wells of salvation today.
Our final point today is:
3. Giving Thanks For All God Has Done (vrs 4-6)
So often we forget to thank God for the many things He has done for us, for His many blessings. This week Ping told us about a poem she wrote before she became a Christian. She described her feelings on Valentine’s Day seeing guys carrying roses to give to their special lady friends – how romantic. She felt sorry for herself because LD her husband never thought of buying her a rose. She showed her poem to LD & after he read it He was not upset but complemented her on her poetic excellence. He even suggested she write another poem the next Valentine’s Day. LD’s seemingly “unromantic” comment made Ping even more upset. However, not long after Ping became a Christian, she realised she had a lot to be thankful for. LD is not the type of guy who buys roses for his wife but Ping realised for the first time she was very blessed to have a husband who had been faithful to her throughout their marriage. On Valentine’s Day he was by her side & was not with some other woman! When the Holy Spirit changed her heart she learnt to give thanks for such a big blessing.
Instead of complaining about what we do not have, let us give thanks for all we do have. Instead of complaining about not having a rose on Valentine’s Day, like Ping give thanks for having a faithful husband. Instead of complaining about not having money for new shoes, thank the Lord that you have feet. Instead of complaining about your job, thank the Lord you are not unemployed. Instead of complaining that life is too hard, think about those refugees fleeing civil war in Syria. And even when you do suffer, when you do go through hard times – learn to give thanks, for it is in giving thanks that we receive new strength to overcome. Remember also that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Elizabeth told me when her mother passed away at a young age, she took great comfort in knowing that the sufferings of this life do not last forever but the joys of heaven will last forever. Having the certain hope of heaven is one big reason for giving praise & thanks to God.
When Christians go out of their way to help others, simply out of love & not expecting anything in return, very often those they help ask questions like: “Why have you done this for me?” “Why are you so kind?” “What makes you so different?” When asked such questions we often have a natural opportunity to share something of our testimony. Pastor Abri mentioned last week that in their church in Mauritius they help believers learn how to share “Their Story & the Gospel Story” in just 7 minutes. Let us tell others, in a natural relaxed way, about what the Lord has done for us. It is out of a grateful heart that we share with others, giving freely what we have received. As Jesus said, “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)
Isaiah says in v.4, “In that day you will say: ‘Give thanks to the LORD, call on His name; make known among the nations what He has done, & proclaim that His name is exalted.” Let us gladly share with others what the Lord has done for us. The Gospel is for all, for every nation, tribe & tongue.
Here in Auckland, studying in our universities are students from many nations. Let us as a church commit ourselves to proclaiming the Name of Jesus. Let us continue to reach out to those from different nations, ethnic backgrounds & language groups. Why? Because we want to proclaim among the nations what the Lord has done. We want His name to be exalted.
Isaiah goes on, “Sing to the LORD, for He has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. 6 Shout aloud & sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.’” (vrs 5 & 6) Indeed the Lord has done glorious things. We should tell everyone. Those of us who are believers, who have experienced the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we have good news. God has done great things for us.
When I was preparing this message I wrote down a full page of the spiritual blessings we have in Christ & I am sure I missed many. If I also added to the list the many daily blessings of food & clothing, health & strength, family & friends – WOW, what a long list it would be! Let me ask you – how many of you have become Christians in the past year? How many of you have seen answers to your prayers? How many of you have been healed? How many of you have seen God provide a visa or a job? How many of you have seen God heal a broken relationship? How many of you have seen God help you solve a difficult problem or meet a special need?
One of the most important holidays in America is Thanksgiving which is held on the last Thursday in November. On this long weekend families get together & have a big feast. How did the tradition of Thanksgiving start? It started the year after the pilgrims, fleeing religious persecution in Europe, landed in America. They had survived all kinds of hardships that first winter & had just brought in their first harvest in November 1623. They came together to offer “Thanksgiving to the Almighty God for all His blessings.” What a great idea & what a great tradition!
Indeed the Lord “has done glorious things”. Let us “…shout aloud & sing for joy.” We can thank the Lord for His salvation & we can thank Him for countless other blessings also. No matter what the weather is like there are always lots of things for which we can give thanks to the Lord. He is good & He is good all the time. Praise His Name!