On the sandy beach of Cape Henry Virginia, stands a historical marker that reads, "Act One, Scene One, of the unfolding drama that became the United States." Hundreds of years before the Department of Interior placed their marker, a brave crew of 149 men form the Virginia Company led by Captain John Smith planted another marker in the sand on April 29, 1607.
One by one our forefathers waded upon the shore. They had survived over four months of winter sailing across the Atlantic. Through the damp, cold, and dangerous conditions, they arrived having only lost one crew member. Many of the survivors were injured from falls working the icy decks and sails, most were sick, but they had miraculously reached their destination.
Imagine the scene as curious Indians watched at a safe distance. Reverend Robert Hunt, the crew's chaplain dressed in full clerical garments waded on the shore where the men had erected a wooden cross. Tears of joy, tears of praise, and tears of thanksgiving rolled down their faces as Rev. Hunt led a public thanksgiving service in the first permanent settlement that would become the United States of America.
Why would the crew of the Virginia Company risk their lives to plant a cross in an unknown land? We find the answer in the Virginia Charter signed by King James.
We would vouchsafe unto them our License, to make Habitation, Plantation, and to Deduce a colony of sundry of our people that part of the American colony called Virginia…We greatly commend a noble work, which may be the Providence of Almighty God, hereafter tend to the glory of His divine majesty, in Propagating of the Christian religion to such people as yet live in darkness and miserable ignorance of the true knowledge and worship of God.
Like the crew of the Virginia Company, we should look to the cross of Jesus Christ as the foundation of genuine thanksgiving. This message examines some of the occasions of the Lord Jesus' life in which He gave thanks. By looking at the Master we can experience Masterful Thanksgiving.
I. Physical needs (John 6:11)
The miracle of feeding the 5,000 is loaded with numerous and significant theological truths, including the ongoing debate between predestination/election and free will. But, we should also be careful not to miss the obvious provision of food to meet the physical needs of nutrition. In this passage Jesus thanks His heavenly Father not just for the miracle but for the daily bread to feed hungry men, women, and children.
Brief prayers before a meal are a simple reminder that God supplies all our needs. In the New Testament book of James, we are reminded that every good gift comes from the heavenly Father (James 1:17). We often remember to thank God for the big things in life, but we easily forget to thank God for the little things. In a country and economy where the store and home pantry shelves are stacked to capacity, we buy groceries that last for one or two weeks at a time, so we often fail to pray for God to give us daily bread. But, try missing meals for a week, and notice how little things like bread become big things in a hurry! Lost in the majesty of the miracle is the simple fact that God cares for the physical needs of His people. T.W. Hunt, author of Prayer Life, asked a challenging question, "If every blessing you desired tomorrow was dependent upon your thanksgiving today, what would you be thankful for?" Jesus thanked God for meeting physical needs, so should we.
II. Personal relationships (John 11:41)
In another spectacular miracle where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, we discover a second area of the Master's thanksgiving. The main characters in this story are the close friends of Jesus. Most people are aware that Jesus spent time with the twelve disciples, but He also spent time with a special group of friends in Bethany. Whenever Jesus took a break form public ministry, he would hang out with His friends in Bethany.
In his insightful devotional book Geography of the Soul, C. Welton Gaddy describes Bethany this way, Jesus regularly claimed quiet times for reflection and recovery. He recognized that He could not be significantly active if He was not consistently reflective. Long stretches of preaching, healing, teaching and serving took its toll on Jesus, so he often went to Bethany-- His resting, reflecting, and praying place. Everybody needs a Bethany. How Jesus loved Bethany. In sharp contrast to Jerusalem and even His hometown of Nazareth where people opposed Him, Jesus was well liked in Bethany. His best friends in all the world resided there. If Jesus needed Bethany, it is a good bet that everybody needs a Bethany (Gaddy p. 144-45).
God created us as relational beings. We need each other. Friends double our joy and divide our grief. The Bible says that friends increase our effectiveness, provide correction, pick us up when we fall, and fill our life with joy. Jesus thanked God for his friends, so should we.
III. Purposeful service (Luke 22:19)
In one of the most amazing prayers in all of Scripture, Jesus thanked God for using Him as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. We read in other Scriptures that Jesus endured the cross because of joy set before Him (Heb. 12:2). Jesus' thanksgiving illustrates the awesome contentment and satisfaction derived from being used of God to accomplish something great.
Parents get a glimpse of this kind of joy when they witness their child accomplish a task by applying principles you have been trying to impart to your child. Teammates have experienced the satisfaction of being a part of something bigger than individual effort when a team wins a big game. Vacation Bible School workers have cried tears of joy when a child is baptized knowing that those pipe cleaners and cotton balls during craft time played a role in another soul being added to the kingdom.
Jesus understood the awesome privilege of being used of God to accomplish His will. The Bible says that those who know their God will do great exploits (Dan. 11:32 KJV). Our Lord and Savior thanked God for allowing Him to serve, we should too.
Jesus set the example of expressing thanksgiving to His Father. We often confuse gratitude with thanksgiving. We may be grateful even joyful about our blessings without taking the time to express our gratitude to the One who provides the blessings. Calvin Miller wrote in an article The Art of Thanksgiving, "When God blesses a nation with abundance, the people are not prone to love Him, but to love His abundance. When God dumps on loads of material things, they don't typically become believers or thankers, but mere materialists. Little wonder that Shakespeare's King Lear laments, 'How sharper than a serpents tooth to have a thankless child'."
Jesus thanked His Father, so should we.