* This is part one of three of sermon notes I preached Sunday about Thanksgiving from Luke 18:9-14. This passage speaks powerfully to what I called “justified thanksgiving.”
This week is a special time in the calendar year. We call it Thanksgiving—a time where family and friends come together to share meals, discuss their lives, and enjoy one another’s company. It is one of those times when we are encouraged to hit the pause button in what normally feels like a fast-paced lifestyle, like a train picking up steam month by month and beginning to lose control. So we pull back the reigns, so to speak, and call ourselves to pause, reflect, remember, and give thanks.
The reasons for doing this are not simply because it is seasonal, a national holiday, and culturally acceptable. As Christians, we should give thanks because God has specifically told us that this is the will of God for us. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 God through the pen of Paul charges us thus:
18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:18
Therefore, not giving thanks to God is uncharacteristic of a true follower of Jesus. In a similarly comprehensive way, Paul connects a “whatever you do” clause with giving thanks. In Colossians 3:17, he writes:
17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Everything in word or deed in Jesus name with thanks to God our Father–that’s the way Christians should live. To put it another way, a grumpy, whiny, complaining Christian is an oxymoron. It is God’s will that we live a life of thanksgiving, and a failure to do so plainly is sin against God. In fact, unthankfulness is explained as a defining characteristic of human depravity and a life in rebellion against God. Listen to how Paul describes the state of sinful man separated from God:
20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Paul is stating that all human beings have a common knowledge of God outwardly through His creation and inwardly through conscience. And in spite of this knowledge, sinful man refuses to give thanks to God but instead goes deeper in rebellion against Him in their futile thinking and darkened hearts. Isn’t it a sad and tragic plight of man to be at the brink of eternity, breathing a last breath, having all of life to honor and give thanks to God, and yet die without excuse before His judgment seat?
Indeed it is. But I want to submit to you this morning that there is something even more tragic and dangerous before us than the willful rebellion of thankless sinners with depraved hearts. In our text this morning, there is a man who gives thanks to God and yet never finds the approval of God. You men to tell me, Tim, that a person can truly be a truly grateful and thankful person and yet be ungodly and rejected by God? That is exactly what I’m saying, and I want you to show you why this is true from our text this morning.
Turn with me to Luke chapter 18 as I want to read verses 9 through 14 in this striking parable from Jesus. Beginning with verse 9, we read the following:
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
(a) In verse 11, we read about a remarkable expression of thanksgiving. What made this thanksgiving remarkable was first, that it was performed in the Temple. There was nowhere else more spiritually reverent and culturally appropriate than to give thanks in the Temple. He was for all intents and purposes in the right place.
(b) Secondly, notice that this thanksgiving was expressed in the form of a prayer. Certainly we would all agree that a right approach to thanksgiving would be in the context of prayer, addressing God about matters in his life.
(c) But thirdly, notice that this was man was morally superior to others and very strict in his religion. Look how his prayer of thanksgiving began. I thank you that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers. He at least to some degree was giving credit to God that he was different than them, better than them. He had a status of moral superiority when measured up to his contemporaries.
And he was also very strict in his religion. His dedication was perhaps unparalleled by anyone else in the Temple that day. His prayer was long and eloquent; his giving was consistent and probably generous; his devotion was radical to the point that he fasted twice as much as the Law required. This, too, he thanks God for, recognizing that God enabled him to perform with such religious fervor and intense dedication.
So it seems on the surface that this man is in the right place (Temple), with the right approach (prayer), and with a superior quality of right devotion (fasting, praying, giving). Surely, then, his thanksgiving should be a model for all of us today. After all, everything he did was intended to be an expression of thanksgiving to God.
And what is even more remarkable than this man’s thanksgiving is that Jesus rejects it. What everyone in that Temple that day perhaps stood in admiration of, Jesus dismissed altogether. He was not impressed by it. In fact, Jesus made the point in his conclusion that man superior in all his devotional ways was not deserving to go home justified or accepted in the sight of God. The most terrifying four words can be found in verse 14 where Jesus says “rather than the other.” This is truly staggering!
If this man were alive today, Christian magazines would be doing a cover story on his spiritual disciplines. He would perhaps be asked to speak in major conferences on how in his journey he had become so radically committed to his religious faith. If he were a member of the local church, it would be highly likely to find him as a model disciple and pacesetter for performing well in the Christian life.
And yet, Jesus rejects his thanksgiving. How can this be? Is Jesus not seeing what everyone else in that Temple was seeing that day? Or, could it be that Jesus saw more and knew more than anyone else knew on that day?
You see, Jesus’ rejection of this man’s thanksgiving was a greater rejection of his whole system of thinking, believing, and living. It was a rejection of his worldview and yes, even his religion. The striking conclusion that Jesus makes regarding this man’s religion should cause all of our ears to perk up to listen and learn (a) what was this man’s religion and (b) why Jesus rejected it and his prayer of thanksgiving.
Part Two picks up with the quest for justification . . .