How do you do Thanksgiving? As in, what is Thanksgiving to you, really? Is it eating your favorite food? Is it time spent with family? Is watching football? What is your Thanksgiving?
All of those possibilities have something in common: they are for you. They are not really from you, they are for you. You consume them. Did you know that God had ideas on Thanksgiving that He baked into His Law that He gave to ancient Israel? Hint: they are not like what we typically do, at least not really. In Leviticus 7:12, we are told that the “thank offering” was part of a group of special offerings called the peace offerings. It’s also the first one listed. Now this is really interesting for a couple of reasons.
For one thing, this was a sacrifice. You actually gave up something to God (i.e. gave it away, not consumed it yourself) with a prescribed animal per the sacrificial laws and a “wave offering” of specific flat cakes of bread that the priest would wave before the Lord at the altar.
Another thing about the thank offering – along with the other peace offerings – is they were entirely voluntary. They were not tied to any other festival, feast, or constraint of the law (e.g. guilt offerings to atone for sins). The thank offering was something someone could just choose to bring to God to thank Him for being awesome. This is the spirit of what holy thanksgiving should be – organic, spontaneous response to God being awesome (as always) to you. You should choose to thank Him.
The fact that the peace offerings begin with the thank offering implies that the beginning of peace with God is in thanking Him. That makes so much sense in light of 1 Thessalonians 5:18 where Paul tells the Thessalonian Christians “…in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” So God’s will for you is to give Him your thanks in everything. And in giving Him thanks in everything, you open yourself to worship Him wholly as you were designed by Him to do.
There is one more really interesting nugget from the thank offering we can bring forward to our lives on this side of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. We don’t need to make literal sacrifices because Jesus, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world, finished that for us. But we are supposed to offer God spiritual sacrifices [1 Peter 2:5]. And our thanksgiving is supposed to be a gift to God: a spiritual sacrifice. Now, if we are making “New Testament thank offerings” when we give God our thanks in everything, then we also can see the backside of this ceremony from Leviticus brought forth to us spiritually. You see, the thank offering was actually eaten – by both the priest and the worshiper offering the sacrifice – on the same day it was made. There is an immediacy to God’s joyful peace in responding to our offering of Thanksgiving to Him. The thank offering could not be eaten at any other time than on the same day it was made. And both the priest who officiated the offering on the altar, and the worshiper who brought the offering, and anyone with the worshiper all at the offering after it was made as a celebration of God’s continued goodness. So, you can “consume” the blessings of God, but you start by giving them back in a sacrifice of thanks to Him. Do you release your thanks to God as a living spiritual sacrifice? And either way, do you let God reciprocate to you and not only receive the peace and joy from Him, but actually take it inside you like food? That’s the pattern given to us. Give thanks as a sacrifice, and enjoy the goodness of God shared with others in the moment.
Blessings and peace,
Benjamin Gray of GTH Ministries.