Give Thanks to the Lord, for He Is Good
November 24, 2019 Speaker: Bret Rogers
Topic: Thanksgiving Passage: Psalm 118:1–29
James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” Paul writes elsewhere that “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it’s received with thanksgiving…” (1 Tim 4:4).
Scriptures like these challenge notions of thanksgiving in our culture. One way they do so is by identifying thanksgiving’s object. God is the chief object of our gratitude because he is the ultimate Giver of all things. Another way is by redirecting our focus in thanksgiving. We enjoy the gifts but not apart from the Giver. Gratitude should deepen relationship with God. In true thanksgiving, the gift isn’t the ultimate focus; it’s deeper joy in the Giver himself. Gifts are like shafts of light beaming from the sun. Looking at the shafts of light isn’t enough. We must trace them back to their source.
We’ve done some of that today by praising the Lord for showering creation with good gifts, for blessing you this past year. In doing so, we’ve joined saints throughout the ages who celebrate our Creator’s generosity. We’ve also joined the worship leader of Psalm 118. But perhaps our thanksgiving will abound even more as we work through his words. He calls to the people in verse 1…
1Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! 2Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” 3Let the house of Aaron say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” 4Let those who fear the LORD say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” 5Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free. 6The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? 7The LORD is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. 8It’s better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. 9It’s better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes. 10All nations surrounded me; in the name of the LORD I cut them off! 11They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side; in the name of the LORD I cut them off! 12They surrounded me like bees; they went out like a fire among thorns; in the name of the LORD I cut them off! 13I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the LORD helped me. 14The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. 15Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the LORD does valiantly, 16the right hand of the LORD exalts, the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!” 17I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD. 18The LORD has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death. 19Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD. 20This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it. 21I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. 22The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 23This is the LORD’s doing; it’s marvelous in our eyes. 24This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. 25Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! 26Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD. 27The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar! 28You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. 29Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!
At feasts and festivals in Israel, Psalms like this one were read aloud to thrust God’s people into thankful praise for his goodness. That purpose hasn’t changed, because God’s worthiness hasn’t changed. Moreover, expressions of his steadfast love not only span history, they endure forever. He’s always worthy of our praise as that love endures. By these words, the Holy Spirit also calls us to give thanks to the Lord.
Give thanks because God is good
He does so on two grounds: who God is and what God has done. First, who God is: he is good. Verse 1 says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.” When we think of God’s goodness, we shouldn’t think of his goodness in limited ways. Someone might be a “good” carpenter or a “good” doctor, while also being morally wretched. When we say they’re “good,” we mean that in a limited sense—they’re “good” insofar as the services they render. Or, they’re “good” only by comparison to other people.
But with God’s goodness, there are no such limitations. His goodness extends to his entire being, to all his perfections, to all he chooses to do. He is necessarily good. Moreover, being God means that he has no other competitors by whom we can measure his goodness. Rather, he defines goodness. Nothing can make him better than what he is. All he is, all he does is worthy of our approval.
So the psalmist calls us to give thanks to the Lord, first of all, because he is good. For us to know that goodness, though, the Lord must reveal it. He is good in himself, but he also chooses to communicate his goodness. We see his goodness through the things he made—“God saw everything he made, and behold, it was very good.” But we especially see his goodness when he reveals his love through various saving events.
Give thanks because God’s steadfast love endures forever.
That moves us to the second ground for thanksgiving: what God has done. Notice, he also calls the entire assembly to acknowledge the Lord’s steadfast love in verse 2. Not just the priests, not just Israel, but everybody who fears the Lord from all over—they should praise the Lord for his enduring steadfast love.
The Lord’s steadfast love is how the Lord’s goodness has been displayed in relation to his covenant people. God’s goodness is bound up with his loyal, promise-keeping, affection for his people. That promise-keeping, affection for his people has a history. From Abraham, through Moses, through the exodus, through Joshua, through David—at numerous historical moments God’s steadfast love worked to save his people.
The worship leader illustrates yet another occasion. He recounts what God has done in and through his own experiences. God’s steadfast love worked for him, in him, and through him—and it leads to immense blessing for the people.
God’s steadfast love rescues his faithful servant from great distress.
First off, God’s steadfast love rescues his faithful servant from great distress. The worship leader now gives his testimony in verse 5, “Out of my distress I called on the LORD.” What kind of distress? Verse 10, “All nations surrounded me;” verse 11, “they…surrounded me on every side;” verse 12, “they surrounded me like [swarming] bees;” verse 13, “I was pushed hard so that I was falling [i.e., nearly dead].” There’s a mob of hostile nations. They’re swarming, circumstances are pressing, the snares of death are grasping for him, he’s nearly done for…
At the same time, this servant remains faithful to the Lord. Distressed as he is, the Lord remains the object of his trust. “I called on the Lord,” verse 5 says. The fear of man doesn’t rattle him. Verse 6, God is on his side. He could’ve asked other nations for assistance. But note verses 8-9: “It’s better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man…” Then in verses 10 and 12, he bears God’s name in battle. Nations may rage, but he’s resolved—abide in the Lord’s will; fight for his name…
The Lord hears this servant’s cry for help. He rescues him. Verse 5 says, “the Lord answered me and set me free.” Literally, “the Lord answered me with a spacious place.” Instead of the distress crushing the servant into an overwhelmingly narrow panic, the Lord provides freedom and security. An open field to roam, is the idea.
The Lord also strengthens his servant such that he cuts off all his enemies, verse 11 says. The image we get in verse 12 shows how easily the Lord deals with the problem—“they went out like a fire among thorns.” I grew up around brush-country south Texas. Thorn bushes goes up in a flash. The nations burned with rage, but it was short lived. The Lord ended them. To mess with this servant is to mess with God.
Quite the servant, isn’t he? It’s not uncommon for people to read themselves and their problems and their enemies into the Psalms. There’s something to that. Many Psalms intentionally leave the details of the historical setting vague such that they can apply to a wide range of circumstances. However, the problem comes when people see themselves all too quickly as the hero. Do we have enemies? Sure. Do we experience distress? Of course. Does a psalm like this give us strength in the fight of faith? Absolutely. The question is how. How do we get there?
The first step in getting there is to realize that we’re not the hero. Are you the worship leader in Israel? Do all nations gather against you? Unwavering confidence in the Lord—is that you? We’re dealing with a special servant. He leads God’s people into worship. He has enough influence in Israel that he represents the nation in battle. That’s why he can speak of all nations surrounding me. He represents the people. He’s the same figure we find in Psalm 2. The kings of the earth and rulers set themselves against the Lord and against his anointed (Ps 2:1). This is no ordinary Israelite. He’s God’s chosen king. He leads and represents the people. He’s committed to the Lord’s will in the face of enemies. So the Lord gives him the victory.
God’s steadfast love produces worship in the people belonging to the servant.
That victory then produces worship in the people belonging to the servant. That comes next in Psalm 118. God’s steadfast love so works in and through this servant, that it produces worship. The king’s rescue benefits the people he represents.
Remember, only he prayed in verse 5; and he appears to be the only one delivered by the end of verse 13. He’s even the lone voice in verse 14 that expresses worship: “The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.”
Then all of a sudden we hear this: “Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous,” verse 15. The king himself hears his people celebrating the Lord’s victory. His victory has become their victory. His song has become their song. They sing with him in verse 16, “The right hand of the LORD does valiantly, the right hand of the LORD exalts, the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!”
Notice the diversity of worship as well. It started with singing. Then we get proclamation in verse 17: “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.” That’s why he’s alive. He lives to recount the Lord’s works. It’s his purpose.
Even the way God worked through his distress becomes part of his proclamation. Verse 18, “The LORD has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death.” Only a true worshiper, whose heart wholly belongs to the Lord, can respond this way. The distress nearly killed him. But his faithfulness through the distress has now opens his eyes to something new. The distress was never God’s rejection, but his discipline. God designed it to increase the volume of worship among the righteous.
God’s steadfast love works through the servant to lead the people into his presence.
And why wouldn’t they worship over this! This king not only fought and won the battle. God works in and through him to lead the people into God’s holy presence. A great procession closes Psalm 118. The servant leads the people right up to the “gates of the righteous.” In verse 20, it’s the “gate of the Lord.” These gates were the temple gates, the entry way into the Lord’s presence. They were much like the gates to the outer courts of the tabernacle in the wilderness—only the righteous could enter. We find very similar gates on the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21. Nothing unclean will ever enter through the city gates. Likewise, these gates guarded the way to the presence of the Lord.
This king returns from battle. He walks through the city with a train of rescued worshipers following him. He comes right up to the gates and commands them to open: “Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.” What kind of king speaks like that? A righteous one. A king who remains faithful to the Lord under the distress. One who’s willing to lay down his life for the Lord’s name and the people he represents.
Verses 22-23 even tell us a bit of a parable of what kind of king speaks this way. He’s a king who was like “the stone that the builders rejected [but which] has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing; it’s marvelous in our eyes.” In other words, he experiences adversity and rejection—compared here to builders tossing aside what they viewed to be an insignificant stone. Contrary to expectations, though, the Lord actually uses his rejection to establish his work, to build his kingdom.
The celebration only builds after that, mixing praise and prayer and blessing. “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD. The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!” The idea being, their thanksgiving now manifests itself in concrete acts of devotion. Their thanksgiving leads to sacrificial devotion.
God’s steadfast love climaxes in the true servant, Jesus Christ.
Summary. God’s steadfast love works for, in, and through a special king in Israel. That work also benefits the people. The king represents God’s people in battle. The nations surround him and want him dead. He remains faithful to the Lord in the face of great suffering. He’s rejected by men, but becomes the chief cornerstone in building God’s kingdom. By his own righteousness, he leads many people into God’s holy presence. And the outcome is joy-filled worship among God’s people and lives given over to sacrificial devotion to the Lord.
Does this story sound familiar to you? I hope so. Do you know this king’s name? The New Testament does. Are you starting to see better how you fit into the picture, how this Psalm bears on your life? Let’s get more explicit. Turn with me to Luke 20:9. Jesus is talking with the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. They’re all bothered by Jesus and want proof of his authority. So Jesus gives them a little parable.
…A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. He sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, “What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.” But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, “This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.” And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
What’s Jesus saying? He’s the “beloved son” in the parable. After ignoring all the prophets, the people would kill Jesus. Once they did, the Lord would raise up Jesus and build a true people that listened to Jesus and gained the full inheritance. He would build them up like a new temple, and Jesus would be their cornerstone. If you don’t build your life on the cornerstone, that same stone will crush you.
Jesus identifies himself with the king of Psalm 118. God’s steadfast love would work for, in, and through Jesus to save us and lead us into God’s presence. Someone could say, “Well, seems like God spared the king of Psalm 118. ‘I shall not die but shall live…’—isn’t that what he said? But Jesus died. The nations killed him.” Very true. I’d just ask a follow up question: “Can somebody phone up the worship leader from Psalm 118?” Truth is, he eventually died. Yes, God very much delivered him; and it lead to great rejoicing among the people. God truly manifested his steadfast love in that moment through that king in Israel’s history. Nevertheless, the events anticipated something greater. They still cry, “Hosanna!” in verse 25—“Save us, Lord!” It anticipates more; God’s steadfast love would work again.
Sure enough, in a far greater way, God manifested his steadfast love through Jesus. The patterns of the king in Psalm 118 pointed to a greater work. That king was spared death once, but his body eventually laid in the grave. But Jesus entered death, not to stay there but to defeat its power over his people. Death is the far greater enemy here, not the nations; and Jesus entered death to conquer it. Talk about a warrior. Willingly, he waged war against ultimate enemies—sin, death, and the devil. He laid down his life in battle to honor the Lord’s name and represent his people.
Yeah, the nations raged against Jesus and killed him. But little did they know that in and through his death, God’s steadfast love was working to topple their kingdoms and build a greater one. Little did they know that—though he had the power to cut them off—he was cut off in their place so that they could enter the gates to God’s presence. Little did they know that God would hear his cries, God would stand by him, and God would raise him from the dead and seat him above every rule, power, and authority.
Salvation is found in Christ alone; trust in him.
The patterns are there in Psalm 118. But their fulfillment in Christ far surpass what anyone could’ve asked or thought possible. Here’s what that means. Acts 4:11 also uses Psalm 118, but it does so to argue that there’s salvation in no one else. To reject Jesus is to reject the righteous king who brings people into God’s presence. You can’t bring yourself into God’s presence. The gates of the righteous won’t open for you. You can list your good works, your religious commitments, your success at work, your charity toward others—they won’t open for you. They open for only one who is truly righteous, King Jesus. If you belong to him, only then will you enter God’s presence.
In Christ, God is for us; we do not have to fear man.
Second: if you belong to him, that also means God is for you and you don’t have to fear man. Hebrews 13:5-6 says this: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for [God] has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” That’s Psalm 118:6, which we read earlier off the lips of the servant.
Here’s the beauty of the gospel. You’re not the hero in Psalm 118. But when you’re united to the Hero, God so becomes your helper that you can say these words with the Hero. When Jesus is your King, your representative before God, Psalm 118:6 is yours. That’s the only way it’s yours. In union with Christ, God is our helper and he brings us into God’s presence. With God we have everything we truly need. He stands by us—not because we’re so great but because Jesus is great and God stands by him.
Therefore, we don’t need to fear man or what he can take away from us. You could imagine that being a source of encouragement to a church facing persecution. Hebrews 10 says that some of them suffered the plundering of their property. It’s not uncommon for Christians to encounter poverty for the gospel, to lose jobs, to lose the benefits of trade, to have their homes raided or buildings burned. It would be tempting to despair, to be discontent, to grow really anxious. But Hebrews takes Psalm 118 and says you need not fear. God is for you. He is your help. What’s man going to do?
In Christ, God is building us into a spiritual house for spiritual sacrifices.
Third, you are being built up as spiritual house to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God. 1 Peter 2:4 also applies Psalm 118 to the church. He actually quotes it in verse 7. But he explains its significance beforehand in verses 4-5. “As you come to [Jesus], a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
In Christ we find our identity and our purpose. Our identity: we are like living stones being built up as a spiritual house. Jesus is the cornerstone. But God is building an entire house from that cornerstone. That’s who you are.
Maybe others have cut you down with their words this week. Maybe a friend has made you feel worthless. Maybe you’re just going through life finding it pretty dull. Work is pointless. Our church seems so small. Listen, you are part of something great and beautiful that spans centuries and becomes a taste of heaven on earth—you are God’s house, God’s temple, the place where God’s Spirit dwells.
What is your purpose? To offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. What does that mean? Briefly, it speaks to everything we give ourselves to as a result of the Spirit transforming us. In 1 Peter it’s learning how to trust the Lord when tested through trials. It’s learning to be holy in all our conduct. It’s loving one another from a pure heart. It’s proclaiming God’s excellencies to others. It’s being generally subject to governing authorities. Wives, it’s adorning yourselves with a gentle and quiet spirit. Husbands, it’s living with your wives in an understanding manner. It’s a life of prayer and showing hospitality without grumbling.
Romans 12:1 says, “I appeal to you…by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” How do we thank God for what he has done for us? We give him everything. Unlike our culture, thanksgiving isn’t reserved only for occasions when we receive something. Thanksgiving is an entire way of living in all circumstances.
By his own righteousness, Christ leads many people into God’s holy presence. The outcome is joy-filled worship among God’s people and lives given over to sacrificial devotion to the Lord. Perhaps this Thanksgiving can be a time to remember God’s goodness toward you in Christ. Even now as we come to the Supper, let’s recall how God’s steadfast love worked through Jesus Christ to bring us into God’s presence.
But then let’s go further. Let’s also consider how we might present our bodies for the Lord’s use in his kingdom. How might the Lord be calling you to worship him through sacrifice, through new and greater devotion to his kingdom? Is it vigilance in prayer? Is it more efforts in evangelism? Is it hospitality? Is it meeting needs in the nursery? Is it becoming family for someone without family this Thanksgiving? The Lord is worthy of our devotion. He is good. His steadfast love endures forever.