************ Sermon on Psalm 136 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 23, 2006
Thanksgiving Day 2006
Ruth and I went to visit a cousin in Chicago and worshiped with them on a Sunday. During prayer requests one lady stood up and said, "I want to praise God that we have not had any murders on my street for two months." Another lady said, "We still have prostitutes and drug pushers in my neighborhood but I want to praise God that their numbers seem to be going down." A man said, "I want to thank God that the people who broke into our house did not hurt us."
I doubt if anyone here has anything that is even close to this. We sure have a lot to be thankful for, don't we?!
An attitude of thankfulness is contagious. Someone who has a positive attitude about life makes others feel good about life as well. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. Negative people breed negativity in those they come in contact with.
Believers have struggles in life. I look over our church family and see some who have money problems. Others have problems with adult single children who don't walk in God's ways. Then there are those who have tension with older teens in the home. Still others have marital difficulties. There are those with health problems – cancer, heart attack, blocked arteries, M.S., Parkinson's, surgery, and the like. There are some families who struggle with mental, physical, or emotional disabilities in family members. All of us daily face our sworn enemies – the devil, the world, and our very own sinful nature – who never stop attacking us, tempting us, leading us from sin to sin. Yes, believers have struggles in life.
However, believers – of all people – have many, many reasons to be filled with thanksgiving.
Topic: ThanksgivingHere was a man who knew thanksgiving has nothing to do with outward circumstances, regardless of how good or how bad those circumstances may be.
Title: Now Thank We All Our God
In 1636, amid the darkness of the Thirty Years' War, a German pastor, Martin Rinkart, buried 5,000 of his parishioners in one year, an average of 15 a day. His parish was ravaged by war, death, and economic disaster. In the heart of that darkness, with the cries of fear outside his window, he sat down and wrote some words which we have put to music:
Now thank we all our God
With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done,
In whom His world rejoices;
Who, from our mothers's arms,
Has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.
Psalm 136 is a song of gratitude. Though the psalm was written nearly three thousand years ago, the things that lead the psalmist to praise and thank God still apply to us today.
I Give Thanks to God
It is a tradition on Thanksgiving Day for families to sit down to a big turkey dinner. After dinner they do things like play games, watch football, go hunting, or just visit with each other. I'm afraid many families will do this today without even once thinking of God or mentioning His name.
The psalmist knows better than this. That's why he starts off his psalm the way he does:
(Ps 136:1-3) Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever. (2) Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever. (3) Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever.The psalmist knows that all blessings flow from God. So he makes clear at the very beginning that it is God he is giving thanks and praise to.
There are many gods competing for people's devotion and love today:
Allah, the god of Islam, claims the adoration of millions in the Middle East and elsewhere.
The thousands of gods of the Hindu faith are worshiped by millions, especially in India and surrounding nations.
Confucius continues to be worshiped by millions of Chinese.
The New Age movements worships the self.
Many in the Western world worship the god of Mammon or money or materialism.
The psalmist reminds us that it is not enough to be thankful. We also have to be thankful to the right god. There is only one God Who deserves praise and thanks. This God is the LORD, the God of gods, the LORD of lords. This is the God Who loves us in Jesus Christ with a never-ending love. This God is the only true God. This God is the one, only God. Only this God has the power to determine all things that come to pass. So to Him the psalmist brings praise and thanksgiving.
II Thanks for Creation
God's creative works are all worthy of praise – regardless of their size. Whether looming over the horizon or teeming under the lens of a microscope, God's creative power leads us to grateful praise.
The psalmist celebrates the works of God's hands in verses 4-9:
(Ps 136:4-9) to him who alone does great wonders, His love endures forever. (5) who by his understanding made the heavens, His love endures forever. (6) who spread out the earth upon the waters, His love endures forever. (7) who made the great lights-- His love endures forever. (8) the sun to govern the day, His love endures forever. (9) the moon and stars to govern the night; His love endures forever.
Think about all that God has made: the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, a sunset, a sunrise, a field of sunflowers, the Rocky Mountains, the Columbian Ice Fields in Jasper National Park. Think about the number and variety of what was made by God: 685,000 kinds of insects, 250,000 species of plants, millions upon billions of stars and planets.
For the beauty and grandeur of Creation we want to give thanks to the Lord.
III Thanks for Salvation
The psalmist next calls us to praise and thank God for His love, His mercy, His grace; he calls us to thank and praise God for salvation. He talks about this salvation in verses 10-16:
(Ps 136:10-16) to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt His love endures forever. (11) and brought Israel out from among them His love endures forever. (12) with a mighty hand and outstretched arm; His love endures forever. (13) to him who divided the Red Sea asunder His love endures forever. (14) and brought Israel through the midst of it, His love endures forever. (15) but swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea; His love endures forever. (16) to him who led his people through the desert, His love endures forever.The psalmist is talking about the Exodus and praises God as he thinks about His great and gracious acts.
The Exodus has its New Testament counterpart – the Cross of Christ. Just as the Old Testament saints rejoiced and danced and praised and thanked God for the deliverance from Egypt, so the New Testament saints should express undying gratitude to God for redeeming us from our Egypt of sin and misery.
Imagine yourself released as a slave in Egypt and brought through the Red Sea. Your redemption is greater – much greater – than that. For that you want to give God thanks.
Topic: ThanksgivingWe are like that young man. We are alive because someone else – Jesus – died. That is so overwhelming, so awesome, so big, so much, that we can scarce take it in.
Title: Alive Because Someone Died
An article in the September 1991 National Geographic tells of a young man from Hanover, Pennsylvania, who was badly burned in a boiler explosion. To save his life, doctors covered him with 6,000 square centimeters of donor skin.
A journalist asked him, "Do you ever think about the donor who saved your life?"
The young man replied, "To be alive because someone else died is too big, too much, that I can scarce take it in."
IV Thanks for Victory
The psalmist also calls us to praise and thank God for victory over enemies. He looks back to Israel and her travels through the wilderness and to the Promised Land. Upon that journey Israel faced great enemies. But God granted her victory over every one of them:
(Psa 136:17-24) who struck down great kings, His love endures forever. (18) and killed mighty kings-- His love endures forever. (19) Sihon king of the Amorites His love endures forever. (20) and Og king of Bashan-- His love endures forever. (21) and gave their land as an inheritance, His love endures forever. (22) an inheritance to his servant Israel; His love endures forever. (23) to the One who remembered us in our low estate His love endures forever. (24) and freed us from our enemies, His love endures forever.
As I mentioned before, God's New Testament people also have enemies: the devil, the world, and their very own sinful flesh. Those enemies are sworn to destroy us and never stop attacking and hating us. The God Who protected the Israelites and granted them victory also protects us and grants us victory. For this we want to thank and praise His name.
V Thanks for Food
In the second last verse the psalmist thanks God for His gift of food. He reminds us that God "gives food to every creature."
I wonder if we realize what a blessing this is? Tell me, what happens in many of our homes? Many kids and parents complain about what is on the table in front of them. And, we dare to do this when many people around the world would be delighted to eat the potato peelings we throw in the garbage. We dare to do this when many people around the world go to bed hungry every night. We dare to do this when our cupboards and freezers and fridges are full.
Let us always remember to give God thanks for our food.
Title: His Love Endures Forever
During the time of the Arian controversy in the church, Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, was the most powerful defender of the truth concerning the deity of Christ. The heretic Arius, who boasted many followers, claimed Jesus was merely God's first creature, rather than God taking on human flesh.
The controversy turned violent. Athanasius and his followers were attacked in church one night. Many were wounded and killed. But Athanasius was calm. During a worship service following the attack he said the opening words of Psalm 136: "Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good ..." The congregation spontaneously replied, "His love endures forever."
Again, thanksgiving has little or nothing to do with the outward circumstances of life. Rather, it has to do with the Lord and His love for us. So, give thanks. Be grateful. Praise Him from Whom all blessings flow.
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