Seventy-one percent of the earth’s surface is covered with water and I have gone swimming, diving, or snorkeling in as much of it as I have been able. I spent a lot of time in the Atlantic, a little in the Pacific, and have dipped my toe in the Indian Ocean. Never made it to the Arctic. Growing up in Taiwan, I pretty much lived in the Morrison Academy swimming pool in the summer and in college, I took a SCUBA class which took us diving off Palm Beach. We explored “the Wrecks” in about 60 feet of water and did a drift dive 90 feet down in the Gulf Stream. Jenni and I have gone snorkeling in John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo several times – it is one of our favorite hobbies.
There is one place I’ve never been, and you’ve never been. No one has, It is called the Mariana Trench. Off the coast of Japan, it is the deepest place on earth. At 36,000 feet, it is 7000 feet deeper than Mt. Everest is tall. At that depth, there is a world we’ve never experienced and cannot understand. Some have asserted we know more about space than about life in the depths of the trench.
Here at Thanksgiving, we celebrate those things that matter most to Americans – family, food, and football, and now, I suppose, Black Friday. I’ve loved this holiday since I was a kid, feasting with family and playing pickup football games with my brother and cousins in the backyard. It is the first uniquely American holiday.
It is good and godly that we stop to give thanks for life’s blessings, for the material things God with which has blessed us. Too often we are like the 9 lepers who went on their way without stopping to thank the Lord, or like spoiled children who take the Father’s blessings as duties. We only notice them when they stop. We ought to say thank you to Lord of All for our homes, our families, our churches, our nation, and every good thing we have in this life.
However, as the Redeemed of Jesus Christ, we must have a deeper Thanksgiving than the world experiences. Paul commanded us to give thanks both “in everything” and “for everything.” We are to live in a constant state of thanksgiving that is not dependent on the things of this world.
I will not be sorry to bid adieu to 2020, and neither will most of you. It has been the hardest year of my ministry and in many other ways, it has been a stinker of a year. As Thanksgiving approaches tomorrow, the question I must answer is whether my Thanksgiving is shallow, like the world knows. Any lost person can be thankful for good things, right? It doesn’t take the Holy Spirit working in me to walk in gratitude when the world is my oyster (whatever that phrase means). Do I have a Mariana Trench depth to my Thanksgiving? Am I living in a way that only those who know Jesus and are walking in the fullness of the Holy Spirit can understand?
We tend to live in slavery to our circumstances. When things are good, we are good. We treat people based on how they treat us. Our joy is dependent on life’s circumstances. We have peace when the storms of life calm down and things are smooth. The biblical concepts, the demands of Christ, that we love our enemies, that we have rejoice always, and that we have a peace that surpasses understanding, these concepts are too often lost on us. We live reactively when we are supposed to live “Christ-actively.” Christ-active living is when our attitudes and actions are governed by what Christ has done for us, not what is going on in the world. We love because he first loved us. We love our enemies because Christ loved us when we were his enemies. We have joy because of Christ’s work in us. We have peace because we live with the sense of Christ’s sovereign love for us.
This is supernatural, a work of the Spirit within. Anyone can have a great attitude when things are great, but when the world is falling apart and we walk on the basis of the work of Christ in us – that is Mariana Trench depth!
The Bible reveals a Foundation of Thanksgiving that keeps us off the roller coaster of circumstances and emotions.
The Foundation of Thanksgiving
The Redeemed live by the work of Christ not the tyranny of circumstances and emotions. We see, in Hebrews 7-10, a better way of life than we could have in this world. The unknown writer of the book differentiates the life founded on Christ from life under the Old Covenant. We see in these verses a foundation for Thanksgiving that works just as well in the maelstrom of COVID-19 as it can in glory days of youth and health. It works when the stars are aligned and when everything is spinning out of control. Examine Hebrews 7:22-25.
Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant. Now many have become Levitical priests, since they are prevented by death from remaining in office. 24 But because he remains forever, he holds his priesthood permanently. 25 Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them.
We give thanks because of the New Covenant, the better covenant, given to us through Jesus Christ. This is the foundation of our thanksgiving – the work Jesus did to bring us into the new covenant. The whole book of Hebrews can be summed up in three words. “Jesus is better.”
Jesus can save to the uttermost – completely, totally, and infinitely – all those who come to God through him. Not only that, once we come to God, he intercedes for us. He is on our side, seated at the right hand of God advocating for us. This has been a tough year for all of us, and a totally rotten, smelly, stinky year for some of us. But we have a foundation for thanksgiving laid by Jesus Christ who saved us completely and promised to be an ever-present help and support in our lives every day.
The Old Covenant System was not Simple.
Life under the Old covenant was anything but simple. Access to God was limited. When Moses went up on the mountain, Exodus 19:10-12 tells us that a boundary was set around the mountain to prevent people from coming up to where God was. There was a separation between God and mankind, caused by our sin. The law, which God was about to reveal to Moses, set forth a system of sacrifices and festivals and practices which were complicated for people to follow. Read Hebrews 9:1-10. Here are some snippets from that.
Now the first covenant also had regulations for ministry and an earthly sanctuary. For a tabernacle was set up, and in the first room, which is called the holy place, were the lampstand, the table, and the presentation loaves. Behind the second curtain was a tent called the most holy place… but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people.
It was anything but simple. To worship God, you had to walk to Jerusalem, ascend the Temple mount, bring an offering, give it to the priest, and let it be sacrificed. The high priest could only go into the presence of God once a year with a blood sacrifice. Not only was it hard, but according to Hebrews 10:1-4, the system didn’t work.
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Hebrews 10:1
Verse 11 is clear as a bell.
Every priest stands day after day ministering and offering the same sacrifices time after time, which can never take away sins.
The repetitive sacrifices of the OT system could never actually deal with human sin.
Jesus’ Better Way
Our Savior had a better way. Ever wonder why Jewish leaders and loyalists within Christianity sometimes disliked Paul and those who followed the gospel he preached? Listen to these statements.
He entered the most holy place once for all time, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow, sprinkling those who are defiled, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works so that we can serve the living God? Hebrews 9:12-14
Every priest stands day after day ministering and offering the same sacrifices time after time, which can never take away sins. 12 But this man, after offering one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God. He is now waiting until his enemies are made his footstool. For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are sanctified. Hebrews 10:11-14
The Old Covenant (Jewish Law) system failed but Jesus provided a better way. His system worked. He brought us salvation and new lives.
The New Covenant Blessings
The New Covenant in Christ’s blood gives us many blessings. Some of those are enumerated in Hebrews 10:19-24.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…
In the New Covenant, we:
- Confidently enter God’s presence. The veil is torn and we are no longer separated from God.
- Have a Great High Priest who ministers to our needs and intercedes for us.
- Draw near to God in full assurance. Nothing hinders us, because Jesus paid it all. The wall is gone.
- Hold fast to our confession of hope. Even in dark times, like 2020, we have hope in Christ. The world is not our hope. Circumstances are not our hope. Elections are not our hope. Jesus is. Rejoice and give thanks!
- We have one another and can encourage and edify one another.
Howard Hughes is a tragic story. He lived his last years as a pauper, even though he was an enormously wealthy man. He did not access what he had. What a tragedy that we, as the Redeemed, live under the tyranny of the world, under circumstances and our own emotions, instead of being “Christ-Active.” I wonder if that is how God sometimes sees us when we fail to walk in all the riches of Christ?
When you and I learn to walk in Christ, even in dark times, we will experience a depth of life we’ve not known.