Text: Psalm 100: 4 Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. 5 For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations.
“Thanksgiving” is an unnatural activity. “Giving thanks” has to be taught and learned. Parents know that. One of the first things you teach children is to say “thank you” when they receive something. “Now what do you say?” you remind them. “Thank you.” Saying “thank you” is a piece of good manners, a small but significant sign that we are higher than the animals. We say “thank you.”
America has a long history of saying “thank you.” From the legendary thanksgiving meal of the early Pilgrims, to our current 4th Thursday in the month of November declared by President Lincoln in 1863 during the Civil War, we have had the healthy habit of collectively giving thanks.
Yet today, as Christians we do not to give thanks primarily because of a tradition dating back to the pilgrims or because of a national recognition of this holiday. Rather, at the close of another harvest season and also the close of another church year, we give thanks because have much to think about. These words “thinking” and “thanking” are related. Before a person can thank properly, he or she must think properly. Those who think on and count their blessings are moved to thank Him who graciously gives all.
Our text exhorts us to give thanks to God, to “Enter His Gates With Thanksgiving” for His divine goodness, His everlasting mercy, and for His enduring truth.
We enter His gates with thanksgiving, first, for His divine goodness. The Lord alone is God (v. 3). Proper understanding of God begins with knowing “that the Lord, He is God” (v. 3). Many people think that they’re the ones in charge of their lives and that they are accountable to no one but themselves for their thoughts, words, and actions. The unwise think that they can be their own gods, to their own condemnation. Christians, however, think on the LORD God as the living source from whom all blessings flow.
The LORD is our Creator. “It isHe who has made us, and not we ourselves” (v. 3b). We are completely dependent upon God for life. God created all things by His Word. We belong to God because He is our maker and provider. Some people who have accumulated wealth after starting at the bottom and working their way up describe themselves as “self-made men.” However, the LORD is our Maker. Therefore we are not our own but His.
Everything that we are and have is a gift of God’s goodness and grace. We may well think of the explanation of the first article of the Creed in the Catechism: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses.” God did not only create us and then leave us to take care of ourselves. He did not wind up the universe like a divine clockmaker and leave it to run on its own. Instead, He “still preserves them… He richly and daily provides me with food and clothing, home and family, property and goods, and all that I need to support this body and life; that He protects me from all danger, guards and keeps me from all evil.” To get more specific, in our day-to-day lives, He furnishes us with health, family, farmland, forest, town, city, police force, work opportunities, cars that take us to work, paychecks, and many more blessings.
Why does God do all this for us? Are we so deserving of this? Psalm 14 (:1) reminds us that this is not the case for, “There is none who does good.” Instead, God does ” all this purely out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.” How do we, in faith, respond to God’s gifts? “For all this I am in duty bound to thank and praise, to serve and obey Him.” When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread” we pray that He would “lead us to acknowledge” His divine goodness in providing us all we need to keep this body and life and “to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.”
Secondly, we enter His gates with thanksgiving for His everlasting mercy. The “courts” and ‘gates” in our text refer to the temple, the Old Testament place of worship. There God would meet His people and bless them through His Word. There, sacrifices and offerings were made which pointed ahead to Christ’s once and for all sacrifice for sin.
By nature, we have no right to stand in God’s presence. God created mankind to serve Him, but the whole human race went astray like lost sheep. Our sinful nature produces sinful thoughts, words, and actions. We neglect God’s Word, use God’s name carelessly, disobey our parents, think hateful thoughts or even physically harm others. We let our mind wander into lust. We envy those things that others have that are out of reach for us. As a result, we are locked out of God’s presence by our sin. We deserve to be barred from God’s sanctuary both now and in eternity.
God, in His everlasting mercy, sent His Son Jesus to be our Redeemer. A “redeemer” is someone who pays off the debts of another person, and so purchases their freedom. We confess in the explanation to the second article of the creed that Jesus “has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil.” What price did Jesus pay for our freedom? He bought us back to God “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death.” With St. John we exclaim, “Behold what manner of love that the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1). This is God’s everlasting mercy, inconceivable to our human minds in both its extent and duration. There is not a sinner in the universe whose sins have not been paid for.
As a result of Jesus’ atoning work, “We are His people and the sheep of His pasture” (3c). Jesus has broken the barrier down between us and God. We can now “enter the gates” of His sanctuary. God sent Jesus, the Good Shepherd to lead us back to Him. Jesus returned us to God’s flock. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who” lays down His life for the Sheep.” He not only “purchased and won” us, but as our Good Shepherd, takes care of us and promises that no one will take His sheep out of His hands.
Our text reminds us, “We are His people and the sheep of His pasture” (3c). Who sought you out in your wanderings? Who brought you home to the flock of God? Who feeds you yet daily in green pastures? Who protects you from all your enemies? Who is the one source of all that you enjoy? Can any of this be ascribed to yourselves? No. He that has given you all these things is God, and He has done it, not for your righteousness sake, but for the glory of His own great name.’ “You have nothing, which you have not received” as a free gift from Him. Indeed, then you have every reason to “make a joyful shout to the Lord,” to “serve the Lord with gladness,” to “come before His presence with singing” (vv. 1-2).
In His everlasting mercy, Christ has redeemed us, “In order that I might be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”
Thirdly, we enter His courts with thanksgiving for His enduring truth. “His faithfulness continues through all generations” (5c, NIV). God’s enduring truth and faithfulness was the subject of a “Peanuts” cartoon. Lucy and Linus are looking out the window, watching it rain. Lucy begins the conversation: “Boy, look at it rain…what if it floods the whole world?” Linus responds, “It will never do that… In the ninth chapter of Genesis, God promised Noah that this would never happen again, and the sign of the promise is the rainbow.” Relieved, Lucy sighs, “You’ve taken a great load off my mind…” Linus concludes, “Sound theology has a way of doing that!”
We live in a rapidly changing world. At the same time, we live in a perishing world. In this world of very few, if any constants, in which we know that we ourselves are perishing, is there anything we can depend on to stay the same? Thankfully, there is, God’s enduring truth, His faithfulness. This truth is made known to us in God’s Word. Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” At the center of God’s Word is Jesus Christ, the embodiment of the truth. He said of Himself, that He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” He is the only way to the Father and the “Truth that sets us free.”
By nature, we do not of ourselves know this truth or believe in it. We “cannot by [our] own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, [our] Lord, or come to Him.” Yet God our Savior “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” 1 Timothy 2:3b-4). How we come to know this truth? Through His Word and Sacrament, the Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”
God’s faithfulness is shown us day by day. “He daily and richly forgives me and all believers all our sins.” “His truth endures to all generations” (v. 5c). The ‘faithfulness” of His promises and of His love will stand from one generation to the next. “The Word of the Lord stands forever.” Not a jot or letter of it shall ever fail. God will remain faithful to us, even when we doubt or falter in our faith. As the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). We can rest securely, placing our trust in God’s enduring truth and faithfulness. “His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations” (v. 5, NIV). God will remain faithful to us unto the end of our earthly lives and beyond, for all eternity. With Luther, we confess, “at the last day He will raise up me and all the dead and will grant me and all believers in Christ eternal life.”
True worship of God is based on knowing who God is and what He has done. St. Augustine wrote, “We count on God’s mercy for our past mistakes, on God’s love for our present needs, on God’s sovereignty for our future.” We can sing a joyful song to the Lord because He has made us and redeemed us and sanctified us. Since God is good, loving and faithful, we know that His promises will stand firm forever. The more we think about God’s gracious gifts, the more we are prompted to thank Him, to “enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise,” to “come before Him with joyful songs.” Thanksgiving is the result of right Christian thinking. Joy and gladness, thanksgiving and praise flow naturally from hearts and lips that know the Lord’s goodness. Let us come before Him with joyful songs and pray, “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 136:1). Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria