Thanks Be To God! (Rom. 7:24,25a)
National Day of Thanksgiving (November 25, 2021)
“What a Wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Sound like an odd text for Thanksgiving Day? No doubt it is somewhat out of the ordinary fare for such a day as this, but certainly it is not inappropriate. After all, we all have those days and times that we become so disgusted with ourselves over certain failures, shortcomings, or weaknesses that we actually become perturbed and completely disappointed with ourselves. And that happens whether it is a national holiday or not! However, even such disgust and angst ought not stop us from giving thanks to the Lord?
Speaking of being disgusted, what could be more disquieting than hearing that the wrong person is given the credit? It grieves us to no end when others steal away our thunder! Of course, it goes without saying that anytime the opposite happens and something bad or wrong occurs in our lives, at home, on the job, or wherever, we often readily and quickly credit someone else with the responsibility. It is indeed rare for someone to step forward and accept blame for the mess! But wouldn’t it be refreshing to see such honesty and humility!
I’m afraid this is reality; we human beings love to cast blame but just hate to have to accept it. Conversely, we can’t seem to get enough thanks and praise for ourselves all the while being quite stingy with extolling praise or giving credit where it is truly due.
Well, today, we, the people of this nation, are being called upon to give thanks. Presidential proclamations all the way back to George Washington have encouraged us to do so. But to whom do we give thanks?
Oh, I’m sure when we all sit down to feast on turkey and all the trimmings in the comfort of our friends and family that some of us at least will attempt to express our thankfulness in some shape or form. But will it be expressed to a giver, giving credit to whom credit is due, or will it simply be an expression of what we are happy and glad to have?
Interestingly, the Old Testament Hebrew word that is most often translated as “to give thanks” in our English Bibles, quite literally means “to throw upon” or “to heap upon;” that is, to give credit where credit is due. The Greek equivalent is very similar. It means to confess. In other words, to give thanks is to give credit to the person to whom credit is due by acknowledging, or confessing, what that person has done for us.
To whom do we give credit today? To whom do we throw upon much praise as having given us what we have, need, enjoy and/or treasure?
In this text from Romans chapter 7, the apostle Paul certainly leaves no room for doubt as to whom he credits. Boldly he cries out, “Thanks be to God!”
Now, to put this text into some kind of context, it is important for us to understand that this expression of thanksgiving came at the end of some real soul searching on Paul’s part. In the immediately preceding verses, Paul gives vent to the real inner turmoil he was experiencing as a result of trying to be a faithful Christian and live a God-pleasing life. He was absolutely being tortured in his conscience by the painful dilemma of knowing the right thing to do but at the same time being brutally honest with himself of just how totally incapable he had proven to be in carrying it out. On the one hand, he said, “The very commandment of God which was meant to give me life proved ‘to result in death for me; for sin taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me. When the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died (vs 9-11).
Then on the other hand, Paul further laments in his anguish: “Nothing good dwells in my flesh. The good I wish to do, I do not do. I practice the very evil I do not wish. I sold into bondage to sin!” (vs. 18, 14). In all, he was prompted to say in his disgust, “What a wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
What Christian does not know this inner struggle… this disgust with one’s own failures and weaknesses? If there is any sense of our sin and guilt at all in us, we most certainly can and do relate. Daily there’s a wrestling match going on between our new inner spirit given us through the Gospel and Holy Baptism and that old flesh, our sinful nature which we inherited from Adam in our heart and mind. Sometimes it can be so overwhelming that it threatens to destroy all faith and hope left in us! We, too, cry out, “Yes, who can rescue me from this disgusting body of death?”
Thanks be to God, however, Paul answers his own question and in so doing gives full credit to whom credit is due. He states most emphatically, “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
With an humble honesty, Paul was unwilling to take any credit for himself. He acknowledged he was powerless to change his life around or even make a commitment to Jesus! He had not gone from being a murderer of Christians to being and apostle of Christ Jesus by his own efforts or skills or spiritual commitment. “No,” he insisted. “All thanks goes to God! The only reason I did not die in my sins is that God graciously gave His only begotten Son into death as an atonement for me and then mercifully called me and brought His Word and promise to bear in my heart and life and then sent me to carry out His ministry.”
Of course, it was not only for his eternal salvation and sanctification that Paul gave all glory to God. In our Epistle reading, we heard him rejoicing greatly in the Lord for the fact that the Philippians were concerned for his personal welfare and had sent him provisions and support. Paul knew that it was God’s urging and through His providence that the Philippians were able and felt compelled to meet his physical needs. “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever,” he confessed. Likewise, he acknowledged that through thick and thin God was his support. He boldly confessed, “Whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want… I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” Such is true thanksgiving!
To whom do you and I give the credit in our lives? In our Gospel reading this morning we heard Jesus ask a most probing question when only one of the 10 lepers saw fit to return and give Him thanks. With utter amazement Jesus asked, “Were not all cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner? It defies even the conventional morays of decency that these 9 healed lepers could not even acknowledge that Jesus had so graciously given them a new lease on life.
Now, there can be allot of things we can be pleased and happy about in our lives of which we might be truly appreciative and could express our thanksgiving for. Take for example all those things we confessed earlier that our Creator has given us purely out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us; like our body and soul, eyes, ears, and all our members, our reason and all our senses… our clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and home, etc. And yes, there could also be just as many things we can be distressed and unhappy about in our lives of which we are certainly not appreciative nor thankful to have, like sicknesses, bodily ailments, tragedies, deaths of loved ones, and the like.
But in the whole scheme of things there is nothing more important nor more deserving of our utter thankfulness than our rescue from this body of death, as Paul describes it; that is, our salvation from the guilt of our sins which bring us everlasting condemnation, from death which robs us of eternal life, and, of course, from the enemy of God and man, Satan himself, who desires to destroy us.
Of course, then, being truly thankful for this salvation would not be complete and sincere without you and me giving credit to whom credit is due for obtaining it for us. And, that, of course, would be to heap our praises upon no one other than Jesus Christ. He alone, as we also boldly confessed this morning, “has redeemed us, lost and condemned persons, purchased and won us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious, blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that we may be God’s own children and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness…”
What good would you and I know apart from Jesus Christ? He is God’s grace and mercy in-fleshed for us. In Him alone does God’s grace become visible and tangible to us. Only in Jesus do we see the reason why God is so gracious to give us all these worldly blessings that we enjoy so much. Only in and through Jesus do our temporal sufferings find their godly purpose to further our sanctification. Only in Jesus do life’s questions find their true answers. Only in Jesus as our Mediator with the Father are all our weaknesses, failures and sins absolved and taken away and all our fears replaced with hopes anchored in eternity. For only Jesus was put to death for our transgressions and raised for our justification (Ro. 4:25).
Yes, it is not thanksgiving until we boldly proclaim: Thanks be to God, through our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen!