November 19, 2023

What Jesus taught about Thanksgiving and Gratitude

Many cultures around the world have a day of Thanksgiving where families gather together, often at the end of harvest season, to thank the Lord for their bounteous blessings. Thanksgiving is a time for us to remember how gracious God has been to us—an opportunity to acknowledge that all we have comes from the Lord. Giving gratitude, obviously, should not be limited to just once a year. The Savior taught by example that giving gratitude should be a part of our everyday lives and that significant power can come to us through giving thanks.

To better understand how to give true thanks, let’s review a few memorable moments from the Savior’s ministry. It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t often talk about giving thanks. Not directly. Instead, He seemed to prefer to teach this principle through example. Here are five stories that exemplify His approach.

The disciples feeding the multitude by James Tissot

First we’ll examine the account of the feeding of the 4000 as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark (see Matthew 15:29-39 and Mark 8:1-10). Jesus had been teaching a multitude near the shores of the Sea of Galilee for several days. As he looked out upon the people, he had compassion on them and asked his disciples to feed them. The disciples, of course, hesitated, reminding Jesus that they lacked any means to purchase a sufficient amount of bread to feed this large multitude. The Savior then asked for all that the disciples had, which was a mere seven loaves and a few small fishes.

Here is where the Lord, by example, demonstrated the sacred power of gratitude. Matthew records: “Taking the seven loaves and the fish, He gave thanks and broke them” (Matthew 15:36 BSB). After He offered this prayer of thanksgiving, the hungry multitude was miraculously fed. The Gospels do not mention if Jesus also blessed the bread. Perhaps He did. But in both Gospel accounts of feeding the 4000, the core idea emphasized is the Lord giving thanks. Jesus seemed so confident this miracle would occur, that instead of requesting a blessing, he simply offered thanks! The Savior’s example appears to stress the idea that instead of focusing all of our energies asking for blessings, we ought to express gratitude for our blessings, including for blessings we may have not yet even received!

Jesus and the ten lepers by Gebhard Fugel

Next, let’s examine the account of the Savior’s healing of the ten lepers (see Luke 17:11-19). As Jesus journeyed with his disciples from Galilee to Jerusalem, they encountered ten lepers who cried unto the Lord to heal them. Jesus instructed them to show themselves to the priests at the temple. As they went, they were all healed of their infirmity. One of the ten who had been healed hurried back to the Savior, fell to the ground and expressed sincere thanksgiving. Christ then gave these potent words: “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18 NIV).

Note that Jesus, who performed the miracle, does not condemn the other nine for not expressing humble thanks to Him or for acknowledging the Savior’s divine power. Instead, he rebukes the other lepers for not giving praise and thanks to God! Jesus might have easily drawn the focus to himself for the miracle he had wrought, but instead he pointed to the Father as the true source of that power. From this we can learn that we should always give praise and glory to God for all he does, instead of seeking praise for even the great things that we might think we have done.

Our third example of giving thanks is found after Jesus had been teaching in Galilee. Perceiving that his disciples and the people were understanding his words, he stops, seemingly in mid-thought, to declare, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes” (Matthew 11:25). It’s as if the Savior could not even contain his gratitude and felt he should immediately give thanks to God for revealing his message to the hearts and minds of those who were listening. [1] Likewise, we should also be quick to give glory to God whenever his words penetrate the understanding of those we teach and minister. We should recognize that, while we may be his instruments in conveying his word, it is ultimately the Spirit of God that reveals truth.

Raising Lazarus from the dead by Anton Robert Leinweber

Fourth, let’s turn to the miraculous account of the Savior raising Lazarus from the dead. As Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem for the last time prior to his final week in mortality, he had been informed that his friend Lazarus was very sick. Still, he delayed his coming for several days. At last when the Savior arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had already been dead and lying in the grave for four days. Lazarus’s devout sisters, Mary and Martha, were deep in mourning, telling Jesus that if only he had arrived sooner, their brother, Lazarus, would have been healed.

Here again Jesus uses this moment to emphasize the eternal significance of gratitude. After arriving at the tomb, the Savior asked them to roll away the stone. John records, “Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’” (John 11:41-43 NIV). Did you catch that? Again, Jesus didn’t request this miracle. Rather, he offered thanks because, as he says, God had already heard him. It was as if the miracle had already transpired. This is how certain the Lord was that Lazarus would, indeed, be raised!

The Last Supper by Andrei Mironov

The final story is from the Last Supper. Only days after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus sat down with his disciples to celebrate the Passover. As part of the meal, the Gospel of Luke declares, “And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves…. And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them.” (Luke 22:17-19). This must be regarded as the most meaningful, consequential moment of gratitude from any of the four Gospels. 

Here is our Savior Jesus Christ, fully aware of the heart wrenching events that await him over the next 24 hours. In his moment of greatest trial and hardship, Jesus does not turn to bitterness, but instead he turns to gratitude! Even in these very tokens, the bread and wine, which foreshadow his coming suffering and death, he thanks God for his blessings! While we can only speculate on why the Savior gave these words, it would seem that through gratitude, Jesus received the additional strength and power he needed to overcome all things. As we gather each Sabbath to remember the emblems of his sacrifice, let us follow Christ’s example in giving gratitude to God for the extraordinary gift of his son, even Jesus Christ!

Everything we have, all that we are, and everything we may become, is in direct consequence of our Heavenly Father, whose greatest joy is reflected in the reality that he so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son here to earth. Why did he send him? To save us. To perform the ultimate sacrifice that forever bridges the impassable gulf of death and hell so that we can be received into his kingdom and inherit his eternal glory, if we will just receive the Savior.

This season, and all the year round, let us follow the example of the Savior, who on so many occasions, instead of seeking blessings, chose to express gratitude. Who recognized God in all things. And who, even in his darkest moments of life, gave thanks for the blessings he had been given. As we follow the Savior, may we learn to “seek and expect miracles” [2] knowing that the Father also always hears our prayers because of his son, Jesus Christ!

Script written by Daniel Smith and Chris Heimerdinger

[2] President Russell M. Nelson, The Power of Spiritual Momentum

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