Updated: Dec 10, 2022
This year for Thanksgiving, I wanted to write something fresh that might stand out and help you draw nearer to the Lord. As I thought about it, a new question entered my mind: “What did Jesus thank God for?” What intrigued me about this question is that I remembered that Jesus specifically thanked God for His own body and blood. That’s the main point I want to come back to, but as I pondered, it also struck me that Jesus did not give thanks when He prayed the Lord’s Prayer, and He did not give thanks while hanging on the cross. As I mused, the only other thing I could think of that Jesus gave thanks for, is when He fed the multitude and also when He acknowledged that God heard His prayer at the tomb of Lazarus when He raised Lazarus from the dead. Apart from that, nothing else entered my mind. I couldn’t think of any other time when Jesus gave thanks. So I got my concordance out and decided to start researching in earnest for the purpose of taking inventory of all the times when Jesus gave thanks.
Lo and behold, there seem to be no other instances. Only these three occasions: giving thanks for the bread and fish miraculously provided for the crowd (Matthew 15:36, Mark 8:6, John 6:11, 23), giving thanks to God for hearing His prayer amidst the faithlessness of everyone else at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:41), and humbly–astoundingly–Jesus giving thanks for the bread and the cup of the fruit of vine at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:27, Mark 14:23, Luke 22:17,19), which was Jesus thanking God for giving Him the opportunity to die.
Let’s go back and briefly take a look at these three instances. First, isn’t it interesting how prominent Jesus’ thanks is in the story of the mass feeding of the multitude? In John 6:23, the apostle John appears to treat the place “where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks” as a landmark. John merely could have said, “Oh yeah, that’s the place near Tiberias where all that bread and fish just kept multiplying, such that everyone was able to eat as much as they wanted.” But instead, he marks the spot by recalling “the bread” that everyone ate “after the Lord had given thanks.” The implication perhaps is that perfect thankfulness can trigger a miracle.
As for the Lazarus story, I happen to know a bit more about it due to my dissertation that unveiled to me the fact that Jesus raged at the tomb of Lazarus. He “snorted like a horse” (Greek: embrimaomai), and in my opinion, the reason why is because the people were so reactive to Lazarus’ death that they overlooked the faithfulness of God. Death seized and arrested their attention and torqued their perspective such that no one, not even Mary, took heart at Jesus’ words before Lazarus died: “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it” (John 11:4).
Notice when Jesus gave thanks, He thanked God before He raised up Lazarus. He thanked God for having heard Him, even before He called out Lazarus’ name. Does that mean Jesus had prayed for Lazarus upon hearing he was sick? When did Jesus pray the prayer that He thanked God for hearing?
Remarkably, the parallel is there. Just as Jesus thanked God first – before the resurrection of Lazarus – so Jesus thanked God for His own body and blood before He even died, before He was raised up miraculously. Luke puts it this way: “And when He had taken a cup and given thanks . . . and when He had taken some bread and given thanks …” Jesus said, “This is My Body, which is given for you . . . this cup . . . is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:17,19)
What can we learn from this?
Gratitude is not mere politeness. Jesus didn’t resort to cultural politeness. He didn’t muster up a “thank you” when sour wine was brought to him on a hyssop branch after He said, “I thirst” (John 19:28). Every thank you Jesus had was to God. He was genuinely grateful to God – so grateful that He entrusted Himself entirely to God, even while being horrifically stripped of His human dignity, and tortured, and killed by way of illegal crucifixion (Mark 6;34; Psalm 22).
Gratitude is truthfulness. Real gratitude aligns with the truth of the glory of God. Jesus’ gratitude was faith-filled precisely because Jesus was so truthful. He knew God. He knew without a doubt (James 1:6-7) that God is completely trustworthy, abounding in love with gracious, overflowing generosity.
Thankfulness is transformational. Let us become so thankful that we give thanks to God as Jesus did. Who knows? God just might work another miracle.