Tom Hayes

Early Thanksgiving

John 11 & 12

I was five minutes late picking up my daughter from school. Of course, it was just another part of a stretched day. I got started a little late in the office. Then, a friend came by later than he had promised. The package I had hoped would arrive earlier arrived several days late, too. It was one of those days!

Not many things take place early. We have heard of an early discharge from the hospital. And, I have caught the early flight a few times when returning from meetings. Sometimes, we hear of someone retiring early from his or her job. Of course, there are a few unusual people we call “early birds” because they always show up ahead of time.

There’s an interesting account in the life of Christ found in John chapter eleven. Jesus gave thanks to the Father before the miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection had ever taken place. He triumphed before His prayer was answered, before the moment of victory came. He celebrated with what I’m calling an “Early Thanksgiving.”

I’m aware that none of us is Jesus! But, He is our Example, our Pattern. And, as the venerable commentator has written, His actions here teach us that, “We ought to meet the first appearances of the return of prayer with early thanksgivings” (Matthew Henry). Trustfully, the Lord will help us be “early” in this area of our lives.

1. A Heavenly Matter

Any illustration of thanksgiving is worthy of our consideration. Whether it is witnessed in the altars of Abraham, the Psalms of David, or the letters of the Apostle Paul, a thankful heart, an appreciative spirit, a grateful life, is a wonderful treasure. Since Christ is the perfect Example, we want to gaze upon His words of gratitude with great interest.

The concerns of Jesus were heavenly! According to the inspired record, just before He gave thanks, “Jesus lifted up His eyes” (John 11:41). Although He was aware of everything and everyone around Him, His heart made its spiritual ascent. True thanksgiving, then, must begin with affections that are set “on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2).

The communion of Jesus was heavenly! As Jesus lifted up His eyes, He began His prayer and thanksgiving by addressing the “Father” (11:41). His involvement was not with Mary and Martha at this moment. He was not fellowshipping with the Jews who had come to mourn with the family. He was enjoying a special intimacy with His Father. An attitude of thanksgiving will take us beyond human relationships.

The conversation of Jesus was heavenly! Notice, while Jesus gave thanks, it was not an earthly matter that He discussed. Rather, He spoke of prayer from a heavenly perspective, saying, “Father, I thank Thee, that Thou has heard Me.” All the personal references (I, Thee, Thou, Me) in this statement remind us that sincere thanksgiving is a very personal issue between each of us and our God.

2. A Hard Moment

The environment was not one of happiness and excitement. It was a very bleak hour. Hearts were heavy and saddened by the happenings of recent days. Yet, in this most difficult situation, Jesus celebrated with the Father. He saw a ray of light in the darkness and could not help but render thanks.

Jesus gave thanks in a moment of death! Mary and Martha both felt that if Jesus had come earlier, their brother would not have died (see 11:21, 22). But, he did die. And, when Jesus arrived on the scene, Lazarus, His beloved friend, “had lain in the grave four days already” (11:17). In giving thanks, Jesus exemplified that we can be genuinely thankful to God in the hardest of times.

Jesus gave thanks in a moment of distress! It was a time when sorrow prevailed. Mary broke down and wept when she came to the tomb. The Jews, whether out of compassion or hypocrisy, wept along with her. Even, “Jesus wept” (11:35). But, that was not the end of the story! In the midst of sorrow and pain, the “Man of sorrows” (Isa. 53:3) offered “the sacrifice of praise . . . giving thanks to His name” (Heb. 13:16). It was as though Jesus used thanksgiving as an ointment for His grief.

Jesus gave thanks in a moment of discouragement! The scene was everything but an encouragement to praise. The Jews complained because Jesus didn’t come before Lazarus died (see 11:37). And, when Jesus commanded them to take away the stone, Martha even hinted that it was too late to bother, saying, “Lord, by this time, he stinketh” (11:39). Christ’s thanksgiving, however, reveals that praise rises to any occasion.

3. A Heavenly Matter

It must be underlined that Jesus anticipated the miraculous. His thanksgiving was brought to God with this in mind. He thanked Him for what was to happen before it happened. He anticipated the divine! He hoped in the heavenly! Likewise, our early thanksgivings must look ahead, even though what is to be may not yet be fully realized.

Jesus expected a supernatural force! Immediately, when the stone had been removed from the mouth of the sepulcher, Jesus began to give thanks for the resurrection of Lazarus. Oh, dear friends, let us not lose hope concerning those who are yet dead in sins, or for the relationships that have died in our lives. Let us give thanks expectantly! “Weeping may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psa. 30:5).

Jesus envisioned a special freedom! Not only was Christ’s thanksgiving for Lazarus’ resurrection, but also for his restoration. He would be liberated from the shackles of the grave! This certainly encourages us about the days ahead. May we give the Lord early thanksgiving! The tombs will release their captives! The grave-clothes will be discarded! All that is bound will be set at liberty!

Jesus entertained a sweet fellowship! He knew Lazarus would be reunited with all his friends. And, he would soon return to the little Bethany household. He would also take his place in the community. Most significantly, Lazarus would sit “at the table with Him” (12:2), and dine with the Master. Although being close to some appears impossible, may we anticipate a renewal of fellowship, and give thanks!

Many enjoy Thanksgiving Day with their families. Because of my schedule, I have missed some of these Thanksgiving get-to-gethers. On several occasions, when my parents knew that one member of the family would not be able to come, they scheduled the meal for another time and we had an “Early Thanksgiving.” Believing that Lord is at work in many areas of our lives, and has great things in store for the future, let’s also have an “Early Thanksgiving.” Amen.