Thanksgiving and Atheism

The Sermon on the Mount is the greatest sermon ever preached. The Lord Jesus Christ preached it, which is reason enough for it to occupy first place. But moreover, the truth delivered is unapologetically confrontational. Of course, that’s the nature of the gospel! Spanning three chapters in the Gospel According to Matthew, the truth proclaimed by Jesus [the Word made flesh] is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, and joints and marrow. Indeed, the truth is sufficient to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12).

The Beatitudes of Matthew 5:1-12 deal with the condition of the heart – the attitude of the heart, which is why some scholars refer to them as the “attitudes of the kingdom.” They describe the character traits of someone who is a citizen of the kingdom of God. They [and only they] are the recipients of God’s blessing and approval. The truth causes us to examine the reality of our own sinful hearts. Are we truly believers of the Lord Jesus? Have we truly received God’s grace and forgiveness? Do we really understand what it means to be a follower of Christ? It’s not a matter of admitting, believing, confessing and praying a prayer; it’s a matter of receiving a new heart and becoming a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17-21). If our hearts have been transformed by the power of the gospel then our actions will reflect it. This is the point that Jesus is driving at.

The first four Beatitudes (vv. 3-7) deal with our vertical relationship with God (being poor in spirit, weeping/mourning over the reality of sin, being meek and gentle/humble, and being hungry and thirsty for righteousness). The second four Beatitudes (vv. 8-12) deal with our horizontal relationships with others (showing mercy/forgiveness, seeking purity, promoting peace in all things, and enduring persecution).

Contextually, we must note that Jesus surveys the character traits in verses 3-9 and then gives a big left hook in verses 10-12. It’s not subtly surprising it’s sensationally shocking! It causes us to pause, reflect and take a deep spiritual breath at what has just been said. Let’s not miss this. Jesus moves from talking about the condition of the heart to persecution and giving thanks. In essence, will we live for His glory even if it means persecution? Are we willing to endure persecution and give thanks for the sake of Christ? Are we willing to die for Him? Is our faith that valuable to us?

If the answer is “yes”, then we must also accept His two-fold assignment of being the salt of the earth and the light of the world (vv. 13-16). We must seek to influence and preserve the world for Christ and we must seek to dispel darkness with the truth of Christ – even in the midst of persecution and suffering. Does Jesus really mean that we can rejoice and be glad? Can we learn to give thanks in the midst of persecution? YES! We must realize that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

Jesus follows the Beatitudes with the command to be salt and light. He reminds the disciples that they are part of the kingdom – they are part of a move of God! When we begin to understand that we are part of the kingdom of God then we will begin to live as though nothing else matters! Sickness, pain, illness, persecution and death – nothing can defeat us (1 Cor. 15:50-58). For this reason, we “rejoice and be glad for great is our reward in heaven” (Matt. 5:12). This was the attitude of the prophets of old, many of which gave their lives for their faith. This has been the case throughout the history of the church.

As we approach Thanksgiving, may we pause and give God thanks. Thank Him not just for what He has done, but for who He is. May we seek not His hand, but His face. Regardless of the circumstances of your life right now, there is much reason to praise the LORD and give thanks to Him with all your heart (Psalm 111:1). You are also not alone; you are part of the kingdom of God!

I recently read an article about outspoken atheist and well-known speaker and author, Christopher Hitchens. He was diagnosed with metastasized esophageal cancer in June. The latest doctors report indicates that he has a chance of remission, but the prognosis is not good.

Hitchens made the following statement:

“One of my occasionally silly thoughts is: I wish I was suffering in a good cause — a cause larger than myself. Or, larger than just the mere survival. If you’re in pain and being tortured, and you felt it was helping the liberation of humanity, then you can bear it better, I think.” * 

Can an atheist give thanks? To whom do they give thanks? Can they suffer for a good cause that is larger than themselves? Can they experience pain and torture for the purpose of helping the liberation of humanity?

Only salt and light can give thanks. Only salt and light can acknowledge that every good and perfect gift comes from their Father above (James 1:17). Only salt and light can suffer for a good cause that is bigger than themselves – the kingdom of the gospel. Only salt and light can suffer and be persecuted for the liberation of humanity. The gospel is the redemptive plan of God to liberate sinners from the shackles of sin. Jesus came to liberate humanity.

As Christians, we have every reason to be thankful. We also have every reason to pray for Christopher Hitchens [and the like]. May we pray that they come to experience the God of the Bible – this side of eternity.

May we have an attitude of gratitude as we give thanks to the LORD with all our heart!

Happy Thanksgiving!

* http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130917506

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