A customary greeting for today is to wish another a “Happy Thanksgiving.” In many ways that is a good greeting. After all, who would want to be wished a Miserable Thanksgiving?” But the purpose of the celebration of Thanksgiving day is to give thanks to God for the blessings He has bestowed. It would seem then that if blessings have been bestowed that one should be happy. But there are times when one may not be happy and it is till necessary to be giving thanks. Jesus had one of those days.
In the fourteenth chapter of Mark’s gospel, it is written that in the upper room, as Jesus and His disciples were observing the Passover meal, Jesus instituted the communion supper. Mark states that Jesus took bread and brake it and distributed it to the disciples and then took the cup, “and when He had given thanks” He gave it to them. Of all the times to be giving thanks, this would not be one for most of us, but it was for Jesus. Consider what was happening in His life.
The opposition of the Jewish religious leadership was increasing exponentially. They had been seeking to discredit Him and His authority to do the things He was doing, but they came up empty every time. Now, in just a few hours, they would have their opportunity to seize Him and illegally judge him, mock Him, have Him beaten, and then crucified. This was all know to the Lord for He had predicted it on a couple of occasions. And yet we find Him giving thanks.
Not only was the opposition of the religious leadership increasing, but the support of the general public was decreasing. Jesus was popular among the average people for all the miracles that He performed and for His teaching. When He rode into town on what we call Palm Sunday, they hailed Him as Israel’s Messiah, and were fully expecting the messianic kingdom to come immediately. It didn’t come that Sunday, nor Monday, nor Tuesday and now it is Thursday night and it still hasn’t arrived. Disappointed, the people people’s hopes began to wane and on the next day they would be calling for Pilate to crucify Him. Jesus knew all this and yet He was giving thanks.
Not only were things looking bleak outside of His “organization,” but the very disciples that He had ordained to be the foundation of His new Church were in a state of confusion. Arguing amongst themselves as who would be the greatest in the kingdom, and who would occupy the positions of authority in the kingdom, they did not offer a lot of hope that the Church would succeed. Jesus knew all this and yet He was giving thanks.
Then there was Judas Iscariot. He was on his way to summon a group of soldiers to arrest Jesus. It wasn’t that Judas was a constant adversary, but Psalm 41:9 calls him a “familiar friend” to Jesus. Few things hurt more than when a friend betrays you. And by now you know that Jesus knew all this and yet He was giving thanks.
Finally, what Jesus would endure in the next few hours would not in any way make Him happy. Deprived of any sleep He would go off into a garden to pray, hoping that His disciples would pray with Him. They didn’t. He would be taken away and tried in the night, which was illegal to do. False charges would be leveled against Him and He would be convicted by them. He would be mocked and beaten and then scourged by Pilate. And then He would be crucified, the most agonizing torture man has ever invented. But even worse, while hanging on that cross, His Father in heaven would turn from Him while He was bearing our sins in His body. And yes, Jesus knew all this and yet He was giving thanks.
Why? How? The answer to these two questions is found in two other things that Jesus knew. First He knew of the resurrection. Secondly, He knew that the will of God that would result in the salvation of mankind would be accomplished. While that Thursday was not a happy one, there was joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2).
The natural thing to do when our times are not happy ones is to complain. Maybe we should just give thanks.