Theme: When Jesus Gave Thanks
During this Thanksgiving week, we learn how to render thanks to the Lord through the prayers of thanksgiving from Jesus himself.
Scripture: Matthew 14:19
One of the unusual behavior patterns most Christians have is that they give thanks before meals. We do it in our homes, and when we are eating out in public too. In fact, we are often encouraged when we notice other people or families bowing their heads before plunging in to eat their dinner, and we immediately assume, no doubt with real justification, that these people are Christians.
How did this practice come about? There is nothing like it in the ancient pagan world, except in the formal and superstitious practice of pouring out a drink libation to the gods before drinking. There were some thanksgiving prayers in Judaism, of course, especially on festive occasions like a Seder. But that is not why Christians give thanks before meals. The real reason Christians give thanks when they sit down to eat is that Jesus, their Lord and Savior, did so regularly. As far as we can tell, he did this on all occasions. This seems to have been so unusual in respect to the practices of his day that the writers of the gospels reported it as a thing both unexpected and significant.
The best known example of this is Jesus’ giving thanks for the bread and wine at the institution of the Lord’s Supper. We have an account of it in Matthew 26:26-29 (parallels in Mark 14:22-26 and Luke 22:14-23), and it is the basis for Paul’s well-known words of the institution of the Lord’s Supper recorded in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, which we use at our communion services: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; this do in remembrance of me.”
A less familiar but equally instructive example is Jesus’ prayer before multiplying the fish and loaves to feed the 5,000, recorded in Matthew 14:13–21 (parallels in Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:1-15). I have chosen verse 19 from the Matthew passage as a representative text for this sermon: “Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.” Jesus did the same thing when feeding the 4,000, recorded in Matthew 15:29-39 (parallels in Mark 8:1-13).
There is one more very significant example. It occurred on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus after the resurrection when Jesus presented himself to the Emmaus disciples and was invited to stay and eat with them in their home that evening. On that occasion, we are told, Jesus “took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them” (Luke 24:30).
These four settings are the only stories in the New Testament in which Jesus presided at a meal. But in every case it is recorded of him that he gave thanks to God before he distributed the food and ate it.
Since these are the only accounts of Jesus presiding at a meal and since in each case the writer of the gospel recorded the fact that Jesus first gave thanks for the food, it must be a point worth noting. It must mean that the thanksgiving of Jesus struck the writers (as well as the other disciples) as important.
Why? The novelty would be part of it, if it was actually the case that few in Christ’s day prayed before meals. But what is most remarkable is not the novelty. It is what follows when we reflect on who Jesus is in tomorrow’s study.
Study Questions:

What other religions practice giving thanks before a meal? Why do Christians practice this?
What are we saying when we give thanks? What is the significance of this? What is remarkable about Jesus giving thanks?
On what four occasions does the Bible report Jesus giving thanks?

Reflection: Do you practice any other “unusual behavior patterns” that signal you are a Christian?
Observation: Note that the multiple accounts of Jesus’ prayer of thanks indicates the novelty and importance of this act.
Application: Practice ways to keep your thanksgiving before a meal from becoming routine.

Study Questions
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