Of all the blessings to be thankful for on Thanksgiving Day, none of them surpasses the riches of the eternal blessings which the Lord has bestowed on his sons and daughters in Christ Jesus. Pastor Mark Swarner of Menlo Park Presbyterian emphasizes this point as he looks at Psalm 103: 1-4 (NIV):
“Praise the LORD, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the LORD, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion…”
The benefits are “life-changing” and “soul transforming.” Unlike most where there are exclusions and various requirements, these are freely given through Christ, and no one is disqualified based on pre-existing conditions. In fact, God desires that people come to him in all their imperfections that he might renew and heal them.
The first benefit deals with the major problem of the human heart: sin. In the Psalm, King David, who knew what it meant to be forgiven for deeply wrongful acts, boldly speaks of the love which God has for his people such that God does not deal with us according to our past actions. Rather, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Regardless of a person’s past or future mistakes, God’s love is stronger still. We are, above all, forgiven people and with that "we enter his gates with Thanksgiving in our hearts.”
In his second point, Swarner examines the power of God available for healing. The verse is not claiming that one will never become sick, but it does indicate that God has the power to heal. The all-important assurance in this passage is that God will take our brokenness and weakness, and through him, ultimately, we will be whole. We are, above all, a people filled with hope, and with that "we enter his gates with Thanksgiving in our hearts and we come into his courts with praise.”
The third benefit the Psalmist declares is that the Lord “redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion.” There is a sense in which we all—like Joseph in Genesis 37—have experienced life’s pit of despair. We, like Joseph, emerge from the pit to a new life crowned with the confidence that we are loved, and with that we, ourselves, become agents of God’s love and channels for God’s compassion. We are, above all, a people redeemed by love, and with that "we enter his gates with Thanksgiving in our hearts and we come into his courts with praise.....This is the day that the Lord has made and we will rejoice for He has made us glad.1”
1. See Psalm 100:4 and 118:24:
Mark Swarner is Mission Pastor and Team Leader for Serving at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. The Serving Team includes missions, leadership development, and multisite campuses. Before joining the church in 2007, he served at Village Community Presbyterian Church in Rancho Santa Fe for four years. He has also served as Chair of the Missions Committee for the Presbytery of San Diego. A graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and Fuller Theological Seminary, Mark was ordained as a Presbyterian Minister in 1996. He is currently completing the Doctor of Ministry program at Fuller Theology Seminary.