For the past several years I have had an autoimmune disease called ITP (Immune Thrombocytopenia) in which the immune system targets the platelets resulting in a low blood platelet count, which can cause spontaneous bruising or bleeding. Earlier this year, my platelet count took a significant jump. Though not in the normal range, it was higher than it had been in over five years. I was very excited and immensely grateful to the Lord and to those who had been praying faithfully for me and my platelets for years. Somehow, verbally expressing my gratitude seemed inadequate and insufficient. What, I wondered, would be an appropriate response? This question prompted me to look at the sacrifice of thanksgiving as outlined in the Old Testament.
The sacrifice of thanksgiving is mentioned several times in the Old Testament. It is first mentioned in Leviticus 7:11-15. These verses seem to indicate that the sacrifice of thanksgiving is actually a peace offering that is motivated by thanksgiving. This type of offering included an animal sacrifice as well as various sorts of cereal or bread offerings.
There are several features that characterize this sacrifice of thanksgiving. The first is that, like all peace offerings, it was a voluntary offering. It was not prescribed or required by God. It was offered by the worshiper on those occasions when he was motivated to express thanksgiving to God. The sacrifice was willingly presented to the Lord with a heart of joy and gratitude.
In addition, the sacrifice of thanksgiving, again like all peace offerings, was shared among the Lord, the priest, and the worshiper. This contrasted with other types of offerings, which were either entirely consumed (except for the skin) on the altar as an offering to the Lord or partly burned on the altar and partly consumed by the priest. But for a peace offering offered as a sacrifice of thanksgiving the protocol was different. After the Lord and the priest received their portions, the worshiper who brought the sacrifice would take the remaining portions of the meat and the bread and prepare a feast in which family and friends who were ritually pure could share. Any of the meat not consumed on the day the sacrifice was offered had to be destroyed by burning.
Through this sacrifice, then, the worshipers celebrated together before God the blessings enjoyed through a relationship with God characterized by peace and wholeness. A sense of communion with and nearness to God resulted from the presentation of a gift to God, a portion of which God then graciously shared with the worshiper. This sense of generosity and communion was expanded as the worshiper in turn shared his portion of the offering with family and friends.
While the Old Testament system of animal sacrifice is now obsolete for the Christian due to the sacrificial death of Jesus, there are some principles here that continue to speak to us today. Though thankful hearts honor God and benefit us, God does not coerce or demand sacrifices of thanksgiving. Expressions of thanksgiving that flow freely from the depths of the heart are profound and meaningful for all concerned. And so God encourages and provides a vehicle for communicating and demonstrating the intensity of our gratitude.
In addition, it is appropriate and advantageous for us to express our thankfulness in such a way that it spills over to others. Certainly gratitude should be felt and expressed to God who is the ultimate source of all beneficence and blessing in our lives. But maybe it shouldn’t stop there. Maybe the kindness and generosity of God should be an impetus to get us to express to others the same kindness and generosity that we have experienced.
So, as I was contemplating an appropriate sacrifice of thanksgiving for my improved platelet count, the Lord brought to mind an email from a friend who is a missionary in Indonesia. She had briefly shared the story of a young Indonesian boy who also suffered from ITP and whose family was having trouble paying for his medical expenses. Sending some money to my missionary friend for this young boy seemed a very appropriate and suitable response of gratitude for my own improved situation. And in the process, my own sense of gladness, pleasure, and nearness to God and his people increased and was multiplied. A true act of thankfulness sends out gentle ripples of joy and gratitude that continue to expand, bringing glory to God and blessing to others.