Based on a series of sermons preached in PCC Prayer Meetings in 2021
“And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. 42 And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.”John 11:41b-42
The Lord delayed coming to see Lazarus though He knew he was dying. By the time he arrives, Lazarus has been dead and rotting for four days. The Lord raises him from the dead in a fascinating demonstration that He is the resurrection and the life.
We are familiar with the account. Much has been spoken and written about it. What may not be so familiar to us is what the Lord says just before He commands Lazarus to come forth. This is recorded in John 11:41b-42. It is a word of thanksgiving, and there is much we can learn from it.
1. The Word of Thanks
“Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me,” says the Lord. But what is so significant about the Lord giving thanks to the Father? Well, it is significant because the Lord Jesus is fully God. He had the power in and of Himself to raise Lazarus, for He is God. Yet He prays that His Father would do the desire of His heart, and He gives thanks that the Father has heard Him.
Of course, this is not the only time He does that. There are several instances in the scriptures where He is recorded as having prayed. Apart from the Psalms, we have a record of His high priestly prayer and His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. In our present text, we know that He prayed because He says so. But He must have prayed in His heart, for His prayer is not recorded. Nevertheless, His word of thanksgiving is recorded. “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me,” He says.
And this is not the only time He thanks the Father. There are more instances in the Gospels where we are told that He thanked the Father than where we are told He petitioned the Father.
After the seventy-two returned from the mission He sent them to, He says: “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes” (Mt 11:25; cf. Lk 10:21).
Before He broke the loaves and fishes to feed the four thousand and five thousand, He gave thanks (Mt 15:36; Jn 6:23).
When He instituted the Lord’s Supper, He gave thanks before breaking the bread (Lk 22:19) and again before giving out the cup (Mt 26:27; Mk 14:23).
Now, it is likely that there are more records of Him giving thanks compared to petitions because His petitions were often made in His heart, whereas His thanksgivings were often audible.
But why? Why does He give thanks?
2. Why Give Thanks?
Of course, we ought to give thanks not only to show our appreciation to God for blessing us, but also to acknowledge our indebtedness to Him.
But why does the Lord Jesus give thanks? Not only does He deserve every blessing received, but He also has power in and of Himself to do everything He asks His Father to do. He and His Father are one!
Why does the Lord thank the Father before His miracle of raising Lazarus? He thanks His Father for hearing Him. But what did He pray for? No doubt that He might restore life to Lazarus through Him. But why? He has the power to do what He asks for. Did He not say, “I am the resurrection and the Life”? Why, then, did He ask the Father?
Well, perhaps our Lord prays in acknowledgement that He is not only fully God but also fully man. If so, His thanksgiving follows the same reason.
But is there another reason? Ah, the Lord says in verse 42:
“And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.”
Doesn’t it sound like He is saying, “I know that I don’t have to say anything, for you are always pleased to fulfil the desires of my heart, but I am saying it all the same—for the sake of the people standing around me”?
In other words, whatever other reasons the Lord Jesus might have to give thanks to the Father, the primary reason He states is testimonial—that the people standing around might believe that the Father sent Him.
Do you get the idea? If we are to be imitators of Christ, we should be giving thanks often. Why should we give thanks? Well, we should give thanks out of gratitude and love to our heavenly Father. But we should also give thanks for testimonial reasons. Of course, we are not sent the way the Father sent the Lord Jesus. But are we not sent to be witnesses for Christ in the world?
Thus, followers of Christ ought to give thanks publicly the way Christ did—as a testimony of the mercies of the Father.
3. How to Give Thanks in Imitation of Christ?
Let me offer five suggestions:
First, let us give thanks sincerely. Who, in the history of mankind, is the most honest and sincere person? The Lord Jesus Christ, no doubt! He was holy, harmless and undefiled. He was tempted in all points, like we are, yet without sin. Thus, He is the man most qualified to speak against hypocrisy.
Thus, if we are to imitate Him in thanksgiving, we must cultivate sincere gratitude by meditating on how we deserve nothing, while Christ deserves everything, and yet He gave thanks for whatever He received.
Secondly, let us give thanks constantly. Our Lord gave thanks often. So should we. Paul says: “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving” (Col 4:2). We must pray without ceasing and do so with thanksgiving every time.
Thirdly, let us give thanks on specific occasions. The Lord gave thanks on different occasions: after sending the seventy-two, before feeding the multitude, before raising Lazarus, etc.
Let us, therefore, imitate Him to do the same. Let us give thanks not only in worship; let us give thanks before and after meals; let us give thanks in private and in family worship; and give thanks after particular success and before attempting great things for the Lord.
Fourthly, let us give thanks for everything. The Lord gave thanks not only for food provided or to be provided, but He gave thanks to God also for revealing the gospel to babes. And here in our text, He thanks God for hearing His prayer about the raising of Lazarus.
Let us, therefore, learn to give thanks not only for food, but for everything. Paul says: “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Th 5:18). Learn to count your blessings. There can’t be any moment in our lives where we have nothing to thank God for. We should thank God even for the air we breathe, for peace, for not dealing with us according to our sins, for our loved ones, for hearing our prayers, etc.
Fifthly, let us give thanks publicly. Our Lord prayed all the time, but often in His heart. But we saw numerous occasions when He gives thanks publicly and audibly—for the sake of those standing around Him.
Let us learn to do the same. Let us never be ashamed to give thanks to the Lord. Let us learn to do so at every opportunity to bear testimony of the goodness of God toward us. Let us do so in our conversations with friends and family, in our social media posts, in our texts and emails to one another, in our formal reports, etc.
We have much to thank God for. We have not thanked God as much as we should. We have not thanked Him testimonially as our Lord did, as often as we should.
Let us seek the help of the Spirit to make us imitators of Christ. Let us begin by recalling all the occasions in which we could have borne testimony for the Lord by thanksgiving, but have failed to do so.
Let us resolve to make use of similar occasions in future. But let us also begin to think of the things we have failed to give thanks for, and let us begin to give thanks for them. Whether things that bring a smile or things that bring a tear, let us turn our eyes to the Lord to thank Him, knowing that He knows what is best for us and He is blessing us with them. Amen.