Lessons: Deuteronomy 8:1-10, 1 Timothy 2:1-4, Luke 17:11-19
Hymns: LSB 892, 948, 822, 785, 794
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Forty years after the Israelites left Egypt, they were about to enter the land God promised to them. It’s a beautiful land, flowing with milk and honey. It’s the place where God had Abraham dwell hundreds of years earlier. It’s the place where God would fulfill His promise to send His Son in human flesh who would pay for the sins of the world on the cross.
Here they are, situated on the east side of the Jordan River. They’re getting ready to cross over and claim the land God reserved for them. Moses is 120 years old. He had been with God’s people these past four decades. He reviews with God’s people the Law as God gave it Mt. Sinai nearly 40 years earlier. All of this is recorded in Book of Deuteronomy. We heard ten verses of Moses’s final book as our Old Testament reading tonight.
Obviously, anticipation is high. Yet, they’re wearied over the long sojourn in the wilderness. God had blessed them the past 40 years, as Moses points out. God is giving them this wonderful land. He fed them manna and quail. Their clothing did not wear out over the last 40 years, nor did their feet swell. They did not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.
When they arrive in the land God promised them, they will eat and be full. They will lack nothing. God will bless them, for the land features brooks of water, fountains and springs, valleys and hills. It is a land of wheat and barley, vines pomegranates, fig trees and olive trees. A place that sounds glorious.
These people have every reason to bow in thanksgiving. God chose them above all other peoples. God is present among them. God taught them His Word. God is blessing them. God is granting them good things in this fallen world. They witnessed many miracles of God, including the Ten Plagues, crossing the Red Sea on dry ground, bitter waters becoming sweet, water coming out of a rock, God entering the Tabernacle, God’s presence in the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day, manna, and being healed of snake bites by looking at the bronze serpent.
And God was incredibly patient with them. Over the previous 40 years, God’s people grumbled and complained time and time again. Yet, God never abandoned them. He never withdrew His promises from them. He never left them out on their own.
The Israelites probably didn’t go out looking for disappointments, but they certainly found them. Even after witnessing God’s amazing hand in the Ten Plagues and being set free from their slavery in Egypt, the Israelites complained when they approached the Red Sea with the Egyptian army coming after them. Miraculously, God parted the Red Sea and let them cross on dry ground. Then, as they were traveling through the wilderness, they had no water. God commanded Moses to strike a stone and clean water came out. When the people of Israel heard the divine Law of God, they said it is too much for them and asked that God not speak to them anymore. When Moses was up on the mountain too long, they figured he must be lost and made for themselves a golden calf which they worshipped. Later, the people would grumble because they were tired of eating manna.
God’s patience is amazing. He’s far more patient than we are. He stuck with His people and His promises despite their repeated grumbling, rebellion, and even unbelief. God’s thoughts are clearly higher than our thoughts and His ways higher than our ways.
In our day, we don’t have to look to far to find disappointments. For those of us on Evergy last night, we had a nearly 5-hour power outage. While it was announced, not everyone received the message, and it wasn’t announced very early. Many wasted no time to grumble and complain over the required maintenance, as if having electricity is the only way to survive. Man’s ingratitude is amazing. We ought to give thanks to God day and night for the gift of electricity and for the remarkable uptime we enjoy in this country. I know a missionary in Africa has spoken of the frequent power interruptions there.
We find disappointments when businesses make mistakes, when we make mistakes, when our bodies are not functioning 100%, when people wrong us, when things break, when politicians don’t fulfill their promises, when politicians do fulfill their promises, when cell phone coverage is poor, when the Internet connection is slow or not working, when we are filled with stress, when there are family problems, when our favorite teams are losing, when the days are too short or cloudy, when there’s not enough rain or when there’s too much rain.
Instead of being disappointed by all the things that we feel are not right, there is far more that is right in which we may be thankful. God Himself humbled the Israelites through their various afflictions and tested them. He taught them that they cannot live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. He disciplines His children, as a father disciplines his son. He uses all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
We can be thankful that God has preserved us this past year. Regardless of the hardships we faced, the loss of loved ones we’ve endured, the pains we have suffered in our bodies, God has still preserved us. He has been with us every moment. He has heard all of our prayers. He has heard our petitions and our praises. God has blessed us with enough food, with clothing, and shelter. He has blessed us with the ability to spend time with our families. He has blessed us with favorable weather. He has blessed us with so many amenities to make our daily chores easier. This list goes on and on.
Just as the Israelites were camped outside the Promised Land, ready to enter, so also we are camped outside the Church Triumphant, ready to go in. In this life, we are surrounded with God’s blessings. Just as He taught the Israelites His Word, so also God is teaching us His Word. Just as He was with them, so He is with us. Just as they were wanderers in the wilderness for 40 years, so we are wanderers (foreigners if you will) in this fallen world, awaiting to enter the Promised Land of Paradise. Just as God was patient with them, so also He is patient with us. Just as Christ was present among the Israelites as the Rock who went before them and followed them, so also Christ is present among us.
We are waiting with anticipation the Last Day. That’s why we even confess in the Creed, “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and life of the world to come.” We are on the verge of crossing into God’s Promised Land—Paradise—an eternity with God after what seems to be an eternity in this fallen world.
We can look in confident hope of the things to come because God fulfills His promises (which is another thing to be thankful for). He kept His promise made to the Israelites and brought them into the Promised Land. He kept His promise made throughout the Old Testament and sent His only begotten Son to pay for the sins of the world. He has kept His promise to bless us with His Word and faith until that time He receives us into His eternal kingdom.
For all of this, we give thanks. We give the glory to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We sing our praises to Him. We rejoice in the blessings we have by being Christian. On bended knee, we give God thanks for baptizing us into Christ. We have much to be thankful for, and in comparison, very few disappointments.
Above all, we give thanks that God sent His Son. Just as Moses raised up the bronze serpent on the pole to heal all who would feel the sting of the serpent’s bite, so also Jesus was lifted up on the cross to take our sin away as we feel the weight of our own sin. Jesus is triumphant. He paid for us our sins by the shedding of His innocent Blood. He rose from the dead and has obtained for us eternal life. The victory is ours. Just as Christ lives, so shall we. Thanks be to God! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen