Deuteronomy 8:1-10: Thanksgiving

Cornucopia2 (610x351)It’s tempting for Americans to read Deuteronomy 8 and think that it’s all about us. Moses writes about a good land, “a land with rivers and deep springs flowing forth into the valleys and hills.” He writes of a land of wheat, barley, and many others foods.

But wait, there’s more. Moses also says that it’s “a land where you may eat food in plenty and lack in nothing.” What place fits that description better than America, the breadbasket of the world? And even more, aren’t we also “a land whose rocks are laden with iron and from whose hills you can mine copper”? If we didn’t know better, we would think Moses was describing the United States of America.

But he’s not. We find no stars and stripes in Deuteronomy. The United States is not the land that God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God didn’t free any of our parents from slavery in Egypt. None of us walked through the Red Sea with walls of water on our right and left. The United States is not the new Israel.

But we are still fortunate to live here. We live in a nation that has received one blessing on top of another from God’s creation. We are a nation of immigrants, and many of our ancestors came here with nothing. And yet, despite our sin, despite living for pleasure and gluttony, we still are a nation abounding with many riches.

Indeed, despite our sinful pride, despite living in a culture that promotes sinful ways, despite laws that make it legal to kill part of our population out of convenience, our gracious and loving God has still showered us with innumerable blessings. And for that we give thanks—to God.

That’s why we’re here. But we can’t worship a non-specific God any more than we can eat a non-specific Thanksgiving turkey. The turkey has to be real—if we’re going eat it. We need a real God, just as we need real food to eat.

And the God we worship has revealed Himself, as the book of Hebrews tells us. “In many portions and many ways, God spoke to His people of old by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1). So, what does God tell us about Himself? He is three Persons but one God—all at the same time.

We can confess with Moses that the Lord our God is one (Dt 6:4). We can rejoice with Jesus that God’s name is also “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19). He is uncreated, infinite, and eternal. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

He judged the false gods of Egypt and rescued His people with a mighty hand and outstretched arm. He led them into the land that He had promised them. He provided His people with all that they needed to support their body and life. And He still does.

But what about Deuteronomy? Is it a text only filled with historical information that means little to us today? Should it sit silently in the dustbin of history? Of course not. The land that God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was never an end in and of itself. God promised that land as a foretaste of something far better.

The Book of Hebrews tells us that in this life here, “we do not have an enduring city; instead, we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). That place is the “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem… the Church of the Firstborn, whose names are written in heaven” (Hebrews 12:22-23).

“The Church of the Firstborn.” What’s that? Jesus is the Firstborn. As St. Luke wrote, “And she [that is, Mary] gave birth to her Son, the Firstborn” (Luke 2:7). We are born from above because Jesus was born for us below.

God gave the Israelites a land flowing with milk and honey, pointing them forward to the eternal land that they would receive in the resurrection on the Last Day. He gave them manna, so they would know that we do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the Lord. He brought the children of Israel into the land that He had promised them, all so His Son would create a new Israel that would endure forever.

The one, holy, Christian, and apostolic Church is that new Israel. The true spiritual Israel isn’t a piece of real estate in the Middle East. She is the holy Christian Church. She is all the saints whom God has made His own. She is the company of all whom God has brought into His Covenant, first in the Old, now in the New. She is those who believe that the Crucified Christ has shed His blood for the sins of the world.

In the Church are those who trust in Jesus for their salvation. They recognize that their righteous deeds are but rags. And so they look to Jesus instead of themselves. They despair of their sin, realizing they are powerless to make themselves clean. And so they, as Scripture describes New-Covenant worship, “worship God in reverence and fear, in a way that pleases Him,” filled with thankful hearts (Hebrews 12:28).

In this Church are even those who worship false gods day by day. But it doesn’t end there. For God enables His people, by the Holy Spirit’s working, to turn from those idols when Jesus speaks His Word and makes us clean.

And, as much as God has blessed us, the United States as a nation-state is not the new Israel. When the Old Testament talks about a nation turning to God and God blessing them for repenting, He wasn’t talking about our piece of North America.

God was referring to Old-Covenant Israel. That was a covenant where the people of Israel agreed to be publicly rewarded or punished based on how well they followed God’s Old Covenant (Exodus 19:8, 24:3). That didn’t work out too well for them, did it?

God sends rain on both the righteous and unrighteous. He is gracious and merciful. He gives good gifts, even to those who hate Him. He lavishes food, shelter, and the other joys of life for us in this world. He does this, even though we have rebelled against Him in our sin and deserve nothing from Him but eternal wrath.

When God promises to bring us to a good land flowing with milk and honey, where we will lack nothing, and where we will eat and be satisfied, He is talking about the Jerusalem above. He is pointing us to the green pastures where we will lack nothing. He is pointing us to the city where the grapes are always ripe, so the wine is so overflowing that the mountains melt. He is speaking of the blessedness of eternal life.

And we do get a small taste of it here. God will pile the food on our tables tomorrow, and some of us will even be eating here, at this place. But the earthly gifts, for which we are thankful, are not permanent.

If we don’t eat the Thanksgiving meal, the food would eventually rot. Even if you stuffed yourself until your belly was bloated, you would later become hungry. You’d run out of leftovers. The endless toil of life would continue, and by the sweat of your brow you would eat your food.

God’s provision comes to us through each other. We benefit from the farmer who sows seed and the rancher who feeds his cattle. God heals our diseases through the work and wisdom of doctors (Sirach 38:1-9). God doesn’t even need our permission to use people to benefit others. God can heal you through an atheist, just as well as through a Muslim, a Jew, or even a Christian.

The difference is that a Christian recognizes this and thanks God for it. God graciously provides us with what we need; and what He doesn’t, we don’t need. And so we thank Him for what we have. We thank Him for food, home, family, friends, and the countless people who serve us in their various callings.

But all of those created gifts are temporary. Our dogs will die, our children will leave home (at least we hope!), and our homes will crumble. And so, tonight, we look forward to the gifts that never fade. We rejoice in what will never crumble.

God the Father sent His Son into our flesh to bear our sin on the cross. He suffered in your place, enduring what you deserve because of your sin. He has done this, even though in your inherited, fallen nature you are an enemy of God (Romans 5:10, Colossians 1:21). He has done this, even though it was the hands of His creation, willingly sucked into sin, which pounded in the nails of execution.

When Jesus carried your sins to the cross, the Father held Him accountable—even for your sins of thanklessness and ingratitude. God laid on His shoulders the penalty for our lack of thankful hearts. But when Christ was bearing our iniquity, He was giving us credit for His righteousness.

Every time Jesus gave thanks to His Father, you get credit for it. Jesus is your substitute, who did everything flawlessly. In His death, you are acquitted. In His perfect life of righteousness, you get credit for the perfect life that you could never live.

Jesus did this because that’s the God you have. He did this because it is proper, right, and for our everlasting good that we should thank Him. God died because He loves you. He took what you deserve, so you could receive what you don’t deserve.

Oh, we have many reasons to be thankful. And as we celebrate tomorrow, with hearts brimming with thanks, we have a reason to do—intentionally—what should come to us naturally. We can thank God for all that He has given us. We can thank Him for all the earthly blessings that we have, which He has so generously lavished on us.

But more than that, we can thank Him that He has sent His Son to be our Savior. We can thank Him that we will not die, but live. Indeed, you have much for which to be thankful, for you are on the receiving end of God’s eternal love. He has forgiven your sins. And so you are free. And in that freedom, you can even eat turkey, ham, and even put a big dollop of whipped cream on that pumpkin pie. Amen.