Summary: Remembering our journey into the Promised Land
Many things come together this week. Finally, after all this time, the Israelites step foot into the promised land. This is also pledge Sunday, when we respond to God’s work and call in our lives and set our expectations of support for next year. Liturgically, this is Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday of the church year. We celebrate Jesus reigning in the kingdom of God, the true promised land. And, most visibly, it is Thanksgiving week. This is the week that we sit down with our families around a big turkey and take stock of how God has brought us through this past year – of what it is we have to be thankful for.
All that is to say that today is about remembering what God has done for us. We recognize and remember our many blessings, particularly our salvation. And, as we see in this passage, just by remembering and appreciating, God builds in us a character of gratitude for the past, of trust for today and of hope for tomorrow. All of that comes from remembering and being thankful.
Sir John Templeton, a billionaire investor, was once asked what is the secret of wealth. He said, "Gratitude. If you're not grateful, you're not rich—no matter how much you have." The flip side of that is, "If you're grateful, you are rich—no matter how little you have."
So, today, your life can become rich—if you choose to be thankful for all that God has done for you, does now, and will do.
We have a tendency to rate our lives on a scale of comparison with others—and we compare ourselves with those whose lives appear to be richer, fuller, and more exciting than ours. Many times we feel short changed—we wonder why others have it so much better than we do. For many people, this is simply a way of life, focusing on how hard they have it. Of course, that's distorted thinking. But I want you to realize that having a thankful heart is not about comparing yourself to others, it's about recognizing and acknowledging what God has done in your life.
And the most important single thing he has done was to save you from the power of sin and death.
Our passage today is a picture of the fulfillment of the salvation of the People of Israel. Forty years before, they were saved from slavery in Egypt. God parted the Sea, and they escaped. But today, we see what they were saved to. After forty years in the wilderness, another body of water is miraculously parted for them, and they walk across the dry riverbed of the Jordan river. They were saved our of slavery, to the Promised Land!
As Christians, we are saved out of slavery to sin and it consequence – death. But many people leave the understanding of their faith there. For too many, that is the end of the message. But that is just the beginning. We are saved from sin. Some people, people whom Paul addressed in the book of Romans, now think that that means you can do whatever you want. That’s not what it means. Doing whatever you want is what sin is. That is what we are saved from. We are saved from sin to a whole new life, a whole new wanting. This is a life of wanting to follow Jesus – to want ourselves what he wants for us, to do what he would do – to be like him. That is the life we are born anew for. That is a transformation of our whole selves.
That transformation is not complete. It will be in heaven. But it has begun in every believer. Our bondage to sin, to wanting only what we want, to being our own gods, that bondage is over. Now, by the power of the Spirit working in us, we have the power to want what God wants. That is an amazing transformation.
I am amazed that anyone can hear the gospel message in the midst of the loudness of our world. It is a miracle. All of the messages of our world, the message of how to be successful, of how to be happy, the messages of what will fulfill you, of what you need that you are missing, the messages of money, sex and power, the messages of despair, frustration, of hopelessness, all the din of the messages of this world that you see every time you open up a paper, magazine or book, every time you switch on a TV or radio, every time you look at a billboard or gain advice from outside the influence of God’s Spirit, all of this stuff that does not contain the grace of God comes flowing at us like a raging river, trying to fill us up, hold our attention and gain our trust. It amazes me that in the midst of all that, sometimes, God stops that river and parts that water just long enough that someone can hear the truth. Then their lives are transformed from the inside out, totally and forever. That is the miracle of salvation.