First Mennonite Church
November 20, 2016
A Time To Give Thanks
Today, my presentation will be very brief, but I would like to invite you to share something for which you are grateful to the Lord. Today is our Thanksgiving Day service, so let us make it a day to give thanks to God. In order to set a context for our thanksgiving, let us take a look at what Moses and the congregation of Israel did after they crossed the Red Sea.
Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:
“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.
2 The Lord is my strength and my might,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
3 The Lord is a warrior;
the Lord is his name.
In chapter 14 of Exodus, we have the story of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. The crossing of the Red Sea was the definitive break away of the Israelites from the physical reach of the Egyptians. That event was a major turning point for Israel’s liberation from the Egyptian bondage. Let us remember that the Exodus event happened after four hundred years of Israelite presence among the Egyptians. The Israelite presence in Egypt began as a generous gesture of the Pharaoh to Joseph and his father’s household. Jacob and his household moved to Egypt to survive a severe hunger plaguing the land of Canaan. For the children of Jacob, Egypt was their source of survival. Yet, what started as a generous gesture turned into a frightening nightmare. The Israelites were turned into slaves. And the last part of those four hundred years was a time of misery, death, and hopelessness.
Four hundred year is a long time. For almost 10 generations, normal life for the Hebrew people was the life they had known in Egypt. Therefore, when the children of Jacob were subjected to slavery, they likely thought of it as something that would never end. In Exodus three, verses 23-25 read: The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelite, and God took notice of them. And the dawn of a new day and a new possibility appeared in the horizon for the Hebrew people. Under the leadership of Moses, God led the Israelites out of Egypt. Yet, as they came to the Red Sea, Pharaoh changed his mind about having let go his source of free labor. And he wanted them back. The anguish of death engulfed the children of Israel when they saw the Egyptian army approaching them. But God gave instructions to Moses on what to do. They crossed the Red Sea on dry land, while the Egyptian army was drowned in it as they pursued the Israelites.
Once on the other side of the Red Sea, Moses led the people into a thanksgiving song. After a long time of slavery, anguish, and a miraculous deliverance, a time to give thanks was made possible. In the last two verses of chapter 14, we read: Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians. And Israel saw the Egyptians dead in the seashore. Israel saw the great works that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord. . . . (Exodus 14:30-31.
The Israelites might have believed their slave condition under the Egyptian Pharaoh would never change. They must have dreaded the dawning of each day. They must have lamented the loss of life of their loved ones the end of day and their slavery must have seemed to them as death sentence for the coming generations. They felt hopeless and helpless, thus they moaned and cried and God heard their moaning and cries.
After the children of Jacob were on the other side of the Red Sea, they saw how God had judged their oppressors. They realized that those who had held them captives and who beaten them to death, those who were still refusing to let them free were now dead. It must be an incredible scene for the Israelites to behold. They could not believe what their eyes. God had delivered them through a demonstration of power and judgment over the Egyptian army.
The Exodus deliverance is the primary paradigm (model) for the gospel message. The apostle Paul describes our deliverance from sin much the same way as the exodus liberation when he wrote to the Ephesians: But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-6).
As Pharaoh and his army approached the Israelite camp near the Red Sea, the people complained and wished they had died in Egypt instead of being slaughtered in the desert. They wished they had died in Egypt. But when Paul describes our unredeemed condition he says we were already “dead in our trespasses.” Can a dead person do something for himself? No! Under the grip of sin, we were practically unable to free ourselves from it. We were dead in our sin. Yet, out of the great love with which God loved us, he made us alive with Christ. The heart of the gospel is that God loves us with a great love. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ God made us alive with him and for him. When we think of what God has done for us, we then realize that every day is a day of thanksgiving. The Lord has been and still is so good to us. In Psalm 103, we are exhorted:
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name.
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good as long as you live
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Another Scripture passage says, “O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.”
I want to invite you to give thanks to the Lord among his people. Let us share at least one thing for which we are greatly grateful to the Lord this year. I know the year is not yet over, but think of at least one thing God has done for your or given you that you would like to openly give thanks for.
Maybe I should go first! This week I called my family in Belize and spoke with my sister. She is the one who has been fighting breast cancer. As you know, we pitch in on the medical expenses for my sister. So far, she is doing well and her exams all come clean. She was very thankful for the help she has received and thankful to the Lord for her improved health. And then she quoted Matthew 29, verse 19 to me. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. She said, you left your family and everything here to server the Lord where you are now. And God has blessed you and through you God has also blessed us.
But there is something more I want to tell you, dear church. You have been like fathers and mothers to us and grandparents to our children. You are the family God has given us and we are so grateful to you and to the Lord. Last Sunday, after we went home, Lilian and I were talking about your support for Emmanuel on his project for next year. Your immense love and concern is amazing. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
Who goes next in giving thanks?
“O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.”
May all glory and gratitude be to our Lord. Amen!