“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:1-3).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Thanksgiving is a time for reflection and remembrance. A time for reflecting upon the bounteous blessings God has so freely bestowed upon us out of His lavish love and abundant mercy. A time for remembering the episodes in which He has patiently and lovingly brought us through trials and tough times.
Reflection and remembrance: That’s what Moses is doing in our Old Testament reading for this evening. As the nation of Israel is poised to enter the Promised Land and Moses is ready to depart this life to be with the Lord, he reminds them of all that has happened to them, and all that God has been teaching them over the past forty years. He exhorts them to do everything that the Lord commands them so that they might continue in the blessings that the Lord has promised to them as His beloved children and to avoid the curses that come from disobedience. Moses declares the glory and magnificence of God and urges them to trust the Lord’s goodness and to fear His wrath.
Moses said that God led Israel through the wilderness to test them. The purpose of His test was to lead Israel to trust Him more fully.
So far, they weren’t doing very well. It wasn’t long after God had led the Israelites to safety through the Red Sea, that the little bit of food they had packed for themselves in Egypt ran out. They were starving. There was no food for them to eat in the wilderness, just a lot of rocks and sand.
The Israelites should have remembered what God did in Egypt and at the Red Sea, how He had delivered them out of slavery. They should have trusted Him to take care of them. They should have prayed for Him to give them food. Instead, they grumbled and complained.
They had said they wished that they had stayed in Egypt. They had talked about all the sumptuous food they could eat there—but they had forgotten how badly the Egyptians had treated them. They had accused Moses of bringing them out of Egypt so they would die in the wilderness. Even though God worked so many great miracles to set them free, they still didn’t trust Him to take care of them. So, God had talked to Moses. Moses told the Israelites that God would send them bread and meat. Later, when the sun started going down that evening, huge flocks of quail had flown right into their camp. The Israelites had gathered them and cooked them for supper. That was the meat God had promised them.
When the sun had come up the next morning, dew covered the ground. When the dew dried up, there was a flaky thing on the ground. The people had asked Moses, “What is it?” Moses told them it was the bread God had sent from heaven. They called it manna, which is a Hebrew word that means “What is it?”
Each day they traveled in the wilderness—for forty years!—God would send just enough manna for the people to eat that day. If they picked up more than a day’s worth, it would just spoil. Except for Fridays—God instructed them to pick up enough manna for two days on Friday so they would rest and listen to His promises and remember His gifts on the Sabbath. By the Lord’s testing, He wanted His people to trust in Him for their daily bread and to make time to hear His Word.
Moses says that God had led Israel through the wilderness to test them. As a man disciplines his son, the Lord God disciplines His children. The purpose of the Lord’s testing and discipline was to lead His people to trust Him more fully. The reason He provided such miraculous physical blessings was to show His people that they needed, and that He could provide, far more than physical blessings. With His Word, the Lord could meet all their physical needs as well as the still greater need of their souls. Without God’s Word, physical blessings by themselves will never be enough. Life has deeper dimensions that only God can satisfy.
Almost 1,500 years later, God’s only-begotten Son is led out into the wilderness immediately after His Baptism. Christ’s personal fast of forty days and forty nights corresponds to Israel’s forty years in the wilderness. Whereas when Israel was tested, the people sinned miserably and did not trust God, Jesus does not fail. Though hungry, He does not murmur against God or doubt God’s purposes.
With the first temptation, Satan attempts to get Jesus to use His own power to serve Himself in time of need. The slanderer grants Jesus’ identity as “the Son of God” (Matthew 4:3), but he seeks to lead Jesus into being the wrong kind of Son. He acknowledges that Jesus has the power to turn stones into bread, and he tries to get Jesus to use that power for Himself—something He never does.
The Lord had tried in vain to teach Israel an important lesson. Moses reminded them: “[The Lord] humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
Jesus knew well what Israel had failed to learn; unlike Israel, Jesus lived according to the divine Word. Jesus’ life and relationship to God the Father came from what God provides, and especially from what God speaks. He lives “by every Word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
Specifically, Jesus knows that God has already spoken and that from His mouth have come the words “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17). He has no need to prove it by turning stones to bread. Jesus knows that His time of temptation in the wilderness is God’s will; it is the Spirit’s leading. So, Jesus will not use His power to murmur against God or to reject God’s will and purpose, as Israel did in the wilderness.
The people in their wilderness wanderings did not realize that “as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you” (Deuteronomy 8:5), nor did they respond to His discipline as an obedient son should. Jesus, however, overcomes the slanderer, knowing the Father’s Word that declared Him to be God’s Son, and living by every divine word, even and especially in His experience of being tempted in the wilderness. Jesus came in humility to His Baptism, and He willingly suffers the time of hunger and temptation, obeying His Father. He lives perfectly and completely by the Father’s Word and will.
The application should not be direct as though each of Jesus’ temptations is intended to correspond directly with something that we Christians experience. Rather, read holistically, the attacks of Satan against Jesus call up for review the nature of Jesus’ identity as God’s Son. Satan tries to misunderstand or contradict what it means for Him to live out His mission as God’s Son. In other words, it is a question of grasping His own identity.
So, it is also in the Christian life of temptation and struggle against sin. Matthew 4:1-11 does not so much teach us that we should “find the right Bible verse with which to combat temptations.” Rather, as men and women in Christ, we can learn to recognize Satan’s temptations as attacks on our identity as the children of God, and on what it means to live out that identity in the world and in our vocations. Jesus’ paradigm is this: “Know from God’s Word who you are and how that identity as God’s baptized, adopted son or daughter is to be lived out.”
In that sense, even as He wins the victory, Jesus, the Son of God prepares us for the battle. Just as the Spirit led Jesus into temptation and spiritual warfare with the evil one, so it will be with us as we serve and follow our Master. The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps us in the family of God by the power of God’s holy Word.
And so, we come here tonight to give thanks to our God for all He has blessed us with throughout the year. We thank Him for our daily bread, which He so richly and daily provides us with all we that we need to support this body and life. We come here to hear God’s Word and to worship Him.
The highest worship of God is faith that receives all that He promises in His Word. Faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17), and faith speaks back to God, using the words He has given. In a sermon preached at the dedication of a new church, Luther prayed that “nothing else may ever happen in it except that our dear Lord Himself may speak to us through His holy Word and we respond to Him through prayer and praise” (LW 51:333). The Divine Service is structured around Christ Jesus speaking to us in His Word and the Sacrament of the Altar and our answering in confession, thanksgiving, praise, and prayer.
The whole service is centered on the Word of God and the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ. Confessing our sins and receiving His forgiveness, we glorify our triune God using words He has given us in the Scriptures: psalms and biblical hymns of praise. The liturgy (order of worship) seeks to assist us in hearing the whole counsel of God. The lectionary is a system of Scripture readings from the Old Testament, the Epistles, and the Gospels arranged according to the Church Year. Having heard God’s Word, we confess the faith in one of the Church’s creeds. God’s Law and Gospel are proclaimed by the pastor in the sermon. We answer this proclamation with our prayers and offerings in grateful response to all of God’s gifts to us.
God gives us His promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation in more than one way. Along with His preached Word, the Lord gives us His body and blood to eat and to drink in His Supper. We come to the Lord’s Table praising the Savior who comes to us, acknowledging His saving presence in the words of the angelic hymn from Isaiah 6, and praying the prayer that Jesus taught us. The pastor speaks the Words of Our Lord over the bread and wine, which give us the true body and blood of the Lamb of God to eat and drink. Having received Jesus’ body and blood with our own mouths, we give thanks to Him, praying that this holy gift will strengthen us in faith toward Him and love for one another.
Throughout the service, we are reminded of the great truth proclaimed by Moses and Jesus: “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:1-3).
A blessed Thanksgiving to you all; and rejoice, my friends. The Lord is treating you as His beloved children because you are His beloved children. He has made you His own in water and Word of Holy Baptism. He speaks His Word of forgiveness through the voice of His called and ordained servant. He feeds you His visible Word, His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of your faith. He gives you all that you need for this body and life. He gives you all that you need for this body and soul for eternal life.
O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good; and His mercy endures forever. And you are forgiven for all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.