Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 10:1-5, 11-13
Date: August 13 & 14, 2017
The 10th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
1 Corinthians 10:1–5, 11-13 (EHV)
1For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, 2and they were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3They all ate the same spiritual food 4and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them—and that rock was Christ! 5Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them. He had them die in the wilderness.
11All these things that were happening to them had meaning as examples, and they were written down to warn us, to whom the end of the ages has come.
12So let him who thinks he stands be careful that he does not fall. 13No testing has overtaken you except ordinary testing. But God is faithful. He will not allow you to be tested beyond your ability, but when he tests you, he will also bring about the outcome that you are able to bear it.
Learn from History
1. Israel’s history
2. Your history
One of those most frustrating things in the world can be having to have the same conversation with someone over and over. Whether it is a parent reminding a child that the same behavior is not ok, a child trying to explain a new concept to a parent, or coworkers working a new project, it can be frustrating to go through the exact same conversation over and over again. Sure, reminders are ok and often necessary, but having to come at a concept from scratch repeatedly means someone isn’t listening or someone isn’t communicating well.
There is that trite, cliché phrase, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” It might be cliché, but it’s not untrue. If we don’t learn from our past, from the mistakes we’ve made, we can’t reasonably expect to improve anything. And that learning goes beyond our personal history. Careful study of history and the success and failures of other people can help us to navigate this life while making wise decisions.
The apostle Paul urges us today to apply that same thought to our spiritual life. Today, we want to spend a few moments learning from the mistakes and good examples of the past, and also seeing what God’s influence in our lives up to today can help us learn for the days that he gives us ahead.
Paul gives his Corinthians readers a high-level summary of the history of the Exodus from Egypt. He said, 1For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, 2and they were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3They all ate the same spiritual food 4and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them—and that rock was Christ!” He takes an almost allegorical approach to some of the things that happened to God’s people in the wilderness, but the explanation is clear. Whether it was the Glory of the Lord, that pillar of cloud and fire, or the walking through the Red Sea on dry ground, eating the manna and quail and drinking water from the rock, or eating and drinking the spiritual food and drink that God gave them in his Word through Moses and Aaron, God united them together as his people.
Yet, despite this uplifting truth, what was the reality of their situation on the way to the Promised Land? “Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them. He had them die in the wilderness.” We saw some of this displeasure in our First Lesson this morning. The people were told to not save any of the manna until morning, and what did they do? They saved some and it rotted. They were told to gather two days’ worth on the sixth day and not go out on the seventh day, the Sabbath. And what did some of them do? They went out to gather on the seventh day.
And it’s certainly not just those examples. We heard two weeks ago about Israel’s constant grumbling about water and food rather than trusting that God would take care of them. We know well about the golden calf they decided to worship while Moses was away. And perhaps foremost on Paul’s mind here was their lack of trust in God to deliver the Promised Land to them, which turned what should have been a several month trip through the desert into a forty-year wandering. That wandering lasted until the whole generation who lacked trust in God to do what he said he would do had died.
What can we learn from this history? Paul said that these things are “examples, and they were written down to warn us, to whom the end of the ages has come.” So what warning do we receive from these things?
Do we take God seriously or doubt that he cares much about what he says? Do we think that God really wants us to avoid lust and sexually immoral actions, or do we look through pornographic websites and perhaps let our lives be filled with sexual immorality, assuming that God doesn’t really care that much? Do we trust that when God says he’ll provide for us, that he’ll actually do that, even when things look tight? Or do we assume that we have to take matters into our own hands and forget about God’s providence while we bite and scrape for more? Do we think God is serious when he tells us that we need to address sin with someone who has wronged us directly and lovingly, or do we instead choose to talk behind people’s backs and ruin their reputation while avoiding a conversation we do not want to have?
Could we, perhaps, learn something from Israel? Could we perhaps note that when God makes a promise, he’s serious about it and will keep it? Could we perhaps note that when God commands something, he’s serious and expects us to follow it? Or will we be doomed to repeat Israel’s mistakes and end up dying, if not in the wilderness, then spiritually and eternally in hell?
Thanks be to God he overcomes our lack of faith and our outright defiance of his will in Jesus. Unlike Israel, Jesus is not an example for us to learn from. He is the one that lived as we didn’t and couldn’t. Our sins overwhelm us, just like Israel’s sins overwhelmed them. Yet, just as Israel had the promise of a Savior to come to deal with all of their sins, we know what God has done in being faithful to that promise. He sent his Son as a human being to deal with sin in his body. Jesus paid the price our sins and Israel’s sins deserved by suffering hell on the cross. His death dealt with their sins of not taking God seriously and our sins of disregarding what he says.
But our learning from history is not limited to just ancient history recorded in the pages of Scripture. We can look at our own lives and see the continued history of God’s care, protection, and most importantly, his forgiveness. Paul reminds us: So let him who thinks he stands be careful that he does not fall. 13No testing has overtaken you except ordinary testing. But God is faithful. He will not allow you to be tested beyond your ability, but when he tests you, he will also bring about the outcome that you are able to bear it.
Paul begins with a warning that is perhaps healthy for us to have today. Maybe most of us don’t feel tempted to doubt God, but we perhaps become complacent of even apathetic towards what God has done for us. We think we’re fine—after all, we’re not continually rebelling against God in the wilderness. So, we should be ok with God, right? That attitude, though, can lead us to take God and his Word for granted. We let personal Bible Study, time in public worship and Bible class take lower and lower priorities in our lives. And whether it is a conscious decision or not, we begin starving our faith. It is in this situation that we should be careful that [we do] not fall. God forbid that our complacency and distractions lead us to forsake our faith’s health and lose it without realizing it!
But when we do value it, when we are in God’s Word, when we are rejoicing daily in the forgiveness God has given to us, then comes the blessed realization that God’s promises are not just some nice sounding proverbs in an ancient text. They are real, active, living promises that you can see being kept in your day to day life.
As you think through Paul’s reminder that God always provides a way out of difficulty, or consider his promises elsewhere to work good even from disaster, you can see this happening over and over again. And like learning to ride a bike through repetition produces confidence that you will be balanced when you head out on the road, seeing God’s care in times of trouble throughout your life gives confidence for the future.
When you are reminded of those things and then face some new trouble, you can have the confidence that in this, too, God will protect you. His history of faithfulness to his promises in your own life gives you the confidence of that. He will not leave you. He will not forsake you. In fact, the one who freed you from your sins is certainly able to handle the smaller problems of this life along with them. God proves his faithfulness that gives us the resolve that he will take care of us now and into eternity, no matter what trials or troubles we are facing.
So, stay invested in his Word. Let those examples from Scripture’s history and the promises that God has made lift you up. Learn from history these tremendous facts: God is faithful. God has taken away your sins. God will take care of you now. God will take care of you in eternity. Thanks be to God! Amen.