Lent 3c

Preached: March 7, 2010

Divine Lessons From Israel's History
1 Corinthians 10:1-13

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit enlightens our hearts in Christ is 1 Corinthians 10

For I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, that all our fathers were under the cloud and all went through the sea. All were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they were drinking from the spiritual rock that accompanied them. That rock was Christ.

But God was not pleased with the majority of them, for they were done away with in the desert.

Now these things were examples for us, in order that we are not desirous for evil as they desired it. Do not be idolaters as some of them, just as it's written: “The people sat to eat and drink and got up to play.” Let us not practice sexual immorality as some of them did, and 23,000 fell in one day. Let us not put Christ to the test as some of them did, and they were being destroyed by the poisonous snakes. Don't grumble as some of them did, and they were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them as examples and were written to admonish us, for whom the end of the ages has arrived.

Therefore, whoever thinks he's standing firm, let him watch out, lest he fall. No temptation has seized you except what's human. But God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you're able, but along with the temptation he will also provide the way out, namely, being able to bear up. (1 Corinthians 10:1-13)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

You know the history of the children of Israel's exodus from Egypt. You know their journey through the desert wilderness for forty years. You've learned those details from little on up. Those dramatic events have captured the imagination of Hollywood. Cecil B. DeMille's epic The Ten Commandments is still rerun on television each year. Other retellings have been produced such as the cartoon The Prince of Egypt. Other shows spoof it such as Moe and the Big Exit. You know those events well.

But what does it mean for you and me? Do you know that? Why did God have these historical events recorded in his Word for us to read, learn, think about, and meditate on still today? And if you know the answer to those questions, are you putting it into practice and applying it to your daily life? Do the divine lessons from these events direct your thoughts and attitude? Do they impact your feelings and emotions? Do they transform your words and actions? Yes, even when we know the lesson, how far we still have to go so that the lesson is part of our inner being, filling our hearts and overflowing into our lives! So today, dear friends, let the Holy Spirit through the words he gave the Apostle Paul, teach you divine lessons from Israel's history and empower you to put them into practice.

A. Christ lavishes his spiritual blessings on all of us

1. What blessings does Baptism lavish on us?

In the first divine lesson we see Christ lavishing his blessings on the people of Israel. He rescued them from slavery in Egypt. Freedom! Deliverance! He humbled the Egyptians with the Ten Plagues and then led his people out going before them as pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

Picture that pillar of cloud leading the people. When they saw the cloud go before them, they knew the Lord was guiding them. And when the Egyptians pursued them and pinned them against the Red Sea, the cloud protected them. It went between them and the Egyptians, bringing darkness to the Egyptians and light to the Israelites as the Lord made a dry path through the Red Sea for his people to cross. Then with his people safely on the other side, the water came crashing down on their enemies destroying them. Through the cloud and the sea he had marked these people as his own chosen people, rescued through the hand of his servant Moses.

And in Baptism, dear friends, he has marked you as his people. He has lavished his great blessings on you. Baptism freed you from the power of your sin to condemn you, for your guilt was washed away. Baptism delivered you from slavery to Satan, for you were reborn as a child of God. Baptism rescued you from the fear of death, for it is the water of eternal life. Baptism daily drowns the enemy within you. And you don't need to wonder whether Baptism could really do such great things for someone like you. For you see, our Savior graciously makes those promises to all who are baptized. For those lavish blessings of Baptism are yours through faith alone, not based on your merit or work, but based on God's gracious promises only, which your faith clings to.

Think of that as you listen to Paul's words again, “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1,2 NIV).

2. What further blessings did he give for the Israelites in the wilderness and for us?

But that's not all the Lord did for his people. Christ's lavish love continued to bless them. He feed them manna, bread from heaven, each morning, six days a week. On at least two occasions when they had no water, he brought water out of a rock for them to drink. But more than this physical care, he gave them spiritual care. He gave them the living water that flows from Christ, the Messiah. He held before them his promise to send the Christ, as the once-and-for-all sacrifice for sin. That's what the animal sacrifices pictured again and again. He held before them the promise to send the Christ, who alone would safely bring them to the heavenly promised land. That's why he rescued them from Egypt and was bringing them to Canaan, so that the Christ would come through Abraham's family, just as the Lord had promised. “They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10: 3, 4 NIV).

And he has lavished on you and me spiritual blessings that are even more generous. For the Christ, the Messiah, has come as God promised. He is Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary and the son of God. He gives us his body to eat, the real bread that came down from heaven. He gives us his blood to drink, shed on the cross for you. He feeds our souls with his Supper. What a lavish table he has prepared for us to feast on! What a wondrous foretaste of the heavenly banquet!

B. Warning! Don't arrogantly abuse his goodness

1. How did the Israelites show their sinful arrogance?

But be warned, dear friends! Beware! Take heed! Watch out! And this brings us to the second divine lesson we learn from Israel's history. Although God's lavish blessings never fall short, so many people -- yes, the majority -- abuse his goodness and so lose his blessing. Guard your heart so that you, dear friend, are not one of them.

How tragically ironic! Our sinful pride uses the very blessings God's goodness lavishes on us to cut us off from him. That's why we need the warning from Israel's history. Pay attention to it.

“Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did” (1 Corinthians 10:6 NIV). They knew they were God's chosen people. He had rescued them. So now they figured that they knew best. They could make their own choices in life and set their hearts on whatever they wanted. And things would have to work out because they were God's people.

So when Moses didn't come down from Mt. Sinai for forty days, they partied around the golden calf (Exodus 32), even though that was not the worship the Lord wanted. They thought they knew better. Such arrogance! “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: 'The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry'” (1 Corinthians 10:7 NIV). You know what happened when Moses came down from the mountain.

They thought they could indulge in sexual pleasures outside of marriage and God wouldn't care (Numbers 25). But look what happened. “We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did -- and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died” (1 Corinthians 10:8 NIV). Be warned! They became impatient with God's way and detested the manna they had to eat (Numbers 21:4, 5). They knew better. If he didn't keep his promise to give them the land on their time table, he failed the test. “We should not test the Lord, as some of them did -- and were killed by snakes” (1 Corinthians 10:9). In their arrogance, they grumbled against God and the leaders he had given them. Why not pick new leaders and return to Egypt? (Numbers 14:1-4, 36, 37; 16:3, 12-14, 41-50). They thought they knew best. “And do not grumble, as some of them did -- and were killed by the destroying angel” (1 Corinthians 10:10 NIV).

2. When do you fall into the deadly sin of thinking you know better than God?

Beware! Take these warnings to heart, dear friends. Watch out! “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:11, 12).

You are baptized into God's family. But do we continually feed our baptismal faith with God's Word and Sacrament, or do we think we know better? Do we imagine we can worship God and encounter him outside his Word and Sacraments, just as the Israelites thought they could worship the Lord through the golden calf? We think we can pick and choose when we hear his word as long as we get around to it sometimes. We think we are standing strong enough to get by without God's Word taking up too much of our time. “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12 NIV). Heed the warning.

We know that Jesus died for our sins, so why pay too close of attention to what God says about right and wrong? We think we know better than he does what will make us happy. Why not mess around and have some fun? We're strong enough in our faith. If we need forgiveness there's always the Lord's Supper. But the Supper isn't a license for sin. “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12 NIV). Heed the warning.

We think we know so much better. So we grow impatient with God's time table. “Do it now, Lord, or I'll find a better way to improve my life.” We put him to the test. We grumble against him and his leaders who speak his word of truth when that doesn't fit with what we want. We think we know so much better. “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12 NIV). Heed the warning. Don't arrogantly abuse his goodness. For then you too will be in the majority, the majority that is lost and damned to hell. “Be careful that you don't fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12 NIV)

C. Only his faithfulness sustains us

1. How does he sustain us so that we battle on against temptation?

But when your arrogance and sin terrify you and you feel yourself slipping even falling, when everything else you thought was so firm underneath crumbles and the earth itself gives way, then, dear friend, know that God is faithful. Only his faithfulness sustains you and me. That's the final lesson today for us to take to heart and put into practice.

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV).

Temptation pulls at us, as it does on all human beings -- temptation to pride, thinking that we know better than God; temptations to doubt, wondering how God could ever save someone as arrogant as we've been; temptation to false belief, building our hopes on what God hasn't promised, temptation to other great and shameful sins.

But God is faithful. He does not go back on his word. He is trustworthy. And here is his promise: “He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV). Hold him to his promise.

But don't inject your own opinion into that promise. He hasn't promised to take temptation completely away or make it easy. He hasn't promised us the ability to withstand it on our own apart from him. Rather he's promised to give you the strength to battle on. He's promised to give that strength in a very specific way, namely, through his Word and Sacraments. For they are the Holy Spirit's tools. Through his Word and Sacraments he gives you the strength to stand up underneath temptation as you fight it with all you've got. That's the way out he promises.

He is faithful to his promise. So, dear Christian, as you face trial and temptation, go to him in prayer holding him to his promises. And as you pray remember that prayer isn't a bargaining but begging. Set aside sinful pride and fall before your God pleading for his mercy as a poor beggar falls before a mighty monarch. For we have nothing to offer in order to get our prayers answered; rather, prayer relies on his merciful promises alone. For God is faithful.

He's promised to provide you the strength to battle temptation. That strength and power only comes through his Word and Sacraments, the tools of the Spirit. We fall to temptation when we fail to rely on his Word and Sacraments. We fall not because he's unfaithful, but because we're unfaithful in using his Word and Sacraments. For his Word and Sacraments are his answer to our prayers for strength to stand up under temptation. His Word and Sacraments protect us even as the cloud and the water of the Red Sea protected his people of Israel. His Word and Sacraments nourish us even as the manna and the water from the rock nourished Israel. God is faithful.

So battle temptation, dear Christians. Battle it with all the strength and might the Lord gives you through his Word and Sacraments. Battle it with every ounce of your being. For God is faithful. His faithfulness will certainly sustain you.

Learn these divine lessons from Israel's history and put them into practice in your hearts and lives. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313