1 Corinthians 10:1-13 As I read the words from the beginning of our text, I want you to underline the word, “all.” The Bible says:
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were ALL under the cloud, and ALL passed through the sea, and ALL were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and ALL ate the same spiritual food, and ALL drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
Do you know how many folks are included in that word “all”? Six hundred thousand men over the age of twenty besides all the women and children—certainly over two million people. Millions of people delivered from slavery to freedom—millions of people cared for--by the powerful, merciful love of their Savior God.
All of them walked on dry land directly through the waters of the Red Sea, led by Moses, while their enemies perished in those same waters. All of them were miraculously fed in the desert by food from God that came down each day from heaven. All of them had their thirst miraculously met for decades in that dry land. All of them were guided on their journey to the Promised Land. And Christ walked with them every step of the way.
In every way—in every moment—in material blessings and in spiritual blessings-- the Lord generously, graciously met the needs of all. Six hundred thousand men over the age of twenty left Egypt as free men. Do you know how many entered the Promised Land? Two!
The Bible says: With most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. That has to be the greatest understatement in the Bible! Most of them!? Two out six hundred thousand is certainly “most” alright!
God’s purpose in their deliverance—God’s purpose in their freedom—God’s purpose in their provision (to bring them into the Promised Land) was fulfilled in two of the six hundred thousand men who started out on that journey, for the rest were “overthrown” in the wilderness. In other words, God exercised his temporal judgment upon them on account of their sins.
Under the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit Paul recounts this sad history so that we would learn from it—so that the same judgment would not befall us as we journey to heaven.
We have all been set free from slavery to sin and death (much harsher masters than Pharaoh) by the outstretched arms of Jesus Christ upon the cross. All of us have been baptized into Christ Jesus, our spiritual enemies washed away. All of us are fed with food from heaven in Holy Communion. All of us have our material needs generously and graciously met. All of us have the abiding, guiding presence of Christ to walk with us through the wilderness of this world on our journey to the Promised Land of heaven.
What more could our Savior God possibly do for us than he has already done- and promises to do in the days to come -just like he did for all of those who came out of Egypt, of whom, two entered the Promised Land! The Bible says that:
These things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.
Paul was supremely aware from the history of God and his people that it is entirely possible to have been blessed by God in mighty ways and still not enter heaven because of our own abject rejection of his grace and our own stubborn unwillingness to turn form sin.
In the verses immediately preceding our text Paul speaks of this very thing in his own life and says that he disciplines his body and keeps it under control so that after preaching to others he himself wouldn’t be disqualified from the imperishable crown of eternal life.
If Paul knew this about himself, how much more should we know the same about our own life of faith! And so Paul records this story for us so that we would learn from it and take the lessons of history seriously and not repeat them and lose our way to heaven!
What was it that kept all but two men from entering the Promised Land? Paul says it was: idolatry; sexual immorality; putting God to the test; and grumbling. These sins undermined their journey of faith; earned God’s judgment; kept them out of the Promised Land.
And so then we have to ask ourselves: Do I fear, love and trust in God above all things? Do I attribute all good things in my life to God alone? Does he come first in my life and is that priority readily seen in how I live my life?
We have to ask ourselves: Am I leading a sexually pure and decent life in word and deed? Do I entertain myself with sexual immorality in movies or TV or the novels I read? Am I endeavoring in my marriage to love and honor my spouse? Am I making excuses for- and room for- the sexual sins of those around me?
We have to ask ourselves: Am I tempting God by turning God’s grace into a license for sin in my life? Am I excusing some pet sin rather than repenting of it? Am I continuing to sin with no real sorrow and no real amendment of life, believing that I will still be forgiven?
We have to ask ourselves: am I grateful for every single blessing of body and soul, large or small that the Lord has poured out upon me or am I embittered by what I don’t have and envious of what others have?
We must ask ourselves these questions seriously because these are exactly these same kinds of sins that kept all but two men out of the Promised Land and sin will have exactly the same deadly effect on our own life faith. The Bible says that:
These things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction,
Most of us have heard the phrase “Those who will not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it” and that is exactly why the Holy Spirit wanted Paul to write these words—so that believers in every time and place would learn from the lessons of salvation history.
Even for the people of Moses’ day, every time God exercised his judgment upon some of them—and there were many such occasions-- all of the rest of them should have learned from it.
Paul says that is especially true for us Christians, on whom the end of the ages has come. All of human history- and all of salvation history- has reached its culmination in Jesus Christ. He is the alpha and the omega, the first and the last—he is the purpose and fulfillment of all of human history-- so that there is not one thing left undone- that must be done -before the final judgment and the end of the world.
From the moment of Christ’s ascension into heaven, the world continues to exist only until that moment the Lord has gathered to himself all of those who are his. And so it is especially incumbent upon us, that in this late hour, we do not fall victim to our sins and miss the crown of life.
But how do we do that when so many who have come before us—so many who were blessed by God just like we are blessed by God—have missed out? The Bible says:
Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.
To withstand temptation, to complete our journey through the wilderness of this world, to receive the fullness of God’s redeeming work we must, first of all be on guard in our own lives for those very things that kept so many Israelites out of the Promised Land.
We must have deep sense of humility that recognizes that we are no different than they were—that their story in the Bible is not recorded so that we can say: “Those bad Jews”-- but so that we can see ourselves in their story and learn from them.
We must also understand that the temptations we face are no different and no greater than the people of God have faced in the past—that in this is both warning and a promise.
We are just as susceptible to Idolatry and sexual immorality and grumbling and tempting God as were the Israelites.
But we are also just as capable as trusting God as was Daniel when he was thrown into the lion’s den; and we are just a capable of sexual faithfulness as was Joseph as when he fled the temptations of Potiphar’s wife; and we are just as capable of gratitude as was Naaman when he was healed of leprosy; and we are just as capable of repenting of our sins rather than testing God’s grace as was David when he sinned.
We are capable of the same because the God who has saved us is the same and will strengthen and sustain us on our journey. The Bible says that:
God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
When we look at the salvation history of our own lives we can see that our story is the same as God’s ancient people—that it is the story of God’s faithfulness rather than our own faithfulness-- and that is Good News indeed. God promises that he who began a good work in us WILL bring it to completion at the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And so then with every temptation we encounter, God makes a way for us to face it and remain faithful in the midst of it. He moderates the intensity and duration of our trials. He raises up people around us to encourage us when we struggle. He gives us his Word and Sacrament for spiritual strengthening. And today he warns us-- in the strongest way--about the dangers of falling away.
God desires that we would live with him in heaven forever. That is the reason he has created us and redeemed us and provided for us in our daily life. Let us take seriously the examples from salvation that are written for our learning and walk the narrow way that leads to eternal life. Amen.