Written For Our Instruction
1 Corinthians 10:(1-5) 6-10
Ninth Sunday After Trinity
August 2nd/3rd, 20153
Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
“Now these things took place as examples for us,” says the Apostle Paul, “in order that we might not desire evil as they did.” Are we paying attention? “These things happened to them as an example,” says the Apostle Paul, “but they were written down for our instruction.” Are we listening? “Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”
Just what exactly is Paul talking about here? What is he trying to get us to remember? And, maybe most importantly, what are we supposed to learn from these examples?
First things first. Paul is calling to mind the history of the Israelites. He is calling it to mind because the Israelites are our spiritual ancestors. We may not be ethnic descendants of the Jews, but the people of Israel in the Old Testament are our forefathers in worshiping the only true God. He was their God just as he is ours. They were saved by trust in his promised Messiah just as we are saved by faith in his promised Messiah. The things they experienced and lived through were all preparation for the arrival of the Messiah Jesus. Now that Jesus has come and finished his work of redemption, the end of ages has come. The fulfillment of the ages has come. Now we are waiting for his return. But the fact that Jesus has fulfilled all that was prophesied about him does not make those prophecies worthless. Quite the opposite, in fact. The things that God did to and through Israel certainly happened, but God made sure that those things were written down so that we might learn from them. But what do we learn?
To answer that, we first have to notice what events Paul specifically calls to mind. Notice that today’s reading starts at 1 Corinthians 10:6. Back in verse 1 of the same chapter Paul began calling to mind specific events from the history of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. He reminds us that all the Israelites were under the cloud, recalling the miraculous pillar of cloud and fire that both led the Israelites out of Egypt and protected the Israelites on their journey. It protected them from Pharaoh’s army by acting as a barrier to keep the soldiers at bay while the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea. It acted as a cloud normally acts, shielding God’s people from the scorching heat of the desert sun. It acted as fire normally acts, providing a source of light and heat in the night and some light to keep predators away from the camp of Israel. Over and over again, this miraculous cloud acted in ways that protected the Israelites in their journey.
Paul also reminds us that on that journey God provided for the physical needs of his people. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink. God did not let his people starve in the wilderness. Neither did he expect this tribe of a 2-3 million nomads to find enough food in the desert to feed themselves. Instead, he sent them manna from heaven to supply their need. He sent them quail as meat to eat. He supplied water from a rock. Some interpreters even believe that the way Paul speaks of the spiritual rock that followed the Israelites mean that the rock from which water flowed for Israel rolled along with them on their journey so that they would always have access to its eternal spring. Whether or not that actually happened, what is certain is that God not only provided protection for his people through the miraculous pillar of cloud and fire, he also provided food and water for them.
With all this going on around them, you would think the faith of the Israelites would be off the charts strong. What other group of people in the history of the world had such daily and regular experience of miraculous events? But here is one of the things we are supposed to learn if we are paying attention to the story of our spiritual ancestors. We often test God by asking him to do something miraculous. We often act as if it would be easier to believe if we had lived in the days of Jesus or had seen him do something miraculous. But here is a group of people who experienced the miraculous every day. And what happened to them?
That’s where today’s text picks up. Most of them were overthrown in the wilderness. Some of them became idolaters, like the time they built a golden calf at the base of Mt. Sinai while Moses was interceding for them before God. The people had literally just heard the voice of God speak to them from the mountain, and they were so intimidated by the voice that they demanded that Moses speak to God for them. No sooner had they sent Moses up the mountain to talk to God, than they began constructing an idol in his absence. And about 3,000 died as a result. How often do we ignore the gracious provision of our Heavenly Father who, out of his fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us, provides us with all that we need to support this body and life?
Some of them engaged in pagan rituals with temple prostitutes, like the time the sorcerer Balaam was hired by King Balak of Moab. The Israelites, who ate miraculous bread from heaven for breakfast, spent their afternoons and their evenings engaged in those pagan practices. And about 23,000 fell in a single day. How often do we feast on our miraculous bread from heaven at this very altar and then, as soon as we leave this place, throw ourselves head first back into the sinfulness of the world around us? How do we indulge our own lust, our own greed, our own bigotry and hatred?
Some of them grumbled against Moses as God’s chosen leader, complaining that they were going the long way around Edom rather than cutting through hostile territory and destroying anyone who stood in their way. So as they traveled by the Red Sea, while they should have been reminded of the deliverance they had experienced there, instead their grumbling was so bad that God sent poisonous snakes and some of them were destroyed by serpents. Some of them tried to rebel against Moses as their leader, putting the man Korah in charge, but were destroyed by the Destroyer when the ground opened up and swallowed the camp of the rebellious faction. How often do we grumble about the spiritual leaders God has placed in our lives? It may sound self-serving coming from a pastor, but it’s not about me. I have a pastor too. The reality is that the pastors of our Lord’s church are the men he has given to be the shepherds for his flock, our spiritual leaders today. In spite of my many personality flaws, in spite of my short comings, in spite of my failures as a sinful child of God in need daily of his mercy and forgiveness, through the office of pastor God is seeing to it that his Word is proclaimed. How often do we let personality quirks of a particular man get in the way of the gospel? How often do we grumble about the spiritual leaders in our lives?
In spite of all that God had done for them, in spite of all the miraculous things they had experienced, Paul reminds us that many of the Israelites fell away. There is a warning in there for us. At the time these things happened they served as examples to the rest of the Israelites. They were reminders that while God was indeed merciful and the very one who had brought them out of slavery in Egypt, he was also a jealous God who would not sit idly by while his chosen people chased after idols. These things happened to them as examples, but they were written down for our instruction. They were recorded by Moses and passed down through generation after generation of God’s people to this present day so that we might learn from the example of the Israelites.
Therefore, let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
Let us take heed, lest we fall. Let us not assume that things would be easier if God would just do something miraculous. Let us not arrogantly or stubbornly demand a sign. The Israelites saw signs and wonders every day, but rather than having their faith strengthened by these signs, many of them simply grew callous to them. Our problem is not that we don’t experience the miraculous, our problem is that our hearts have grown callous to the miraculous things in our midst. Take, for example, the fact that anyone is here today. It is only by the grace of God and the working of his Spirit that the gift of faith is created in anyone. Left to ourselves or the natural world around us, we would not know God. We could not know God. But our Lord has miraculously come to us through the preaching of his Holy Word and the gracious gift of his sacraments to create new life in our hearts. This life in Christ is a miracle. Celebrate the miraculous in our midst!
Not only is this new life is created entirely by the work of God, so also it is sustained entirely by the work of God. Another miracle. He does so through the continued study of his Word. Consider our earthly existence. A mother’s body works overtime for nine months as a baby grows in her womb. But once the baby is born, the mother’s job is far from over. In fact, it is just beginning. The child must be cared for, fed, and nurtured. If that child isn’t cared for and provided the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, that child’s life will be tragically short. So also our life of faith. We cannot survive without the basic spiritual needs of food, clothing, and shelter. Our new creation must be fed on the Word of God, strengthened with his body and blood so that it can withstand the temptations and assaults of this world. We must be clothed by the robe of Christ’s righteousness, robes that are wrapped around us each time the pastor stands before this assembly and in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ forgives our sins. We need the shelter found in God’s House, the shelter provided by being surrounded by other believers who are experiencing the same struggles and temptations. For no temptation has overtaken you except that which is common among men. Your struggle, my struggle, are the same struggles that people around us are experiencing. We don’t need to go it alone. Let us not give up meeting together, as is the habit of some, but let us gather to encourage one another, and all the more as the day draws near.
Even though the Israelites had been, in a manner of speaking, baptized in the Red Sea, many of them fell away. So also, even though we have been baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we have not yet reached our promised land. Let the one who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. Let us not fall victim to the lie of once saved, always saved, lest we make shipwreck of our faith. Rather, let us recognize that, like the Israelites, very real temptations will come our way. But in each case, God will not leave us to fend for ourselves. With the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, and that way is Jesus.
If we rely on our own strength or judgment like those Israelites who wanted to oust Moses as their leader, we too will fall. If we succumb to the passions of the flesh like those Israelites who gave themselves to the women of Baal, we too will fall. If we turn our hearts from the worship of the true God to instead worship the false gods of our time like the Israelites who built the golden calf, we too will fall. Rather, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. Humbly confessing our sin, we cling to his mercy alone. He is first and foremost the God who delivered his people from slavery in Egypt. He has delivered us too. This life is our Exodus, the journey from waters that set us free from our bondage to sin; the journey to the Promised Land of heaven. Come, be nourished for your journey. Be fed by the spiritual food of his body and blood at this altar for the forgiveness of your sin and the strengthening of your faith. Learn from the history written for our instruction, and rather than relying on your own strength or falling victim to the temptations of the world around you, live in the joy of the deliverance we have received, our own exodus from death to life. Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall, and let the one who knows he has fallen be lifted up by the life of Christ.
 1 Corinthians 10:1
 Exodus 14:19-20
 1 Corinthians 10:3
 Exodus 16:13-15
 Exodus 17:6
 1 Corinthians 10:4
 1 Corinthians 10:5
 Exodus 20:18-19
 Exodus 32:6,28
 Numbers 22-25
 Numbers 21:1-9
 Numbers 16