1 Corinthians 10:1-5, 11-13 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. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.
11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 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 also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
“They’re only stories!”
- Written as history
- Written as warnings
- Written as examples
It’s been a while since Sunday school, hasn’t it? Can you still remember what you learned back then? Do you remember stories about Noah and Abraham? Do you recall all those stories about Moses? Maybe they’ve gone a little fuzzy. Maybe they’ve gone a lot fuzzy. But who cares, right? I mean, they’re just stories. They’re just things we tell our children. It’s not like they really happened. They’re just good lessons for little kids. We’re stronger than that, now. We’re adults! We can handle the truth without all those little stories.
I got news for you. Those little stories are important. They’re not just little stories. If they’ve gotten fuzzy because you haven’t read or heard them in a while, it’s time to return to them, just like you might watch a favorite movie over and over again. “They’re only stories?” Really? That’s not what St. Paul says in our lesson for today. The Old Testament accounts were written as history. They were written as warnings. And they were written as examples.
First off, they were written as history. St. Paul looks at the Old Testament and he says, “These things happened.” (I Corinthians 10:11) These things really happened. They’re not just stories – these are factual accounts of what really happened, miracles and all. The Bible presents these as historical accounts, not as fables or myths or morality tales. To say that these things didn’t happen, or they didn’t happen the way the Bible clearly says, is to call the Bible a liar. And since the Bible claims that God himself wrote it, to call the Bible a liar is to call God a liar. We’ll see why this is a big deal as we continue this morning.
And this isn’t dry history of something that happened over there to someone you don’t care about. This is your family history. Paul is writing to Greek people, not Jews, when he writes, “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.” (I Corinthians 10:1) He says that even these Greeks, even these people that have no blood relation to Paul, share the same forefathers. We are talking about our ancestors, too, when we look at the Old Testament! We’ve been made into a family, since God has adopted every single one of us in our baptisms. And that informs us of who we are. When you visit the doctor’s office, they’ll ask for a family history. Why? They want to know what your parents and grandparents suffered, because you’re at a higher risk of suffering the same things. If they know ahead of time what to look for, the doctors can treat you better. Well, we want to know the spiritual history of our spiritual parents, so we can watch out for the same dangers.
You see, the Old Testament wasn’t just written as history, but it was also written as a warning for us. “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us.” (1 Corinthians 10:11) What things? What things happened to whom?
The nation of Israel had been greatly blessed by God. Imagine that you’re there. Every day you wake up more tired than the last. You have the fine job of making bricks. The sun beats down on you. Sweat stings your eyes, and the only thing you can smell is the stench of your fellow slaves. And so often the only thing you can feel are the fresh cuts on your back as your Egyptian master whips you again and again. There is no escape. The Egyptians are too powerful for you. You live in the mud, and you will die in the mud.
And then God frees you. He sends plagues that break your powerful enemies. They release you. You go with your family, free! You walk, and though the sun still beats down on you, you hardly feel it. You’re free! And then you face the sea. Your leader, Moses, has brought you to the sea. You can feel the cool spray on your face as you watch the mighty waves.
That’s when you hear the horn call. Behind you, Egypt appears. The entire army has pursued you. They want their slaves back.
And God comes down in a cloud. He descends on your camp and theirs, so no one can see anything. The Egyptians don’t touch you. You turn to face the sea again, and there’s a path through the waters! The water piles up on either side, like walls of glass. You hurry through, and you know your life has been changed forever. You were a slave, but now you are escaping – you’re free! When you emerge into the sun on the other side, you turn. The Egyptians are pursuing! They’re racing through the dark canyon in the heart of the sea. God releases his hands. The sea flows over them – and they drown. Not only has God freed you from slavery, he has struck down your oppressors.
Paul calls this dramatic moment a baptism. God, through a mighty act, has freed his chosen people from slavery! Paul mentions how God provides spiritual food and spiritual drink. Even though his people are traveling through a barren wilderness, God provides everything they need in a miraculous, a supernatural way! You heard about manna in our first lesson earlier today. And in fact, the people even have Jesus. Yes, this is a good fifteen hundred years before the first Christmas. But Paul says they drank from a rock that accompanied them – and that rock is Christ. Jesus himself took care of them.
But what happened? Paul says, “Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.” (I Corinthians 10:5) These same people that had seen God’s mighty deliverance, the same people that had witnessed miracle after miracle, that were fed from God himself – these same people that had been blessed in so many ways rejected God. Even with all the things that God had given them, the people rejected God. They thought they could stand firm, so they didn’t pursue a relationship with God. They grumbled. They outright disobeyed. Not pursuing Jesus means running away from Jesus. In the end, they rejected the gracious God who had given them so much. And when that happened, there were consequences. An entire generation died in the desert. Not one of them entered the Promised Land; their children did.
What about us? We’ve been given so many blessings. We’ve been delivered in a might act of God. We’ve been baptized! We have spiritual food and drink in Communion. We have the word of the prophets made more sure – we can see all the history, everything God has done for us. We have Jesus. We know what he’s done for us. Many of us were blessed to grow up hearing about all that Jesus has done for us.
And what can happen? Just like our spiritual forefathers, we can fall away. “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12) If you think you’re doing well, watch out! Satan is crouching at your door, ready to take you down! If you think you know your Bible well enough, watch out! Satan has deceived you and convinced you that you know more than angels! Even angels long to look into what we have here! If you think you can stand, watch out! You are guilty of the same sin that destroyed an entire generation of God’s people! And you can and will fall. If you are not pursuing Jesus, your faith is atrophying and yes, you can lose everything.
The Old Testament is history that serves as a warning! If these things didn’t actually happen, then they’re just stories. If they didn’t happen, they have no use for us. They’re pretty fictions, but we can’t learn anything from them. But if they did happen, they were written as a warning to you. Our ancestors really did reject God when they didn’t pursue him. The same thing can really happen to you. Don’t lean on your strength. Don’t lean on your own understanding. Don’t lean on anyone else’s understanding, either! Learn from the Old Testament history. Even you, even you, as blessed as you are, can fall away.
The Old Testament wasn’t written as history just to warn us, though. It was also written as an example for you. God wants you to see the kind of temptations they faced. He wants you to see their temptations to despair as it looks like the Egyptians are going to drag them back into slavery. He wants you to see their temptation to pride as the nation of Israel thinks it can stand on its own. He wants you to see that every one of his commandments was broken in every way. He wants you to know: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) You cannot be so bad that you have invented a new kind of sin that God hasn’t seen yet.
But don’t just think, “Well, I’m as bad as everyone else.” Don’t leave it there. Yes, see that there is no temptation you face that others have not faced and fallen for. But, even more, there is no sin that Jesus has not already forgiven. That generation did die in the desert. Even Moses died in the desert; he didn’t make it to the Promised Land. But that doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t forgive them. Right now, Moses is partying in heaven because when Jesus died, he died for their sins, too. Take a look at all those sins, all those broken commandments, and know that Jesus died for their sins, too. Just like there is no sin that Jesus hasn’t seen, there is no sin that Jesus hasn’t forgiven.
You cannot be so bad that Jesus cannot forgive you. So confess your sins of not pursuing Jesus. Instead, see what Christ has done for you: You are forgiven. When we refused to pursue him, he chased after us. When we were still dead in our transgressions and sins, he made us alive in Christ Jesus. Find your confidence in this: Jesus holds you in his hands. Keep getting to know the one who has rescued you.
And keep in mind: this is history! If it’s not history, it has no value. Then you can’t be sure that Jesus will really forgive all your sins – because you don’t know if he’d forgive that kind of sin! But these events did happen in objective reality. And Jesus did forgive their sins. Just like he forgives your sins! So, yes, look at all the Sunday school stories as history with warnings for you – watch out for this sin! But also see it as examples – examples that show that you cannot outsin God’s ability to forgive you.
When you fall – and it is a matter of when, not if – don’t fall by yourself. Fall into the hands of the merciful God who is so generous with you. He showers you with so much forgiveness. Don’t think you can stand on your own. Instead, go to Sunday school. See the warnings there, and avoid falling into those same sins. See the examples there – examples of lives forgiven, lives lived in the light of God’s amazing grace. See the examples of men and women who serve God because he has been so generous with them.
And when you cling to that history, you won’t be thinking about stories. You’ll be thinking about your family. All those who struggled before you and those who will struggle after you. But you will see God’s grace poured out. You will see his generosity for them – which will open your eyes to the generosity he’s given you. They’re not just stories. They’re history. They’re warnings. They’re examples. All given to you, so you can grow in the grace and knowledge of our God.