Sermon on 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
3rd Sunday in Lent
(by) 1. Learning from the past
2. Looking to the Lord
3. Leaning on the Lord
Text: 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Business is booming. Commerce is so good that wealth and extravagance are normal. Money is taken for granted and thoroughly wasted as people revel in every kind of luxury. Being such a hot spot for both tourism and business travel also means that visitors “take advantage” of their time in the city. “What happens there, stays there,” one might say. The reputation for indulgence slowly grew to the point where gross sexual sins have become the norm. A sailor is temporarily ashore and lives it up with the ladies. A man has relations with his own mother. No big deal. “If it feels good, do it,” they say.
Meanwhile the church there is barely surviving. The wise scholars and philosophers of this influential city cause doubt and skepticism when it comes to faith. Influential persons with strong opinions are causing factions in the church. Church members are indulging in the sins of the city around. The religious diversity of the city is swaying other members into false teaching and practice. Worship services are a disorderly mess. It would seem as though this heathen city of pagan revelry and sensual satisfaction will soon swallow up and destroy the church.
Is this Las Vegas? Los Angeles? San Francisco? New York? Miami? No. Try ancient Corinth, the leading city of Greece around 50-51 B.C. While any of those descriptions might fit any modern city today, they are taken right from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. What do you say to such people? What do you say to Christians surrounded by sin, struggling with sin, and fighting to sustain and strengthen the church? Whether it’s Corinth 2000 years ago or America today, Paul would say the same thing:
Many times when there was a very important point to get across, the apostle Paul would you use a certain phrase that we see in the first verse today: “I do not want you to be ignorant.” He always wanted Christians to be well-informed, in-the-know, and properly understanding certain truths. In this case, the Corinthians were to all be aware of their spiritual forefathers, the Israelites. Here’s what Paul says, “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.” All the Israelites followed the Lord as he was a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, leading them through the middle of the Red Sea on dry ground.
“They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” They were followers of Moses and they were of one faith. “They all ate the same spiritual food (a reference to the manna that fell from heaven) and drank the same spiritual drink (a reference to the time God miraculously provided water from a rock at Kadesh) for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” This is an allusion to a Jewish tradition which says that the Israelites superstitiously carried a piece of that rock from Kadesh with them all over the wilderness. Paul dispels that by saying, “No, it was Christ who was their spiritual rock with them in the desert.”
Could you imagine being an Israelite following Moses? God himself leads you and reveals his glory in a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. You walk through the middle of a massive sea on dry ground, only to watch your enemies squashed and drowned behind you. God drops bread out of heaven for you to eat. He provides water out of nowhere for them to drink. Christ was with them. It could hardly have been any better for those Israelites!
But that’s exactly the reason Paul brings them up. Look at verse 5: “Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.” Those Israelites had everything going for them. Yet many were so rebellious and so sinful that they ended up dying under punishment in the desert. There are several examples. Verse seven talks about their idolatry, a reference to the time they worshiped the golden calf while Moses received the 10 Commandments. Verse eight talks about their sexual immorality when about 23,000 because many Israelite men indulged in sexual idol worship with Moabite women. Verse nine mentions the time they tested the Lord’s patience and he ended up sending poisonous snakes among them. Verse 10 speaks of their grumbling against the Lord. Those Israelites had so much, yet they threw it all away with their sinfulness!
The point becomes clear in verse 11: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us.” This is a wake up call to the Corinthians. “Hello! Wake up! Don’t be ignorant! The same things are going on in Corinth!” As I mentioned, there was sin everywhere in Corinth. It was a wealthy city of every kind of indulgence—idolatry, adultery, greed, self-centeredness. It was certainly an ancient San Francisco or Miami or the like. So the examples of the Israelites are vivid examples to warn the Corinthians that the same might happen to them. Paul says Repent! Learn from the past!
If Paul were alive today, wouldn’t he still write the same thing? “Hello! Wake up! Don’t be ignorant! The same things are going on in America!” Maybe he would use both the Israelites and the Corinthians as examples. Are not the same sins each group committed still going on today? Idolatry? Adultery? Testing the Lord? Grumbling against God?
Before we point fingers at the epitome of these sins—places like Hollywood, Las Vegas, Miami—we ought first to examine ourselves. Richard Gere might speak openly about his Buddhism and Tom Cruise about his Scientology cult, but that doesn’t mean we don’t commit idolatry. Anything can be an idol—your job, your family, your money, your possessions, your free time. Have any of those things been more important to you than God? That’s idolatry. And you don’t have to be in Las Vegas to think like Las Vegas. Anywhere in America you can cast a wandering eye of adulterous lust with the simple click of a remote or flip of a page. We also may not complain and grumble against the Lord because we’re sick of manna falling from heaven. But there are certainly times when we test the Lord with our impatience, our doubts, complaints, our jealousy of others.
Brothers and sisters, do not be ignorant! Learn from the past. See the Israelite and Corinthian sins in America. See them in your own hearts. Learn from the past and repent!
There was nothing that those Israelite people deserved from the Lord. Shortly after God parted the Red Sea they were already worshiping a golden calf. Manna fell from heaven every day like snow in Wisconsin, but they got sick of it. God did miracles beyond amazing, but they actually said they would rather be slaves in Egypt than with God in the desert. The Corinthians didn’t deserve much from the Lord either. There were factions in the church, adulterous members, idolatrous members, poor leadership, and so much more.
Neither group deserved anything from the Lord. Yet they still had this one thing in common too—God was merciful and gracious to them. Look again at verse four: “The spiritual rock that accompanied them . . . was Christ.” Despite epic sins of rebellion and rejection, Christ was still with the Israelites. God was still going to send his promised Messiah. Or look at the end of verse 11: “Us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages as come.” Despite indulgent sins of self-gratification—egotism, adultery, idolatry—the fulfillment of all past prophecies, Jesus Christ, was still Savior for those Corinthians. They still had forgiveness in the Lord.
As we repent of our Israelite and Corinthian sins, we too can look to the Lord. Despite our epic sins of rebellion and rejection, Christ is still with us. Despite our indulgent sins self-gratification, Jesus Christ is still our Savior. As the Lord was merciful and gracious to the Israelites and Corinthians, so he has been merciful to us.
Our holy God in heaven would have every right to squash like little insignificant sinful bugs. Every sin is utter disrespect and disobedience to our God who has given us so much. But instead of blasting us with the full force of his anger and wrath, he directed that punishment onto his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus was the one who suffered for our wrongs. Jesus was the one who carried our burden. Jesus was the one who died for our sin. The brunt force of God’s anger and wrath over sin was put onto Jesus on the cross as he became the sacrifice for all sins for all people. It is his holy precious blood that washes us clean. It is his innocent suffering and death that pays for what we have done. It is his life and death that won us forgiveness. It is his resurrection that proves we will live in heaven. Repent! Repent of your sin, but then Look to the Lord Jesus Christ who gives you forgiveness.
As the Corinthians learned from the Israelites, and as we learn from the Israelites and the Corinthians, we see that we must be on guard. Satan is looking for any sort of opening to grab a foothold in our lives. If he can just get us to fall into temptation enough, if he can just get us to sin in a certain way, then just maybe he could pry us from our relationship with the Lord.
Thus, Paul’s warning to the Corinthians is also an important warning for us: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” Just when we think we are doing OK, just when we think we are safe, just when we think we have temptation and sin beat—that’s when Satan will strike. If you think you are doing so well and standing firm, don’t be conceited. Be careful! You just might fall!
So lean on the Lord. He will be your strength and your support as you face temptation. Look at the last verse: “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.” You may know well what it is like to feel overwhelmed by temptation. Perhaps recently you have felt like you just can’t beat those doubts and worries out of your head. Maybe you have felt like you can’t get over grief and anxiety. There might be a little pet sin that you always fall pray to. You might struggle with peer pressure and showing and sharing your Christian faith when around other non-Christians.
Lean on the Lord. God is faithful. He would never allow a temptation in your life that you couldn’t handle. He would never allow Satan to attack without providing a way out. He would never leave you alone to fight sin and Satan by yourself. He who defeated Satan at the cross will be your strength and your support. Lean on the Lord.
At our house we are becoming experts in the “time out.” When Noah is disobedient he has to sit out for a few minutes. Then we tell him what he did wrong and he has to say, “I’m sorry.” The time out always concludes with our forgiveness and a hug. Apparently we are becoming quite good at the time out. On Friday I say Noah putting Shrek in a time out. “Shrek naughty. Shrek in time out. Say sorry Shrek.”
Being sorry is only one part of repentance. There are actually three parts: Acknowledging your sin, being sorry for your sin, changing your sinful ways. That’s exactly what we heard Jesus tell us to do in the gospel, and that’s what Paul tells us in Corinthians today. Repent! Learn from the past and see your sin. In sorrow over your sin, look to the Lord who forgives all your wrongs. Then change your ways. Lean on the Lord who will help you in resisting temptation and refraining from sin. Lent is the ideal time for repentance. As we meditate on Jesus’ passion, reflect on your sin. Follow Christ to the cross as he pays for your sin. Then celebrate his victory Easter morning. Repent! And find salvation in the Lord.
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