The 9th Sunday after Trinity—August 1, 2021
1 Corinthians 10:6–13
6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 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.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. 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. (ESV)
Introduction: The call to set our hope fully on the Promised Land
In his first epistle, St. Peter gives this admonition: set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1:13). In other words, keep your minds and hearts focused on the salvation which Jesus gives you, for that is the one thing needful for all eternity.
The Israelites were traveling through the wilderness, and they should have set their hope fully on the Promised Land. But instead, they desired evil—not that the things they desired were evil in themselves, but that their craving for the meat and fresh vegetables of Egypt caused them to despise the manna, water, and other provisions God graciously gave them in the wilderness. They committed idolatry by worshipping a golden calf. And their breaking of the First Commandment—You shall have no other gods—led them to also break the Sixth Commandment—You shall not commit adultery—as their false worship degenerated in sexual immorality. And then, they often put the Lord to the test and grumbled against God, saying Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food (Numbers 21:5).
You and I are traveling through the wilderness of this fallen world, and we should be setting our hope fully upon the Promised Land of heaven. But often, we behave no better than the Israelites. Our craving for earthly pleasures and treasures causes us to neglect and despise the new life in Christ which God graciously gives us in His Word and Sacraments. We do not fear, love, and trust God above all things, and so we make idols out of our earthly fears, loves, and trusts. And our breaking of the First Commandment toward God leads us to also break the other commandments against our neighbour, so that we love neither God nor our neighbour as we should. And finally, we often put God to the test with our spirit of discontent.
The Israelites are examples to us all. Now, we tend to focus of the negative example—that so many of them fell under God’s judgment. But we must also remember the positive example—that God spared many by His grace. The Israelites in the wilderness are an example to us of the ways God deals with His people in both judgment and salvation.
Judgment and Salvation
In terms of judgment, St. Paul speaks a word of admonition: Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. In other words, do not be complacent or arrogant about your sins, but repent of them. Only through repentance can we avoid God’s judgment. For as we humble ourselves before the Lord by confessing all the ways we have lived as did the Israelites, God exalts us by cleansing us of our sins for the sake of Christ.
And then, in terms of salvation, Paul speaks a word of comfort: No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. 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. In other words, God remains true to His promises. It is NOT that God never allows you to suffer beyond your strength to endure; rather, God provides you with HIS strength to endure one day at a time your trials and tribulations. In His own good time, He will also create the specific “way out” that finally brings the trial to an end. And God guards and keeps you in His grace through His Holy Word and Sacraments, so that although you are attacked daily by the devil, the world, and your sinful nature, you may finally overcome them and win the victory in Christ. And when your last hour does come, God will give you a blessed end, and graciously take you from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.
Living for the World that will never perish
St. Peter tells us that our salvation is an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for [us], who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:4-5). An earthly treasure can perish in flames, can be defiled by dirt, can fade away and even crumble with time, and can be stolen. But not so heaven.
The great city Babylon was one of the wonders of the ancient world, but its treasures were long ago looted and it now lies buried forgotten under the sands of time. In contrast, the New Jerusalem cannot succumb to the ravages of time, for it is the eternal dwelling place of God and of His saints. So why do we get so infatuated with the things of the world when Jesus has given us eternal life in abundance? Remember our Lord’s warning: Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12:15). And listen to St. Paul’s wise counsel: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let…those who buy [live] as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). Both Jesus and Paul are saying the same: use your possessions as wise stewards who must give an account to God, and do not allow your possessions and your cravings for possessions to possess you! For, as our Lord warns, what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? (Matthew 16:26).
In his Epistle to the Philippians, St. Paul sums up in one sentence the attitude we all should have as baptized children of God: I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (3:8). By God’s grace, we steward our lives wisely, realizing that we can derive no true, lasting happiness from this world’s pleasures and possessions. And so we pray God to teach us highly to regard the one thing truly needful—the treasure of our salvation in Christ. Yes, this one thing is needful; all others are vain—we count all but loss that we Christ may obtain!
Counting all things as rubbish in order to be found in Christ
Towards the end of his life, Johnny Cash sang a song about his “empire of dirt”. In spite of his many music awards and best-selling records, dirt was all he had to offer to his Saviour at the end of his life. Martin Luther expressed the same sentiment with the scrap of paper found on his body on the day he died. On that scrap was written the words: “we are beggars; this is true”. And so too St. Paul writes of count[ing all things] as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith (Philippians 3:8-9).
And so it is with you. You count all things as rubbish in order that you may be found in Christ. You confess that you have nothing to offer Christ, only your sins for Him to wash away. When you come to Him besmirched with your guilt, the only thing you can offer Christ is His own Blood, in which you were covered at your Baptism. You are washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb of God. And so you confess that Christ is your highest good. For no earthly good could possibly be higher than the good of Jesus wholly defeating your death and fully completing your righteousness through His death on the cross. There is surely nothing worth comparing to this life-long comfort sure, that you are baptized into Christ, which makes you a child of Paradise, who shall reign with Christ in glory! (See LSB #594: “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It”.)
Christ holds on tight to us!
In Revelation, St. John writes of the saints conquer[ing Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death (Revelation 12:11). For they loved not their lives even unto death—that describes the saints of every age and that describes you and me. That is why we sing with gusto every Reformation Day: [though they] take our life, /Goods, fame, child, and wife,/ Though these all be gone,/ Our vict’ry has ben won;/ The Kingdom ours remaineth (LSB #656). By God’s grace, we keep a light hold on our possessions, even on our lives, so that we may keep a strong hold on the one thing needful, on Christ and His gift of salvation.
But we can hold on tight to Christ only because He is holding on tight to us. Christ Jesus, God’s Son, stretched out His arms on the cross to embrace a whole world of lost sinners, to save them for heaven. Now He enfolds us in His love. He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves: through His Holy Word and Supper, He forgives us, cleansing us of all our unrighteousness. He creates in us clean hearts, rooting out all hypocrisy, renewing a right spirit within us. And He guards and upholds us so that the Holy Spirit may never be taken from us. Jesus enfolds us in His loving forgiveness and He fills us with the Spirit, so that we now count all things as loss for the great joy of obtaining the one thing we truly need—the gift of salvation in Christ! He is our all in all—our greatest treasure, our highest good, our dear Saviour Jesus—and we are His forever. Praise be to God! Amen.