Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, when I was growing up, I liked to climb things -especially trees. We had this large tree in the back of our house that my siblings and I named the “Climbing tree.” The branches were just spaced right that it was perfect for us to climb in. I remember one time, when I was quite young, that I kept climbing up and I was further up than my bedroom that was on the 2nd floor of our house, so I was about 2 stories up, when my mom saw me, I had to get down fast before she had a heart attack. Well, a couple months ago I was doing some work on our house and I had our ladder fully extended, and as I climbed to the top, my heart started to race a bit, I started to shake a bit, I’m not sure what it is, but now that I’m older, I found myself getting a little nervous being up so high. Why? Because I could picture myself falling. So, while I was working at the top of the ladder I began using a harness for a tree stand, so I was at least secured to the ladder.
I’ve never known someone to climb a ladder expecting to fall and do nothing about it. If you think you might fall off a ladder, what do you do? You see, one of the best ways to prevent a fall from a ladder is to have someone stationed at the base of the ladder holding the ladder in place. We can all picture the movie or TV scene or maybe this even happened to you where the husband is climbing the ladder and the wife yells, “Honey, do you need me to hold the ladder for you?” And the response is, “No, dear, I I’ll be fiiiiiiiiiiiine…” Crash! If you think you’re standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.
The same is true about sin. One of the surest ways to fall into temptation and sin is to be overconfident. You are at your worst point, worst point in life when you think you’re invincible. When we read a portion of Scripture like this, we dare not think, “This applies to everyone else, but surely it doesn’t apply to me, this could never happen to me, I have so much Christian heritage, I’ve attended church so much, I’m so close to God, I’ll never fall off the Christian ladder. I could never fall into this sin or that sin, I could never do this, I could never do that.” If you think you’re standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.
That’s what the Corinthians were thinking. You see, the Corinthian Christians knew Jesus, knew what Jesus had done, were baptized, celebrated the Lord’s Supper, understood that their sins were forgiven, but they began to think they were invincible. “We’re free! We can do what we want!” They thought it was perfectly permissible to attend an idol worship feast on Saturday (and keep in mind idol worship at this time also involved a lot of sexual immorality), they thought it was perfectly fine to attend an idol worship feast on Saturday and attend worship on Sunday. “We won’t be led to sin, we won’t fall into temptation.”
So what does God say? “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brother and sisters,” which means, “I really want you all to know this.” “that our ancestors were all under the cloud and they all passed through the sea.” He’s talking about our spiritual ancestors, the Israelites after they were led out of slavery in Egypt. What did they have? They ALL had the cloud with them, God led the Israelites by this pillar of cloud, they could see it, they could march on ahead with confidence because GOD was with them, they could go to sleep at night knowing that GOD was with them. That’s not all, they ALL also passed through the sea, they saw the spectacular event of the Red sea parting for the entire nation to walk through on dry ground. “They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” In a sense, they had something like baptism- an incredible event through which they were rescued by God. “They all ate the same spiritual food.” God fed them with manna from heaven. “And drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” God continuously supplied them miraculously with water throughout their wanderings in the wilderness. And we’re told that Christ was involved in all of this. Christ preserved them throughout their wanderings, in fact, it’s only because of Jesus that God cared for them at all – without Jesus, God would have no reason to provide anything for us humans. So they had spiritual food from Christ, spiritual drink from Christ, they also had something like the Lord’s Supper to assure them of God’s grace and love for them.
But what happened? “Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.” Despite all these privileges that they had, similar privileges that the Corinthians had, they failed to get the prize, they failed to enter the Promised Land, dead bodies, corpses were strewn all over the desert. One by one they died. Why? “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.” These are examples for us to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things like them. Instead of rejoicing in the great spiritual blessings that were theirs they lusted after evil things and met with God’s wrath. Their hearts were evil.
And here’s the direct warning for the Corinthian Christians and us: “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were.” The Corinthians thought it was just fine to go to a temple, sit down and eat at an idol worship feast. Well, the Israelites did the same thing, “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” That’s what the Israelites did with the golden calf. What about us? Are we idolaters? Perhaps we might think, “I’ll never fall into idolatry, I could never do that.” And we think that since we don’t have idols lining our streets like they did in Corinth, we couldn’t fall into that sin. But idols are just as prevalent today as they were back then, we just don’t call them idols. Do you have a god before God? Overconfidence is thinking that this doesn’t apply to me. If you think you’re standing firm be careful that you don’t fall. Am I worshipping my family before God? Am I worshipping success and wealth before God? Am I worshipping my hobby or my body before God? We live in a world of vast idolatry. We are raising our children and grandchildren in a world of vast idolatry.
The next example from the Israelites, “We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did – and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.” Again, we can’t be overconfident and think, “I’m too strong a Christian to ever fall into this sin. It doesn’t matter what I watch, it doesn’t matter what I fill my mind with.” We live in a culture and society that is saturated with sexual immorality. “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall.” Sexual immorality is something to be fled, not flirted with. We cannot play around in our minds with such immorality and think it doesn’t have a destructive effect on our hearts, our souls, our minds, our families. Should you really be visiting that internet site? Should you really be watching that movie?
The next example: “We should not test Christ, as some of them did – and were killed by snakes.” What does it mean to test God? It means trying to make God comply with me, instead of complying my life to Him. I want God on my terms, if God does this for me, then I’ll serve him, if God does that for me, then I’ll worship him. That’s testing God. It’s like my children, they’ll say to my wife, “I’m starving.” She makes a meal, we sit down to eat, and what do they say? “Oh, mom, I don’t want to eat that!” They’re trying her, they’re trying her patience. We do that when we complain about what God gives us in life. And that leads to the last example. “And do not grumble, as some of them did – and were killed by the destroying angel.” Grumbling is giving audible expression to unwarranted dissatisfaction. Grumbling and complaining is saying to God, “We know better than you.” We challenge God’s grace, goodness, love, and righteousness. “If only I had a different job, if only I had a different house, if only God had blessed me differently, if only God had given me a different life, a different lot in life.” Complaining.
“These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” These are examples for us. If you think you’re standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall. Even though the Israelites had amazing advantages in life, they saw the cloud, they saw the Red sea split, they were fed and they drank miraculous food, they became over confident and they fell. We, too, have amazing advantages, we’ve been baptized, we’ve tasted the miraculous food of the Lord’s Supper, we’ve been nourished by God’s Word, we dare not begin to think, “God loves me, God forgives me, I can do what I want.” Christian maturity is not seeing how close we can get to temptation before we fall, it’s fleeing it. The guy who thinks that he might fall doesn’t need to be told, “Be careful that you don’t fall.” It’s the guy who thinks he can’t fall who needs to be told, “Be careful so you don’t fall.” The more self-confident we are, the less dependent on God we are, the less dependent on God we are, the more careless we are in living, the more careless in living we are, the more open to temptation. When we think we’re good, that’s when we most need to be on our guard and dependent on God.
There are two ditches on either side of the Christian life, both of which, if we fall into will destroy our faith. We’d like to think that our lives are lived right down the center of this road, hovering a little to the left sometimes and a little to the right sometimes, but for the most part right down the middle. But, unfortunately, that’s simply not true. It’s far more likely that we spend a good share of our life hovering on the brink of falling off the cliff of overconfidence, pride, self-security and then the other part of our lives hovering over the perilous cliff of despair, thinking God could never love us or forgive us. Our lives are probably a constant shooting back and forth between these two perilous ditches.
So what are we reminded of? “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. 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 the outcome so that you will be able to endure it.” You see, when I think that I’m standing firm, when I think I don’t desperately need God, I need to hear, “I can fall, I can lose my faith.” But when I’m worried, when I’m troubled, when I’m frightened by my sin, this is what I need to hear, “God is faithful.” In fact, God is so faithful that He sent His own Son to be tempted in every way that I am but was without sin. Jesus overcame every single temptation – he did so for you, in your place. And not only that Jesus took upon Himself all your guilt, all the times you’ve given in to temptation, he suffered and died for it on the cross. He rose from the dead to assure you that you’re forgiven. And because of that God is faithful, He is with you in every temptation and promises to give you the strength to endure it without falling.
This is contradictory to our mind, but it is exactly what our contradictory hearts need. When I think I’m fine, when I think I’m good on my own, when I’m tempted to become proud. I need to hear, “Be careful that you don’t fall.” I need to hear that I can fall from the faith so I don’t become careless and indifferent. But when I’m scared I’m going to fall, when I know I’m weak and helpless on my own, that’s when I need the assurance from God which says that God is faithful, He won’t let me be tempted beyond what I’m able, I have a Savior who has washed all my sins away, I have a God who has done everything and will do everything to make sure that I will live with him forever in heaven. Amen.