The Third Sunday in Lent March 8, 2015
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Exodus 3:1-8b, 10-15
396, 156, 516, 449
Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
The night before Jesus was crucified, after He had celebrated the Passover with His disciples for the last time, He led them all out into the night and toward the Mount of Olives. For Jesus, the final steps to the cross were now just before Him. He was only hours away from meeting His terrible death, and the Lord turned to His friends and said: “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered” (Matthew 26:31 NIV).
Could it really be true that these men would desert Him? Peter, James, John, Andrew—when we hear those names we think of the great apostles of the Christian faith whom God later chose to write down the words of the New Testament. Would these men really fall into temptation, try to distance themselves from their Master, and be unwilling to stand up and defend their Savior when others mocked and tormented Him? Peter could not believe such a thing possible. He declared: “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will…Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (Matthew 26:33,35 NIV). Peter was wrong. Before the rooster crowed early the next morning, he had denied three times that he even knew Jesus. All the other disciples were sure too that they would never fall away, but as soon as Christ was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane “all the disciples deserted Him and fled” (Matthew 26:56 NIV).
Peter and the others were very sure of themselves. They were, in fact, too sure of themselves, and that was their downfall. Each one of them would have done well to pay attention to the words of the Apostle Paul that we hear today: IF YOU THINK YOU ARE STANDING FIRM, BE CAREFUL THAT YOU DON’T FALL. I. Understand that anyone can fall into temptation, II. Heed the warnings against specific evils, and III. Trust God to help you resist temptation.
The Union Pacific Railroad had a slogan for many years: “We can handle it.” They wanted their customers to know that whatever freight they were asked to move, Union Pacific would be able to find a way to do it. They wanted to give the impression that they could handle anything. People tend to act this way too. Children insist to their parents, “I can handle it,” even when the parents know they really can’t. Sometimes adults think they can handle anything too—all by themselves—especially since society drills its mantra into our heads: “You can do anything you put your mind to.”
In spiritual matters this thinking becomes a particular danger because what happens is people can think they can “handle” temptation well enough too. There are plenty of Christians, like Peter, who think that they stand pretty firmly in the faith and won’t have much trouble resisting whatever the Devil may throw at them. So they adopt a rather careless approach to those things which can strengthen them and help them to remain in Jesus. They disregard these things because they don’t see much need for them.
Many a pastor has tried to encourage members who are not regularly hearing the Word of God at church or using the Means of Grace, only to hear them say, “It’s alright, pastor, you don’t have to worry about me just because I’m not around much. I’m doing okay. I read my Bible. I believe in Jesus.” Every pastor cringes to hear answers like this because it is a sign that the person is not going to be able to resist temptation, just as the Apostle Paul warns.
We learn from our Scripture that anyone can fall into temptation no matter how strong he thinks he is. For proof the apostle points to the people of Israel who once enjoyed a special relationship with God. He led those people out of their captivity in Egypt with a mighty hand. He guided them by a cloud that signified His presence and showed them when and where they should go. They all passed through the Red Sea by a great miracle, the waters separating at the command of Moses. All those Israelites whom God led out of Egypt had great spiritual advantages. They heard the Lord’s Word from a great prophet and even Christ was with them, though not yet in the flesh—their “spiritual rock.” The people learned of God’s mercy and of forgiveness for sin. If they lived in our day, we would look on these folks as church-going and faithful. But what happened? Out of all those people only two of the original escapees from Egypt actually entered the Promised Land. They fell into temptation, distrusted God, and their bodies were scattered over the desert (cf. Numbers 14:26ff).
If it could happen to them, it can happen to anyone. That’s the point the apostle makes here. Understand that just because you are a Christian does not mean you cannot fall into temptation. “Watch and pray” Jesus told His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:41), and don’t ever think that you do not need to be careful. Don’t ever think that you can stay away from church, or from regular use of the Lord’s Supper, or from contact with fellow Christians and not be affected. Sin is always crouching at the door waiting for opportunity to destroy your trust in Christ—the One who takes our guilt away.
We should pay attention, therefore, to the warnings against certain sins that Paul put before the Corinthians. We should pay special attention, not because these sins are worse than all others, but because they are temptations that can sneak up on us. We should not think that we are strong enough to “play with fire,”—we should not think that we can fool around on the edges of a particular sin or temptation without falling into it. Some like to think, “I can be a little vengeful, greedy; I can engage in some coarse talking, etc. and it won’t hurt me.” But Scripture says:
Do not be idolaters as some of those Israelites were. [v.7] They ate and drank and didn’t think it was a big deal to participate in the practices and customs of the heathen. In the end it cost them. If you spend too much time acting like others who despise God, you will become one of them.
We should not commit sexual immorality as some of those did who were led out of Egypt. [v.8] In one day 23,000 of them died in a plague, and everyone learned the seriousness of committing sexual sins. Our world treats matters of adultery, divorce, fornication, pornography, and the rest with an offhand carelessness and a “do what you want” attitude, but it should not be so with us.
We should not test the Lord — challenging Him always to “prove Himself” to us, because that only demonstrates a lack of faith on our part. [v.9]
And we should not grumble as some in Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron when over 14,000 died by God’s hand. [v. 10] The people complained about how God had cared for them in their lives; they complained that He hadn’t done enough, they were dissatisfied with His word and even His judgments. This only leads us away from Him, undermining our confidence and trust in Him. [v. 10]
These things happened to [Israel] as examples and were written down as warnings for us. [v.11] We need to heed these warnings against these specific evils. We dare not think, “We can do these sorts of things just a little bit and not be hurt much.”
It is all very sobering to realize that even the strong can fall, that if we become too sure of ourselves and too confident that sin won’t get hold of us, we are headed for disaster. It might even seem now that our walk through life will be filled with fear, fear that at any moment we might go down. Can we step forward with any confidence at all? The answer is “Yes!” Not confidence in ourselves, but with confidence in our God and in His Son Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 10:13 is one of the most comforting passages in the Bible for us on the subject. It says: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able.”
Your God loved you so much that He gave His greatest treasure, His Son, into death to accept the judgment against you for your sin, to save you from everlasting torment. God faithfully stands up for you, seeing to it that whatever the Devil throws at you, it is never so much that there is no chance to stand firm under it. We never need to feel despair thinking, “I just can’t help sinning! There is no escape! I am lost!” God Himself comes to our defense like He came to the defense of Job in the Old Testament. When Satan wanted to torment Job, God put a limit on what he could do. The Devil could test him, but only so far.
When God allows temptation to come to you, you can be sure that it will not be so great that you cannot resist it, for God does not want to see you lost, but through testing seeks to make you stronger. Listen to what Paul says: “But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” [v. 13 NIV] You can be sure that there will always be a way of escape from temptation. You can say, “No,” because the Holy Spirit has changed your heart. You have a new man in you that cooperates with God, that wants to do what He desires. You can “resist the Devil and he will flee from you” as James says (James 4:7). Above all, your way of escape is the Lord Jesus Christ.
He too is your ally in the fight against temptation. Take refuge in His wounds. Take refuge in Him who says, “For every time you have fallen, I have suffered your penalty. My death, my cross, is your assurance that when you fall there is still hope—you can trust me for forgiveness, trust me to drown your sins in the depths of the sea.” When we are tempted, we take up Christ as our shield. We say, “He is the Lamb who bears my guilt. I want no part in the sins He has taken away! I want no part in the sins He gave so much to carry for me!”
You are indeed standing firm, dear friends, because Jesus stands with you. Raise Him as your shield and your defense. He is your defense against the Tempter, your way to eternal life. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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