God is Faithful

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Imagine for a moment that you are looking into a mirror. What do you see? A few more grey hairs? A few more wrinkles? A few more spots? The years are passing! Imagine for a moment that you are in a hall of mirrors, where the images are distorted so that you look wide or narrow; you have a long neck or short legs. Where your features are distorted. Recognisable but different. Imagine for a moment as you look into the mirror of the Bible. As you look into the Old Testament you can glimpse something of the New Testament; and you look into the New Testament and see the Old Testament. The two testaments are one. They have a common identity. They reveal to us divine truth, divine grace and divine love. They reveal our sinful nature and show us the way of salvation.

Like a pair of mirrors the two testaments look into the face of the other. The one reflects the other. The one anticipates the other. The one finds its fulfilment in the other. We find something of this in 1 Corinthians 10. Here Paul uses the Old Testament to illustrate the New Testament. He retold the Exodus story and transformed it into the Christian story. The drift of 1 Corinthian 10 isn't easy to follow but I think we can best open up the text by looking together at what Paul calls 'examples' – the example of the two sacraments and then of four warnings concerning belief and behaviour

1. The Example of the Sacraments

Within the Christian church we speak of the two sacraments of baptism and communion which were instituted and commanded by Christ. And what precisely is a sacrament? The answer is given in the church catechism: It is "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us, ordained by Christ himself." So a sacrament is outward and visible and inward and spiritual. I spoke earlier about mirrors. In the Old Testament, the two sacraments of circumcision and Passover anticipate the two New Testament sacraments of baptism and communion. The one anticipates the other. The one reflects the other. The sacraments express faith and nourish faith. We come to faith in Christ and are baptised. We grow in Christ and receive communion. There is water to cleanse us and bread and wine to feed us. In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul refers to baptism and communion.

a) Baptism (v.2)

In verse 2 Paul refers to baptism: "all passed through the sea, and all were baptised into Moses." Notice in the first few verses that the word "all" – occurs five times. All the people of God and not just some. All the people of God and not just the circumcised males. And did you notice that they were all "baptised into Moses"? In other words, they all identified themselves with Moses, the man of God, the leader of men, the saviour who led brought them from slavery to freedom. It was Moses who led them and taught them before they entered the Promised Land.

Of course the baptism spoken of here was only symbolic. For one thing, it was a dry baptism! The people didn't get wet! They walked on dry ground through the waters of the Reed Sea.

Paul spoke about being "baptised into Moses" (v.2) and of course the Christian equivalent would speak of being 'baptised into Christ'. All that was true of Moses was fulfilled in a more complete way in Christ. He is the Saviour (who brought us from death to life; from slavery to freedom). He is the divine LORD, who has redeemed us and saved us.

Paul said that "all were baptised" (v.2). If you profess to be a Christian believer and have repented of your sin and turned to Christ, then you must be baptised. This is the outward sign of the inward faith you have in Jesus. From the earliest times in the history of the church only the baptised may receive communion. Conversion, baptism and communion follow on from each other. Infant baptism of course anticipates coming to faith in Christ. But that's another sermon!

In 1 Corinthians 10 there is only a passing reference to baptism. Much more is said about communion.

b) Communion (vv.3, 4, 16-17, 21)

In the wilderness, God provided for his people in a material way. He gave them manna to eat and water to drink. This was his physical provision. But of course the food and water had a spiritual significance too. In verse 3 Paul refers to "the same spiritual food" and to "the same spiritual drink". The physical had a spiritual significance, a sacramental significance that nourished the body and fed the soul.

Consider our generous God! He led his people by the pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He didn't leave them to their own devices, but accompanied them, provided for them and protected them. But what was their response? Ingratitude! And their discontent turned to grumbling. They grumbled against the LORD. But how had they so quickly forgotten? He had saved them from slavery and set them free. With the divine Satnav he would lead them from Egypt to the Promised Land. They were his chosen people upon whom he lavished his undeserved love.

But the people grumbled against the LORD. Like Lot's wife, they looked back. They had been fed and watered in Egypt now they were starving and thirsty in the desert. Clearly they had forgotten the oppression and slavery. So what did God do? He heard their cry. He gave them food and water. Physical things that had a spiritual significance. The water from the rock anticipated the rock of Christ. In Jewish tradition the rock accompanied them on their journey. But in what way did it follow them? Charles Simeon took the words quite literally. "Of course it followed them", he said, "and 'with a hop, skip and a jump'". Today we may not take the words so literally, but would see then as a sign of God's continuing provision. "The rock was Christ" (v.4). He is the one who continues to nourish us, and to provide for us.

That close association with Christ is found in verses 16 to 17. The Passover meal was the sign of God's generous favour. In the Old Testament the people needed a visual aid to remind them of the LORD's provision and blessing. For us, the Lord's Supper is the sign of God's generous provision. "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, it is not a participation in the body of Christ?" As Christian believers were are nourished by the word of God and by the bread and wine that we eat and drink at the Lord's Supper. Those simple things remind us of the past event (the death and resurrection of Christ) and also of the future hope (that one day he will return). So "we do this in remembrance of him … until he comes" again (1 Corinthians 11:24-26).

Just as all Christians are baptised into Christ, so "we all partake of the one bread" (v.17). The redeemed of the LORD are nourished and fed. The redeemed of the LORD are united in Christ. The redeemed of the LORD are one in him. Just like the Keswick strapline, we are 'all one in Christ Jesus'. United in him. Together in him.

2. The Example of Warnings

Paul begins verse 6 with these words: "Now these things took place as examples for us." He gives not just a few random examples, but several warning examples that "were written down for our instruction" (v. 11). When we look into the mirror of the Old Testament what do we see? People a bit like you and me. Those who are the recipients of God's grace and love and mercy, but who given the choice, choose rather to disobey the LORD and to turn away from him and backslide and deliberately sin. As to warnings, we ignore them. As to blessings, we ignore them. We say that the warnings do not apply to us. They are for other people but not me! We chose not to hear the word of God and ignore the promptings of the Holy Spirit and prefer to be disobedient. Our love soon grows cold and as a result, we become out of fellowship with the LORD.

Look back to the biblical mirrors. We must live by faith that is fashioned and moulded by the word of God and the Spirit of God. And whether it be in the Old Testament or the New Testament, the truth is found in Jesus. Our identity and security is found in him and in him alone. Here in 1 Corinthians 10 Paul gives us four warnings that have the repeated refrain: "We must not … as some of them did" (vv.6-7, 8, 9, 10).

a) For them …

A warning against idolatry (v.7)

The Ten Commandments condemned the worship of idols. In the wilderness the people made an image of a golden calf. They didn't want to change their God, but they wanted to have a visible sign of his presence. Idolatry was a sin and a sign of disobedience. Today our idols may not be of wood and stone but they are still a very real temptation: materialism, greed, the me-culture of the selfie. I'm reminded of William Temple's words that it is as false to have a mental image of God as to have a false mental image of him. Paul didn't mince his words. "Don't be idolaters" (v.7) … "flee from idolatry" (v.14; 6:18). Yes, even God's people need to be reminded not to worship other gods.

A warning against immorality (v.8)

In the apocryphal book, the Wisdom of Solomon, it says: "The beginning of immorality is to devise idols" (Wisdom of Solomon 14:16). Inevitably idolatry leads to immorality. The example that Paul gave was when the people of God intermarried with Moabite women, and which led to the deaths of over 20,000 of them. Disobedience is costly. Disobedience has its consequences.

A warning against testing the LORD (v.9)

In the wilderness the people were bitten by snakes and died (Ps. 78:18; Num. 21:4ff). They tested the LORD to see just how far they could get away with idolatry and paid the consequences. Whether it was the Israelites - or the Corinthians - or ourselves. We can test the LORD. We can ignore him. We can reject him. We can deliberately turn away from him. But this doesn't go unnoticed. We try and cover up and hide: but the LORD sees and knows the sinfulness of our hearts.

A warning against grumbling against the LORD (v.10).

Some people are perpetual grumblers. Even the icing on the birthday cake is the wrong colour! All too easily we grumble and complain about silly things. But we must avoid grumbling against the LORD! Why has he done this? Why am I still single? Why can't I get another job? Why can't I do what I want?

b) For us …

What do we see when we look into the mirror of divine love? How much do we live for the LORD and permit him to change and transform us? All too easily we give lip service to believing but refuse to obey. Outwardly we go through the motions of being a Christian, but inwardly what is the state of our hearts? We may read the Bible but we prefer to ignore what it says.

In v.11 Paul says: "Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction". As we look into the biblical mirror what do we see? Just those things we want to see? A life of ease rather than of service and sacrifice? A life where God is eclipsed by the culture in which we live. In these verses Paul is deeply concerned about his readers. He pleads for their souls – don't fall into sin by making an idol, or committing adultery, or testing the LORD or grumbling against him.

You will be tempted he says. But don't let pride stand in the way. God is faithful (v.13) and he will see that we are not overwhelmed by temptation. We may fall, but he will pick us up, and provide the strength and the courage we need to go on. And remember we have the means of grace to nourish and to sustain us – the word of God, the sacraments and prayer.

So today, could I encourage you to look into the mirror of God's word and be prepared to change and to be changed so that your life and character might reflect the example of the Lord Jesus more and more.

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