Lessons from History

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Heading for a crash – {show image of the costa Concordia} – on the 13th Jan this year, at about 15 to 10 in the evening the Costa Concordia, sailing dangerously close to the coast of Tuscany, fatally ran aground on a rocky reef.  The hull was pierced and the ship began taking on water and listing dangerously.  Just a couple of hours later the ship was sunk, resting on it's side in shallow waters, and 32 people were killed.

You know the story, that image of the ship on its side is indelibly fixed in our minds.  And so are the reports of the captain's incompetence, arrogance and cowardice.  Captain Schettelli's errors were catalogued for us in the press: it seems he was at fault for the sailing too close to the shore without adequate charts, it seems he was entertaining a lady friend on the bridge instead of paying attention to piloting the ship, and it is clear that he tried to cover up the accident, lying to the coast guard repeatedly, saying it was just an electrical fault when he should have been evacuating the passengers – and to cap it all off he jumped ship in a life boat while many others were still trapped on board.  While 32 people were drowning aboard the ship he ran aground he was snuggling up a local hotel looking for dry socks.

So this was a tragedy made all the more tragic by the fact that it could so easily have been avoided in the first place and it should certainly have been admitted earlier and acted on – and if it was many lives would most likely have been saved.

It's also a tragedy that vividly illustrates the big idea of our passage this morning.

How so?  In this passage Paul warns the self indulgent, self centred, sin soaked Corinthians that they might be heading for personal, spiritual ship wreck.  Like Captain Schettelli and the Costa Concordia they are recklessly sailing in dangerous waters and they are in severe danger of shipwrecking their faith and coming to a sad end.  Paul uses the example of the church of the Old Testament – the people God rescued out of Egypt, but who never made it to the promised land.  That warning resounds through the centuries to us too.  Like the Corinthians we face imminent danger of falling if we don't heed the warning.

So this morning I want to ask you to pay careful attention, and to consider the possibility that you might need to take drastic action in the light of the things that you hear.

And this is what the Bible says to us this morning:

Christians – yes Christians – are in real danger of destruction from God if we do not live to please God, so watch out.

How is that argued in this passage?  Well the passage makes three or four points:

First –Israelwas saved by God and they were destroyed by God vv 1- 5.

Second – These things are a warning to us v 6-11; so,

Third – Don't do what they did v 12-13

So let's start at the beginning:

Point One -Israelwas saved by God and they were destroyed by God v 1-5

This is the point of the first four verses – so have a look at them with me:

1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, - this is a dig where they think they are strong – they were proud of their great knowledge – they were so sure of their superior knowledgeable that they were puffed up.  But their knowledge was incomplete, in fact they weren't wise at all, they were ignorant.  – that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.

The idea here is pretty clear isn't it?  The Israelites, rescued by God out ofEgypt, led by him through the desert and provided by for him enjoyed all of the benefits of salvation.

Have a think about what the Israelites enjoyed in the exodus.

Think about the cloud.  This is the cloud that covers the glory of the Lord, the cloud that represents God's presence – and it was with them as they leftEgyptand remained with them as they travelled throughout the wilderness.

So God himself came to their rescue, covered them with his glory, and lived among them in the desert, just like he rescues us and lives in us now by his Spirit.

And think about the sea.  When they were trapped by Pharaoh and his army, God parted the red sea for them and they walked through on dry land.  When Pharaoh tried to follow God closed the waters again and destroyed their enemies. They were saved through water, the same water that brought judgement to God's enemies brought salvation to them.  Baptism is a vivid re-enactment of Jesus death and resurrection – the great act of judgement that saves us.  How much more vivid was their experience walking through the red sea to salvation – it was a sort of baptism, they went down into death, and came up alive.

And think about what their food – day by day God sent bread from heaven to feed them, and when they were thirsty he provided water supernaturally, so that it flowed out of dry rock!  Likewise we're fed supernaturally by the spiritual bread of Jesus body, broken for us, and the spiritual wine of Jesus' blood poured out for us.  They were saved by Christ like we were – the things that happened to them pointed forward to the salvation that comes through Christ (just as Jesus says the Passover is about him).

So what do we have here?  Simple: a picture of a people who enjoyed the same spiritual benefits as we do, the church of the Redeemed in the Old Testament.  They were saved out of slavery by God.  They enjoyed God's presence and his supernatural provision just like the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper.

You see the point don't you – they were just like us.  They had all the great advantages that we have.  In fact you might say more properly it goes in the opposite direction – we're just like them.  We've been privileged to share in the very same salvation that they shared.

They were just like us, but things went very wrong for them because God wasn't pleased with most of them.

Look at verse 5:

5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.

This is Paul at his most English, there's some serious understatement here.

How 'not pleased' was God? – was He a little put out, mildly disappointed – no it was a bit stronger than that – the degree of God's displeasure is shown by the second half of the verse, which says 'for' (that 'for' is left out of NIV), for their bodies were scattered over the desert… The proof of God's displeasure was the violent deaths of the people.  God was not pleased with most of them – we know it because he slaughtered them in the desert, left their bodies strewn across the ground.

Now that is a shocking image.  We know the sort of thing Paul's talking about – this is the sort of thing we associate withSyriaorRwandaorAuschwitz– mass graves, weeping widows, wanton destruction; the sort of scene which makes us and recoil in horror.  That's the sort of scene this verse is describing, bodies scattered, lives taken away by violence, with no one to bury them, no one to help them.

And God did this.  And God did this to his own people – to the people he rescued fromEgypt.

That is shocking – that's beyond shocking.

God scattered their bodies over the desert – God did.

And just to be clear – 600 000 of them came out ofEgypt, but only 2 lived to set foot in the Promised Land.

Do you see the scale of God's displeasure – God brought them out, God gave them so much, and God put them to death in the wilderness so that they never reached the Promised Land.

And remember: They.  Were.  Just. Like. Us; they were the church in the Old Testament.

If this is what happened to them then we should be afraid, be very afraid.  God is not to be trifled with.  The privileges of salvation, as wonderful as they are, are no guarantees to us if we treat them with contempt and throw them back into God's face.

See there are people who say 'once saved, always saved' – and they turn that into a licence to do whatever you want.  In the same way there were people inIsraelbefore the exile who said 'we won't be exiled because we have the temple of the lord'.  To this day plenty of people believe that if they have their kids 'done' – if they're christened at church - then that means their kids have a ticket to heaven.

More subtly we can give the impression that if you go to the right conferences, read the right books, listen to the right preachers, get your theology right – and do your daily bible reading and praying of course – then that's enough.  And we forget to consider that the truths we read and study and preach need to actually sink in and make a difference in our hearts, our minds and our lives.  It's not right theology on it's own that's important – it's right theology leading to right relationship with God, to right living before him.

The fact is our lives matter – we're not saved by what we do, and we don't stay Christians by being good.  But if we consistently ignore God and live for other things, then can we really call ourselves Christians at all?  Can we expect to be numbered among his people if we don't live with him as our God?

Paul is saying that Christians run the risk of meeting the same fate that the Old Testament church met.  To return to the Costa Concordia – Christians run the risk of ship wrecking our faith, just as Captain Schettelli did his.  It's possible to have all the right theology, to have experienced all the blessings of salvation and membership of God's church – and still to be heading for a ship wreck.  It's possible if we continually sail in the dangerous waters of treating God with contempt.

How can I say that so confidently?  Well that is the second point that Paul makes in this passage, the climax of the argument:

Point Two: These things are a warning to us; vs 6 -11

This is not a random history lesson, this has real relevance to us, because it's all about us, look at verse 6:

6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things 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 got up to indulge in pagan revelry." 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did-- and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test the Lord, as some of them did--and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did--and were killed by the destroying angel. 11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfilment of the ages has come.

This section starts and ends with the same point – this is a warning for us.  None of this happened by accident, it was designed by God for our education, so that we could see and learn.  These things are examples for us, warnings for us – don't do what they did…

So what did Israeldo to make God so very angry? vs 6, They set their hearts on evil things.   They set their hearts on evil things.

What evil things? Paul takes us on a guided tour through Exodus and Numbers.  The pattern is set at Sinai – where they abandoned God to chase idols.  Verse 7 quotes Exodus 32, the passage we read earlier.  This is the sin that sets the agenda for the Israelites time in the wilderness.

If you remember the story (you can catch up on our sermon series on the website if you don't) God rescued them out ofEgyptby the 10 plagues, then led them out through the red sea and into the wilderness to meet with him at the mountain – Mt Sinai, also called Mt Horeb.  There God reveals his glory to them and enters into a covenant relationship with them – I will be your God and you will be my people, and he delivers the law to Moses on the Mountain – this is what being my people will look like.  He declares the 10 commandments aloud so that they hear it – and they tremble in fear and say please stop talking to us, its too frightening, we can't bear it, we'll do everything you tell us.

So Moses goes up to hear from God and relay God's instructions down to them.  And while he's still up on the mountain, they go to the high priest and ask him to make them a golden calf to worship.

He does it and they worship it just as the pagans worship – with feasting and sexual immorality and all the stuff the Corinthian church had been doing.  Think about it – this was while Moses was still up the Mountain getting the law from God, this was just days after they heard God say 'you shall have no other Gods before me'… and 'you shall not make an idol and bow down to worship it'.  In the language of scripture God took them to be his bride and on the wedding night they took another lover.

Do you see why God was not pleased with them?  Of course it wasn't just one act of disobedience, but a consistent pattern – they kept going astray.  So Paul says in verse 8: they committed sexual immorality – this is referring to Numbers 25 when the Israelite men committed sexual immorality with the Moabite women, and were led astray to follow their Moabite gods – idols again – and God sent a plague on them, killing 23,000 of them on the spot. and verse 9 talks about another occasion (Numbers 21) when the people complained about God leading them into the desert and God sent snakes among them to kill them.  Verse 10 talks about a similar theme – grumbling against the Lord, for which the ring leaders were again put to death – see Numbers 16.

Paul could have gone on multiplying examples.  But when we look atCorinthwe see all the same things going on.  They may not have bowed down to worship the idols in the temple, but they certainly ate and drank along side the pagans, and got up to indulge in pagan – sexual – revelry.  They were full of factions and grumbled about their leadership.  They put the Lord to the test, claiming they were free to do whatever they wanted. So the warning from Paul is timely and very pointed.  The Israelites who came out of Egypt did the self same things you're doing.  And look what happened to them.  Their bodies were scattered over the wilderness.  And their bodies were scattered over the wilderness so that you would see it and learn the lesson.

But is the warning from history quite so pointed for us?  We're not the Corinthian church – thank God for that.  We don't have the same terrible reputation for sexual immorality or flaunting our freedom.  Of course it's possible some of us are doing those things and we just don't know about it - if you are hear the warning.

But even though we're notCorinthwe mustn't side step this warning too quickly – our temptations are big and bold and also subtle and hidden.

Remember the root problem was what they set their hearts on – anything but God.  Their heart problem was expressed in ways that the nations around them expressed their worship.  And there are plenty of idols that have captured the hearts of our society – and we can just as easily fall into setting our hearts on evil asIsraeldid – anything that captures our heart ahead of God is an idol that threatens our relationship with God.  Just like there was too muchCorinthin the Corinthian church it's easy for us to have too muchGatesheadin our church too.

Every indication is that the church follows the world pretty closely in matters of sin.  We have similar levels of divorce in the church as in the world.  We spend our money similarly, we watch the same TV, the same movies, we read the same magazines, we're just like the people around us.  None of that is wrong in itself – but we are soaked in the sins of our culture, our hopes and dreams are shaped in the same way, we feel the pull of the very same things. Think with me – what are the things that you long for most deeply – take a second and make a mental list.  Did that list start with heaven, being with God, being holy and perfectly pleasing to him?  Did an end to injustice and a reign of peace and joy feature?  Do you long for God to be glorified in everything?

Let's try another one – what are the things that you are most afraid of?  What things do you turn to for comfort when things go bad? What things give you hope for the future?

Or what about these: Are there things that make you angry at God – things he's not given you that you want, or things he's taken away from you that you loved?  Is there anything that you love so much you would refuse to give it up if God insisted on it?  If there is you've set your heart on evil things as the Israelites and the Corinthians did.

See if God is our God then all those things – our hopes, fears, dreams, loves, desires – should centre on him and our relationship with him and pleasing him and trusting him and experiencing him… our hopes and fears, our joy, our comfort: our whole lives should be dominated by him.  But too often when we look closely all kinds of other things push themselves into positions of prominence in our hearts.  I'm increasingly convinced that our comfort and security and prosperity have a dangerous hold on us.  The things our culture worships have a deep, deep influence.  We need to take this warning very seriously indeed.

So we come to the last point:

Third – Don't do what they did v 12-13

Hear the warning as Paul spells it out in the finishing verses of our passage this morning:

12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! 13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.

Be careful – watch out so that you don't fall.  There is no temptation that is so strong it gives us an excuse, we're never forced to sin.  But it is powerful so watch out so that you don't find yourself lured away into the ways of the Israelites.

That's the warning.  Please take that with full seriousness.  Set aside time to examine yourself and ask God to reveal your sin and areas of temptation to you.  And if you're convicted that things need to change – tell someone about and make a plan to make changes.  Too often we're convicted of sin and do nothing about it, and so we harden our hearts…

And lest you begin to feel that it's all beyond you, hear the words of comfort too:

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 a way out so that you can stand up under it.

There is no temptation so strong that we can not resist it, no situation so hopeless that we can not find a way out if we put our trust in God.  God if faithful, we don't live in fear, we can trust him.

As we close I want to take you back to last week's passage.  Paul shared with us a contrasting example – his own life. He knew the reality of temptation and sin, and he set's his own life before us as a model.  This is how we should live:

24 Do you not know

 that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last for ever. 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Is that you too?  I pray that it will be. May we learn to run the race like that, and by God's grace my we endure to claim the prize.

Let's Pray

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