I confess that I have always loved apocalyptic stories. I have a weird fascination with the way the end-times are depicted in these fictional accounts. If you consume a lot of these kinds of stories, you realize that it is not the zombies, walking dead, aliens, monsters, robots, or spaceships that defeat humankind … it is humankind itself. People eventually turn on one another, much to the delight of the enemy.
Our Scripture today reads like a scary scene from a dystopian future. There are warnings. There are consequences for ignoring those warnings. There is death. There are epidemics. There is danger.
There are snakes. (Why did it have to be snakes??)
Paul starts out innocently enough, recalling the history of Israel and the blessings of God’s deliverance from slavery through the Red Sea to the Promised Land. God provided all of their daily needs, and they ate spiritual food and drank from the living waters.
But then the unthinkable happened:
1 Corinthians 10 (The Message)
10 1-5 Remember our history, friends, and be warned. All our ancestors were led by the providential Cloud and taken miraculously through the Sea. They went through the waters, in a baptism like ours, as Moses led them from enslaving death to salvation life. They all ate and drank identical food and drink, meals provided daily by God. They drank from the Rock, God’s fountain for them that stayed with them wherever they were. And the Rock was Christ.
But just experiencing God’s wonder and grace didn’t seem to mean much—most of them were defeated by temptation during the hard times in the desert, and God was not pleased.
Yes, temptation, that death-eater of all satanic forces, came upon them with laser-beam accuracy and they all fell, one by one.
6-10 The same thing could happen to us. We must be on guard so that we never get caught up in wanting our own way as they did. And we must not turn our religion into a circus as they did—“First the people partied, then they threw a dance.” We must not be sexually promiscuous—they paid for that, remember, with 23,000 deaths in one day! We must never try to get Christ to serve us instead of us serving him; they tried it, and God launched an epidemic of poisonous snakes. We must be careful not to stir up discontent; discontent destroyed them.
Sexual promiscuity, discontent, the party-culture, the disobedience to God’s will … it all came down on the people until the people all came down.
11-12 These are all warning markers—danger!—in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence.
Paul pulls no punches. We are just as capable of falling as the Israelites. We will fall flat on our religions if we don’t listen to the warnings. We need to drop our self-confidence and immerse ourselves in a culture of God-confidence.
Where is God warning you about your behavior and temptations? Are you listening?
13 No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.
Lent is a time to confront our temptation to stray, be lazy, lie, covet, cheat, and participate in all the destructive things that separate us from God. The good news is that he will help us overcome those temptations IF we turn to him for help and strength. That is a big IF. Too often we are so beguiled by the temptation that we end up running away from God.
Where is God calling you to trust him to help you?
God will never let you down.