Preached on Sunday, August 21, 2011 by
The Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D.,
At St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. (I Cor. 10:1-9)
In I Corinthians 10, the Apostle Paul mentions our Lord Jesus Christ in a couple of ways that might seem unusual. He speaks of Christ being present in Old Testament days, long before Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea. We know that the Old Testament speaks a great deal about Christ. After his resurrection, when our Lord is talking to those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, we are told, “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Later, when he is speaking to his disciples he says, “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me” (Luke 24:44). All of Scripture, including the Old Testament, points to Jesus Christ and why his coming was necessary. For those whose eyes have been opened to see the truth of Scripture, they can see Jesus in the law, the psalms, and the prophets. Sometimes, he is even in passages of the Old Testament where you might not think you would find him.
For example, in this tenth chapter of I Corinthians, Paul mentions the Old Testament story of the rock from which Moses obtained water for the people of Israel. In Exodus 17 we are told of how Moses had led the children of Israel out of Egypt to a place where there was no water, and the people began to murmur against Moses. The Lord told Moses, “Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink (Ex. 17:5-6). The Psalmist recalls this rock by the words, “He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths. He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers” (Ps. 78:15-16). But in I Cor. 10:4, the Apostle Paul tells us that that rock was Christ. You will notice that in verse 4 that this rock was called a “spiritual rock,” a rock that was supernatural, a rock that was acted upon by the power of God so that water flowed from it. Just as that rock from which water flowed sustained the lives of God’s people in the wilderness, Christ has always been the source of living water from which his people drink in order that they might have everlasting life. Charles Kingsley put it this way:
…there was One who did follow them, from whom flowed living water; and that Rock is Christ. Christ followed them. Christ the creator, the preserver, the inspirer, the light, the life, the guide of men, and of all the universe. It was to Christ they owed their deliverance from Egypt; to Christ they owed their knowledge of God, and of the law of God, to Christ they owed whatever reason, justice, righteousness, good government, there was among them. And to Christ we owe the same. The rock was a type of him from whom flows living water. As he himself said on earth, “Whosoever drinketh of the water which I shall give him, shall never thirst; but the water which I shall give him shall be in him a well of water, springing up to everlasting life.”
Then, in I Cor. 10, Paul goes on to recall how the children of Israel murmured in the wilderness. It seems that the Church has always been the same, filled with murmurings and complaints. Paul says that all those things that happened in the wilderness were written for our benefit. We are supposed to read those stories and make application of them to our lives. Paul reminds these Corinthian Christians that the people of Israel were baptized into Moses, just as we have been baptized into Christ. Though they had been baptized into Moses, most of them perished in the wilderness. Paul warns us that though we have been baptized into Christ, we may fall as well. He reminds these Corinthians of how the people of Israel in the wilderness, craved evil things, fell into idolatry, committed all kinds of sexual immorality, and constantly grumbled and complained. Then, the apostle mentions Christ again, and says that the people of Israel tempted Christ. We would have expected St. Paul to have said that they tempted God, but he says that they tempted Christ, again, pointing to the fact that it was Christ who was with the people in the wilderness, leading them and supplying their needs. But Paul says that they committed this terrible sin of tempting Christ.
Now, what does it mean to tempt Christ? Since these Old Testament events were recorded for our benefit, we must ask ourselves the question, “Are we also guilty of tempting Christ?” Normally when we see the word “tempt,” we think of being tempted to do something evil, but the word “tempt” also means “to test,” or “to try.” We use this kind of language ourselves when we tell a child, “You are trying my patience,” or, “You are really putting my patience to the test.” We can look at the history of the people of Israel in the wilderness, and we see that they were always putting God to the test. They were almost daring him to come in judgment against them. Though God had warned them of the consequences of disobedience, they were showing by their disobedience that they didn’t really believe that there would be any terrible judgments for their behavior. They sinned, put him to the test, to see if he would really punish them as he had said. They were trying him to see if he would really withdraw his presence. The writer to the Hebrews also talks about how the people of Israel put God to the test in this way: “When your fathers tempted me, proved, me, and saw my works for forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation and said, ‘They do always err in their heart; and they have not known my way. So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest’” (Heb. 3:9-11). For 40 years, the people of Israel were guilty of this sin of putting God to the test, but I Cor. 10:9 specifically mentions one incident where they really put God to the test. He mentions that sin which caused God to send serpents among them.
If you read Numbers 21 you will find a story of how the children of Israel called out to God to help them in a battle, and the Lord heard their prayer and then gave them victory. Then, right after God had blessed them in this amazing way, they began to murmur and complain again. Numbers 21:4 says that they “became impatient because of the journey.” They revived that frequent complaint to Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food” (Numbers 21:5). How were they putting God to the test? They were impatient. They were saying, “This journey is taking too long.” Plus, they were complaining about the way God was supplying their need. God was giving them what they needed. He was miraculously supplying manna, but that wasn’t good enough for them.
If these things are written for our example, in what ways do we tempt Christ? In what ways do we put him to the test? If we examine our own lives, we find that we are not much different from the children of Israel.
First, we often complain with the way the Lord is leading us. Like the children of Israel, we become impatient with the journey. Can’t you just hear the people of Israel: “We were promised that if we left Israel and followed this Moses, we would come to a land filled with milk and honey. But we have been wandering five years, ten years, twenty years, thirty years. Where is that land of blessing that we were promised?” In questioning the way that the Lord was leading them, they were tempting Christ. It may seem odd to say that they were tempting Christ, for we wonder how Christ was present with them. In Exodus 23, the Lord tells the people of Israel,
Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him. But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries. For mine Angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites: and I will cut them off. (Ex. 33:20-23)
Who was this angel that the Lord sent before the people of to guide them to the land of Canaan? Down through the centuries, many great scholars of the Church have said that this angel of the Lord was none other than our Lord Jesus Christ. The phrase “angel of the Lord” often refers to the pre-incarnate appearances of Jesus Christ. In this passage, God said, “My name is in him.” This angel that guided the people of Israel during their wilderness wanderings was Christ. When they complained about the way he was leading them, they were complaining against Christ and tempting him by questioning his wisdom. They were saying, “He doesn’t know what he’s doing,” or, “he doesn’t really care about us, because if he did, he wouldn’t make us wander so long in the wilderness.” Scripture tells us in several places that though the children of Israel did endure a long period of trial in the wilderness, it was for their welfare. The Lord was testing them, proving them, whether they would follow the Lord or not. He did lead them by a rough and rugged way, but it was the right way.
In the same manner, Christ leads us throughout our lives. He is our shepherd, we are his sheep, and he leads us in the path that we need to go. We are on a journey to the heavenly Canaan, but that journey is often filled with testing, trials, and dangers. We become impatient with the journey, and we begin to complain. We know verses such as Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose, yet, we don’t act very much like we believe those promises. We don’t really believe that what we are going through right now is the place where God has led us, and that this place is good for us, part of his plan and purpose for us.
We often condemn the children of Israel for murmuring and complaining, but just think of what they had to endure for 40 years while wandering in the wilderness. They were roaming in a desert, not able to stay long in one place, surrounded by dangers, and not having permanent shelter. Do you think you might have done some complaining? If I go through about 15 minutes of pain, I think it is proof positive that God has deserted me and no longer loves me. When we enter a time of testing, we think that this is taking too long. An illness comes our way, and God doesn’t immediately heal us. Sometimes the illness doesn’t go away, and we complain and murmur against God. How could he allow this to happen? We go through family crises that just seem to last forever and never seem to be resolved. We undergo financial stress and strain, and we wonder if we are ever going to see the light of day again. We forget that God is sovereign and that he has led us to this place in our lives for a purpose. At these points in the journey, we must learn to trust rather than complain. In Proverbs 3:5-6, we read, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” We must trust in the Lord, that he is leading us in the paths that are best for us. We must have the attitude of the prophet Habakkuk who said, “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:17-18). The prophet has learned that even when everything is going wrong all around him, there are still an infinite number of reasons to rejoice in the Lord.
Even when, in the providence of God we are led on a very difficult journey, to murmur and complain is tempting Christ. We are denying that Christ does give us the comfort that he promised. He promised us: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29). To murmur in the midst of our trials is a way of saying that Christ does not provide the comfort and rest he promised. When we complain during our trials, we are saying that Christ does not give the peace that he promised to his followers. He said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). The people of this world have peace of heart and mind as long as everything is going well in their lives. Christ promised his followers peace even when they are going through the worst of times. He said, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Notice again that our Lord did not say that we would never experience tribulation, trouble, and trial. He assures us that his followers will experience those things. But he promises that even in the midst of tribulation we can be of good cheer and we can have peace, for we know that even this tribulation is part of God’s plan, and it is only temporary. There will soon come a day when all of this tribulation will come to an end, and we will be free of pain, disappointment, and heartache when we are in his presence evermore. To whine and protest because we are impatient with the way he is leading us is to tempt Christ.
Like the children of Israel, we not only grumble about the journey, we also find fault with the provision that he has made. We have seen how God provided water for the children of Israel by making it come miraculously out of a rock. He also miraculously provided manna for them in the wilderness, a food that was just given to them in the morning. They didn’t even have to work for it. All that they had to do was gather it. But then we read of how they became tired of that “loathsome” manna. It seems that no matter how much God provides for us, we are never satisfied. I look at my own life and realize that I have been blessed with so many things that my parents never had, that my grandparents never had, and that my great grandparents never dreamed of having, but it is never enough, is it? We often see this attitude in our children. Our children and grandchildren have more toys and electronic gadgets than they could possibly use and master, but it is never enough. Take them out to a store and tell them that they can’t have something, and they say, “I never get to buy anything.” It is so frustrating when you realize that you are always getting things for them. But before we point our fingers at them, aren’t we always whining that we never have enough? When things go wrong in our lives, we are constantly worried that we are not going to have enough to meet our needs. By doing so, we are tempting Christ. Our Lord taught us: “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:31-33). We have his clear promise that as long we seek God and the kingdom of God, as long as we give that quest the priority in our lives, he will provide for our needs. As I was preparing this message, I happened to log on to the Internet and three headlines met my eyes: “Stocks Fall Sharply,” “Jobless Claims Rise,” and “Consumer Prices Shoot Up.” We read headlines like that, and we go into a panic. What is going to become of us? Every time we see such headlines, we must claim the promise, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” To worry and fret about the future, is tempting Christ, for it demonstrates a refusal to believe what he has promised.
Furthermore, even if we never obtained another material blessing in this world, we have been blessed spiritually in so many ways, that those blessings alone should keep us from this constant feeling of dissatisfaction. As St. Paul puts it, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). All the spiritual blessings that we could ever need have been granted to us in Christ Jesus. Think of all that we have! We have received the forgiveness of all our sins, we have been adopted into the family of God, we have been given the Holy Spirit of God to strengthen and empower us, and we have an eternal inheritance reserved in heaven for us. Could we ask for anything more? When we constantly gripe about what we feel we lack, we are saying that what Christ has given us is not good enough for us. We are like children who have been to the rich man’s house and come back home and say, “Why can’t we have all of that? I wish I could live with them because what we have here is not enough.” If we only had spiritual eyes, we would see that we are already wealthy beyond compare. Paul goes so far as to say that everything in this whole universe is ours. St. Paul tells the Corinthians, “Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s” (I Cor. 3:21-23). Notice that beautiful chain of possession. Christ belongs to God, and you belong to Christ. Everything that belongs to God belongs to you, because you have been united to Christ who is the heir of all things. We are joint heirs together with Christ. When we complain about the things we lack, we are tempting Christ, for he came into the world to die for us in order that we might sit with him on his throne forever. I love our prayer of General Thanksgiving at the end of the Morning and Evening Prayer services:
ALMIGHTY God, Father of all mercies, we, thine unworthy servants, do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men. We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may he unfeignedly thankful.
We have been blessed with everything through our Lord Jesus Christ. What ingratitude we display when we murmur. No wonder our complaining is called “tempting Christ,” for Christ purchased all these blessings for us on the cross of Calvary. It’s a wonder he doesn’t send the fiery serpents among us for our base ingratitude.
I can’t leave this subject without also speaking of how we tire of God’s provision for us. The children of Israel said that they hated this loathsome food. They had gotten tired of the same old manna day after day. When one reads I Cor. 10, one cannot escape the imagery of the sacraments. The people of Israel were baptized into Moses. They got tired of the manna, the manna being a symbol of the bread of life, our Lord Jesus Christ, who gives us his flesh to eat in the Holy Sacrament. God has provided in his Church everything we need for spiritual nourishment, but we get tired of it. We come to hate this loathsome food, the same old thing day after day, week after week. We complain about the same old routine: prayers, preaching, and sacraments. We can hear the people saying, “We want something different. We want some variety. Give us some contemporary entertainment. Why do we have to have Holy Communion every Sunday? We are tired of this same old loathsome food. Prayer, preaching, and the sacraments are not enough for us. Our church must have the amusements of a theme park, or we will be bored.” We are tempting Christ when we do not relish the means of grace that he has provided for the nourishment of our souls. Christ has given us the prayers, the preaching of the word, and the sacraments. When we do not value these things, cherish these things, and make use of these things, we are tempting Christ, saying that what he has provided is not good enough for us.
We should not take this sin of murmuring, this sin of ingratitude lightly. For this sin, the Lord sent serpents among the people. For this sin, the sin of tempting Christ, many people lost their lives. Yet, there is a cure for even this sin of ingratitude. When God sent the serpents among the people, he also made provision for their salvation by lifting up a brass serpent so that whoever looked at it was healed. St. John tells us that that brass serpent was a type of Christ. Christ was lifted up on the cross so that whoever looks to him will be saved. Let us look to that cross this morning. Let us ask Christ to forgive our sin of murmuring and complaining, and let us ask him to forgive us for tempting him. When we look at the cross, truly look at it, and realize all the blessings he has purchased for us, surely we will be delivered from the sin of tempting Christ.