Today is a special day, didn’t you know? Does anyone know what makes today so special? Today in 1603, Scottish King James VI, the son, yes that’s right, the son of Mary Queen of Scots, was named King James I of England, thus joining the English and Scottish crowns. That’s huge, and you didn’t know that? Did anyone here know that? If you did, I might’ve come down and given you a high-five because you are a scholar of history. I didn’t know that either I scoured the world wide web to find it. Let’s try another history question, a little easier this time, what officially started in 1939. WWII, right? Okay, now that we’ve built up a little confidence, one last history question, the Bible tells us 600,000 Israelite men left Egypt led out by Moses. Out of those original 600,000 men, how many entered the promised land?
I’m going to keep you in suspense for a moment – if you know the answer keep it to yourself, no sharing. Let’s take a look at our lesson. This morning Paul reaches back into history, back into the annals of God’s Word, to teach us a lesson that the Israelites, God’s chosen people, failed to learn as they traveled from Egypt through the desert to the promised land. “I do not want you to be ignorant” Paul says as he begins this history lesson and then he proceeds to share with us a picture of a faithful God leading his people with a strong hand from their Egyptian captors as they “passed through the sea.” That same faithful God then fed them with “spiritual food and drink” as he miraculously provided them with manna and water for countless years. God was there present with his people day-in and day-out. They saw him as a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. There was no doubt that God was faithful to his chosen. Surely, nothing would keep those Israelites from entering the land promised to them. Surely, God would bring them safely to their destination.
But what happened? Back to my history question: Out of those original 600,000 Israelite men, how many entered the promised land? The answer is two, Joshua and Caleb. Two out of 600,000 men. Two! Why only two – and where is Moses? We see why only two as Paul continues with his history lesson. We find God’s favored, chosen, people embraced by a faithful God, embracing, not God, but sin. Some we read became idolaters, some took pleasure in sexual immorality, others tempted God, and still more grumbled and complained against him and his chosen leaders. And even those chosen leaders, Moses and Aaron, couldn’t resist the temptations of sin. Aaron, God’s great high priest built a golden calf for worship. Moses, declined into doubt and unbelief and was barred from entering the promised land to only see it from a distance before his eyes closed in death.
For forty years the people wandered. For forty years they witnessed miracles and were blessed by God. “Nevertheless,” Paul writes, “God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.” This is history. A history of a faithful God whose people responded to his faithfulness with unfaithfulness. A history God records for us and Paul urges us to learn from. A history that serves as a warning. Verse 11 states it clearly, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us.”
You think of warnings, what is there purpose? Maybe you’re thinking that’s a foolish question, but is it? How many times have you ignored a warning either because you didn’t think it applied to you or you just didn’t care.? You’re at a pool and the signs clearly say no running, pssh, why not? And you quickly run off to get the last doubles-tube only to find out why not after you slip on a wet surface and fall hard on your face. Or maybe you order some coffee in the morning at your favorite coffee place, the cup is clearly marked “hot beverage” but you know that can’t be true and then you wonder why you have a burned tongue for a week. You get my point? We are all really good at seeing warnings, but we are often just as good if not better at ignoring warnings. And warnings exist to warn, to keep us safe.
So, here is the warning from God today, written for us and to us by Paul, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” Be careful! I’ve probably overdone it with illustrations using my own son, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told him in the last month to be careful. He’s running down our steep driveway, “Be careful!” He’s standing precariously on a chair, “Be careful!” He’s practically sliding on his belly down the stairs, “Be careful!” I don’t say those warnings to him because I’m a mean controlling dad, I say them because I know that even though he might think he can’t get hurt, he can and, if he slips, if he falls, he will.
So, you go back to God’s warning. “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.” Didn’t the Israelite people think they were standing firm? They thought they were, but their trust, their faith was in their title, “God’s Chosen People.” They felt spiritually secure because God made a covenant with their father Abraham, a covenant that extended to them, his descendants. And so, they abused and tested God’s faithfulness as they again and again wandered away to fall into whatever sin caught their eye, but “God cannot be mocked” Paul writes in the book of Galatians and “their bodies were left scattered across the desert.” The result of their pride, their unfaithfulness.
It’s not difficult to see the warning here for ourselves. “Be careful!” God says. Like the Israelites, we know our standing before God – we are his children! We call Jesus our Lord and our Savior, and we worship him. That is wonderful, God be praised. But remember your history. You see, it is easy to look at the history of the Israelites and shake your head at how foolish they acted. It’s easy to point at them and say, “I would never, never, be like them.” But look! Are we any different from them?
Look at your own history. We can and we do fall. We don’t need the Israelites to show us how easy it is to turn from God, how easy it is to fall into sin. We do it all the time on our own. Surely, you have sins from your past that still haunt you. And what of the sin you’ve committed today, yesterday? Can we even remember them all? Yet, God knows them all, he remembers each one, and each one is worthy of his wrath and no matter how small and innocent we might think them to be each one makes us worthy of an eternal fall into the fires of hell. It’s a rude awakening. It’s a warning, “Be careful!”
A warning that is quickly followed up by a promise. “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” God does not say that you as a Christian will never face any temptations, nor does he say that you will not fall, that is give into temptation, in fact we just saw that often the opposite is true. What he does say is this. That in every temptation you face, he will be there. Think about that. God is with you, faithful to you. You know, God never deserted the Israelites for those forty years they wandered in the desert, they left him…and they fell.
That doesn’t have to be us. We can learn from history. We can be confident when faced with temptation. Confident that we can and will endure. How? Clinging to him. There is the key. Forget me, forget my abilities, forget my willpower, my so-called righteousness. My strength, your strength, your ability to stand and never fall into temptation, comes from him, Jesus, who never fell as he faced his own temptation, who never fell when confronted with the horrors of our sin, our hell. He stood where we could not, and he endured what we never could. He kept the promise made by our faithful God at creation. He crushed Satan, he freed us from sin, and he gave us life. Now he stands with you; he stands for you. Providing you a way out, so that clinging always to him, you will never fall.
Yet, we do, right? But now don’t we see the reason? It isn’t because God’s faithfulness is somehow faulty or defective. It isn’t as if some temptations are too great for him to overcome. No, the lesson from history is clear. The fault lies not in God, but in us. Our history shows that even though God is with us and provides us a way out of temptation, time and time again, we choose to embrace the sin, we choose to fall. That’s why these three words from Paul are so important: God is faithful. His history shows it.
Flip through the pages of the Bible and walk with Jesus as he walked this earth. See him eat with sinners, watch him wash their feet, hear his voice on the cross cry out “Father, forgive them,” and listen as he breathed his last breath. Think about it. Jesus was not promised to perfect people, he was promised to sinners. He did not die for the righteous, he died to make us righteous. And he did not rise from the grave simply to prove he could, he rose to prove his faithfulness and to promise you would one day rise too. Throughout time, throughout history God has proven himself to be faithful. And it is that faithfulness, that undeserved love, that leads him to look at you, a sinner. He sees all our unfaithfulness, he watches us ignore his warnings only to fall, and he weeps. But in those tears his hand reaches out and he speaks a promise, one we don’t deserve. And his promise is this: That he is faithful and just, and if you confess your sin, he will forgive you; he will cause you to stand.
Today, this history is shared with you. It serves as a warning, a reminder to be careful. Place your faith, your trust in God alone. And that warning comes with a promise, that when you trust in God alone, he will see you through every temptation, he will pick you up when you fall, and he will keep you on the way to your salvation. That is his history. A history of Faithfulness. Amen