1. IV. Christian Liberty (8:1-11:1)
    1. 3. A Lesson from the Past (10:1-10:13)
      1. A. Israel at Sinai (10:1-10:5)

Calvin (12/18/17-12/19/17)

What we see in the Corinthians is a people who thought they had already served their time and run their race when they were yet barely out of the starting blocks. This leads to his consideration of Israel in the wilderness now. Don’t foolishly suppose yourself further advanced than they, or somehow immune to the consequences. They had the same advantages: the Church, the sacraments of grace. They abused these privileges and suffered just punishment for it. We can expect no different. (Jd 5 – I would remind you, though you know everything perfectly well, that the Lord, after saving a people out of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe.) They were the people of God, as are we. They did not escape punishment for their unbelief, nor shall we. He emphasizes the similarities, that we may better receive the point. Here, he equates the pillar of cloud and fire to baptism. Later he will point to the manna and the water that flowed from the rock and correlate these to the Lord’s Supper. To be baptized into is to be set under the ministry and guidance of. Calvin insists on ‘in’ rather than ‘into’, for we are not baptized into any other name but Christ. (1Co 1:13b – Were you baptized in the name of Paul?) Baptism is an initiation into the doctrine of Christ alone, and the sacrament is established by Christ alone. For the Israelites, cloud and sea were the means, but this is not to say there were two baptisms. Rather, the two signs are mentioned as representing the same baptism, which in fact corresponds to our own. [NB – If Paul says this is the point of similitude, doesn’t that rather counter the idea that the OT equivalent of baptism is circumcision? Of course, one could make the counter-argument that children, however young, were obviously included in this baptism of cloud and sea.] It will be admitted that the baptism of the Israelites had clear, physical advantage to them, whereas Christian baptism is of a purely spiritual advantage. But, God’s fundamental purpose in Israel’s baptism was not the temporal advantage, although that advantage to them was great. Rather, His primary concern was to manifest Himself as their God, and that being done, He has shown them a course to eternal salvation. The cloud was certainly symbolic of God’s presence both in the particular place, and with this particular people. It was simultaneously symbolic of that spiritual life that had been given them by Him. Likewise, the parting of the sea presented both the physical escape from Pharaoh, and the delivering defense and protection of God for His people. Clearly to be seen in these symbols is the fact that God had in mind to save the Israelites, and that being the case, it must point to Christ, just as the Passover, instituted as celebration of deliverance from death to life, is in point of fact a sacrament of Christ. God manifested Himself as Savior. Who else is that? As to those who object that no such teaching is to be found in the Scriptures as Paul would have had them, this is granted. Yet, the Spirit supplied what the preaching record lacked. It is the same as John’s discussion of the brazen serpent. (Jn 3:14 – As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, just so must the Son of Man be lifted up.) [I could quibble that here we are looking at the words of Christ, not John, but I agree with Calvin’s argument anyway.] “The Lord revealed to believers of that age, in the manner He thought fit, the secret, which would otherwise have remained hid.”
Now he turns to the Lord’s Supper as experienced in the wilderness. The manna and the water from the rock were not merely physical sustenance, but also spiritual. The physical benefit does not preclude the spiritual. But, then, we must reconcile this with what Jesus says in Jn 6:31-33 (“Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’” Jesus answered, “I tell you truly, it wasn’t Moses who gave you bread out of heaven. It is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.”) We can solve this readily enough by noting that as concerns the sacraments, the point made must be tuned to the hearer’s capacity for understanding. The nature of the sacrament is not changed in the changing presentation, but the point being made is changing to account for the erroneous beliefs of those to whom it is presented. So, we find that Paul doesn’t always present circumcision in the same way, for example. Here, he will speak of it as a seal of righteousness by faith (Ro 4:11a – He received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised.) There he speaks of it in a most negative light, as binding one to find righteousness by the Law. (Gal 5:2-3 – If you receive circumcision, Christ is of no benefit to you. I testify again to everyone who receives circumcision that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.) In the latter, he is only addressing the teaching of those false apostles who sought to impose Jewish practice on Gentile believers. So, we find that many prefer Moses to Messiah. They are those who see in the manna nothing more than food for the belly. [It strikes me that this echoes Jesus rebuke to the crowds that followed Him looking for little more than a free meal, found earlier in the passage Calvin mentions. “You seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (Jn 6:26).] When Jesus presents Himself as the bread of Life, He notes the preference for Moses, who gave them physical food, as they saw it. He, on the other hand, gives them true Bread unto true Life. Here, we find Jesus doing as Paul does: tuning His message to the apprehension of His hearers. The sameness of ‘virtue and efficacy’ between the Mosaic sacraments and the Christian sacraments informs us as to the reality of the spiritual food of the Lord’s Supper. “The thing represented is at the same time truly imparted, for God is not a deceiver to feed us with empty fancies.” As signs, the elements retain their nature. We need not separate reality from the emblem. Where the Papists confound reality and sign, others overstep by separating the two entirely. Calvin advocates a middle course, retaining the connection without transferring what belongs to one to the other. This sameness also extends to a certain resemblance between the old and the new sacraments. Take note what Paul says (in v4)! The ancient signs were not devoid of efficacy as means of grace. The difference is of degree, as we have more abundantly that which they had in lesser degree. Some try and limit the ‘sameness’ of this passage to mean that they all ate of the same source. But, the point of comparison is not between one Israelite and another. It is between the Mosaic example and our own. He is pointing out that they were honored with the same benefits and sacraments provided us. We dare not, then, imagine some new privilege of ours is guarantee against the same punishments. Calvin softens this view to merely reflective of his opinion, which is to say, he will not wholly denounce the other viewpoint. Their argument is reasonable enough: That Paul indicates how all of those who came out of Egypt started from the same point on the same course with the same equipment, picking up the games imagery, but not all completed the race. But, Paul’s direct mention of baptism, and his other choice equating to the Lord’s Supper leaves Calvin convinced that the true comparison is between them and us.
The reference to the spiritual rock following them does not give cause to suppose the rock from which the water first sprung forth was a rock of no physical substance. Rather, Paul is referring to the stream of water itself, which never left Israel as they wandered. They were never truly without water. It was, then, ‘as if the rock itself had followed them’, to continue providing that water. Neither can we take this as reference to the foundation of the Church, since it is presented in the past tense: The rock was Christ. Rather, the reference is to something specific to the time of the fathers. The terminology being sacramental in nature, it is inappropriate to seek an interpretation that is strictly according to the letter. The point here is that as emblems of Christ, Christ was in fact connected with them, “not locally, nor by a natural or substantial union, but sacramentally.” The application remains figurative. Christ is not declared to be a rock, nor the rock to be physically Christ. As to those who question how they could partake of the same flesh and drink as we, given that Christ had not at that time assumed human form, the point is simply given: He was yet food for them, for their salvation depended just as thoroughly on the benefit of His death and resurrection. See the secret work of the Spirit, that He made this flesh and blood, as yet uncreated, to be even then efficacious in them. Their way of partaking differed from ours, clearly. We now have a more full awareness of Christ as we have a more full revelation.
We arrive at the point of the comparison: We cannot claim a greater excellence. Rather, seeing their example before us, we ought to ‘walk in humility and fear’. God chose them all, but many fell from grace. [This from the chief proponents – I’ll include both Paul and Calvin – of assurance!] Take heed! God can hardly leave unpunished in us the same things he punished so severely in them. Now the question arises as to hypocrites. If Paul is saying that in past, they partook of the spiritual food, do they partake of the reality behind the sacraments today? Some will say yes, thinking to avoid detracting from the power of God’s truth, but the concern is unfounded. God indeed offers to all, yet some are incapable of receiving. The sacrament does not change its nature because of the recipient. Neither is it the less efficacious because of the recipient’s unbelief. Manna remained manna even in the mouth of unbelievers. It remained spiritual food, but carnal mouths ‘did not eat what was given them’. More will be said on this in chapter 11. They did not please God and were therefore punished. While many take this to mean the entire generation (less Caleb and Joshua) who died in the wilderness, Calvin sees it applying to the specific groups identified in the next 5 verses.

Matthew Henry (12/19/17)

This chapter continues the argument of the last, turning to the example of the Jews under Moses. About midway through, he returns to the discussion begun in chapter 8, in regard to idol offerings, closing out with advice as to when the eating of such meats might be acceptable and appropriately done. That argument, in fairness, has never been set aside. It is to discourage that very practice that the Israelite example is brought forth. “They enjoyed great privileges, but, having been guilty of heinous provocations, they fell under very grievous punishments.” Those privileges are largely the same as ours. The introductory clause indicates a matter worthy of some attention. “Judaism was Christianity under a veil, wrapt up in types and dark hints.” They heard the gospel. And yet… They had the personal conducting and covering of God in the cloud. (Ps 105:39 – He spread a cloud for a covering, and fire to illumine by night.) The Red Sea passage is a ‘proper type’ of redemption, as God’s people pass through as if on a lane, but those who are not His perish in the way. So dear were they to God that He undertook personally to deliver, guide, and protect.
They also had sacraments of close accord with our own, including baptism as a covenant mark. Their baptism brought them under obligation to Moses (that is to say the Law and the Covenant). We are brought under obligation to Christ’s Law and Covenant.
The manna was a type of Christ crucified, and the water from the rock likewise was a type of Christ. “He is the rock on which the Christian church is built; and of the streams that issue from Him do all believers drink, and are refreshed.” The rock is called spiritual here in that it typifies spiritual things. One would think so great a privilege as this would have rendered them all holy and acceptable to God, yet it did not.
“Men may enjoy many and great spiritual privileges in this world, and yet come short of eternal life.” “Let none presume upon their great privileges, or profession of the truth; these will not secure heavenly happiness, nor prevent judgments here on earth, except the root of the matter be in us.”

Adam Clarke (12/20/17)

The issue: The Corinthians apparently thought their salvation secured so long as they observed the sacraments, and even if they continued to partake at the idol feasts. The answer: Paul points to the sacraments under Moses, showing their similarity. And yet, when the Jews went off to idolatrous feasts, “God was not only displeased with them, but signified his displeasure by pouring out his judgments upon them, so that in one day 23000 of them were destroyed.” The cloud served three purposes for Israel. It gave direction by day. It gave light to the camp by night It provided covering from the scorching sun during the day, both cooling them, and providing sufficient moisture to refresh both them and their cattle. The humidity was such that Paul speaks of the people being sprinkled and enveloped in its vapors here.
Baptism is shown here as entrance into covenant, with Moses serving as mediator. As such, those baptized into Moses obliged themselves to observe Mosaic Law. Christians baptized into Christ oblige themselves to keep His precepts.
Manna is spoken of as spiritual meat both because its provision was supernatural and because it was a type of Christ. (Jn 6:31-33“Our fathers ate manna in the wilderness. It is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’” Jesus said, “I tell you truly, Moses didn’t give you this bread out of heaven. My Father did. He gives you the true bread out of heaven, which comes down out of heaven and gives life to the world.” Jn 6:48 – I AM the bread of life. Jn 10:33 – We do not stone You for some good work You have done, but for blasphemy; because You, a mere man, make Yourself out to be God.)
Both meat and drink are being encompassed here. Both were spiritual both as to their provision and their significance, as even the Jews of the day would acknowledge. In fact, it is quite likely that Paul borrows from them in this statement. As to the rock following, this cannot refer to the physical rock which was struck, for there is nothing said of that being moved. Assigning the reference to the waters which followed Israel in there wanderings is marginally more plausible, but unsupported by Scripture; although ancient Jewish traditions concur. (Nu 21:17-18a – Israel sang, “Spring up, O well! Sing to it! The well, which the leaders sank and the nobles of the people dug with scepter and staffs.”) Another theory is that they bore water with them, drawn from that first occasion, and in this sense, the rock effectively went with them. All of this is fine, but Paul’s point appears to be the reality, not the type. The Rock that followed was Christ Himself ministering to them. (1Co 10:9 – Nor let us try the Lord, as some did and were destroyed by serpents.) This reference to the brass serpent supports the idea that it is Christ Himself spoken of here. Clarke claimed to have a shard taken from the rock in question, broken off by a relative of his ‘in the vale of Rephidim’, said rock described as bearing the marks of that water flow.
“Nothing can be a more decisive proof than this that people, who have every outward ordinance, and are made partakers of the grace of our Lord Jesus, may so abuse their privileges and grieve the Spirit of God as to fall from their state of grace, and perish everlastingly.” [This necessarily assumes they were actually in a state of grace, and not merely participants in the common grace of God.] Warnings to those who support the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints follow, including the popular equating to the devil.

Barnes' Notes (12/20/17-12/21/17)

This passage connects back to 1Co 8:8 – Food will not commend us to God one way or the other; whether by abstinence or eating. We see the sense of security these Corinthians had: We are known to be Christians. We observe the ordinances. All know of the miraculous gifts given us. We know the nothingness of these idols. But, we are in the society we are in, and avoiding these meals is impossible. Still, we know we are beyond any risk of relapse. Just look at us! All of this is answered by this consideration of Israel’s example. They had all these same advantages, and arguably more. “Yet notwithstanding this, they had forgotten God, had become idolaters, and had been destroyed.” Be warned. The concern for ignorance simply takes into account that a large part of the congregation was Gentile, and therefore less familiar with the history of the Jews. So, he brings the events back before them and notes that even so great a favor as this shown by God to the Jews was not security against the danger of sin and apostasy. Beware. The ‘all’ used here emphasizes that those who were destroyed (v5) had all the same advantages. We cannot suppose that they were not devoted to God. All is all. The cloud is the Shekinah – the visible symbol of the divine presence. By day, it was a cloud to guide; by night, a fire to light. (Ex 13:21-22 - The LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead the way, a pillar of fire by night to give light, so that they might travel both day and night. The cloud was never removed from before the people.) [Just a note here: The emphasis on the pillar as light for the camp is only partially accurate. The text clearly says both were given for travel, and that both remained while encamped.] The pillar might become a rearguard defense when needed (Ex 14:20 – It came between the Egyptian camp and the Israelite camp – a cloud with darkness, yet giving light to the Israelite camp all night. The two camps remained separated from each other all night.) The cloud served also as a covering during their travels. (Nu 10:34 – The cloud of the LORD was over them by day, when they set out from the camp. Nu 14:14 – They have heard that You, O LORD, are in the midst of this people, for You, O LORD, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night.) The cloud, then, symbolizes divine favor and protection. (Isa 4:5 – The LORD will create over the whole of Mount Zion, and over all assembled, a cloud by day, even smoke; and the brightness of flaming fire by night; for over all the glory will be a canopy.) The cloud, then, was guide, shelter, and defense. Rabbis speak of the cloud as surrounding, or encompassing the camp of the Israelites. No doubt, it appeared to be pillar-like from a distance. The sea passage reference is obvious. (Ex 14:21-22 – Moses stretched out his hand, and the LORD swept the sea back with a strong east wind all night. The waters were divided such that the sea had become dry land. And the sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on that dry land, the water like a wall to left and right.) We have an accumulating evidence of divine protection and favor; the further to counter the false confidence of the Corinthians.
Obviously, Paul does not refer to some ritual performed by man as regards the Israelites being baptized. He speaks to the other sense of the term, that they were thus dedicated, consecrated, and brought under obligation to Moses. Their passage thru the sea, and their presence under the cloud, served as public recognition of their being followers of Moses, and bound to obedience to his laws. The terminology here is the same as in Matthew 28:19. It is into or unto. Moses was thereby acknowledged as ruler and guide, and they, the subjects of his laws and authority. There is an added sense of recognizing the divine mission of Moses backing his authority. There is no Scriptural basis for supposing they were ever fully enveloped or engulfed in the cloud. Nor is there support for the idea that as the cloud passed overhead they were all rained upon. This being no natural cloud, there is no cause to expect the natural conditions. It was not given for rain, but for guidance and protection. As to baptismal modes, if anything, the idea of this indicating rain would put paid to the ‘immersion only’ position. But, as there is no call to suppose any application of water in this case, the issue is moot. As to the Red Sea passage, Scripture indicates that by strong east wind, God divided the waters such that they stood as walls to left and right (Ex 14:21-22). Again, then, no immersion, nor even a touch, and efforts to make this a proof of baptism by immersion only is to do violence both to the Scriptures and to the definition of immersion. [This appears to be primarily directed at a Dr. Gill.]
Spiritual meat refers to manna. (Ex 16:15 – They asked one another what it was, for they did not know. Moses told them that it was the bread which the LORD was giving them to eat. Ex 16:35 – The sons of Israel ate manna for forty years, until they came to an inhabited land. They ate it until they came to the borders of Canaan. Neh 9:15 – You provided bread from heaven for them in their hunger. You brought forth water from a rock for their thirst. You told them to enter and possess the land which you swore to give them. Neh 9:20 – You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, Your manna You did not withhold from them, and You gave them water for their thirst.) Here, meat is used of food more generally, and it is declared spiritual in the sense that it was given by the Spirit; a ‘result of His miraculous gift’. (Ps 78:25 – Man did eat the bread of angles. He sent them food in abundance.) This is often the sense of ‘spiritual’: That which is ‘distinguished for excellence’, as ‘the immediate gift of God’. It is unlike any earthly counterpart, in that it is pure, and of exceptional value and excellence. (Ro 7:14 – We know the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 1Co 3:1 – I could not speak to you as spiritual men, but as to men of flesh and babes in Christ. 1Co 15:44 – It is sown a natural body, but raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 1Co 15:46 – The spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. Eph 1:3 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.) The whole point here is that they had direct evidence of God’s divine protection and favor.
This verse makes the same point. The miraculous supply of water in the desert was clear evidence of divine favor. [Interesting that the two, the manna and the water, seem always to be spoken of together.] (Ex 17:6“I will stand before you on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. Nu 20:11 – Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth in abundance. The congregation and their beasts drank.) It is not that the water had some supernatural quality. It was real water to slake real thirst. Neither can this mean it was the drink of the Lord’s Supper. Rather it refers to the means by which water was provided, which was indeed supernatural, again pointing to the immediate giving by God. “Spiritual blessing thus stand opposed to natural and temporal blessings, and the former denote those which are immediately given by God as an evidence of divine favor.” This accords with rabbinic usage. Similarly, the rock itself was not some supernatural item itself, but served as the source of these ‘supernatural mercies’, and so became emblematic of divine favor. If one would insist that the rock literally followed them, one must likewise insist that they literally drank the rock. The one being patently absurd, so is the other. Rather, we must see it pointing to that water which flowed from the rock in both cases. This is a common enough figure of speech; the container standing for its contents. (1Co 11:25-27 – In the same way He took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in unworthy manner shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.) We know of two occasions where water was brought forth out of a rock, but nothing says they were the same one. Paul is almost certainly referring to the first occasion. Think of the amount of water that must have been provided, to satisfy two million people! The stream of this water was said to flow down the mountain like a stream, and must have been a sizeable one at that. (Dt 9:21 – I took your sinful thing, the calf you had made, and burned it with fire and crushed it into a fine dust, which I then threw into the brook that came down from the mountain. Nu 34:5 – The border shall turn from Azmon to the brook of Egypt, and terminate at the sea. Josh 15:4 – And so it did. Josh 15:47 – as far as the brook of Egypt and the Great Sea. 1Ki 8:65 – Solomon and all Israel observed the feast at that time, assembled from Hamath to the brook of Egypt before the LORD our God, for seven days and seven more. 2Ki 24:7 – The king of Egypt did not again come out of his land, for the king of Babylon had taken all he owned from the brook of Egypt to the river Euphrates.) [Two observations: I hadn’t taken that first reference as reference to the water from the rock. Interesting idea, but I think I’d like more to back it up. The last reference makes me wonder if ‘brook’ is intended to indicate large river at all, or was applied to the Nile particularly in an ironic or derogatory fashion. Note that a different term is used for the Euphrates.] Horeb being a highland, the water would not have pooled and stagnated, but flowed off to the sea, presumably the Red Sea. The natural tendency of the Israelites would be to stay near this water so as to remain within range of supply. Thirty seven years later, we are told the Israelites are at Ezion-geber, which is a seaport on the Red Sea, probably the place these waters emptied into it. (Nu 33:36 – They journeyed from Ezion-geber, and camped in the wilderness of Zin: Kadesh.) It was only in the 40th year that they headed for Edom, and again we find them concerned for lack of water. All of this suggests the water from that first event became a stream or river near which they camped throughout the first 37 to 40 years of their wanderings. The lack of any such stream at the present day is no obstacle to this argument, given the stream was declared miraculous in the first place. “The only question is, whether God can work a miracle, and whether there is any evidence that He has done it.” But, this is not the place for such debate. The evidence for the manna is strong, and nothing about this theory on the water is inconsistent with His power, wisdom, or benevolence. Again, the Rock cannot be literally understood to be Christ. It was part of Mount Horeb. Rather it is a representation of Messiah; another common figurative application of language. It’s no different than Jesus holding up bread and saying it is His body, or that the cup (or its contents) is His blood. This is not literal declaration. It is representation by symbol. The gushing water might thus symbolize the blessings that flow from Messiah. Note that Paul does not say they knew the symbolic implications, but neither does he preclude them knowing. He does, however, indicate that they were under His care, and had ‘vivid representation of Him’ in the provision from the Rock. The point is again correspondence between their experience and that of the Corinthians. We find several similarities. Like them, we pass through the world as pilgrims in the desert. Like them, we need continual supply for our journey, and the world does not meet these needs, nor can it. From the Rock, Christ Jesus, and particularly by His having been struck, we find abundant grace imparted to us. We lean on Him for daily support in our need. Many hold the view that Paul is more literal here, that he truly means to indicate that it was Christ, Messiah, who was with them. Messiah is, after all, referred to as a rock in Scripture, and the Jews often take, ‘the angel of the Lord’ as referring to Messiah. It is no great leap, then, to say that He was the source of all their blessings, and particularly of the water. Barnes acknowledges this, but retains his view. Paul’s intention is to show the Corinthians that their privileges were not matters to rely on as evidence of security which they could not mess up. The Jews, he points out, had evidences and graces every bit as real and astounding.
Yet, they rebelled and sinned, and for that, they were destroyed – in spite of so many privileges; and that is the point. Privileges do not ‘constitute an absolute security from danger’, nor give us room to indulge sin. In point of fact, God was not pleased with most of them, let alone many. [It was but a remnant that reached the land.] These died, whether by war, by pestilence, or by natural disease. Only two men out of that whole generation entered the land of promise. (Nu 14:29-30 – Your corpses shall fall in this wilderness, all your numbered men from twenty years old and up, who have grumbled against Me. You will by no means come into the land in which I swore to settle you; only Caleb and Joshua.)

Wycliffe (12/21/17)

We move to first admonition. The connection between this chapter and the previous is very tight. Paul has been pushing the need for discipline as concerns rewards. Now he brings Israel’s example to bear to emphasize the possibility of failure. This is directly connected to the ‘take heed’ of 1Co 9:27 – I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly after having preached to others I should find myself disqualified. The point here is that Israel found itself disqualified. Five times Paul repeats the use of ‘all’ here, to emphasize the universal experience of God’s blessing, yet with the exception of Caleb and Joshua, every one of them perished. (1Co 9:24 – Don’t you realize that of all who run the race, only one gets the prize? Run to win!) The cloud refers to that prolonged supernatural guidance thru the desert. [I’ve already reviewed the OT refs, so won’t repeat them here.] (Mt 28:20 – Teach them to observe all that I commanded you. Lo! I am with you always, even to the end of the age.) The Red Sea passage speaks to deliverance, a second privilege. (1Pe 1:18-20 – You were not redeemed from your futile life, inherited from your forefathers, with perishable materials like silver and gold. You were redeemed with precious blood, as of an unblemished, spotless lamb: The blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for your sake.)
Union under a God-provided leader was a third privilege. (Ro 6:1-10 – Are we to continue in sin so that grace can increase? No way! How shall we who died to sin continue to live in it? Don’t you know that all who are baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? We have been buried with Him through baptism in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. If we have become united with Him in His death, we shall certainly be united with Him in His resurrection. Know this: Our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of our sin might be done away with, and we need no longer be slaves to sin. For he who has died to sin is freed from it. Well! If we have died with Christ, we believe we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again. Death no longer is master over Him. For the death He died, He died to sin, once for all. The life He lives, He lives to God.)
Manna, ‘angels food’ was the fourth privilege. It is spiritual in the sense of being supernatural. (1Pe 2:1-3 – Put aside all malice, guile, hypocrisy, envy, and slander. Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word by which you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.)
The fifth privilege, supernatural sustenance, points to the events of Exodus 17. Paul was not following the rabbinical legend of a material rock following Israel through the desert. This same legend holds that Miriam had the secret of obtaining water from it. Rather, he points us to Christ as the ultimate source of supply. We see record of this water provided at the outset and at the close of their wanderings. It is reasonable, then, to speak of this with the idea that Christ, being the Supplier, was with them throughout. Reference to Christ here as being the Rock is no more literal than His use of the Vine. (Jn 15:1 – I am the true vine, and My Father the vinedresser.) We might, however, take this as evidence of Christ’s preexistence. (2Co 8:9 – You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. Gal 4:4 – When the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law.) “The parallel with the two ordinances of the Church may be intended.”
Now comes the sad note of contrast. “Privileged people may experience divine displeasure.” The picture painted is of the wilderness “paved with bodies sated with angel’s food and drink.”

Jamieson, Fausset & Brown (12/22/17)

Self-denying watchfulness remains needful, whatever our spiritual privileges. This is our connection to the previous passage. The Corinthians boasted of knowledge. Did they understand this? “The Jewish Church is related as parent to the Christian Church.”All’ has the position of emphasis in this verse. (Ps 105:37 – He brought them out with silver and gold. Among His tribes, there was not one who stumbled.) We find here five iterations of ‘all’. In the next passage, we find five corresponding sins. (1Co 10:6-10 – This happened as an example for us. We ought not to crave evil things as they did. We ought not be idolaters, as some of them were. “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” We ought not to act immorally as some of them did. Twenty-three thousand were slain in one day for that. We ought not to test the Lord as they did, and were destroyed by serpents. We ought not to grumble like some of them did, who were then destroyed by the destroyer.) All had the benefit. Most were cast-offs due to their lusts. Your privileges are greater. Beware lest your sins be greater, too. Run to win. The cloud was a pillar of defense. The sea passage was evidence of God’s miraculous interposition.
Moses represents the Old Covenant as Jesus represents the New. (Jn 1:17 – The Law was given through Moses. Grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. Heb 3:5-6 – Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, to serve as a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later. Christ was a faithful Son over His house, whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.) Baptism here speaks to being initiated into that Mosaic covenant, with him as their God-appointed leader. Paul’s point is clear: Baptism will not save, whether virtual or actual. The correspondence is apt, with the Egyptians standing for death, and Israel for newborn life. (Isa 4:5 – The LORD will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, even smoke, and the brightness of flaming fire by night; for over all the glory will be a canopy. Jn 3:5 – Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Ac 10:44-47 – While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon those listening to the message. The circumcised believers who were with Peter were amazed to see the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out on Gentiles as well. For they heard the Gentiles speaking with tongues and exalting God. Peter said, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?”) Christ is our pillar-cloud. He screens us from the wrath of God, on the one hand, and guides us through this dark world on the other. From Him gushed forth the waters of the Spirit when once He was smitten. Like the manna, He is our spiritual food, after having been bruised. Here is evidence for the inspired nature of Scripture, that these ancient, historical records of Scripture prove to be tangible prophecies of that which transpired in the life and death of Christ. This could not be planned by man.
The water from the rock is here left associated with baptism, and manna left to point us to the Lord’s Supper. Clearly, these two sacraments were important to the Christians of his day, and we do wrongly to set them aside, if indeed we do so. Yet, the sacraments cannot ensure salvation. Even the seven sacraments of Rome, were they ever so valid, could not do so; and surely, if there were in fact seven, we would find Paul alluding to the full set here. His point is not perfect correlation of sacraments between old and new, but rather similarity of privilege. (1Co 10:17 – There is one bread, so we who are many are one body. For we all partake of this one bread.) The spiritual aspect applies to its source being God’s Spirit rather than human effort. (Gal 4:29 – At that time the one born according to the flesh persecuted the one born according to the Spirit. So it is now. Ps 78:24 – He rained down manna upon them to eat, giving them food from heaven. Ps 105:40 – They asked, and He brought quail, and satisfied them with the bread of heaven. Jn 6:32 – Truly, I tell you: Moses didn’t give you the bread from heaven. My Father gives you the true bread from heaven.) The bread, then, was a type for Christ, although the Israelites were not clear on this point. Some sensed it, and their faith was counted for justification, with manna the seal of the sacrament. (Heb 4:2 – Indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also. But the word they heard didn’t profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.)
The literal water was a type for Christ and is therefore referred to as spiritual drink. Jewish tradition holds that the rock did indeed follow them, or at least that stream which flowed from it. [This again points back to Deuteronomy 9:21 with Moses’ discussion of disposing of the golden calf idol, as we saw in Barnes. Apparently, this is because said tradition points back to that passage.] Christ is clearly identified as (or with) the spiritual Rock. He attended on them and ministered to them, whether by leading, or by standing as rear guard. He satisfied their thirst. We find four such occasions documented. (Ex 15:24-25a – They grumbled. “What shall we drink?” Moses cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree, which he threw in the waters and they became sweet. Ex 17:6 – I will stand before you on the rock at Horeb. You shall strike the rock, and water will flow from it so that the people may drink. Nu 20:8 – Take the rod. You and Aaron assemble the people and speak to the rock before them, that it may yield its water, and thus you shall bring forth water for them and their beasts. Nu 21:16-18a – At Beer, the LORD told Moses to assemble the people so that He could provide water. So, they sang, “Spring up, O well! Sing to it! The well which the leaders sang and the nobles of the people dug with scepter and staff.” Jn 4:13-14 – Everyone who drinks this water shall thirst again. But whoever drinks of the water I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life. Jn 7:38 – He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water’.) As the stream was with them throughout their trek, so Christ, by His Spirit, is with us to the end of the world. The rock, or its water, represent Christ. (Mt 26:26b – Take, eat; this is My body.)
In spite of such great privilege, most were rejected – all but Joshua and Caleb, of that first generation. This was God’s judgment, and His judgment alone is valid. The emphasis in this verse is on ‘not’, because given such privilege the result is unexpected. (Heb 3:14-17 – We have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm to the end; while it is said, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me.” Who provoked Him, having heard? Indeed, did not all of those who came out of Egypt with Moses? With whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not those who sinned, and whose bodies fell in the wilderness?) Events show that they did not please God. As a result, they were strewn in heaps – the image depicted by katestrootheesan – in the wilderness, far removed from the land of promise.

New Thoughts (12/23/17-12/31/17)

Paul’s Structure (12/24/17)

As we consider the first half of this chapter, it is worth our while to notice a certain artistry in its composition.  For all that Paul insists that he speaks the simple Gospel, his skill is evident here.  It might, however, elude us as we simply read through.  So, my thanks to the Wycliffe Commentary, together with the JFB, for pointing out the particulars.  Those particulars are of a numerical sort, a congruency between this passage and the next.  Here, we find a five-fold repetition of ‘all’, setting up the start contrast to the ‘most’ of verse 5All were under the cloud.  All passed through the sea.  All were baptized into Moses.  All ate the manna.  All drank from the water provided at Horeb.  Most – in fact nearly all – were killed for unbelief.

These five alls introduce five clear privileges which Israel enjoyed during her wilderness venture.  She had the supernatural guidance of the cloud.  She had the supernatural deliverance in passing through the Red Sea on dry land.  She had the supernatural provision of leadership in Moses.  She had supernatural provision in being given of the angel’s food throughout her travels.  She had supernatural sustenance in the waters provided throughout her journey.  Five great privileges; five constant, first-hand reminders of God’s particular favor upon this people.  For forty years, that cloud was ever-present, the manna was in constant supply, the water was never lacking, and Moses was never wrong as to his instructions to the people.

And yet!  And yet, in spite of the immediate presence of God in their very midst, day in and day out, when He instructed them to proceed into the land He Himself was guaranteeing to them, they balked.  But, it wasn’t, as the next passage makes clear, just this one moment of foolishness that led to condemnation.  Rather, we find in the next passage that Paul elucidates five corresponding occasions of rebellion and unbelief.  I do not, at this point, suggest a perfect correlation between the nature of these rebellious acts and the nature of the privilege, but it is, indeed, five for five.  I think we can rest in the certainty that this correlation is absolutely intentional on Paul’s part.

We see, then, that for every privilege of God, there was, as it were, an equal and opposite act of unbelief.  Clearly, those acts are not truly equal, for what can be equal to that which God does.  But, they served to counteract the privilege, so far as the rebels were concerned, and the judgment of God became their inheritance rather than the mercy that had been offered.

I will just say this before moving on.  There is a common meme amongst conservative commenters these days to the effect that the book, 1984, was written as a warning, not a how-to guide.  Here, we see Israel’s record, the Old Testament record, presented in much the same light.  I would add to this that from what we see in the Epistles, we would do well to consider the early church in similar fashion.  The church in Corinth is not presented to us as a fine model of how to do church.  Rather, it is presented, like Israel, as a start warning.  Here are your propensities.  You are no different.  Your privileges are no greater, and your advancement in Christ in no way superior.  You are every bit as vulnerable to these errors as ever were the Israelites or the pagans.  Take your pick.

What Sort of Congregation? (12/24/17)

Here is another bit of a corrective I might offer from this passage.  That miserable text I have had to read a bit of, regarding the move to replace Christmas with Hanukah because clearly, a rite fabricated by rabbis is superior to one established by Christian clergy, or something includes this amongst its many failures.  It insists, with absolutely zero evidence offered in support of the position, that the early church was composed primarily of God-fearing Gentiles.  That is to say, that the church was, at the first, drawn from those amongst the Gentiles who had already shown a propensity for pursuing Judaism.

The author’s reason for insisting on this is primarily in support of her other line of argumentation, which is that the earliest early church still followed the course of the Jewish feasts, still observed the bulk of Jewish practice, and still participated down at the temple.  Mind you, as concerns the feasts, it would be rather a poor observance that neglected to head on down to Jerusalem according to the command of God, but there it is.  See?  They were proselytes beforehand.  They would have observed the feasts.  They would have celebrated Hanukah.  Again:  Absolutely no actual evidence is provided to demonstrate the veracity of this claim.  It is just thrust out there.  Paul’s comment at the end of this letter, indicating that he will remain in Ephesus until after the Passover is taken as further proof of his observance.  But, in fact, it would seem to demonstrate exactly the opposite.  If Paul, a Jew, was observing the Passover, he would have been en route to Jerusalem before even the letter got sent.  Rather, he is telling them point blank that he’s not going.  He’s staying put.  If that’s observing the feasts, it’s certainly not doing so according to the commandment.

But, back to the first point, the composition of the church.  I am obviously subtracting out the first church, there in Jerusalem, which was, so far as we know, composed pretty much entirely of Jews.  It was, after all, formed by those who had been the immediate disciples of Christ in Israel.  It was augmented by those who had been in Israel for the feast, which is to say, Jews.  So, yes, that specific congregation continued to observe the feasts and much else that pertained to temple practice.  It is with the rest that we are interested.  And here, we may take the letter to Corinth as indication of the composition, if it wasn’t already fairly clear from the book of Acts.

It shows, at least by inference, in the introduction of this chapter.  “I do not want you to be unaware, brethren.”  Yes, this could be taken as nothing but a not so gentle rebuke on the supposed perfection of knowledge amongst the Corinthians, but I don’t think that’s it.  Neither can we take the ‘our fathers’ as indication that this congregation was primarily Jewish.  For one, the record of Acts makes it pretty clear that it was not.  Yes, there was a Jewish contingent, but they were in minority both in the general population and in this church, from what we can gather from the Scriptural record.

Rather, as Barnes points out, the introductory clause is a matter of recognizing facts on the ground.  Given that a large part of this congregation was in fact Gentile (as evidenced by their participation in idol feasts in the first place), there was reason to suppose they were not entirely familiar with Torah, and even if they had read the accounts, they might very well have failed to note the implications.  Boy, can I relate to that!  We have been reading through the Pentateuch together of late, and it’s very easy, amidst stumbling over unfamiliar names, trying to remain alert in spite of Moses’ tendency of incessant repetition, and general distractedness, to miss the significance as the words wash over you.

For the Jews, this was history that had been drilled into them practically from birth.  Every Jew knew the deal.  Every Jew knew not just the Scriptural account of what had happened in their history, but also the rabbinical commentary and tradition that was built upon that account.  So, when Paul speaks of the rock following them, he is actually drawing somewhat from that rabbinical tradition.  But, his purpose here is to ensure that the Gentiles to whom he is writing aren’t just familiar with the story, but also aware of its implications.   If there’s any doubt about his purpose, we find it explicitly in 1Corinthians 10:11-12“Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.  Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”  They are not written as how-to instruction.  They are written as a 50-point, bold, blinking red warning sign.  YOU ARE NO DIFFERENT!

Baptism (12/25/17)

The most interesting aspect of this passage, I think, is this demonstration of correlation between the experience of Israel in the desert and the experience of the Church.  Paul’s focus is clearly on the sacramental nature of this correspondence.  That being the case, I will attempt to keep my focus on this aspect of things as well.  We begin with the events Paul points to as representing the baptism of Israel:  The cloud and the sea.  It is possible that this association comes more readily to Paul because of his familiarity with rabbinic teachings.  He was, after all, training under Gamaliel before he found himself transferred to the graduate course under Christ.

Barnes informs us that in considering the cloud, rabbinic traditions speak of it actually surrounding or encompassing the camp of the Israelites, such that they found themselves fully engulfed in the cloud.  He also points out that absolutely no Scriptural basis is to be found for this idea.  Neither, I should add, should we take Paul’s association of the cloud with baptism as inferred support for this view.

But, theories abound.  It’s almost inevitable isn’t it?  We see this, as we would measure it, imaginative connecting of events with symbolism, and our own imaginations take flight.  How was the cloud baptistic?  How would its waters have been applied?  Did the Israelites realize what was happening?  So, we find the theory offered that the cloud actually served to keep Israel hydrated in her wanderings.  As the cloud moved from front to rear or rear to front, the theory goes, it would rain upon the camp, giving water.  Well, again, there’s absolutely no basis to this idea, and frankly, the provision of water by other means would appear to preclude it.  As Barnes also points out, this was no natural cloud.  Why should there be any expectation of natural conditions being associated with it?  After all, a natural cloud is highly unlikely to become a pillar of fire by night.  No, this was no ordinary cloud.  Neither was this baptism any ordinary washing.

I think perhaps the sea provides us a clearer picture of the association, because walking through between the twin walls of the sea, one could hardly fail to note the peril of his position, alongside the wonder of what was happening.  “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:  For Thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Ps 23:4).  David may have been drawing more upon the imagery familiar to a shepherd, but doesn’t that describe the experience of these Israelites?  To either side, they could not help but see the very imminent threat of death, and death by the most feared of means known to them; drowning in the untamable sea.  Yet, here was that untamable sea tamed.  God was clearly with them, and there was Moses, staff in hand.  There was the comfort of both the presence of a clearly God-appointed man to lead, and a clearly-present God to lead through him.

Calvin stresses that while the means for Israel were very different, this baptism is in fact nothing other than Christian baptism.  Nor, are we to take cloud and sea as two different baptisms.  Both of these points have implication for us, if he is correct.  I do think there’s a bit of a distinction to be maintained, given that Paul explicitly says they were baptized into Moses, not Christ, and we are most assuredly baptized into Christ, not Moses.  Yet, we must bear in mind that there is correspondence, as well, between these two representatives.  Moses was the prophet.  Here was, by God’s own declaration, the only prophet to whom He spoke directly, as it were face to face.  Jesus comes, very clearly, as the Prophet like Moses, whom Moses himself prophesied.  The correspondence is stunning, and that correspondence really must inform our understanding of many of the things we see Jesus doing.

When we encounter Jesus stilling the sea, and walking upon the waters, what is going on there?  Yes, there is very clear evidence that here is God Himself.  Here is one who commands the sea and the storm and they obey.  But, there is also this:  What happened at the Red Sea?  The waters were so calmed and blown back that they revealed dry land upon which the entire nation of Israel was able to walk through.  How did this come about?  God moved through His prophet.  That is not to suggest that the prophet controlled God.  No, no, no!  But, it is very clear evidence that God moved His prophet.

Turn, while we think along these lines, to the scenes of Jesus feeding the multitudes in the wilderness.  What was that all about?  Well, again, we see miraculous provision, and that captures our attention every bit as much as it did theirs.  That should be a warning.  But, what was really happening here was once more the Prophet like Moses was declaring Himself.  He was also, as He would proceed to explain to the Pharisees later, demonstrating that He was not merely a prophet, not even merely a prophet like Moses.  He was, by demonstrable word and deed, entirely superior to Moses, and was, in fact, the one whom Moses represented.  Moses didn’t feed you.  My Father did.  Moses was a faithful servant in His house.  I am a faithful son over His house (Heb 3:5-6).

So then, there is a distinction.  They were baptized into Moses.  That is hardly to suggest that they were called upon to worship Moses.  Far from it!  But, they were, by this passage through the Red Sea, committed irrevocably to his leadership.  They were forced to acknowledge, by the pillar of cloud which they knew beyond doubt was a very real indication of God’s presence and God’s direct communication with Moses, that his leadership was God ordained, and therefore his instructions were to be obeyed as God’s instructions.  Turns out that didn’t help all that much, but they knew it.

This is the point of baptism that Paul is setting before us, and it is the point of correspondence to our own.  We, being baptized into Christ, have signed our name to the covenant.  We have set our word upon it, declaring the rightness of His rule over us, and our willing submission to that rule.  Understand, though, that Moses, even in leading Israel, remained a servant of Christ.  That is the piece that we fail to see in the account presented us in the Pentateuch.  It would remain for later prophets to recognize and declare this.  And even then, it remains shadowy; until suddenly, one morning, let us call it Christmas morning, the Reality burst upon the scene, proclaimed by heavenly hosts; declared first unto the lowliest of the low in Israel, the shepherds who, though they tended the flocks for the temple, were never able to enter, for they were perpetually unclean.  He comes into our world via a young teenager from the backwaters of Galilee, a region second only to Samaria for scornful viewing by the temple authorities.  Why, they were half-Gentile, too!  Nothing good ever came out of there, nor ever will.

Yet, this One, born to a lowly backwoods girl, heralded by cold, dirty shepherds, acknowledged primarily by foreigners and hunted by His own; this One was in fact the commander in chief over Moses.  He was the point.  Moses was but the pointer.  So, yes, while they obliged themselves to an impossibly strict set of laws, they obliged themselves to Christ.  Now, while we fully acknowledge that the Law was necessarily beyond the capacity of men to obey, yet we must remain mindful of the closing words of Moses as he reminded Israel of her obligations.  “For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. .  It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’  But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it” (Dt 30:11-14 - NASB).  If that sounds strikingly familiar, it may well be because Paul reminds us of those very words in his letter to the Romans.  I’ll not repeat his echo, but his introduction is worthy of consideration.  “For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness.  But the righteousness based on faith speaks thus” (Ro 10:5-6a).  Then comes the quote, with the conclusion, “That is, the word of faith which we are preaching” (Ro 10:8b).

Do you see it?  The path that Moses laid out, while it assuredly emphasized full compliance with every last line of the Law, and while he insisted this was not beyond them to do, was at the same time pointing them to the only way it was going to be done.  “Apart from Me, you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5b).  “The things impossible with men are possible with God” (Lk 18:27).  And that last echoes the news delivered to Mary that marvelous day when God determined that the fullness of time had come.  “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk 1:37).  That, dear ones, is the understatement of all eternity!  The sense of the passage really comes down to this:  The very concept of ‘impossible’ becomes meaningless where God is concerned.

So, here I am this Christmas morning, wondering at God’s timing in bringing up the subject of baptism, and particularly this reference back to Israel’s baptism into Moses.  And yet it is so wholly appropriate.  Here was Israel, however unwittingly, baptized into the death of Christ, even though that event lay as yet far in the future.  If that seems unthinkable, I would remind you of what I just quoted.  “For nothing will be impossible with God!”

Well, this being Christmas, let me stop on this most wonderful thought, which Paul delivers to the Romans as well.  “If we have become united with Him in the likeness of death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection” (Ro 6:5)!  If we have died with Christ, then we shall surely live with Him.  That’s the promise of baptism, not that baptism accomplishes the deed.  It is a symbol, and acknowledgement.  By some standards it is held to be the entrance into covenant, or as a covenant mark.  But, go back to that scene of Israel walking through the Red Sea.  This was a very real death.  For all that they might later chatter about going back to Egypt that path was closed, and closed fast.

Look behind them!  There is what remains of the finest of Egypt, charging down that same valley of the shadow of death.  But, for them, it did not remain a shadow.  Remember what had led to that moment; the plagues, the pestilence, the awful loss of life, and particularly that agonizing night of the Passover, when every first-born in all Egypt had been slain, and their wailing filled the night.  Do you really suppose, even if Israel could have found a way back through the Red Sea, that they would have been welcomed?  What were they thinking?

Dear ones, this is your life!  You have been through the waters.  You have died to the world.  It quite frankly doesn’t want you back, and fortunately for you, there’s really no way back to it anyway.  You have been rendered horrifying in the eyes of the world – become ‘an aroma from death to death’ (2Co 2:16).  But, at the same time, for those still lost and wandering in darkness, you have become ‘an aroma from life to life’!    You have died to Christ, and you are assured of this:  You shall also live with Him!  Forever.  You have a signed invitation to the marriage feast of the Lamb, of which Pastor Dana spoke last night.  Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for He Who has come, shall come again.  He Who began the good work will most assuredly complete it.  Do not take it as permission to sin, that grace may abound.  But, as you work out your salvation in fear in trembling, do so in confidence and in rest, knowing that it is God Himself who is working in you, both to render you willing and to accomplish the work (Php 2:12-13).

The Lord’s Supper (12/26/17)

I have to say that as I gathered and arranged my items for comment in this passage, I was rather surprised that so much was said of baptism, and so little of the Lord’s Supper.  It seems to me that Paul’s emphasis is somewhat the reverse, at least if we go by word count.  Perhaps our various authors got too caught up chasing the nature of the rock and had no space left to return to the topic.  I don’t know.  But, I do think it is telling that Paul chooses this particular way to describe the correlation.  For, he is still concerned with demonstrating that correlation between Israel’s experience and that of the Corinthians (and by proxy, our own).

Paul does not outright declare that this was an early observance of the Lord’s Supper.  Rather, the association is with food and drink.  Clearly, both are associated with the Lord’s Supper, although in our own practice, surely not enough to account it a meal.  It would barely register as a snack.  But, it is symbolic and that’s fine.  Further, the food and the drink, as to that which actually matters, are spiritual.  But, then, what does that mean?  Does it mean they have some supernatural quality such that even though we have but a bite of cracker and a sip of grape juice, yet they are sufficient to nourish as if a full dinner had been spread before us?  No.  Does it point to the means of their provision?  Well, for the Israelites that was certainly the case, wasn’t it?  The manna took them by surprise.  If they had not had prior instruction they would not have known what to do with it, and may not have even recognized it as edible.  As it was, their reaction was, “What is it?”  The provision of water was likewise very clearly a matter beyond the ordinary.  Rocks do not, in general, produce water, and certainly not in such quantity that a million plus people, and all their livestock, could drink of it not only that one time, but for thirty-seven or forty years, depending how you view the thing.

But, when we come to the Communion Table of a Sunday, it is ordinary crackers or bread that we observe.  It is grape juice, or maybe cran-grape – in some very rare instances, perhaps actual wine; but ordinary nonetheless.  The Church has long debated what exactly is going on here.  The Catholics will insist that somewhere between the sacristy (I think I have their terminology here) and the congregation, the bread becomes something other than bread.  It truly is the body of Christ, and the cup, though not shared with the congregants, truly is the blood of Christ.  Luther settled somewhere near this, but accepted that yes, bread and wine retain their physical normality, though overlaid in some mystical fashion with the true flesh and blood of Christ.  We, perhaps, veer a step or two too far toward the rational, insisting they are nothing but symbol.  No, there is something real in the symbol.  There is always something real in the symbol.  It doesn’t merely point to the reality, or remind us of the reality.  It imparts of that reality; at least to those to whom the reality belongs.   It remains, at least in this regard, spiritually provided.

The Israelites could not escape the recognition of this truth.  We must labor to keep it in view.  The bread and the juice are not the point.  Neither are they mere empty ritual.  They are provision, and they are provision from a spiritual source.  Yet we still need to define this matter of spiritual.  What does that mean?  It’s a lovely word, but it’s full of varied and in some ways conflicting implications, and what I may intend to convey by its use may not be what you hear.  This is the challenge of language, isn’t it?  That becomes particularly so in a culture which generally concludes that words can mean whatever I want them to mean.  But, that is a dark subject for another day.  Let us simply seek to define terms here, where it is needful.  First off, to say it is spiritual in nature does not mean that it has no true physical reality.  No.  The manna and the water were quite real, and their effects on hunger and thirst were of such nature as one would naturally expect.  So, too, the cracker and the cup.  The matzah crunches like normal matzah because it is normal matzah.  The cup tastes of grape juice, because it is grape juice.  The moisture on the tongue gives evidence of it.  The gummy residue of the cracker in your molars attests to its existence in the here and now.

Is it, like that stuff in the wilderness, a matter of supernatural provision?  Not as concerns the natural elements, no.  We know how the crackers and the grape juice got there.  So and so went down to the local grocers and stocked up.  Someone amongst our membership saw to it that the crackers were broken up and on the plates; that the cups were properly filled with their measure of juice.  (Would that they would also check that said cups were capable of being removed from the trays, but so it goes.)  Your own experience of the Table may vary in its details, but not so far as to leave you wondering how it was possible that there was bread and wine for the partaking.

So, what?  How, then, is it spiritual if not as to its nature or as to its provision?  What is Paul driving at here?  I would have to maintain that what renders them spiritual is the work of the Holy Spirit in and through those elements, once again revitalizing our recognition of what exactly has been done for us in the death and resurrection of our Savior.  Is this not the fundamental work of the Spirit, to keep our attention ever and always on our Christ?  They are spiritual because He is involved, and because He is involved, there is real, spiritual benefit in the partaking, even though the elements are ordinary foodstuffs.

I will say this, as well.  They are provision, or at the very least, the assurance of provision.  In our local tradition, for whatever reason, we do not tend to recite the Lord’s Prayer during service.  This is something I remember well from the Congregational church of my youth.  Yes, it could prove an empty and meaningless recitation, but it could also, if one were attentive, serve to remind.  “Give us this day our daily bread.”  Indeed.  Provide, O Lord, as I know You do.  And here, at the Table, we have assurance:  “I have, and I will.  Always.”  Remind yourself from the pen of the Psalmist.  “I have been young, and now I am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, or is descendants begging bread” (Ps 37:25).

Now, I do not wish to diminish in any way the significance of the Lord’s Supper as pertains to salvation and forgiveness of sins.  But, there is also this, and it is this particularly that it seems Paul has in view:  It is a promise of provision, a reminder of provision.  God has provided for you in ways that you have barely begun to imagine.  We can and should start with the biggie.  He has provided life to you that were dead!  And yet, in His view, that was apparently not sufficiently generous.  For all that we like to think ourselves self-sufficient, it is He who provides, whether through employments, through caring family, through charity, or whatever means may be more evident to our senses.

Do you work at your employments?  It is because He has endowed you with the necessary skills.  Do you receive your pay?  It is because He has signed the check, and brought in the provision to your employer to impart to you.  Do you have a warm residence in which to shelter of a winter?  It is not your hand which has done this.  It is His provision.  All that you have; all that you shall ever have is from His hand.  All that you could possibly offer in thanksgiving will never amount to anything more than returning to God what is already rightfully His.  This, I will note in passing, drives us back yet again to the necessity for the God-man.  We already owe everything we are, everything we have, and more.  There is nothing left to us from which to make payment on a penalty above and beyond, let alone a penalty so infinite in cost.  Indeed, you are provided for in ways you cannot even begin to imagine.

So, let me take you somewhere that this memory of the Exodus ought surely to take us.  Here were the Israelites, with the miracle of manna every morning, with the miracle of fresh water every day, in spite of where they were, and what did they do with it?  Did they rejoice that this God Who had taken them out of slavery and certain death in Egypt was now seeing to their daily needs in so immediately tangible a fashion?  NO!  This ought to be absolutely shocking, utterly scandalous to us.  But, it isn’t because, unless we are particularly blind to our own inner condition, we recognize that we are not the least bit different.  No, these recipients of the most immediate outpouring of God’s gracious provision looked to God and said, “Not good enough.”

This same cry, sad to say, goes up from God’s people to this day, and I speak now of the Church, rather than of Israel.  We may try and dress it up so it doesn’t sound quite so obviously offensive.  I suspect the Israelites probably tried the same semantic games.  It didn’t work for them.  It doesn’t work for us.  Jesus Christ, having given His very life to rescue us from slavery to sin, and from the walking death into which we were born, has given us Life!  He has given us guaranteed, signed, sealed, delivered citizenship in heaven, with the assurance that in the not so distant future, as the future is properly measured, we shall discover ourselves sharing fellowship with Him live and in person, never to be parted, never again to know the shame of failing Him.  And what do we do with this?

I have heard it with my own ears, when discussing the question of what it means to have this inheritance.  “Not good enough!  I want health now.  I want old people not to die now.  I want every sickness, every injury, every pocket of poverty, every evil corruption of man eradicated now.”  Well, it’s one thing, I must say, to hunger and thirst for righteousness.  It’s quite another, though, to demand that this must consist in health and wealth in the here and now.  I might simply remind those of this mindset what Abraham had to say to the rich man in that parable Jesus relayed.  “Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony” (Lk 16:25). 

Well, dear ones, which would you have?  Would you prefer your moment of ease now, your days of riches now, where they may last perhaps twenty, forty years?  Even if, as technology advances, it proves possible to enjoy those riches for a century or more, it remains temporary.  It remains an immeasurably tiny blip on the screen of eternity – entirely unnoticeable.  Jesus cries out  to you, “Everyone who drinks of this water shall thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall NEVER thirst!  But the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (Jn 4:13).  And there it is, in the image of this spiritually watered Israel.  “Spring up, O well!  Sing to it!  The well which the leaders sank and the nobles dug with scepter and staff” (Nu 21:17-18).  It’s the same well, the well of Life; Life that knows nothing further of death, for death has been conquered, and sin no longer remains to reassert its power.

For all the ‘spirituality’ of those who seek, through the power of their faith or the power of their prayers, or their purported deep, deep intimacy with God as they seek after these things, what the seeking reveals is an utterly materialistic perspective.  They are of the same nature as those two whom Jesus spoke these words.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (Jn 6:26).  The same admonition applies.  “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man shall give to you, for on Him the Father, even God, has set His seal” (Jn 6:27).

I should also add, particularly for my dear Charismatic brethren, that there is great need to take heed lest you set more significance upon the seal than upon Him who is sealed!  Again:  Corinth is not set before us as a how-to guide, but as an example, even as Israel was set before them (and us) in this chapter not as a how-to guide, but as an example.  It is all well and good to have the gifts of the Spirit, if they are in fact used in accordance with the desire and the purpose of the Spirit, which is to direct us ever and always to Christ, Who is sealed as our redeemer.  The Spirit, dear one, is not your Redeemer.  Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah whom Father, Son, and Spirit alike covenanted to become our Salvation is your Redeemer – your only Redeemer.

I find over and over again that this tendency to elevate the Spirit above the Christ reflects a mindset that values the material over the spiritual.  It seems counter-intuitive, and yet there it is.  It is, however it may veil and disguise itself, a lust for power.  It was so with Corinth.  It is so with us.  It is so, because it is the nature of fallen man always.  It is the nature of sin always.  It is the first fall of Satan which led to the fall of man.  “You shall be like God.”  That lust has never left us, and never shall, fully, until He Himself eradicates the last of it as we gain entrance into His holy city.

Reflect – reflect often – on the enormity of what has been provided to you.  You, who for all that you thought yourself alive were in fact dead, have been given Life!  You have been given life of a sort that is so far and away superior to what you think of as life right now as to bear no relationship to it.  You have been granted Life, as Zhodiates phrases it, that is – finally – worthy of being called life.  You have been granted life that is beyond the corrupting power of sin; granted a restoration to that life Adam and Eve knew before Satan duped them into giving it up in their lust for power and self-rule.  O!  Glorious day when Jesus washed my sins away!  O!  Glorious promise of that day when, clothed once for all in righteousness, I shall join Him for the wedding feast of the Lamb, never again to stray!

The Rock (12/27/17)

If you’re in the mood for a bit of theological controversy and debate, then have we got a topic for you!  Paul speaks of this spiritual rock that followed Israel, and then identifies the rock as Christ.  Where is he coming from?  What is he saying?  Does he really expect us to believe that a physical rock uprooted itself and wandered together with the Israelites?  As absurd as it seems to us, it seems this view had some traction with the rabbis of the day.  For my part, given the number of miraculous activities recorded by Moses in the accounts of that wandering, I should thing a boulder that followed the camp for forty years might have come to his attention as worth mentioning.  The lack of such mention may not entirely disprove the theory, but it goes a long way towards doing so.  Note, for example, that at Meribah, he was not instructed to go hit the rock again.

So, then, do we accept the idea that what Paul is referring to is the water that flowed from said rock?  This gets more interesting.  We have Calvin’s backing on that idea certainly, who suggests that this stream which flowed from the rock at Horeb never left Israel during their wanderings.  Perhaps, but again, wouldn’t you think Moses would find this worthy of comment at some point?  Again, we can find Jewish tradition to back this up, for whatever that’s worth.  Barnes actually tries to flesh this out a bit.  He notes, for example, that from the time the rock is struck at Horeb until the fortieth year, when they finally headed off toward Edom, we hear nothing of any concern in the camp as far as water is concerned.  Food, yes.  Tired of the manna, they complained of the lack of meat.  But, there’s nothing about the water supply.  Interesting.  Barnes follows a line of reasoning that suggests the waters that broke forth at Horeb, being up on the mountain like that, flowed down, created a stream of some significance, and said stream meandered around the wilderness until it emerged at Ezion-geber on the coast of the Red Sea, which is where we find Israel encamped just before their departure for Edom.  OK, that’s interesting, I suppose.  It’s possible.  No physical evidence of this purported stream exists, but as Barnes points out, a supernatural stream of limited duration.  No such evidence is necessarily going to remain.  Feels to me like a bit of a dodge, but point taken.

Where it gets interesting, and perhaps a bit more plausible in my view, is when the matter of the golden calf is brought into the picture.  Here, I find two of our commentaries pointing back to Deuteronomy 9:21 as referring to this same stream of water that flowed from the rock at Horeb.  What is said?  Moses is recounting events for the younger generation about to enter the land.  “I took your sinful thing, the calf you had made, and burned it with fire and crushed it into a fine dust, which I then threw into the brook that came down from the mountain.”  It took both pointers to that verse for the connection to sink in.  Oh, that brook.

Okay, a few points of clarification, because I find myself rather bemused by the timing and the locations and such.  First, Mount Horeb is another name for Mount Sinai.  This mountain is at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, between the two arms of the Red Sea.  Ezion-geber is at the tip of the eastern arm, right on the edge of Edom, really.  If you were thinking that the forty years of wandering were mostly spent on the move, I think this puts paid to that theory.  Rather, the trip to Mount Sinai would seem to have been relatively quick, and really, the journey from Horeb to Ezion-geber is not any great distance.  But, then there was the abortive journey into the Promised Land at the start, and really, it would seem the next thirty seven years were largely spent hanging out in Ezion-geber, so the stream really didn’t need to go all that far, I guess.  I would have to go back and dig more into Deuteronomy to confirm the timing, but I honestly just don’t feel like it.

The point is sufficiently made, I think, that this idea of the rock as reference to the stream that flowed from said rock seems reasonable enough.  The second rock, over in Meribah or Massah, or Rephidim, all of which appear to be the same place was really not terribly far away from Sinai.  It’s all a tad confusing, but suffice to say that the waters from Mount Sinai could be in view throughout.  Given Paul’s emphasis on the very visible, very tangible evidences of God’s immediate presence and provision, that doesn’t seem an unreasonable way to take his reference.  They had the cloud with them forty years.  They could see it.   They had the experience of walking through the sea and seeing the Egyptians swallowed up by that same sea behind them.  They had all shared the very physical provision of manna.  They had all walked by these waters throughout the years of their wanderings.  It is fitting to think of that stream always within view as they went.  It also explains the sudden concern when they reached Beer, and sang to the well at which Moses called a stop (Nu 21:16-18).  What happened?  All this time we’ve had the stream and now it’s gone!  Moses, do something!  Actually, it would appear that Moses did something before they had time to fully notice the change.  But, this was Israel on a war footing.  It was also Israel minus that generation that balked the first time.  Arguably, although not provably, it was an Israel far more confirmed in her faith in God.

There is the point Paul is establishing.  You think you’ve got evidence of God’s pleasure with you?   Look at this!  Forty years, they had these signs that far and away exceed your own.  You get spiritual thrill-inducers.  You can speak in tongues.  Hurray for you.  They had the very shekinah glory of God accompanying them.  They had the reality of Psalm 23 as constant companion.  They had passed through the valley of the shadow of death.  They had been led, in spite of their rebelliousness, by still waters, encamped in green pastures.  Forty years, and never a break in that experience of the immediate, imminent presence of God.

Now, dear Corinthians, lest you miss the point of all this recognize:   That Rock?  That immediate, imminent presence of God?  That was Christ!  They were in no way inferior to you in privilege.  In fact, it would be far more reasonable to say that you are in every way inferior to them in that regard.  You don’t get the tangible reinforcements that they had.  You have to depend on things unseen.  They did not.  Yet, for all their greater privilege and support, what happened?  They had the Rock!  They had Christ Jesus Himself ministering to them; the ultimate source of all their supply.  You have this, too, but again:  It is far more a matter for faith to you, because you do not see the provision with such constant immediacy.  You know your provision is from Him, yet your physical senses argue that you provided.  You know that He is your protection, but your physical senses argue that your own strength has done the deed.  You do have all this.  But, don’t get cocky!  Remember that this whole record of Israel’s wandering was not set there as a how-to guide for you to follow, but as a warning to you, who are in every way not merely similar to them, but the same.

Symbol and Substance (12/27/17)

This whole business leads us to a necessary discussion of symbol and substance.  As concerns the Lord’s Supper, this has been a major point of debate; with baptism less so, but still there are those who see a more real and tangible sanctifying, if not salvific power in the baptismal act.  We need to be careful.  We need to recognize that while we have been reborn of the Spirit, yet we remain fleshy people with fleshy thoughts.  The reason we need the constant admonition to turn our eyes upon Jesus is simply this:  Our eyes are naturally drawn toward our natural surroundings.  Our desires are naturally inclined toward natural pleasures.

Again, dear one:  You are not so very different from Israel in the wilderness, or Judea at the coming of Christ, or even Corinth in the Apostolic age.  Some things, it seems, just never change.  The symbol, of necessity, is a thing with tangible, physical nature.  Baptism makes use of real water.  Communion involves real bread, real juice of some sort.  These are physical things that naturally appeal to our physical senses, for good or ill.  If the baptismal waters are cold, that’s going to give us pause.  If the communion bread is stale, we may be less inclined to partake.  Our natural bodies, with their natural senses are inclined to pay greater attention to natural stimulus.  So, too, our experience of worship.  However much we try to focus our worship on God, the fact is, if the music isn’t our style, or is poorly rendered, we will probably not manage to ‘enter in’.  If the preacher’s delivery is monotonous, or the material beneath our sense of our own advanced piety, we will tend to tune out.  This is ninety percent of the attraction of the Charismatic approach.  It’s lively!  It’s engaging.  It’s all fresh and shiny and new, and keeps our senses fully engaged and, dare I say, amused.  That has its place, I think.  But, there is much to be said for those forms of worship that eschew entertainment in favor of delivering a line-drive to heart and mind.  It just requires, perhaps, a more deliberate participation from us, a more deliberate turning from the physical to the spiritual.  This, I should note, is entirely counter to general perceptions.  The Charismatics are supposed to be the more spiritually oriented ones, and the Reformed crew stuck in dull, human reasoning.  Yet, it turns out to be, as often as not, that the Charismatics are fully occupied with the physical stimuli, while the Reformed pursue a spiritual understanding.

Here is a part of the problem:  We misunderstand what is meant by this whole matter of spirituality.  We mistake it for a stand in term for ‘the supernatural’.  If it doesn’t cause goose bumps, it’s not spiritual!  If it’s focused on rational argument rather than purported revelation, it’s not spiritual.  But, let me offer something from Barnes for your consideration.  “Spiritual blessing thus stand opposed to natural and temporal blessings, and the former denote those which are immediately given by God as an evidence of divine favor.”  Spiritual blessings, by this understanding, may very well take physical form – even very mundane form.  It’s not the form that’s of interest.  It’s the immediate giving by God.  That, dear ones, is a very rare occasion indeed.

Your faith?  Oh, yes.  That is a spiritual blessing by this definition; given to you directly and most immediately by God.  You didn’t work it up.  You may not have even been looking to do so.  Faith just happened.  One day you scoffed.  The next day you believed.  Your paycheck?  To be sure, it is every bit as dependent on God for its existence as anything else, but it is not really a spiritual blessing in that regard.  It is a ‘natural and temporal blessing’.  I might add another distinction for us to recognize between the two.  You may or may not agree.  I would suggest to you that spiritual blessings are those which will continue on into eternity.  They are, in this regard, the polar opposite of those temporal blessings that pertain to the natural conditions of our present existence.

I belabor this point somewhat because it is, to my thinking, crucial.  If we keep our attention on the symbol, rather than the symbolized, we are made ever more materialistic in our understanding of what religion is about.  We can dress it up in the language of spiritualism, but it remains utterly materialistic.  We discover that we’re in it for the stuff, for the show, for the power, perhaps.  We unwittingly (I surely hope it is unwittingly!) reduce miracle to magic act.  Yes, I know there’s that quote attributed to Einstein:  “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.”  As it turns out, that attribution seems to be as highly questionable as the premise.   Those who incline toward seeing every little bit of beneficial experience as miracle likely confuse the categories of spiritual and natural blessing.  Those who are simply not going to be satisfied unless they get to witness miracles on the same scale as Israel with Moses or during the brief years of Christ’s ministry, are likewise caught up in the same spirit that beset Simon the Magi.  “Give me some of that!  I’ll pay ya!”  I want power.  I want my best life now.  I want all my physical ailments addressed once for all, this instant.  I don’t ever want to face the grave.

But, where is the biblical basis for this?  Where is the support.  “For me, to live is Christ, to die is gain!  I can’t say I know which one to choose, for they both have value.  On the one hand, an opportunity to serve you longer; on the other, to be with Christ, which is certainly very much better from a selfish standpoint” (Php 1:21-24).  What to do, what to do?  Well, I would note, he doesn’t turn to insisting God should heal him, free him from imprisonment, and send all manner of angels to give him smooth, safe passage to his next assignment.  His faith is anchored in the truly spiritual.  His eyes are entirely focused on the eternal benefit already guaranteed him, symbolically sealed by the very real presence of the Holy Spirit.  That very real presence did not always demonstrate in shocking miracle.  Remember his words to these spiritually materialistic Corinthians.  “I determined to know nothing among you but Christ, and Him crucified” (1Co 2:2).  No fancy stuff.  I’m not here to put on a show.  I’m here to show you Christ.

Here’s the danger for us.  It’s the same danger that captivated so many in Corinth, and, from what I can see, left their ministry the poorer, and less effective.  They were caught up in spectacle, and that spectacle, particularly as they were playing with it, became all but indistinguishable from magic.  They managed to make their church just another magic show, and in doing so, they wound up leading others not to Christ, but to spectacle.  But, the spectacle will wear off.  It always does.  Even if the same manifestations and such were to continue day in and day out for years on end, the spectacle would fade.  It would become ordinary, expected – like that stream that seemed to follow Israel through the wilderness until one day it wasn’t there anymore.  Now what?  Is your faith in the manifestation, or the One to whom the manifestation points?

Miracles, as Zhodiates, I believe, makes mention in his definition, are sign-posts to point us to God, to Christ.  If they become anything else:  If they become a means for personal gratification, or for boosting our self-esteem; if they become the point instead of the pointer; then, so far as we are concerned, they are no longer miracle.  They are a side-show, a distraction, a false god we have set before us as an idol.

Let me return to the symbols before us in this passage.  There is this to be said:  The real, physical nature of the elements which make up our sacraments or ordinances, depending on your perspective, do not alter the spiritual significance of the act.  We must counter-balance that with this, though:  Partaking of the real, physical elements does not guarantee real, spiritual result.  While I would have to concur with Calvin that the manna was still manna even in the mouths of unbelievers out there in the wilderness, it remains simultaneously true that these sacraments cannot in any way ensure salvation.

Baptism has great spiritual benefit to the believer.  The Lord’s Supper, rightly observed, is of great spiritual benefit to the believer.  It is not, as I see some thinking of late, a sacrament for healing.  I’ll consider that more, one suspects, when we consider the subject later in this letter.  But, the fact that taking it wrongly has been the cause of death and illness does not in any way infer that taking it correctly serves as an insurance policy against those things.  That’s not the point!  That’s the materialistic flesh getting in the way one more time, and trying to dress up its interference in some gauzy appearance of holiness.  It is, then, hypocrisy by very definition.

To close out this particular topic, I want to return once more to the wilderness reprise we find in the feeding of the multitudes by Christ.  I have already touched on this verse, but I want to come back to it, because the problem persists.  To this day, we have many that prefer Moses to Messiah, even as they suppose themselves to be worshiping Messiah rather than Moses.  They see the manna, and think of nothing more than food.  The significance of that provision is lost.  Many who came out to Jesus, particularly the second time or the third, came not because they were seeking the kingdom of God, but because they’d heard about the marvelous meals.  Hear His response.  “You seek Me not because you saw signs, but because you ate and were filled” (Jn 6:26). 

Understand that both the sign and the eating point to the same thing.  You ate of the loaves, but all you got out of it was a full tummy.  You completely missed the significance.  You didn’t see a sign, you saw a snack.  Continue.  “Don’t work for food that perishes.  Work for the food that endures to eternal life.  Go for that which the Son of Man shall give you.  For on Him Father God has set His seal” (Jn 6:27).  And, oh!  The sorrow of their response.  “What shall we do that we may work the works of God?” (Jn 6:28).  Sounds so pious, doesn’t it?  But, hear the motive.  Show us how to make this bread for ourselves.  Give us the power to do what You do.  They still didn’t see the significance, only the signpost.  Truly, this is one of the most pathetic stories ever told.  Here was the Bread of Life telling them point blank that they were miles off course and what they really needed most desperately was standing right there talking to them, and what do they do?  Hey, man, show us how you did that!  Show us a sign.  Then, tell us how to do it, too.  More bread, sir!

And so, sadly, we find we are brought inevitably to that fig tree outside Jerusalem at the end.  The fig tree showed every sign of health.  By all appearances there should have been fruit to be had there, but there was nothing.  Jesus spoke to the tree, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you” (Mt 21:19), and at once the tree withered.  Again, the disciples were distracted by the sign and failed to see the significance.  Here was the symbol of Israel.  Over and over, Jesus had made this point:  You should be bearing fruit, and you aren’t.  You shall be uprooted, and the vineyard given to another.  This was not some pointless act of a hungry Messiah.  This was a statement of finality.  “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.”  That’s not a message to the tree.  That’s a message to the nation represented, to the religious order that failed.  It was not the Mosaic Covenant that failed.  It was the Mosaic people.

This same message resonates through the prophetic message Jesus delivered in His Olivet Discourse.  And, if there remained any doubt about His judgment upon the old order, those doubts should surely be removed, at least for His own sheep, by the events of 70 AD.  This is finished.  There’s nothing there to go back to.  Like Egypt, there can be no return.  Stop pining for the past, and turn your eyes upon Jesus.  Understand the point of the signs, and stop being satisfied with the post.  The manna remains manna, whether it feeds a faithful mouth or an unbelieving one.  Both will have something in their stomach.  One will have a future.  Both will see the signpost.  One will understand the sign and go where it points.

The New in the Old (12/28/17)

While it is hardly the only passage of which this could be said, this present section of Paul’s letter gives us a fine example of how we of the New Covenant community are to understand and apply the events recorded in the Old Testament.  We are not to ignore it, certainly.  It is, after all God’s Word, the unchanging revelation of the unchanging God.  And yet, there are very clearly terms in the Old Covenant that have been superseded in the New.  The whole is not binding, at least in the same sense as once it was.  Certainly, we are not bound to the sacrificial system laid out in such painstaking detail by Moses.  That is fulfilled in the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ, and more animal blood or flesh isn’t going to add any benefit.  The temple order is likewise pronounced over with in no uncertain terms.  Between the withered fig tree and the destruction of Jerusalem in fulfillment of the Olivet Discourse, God’s termination of that phase of redemptive history is clear enough.

So, what do we do with it?  I’ve been discussing that right along, really.  What we do with it is recognize ourselves in their actions.  That’s exactly the use Paul is making of the record here.  You know their history, dear Corinthians.  It’s there in the text for you to read.  But, it’s not just so you can long after the miracle-filled days they encountered.  Neither is it so that you can compare your gifts to theirs and content yourself in your superiority.  The point is to learn from their mistakes.  As parents, we seek to allow our children to learn from our mistakes so that they don’t have to repeat them.  Perhaps we err in not really explaining this to them as we ought; relaying the lesson without the backstory.  But, that’s always a goal, isn’t it?  It’s a goal with discipleship.  It’s a goal with any effective teaching.  Here are things I’ve learned, most of it the hard way.  Avail yourself of the wisdom I have gained by my pain that you may have it without pain.   That, I dare say, is how we are to view the Scriptural record, not only of Israel, but also of the ‘primordial’ church, as one book takes to calling it.  Again:  It is not so much a how-to guide as a warning.  Learn from their mistakes.  Don’t just assume everything you see them doing must necessarily be the model to follow.

Here, the clear point is in the comparison.  You are proud of your spiritual gifts?  Look what they had!  You think your gifts make you incapable of sin?  Look where they went!  Now, if you would compare gifts, I’m really not sure who you would say had it better.  Calvin leans toward saying we have more abundantly what they had to lesser degree.  They had their signs, and those signs were not devoid of grace or of efficacy, but the efficacy was not so great as what we experience.  To my thinking, though, they had a much greater advantage, at least in those first forty years or so that Paul sets before us.  They had God with them!  How can you top that?  There was God, visibly present in the cloud of His glory.  There was God’s provision, visibly present every day in the manna; in the water that was always with them and always enough.  He was right there!  If faith is the evidence of things unseen, they had little need for faith.  They could see His care.  And yet, this turns out to be exactly the problem.  For all His visible, present nearness, it turns out that it was of no advantage to them.  The author of Hebrews says exactly this.  “Indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also.  But the word they heard didn’t profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard” (Heb 4:2).

Did God fail, then?  Impossible!  God, being perfect in wisdom and knowledge, perfect in planning and execution, is not capable of failing.  The term loses all meaning when connected to Him.  He who knew the very moment at which the prophecy would be fulfilled before the promise of the Seed was first made to Adam did not find it necessary to alter His plans even once across those thousands of years.  Why would He?  He was/is as present at the fulfillment as He was/is at the announcement – as He is/will be at the Last Day.  His purpose was served absolutely, completely, and in every last detail, even as the Gospel failed to be heard by all but a few in their day.  It continues to be served absolutely, completely, and in every last detail today, even though few indeed hear the Gospel with hearing united by faith.  But, the Church does not fail because God does not fail.

It does, however, do well to take heed of the final state of the Temple order, lest we of the Church find ourselves, like Israel before us, thinking ourselves invulnerable because we have this place of God’s presence.  They cried, “The Temple!  The Temple!”  Read the accounts of the fall of Jerusalem, and see just how holy the people who trusted the Temple to preserve them were.  See how utterly unconcerned with holiness they became, and take heed.  Being in the Church does not save, although I dare say the truly saved will be found in the Church.  Being convinced that you are filled with the Holy Spirit, to bring the Corinthian case to bear, does not save.  Even having all His gifts on display will not assure salvation. 

Think of Balaam.  This was not a godly man.  His actions demonstrate the fact.  The record of his dealings with Balak do not present us with a prototypical prophet of God.  They present us with a man trained in the ways of Babylonian divination, as he sets up his multiple altars with their multiple sacrifices.  And yet, when he prophesies, it truly is the word of God that comes from his mouth.  Indeed, it’s a fairly safe bet to say that his final prophecy laid the groundwork for those magi who came to bow down to the newborn King as the New Testament opens.  Look at his self-description!  “The oracle of Balaam, son of Beor; a man whose eye is opened, a man who hears the words of God and knows His knowledge, a man who sees the vision of the Almighty, as falling down yet with eyes wide open” (Nu 24:15-16).  Now, he may be a bit full of himself, but the words which follow demonstrate a certain accuracy to his assessment.  He many not know all the knowledge of God, or even, in terms of truly knowing, know any of it.  But, he assuredly spoke the words of God, willingly or not.

I looked at this last night, as we read into the opening chapters of Matthew, with the arrival of the magi from the east.  How did they know what the start meant?  Yes, they were early astronomers and sought to understand the movements of the heavens.  But, it’s one thing to know how things move, and quite another to recognize a significance to events.  Stars, after all, do not tell us anything, however much the astrology buffs like to think otherwise.  They do not give deep portents about your future based on their configuration at your birth.  This one star that announced the One God-Man’s birth does not mean every birth has heavenly pronouncements made.  But, hear the words Balaam delivered.

“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, And a scepter shall rise from Israel, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab, And tear down all the sons of Sheth.  And Edom shall be a possession, Seir, its enemies, also shall be a possession, While Israel performs valiantly.  One from Jacob shall have dominion, And shall destroy the remnant from the city” (Nu 24:17-19).  The priests in Israel, I think, sensed the significance of this.  The Babylonians clearly did.  They had come to see, and they came, for all their false beliefs, bearing gifts that pronounced with shocking clarity not only who this King was, but how His days would end:  Gold to declare His royalty – here is the King Who was announced; frankincense to anoint Him High Priest, and we know High Priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek (Heb 7:17).  And then, the myrrh; what was that all about?  This was one of the ingredients used in preparing the body for burial.  What a lovely gift for a newborn infant.  What a message of comfort to His mother.

I could go back to yesterday’s discussion about getting too caught up in the symbol to observe the symbolized, but let’s not.  The point I desire to bring out here is that which is being made to Corinth.  Signs and wonders do not, in the end, confirm you in your salvation.  I know this seems all wrong, and yet it is very clearly right.  Balaam, so far as any evidence Scripture offers us, never came to faith.  He was not saved by this experience of God’s voice on his lips.  Rather, he conspired together with Balak and gave him counsel as to how he might yet corrupt the Israelites and so defeat the very prophecy he had spoken.  For all his pronouncements about knowing God’s thoughts, it’s pretty clear he didn’t really know Who he was dealing with!

The same could very well hold for these Corinthians.  That’s great:  You’re tossing off prophecies like a Tesla coil tosses off sparks.  You’re speaking in tongues in church and out.  You’re ordering your meals at the restaurant in tongues, you’re so gifted.  You know so much about God that you don’t need the Apostolic Word made sure anymore.  You’ve got your own revelations.  Aren’t you something?  Well, yes, you’re something.  What you aren’t is holy, and you may very well not actually be saved.  Paul never quite takes it that far.  He’s too focused on edification and demonstrating the loving approach he advocates.  But, the implication is there.  You think you’re so advanced, and yet there you are down at the idol’s temple yucking it up with the infidels.  There you are, giving a nod and a wink to your parishioner who’s shacking up with his mother-in-law, and saying he’s holy, too!  There you are, treating the Lord’s Supper like an eating competition, or some party akin to the Bacchanalia.  Yeah, you’ve got gifts all right.  Let’s hope God is gracious enough to combine them with faith, that you may yet be saved.

Back on topic, if I can:  We are discussing how the Old is to be apprehended and utilized in the New, which as I say, also informs us as to how we utilize the New in the now.  Let me offer a couple of quotes on the relationship.  The JFB records that, “The Jewish Church is related as parent to the Christian Church.” That is clear.  And, as I have said, being a parent, it is there that we might learn from its mistakes rather than live out the reruns.  Then, there is this.  “Judaism was Christianity under a veil, wrapt up in types and dark hints.”  That comes from Matthew Henry.  This is really nearer to the common understanding, I think.  The Law, Paul says, has become our tutor to lead us to Christ (Gal 3:24).  That’s the purpose.  Look at what was required, but don’t, like Israel, suppose you’ve got it in you to comply.  The whole point, Moses’ words notwithstanding, is that you can’t.  But, He has provided the One Who not only can, but already did.  And, amazing grace of God, His perfect compliance has already been credited to your account.

Pastor offered that great acrostic definition of grace for us last week:  God’s Righteousness At Christ’s Expense.  That’s it!  He already paid.  All the shadowy hints of the Old Covenant have found their fulfillment in Him – Perfect fulfillment.  All that the rites and ceremonies pointed to, He Is, and He Is forever.  He is forever past.  He is forever future.  There is no point where He isn’t the fulfillment of the whole business.  “It is finished” means just that!

It us thus that Calvin can look at what is said here and recognize that while they may not have enjoyed the clear witness to Christ that we do, yet He was food for them; yet their salvation was as thoroughly dependent upon the benefit of His death and resurrection as is our own; yet the Holy Spirit, who likewise always was and always is, made the flesh and blood of Christ to be efficacious to those in whom symbol was united with faith, even though said flesh and blood had not as yet been created.  This, dear ones, is a miracle far and away in excess of any of those more visible events we find recorded.  The blood of Christ is so thoroughly efficacious that from the first Adam to the last son of God standing at the Last Day, to all whom the Father has given Him, that blood will not merely suffice, but provide in abundance!

This is what Paul is driving home to us in verse 4.  Immanuel!  God was with them, and not just the Most High Father, but also the Son, also the Spirit.  The full, triune Godhead was there with them.  They had Christ every bit as much as do we, although they recognized Him not.  He was with them.  He was following them, leading them, guarding them.  He was providing for them.  So it was for Israel in the wilderness.  So it has been for the Church down through the ages.  So it is for every Christian through all the years of his sojourn on this earth.  And, as He brought every last one of His own to the Promised Land then, so He shall do in the Last Day.  God does not fail.  God cannot fail.

The Outcome (12/29/17)

In our English translations, verse 5 comes across as a very gentle statement.  Oh, dear.  They were laid low in the wilderness.  Laid low?  To modern ears, that makes it sound like they were a bit depressed, or maybe dealt with the flu or something.  The actual depiction is something quite different.  The word that is key to the image is katestrootheesan.  You might sense the roots of our own catastrophe as you sound that out, but even catastrophe doesn’t go far enough to convey the shocking result that Paul puts before us.  The picture is of bodies strewn in heaps all along their course; and it wasn’t the bodies of their enemies!  The Wycliffe Commentary describes the situation this way:  the wilderness is spoken of as, “paved with bodies sated with angel’s food and drink.”

That really exposes the stark contrast Paul has laid out.  Privilege?  You want privilege?  These folks were fed daily with angel’s food and drink.  They had Christ right there with them, and not as some spiritually perceived reality, but a visceral, physically manifest cloud of unfathomable power.  How did that work out for them?  They died.  Take Joshua and Caleb out of the picture, they being the sole exceptions, and to a man they were killed by the same God who accompanied them.  The means and methods are many and varied.  Some died in battle, some by pestilence, and others, presumably, by natural disease. 

Be clear on this:  Moses’ words about how none of the diseases of the Egyptians beset them does not mean no Israelite suffered any illness.  We must first of all restrict this to whatever subset of disease was in view with that ‘of the Egyptians’ qualifier.  We must second of all restrict this to the second generation, those who had not been of age when first Israel poked its head into the Promised Land.  As to that generation, God had declared His ruling, and the record shows that right down to Moses and Aaron, His ruling stood.  And so, this image:  A wasteland paved with the fallen of Israel.  Does that seem exaggerated?  I would suggest you might want to have a look at the map.  We’re basically talking the distance from Ezion-geber to Beersheba and back; call it maybe a 300 mile stretch, and we’re discussing a loss of life numbering in excess of 200,000.  Do that math.  That’s something like 667 bodies for every mile.  That’s pretty close to having a body every step of the way.

This, again, was by God’s judgment, and as the JFB reminds us, His judgment alone is valid.  I have to say that covers the entirety of the case, not just the outcome.  That outcome is Paul’s point.  As the Wycliffe Commentary says, “Privileged people may experience divine displeasure.”  That was clearly the case for the generation that failed to take the land that was given to them.  Paul’s point to Corinth is that it could just as readily prove to be the case for them.  I would maintain that history demonstrates that it was.  God’s point in recording both the events of the Exodus and Paul’s corrective to Corinth is that we, too, can find ourselves in the same place.

God’s displeasure, contrary to our generally cuddly thoughts about Him in our day, does not mean He’s up there tut-tutting at our sins.  He’s not on His throne saying, “Gee, I wish they wouldn’t do that.”  No.  God’s displeasure necessarily leads to God’s judgment.  Oh, He is slow to anger still, and His mercies are indeed new every morning.  Do you require evidence of this?  Well, here it is morning again, and you’re still breathing, rather than having been cast into the fires of eternal damnation.  And only yesterday, you had earned that result yet again.  But, don’t presume upon His mercy.  Don’t test the Lord your God.

I need to put a grace note of balance to this point.  The end of that generation in the wilderness in spite of their privilege does not in any way require us to suppose that the elect are ever at risk of losing their salvation.  I know those who hold to the possibility would like to bring this forward as proof positive, but it is not.  In fact, that seems to me to be a very large portion of Paul’s overall point here.  Privilege does not imply election.  Signs and wonders do not, in the end, prove anything about the performer.  Balaam, to take the obvious example (and one that’s been on my mind of late), can hardly be thought to be among the elect, yet he was used to speak so powerful and true a word of God, that centuries later, his coreligionists came in search of the One he had foretold.  Didn’t do him much good, though.

Mosaic Law reinforces the point.  Yes, there will be those purported prophets who come claiming to speak God’s word, but the prophecy proves false.  They’re the easy ones.  Stone them and be done with it.  There was another category, though:  Those whose prophecies proved accurate enough, but were then used to lead folks after other gods.  The signs and wonders were there, but they pointed to a lie.  Don’t follow him.  Stone him.  Those same warnings follow us into the New Testament.  There’s the obvious case.  “Such men are false apostles, deceitful workers disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.  No wonder!  Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.  It’s hardly surprising, then, that his servants disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.  But, their end shall be according to their deeds” (2Co 11:13-15).  Paul also describes that one who will come ‘in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved’ (2Th 2:9-10).  And the warning that follows ought to chill those who chase after phenomena to the bone.  “For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness” (2Th 2:11-12).

Yet, we must needs remain clear:  This does not address the elect.  It may address those who think themselves among the elect despite the entire absence of fruitful evidence.  “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons, and do all sorts of miracles in Your name?’  My answer to them?  ‘I never knew you.  Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Mt 7:22-23).  But, for the elect, it remains true that, “Of those whom Thou hast given Me I lost not a one” (Jn 18:9).  That’s the counterbalance.  It’s no call to get cocky, and it’s certainly no permit to sin in confidence of salvation.  But, it is a very real, and very blessed assurance.  He Who began the work remains faithful.  He will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Php 1:6).

The warning we have here is, then, not so much to the elect, but to the self-deluded; the self-righteous.  You have privilege.  You have these powers given you by the Spirit.  You have your purported knowledge.  But, is your knowledge of the Truth, or is it just the venting of your fever dreams?  Are those powers serving to your edification or your condemnation?  Understand this:  God’s displeasure with the unbeliever doesn’t lay him low.  It lays him out, as I commented a year or so back.  It lays him out and leaves him as dinner for vultures and jackals.

What happened then?  Why this outcome?  It’s painfully simple on the one hand, and incomprehensible on the other.  The cause of God’s displeasure was clear:  They did not believe Him nor did they trust Him, even though He was right there with them.  They witnessed miracle after miracle, not at the hand of some unknown claimant to a prophetic mantle, but at the hand of God more or less live and in person.  And yet, they did not believe Him.  Knowledge and experience were not united with faith, and so proved to be worthless.

Fast forward to 30 AD or thereabouts, as our Lord and Savior walks the land of Israel proclaiming the kingdom of God.  The same story repeats.  Here was Jesus, the manifest Son of God, the One Whom to see was to see the Father, performing miracle after miracle, speaking Truth upon Truth.  What was the response?  They neither believed Him nor trusted Him.  What was the result?  Like that generation in the wilderness, this wicked and perverted, unbelieving generation (Lk 9:41, Lk 11:29) was once again destroyed, bodies piled upon bodies, as Jerusalem, complete with temple, was utterly destroyed.

What could the Corinthians expect, for all their privilege, for all their signs and wonders, if in fact none of this was joined with faith in the Christ to whom the signs all point?  It seemed for a time that they had escaped the impending judgment, and truly repented.  The second letter Paul writes is so hopeful.  The evidences of a change of course are celebrated.  Were that the final story, we might well expect to find a thriving Christian community there to this day.  But, then we discover that Clement had to write to them again some years later, and lo!  All the old ways seem to have crept back in.  And before very long, that oh so privileged, marvelously gifted community of believers was no more.

Now, like Israel in the wilderness, and Israel as Rome swept over them, and Israel at many another point, the destruction was not entire.  Always God seems to preserve for Himself a remnant.  Our problem is that we are a people of numbers.  Like the kings of Israel, we are ever tempted to take our census and find comfort in the growing number of able bodied believers.  And, if the numbers appear to be shrinking, we grow fretful.  What is wrong?  But, it may not be wrong at all.  God doesn’t seem to be too impressed by numbers.  He’s impressed more by quality than quantity.  And, let’s be honest:  He knows exactly how many He’s expecting.  He also knows that every last one He’s expecting will indeed arrive right on schedule, and not so much as one more.

For our part, the outcome makes the point:  Don’t get cocky.

The Point (12/30/17)

The outcome makes the point.  Matthew Henry writes, “They enjoyed great privileges, but, having been guilty of heinous provocations, they fell under very grievous punishments.”  Barnes points us to this accumulating evidence of God’s divine protection and favor toward Israel, crashing down in the reminder of how that worked out.  The whole effort is aimed at destroying the false confidence of the Corinthians.  The Corinthians, as Calvin describes them, thought that they had already served their time, already run their race.  But, the truth was they were barely even out of the starting blocks yet.

So, then, by all means rejoice in what God is doing.  Be thankful for His protection, enjoy His favor.  But don’t get cocky.  “Let none presume upon their great privileges, or profession of the truth; these will not secure heavenly happiness, nor prevent judgments here on earth, except the root of the matter be in us.”  I return again to Mr. Henry for that.  Favor does not justify presumption.  Nothing justifies presumption.  We see this plainly in the duel between Satan and Jesus at the outset of His ministry.  Satan comes with his temptations, and having seen that Jesus would defend Himself by the Scriptures, he attacks with the Scriptures.  “If You are truly the Son of God throw yourself down off the walls of the temple, and prove it.  After all, it is written, ‘He will give His angels charge concerning You’, and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, lest You strike Your foot against a stone’” (Mt 4:6).  Double-barrel Scripture!  Deal with that!  Of course, Jesus does, and deftly.  “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Mt 4:7).  His promise is no permit to sin.  All of these evidences of God’s divine protection and favor are not permit to live as you please.  Christian liberty is not anarchy.

Paul looks at the Israelites so that the Corinthians can see themselves.  The similarities are too clear to permit misunderstanding.  We must likewise understand that the Holy Spirit has given us this look at the Corinthians so that we can see ourselves.  But, let’s play it safe.  Let’s start with what they were seeing.  Here was Israel wandering like pilgrims in the desert. There is Corinth, declared by Christ’s words to be sojourners in this world.  Here is Israel with continual supply throughout her journey.  There is the church in Corinth seeing a need for supply the world cannot provide, but which the Rock, Christ Jesus does.  Here is Israel, her thirsty need addressed by the rock that was struck.  There is Corinth, her thirsty need for righteousness addressed by the Rock that was struck.  We are taught to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  In praying thus, we are hopefully reminded of our daily need, and of His daily provision.

Abundant grace was shown to Israel, and yet…  Abundant grace was poured out on the Corinthians, and yet…  And yet, all that pouring out, all that privilege never was and never can be ‘an absolute security from danger’.  That was never promised and never the point.  The message being delivered to Corinth here hinges on their opinion of themselves.  In their estimation, their privileges were greater.  Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t.  I suppose it depends how you measure them.  But, let us accept their opinion.  Your privileges are greater, comes the point.  Beware lest your sins be greater, too.  And that, dear ones, remains the point for us today.

I have said before, and will no doubt say again, these warnings do nothing to alter the assurance we have of salvation, if indeed we are numbered among the elect.  Indeed, as is often preached, if you find yourself experiencing concern for your election as you read these warnings, that in itself should come as a comfort to you, and affirm your status.  If you were not of the elect, if the Spirit had not connected hearing with faith in you, the warnings would not even register.  You wouldn’t care.  You’d just do as you please and get on with living your life of death.

As was said in regard to Communion, manna didn’t cease being manna on the tongues of the unbeliever.  The warnings are no less valid and accurate in the ears of the unbeliever.  But, being left with no connecting faith, with no influence of the Spirit (and let me stress once more, His influence is something quite distinct from His gifts), the manna served only its mundane purpose of filling the belly for a time; the warnings served only their mundane purpose of giving us something to listen to for a time.  They did not take root.  They did not produce fruit.

Go back to that counterattack of Jesus.  Don’t test God.  Parents, you know this one!  Don’t test me, child.  It’s the same situation, only you are the child once more.  You’ve been taught the rules.  You’ve come to know Daddy’s love and mercy by experience.  But, don’t test Him!  Push too hard, and you will once more be reminded of His justice and His wrath.  These do not negate His love and mercy.  No, no.  We have difficulty holding these things simultaneously in our own hearts, but He has them in perfection.  If His wrath must come, it is in mercy, that we might learn and return.  If His justice must be exercised, it is so that we might grow to become objects worthy of His love.  This is at the core of Paul’s message to Rome.  “We KNOW that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Ro 8:28).  We KNOWoidamen – We’ve seen it repeatedly.  ALL THINGS – both the things we rejoice to have encountered, and those we would far rather have done without.  To those who love God – not just palsy-walsies, not just enamored of the idea of some supernatural being who watches us or watches over us, but love for your Master, ‘affectionate reverence’, and prompt, grateful obedience to Him.  Those CALLED according to His purpose.  The emphasis must be on called, invited by God, set in place by God, and thus, rather necessarily according to His purpose.  Note whom that excludes!  It excludes those who have come without being called; the casual onlooker, the pew-warmer, the so-called seeker who really just wants a salve for conscience without the commitment.

That is, in truth, the fundamental determinant.  Were you called?  If you were, then I am quite certain you answered, or if you haven’t, you assuredly will.  For, it remains God Who is at work in you, quite in spite of yourself, both to will and to work.  It is the Spirit who called.  It is the Spirit who connects hearing that call with faith to respond.  Even that faith, beloved, is not of yourself, lest your corrupt flesh make of it cause to boast.

We are contemplating Corinth; a place clearly enamored of the supernatural.  It was there in their mythologies all along, wasn’t it?  The gods they fashioned were just extensions of themselves.  They were themselves, but with super powers.  They loved their eerie displays; the oracles who spoke shadowy nothings from some strange, entranced state; their rituals of death and rebirth; their ever-threatening possibility of interference from the gods.  Hey!  This stuff was highly engaging, highly entertaining.  It kept life interesting.  So, when God comes on the scene, while they recognize something is different here, they tend to try and fit it into the familiar – just like us.

It is human nature.  New experiences are assessed by fitting them together with old.  This is how we learn, after all.  In simple truth, it is the way that Scripture speaks.  “Order on order, order on order, line on line, line on line, a little here, a little there” (Isa 28:10 - NASB).  I have to say that sounds absolutely unfamiliar as the NASB has it.  Let’s try the NKJV.  “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little.”  Yes, that’s better.  You can’t get it all at once.  There’s a reason that God, through Moses, insisted the Law be read every seven years.  Maybe after fifty years or so, some of those points might start to sink in.  Some of it’s easy enough.  But, the sheer volume of material, and the degree of detail is beyond you to master in one sitting.  A little hear, a little there.

So it is with our sanctification.  I think, were God to do the whole work of sanctification in one flash we should find ourselves flash-fried.  Rather, He works with us a little bit here, a little bit there; never exceeding our capacity, never exhausting our reserve, but always bringing us to the limit, that we might grow stronger, gain greater reserve.

Paul’s issue with the Corinthians was not, I think, with the believers.  Rather, his concern was for the believers, but his words here are primarily aimed at what I think must be accounted suspect individuals.  They who teach counter to the Apostles must, at some level, be suspect.  They may not be intentional tools of the enemy, yet tools they are nonetheless.  “But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed.  I’ll repeat that, so you know how seriously I take this:  If any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:8-9). 

What was this gospel?  “I was determined to preach nothing but Christ, and Him crucified” (1Co 2:2).  You know, much is made about the church being weak in this present age, and everybody has their theory about what to do about it.  Oh, we’re weak because we don’t move with the times.  Or, we’re weak because we don’t evangelize enough, but just stay in our churches.  Or, we’re weak because we don’t pursue the ways of the early, ‘primordial’ church.  Yes, because Corinth and Galatia give us such fine examples to follow!  But, our weakness, to the degree that it is truly weakness, seems far more likely to result from having lost sight of Paul’s claim.  We put on worship services that share perhaps a bit too much with the music acts down at the local club.  We put on an array of programs designed to appeal to this group or that.  We get ourselves involved in all manner of service projects, seeking to show the world outside how helpful we can be, and hoping maybe that by seeing what nice folks we are they’ll be inclined to ask us about Jesus.  But, that’s not the model.  The model is “Preach nothing but Christ, and Him crucified.”  Our ears, sadly, get bored with the message, because, like the Corinthians, we’ve become convinced that we already won the race.  The truth is that like the Corinthians, we’re still back at the starting block.

We need to be careful of assessing our spiritual health by our societal impact.  Yes, twelve men turned the world upside down.  Yes, the Gospel remains just as capable today of creating sea change shifts in the culture.  But, other things remain true as well.  For all that twelve men turned the world upside down, it remained a minority report.  Ever and again, we see God preserving the small portion, not the majority.  The majority of Israel paved the desert.  A minority of two entered the land.  The majority of Israel went into exile in Babylon.  A minority returned.  The majority of Israel, having met their Messiah and rejected Him most soundly, found their temple destroyed and themselves with it.  A small minority, perhaps a few hundred or a few thousand, found themselves possessed of the faith God had planted in them. 

It continues to our day.  We enter into a time when the façade of half-hearted acknowledgement of Christ is being done away.  We may decry the fact that America no longer presents as a majority-Christian nation, but in point of fact, it’s been a long time since it was so, if ever it truly was.  To be sure, we have Christianity in our roots and in our fundamental governing doctrines, but even there, it is admixture.  Even the pilgrims, whom we celebrate as the most devout Christians, coming to America solely to escape the predations of their Catholic persecutors, were in fact a mixed bag.  Yes, some on that little ship were in fact Christians come to find freedom for their faith.  But, others were entirely untouched by faith, come for the escape from bad history back home, or come for the potential of financial gain, or any number of other reasons.

Our founding fathers could certainly speak the Christianese, but many of them would more properly be accounted deists than Christians.  Many of them had their practice in Freemasonry; a thing which the Freemasons proudly point to as giving their fabricated false Gospel some legitimacy.  But, all it really achieves is to demonstrate the less than ideal faith of our fathers.

Back to Jerusalem in those early ADs:  Here’s your Torah presenting evidence of Messiah, and yet when He came, you couldn’t put two and two together and arrive at the Truth.  It may be more reasonable to say they did arrive at the Truth, and then rejected it most soundly.  Forward to the founding of the nation:  Here’s your American founders, foundering in their Masonic temples.  Your Bibles present you clear evidence of Messiah, and that He came, yet you, too, could not put two and two together and arrive at the Truth.  It may be more reasonable to say they did arrive at the Truth, and then rejected it most soundly.  Think of Thomas Jefferson, carefully excising his Bible of those bits he found objectionable.  Forward to today:  Here you are, with the combined record of Israel, Church, and nation to make you aware of the myriad pitfalls, and to demonstrate with seemingly infinite proofs the validity of the Messiah Who Came, the Head Who preserves His Church, the Lord Who governs not only His own, but all creation.  Have we indeed put two and two together and arrived at the Truth of this One?  Or have we, like the Greeks, tried to fit Him into our preconceptions?  Are we enrapt by the Gospel, or are we in fact fashioning a different gospel more to our liking?

Don’t think that the privilege of weekly attendance at Church preserves you with absolute security from danger.  Don’t think that listening to hour upon hour of teaching from whatever source ensures you of freedom from error.  Don’t think that your spiritual experiences, your dreams and visions, your sudden ‘revelations’ are proof positive that you are on the right course and following God!  They do nothing of the sort.  There is one safety, and one alone, and that is to rest in the Gospel once for all delivered to the saints.  Christ lived.  Christ died to pay the penalty for your sins.  Christ was resurrected from the dead as proof-positive that His payment had been received on your behalf.  Christ ascended into heaven, before the eyes of way too many witnesses to account it a myth, that we might be assured of our own ascent when the times are fulfilled; and that we might be confident of His return.  If we have a place in heaven, it is because we have been given to Him, and He has made us His own.  If there is anything at all good in us, it is because He has caused it to arise.  If we do good works, it is because we rejoice to serve Him, and though our works should be ever so grand in the eyes of our compatriots yet we know, “We are unworthy slaves.  We have done nothing more than what we should.”  We don’t look for flashy signs and wonders.  We rejoice in the all but invisible working of the Spirit within, and we are pleased that some of that work might show through if we will but get ourselves out of the way.

As followers, we cannot assume our state.  We dare not!  We may have confidence in the call, only as the He who called us establishes us in that confidence.  The seal of the Spirit, whether with signs and wonders or merely with quiet inward testimony, establishes us.  If He has not done so, we dare not assume our salvation.  Just because we’ve been coming to church for years, even coming since we were children, we cannot assume salvation.  Just because you’ve taken communion month after month, and it hasn’t killed you yet, this does not assure you of salvation.  Many have learned to fake the walk, to their own detriment.  Don’t let that be you.  If in fact He is calling, it is not yet too late to answer.  There comes a time in each man’s life when it will be too late, when the call is dropped, never to be reissued.  Don’t let that be your story.

As for those of us tasked with shepherding this church of God’s founding, this church of God’s keeping, we cannot afford to make assumptions either; not about ourselves, nor about those sheep given into our charge for a season.  While we may utilize regularity of attendance as a barometer for spiritual condition, we cannot assume that it is a true reflection of that condition.  Regular attendance does not guarantee spiritual health.  I have known confessed atheists who were entirely regular in their attendance, and just as regular in rejecting the entire premise of Christianity, and belief in the very concept of god.  They were there to maintain marital comity and nothing more.  I have little doubt that in any church gathered you can find such individuals.  I have little doubt that in many churches you will find agents of the enemy in regular attendance.  It says nothing for their spiritual well-being, certainly.  They may even take communion alongside us, and we none the wiser.  Consider:  Adam’s death, though entirely real on the day he first ate the forbidden fruit, took some hundred years and more to manifest in his physical body.  Don’t assume.  Don’t get cocky.

Reminders of Grace (12/31/17)

As I reach the last portion of my notes for this study, I begin with a request for grace for my own mistakes.  As I read through my comments from last year, I noticed that I had apparently conflated the record of Joshua with that of Moses, and managed to suggest that Joshua had died in the wilderness like the rest.  This, of course, is not the case at all.  Moses died short of the Promised Land.  Joshua, however, did not, but rather led God’s people in by God’s own choosing.  This does not alter the point made in that previous study.  Joshua was not chosen for being a spiritual powerhouse, and it wasn’t his great chops that led to the sun standing still.  If Joshua was in fact a spiritual powerhouse, it was because he was chosen.  It remained, however, God’s power.  So, let that stand as a bit of an errata to the previous study, and forgive me my error.

Now, I would pursue a few other thoughts in regard to the immeasurable grace of God towards His children.  Let me draw from that same wilderness experience that Paul has set before us.  You know, there were times during those forty years, many times I suspect, when Israel remained encamped at one spot for a long time.  They didn’t look like they were going anywhere.  Honestly, if you look at the map of their travels, even when they were on the move, you might think they weren’t going anywhere but in circles.  The point is that progress was not in evidence.  It often looked like they were not only not making progress, but were in fact getting farther from the goal.  It didn’t just look that way.  It was that way!  But, these momentary evaluations did not alter the overall course of their travels.  They were right where God wanted them.  Yes, even as they turned their backs on Canaan, they were right where God wanted them.  It’s not like He didn’t know that was going to happen.  It still worked for good to those who loved Him and were called to His purpose.  It also purged a lot of deadwood.

This brings is to a point of clarity:  Those to whom God had not chosen to provide entrance into the Promised Land would by no wise enter.  They tried.  Recognizing what they had just done, particularly as Moses had just laid out the finality of their failure before them, they figured they could just reverse their decision and God would be OK with them after all.  They were wrong.  Entrance denied!  If God does not open the door, dear friend, there’s no way for you to go through.  But, then if He does open the door, and you just stand there, rooted to the spot, the entrance isn’t going to do you much good either.  It is, then, a Middle Voice thing, this salvation.  You can’t do it without Him.  He won’t do it without you.

But I’m here to remind us of grace this morning.  Perhaps, like so many of us, you have a child who has not followed God as you had hoped.  Perhaps, looking upon their present state, you are fully convinced that they are in fact lost, reprobate, and beyond redemption.  But, I ask you:  Who is it who is beyond redemption?  Who is it that is beyond God’s capacity to save?  Perhaps, like Israel, they are but on a retrograde portion of their journey.  Perhaps they have stalled, or even lost ground.  Did you not know similar times?  I know I did.  But, be careful as you assess.  I think we parents face a great danger when it comes to wayward children, and that is that we allow ourselves to conclude that God is apparently too weak to rescue them.  Or, maybe He is just too disinterested.

It is, I think, an act of self-protection.  We are so pained by what we see in one we love so much.  We fear the loss we feel must come.  And so, to steel our hearts, we give up on them.  But, it’s not really them we give up on, it’s God.  You know, it would be perfectly true to say that if He does not call them, then there’s really nothing to be done.  Absolutely true.  If the Father does not call, they will not, cannot come to Christ.  But, be very careful!  It is one thing to attribute to God the absolute sovereignty that is most assuredly His.  It is another to assume you know His thoughts and His plans, particularly as the pertain to another.  We are not called to give up, unless He has made it absolutely clear and certain that His decision is made and there’s not revoking it.  I think of Aaron’s sons.  There, the case was clear.  They are beyond redemption.  They are dead.  Aaron, don’t mourn.  Justice is served, and God is glorified.  You are His, and you shall not mourn His glory.

But, apart from that?  Don’t give up.  Pray.  This does not mean that we lay hold of baseless, wishful desires, and insist He has promised something He has not.  Do not let your purported faith slide into presumption.  No!  But, at the same time, don’t let circumstances of the day, or even the year or the decade, convince you that His promises cannot be trusted.  If His promises seem untrustworthy, I dare say one of two things has transpired.  Either you have turned into a promise that which He did not promise, or you have allowed circumstance to tempt you to doubt.

God is faithful, dear one.  What He has truly said, He will truly do.  What He has truly promised, He will truly perform.  Lay hold of these things.  Where there is uncertainty pray.  Pray for your loved ones, as it were, without ceasing.  Don’t give up.  Don’t give up on them.  Don’t give up on God.  He, after all, has not given up on you.  Let grace abound.  Love them where they are.  Love them, as opportunity presents, out of where they are.  But, trust God.  Don’t try to play God; and I mean that in both senses of the term.  He can’t be played, and you can’t fill His role.

I will end with a reminder to you and to myself.  It is a reminder I have used often.  It is a reminder I have to hear often.

God does not lose sheep.