Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 37:10 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When we are in the presence of God, there is a feast. But it’s not only in the presence of the true God that people eat and drink. This entire part of 1 Corinthians 10 is in the context of true and false worship: idolatry versus the worship of the true and only God. Right before what we heard tonight, Paul says, “Therefore, my beloved, flee idolatry.” “Therefore,” because Paul has just spent 13 verses talking about the idolatry of Israel in the wilderness, specifically about how after they made a golden calf—a god who would go before them in the wilderness because Moses was taking too long on the mountain with God—they “sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play,” or laugh. Their celebration, their feast, was a feast of idolatry. Aaron tried to salvage things a bit by saying that they would have a feast to Yahweh the next day, but Yahweh was not fooled. He said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. … They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt’” (Exodus 32:7-8).
In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul gives a series of commands to the Church, based on what happened in the wilderness: “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were;” “do not engage in sexual immorality, as some of them [did];” “Do not put Christ to the test, as some of them [did];” “Do not grumble, as some of them grumbled.” He says these things were written down for our instruction, as examples for us, that we might not sin as they did. He says that no temptation will come upon you that is not common to all people. In other words, their temptations are the same as our temptations, and if we are standing firm in faith, we ought to take heed, lest we fall as they did.
Let us take heed, then: Are we tempted to idolatry, as some of them were? Do we hold something or someone else higher than the God who has brought us out of slavery to sin, and joined us to His Son’s death and resurrection in Holy Baptism? Specifically, when it comes to our Lord’s Supper, do we neglect and despise it in favor of doing something else? Do we believe that, as Paul says, we can provoke the Lord to jealousy by receiving His gracious gifts only once in a while? What are the idols to which we bow and to which we give our time, money, or energy, rather than coming to the feast which our Lord has laid for us?
Are we tempted to sexual immorality, as some of them were? Do we despise our Lord’s words about marriage and the family, and play around with this great gift as if it were ours to define and use as we wish? Do we keep the marriage bed pure, and act chastely toward our spouses; or, if we’re not married, toward everyone else in words and thoughts and actions? Christ has joined Himself to His Church as a groom to a bride, and will the members of Christ’s body be joined to others before or outside marriage? That is not only physical adultery, but spiritual adultery, and it degrades the image of Christ and the Church that He has given us in marriage from the very beginning of creation. We cannot be joined both to Christ’s body and blood and to another contrary to His word.
Are we tempted to put Christ to the test, as some of them did? Do we doubt His word and question the significance and importance of His gifts as He gives them? Do we think our thoughts and feelings about what He is giving to us are more important than what He says He gives? Do we think we can participate at the altars or tables of churches where there is false teaching, because we know “in our hearts” what we believe? His word is certain; do not put Him to the test with the uncertainties introduced by contrary teachings.
Are we tempted to grumble, as some of them did? Do we wish He had done something else or given us forgiveness in ways other than how He has chosen to give it? Do we grumble about receiving His gifts regularly? Do we grumble about the amount of time it takes to receive His gracious gifts, the body and blood of Jesus and His eternal life?
These are temptations common to all people, not just Israel in the wilderness, not just unbelievers, and not just us. We may be tempted in some of these ways, and in some we may not. But when the Word of God cuts us to the heart because we know our guilt, or when we are tempted in these ways—or any other ways—what can we do? Paul doesn’t leave us to drown in the temptation or the guilt. He assures us that we are not without help and rescue.
Though the temptations do not come from God, He is not ignorant of them, and He provides a way of escape. We want a way out of it all. We hear God’s word and we hate our sin and we hate our sinful condition. It would be easy to turn that hate for our sin into hatred for God, because He doesn’t do away with the temptations altogether. We want the poisonous serpents gone forever. We want our circumstances to be altogether changed. But God’s way of escape is not yet that our sinful nature is gone forever. Until we die, our flesh clings to us. Even so, God’s way of escape is so that we can endure.
Paul writes to Timothy about the sufferings and persecutions he endured in various places. He says he endured them and the Lord rescued him. All who desire to live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted, he writes. But there is a way of enduring, and it comes from hearing God’s word. He tells Timothy to endure by remaining in what he learned and firmly believed; from infancy Timothy has been acquainted with the Scriptures, which are able to make one wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. God’s Word does this work of upholding us when we are tempted.
Peter also writes of doing good and suffering for it, and enduring. He says that we have been called to this very thing, to enduring suffering for doing good, because Christ also suffered for us, giving us an example to follow after Him. He suffered and endured all the way to death for our sake. We are following Him to resurrection, so we also endure.
And here in 1 Corinthians, Paul gives us another definite and certain way of making use of God’s gifts as a way of escape from temptation, of enduring in the midst of them: sharing in the cup of blessing and in the broken bread. How can bread and wine do such great things? It is, of course, not the bread and wine that are doing these things, but the sharing in the blood of Christ and in the body of Christ. We share in these things because they are there, where Christ has put them by His own word, together with the bread and wine. We eat the bread, and the body of Christ comes with it. We drink the wine and the blood of Christ comes with it.
Here before the altar is where we find the rest that Jesus promises to those who are weary and burdened with the temptations that are common to all people. Here before the altar we find the pure forgiveness for all the times we have failed before the face of those common temptations. Here before the altar is where we find the strength to go back out and fight the battle and endure unto death. Here before the altar is where we find the life of Christ, instead of the death we are dying every single day. And how could it be anything other than rest and forgiveness, strength and life, when it is Christ Himself in whom we are sharing? This is My body; this is My blood, given and shed for you. “Lord Jesus Christ, You have prepared this feast for our salvation; it is Your body and Your blood, and at Your invitation as weary souls, with sin oppressed, we come to You for needed rest, for comfort and for pardon” (LSB 622:1).
Do we know our weaknesses and our failures and our temptations? We would naturally think that we should then stay far away from this place where Christ joins Himself to us. But no! This is exactly where we should be! What should admonish and encourage a Christian to receive the Sacrament frequently? First, both the command to do this, and the promise of Christ the Lord, that here we will find forgiveness, life, and salvation. Second, the Christian’s own pressing need, because of which the command, encouragement, and promise are given.
But what should we do if we are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament? first, we should make sure we are still in the body, with flesh and blood, and believe what the Scriptures say about life in the body of sin, which clings to us until death. Second, we should look around and see whether we are still in the midst of this world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say. And third, we certainly have the devil around us, who with his lying and murdering day and night would let us have no peace within or without, as the Scriptures remind us. [See Luther’s “Christian Questions with Their Answers,” LSB 330].
For all these reasons, we need Christ’s word and sacrament, and He has given them to us precisely because of our sinful flesh, the world, and the devil. Christ’s Body and Blood, resurrected and living, are more powerful than all three combined. If only we could have our eyes opened when we are at the altar and see the glorious Lord, we would know that He who is with us is greater than anything in us or in the world. This meal is the opposite of the eating and drinking that the people did in the wilderness, where they “sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” This is our food on the way, as we wait for its fulfillment in the new creation, in the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb, where sin, death, and the devil will be no more. Then we will feast with the pure and lasting joy of those who have heard and believed their Lord’s voice and shared together in the Supper He gave us to endure in this world, which is passing away. To endure in our souls, kept in Christ; and to endure in our bodies, which God has made, Christ has redeemed, and the Holy Spirit will raise from the dead on the last day. The true body and blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, keep you steadfast in both body and soul, unto eternal life.
“Hasten as a bride to meet Him, and with loving rev’rence greet Him. For with words of life immortal He is knocking at your portal. Open wide the gates before Him, saying as you there adore Him: Grant, Lord, that I now receive You, that I nevermore will leave You” (LSB 636:2). “Lord, grant me then, thus strengthened with heavenly food, while here my course on earth is lengthened, to serve with holy fear. And when you call my spirit to leave this world below, I enter, through Your merit, where joys unmingled flow” (LSB 642:4). “Lord, let at last Thine angels come, to Abr’ham’s bosom bear me home, that I may die unfearing; and in its narrow chamber keep my body safe in peaceful sleep until Thy reappearing. And then from death awaken me, that these mine eyes with joy may see, O Son of God, Thy glorious face, my Savior and my fount of grace” (LSB 708:3). Amen! Come quickly, Lord Jesus!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/30/21