Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Many of you like sports, right? What is your favorite sport? Of course, many of you like football or baseball. In our text for today, Paul speaks of the footrace and boxing, as they were favorite sports at that time. What do we need to win in sports? Practice, preparation, discipline. With a focus on victory.
"Know ye not that they which run in a race all the runners run, but one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain. Everyone who fights is temperate in all things ... " Every athlete in the Greek games gave up anything that might tend to weaken his muscles or his power of resistance, practicing such strict severity that he refrained from the slightest concession to food or drink that might set him back a day in his training. If an athlete disciplines himself for a title that will one day pass to anoher, or to establish a record that will be overcome, how much more should the Christian focus on winning the prize of eternal life? "And they, indeed, do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an incorruptible."
But wait. Do we not confess that no one can gain eternal life by his own works? No one can keep the Law of God perfectly. Even Christians can fulfill the Law only imperfectly. We are saved for eternity because Christ fulfilled the law, suffered, died and rose for us.
Furthermore, in our gospel for today (Matthew 20:1-16), our Lord says in the vineyard of God, all workers receive the same salary. "And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a denarius. And when the first to be hired came, they thought they would receive more, and they likewise received every man a denarius."
As far as the equal distribution of grace to all believers, to all members of the kingdom, is concerned, none should point to a greater amount of good works before God, as if they were worthy of deserving anything.
So what is the purpose of practice, preparation and discipline in the Christian life? All who believe and are baptized will be saved, right? Christ has done everything for us.
But look at what Paul says in chapter 10 of 1 Corinthians: "Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness."
When the Israelites left Egypt, the land of their bondage, the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to show them the way, (Exodus 13:21). And all the assembly also passed the Red Sea as on dry land, the Lord himself made the water stand like a wall on each side (Exodus 14:22). The merciful presence of God surrounded and accompanied them at every step of their journey. Note that all the Israelites, without exception, escaped from bondage, so that all were included in the miraculous deliverance at the Red Sea, and yet most of them died later.
Look, the Red Sea crossing is a symbol of baptism. The cloud and the sea were visible elements and seals of God's merciful promises, like the sacraments are today. Through the cloud and the sea through God saved his people from the tyranny of Pharaoh, and later led them to freedom. And so God, through baptism frees us from the power of Satan and takes us into His kingdom, to be His children free, blessed forever. In saying that the children of Israel were baptized unto Moses, the apostle means that they entered into intimate relationship or communion with Moses as mediator of divine manifestations, while he took upon himself the obligation to faithfully follow the Lord as their God-given leader (Ex. 14.31), even as for a baptized believer, Christ becomes the great leader of his life (Galatians 3:27)
In addition, all Israelites ate spiritual food, food from heaven, manna given by God for this sole purpose (Exodus 16:13). Not once, but twice, they were made to drink water from a rock, obviously a miracle of the Lord (Exodus 17, Numbers 20). Both food and drink, however, were not intended only for the maintenance of physical life, but also to sustain the spiritual life. For they were drinking, throughout the course of their journey through the desert, from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, but the rock was Christ. While their mouths drank of the water flowing at their feet, their spirits were refreshed through faith in Christ, present in them as the Rock of their salvation. In this sense, the food and drink of the Eucharist surpass the miraculous food and drink of Israel in the wilderness. We eat and drink of the bread and wine at the altar while receiving the true body and blood of Christ physically and spiritually, that is, in eating and drinking externally, we exercise our faith internally.
Salvation is by grace alone, ie, it is a free gift of the Holy Spirit. But the gift may be lost through carelessness. So we have to focus on the hope of eternal life, as the athlete focuses on the competition prize. Paul says in the following verses, 1 Corinthians 10:6-13: "Now these things were our examples, to not desire evil as they did. Neither be ye idolaters, as some of them, as it is written: The people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day twenty-three thousand. Nor tempt Christ, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them murmured, and perished by the destroyer. And these things happened to them as examples for us: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; soon will with the temptation to escape, that ye may stand. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry."
With baptism eternal life begins. But our life in this world is always like a race or fight. There are always obstacles and traps, because the devil and the world want rob us of the hope of eternal life with Christ. So let's keep the focus on Christ, avoid temptations and idolatry, and faithfully attend services of the Word and the sacraments.
May the peace that passes all understanding be with you forever.
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