Is the Lord Among Us or Not?
Text: Exodus 17:1-7
3 Lent, A
1...but there was no water for the people to drink. The fresh air of freedom filling their nostrils ... but there was no water to drink. Manna from heaven to fill their bellies ... but there was no water to drink. All the wealth of the world lining their pockets, blood money from Egypt ... but there was no water to drink. An almighty God and deliverer at their backs, His miracles proclaiming His power and grace, but no water to drink. Fresh air is fine and food is filling, but you can't drink either one. Nor will all the gold or promises in the world quench a desert thirst.
2Therefore the people quarrelled with Moses and said, "Give us water to drink." And Moses said to them, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?" 3But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?" 4So Moses cried to the LORD, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me." ... 7And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarrelling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"
Had God brought them out of Egypt just to be targeted, attacked, to suffer, to thirst, to die? Of course not. God is testing them but they fail by having the nerve to test Him! They deliberately challenge Moses, they pick a fight, they wrangle and weary him with their complaining. But, in grumbling against Moses they are really grumbling against God.
“Is the Lord among us or not?” They demand. “Is He here? Is He real? Is He worth our time and bother?” Can you believe the nerve? They ask this despite all that they have seen, all that they have been through! Despite the 10 plagues that shamed the gods of Egypt and won their freedom. Despite the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. Despite their crossing the Red Sea on dry ground while the armies of Pharaoh are mired and drowned. Despite the wealth of a mighty nation stuffing their pockets. Despite the miraculous bread of heaven raining down upon them every morning. Yes, despite it all they still ask, they still grumble, they still wrangle and challenge. Still they question the goodness of the Lord.
The depths of the ingratitude toward God who had so gloriously and miraculously intervened on their behalf time and time again is truly staggering. Who would act like that? I mean really? Yet even more staggeringly incomprehensible is God's response to their petulant tantrum.
5And the LORD said to Moses, "Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink." And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.
In the sweet waters flowing from solid rock, the life-giving water for death-deserving sinners God once again proves that He is God and we are not. His response is seldom what we think it should or would be. For the God these stiff-necked people would test interposes for His people with a divine patience and grace yet again! While Moses is ready to give them up as “this people” and be done with them and their complaining once and for all, where we would write them off as a people not worth God's time and effort, God once again graciously provides for the wants of His petulant children, without punishing their grumbling.
And that is remarkably good news, not just for them, but also for you and for me. For we are not so very different in our own sin from those Israelites we would so easily disdain. Life in this modern world is no less a wilderness journey for we children of God. We may not cry out for bread and water, but still we grumble, we complain, we fault our leaders when things turn sour or we don't see what we think we deserve. It happens every time we are squarely faced with times of distress, or need. In our moments of distrust, impatience, and yes, unbelief.
The world is not always an easy place to be a Christian. Especially among your generation. The pressures, the temptations, the opposition are all very real. You would not be alone it you wondered if God had put you in this world just to be targeted, attacked, to suffer, to thirst, to die. You are not the first to demand “Is the Lord among us or not?” And you are not the first to ask this despite all that you have seen, all that you have been through! You would not be the first to deserve to be given up, written off, or punished for your ingratitude toward God who has so gloriously and miraculously intervened on your behalf time and time again.
But that's not what God does, is it? For you share not just in Israel's sin or guilt, dear friends, but also in their Saviour and in their salvation. (1 Cor. 10:1-4) 1For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3and all ate the same spiritual food, 4and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
As He did for them so long ago, so too does our heavenly Father do for us today. His divine patience and grace interposes yet again! In the same spiritual food and drink which spans the millennia God provides for the wants of we His petulant children, without punishing our murmuring. God continues to faithfully provide for we who are too often faithless.
And He does it for us as He did it for them, through the rock of His presence among us. In Christ he has called you out of slavery to sin. He has made you into a new people, the people of God, by the washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit. Life-giving waters flowing from His spear-pierced side. Life-giving waters for death-deserving people. Enough life sustaining water from the rock of our salvation to see you through this lifetime of wilderness wandering. The forgiveness of your sins, as only a gracious and long-suffering God can do. The promise of His divine love and protection, even though we do not deserve it. His gracious support and a place in the promised land ahead, a place He has already prepared just for you. A place where the river of life flows forever from God's Throne of Grace.
Is the Lord among us or not? You bet He is! But no longer will you find Him through manna from heaven and water from a rock. You now have the bread of life – the very body and blood of Christ. And the living waters of Holy Baptism. We have the rock of our salvation – who is Christ – right here in our midst every Sunday in the Word and the Sacraments. Forgiving, feeding, and life-sustaining for the long journey ahead. For whoever drinks of the water that Christ gives him will never be thirsty again. The water that He gives him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. Drink deeply my friends! Drink often! Drink and live!