Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

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Feasting with God #52 – Striking the Rock of the Lord

Feasting with God #52

Striking the Rock of the Lord

Text: Numbers 20:10-13

10Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?”  11And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock.  12And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”  13These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quar­reled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.

This marks the moment when Moses himself lost the right to enter into the Promised Land.  But what exactly happened?

Israel had been wandering a long time.  Over and over and over again they grumbled and accused Moses of leading them astray.  Even that great prophet had a limit to his patience, and now it was drawn quite thin.  He’d had enough.  God told him what to do in this instance: specifically, “tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water” (Num. 20:8).  But the spiritual leader of Israel was so emotionally worked up that, instead of speaking to the rock, ye shouted at the people: “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” and he “struck the rock with his staff twice.”

A similar occasion happened some time previously.  The people needed drink, and God commanded Moses to strike a rock (“Behold, 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,” Exodus 17:6), out of which poured water for all the Israelites.  Paul exposes the meaning of this rock: “For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4).

What Paul means is that this miraculous water-bearing rock was a sacrament—a holy thing given by God to grant his grace and holiness to the people.  It reminds us of two New Testament sacraments: The first is the sacrament of water, the “washing of regeneration” (Tit. 3:5), baptism.  Just as water poured out of a rock for the Israelites, bringing with it God’s grace, so when we were baptized, water poured over us and brought God’s grace upon us.  The second is the sacrament which includes drinking, as Jesus said, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:27-28).  Just as the Israelites drank the liquid that came from the side of the rock (which was Christ), so we drink the blood that came from Jesus’ side on the cross in the Lord’s Supper.

When Jesus instituted his Supper, he gave it so that his disciples would take the blessings of his death: Jesus died to pay for the sins of the world and to bring forgiveness to all.  He told his disciples, therefore, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).  From that moment on, whenever the Supper was celebrated in the way Jesus instituted it, the very blood he shed on the cross and the very body born of Mary was present, with the forgiveness and grace he earned.  Just like Paul said, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).  In short, Jesus instituted his Supper and sealed it with the violent action of his death, and thereafter all that was needed to receive the same blessings are the words to accompany the materials.

This is what Moses should have understood regarding the rock in the wilderness.  That rock foreshadowed the blessings that would come from Christ Jesus.  Therefore when it was first given to the people, it was accompanied by the violent action of the staff striking its side.  But the second time, God wanted his people to know that he had already provided for them, and hereafter his providence was accompanied only by the words.  This principle was recorded later by Moses: “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:3).

But Moses sought to impress the people, to wow them, to shock them into obedience, so he resacrificed the rock, deciding that God’s words weren’t enough.  He asked the people, “shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” as though it were an act that he, their spiritual leader, were to perform, not an act that God performed through him.

This occasion was something God intended as an act of grace, for although the people were rebellious and quarreling, he wished to provide for them.  Moses, as spiritual leader, ought to have performed the duty of dimply enacting God’s wishes for the people.  Instead, he took it upon himself to add to it.  Let this never be so among us.  Instead, let us take God at his word, and realize that his Word is powerful.  Specifically, his Word is powerful to save: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).

Lord, lead us ever to trust in you, and never in our own works.  Even though our patience may be running thin, even though we may wish to see action and immediate answer to our prayers, guide us to see that the power of salvation we receive is from you and your Word.  Lead us to see this Word for the great blessing that it is, and give us thankful hearts that appreciate this gift; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #33 – Thirsting for God

Feasting with God #33

Thirsting for God

Text: Psalm 42:1-3

1As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
2
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
3
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”

In a world which seems hell-bent on destroying anything to do with our Christian faith, the imagery of this psalm is particularly relatable.  The despair we feel at the seeming victory of the godless, of this world’s prince, even of sin over our own bodies can make us fall into this deep, physical thirsting.  As a deer, who runs in the chase away from its predators, wants only to stop and take a drink from a stream, we in our lives just want to rest, just want to have sanctuary before our God and to be nourished by him.

But instead, why does it so often seem that the only thing we’re able to drink is our own tears?  Our own predators chase us mercilessly.  They never grow tired.  They never stop.  We hide from them behind locked doors, only to find that they’ve already gotten inside.  We run back outside, trying to find protection among friends, only to find that our predators are hidden even among those friends.  Exactly how these predators attack us is said by this psalm: “They say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’”

These predators don’t attack our bodies.  They attack our faith.  They try to create doubt in our hearts.  They mock us before others so that when we can’t answer their tough questions, we become fools in the eyes of others, and suddenly it seems that it’s our fault that the faith of others starts to fail.  Then we start to ask, “Where is God at these times?”  We’re dying of thirst, because the nourishment of God seems absent.

But this psalm goes on:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God….
Deep calls to deep
at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
have gone over me. (Ps. 42:5, 7)

Hope is what this psalm encourages.  St. Paul has this to say about hope: “Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom. 8:24-25).  No, we don’t see God’s salvation at these moments.  We don’t see God standing on our side.  But we hope for him.  This psalm talks about remembrance, how the speaker remembers how God came through for him in the past: if God helped him before, he will certainly do so again.

And with hope, even before the deliverance is seen, our thirst is quenched: even beyond what we could have imagined: the psalm speaks of God’s “waterfalls” and “breakers” and “waves.”  We are not given any mere stream of water, but even simply by the hope of what God will give us, we have roaring waterfalls which echo so loudly that “deep calls to deep.”

Jesus told his followers, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For…your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:31-33).  This is the essence of hope.  When we seek for God’s kingdom and righteousness, we have a sure hope that he will give them to us.  This hope is sure because these things were won for us, and are freely given to us, by Jesus Christ himself who died on the cross for our unrighteousness, and rose from the dead to share with us his righteousness, and to open the gates of God’s kingdom for us.  We can look back, remember that historic event, remember how God gave up his own Son for our salvation, and have that as foundation for our hope in what God will give us further on: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).

So yes, we do thirst for God, but not in despair: we thirst for him in hope.

Heavenly Father, who was gracious enough to give up your Son for our salvation, we hope, we thirst, we yearn desperately for all your blessings.  Deliver us from evil in this world, as you have promised.  Forgive us all our sins, as you have promised.  Refresh us continually with your Word, as you have promised.  Bring us to our heavenly home and eternal refreshment, as you have promised.  We ask it for the sake of your Son, who sacrificed all so that these things might be ours.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #25 – Rivers of Living Water

Feasting with God #25

Rivers of Living Water

Text: John 7:37-39

37On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  39Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Today marks the celebration of Jesus’ ascension, 40 days after Easter.  We read in the Gospel account that, after these 40 days, teaching and appearing to people and performing miracles, Jesus took his disciples and “led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them.  While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51).  But he left with a command and a promise: Luke records that he said, “You are witnesses of these things.  And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.  But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (24:48-49).  Matthew records these words: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).  The command was this: Tell others what you have seen.  The promise was this: You will have God present with you in this task.

Jesus promises the same thing in the text from John, although he said these words a good while before his ascension, even before his crucifixion.  He states the task—“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’”—and connects with it the promise—“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”

Spiritually, we in our nature are dying of thirst; our soul is a cracked desert where nothing can live.  The only way to bring life to these dry souls is by the living water of Jesus Christ: he it is who suffered the hell we deserved, dying on the cross and being forsaken by God.  By that act he opened up the stores of God’s grace, and as the water and blood flowed from his side when the centurion pierced it (John 19:34), mercy and forgiveness flow to us when we are baptized in water, when we drink the refreshment of Jesus’ blood in the Lord’s Supper, when we hear the cool words of grace in the Bible.

That is how we are saved.  When we come to faith, all God’s gifts—grace, forgiveness, eternal life—come into our possession: they are ours!  And with them as well comes the Holy Spirit who lives in our hearts so long as we have faith.  This Spirit Jesus promised to his disciples, to his followers, once his work on earth had been completed: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  you know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).  Jesus accomplished our salvation, and, his work done, he left our presence visibly.  Because he left, he could send the “other Helper,” who is the Holy Spirit.  This event we see on Pentecost, when the Spirit came upon the disciples like tongues of fire and they were able to speak so that those of many languages could understand.

And this is the work of the Holy Spirit: he speaks through us, turning us into fountains of living water.  We received the water from Jesus’ side through the means of grace—the Word and Sacraments—and having received that, the Spirit dwells in us, so that we can share that living water with the rest of the thirsty world.  That is the task we are given, but we are given the promise of the one who makes us able to accomplish it.  We are saved, and that makes us able to perform the work of salvation, nourishing the souls of others.

O Holy Spirit, bring the refreshing waters of grace upon us every day, so that we never go thirsty.  Lead us constantly back to the sure forgiveness we have on account of Jesus Christ, and lead us then to take those cool waters to others in need.  All this we ask in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.