“You shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning is the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the seventeenth chapter of the book of Exodus. Dear friends in Christ, the people of God moved out into the wilderness of sin, the wilderness of death, the wilderness of need. They had been given so much by their God; in fact, He was Himself the source of their every good. He created them, you see, in the first seven days of history, and every child that came forth from the womb ever since was His doing as well. The sun shone because of Him, the rains came because of Him, food was placed on their tables and a roof over their heads only because of His gracious provision. But more than that, He had given them new birth through Baptism; He had brought them through water from death to life. Their enemies? Drowned and destroyed, washed away by the waters. His rich grace and mighty deliverance were the only reason they were in the wilderness in the first place. God had given them everything, but it wasn’t enough. They thirsted. They thirsted for success, they thirsted for money. They thirsted for companionship, they thirsted for health. Their mouths were so parched by what they didn’t have that they forgot what God had given them. Their memories were short, and so they raised a complaint to their God, they grumbled against Him, they quarreled with Him.
The people of God put Him on trial, they placed themselves on the judge’s seat and disputed with Him. What He had done in the past was quickly forgotten; what mattered was what He was doing now. And right now they were thirsty. The lonely thirsted for relationship. The poor thirsted for money and possessions (the rich did, too). The sick thirsted for healing. The downtrodden thirsted for a better life. Those down on their luck thirsted for a break to go their way. God’s provision of all their needs, His gift of life itself, seemed worthless next to this thirst. What’s the use of having a God if He doesn’t make my life better? “Therefore the people of Israel quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’” But thirst isn’t the problem here. The problem is how God’s people seek to satisfy their thirst. They don’t pray to God, they don’t even cry out to Him in faith. They don’t wait patiently for Him to act, to make good on His promises. No, instead they quarrel, instead they grumble, instead they put Him to the test. “And Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’” Moses has put his finger right on the problem. They are putting God to the test.
They put God to the test by demanding that He act as they want Him to, and if He doesn’t, they threaten rebellion. They put themselves in His place, and they tell Him how He should act on their behalf. They view their Creator as a servant, simply there to fulfill their needs whenever they ring the bell. And if He doesn’t show up and take care of their problems, then they will fire Him. “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?’” They are ready to go back into the bondage of sin; they want to stone Moses, to reject the Law He brings. They seek to satisfy thirst by living in sin. The lonely seek fulfillment in adultery or pornography. The poor seek fulfillment in stealing. The rich do the same, even though their ‘stealing’ is of a different kind. The downtrodden seek fulfillment in bringing others down, in destroying reputations and telling lies. The successful, thirsty for more success, are remarkably similar, casting away others to get what they want. The weak and outcast seek fulfillment in bullying. The sick threaten God, telling Him that if He doesn’t act, they will abandon Him. All try to satisfy their thirst by self-medication, whether by drugs, alcohol, and other vices, or by immersing themselves in other occupations to the neglect of God and family. They seek satisfy their thirst by trying anything and everything; like the woman at the well, they seek fulfillment again and again: “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband;’ for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
Moses sees where this is going. “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!” The people of God are ready to overthrow the Law to satisfy their thirst, they are ready to stone Moses, for they have put God on trial and have found Him wanting. They are in rebellion against their Creator, in fact they have put themselves in His place, and they are providing for their thirst themselves. They have forgotten Isaiah’s warning: “Woe to him who strives with Him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’” Woe to Him who puts God to the test, for such a test, such a rebellion, will never satisfy thirst, in fact, it will deliver only the eternal thirst prepared for those who reject God. The thirst that the people of God feel in this world of sin can never be satisfied through more sin and rebellion. Sin always leaves people wanting more, it always leaves them still thirsty, in a cycle of thirst that never ends; something more is always needed to satisfy it. Moses rightly asks the Lord: “What shall I do with this people?” How will their thirst be satisfied?
God’s answer is for Moses to take action. “And 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.” This staff is the instrument which God has used to strike judgment upon His enemies, which has delivered His people in the past. It is the symbol of the Law of God, and Moses, the Law-giver, is the one who wields it. Where is Moses to go with the staff of the Law? “Behold I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb.” Moses is to go to a rock, but not just any rock, the rock that God points out to Him, the rock to which He has attached His promises. There are plenty of rocks in this world, but only one Rock which will provide the waters that can satisfy. A rock is enduring, a rock is permanent, a rock is a place of refuge and protection, it will not be moved. God pointed to this Rock as He stood in the river Jordan: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” This Rock, Jesus Christ Himself, existed before time began, He is eternal, and He is a solid and steady shelter for the people of God. And from this Rock God has promised to satisfy the thirst of His people. Jesus Himself says it: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Moses is sent to the Rock that God has indicated, that He pointed out with a star at His birth and with His voice at the Jordan and the Mountain of Transfiguration. That is the Rock to which he must go, that is the Rock he must strike. “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.” God’s people deserved to be struck for their rebellion, for their grumbling and murmuring against their Creator. They deserved to be struck for putting Him to the test. But Moses is not commanded to raise his staff against the people; instead he is to strike the Rock. “And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.” The elders of Israel were witnesses to this striking; they watched as Jesus, the Rock, was struck by the staff of the Law. They saw He who had no sin struck for the sin of the people, stricken, smitten, and afflicted. They saw, for it was the elders of Israel who put the Rock on trial, who handed Him over to Pilate, who rejoiced to see Him scourged and nailed to the tree. But what they intended for evil God intended for the good of all, for the satisfying of all thirst forever. They watched as the staff of the Law struck the Rock, and the Rock broke open, pouring out life-giving water. “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” From the broken Rock came the waters of life, the waters that satisfy, the waters promised by God Himself. “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee; Let the water and the blood, from thy riven side which flowed, be of sin the double cure: cleanse me from its guilt and power.”
Moses fulfilled His task, and the full fury of the Law fell upon the Rock; He was struck, not you, me, not any of God’s people. And the water that flowed from His riven side that day satisfies the thirst of God’s people forever. What nothing on this earth could satisfy, what no sin could ever fulfill, Christ has, for He is the struck Rock from which the living waters flow. With Him, thirst is no more, and it will be said of God’s people: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation… They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” The lonely have a brother and friend in Christ, the poor and downtrodden have eternal riches and exaltation in heaven, the sick will be given perfect bodies at the resurrection. And in this world, as you struggle with thirst, you find that your every need is ultimately satisfied by Christ’s living waters, for He is all that you need. As you wander in this thirsty wilderness of sin, you cry out to the Lord, you ask for deliverance, you bring your thirst to Him, and while He may satisfy your thirst in this world through His gracious provision, He teaches you that it is He who satisfies your thirst with the gift of Himself, He satisfies your thirst with His living waters forever. Your thirst is satisfied by your Rock, by Jesus. The people asked, “Is the Lord among us or not?” Yes, He is among us in the midst of this thirsty world, and He gives us His living water, He is all we need. In the Name of Jesus, the Rock that was struck to give us living water, Amen.