Water from the Rock Along the Way
“Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more (more than those who worked only the last hour of the day), but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’” [Mathew 20:1-16]
The lifelong Christian walk is called “the burden of the day and the scorching heat”.
In our Epistle reading, the Apostle Paul – writing God’s Word, Holy Scripture – compares our road to heaven to a race of runners, not all of whom will make it. The Christian life encounters hurdles and obstacles that make our life of faith in Christ and love for neighbor a discipline and a race to be run. A race in which one can fall. [1 Corinthians 9:24-27]
And Scripture here points us to the Israelites – God’s people in the Old Testament – who crossed through the parted Red Sea on dry ground and wandered in the wilderness, the desert, for forty years before entering the land promised to them.
Those Israelites – they were all led by God in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night – they all passed through the Red Sea together, which Scripture compares to Baptism – they all ate bread from heaven, manna in the wilderness – they all drank the same spiritual drink, water flowing from the Rock, that Rock which was Christ cleft for them [1 Corinthians 10:1-5]
They all received these same gifts of God, but not all finished the race. What happened? The race, the scorching heat and burden of the day, they let it be a cause for their faith to waver. In that wilderness, they did not believe that God’s grace would be sufficient for them.
And that wavering of faith – the doubting of God’s goodness and providence – their unbelief in their hearts was shown forth by what? By their grumbling. By their complaining. By their pessimistic and grumbling attitudes toward their circumstances, toward God, toward their leaders.
Grumbling – a habit of negativity and complaining – bubbles up from a heart that doesn’t trust God’s goodness and His ability to be a providing-Father in every circumstance.
We see this grumbling of unbelief in our Old Testament reading [Exodus 17:1-7]. By chapter seventeen of Exodus, the people of Israel – recently delivered from slavery in Egypt by God through Moses – had witnessed and experienced the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea; they had gone thirsty once already, and God turned bitter waters sweet to provide for them; they had already received the miracle of the quail being gathered into their camp for meat to eat; and these people of Israel had already experienced the miracle of manna – bread from heaven showing up each morning on the grass like dew to be gathered up. [Exodus 15:22 – 16:36]
God had delivered them from a strong army of enemies. God had proven already His ability and willingness to give them meat and bread to eat – and water to drink – in that desert place. Yet in chapter seventeen, they say once again – “We have no water. God won’t provide. Moses, you brought us out here to die. God won’t be gracious to us this time.”
“There was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled 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?’ But 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?’ So Moses cried to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people?’”
God has been gracious to us so many times – so many times He has shown us unearned, undeserved steadfast love. So many times He has forgiven us – seventy times seven times. So many times He has provided, even when our lack has been our fault. So many times He has aided us, delivered us from some hard situation, and has stood by us.
Yet, when the water runs out again – no matter how many times He has provided for us in the desert before – our faith wavers. We don’t trust. And this is sin. It is sin that we don’t trust as we ought to. We’re told this so we can repent.
The failure of the Israelites in the wilderness is recorded as our call to repentance: “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction” [1 Corinthians 10:11]. Daily – daily – we pick up the cross, repent of our unbelief, our little-trust, and turn our eyes and heart toward Jesus and what He has done for us.
When the people of Israel grumbled, Moses lamented, “What shall I do with these people?!” What God did with those people is that He was gracious to them still. Their faith was weak and faltering, their lips were grumbling – they were wrong – but God was good to them once again. God provided for them a Rock – a Rock out of which, when struck, came a flood of water.
How often we falter, but God is good – His love is steadfast. Don’t let the scorching heat of the day make you into a habitual grumbler, or a habitual doubter, but instead turn, each time, to the One who bore the burden of the day and the scorching heat for you – Jesus Christ.
What has God done for such a people as us? He gave Jesus Christ to endure the day faithfully in our place. God could not be pleased with the Israelites or with us, but He is pleased with Jesus Christ who faithfully bore all things in our place.
Jesus suffered faithfully – even when He suffered unjustly – and He suffered for your sake. On the cross, Jesus carried all your sin – including your sin of doubt and unbelief – and He died for it in your place to forgive you. You are forgiven. Jesus’ shed blood has atoned for all your wrongs, doubts, and grumblings. You are absolved, pardoned.
Jesus, who was stricken on the cross for you, is that Rock stricken in the wilderness out of whose broken cleft flows cool water for the journey. Jesus-broken-for-you continues to pour out for you God’s steadfast love, grace, forgiveness, His patience, strength, His help and aid.
Jesus is your drink along the way in the wilderness. Jesus is your bread from heaven. Jesus has given you a flood, your Baptism, which forever flows over you.
Because Jesus has carried the whole burden of the day for you, the full generosity of God’s grace is given to each of you at the end of the day – whether you endured in the faith for a lifetime or just for that last hour.
In the kingdom of heaven, God’s generosity may be given in the form of varying rewards and degrees of glory corresponding to what work He gave you to do here – and corresponding to what all you suffered here – but the forgiveness, life, and salvation of that kingdom is given to each of you in full measure, because it is Jesus who has earned it for you.
Along the way, throughout the day and at the last hour, God does provide relief and sustenance through His Word, through the food and drink of the Lord’s Supper, through confession and absolution, and constantly through your Baptism which stays with you. God’s Word, the Bible preached and read, and the Sacraments are the water flowing from Christ, your Rock, to cool you and sustain you along the way
Therefore, along the way, turn each grumble into a prayer. Repent at each complaint, right away, and turn it into a request for aid from your Good Shepherd’s table. He is the “Rock of Ages, Cleft” for you – therefore you can “Leave all things to God’s direction”, being certain that what flows from His riven side will sustain you in the one true faith until your last day. Amen.