Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, March 19, 2017
Testing the Lord - March 19, 2017 - Third Sunday in Lent - Text: Exodus 17:1-7
In our Epistle lesson for this morning Paul reminds us that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character hope, and hope does not put us to shame.” And this is the reason we “rejoice in our sufferings.” Would that the children of Israel had Paul’s words and would that we would memorize Paul’s words and make them a part of our lives. How often do we find ourselves “suffering,” and wonder why? Of course, we might need to define suffering. For some of us suffering my be losing our job, a family member and our automobile all in the same week. For others suffering my be a hangnail. For each of us our tolerance for struggles is different and God knows our level of tolerance and thanks be to God that He has promised that He will never allow us to suffer any more than He knows we can handle, which reminds us that in all our struggles He is with us. This morning, as we look at the “suffering” of the children of Israel and their reaction to their struggles, we would do well to reflect on our own lives, our own suffering, our own struggles and how we react.
Our text is a part of the history of the children of Israel, God’s chosen people. What God had already done for His people is that He had already delivered them from their bondage of slavery in Egypt. He did this in a rather grand way. He did this by defeating all the gods of Egypt which He did one be one through the plagues that infected the land. He did this by pillaging the Egyptians which He did by making the Egyptians predisposed to give the Israelites their gold and precious metals as they were leaving Egypt. He did this by showing the greatness of His strength and power. Certainly you would think that His show of power would have been enough to convince the children of Israel that He is God indeed.
Yet, as the children of Israel left Egypt and as it seemed that they were trapped, with the mountains on two sides and the sea in front of them with the Egyptians behind them, the Lord again showed His power by clearing a path through the Red Sea so that they passed through on dry ground. But even more, as the Egyptians followed the Israelites into the Red Sea the Lord again showed His power and protection as He returned the water to its original place and drowned the Egyptian army.
And still, if all this were not enough, the Lord continued day and night to lead the children of Israel. He lead them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He was with them every hour and every minute of every day. He never left them.
In our text we read of one of many accounts of the Lord testing the faith of the children of Israel. On this particular occasion the children of Israel had encamped where there was no water to drink, or at least they found no water to drink. The reaction of the children of Israel is that they quarreled against Moses, the Lord’s chosen leader. Time and again they accused Moses and God of leading them out into the desert in order to die. Time and again they recalled how much better things were in Egypt, how they had pots of meat to eat and how great things were before they left Egypt. It is interesting that the way they remembered how life had been in Egypt was a lot different from the what it was actually like when they grumbled while they were still in Egypt, but I guess they are really no different than the rest of us and the way we remember things.
Anyway, it is this quarreling and grumbling that show what is really in their hearts, the fact that they were ungrateful and unbelieving. God had done so much for these people and yet, here at the mountain, when they believed they did not have any water to drink they showed their ingratitude and lack of faith, they quarreled, grumbled and complained.
As for Moses he warned the people. He warned them that their quarreling, that their discontent was not so much with him as it was with God. And you would think that such words would bring them to their knees in repentance. But such is not the case with this stiff-necked people.
As for God, His answer is that He told Moses to take the staff, which was a symbol of the authority God had given to Him, and he was to use the staff to demonstrate his God given authority. In this instance he was to take the staff and pass through the people, taking with him the elders of the people and he was to strike the rock at Horeb and God promised that water will come out. One note to remember, this was not the same rock that later Moses was simply to speak to, the rock he hit and the event which kept him from entering into the promised land. In this instance Moses was commanded to strike the rock and that is what he did.
God, again, showed His power and the authority of Moses by His working through Moses to give the people water to drink. Moses struck the rock and water came out of it.
The elders who were with Moses were there to bear witness of the Lord’s power and might. They were their to bear witness of the Lord’s case and for that matter, Moses’ case against this stiff-necked people. And the name of the place was called “Massah and Meribah” because of the quarreling of the people and the testing of the Lord.
So, what does this mean? And what does this mean to us today? I have said it before and I will say it again, because it bears repeating and because we need to hear it, we are so very much like the children of Israel. I contend that you can take the words, “children of Israel” or “Israelites” in our text and in the Old Testament and substitute the word “Christians” and you will have a good idea of how we are in our relationship with our Lord even today. Why do we need to be in divine service every week and whenever offered? Why do we need to read our Bibles every day? Because we forget. Because we sin. Because we need forgiveness. Why do we eat every day? Why do we do many of the things we do on a daily basis? Because we need to. We need to eat every day so we do not starve to death. We need to clean ourselves every day because we tend to get dirty. We need to read our Bibles every day, we need to be in divine service every Sunday because we tend to forget all that our Lord has done, all that He does and all that He promises to continue to do. We need to repent every day because we sin every day. We need our time of confession and absolution at divine service because we need to hear those most beautiful words of absolution, “Your sins are forgiven.” And especially when we face struggles and difficult times, we tend to forget and sound and act just like the children of Israel, we quarrel and grumble and complain. We test God and show our lack of faith. Yes, we need to be reminded, daily that God has given us all things. God has given us all things including all physical or bodily blessings, “clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals and all I have,” all that we need for our lives in this world. Not only does He give us all that we need according to our bodily needs, but He also takes care of our lives. He “defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.” And even more, He takes care of all our spiritual needs as well. He is the one who works and gives faith. He is the one who gives forgiveness of sins, paid for by His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. He is the one who gives us life, life in this world and even more life in the world to come, eternal salvation.
And just as testing came to the children of Israel, so testing comes upon us today as well. We are tested when we have decisions to make, decisions regarding the use of our time; should I be in divine service or should I do something else, go to a ball game, go fishing, go hunting, sleep in? We are tested when we have to make decisions regarding our talents, should I use my talents and abilities in service to God and His Church or for my own good and reward or for some other reason? We are tested when we have to make decisions regarding our treasure, should we give to the Lord first from what He has first given to us, or should we give Him just some of what is left? We are tested when we face struggles in life, illness, death, loss of work, emotional pain, suffering and the like. When testing comes, how do we handle it? Very often, I believe, we act very much like the children of Israel, we show our ungratefulness and our unbelief. I do not say this to be mean, but simply because this is a fact, this is our nature after all. And I do not say this to give us an excuse either. The fact of the matter is that, just like the children of Israel, we fail and we fail and we fail.
Thanks be to God that He never fails. No matter how often we fail, the Lord continues to pour out His blessing on us despite our ingratitude and unbelief. What a great God we have. What a gift giving God we have. As we talked about last Sunday, we are not the ones who take the initiative. We are not the ones who act so that God reacts to us acting first. No, God always acts first. God does and we are done to. God gives and we are given to. Our lives very much reflect the account of our Gospel reading. It was not the woman of Samaria who came to Jesus, but it was Jesus who approached the woman. Nor did the sins of the woman repulse Jesus so that He did not speak words of grace to her. Likewise, we are not the ones who approach Jesus. We are not the ones who choose Jesus. It is Jesus who comes to us, who chooses us, who does everything for us, who gives everything to us. Paul says it well in our Epistle lesson, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” What great and wonderful words of grace! Just as the Lord called Abram and made him a great nation. Just as God carried out His covenant through the children of Israel so that Jesus was born of the tribe of Judah. Just as God always keeps His promises no matter how often the children of Israel failed and sinned, so the Lord does the same for us. No matter how often we sin, no matter how often we fail, the Lord is with us, picking us up, giving us forgiveness, giving us life and salvation.
As we come to this, the third week in Lent, as we continue to remind ourselves of our part in Jesus death, that is that it is because of our sins that Jesus came to die on the cross, so too we are reminded of God’s great love for us, a love which is shown in the very fact that He has never and will never stop loving us even when and especially when we fail. And it is this love and our knowledge and faith in this love which stirs in us our response of faith, a response of faith which includes repentance and forgiveness, as well as a desire to continually make regular and diligent use of the means of grace, having personal and family devotions, reading the Word of God, being in divine service and Bible class, remembering our Baptism, making use of confession and absolution, remembering our baptism and partaking of the Lord’s body and blood in His holy meal, knowing that through these very means of grace our Lord does and gives to us from His bounty, forgiving and sustaining us until He comes again or we go to Him. Thanks be to God and to Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.