Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but 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? They are almost ready to stone me.” 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. 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.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”” (Exodus 17:1–7, ESV)
After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”” (John 19:28, ESV)
(From a Sermon by Pastor Tim Pauls)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I want you to picture the people of Israel, standing at Mount Horeb, as we read in our first lesson tonight. They are far away from Egypt, the 400 years of slavery is over, they aren’t slaves anymore. God has heard their prayers and He sent Moses to lead them out of Egypt. The blood of Egypt’s first-born children purchased their freedom. The first-born children of Israel were saved from death by the blood of the spotless lambs that was spread on their doorposts. They have passed through the Red Sea. God had saved them from the Egyptian Army. But right now they have gathered around Moses to complain. God has provided for them in the desert. They’ve received Manna and Quail, more than enough to feed the vast congregation of people. Still, they have gathered to complain, even though God has made promises, and kept promises all through their traveling in the desert. And even more than that God’s promise tells them they are going somewhere, He didn’t free them from Egypt to make them a wandering nation of nomads.
Still, after all the blessings, they have gathered around Moses to complain. Where they are gathered at the base of the mountain, there isn’t any water. They are dry and thirsty. But instead of remembering God provision for them in the desert, they complain to Moses. “Give us water, to drink! Did you bring us all the way from Egypt just to have us die of thirst here in the desert?”
Sin was doing it’s work in the people there. It makes people blind, deaf and of short memory. They don’t remember all that God has done for them. They only see their immediate need. They only feel their thirst. “Of course God did things for us in the past, but what has He done for me lately?” Instead of remembering God’s promises the people ignore them and complain. They are thirsty.
Moses does what a faithful Servant of God’s Word is supposed to do. He warns the people by reminding them of God’s law. “Are you testing God?” You see their real problem wasn’t lack of water to drink, their real problem wasn’t physical thirst, but spiritual thirst. Instead of trusting in the promises of God, they would rather doubt and complain about what God isn’t doing right now.
It is only God who can do something about their problem. Moses calls out to Him. “What am I to do with these people? They look like they want to kill me!”
God is faithful and He responds. “Take the people to Mount Horeb,” He says, “I will be with you there. Take the staff I used to part the Red Sea, and strike the rock there. Water will come from it and the people will have water to drink.” Moses did what God said and the people had enough water for everyone. God was faithful again…
Moses called the place Massah and Meribah. The words mean “Strife” and “Contention.” They complained that God was not being faithful. Yet, God didn’t leave them to die of thirst, He provided what they needed, in spite of their sin.
“Strife and Contention” characterize the relationship between God and the People of Israel all through the Old Testament. Right there, where God provided water for them, is the same place where they would melt their gold into a calf to worship. Another name for Mount Horeb is Sinai. Instead of striking a rock, Moses would break the stone tables to pieces on the ground. Israel had broken God’s Commandments… again.
But God will once again be faithful, in spite of their sin. Why? Because these people are God’s redeemed people and God’s plan is that the redeemer will come from them. Out of Israel the Savior would be born. He will redeem them by His suffering and death. He will pay the price for their strife and contention. Because of Jesus Christ they are God’s people and He is faithful.
That brings us again to another hill, centuries later. There are also people gathered around. These people have much to be thankful for also. God has delivered them from slavery again. This time is much greater than the delivery from Egypt. He has saved them from the Slavery of Sin. The people gathered there have seen God-in-the-flesh among them. They have seen His miracles, and listened to His words. They should know from it all, that He is the Son of God, the Messiah. And that He has come to bring the Kingdom of Heaven. And that He brings everlasting life, and Living water.
Yet, they too are complaining. Sin is working overtime. They can’t see what God is doing there. Rather than remember all that God has done in Jesus they see Him only as a criminal on a cross. Rather than support Him or believe in His words, they choose to accuse Him of blasphemy.
They are thirsty. We see that same great spiritual thirst as before. Instead of living by faith and believing in Jesus, they are motivated by their anger, fear, and jealousy. That’s sin taking control again, in the lives of human beings. They don’t have to threatened Jesus’ life; He’s already dying with nails holding Him to the cross. But, of course, Moses isn’t needed either, God, Himself is there in Jesus Christ.
And Jesus speaks. “I am thirsty.”
But there’s something more going on here than a dying man asking for water. Here we see Jesus suffering in the sinner’s place on the cross. Here we see God punishing the sin of those who complained to Him at Massah and Meribah. Here we see God punishing the sin of the people that mock Jesus on the cross. Here we see God punishing the sin of the whole world. Jesus Christ dies for you and He dies for me. He dies for all the strife and contention that we have against God. He dies for our spiritual thirst.
Isaiah called out to the thirsty people of God, calling them back to faith in His promises. (Isa 55:1) And Jesus offered help for sin-sick, thirsty people, too. (John 4:14).
Jesus has Living Water, for those who are thirsty. He offers forgiveness and life. He has these things to offer because He has taken our sin, the strife and contention, upon Himself. He can quench our spiritual thirst because He became spiritually thirsty in our place. He suffered our punishment. When Jesus said “I am thirsty” on the cross, He wasn’t just suffering from physical thirst; He is speaking also of being forsaken by God, and suffering the sins of the whole world. Because of that, the whole world is flooded with God’s grace.
When the people of Israel were thirsty at Massah and Meribah, God commanded Moses to strike the rock, and water poured out. On this mountain a Roman soldier strikes Jesus with a spear and blood and water flowed out. It flowed out for all.
The world around us feels an awful lot like a wilderness. With all that’s going on we even begin to wonder if God is really doing anything at all. Of course He has blessed us with so much already, but what about now. What’s God going to do about the threat of terrorists? What’s God going to do about our sagging economy? And what about our neighbors who are fighting in the Middle East? What about this illness that I can’t get rid of? And speaking about strife and contention; what about the trouble in my family? We are thirsty for action from God.
That is us, standing also at “Strife and Contention Mountain.” Massah and Meribah. That is us, standing on the place of the skull, complaining to God. It’s easy for us to see all our troubles and forget all that God has done for us in the past, and all the He promises for us in the future. We are deaf and blind because we want quick solutions to our problems. Sin is active even here among God’s faithful people. It is there, trying to dry out our faith, and make us thirsty.
But God was at Massah, Meribah and on the cross. God is still faithful. Just as He spoke to His people through Moses, just as He spoke from the cross, He speaks to you. The law reminds you that you are indeed a sinful person, and spiritually thirsty. But He tells you more than that. God tells you of His great love for you. He tells you that He has taken away your sin. Your punishment is gone, because Jesus Christ has already suffered it. He was thirsty for you. He died of your spiritual thirst, and you don’t have to. He was struck on the cross and out flowed blood and water.
And the water still flows. He floods your thirsty body with His word, and water at the Font. Baptism washes away sin and death. It is living water from God that quenches a thirsty soul. It is the promise of God that you are indeed forgiven because of what Jesus has done. His death is your death, and His resurrection is yours, too.
And the blood of Jesus still flows. Sin makes us thirsty and Jesus gives us wine to drink and bread to eat. People hungry and thirsty for forgiveness find it in His very body and blood. “Take and eat this is My body, this is my blood. Shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Drink it and don’t be thirsty anymore.”
In these things we find the promises of God for thirsty people. "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son" (Rev. 21:6-7).
Our strife and contention is gone. Jesus fulfilled the promises of God, and He continues to fulfill them in our lives every day. Jesus was thirsty so that your thirst would be satisfied. That is the promise of God. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ, Jesus. Amen.