Exodus 17:1-7 (Third Sunday in Lent—Series A)
“A Reason to Trust Always”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
March 15, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text is the Old Testament reading from Exodus 17:
1And all the congregation of the children of Israel set out from the wilderness of Sin according to their stages at the commandment of Yahweh. And they encamped at Rephidim and there was no water for the people to drink. 2And the people quarreled with Moses and they said, “Give us water that we may drink!” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test Yahweh?” 3But the people thirsted there for water and the people murmured against Moses and said, “Why is it that you brought us up from Egypt to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” 4And Moses cried out to Yahweh saying, “What shall I do for this people? A little longer and they will stone me!” 5And Yahweh said to Moses, “Pass by before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel and take your staff in your hand, with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6Behold, I am standing before you there upon the rock at Horeb, and you will strike the rock and water will come out from it and the people will drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah on account of the disputes of the children of Israel and on account of their testing Yahweh, saying, “Is Yahweh among us or not?”
On December 23, 1776, Thomas Paine began the first of The American Crisis papers, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” In a context completely different from the string of defeats endured by the Continental Army at the hands of the British, we might apply these words to our context of fear. The new coronavirus has certainly spread fear across the world and here in our nation and state. Some concern is certainly warranted about a new disease. But I’m afraid that the direction things are taking is leading to an unwarranted fear that is of a crippling nature.
Trying to look for “just the facts” in all this is very difficult. It is troubling how often the facts are can be distorted. And that distortion aids in the creation of fear. Lack of knowledge, lack of understanding, and lack of facts cause fear. There are all kinds of fears and concerns that people won’t be able to get food and necessary items for an unknown period of time. So people, some out of an abundance of caution and some from pure panic and fear, are stocking up on everything, including toilet paper of all things.
What am I not saying? First, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be proactive. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be prepared for the natural and manmade disasters that can happen. I’m also not saying that we shouldn’t take this virus, or any in the future, seriously. I am saying that we should wash our hands and trust in God. I am saying that we should avoid touching our eyes, mouths, and noses and trust in God. We should avoid close contact with people who are sick, just like most of us do, and trust in God. I believe that we should do the common-sense things that are recommended for us to do and trust God, without living in crippling fear.
This is a First Commandment / First Article of the Creed matter. We are to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Do we really think that the Creator and Preserver of the world doesn’t have this situation under His control? We confess in the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” We understand that this means that “I believe that God has made me and all creatures. . . . He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He protects me from all danger and guards me and preserves me from all evil. He does all this out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.”
To fail to trust in the Lord at times like this and to live in fear that He is not taking care of us is to put ourselves in the same position as the children of Israel. Encamped at Rephidim, in the wilderness, there was no water. That’s a pretty serious situation for several million people to be in! It’s hot. It’s dry. The people need to be hydrated, but at Rephidim, there was no oasis, no wilderness spring. And what do the people do? Trust in the Lord? No! They freaked out! “The people quarreled with Moses and they said, ‘Give us water that we may drink!’ And Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test Yahweh?’ But the people thirsted there for water and the people murmured against Moses and said, ‘Why is it that you brought us up from Egypt to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?’”
O ye of little faith! All that the children of Israel could think of is how bad the Lord had treated them by rescuing them from slavery in Egypt and bringing them out into the wilderness for the express purpose of killing them. They didn’t trust in Him as their God, their Lord, or their Redeemer. They lived in fear that God wasn’t for them, that He wasn’t among them at all.
Did Israel have any reasons to trust in God? Yes, in fact, they had a whole list of reasons! To begin with, God used His servant Moses to bring the people out of Egypt. He rescued and redeemed them from the house of slavery to be His people, holy priests, a holy nation. Then, the Red Sea. Trapped! Pharaoh and his army marching against them! The sea in front of them! With an outstretched hand and a holy arm God had brought His people out of Egypt following the ten plagues. Could they trust God now? Despite their fear, God parted the sea and the people walked through on dry land. “Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians. . . . Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses” (Ex. 14:30–31 ESV).
And then came the issue of food in the wilderness. How do you feed several million people? “And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger’” (Ex. 16:2–3 ESV). How quickly the memory of the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea had faded. If the Lord God could bring Israel out of Egypt and through the Sea and defeat the army of Pharaoh, could He not also feed His people? They didn’t think so. But graciously, God did. “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God’” (Ex. 16:11–12 ESV).
Rescue, salvation, food! God continued to provide and to bless His people despite their murmurings and grumblings. What the people didn’t deserve, God gave freely by His grace. He had not let Israel down. But could this God really be trusted again? Now they had no water! And again, the people would not trust. They tested God by their unbelieving doubt in the gracious presence of the Lord to help them. And once again, out His grace, God provided. Moses struck the rock with his staff and water came out for the people to drink. “Is Yahweh among us or not?” they asked. He showed the people of Israel plainly that He was indeed among them and with them and for them.
In our day when fear is running rampant, we are also tempted to ask, “Is Yahweh among us or not?” Can we really trust God to take care of us now? Well, did He always take care of Israel, even when they grumbled and murmured against Him and failed to trust in Him? Yes. He never failed to be their Creator and Preserver, their Redeemer. He faithfully and graciously provided for all their needs of body and soul. You and I can then look to His faithfulness then and be assured of His faithfulness now. For our God does not change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8).
Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:4 that “[our fathers] all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. More than just physical water pouring out of a rock in the wilderness was provided for God’s first testament people! They had the blessing of being served by Christ Himself. It was Christ who took care of the people in the wilderness, giving them bread to eat and water to drink.
And it is still Christ today, our Rock and our Redeemer, who is our source of comfort and strength. He is the One who continues to provide for all our needs of body and soul. Christ Jesus is our source of living water. He is the Lamb who was slain, from whom comes the river of life, in which our sins of doubt and fear are washed away.
“Is the Lord among us or not?” we ask in our moments of fear and concern. And again, our God points us to Christ, His Son. The God who made us is the God who is with us—Emmanuel. Christ is the God who took on human flesh to live in the midst of a world of sickness and disease, a world of fear and uncertainty. Christ came to redeem us from our fears, to rescue us from our sinful doubt and distrust, and to grant us forgiveness of sins and a new life of faith and trust in God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—who is indeed with us! 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7 ESV).
The powerful message of Jesus Christ’s life, death on a cross, and resurrection from the dead is one of “Fear not!” It begins with the angel’s announcement to the shepherds in the fields, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Lk 2:10). The reason for fear has ended. God has taken up human flesh and become man in order to live, suffer, die, and rise again to save humanity from sin and death and all that causes us to be afraid! Luke 12:32, Jesus says, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” The reign and rule of God is yours in Christ. He is among you with His gifts and blessings both for your earthly life and for eternity. You have forgiveness of sins and life everlasting with God! In a few more weeks, we will hear this message again from the angel, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay” (Matt. 28:5–6 ESV). Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. He lives and reigns to all eternity. All authority in heaven and earth belong to Him. He is for you, not against you. He loves you and cares for you. He provides for you all that you need. You are safe in Him! You can trust Him always, no matter what.
No one who knows what tomorrow will bring. There will always be new diseases. There will be tornados and earthquakes and storms. Power outages will occur. Services will be disrupted. Life might get pretty crazy at times. But Christ Himself is with you through the power and grace of His Spirit. Don’t be afraid. Trust God, “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7 ESV). So what will be do in this current crisis of fear? We will wash our hands and trust God. We will follow the common-sense safety precautions and trust God. We will be proactive and prepared and trust God. But we will not be afraid. The Lord has a proven track record of love and grace. We see that most clearly in Jesus, our Rock and our Redeemer. With faith and trust in Christ, we can say along with the psalmist, “Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. . . . The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psa. 46:1–7 ESV). Amen.
 Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 328.