Friday 11 February 2011

That rock was Christ (Exodus 17)

For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
1 Corinthians 10:1-4

Paul says something here that just blows me away every time I read it. He is summarising the entire Exodus experience of the Israelites. God rescues his people from slavery. He performs miracle after miracle and displays his power to Pharaoh, King of Egypt.

And then Paul caps it all off by saying that rock was Christ. He’s saying: You look back at the Exodus and you should see Jesus.

What I find amazing is, out of all the stuff Paul could have pointed to and said, “There’s Jesus!”; like he could have said, “Remember the manna? Well, Jesus is the true bread from heaven.” And Jesus did say that, didn’t he, in John 6:35? Or Paul could have said, “Jesus gives us the true living water that wells up to eternal life” – what Jesus told the Samaritan woman in John 4.

Or the pillars of cloud and fire – that’s where you see the presence of Almighty God! Following them and guiding them through the desert. But no, Paul doesn’t do any of that.

Instead, Paul says, Look at the rock. That’s Jesus.

The background to this statement is Exodus Chapter 17. The Israelites have been travelling in the desert for some weeks since they left Egypt. And as they set up camp here, in a place called Rephidim, this is the last pit stop before they reach their destination, Mount Sinai, the mountain of God. That’s Disneyland. That’s the whole purpose of God rescuing these slaves from Egypt, that he would gather his people around his presence to worship him. Mount Sinai is where Moses receives the 10 Commandments, the Law of God.

But here in Rephidim, things get tough.

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 quarrelled 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.”
Exodus 17:1-4

The biggest headlines in every newspaper, for the past two weeks, and certainly this morning, have been the protests in Egypt. Hundreds of thousands of people gathering in Tahrir square demanding the resignation of President Mubarak. The sheer frustration and intense anger of an entire nation focussed on one man.

Let me be clear: Mubarak is no Moses! That’s not my point (at all!)

But the dissatisfaction of the people of Israel have reached fever pitch, as they quarrelled with Moses (verse 2) and even threatened to stone him (verse 4). And what we need to see is that the problem was real and serious. There was “no water for the people to drink” (verse 1). They were thirsty, their kids were thirsty, their livestock were at risk; the whole nation was facing a crisis. Without water in the desert, they were going to die!

Moses’ answer to them was: You’re not quarrelling with me. You are testing God.

It is not that their concerns weren’t legitimate; that the danger wasn’t serious. But the people of Israel are forgetting how God had, time and time again, rescued them from mortal danger, from hunger, and yes, even from thirst. Just two chapters earlier, Exodus 15, the people complain about water at a place called Marah. The water there was bitter (Marah is Hebrew for bitter) – it was undrinkeable, yuck! The word could imply that water was even poisonous. But God showed Moses a log, he threw it in and the passage says, “the water became sweet”. A few verses later, we read, God brings them to Elim where there are twelve springs of water. Water in abundance!

God responds again and again with grace and mercy. He provides his people with what they need and he does so abundantly!

But the Israelites forget this lesson. So here they complain against God, yet again. So serious was their disobedience, that Moses names that place Massah and Meribah (which mean quarrel and test) “because of the quarrelling of the people of Israel and because they tested the Lord” (Exodus 17:7). For centuries, this event is immortalised in the words of Psalm 95 warning successive generations of Israelites not to test God. “Today, if only you would hear his voice, ‘Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me” (Psalm 95:7-9). The same passage is quote in the letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 3, where the author warns Christians not to harden their hearts when they hear God’s voice in the gospel “Today”.

So the Israelites complain to Moses. Moses, in turn, complains to God. “What shall I do with this people?” (verse 4)

And God responds clearly and graciously to Moses. God tells him to do three things. First, walk through all the crowds. “Pass on before the people.” They need to see you doing this, Moses. Walk up to the massive onslaught of protesters; face the angry mob. You are still their leader. You face them and they need to face you.

Secondly, gather the leaders. Take with you “some of the elders of Israel”. They are coming with you, these elders. They are the representatives of the people. Men that they know and respect. Previously if you remember, when Moses first approached the people still in slavery in Egypt, first thing he did was talk to the elders and tell them what God was about to do. The same thing is happening here. It’s not just Moses, but God using Moses, to communicate his plan to his people through their leaders.

And God wants these leaders to come with Moses, because he wants them to be witnesses. He is going to show them something spectacular. God isn’t just going to do something about this crisis. He will show how he is going to deal with the problem.

And the third and final thing God tells Moses to do: take the staff; that same staff you used to strike the Nile – that staff. Take the staff and strike the rock.

Behold, I will stand before you there on (literally, on the face of) 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.
Exodus 17:6

Look closely again at these words. God says to Moses, “You shall strike the rock.” But just before that, what does God say? “Behold, I will stand before you there. On the rock at Horeb.”

God is saying: when you strike that rock, Moses, you are striking God.

With that same staff that brought judgement to the Egyptians? Turning the Nile to blood? Parting the Red Sea which swallowed up the soldiers and chariots? That same staff, you will use to strike me.

For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
1 Corinthians 10:1-4

Here in 1 Corinthians, Paul recounts the events of Exodus 12 to 17, step by step. Along the way, he spells out for us the blessings God gave in rescuing his people. God gives them his presence (“our fathers were all under the cloud”), rescues them from death and destruction (they “all passed through the sea”) and sustained them physically and spiritually (they “all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink”). These are God’s blessings in salvation.

But then Paul sums up all these blessings by pointing to the ultimate source of their salvation. “For,” he says; meaning this is the purpose; this is the source – “For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”

Paul is reminding us of that rock – the rock that was struck by Moses’ staff. And he says, that rock was Christ. On the cross, Christ took the punishment for our sin. He was stricken – struck for our disobedience of turning against God. But it is through that judgement laid upon Jesus that Christians receive life, forgiveness and all the fullness of the blessings of salvation.

For the Israelites in the desert, grumbling and complaining against God, Moses was showing them the full extent of their rebellion.

I’m not sure what will happen to all those protesters in Egypt. I know I do fear for their safety. World leaders are cautioning Mubarak and the people to restrain themselves from reacting in violence.

Here in Exodus 17, God responds to this rebellion, not by crushing it, but by being crushed. He doesn’t strike them down, he tells Moses to strike the rock. And on the cross, we see that God takes the punishment we deserve for our rebellion against him, our deserved judgement for all those times we continue to defy him and question his authority; ignore his goodness and doubt his love – God takes his wrath and anger towards us and pours it out on Jesus.

Isaiah prophecies of Christ with these words that speak of his affliction and his wounds.

He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
Isaiah 53:3-5

He was wounded. Jesus was crushed. But through his death we receive life. By his stripes we are healed.

Paul says: We drink of that spiritual Rock. And that Rock was Christ.

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