The Rock of the Cross Gives Life
“The Rock of the Cross Gives Life”
Archbishop Loren Thomas Hines
Third Sunday of Lent
March 19, 2017
Readings: Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 95
John 4:5-26, 39-42
As we look at this season, we see the progression of God’s commitment to man and how He shares His love with us, encouraging us and drawing us to walk a new way of life. This truth should be in our hearts and minds everyday. All things were created by God and nothing exists that was not created by God. Not only did He create all things but He also sustains all things. There would be no life without His sustenance; everything depends on Him. The Collect of the Day says that we can do nothing without God, yet in our arrogance we want to be independent, doing things on our own. Wisdom comes from God and from no other. He is our strength, our righteousness and holiness, our help and healing. All good things are from Him. By His stripes, we are healed. We must realize our dependence on Him, know that He is perfect and all that He does is done in excellence. This should give us peace and confidence. We are not alone. The season of Epiphany tells us that He us with us. Ephesians tells us that even before the foundation of the world, before anything was created, God chose us to be righteous and blameless. We were created in His image and likeness. If we don’t have this truth in our hearts, if we lose sight of who we are, we will be deceived by the enemy to accept failure, sickness and disease. The enemy has so deceived us that we’re willing to accept things that shouldn’t be in our lives. God loves us and is committed to us and has set a plan for us. We were singing earlier that He called us by name. He gives us direction, purpose and the grace and the ability to fulfill His will for our lives.
Today’s Psalm tells us that “the Lord is a great God and a great King above all gods, in whose hands are the depths of the earth. The peaks of the mountains are His also. The sea is His for it was He who made it, and His hands formed the dry land.” Everything was created by His power. Nothing exists that did not come from Him and nothing can exist that He does not sustain. He created all things to give Him glory and He will not allow them to be destroyed. Look at the sun – how many years has it been shining faithfully? Some say maybe 5 billion years, and yet it’s still doing its work. This shows the greatness and compassion of God. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He doesn’t change. He doesn’t fail. We are His people; He takes care of us. “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts…” (Psalm 95:7b-8a). Do not harden your hearts or test Him by insisting that you do things on your own. Lent is a proclamation of His commitment to us. Man had failed but God was determined to bring us back to the fullness of His creation, so He sent His Son to take on flesh that He might redeem us and restore us into the family of God. God loves us so much that Christ went to the cross, faced the humiliation, the accusations and took upon Himself all the pain and sorrow, our sin and rebellion. He wants us back in a relationship with Him. This is something that should be deeply entrenched in us that when we face a trial, we know that God is not angry at us nor is He punishing us. He allows these tests into our lives to make us strong. There’s nothing big or powerful enough to hinder the plan of God from coming to fulfillment.
In the Old Testament (Exodus 17), the children of Israel were in slavery in Egypt for 400 years because they rebelled against God. He delivered them out of slavery and gave them all the wealth of Egypt. He promised Israel before they left Egypt that He would take them to the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. This was a promise God gave earlier on to Abraham, when He asked Abraham to go to Canaan which He would give to him and his family forever. Israel still lives on that land even if much of the world is against them. How many generations have passed since? God kept His word. Israel is one of the most powerful nations in the world. They are helping over 160 nations with technology, more than any other country in existence, and God continues to bless them. The children of Israel were in the wilderness because God had to prepare them for the Promised Land. God had to take Egypt and sin out of them.
In today’s lesson, Israel was complaining because there was no water to drink. They didn’t remember how God delivered them from Egypt – led them through the Red Sea, destroyed the Egyptian army and gave them the wealth of Egypt. Would the lack of water hinder them from entering the Promised Land? Instead, they murmured and complained (“where is God? Didn’t He say He would meet all our needs?”) and they were ready to destroy Moses. Moses was a man like Christ. When God wanted to destroy Israel because of their rebellion, he asked God to destroy him instead. This is commitment, loyalty and leadership. Moses cried out to God, “What shall I do with this people? A little more and they will stone me.” God instructed him to take some of the elders of Israel and the staff with which he struck the Nile, then go to the rock where God will stand before him. He instructed Moses to strike the rock and water will come out of it that the people may drink. That rock is something that we’ll have to face at one point in our life. Water coming out of a rock? It seems impossible, yet when God struck the rock, a fountain of water continued to flow as long as they needed it. Christ also faced a rock – His cross, but out of the cross came salvation for us. When the time comes that we have to face the rock, we have to realize that God has a plan and He will not allow the rock to hinder this plan from being fulfilled. Instead, He will use it to bring good into our lives. God desires that we know His way, His will and plan for our lives.
The children of Israel were thirsty for water. Matthew 5:6 tells us that “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied”. Had they been seeking for righteousness, God would have given them the water that will quench their thirst; like the Samaritan woman in the gospel to whom Jesus said “whoever drinks of the water that I will give shall never thirst….” We must hold firm to the fact that God is on our side and nothing’s going to destroy us as long as we keep our faith in Him. This group never made it to the Promised Land (they all died in the wilderness) because of their unbelief, their complaining and grumbling. It was their children who made it and enjoyed the blessings of milk and honey. Psalm 42:2 “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Are we looking to God to do something with that rock or do we see that rock as the end of our life? We should be looking to God to change the rock to water and cause something good to come out of it. God created the rock. He can turn it into marshmallow to feed and take care of His people. Christ faced His rock – the cross. He faced an impossibility – death. He struggled with His emotions but He did not give in to them. “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do. Into Your hands, I commend My Spirit.” This was an acknowledgment that He couldn’t do it alone, apart from the Father. If only we can learn to turn things over to God.
When we need to know who God is, we turn to His Names because they reveal His character. The children of Israel accused God of bringing them out of Egypt to kill them. They lost sight of the character of God. God doesn’t kill; He gives life, restores. They had a wrong picture of God, accusing Him of something He was not. The names of God reflect His character: Jehovah Jireh, El Shaddai, Jehovah Shammah, Jehovah Rohi, Adonai, Yahweh, El Elyon. Do we know God’s character? Do we see Him as one we can put our confidence in? God is perfect. He created everything in perfection. We are told that this earth is collapsing. Scriptures tell us that the earth will never be moved. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have to take care of it because God instructed us to cultivate and keep it. It’s our responsibility.
In Exodus 14:14, God spoke to Israel through Moses, saying, “The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent”. Keeping silent means not murmuring, complaining and doubting. Romans 5:1 tells us that we were justified by faith. This justification/righteousness was given to us before the foundation of the world. Ephesians 1:4 tells us that “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him”. We messed it up but He gave this to us – created us to be like Him, holy and blameless. It means we can have peace because God put that peace in us from the beginning. We have peace with God through Christ. He gives us the grace to live out that faith. We lack in no good thing. Israel made the mistake of doubting God. We, too, often wonder where God is. He said He will meet all our needs. Maybe it’s not a need we’re asking for; just a want. Maybe we have to wait. We’re a very impatient people, not willing to wait.
Faith is more than a conviction. Faith is truth. Scriptures tell us that we shall worship God in spirit and in truth. What is truth? It’s what God gave us through Christ. God gave us faith so we have to worship Him with that faith, in spirit and truth. We may be in the wilderness because we’re rejecting rather than receiving, and we’re not thankful but complaining. Faithfulness is what we’re looking for; loyalty and commitment to God. Even if some things aren’t right or going well, they will eventually work out. God will not fail to fulfill His will if we do our part. Faithfulness justifies a person. It comes by God’s grace. While we were hopeless, He didn’t desert us. Christ died for us. God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
The rock is not going to stop God’s plan. When God said He was going to give Israel Canaan, from Abraham till the end of time, no one can stop His plan – not Iran, not the United Nations, and not the United States. The law, when it came, only identified the sin; it didn’t save the people. That’s why Christ came to redeem us. The Jews today are committed to the law and Abraham. Our commitment and hope is in God, not in law or lineage. The purpose of the law is to show our weakness. Christ comes into that weakness to bring hope.
The focus of the third Sunday of Lent is the cross where Christ brings the perfection of His life back to man. He had to go to the cross, face the rock to do this. We have to face the rock rather than avoid it because God will turn it into a fountain of life. This is our hope. The cross didn’t destroy the Son of God and the church; rather, it multiplied the church to cover the whole world and it will never lose its power. Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman. Samaritans were enemies of the Jews, yet Christ went to Samaria and offered water that gives life. The Samaritans listened to Him and believed, in contrast to the Jews who rejected Him. We were rebellious, sinners and traitors when He gave His life for us on the cross. Now we have been justified, acquitted, made righteous and brought into a relationship with God through Christ. We now have the hope of His glory. “Let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for I delight in these things” (Jeremiah 9:24).
We’re redeemed by the blood of Christ. I share this song because it spoke to me and I hope it will also speak to you.
“Seems like all I could see was the struggle, haunted by ghosts that live in the past; bound up, shackles of all my failures; wondering how long this is going to last. Then you looked at this prisoner and said to me, ‘Son, stop fighting the fight that’s already been won’. I’m redeemed; You set me free. So I’ll shake off these chains, wipe off every stain. I’m not who I used to be; I am redeemed. All my life I’ve been called unworthy, named by the voice of my shame and regret; but when I hear you whisper, ‘Child, lift up your head’, I remember, O God, You’re not done with me yet. Because I do not have to be the old man inside of me; cause this day is long dead and gone. Because I’ve got a new name, a new life. I’m not the same, hope that will carry me home.”
Through the rock of the cross, he poured out a river of life on us, washing away our sin, restoring what we were created to be. Righteous and blameless – that’s our DNA; who we are. We’ve heard too often that we’re unworthy, but Christ believes that we are worthy of redemption. I pray that we see in the cross that redemption; how that rock turned to life for us. In our lives, when we see these rocks, let’s not panic and give up. Thirst for righteousness because God will take that rock and turn it to a fountain of life. We need not be anxious or fearful. The strong arm of God is our defense and our redemption. Blessed be God and blessed be His people.