Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Let’s put things into perspective: the Israelites were in slavery in Egypt for longer than the United States has been in existence. They were in slavery, they cried out to God, they groaned, and they waited. The waiting was passed down from parent to child, from child to grand-child, and from grand-child to great-grand-child. And still they waited, still they groaned, still they cried out.
And their cry came up to God. He heard their groaning and He remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God saw the children of Israel and God knew (Exodus 2:23-25). So He sent Moses to lead them out of Egypt, through the Sea and the wilderness, and on to the Land of Promise. When they grumbled against Moses and God because they didn’t have any water, God gave them water out of a rock. When they grumbled against God and against Moses because they didn’t have any food, and because they looked back and imagined that their slave food was better, God gave them bread from heaven and quail from nowhere. The psalmist says that He gave them the food of angels. And when they still grumbled against God and Moses, God sent poisonous serpents. When they cried out to Moses and to God, God told Moses to put a serpent on a pole, so that whoever looked at it would be healed from the poison. And still they grumbled and still they groaned and still they were ungrateful.
But it was precisely these grumbling, groaning, ungrateful people that God delivered from slavery into the land of promise. God was not surprised at the people whom He had chosen. Their behavior didn’t shock Him. And it was no surprise that it went on and on even after they entered the land. God saw and God knew.
But God also didn’t send Moses and water and bread and a bronze serpent to be ends in themselves. Moses died. The water and the bread didn’t give eternal life. Those healed by believing God’s word about the serpent still died. People remained in slavery to their own desires, their own evil hearts, to sin and to death. They groaned and they cried out and they waited. The waiting was passed down from generation to generation to generation, hundreds and thousands of years. God heard the groaning of His creation; He remembered His covenant, and the promises He had hidden within Israel’s history. He saw and He knew, and He gave His Son into that groaning, grumbling creation for a final, true exodus.
The Law was given by God through Moses; the grace and the truth came through Jesus Christ, who was given into the world. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him would not perish like those who died in the wilderness. Jesus goes and sits by a well and asks a woman for a drink of water. But, He says, if you knew who it was who is asking you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would give you living water. Lord, give me this water!
Jesus feeds 5,000-plus in the wilderness of Judea, and tells the people not to work for bread that cannot satisfy, but for the bread that lasts into eternity. They say, Lord, give us this bread always! Living water and bread from heaven and the sign of death lifted up before the eyes of faith. And what do the people listening to Him do? They grumble, just like Israel of old. They grumble at the gift and they grumble at the giver. The grumbling, groaning, unthankful creation hasn’t changed. But neither has the God who keeps giving His gifts precisely to people such as this.
Do not grumble among yourselves, Jesus says. No one can come to Me unless the Father draws Him. And that is exactly why Jesus is there. When I am lifted up, Jesus says, I will draw all people to Myself. All hunger, thirst, sin, death, grumbling, and groaning ends at Jesus, at the cross, where Jesus gives Himself to the world. He gives and He is given, to put an end to death and all its works and all its ways. Moses and the fathers of Israel ate bread from heaven, but they died. But now Jesus, the true and real Bread from heaven, has come to give life to those who eat it. And the bread He will give for the life of the world is His flesh.
True and saving Word, lifted up on the cross. True and living water, to put an end to thirst. True and living bread, to put an end to hunger. The Life, to put an end to death. To the groaning and the grumbling and the ungrateful. He has come to do the will of the Father, give Himself to the world, and gather all those whom the Father draws to Himself. No one can come to Him unless the Father draws Him, and He draws in the flesh of Christ. You cannot come into contact with the Son of God apart from the flesh of Christ, because there is no other Son but the Son-made-flesh. He does not want you to find Him in your own religious reflections, your own imaginations. He does not want you to find Him in heaven, somewhere far away from earth. He will be found where He gives Himself, in His own words and His own flesh and blood given and shed for the life of the world.
And those who eat in faith will never be forsaken, never forgotten. He will lose none of those who are given to Him. And because His flesh is life, those who eat it will live, even if they die. He will raise them up on the last day. Seven times He says it in this chapter. I will raise him up on the last day. Everyone who looks and believes, who eats and drinks, will never die, but Jesus will raise him up on the last day.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 8/10/18