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“A Miraculous Stream in the Wilderness of Sin”
Exodus 17:1-7


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Third Sunday in Lent—March 27, 2011

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.   

A great irony in the Book of Exodus is that the Israelites wandered in a wilderness by the name of “Sin,” “S-i-n.”  It actually doesn’t have any etymological connection to our English words “sin,” “sinner,” “sinful.”  But, the wandering of the Israelites in the Wilderness of Sin is a neat reminder to us of the parallel between these events and our own lives.

Because of our sin and humanity’s rebellion against the Lord, the entire world in which we live has become an inhospitable wilderness in which we all must wander throughout our lives in this world.  Just as the Israelites wandered through the Wilderness of Sin on their way to the promised land, we too are wandering in the wilderness of this sinful world on our way to the promised land of heaven.  Just as Exodus records that over and over again they rebelled against the Lord in the Wilderness of Sin, we sinfully rebel against the Lord over and over again in our own lives.  Just as the first generation of the Israelites because of their sinful rebellion were condemned to die in the wilderness and were not allowed to enter the promised land, all of us deserve not to enter the promised land of heaven, but to be condemned to eternal death and damnation in hell.

The Good News is, instead of the eternal punishment that you deserve, the Lord promises you will receive eternal life in the true promised land of heaven.  Because Jesus your Savior made up for your rebellion by his perfect obedience; Jesus himself suffered the punishment for your sin, in your place, on the cross.  As Hebrews says, “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” 

Before their exodus from Egypt, God’s people of old sacrificed for the first time the Passover lamb, on account of which God would “pass over” their sins.  St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us.”  The Passover sacrifice of the Old Testament pointed forward to Jesus Christ, “the Lamb of God,” who by the sacrifice of his life, death, and resurrection “takes away the sins of the world.”  As St. Peter says, “You were redeemed . . . with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”

Your sins are all forgiven; right now you have eternal life.  Yet, just as the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years before entering their promised land, for a time you still must wander in the inhospitable wilderness of this world, the true wilderness of sin, until the Lord takes you to be with him in the promised land of heaven.

Today’s Old Testament Reading records the people of Israel grumbling along the way against Moses in the wilderness: “Give us water to drink. . .  Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”  The Lord graciously provides for them “A Miraculous Stream in the Wilderness of Sin,” when he commands Moses to strike a rock, and from it water gushes forth. 

St. Paul explains in 1st Corinthians: “Our forefathers . . .  drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.”  The rock stricken by the rod of Moses in the Wilderness of Sin symbolizes Christ, who as punishment for our sins was stricken, smitten, and afflicted by the rod of Moses, the Law.  As Isaiah says, “We observed him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.  He was pierced for our transgressions.” 

“And that rock was Christ.”  The rock which was split open so that miraculous waters gushed forth in the Wilderness of Sin symbolizes Christ, pierced for our transgressions, pierced with nails in his hands and feet, and finally after his death pierced by a soldier’s spear as he hung on the cross.  As the eyewitness St. John Gospel tells us in his Gospel, “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.”

Martin Luther has a beautiful sermon about this.  He writes: “The angel went by night through Egypt and smote all the first-born, but the houses which were marked with the blood of the lamb he spared. And thus the blood of our dear Lord Jesus, the true Passover Lamb, gushes forth.  It flows upon, sprinkles, and marks the faithful standing by the cross, and all who are sprinkled with it, who trust in his blood, have the forgiveness of sin and are children of eternal life.

“Besides the blood, however, water also came out of Christ’s side. This, no doubt, was to serve as an indication that the blood of Christ would sprinkle those who were baptized in his name. Evermore blood and water flow on together, just as water and blood together come from his side.

“So, if we would interpret this narrative correctly, we must say: Blood flows from the Lord Jesus’ side for the washing away and forgiveness of sins. Water also comes forth to show that his body is an open fountain, for the water of Baptism applies to us the blood of our Lord Jesus.  In the waters of Baptism we find the blood of Christ, just as blood and water flowed together from his side.

“We should, therefore, thank God for his mercy and compassion by which he has led us to this fountain, to be baptized in the name of his Son, and thus to be cleansed from our sins in the blood of Jesus Christ.”

“And the Lord said to Moses . . . ‘Behold . . . and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it.’”  “And that rock was Christ.”

Just as the Lord provided his people of old with “A Miraculous Stream in the Wilderness of Sin” to save them from physical death on their long journey to the promised land, in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism the Lord gives his people today “A Miraculous Stream in the Wilderness of Sin” to save you from spiritual death on your long journey, through the wilderness of this sinful world to the true promised land of heaven.

Amen.

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