Monday, 18 February 2013

Sermon Time #2-The Rock of Ages

Exodus 17 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”

But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Most of us are familiar with this passage, at least the part where God provides water from a rock. Now when we read the Old Testament, especially the early chapters, we understand two things about God:

  • One that He is mighty (He performs miracles) 
  • He is full of wrath

We see a lot of violence, killings, and punishments such as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, or even the 10 plagues on Egypt. Even in this passage, we see that there is a battle going on under the command of the Lord. 

But in the middle of all this wrath, we see a totally different side of God.

We see that the Israelites are complaining about having no water. I think this is simply odd, for the greatest miracles performed in the Bible are involve water. Water turning into wine and Jesus walking on water. And who can forget when God miraculously parted the Red Sea so that the Israelites could pass through?

What did they say next? Our children and livestock would die. Don't you remember the 3rd plaque? God killed all the livestock in Egypt, but not a single animal in the possession of the Israelites was even hurt. The same goes for their children, but now they are saying that God will kill their animals and children. Ungratefulness to the core.

To make matters worse, they try to "court marshal" Moses! So now God has to do something. What does He do? He asks Moses to take his staff. Before moving on, let us see how the word "staff" has been used consistently in the Old Testament: 

Psalm 2:9 "You will break them with a rod of iron;    you will dash them to pieces like pottery"

Psalm 23:4 "Even though I walk    through the darkest valley,I will fear no evil,    for you are with me;your rod and your staff,    they comfort me."

Proverbs 13:24 "Whoever spares the rod hates their children,    but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them."

So it is obvious that "rod" or "staff" has been used throughout the Bible a sign of punishment. What's next? God tells Moses to bring the elders of Israel with him. Now we know that the elders are only called if there is a legal conflict. Recall the story of the adulterous woman in John 8.

So the stage is set. The staff is there and so are the elders. Who's about get punished? Moses? The Israelites?......

God Himself!

I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.”
Moses has said elsewhere that "He is the Rock, his works are perfect,and all his ways are just." God is the Rock, and He took the punishments that the people deserved upon Himself.

When the Hebrews cried our "Water!" "Water!", the Rock of Israel was struck and water flowed out.

And when their descendants shouted "Crucify!" "Crucify!", the desire of nations was struck and blood and water flowed out.

Of course, the latter was simply a medical condition and it was the not the same water that the Israelites received. But Jesus said: 

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty"

And this is what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:4 that the rock that the Israelites consumed was Christ Himself.

I believe that this where Christianity rises above all other religions in the world. All prophets and leaders showed people away; Jesus Himself is the way. All leaders promised bread and water; Jesus is the bread and water.

The answers to all the personal problems of humanity are solved by the person of Christ. It is because of Christ that we can share at the Lord's Table. He had to die to give us these blessings, taking the punishment that we deserved.

Our needs are physical, but God provides the spiritual as well. They wanted water, God gave them eternal life. 

(Next in this series: Sermon Time #3)

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Sunday, 17 February 2013

What's So Unique About Jesus?

Recently I read a motivational book, where the author used experiences from his own life to draw inspirational lessons for the readers. Themes of the book including being stress-free, living in the present, forgetting the past, and especially forgiving others. 

All this without any clear mention of religion or God. In fact, when it comes to making sense of the fifth commandment, the writer's relationship with his mother provided valuable insight.

Even though I am a Christian and an advocate of orthodoxy (to a certain extent), I wholeheartedly believe that books like these can actually help people without using religion.

And indeed, we know for sure that there are thousands of people in the world who overcome toil, suffering, and everything that life has to offer without having Christ in their lives.

So then, what makes’s Jesus so unique? How does He help me any better than a philanthropist, psychologist, ethical teacher, or motivation coach? To answer the question, let me turn to one of the most spectacular utterances of Christ:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28

In the backdrop was the ceremonial law that the religious leaders of the time had imposed on the masses. The same happened in medieval Christianity, and is now happening in nations under Islam, especially in Pakistan.

I think this is one aspect that differentiates all the ideologies and codes of living with what Jesus has to offer, i.e. freedom from the burden of religious obligations. Some people call religion the opium of the masses, while others refer to it as a totalitarian system for keeping people under bondage.

But with Jesus, there is freedom. But what is this freedom anyway?

"Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!" Galatians 4

A lot of times, religion takes its toll on us. We are unable to observe the scriptural statutes when cultural values and historic traditions come and dance on our heads. St.Paul says that Jesus came to set us free from all this.

Sometimes people can only think of atheism or pluralism as the way in which humanity can free itself from the shackles of religious rituals. Well I must say this is really short sighted. Jesus gave us a solution 2000 years ago:

You can believe in God and accept His law in your life and do your best to live a holy life. You can do all this without any extra baggage of race, culture, calendar, and even denomination. And if you fall down, the crucified Messiah is right there with you to get you back on track (1 John 1:8-10, 2:1). This, in short, is what I think makes Jesus truly unique.

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