Undeserved Grace For The Grumbler?

Text: Exodus 17:1-7

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

In the Book of Exodus, we read how the ancient Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians.  The Egyptians worked the Israelites ruthlessly with harsh brick-and-mortar labor, as well as difficult work in the fields.  They not only worked them hard as slaves but set out to exhaust, weaken, and cripple their body and mind, which is the reason why the Israelites cried out and groaned. 


Their cries did not go unnoticed, though.  God heard their groaning, which is one of the reasons why God called Moses to be the prophet to lead them out of bondage.  


To accomplish this, God promised to be with Moses’ mouth and teach him what he should speak.  He also gave Moses a staff, through which Moses would do great signs. 


And so, as Moses came before the Israelites, the Egyptians, and the Pharoah, He spoke the Word of God and did miraculous signs with the staff.  For example, Moses took the staff and struck the Nile River, and it turned into blood.  After the bloody river, Moses was told by God to stretch out his staff, which resulted in frogs pouring into the land of Egypt.  With his staff in hand, Moses was told to strike the dust of the ground, which resulted in gnats overtaking all living beings.  It does not stop here, though.  Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and God sent thunder and hail and fire down upon the earth.  Later, that same staff brought an east wind and millions of locus grasshoppers.  Sometime after all these horrific plagues, Moses stretched out his staff over the Red Sea, and it divided, allowing the people of Israel to go through the sea on dry ground to safety.


Now, as a small side point, it is important to know that the plagues against Pharoah and the pretend pagan gods of the Egyptians were done to show the falsehood and lack of power of the Egyptian Gods.  The false Egyptian god of the Nile River – Nilus – was powerless to undo the blood to water.  The false Egyptian god of the earth – Seb – was powerless to undo the gnats of the dust.  The false Egyptian gods of the sky – Shu and Nat – were powerless to stop the fire hail from the sky, and so forth. 


And so, through the mighty word of God spoken by Moses and the mighty miracles done through Moses’ staff, the Israelites were delivered from harsh slavery, harsh work, and cruel bitterness. 


Now, one would think that this deliverance would produce an incredible amount of gratitude among the Israelites; however, mankind’s sinful nature should not be underestimated.  You see, after the Israelites were set free from slavery, they set camp at a place called Rephidim.  Unfortunately, there was no water at Rephidim, which led the people to grumble.  Now, to a certain extent, we can empathize with the Israelites, for water is a necessity of living.  However, take special note of the Old Testament reading for today. We hear that the people not only complained but grumbled, saying,


“[Moses], why did you take us from Egypt and drag us out here with our children and animals to die of thirst?”


Dear friends, it is typical that we Christians cry out to God for help when difficulties come our way.  We cry out for God to help us get out of a pickle, bless us with a gift, or remove a difficulty.  However, if things do not go the exact way we expect, we begin to grumble and complain, forgetting about God’s past kindness and faithfulness to us. Remember, the Israelites’ cry for help was answered, and then, in the next moment at Rephidim, they began to complain and grumble as if Moses and God had led them out to die.  They seemed to forget about all the powerful plagues, all the mighty miracles, and the great oppression of slavery that they were delivered from. 


I don’t know about you, but in contemplating the Israelites, I see myself.  Who of us in this sanctuary has been free from grumbling and complaining – forgetting all the good gifts that God has given us?  Or, even worse, we complain and grumble when the good gifts we receive are not to the exact specifications of our liking.  You know what I am talking about!  In one breath, we thank God for the new car that we have been given, and in the next breath, we are complaining about the car’s interior color.  Or we give God praise for the job we have been given, yet we will grumble about the job’s dress code.  Let’s hit a little closer to home.  We give God praise for providing the finances in the church for brand new carpet, new ovens, and new stoves, and then complain about the carpet pattern and the brand of the stoves and ovens. 


Let’s hit even closer to home.  We gather in this church and hear at the beginning of the service in the absolution how we are baptized, claimed, and forgiven in Christ, yet 10 minutes later; we will mumble and complain about singing ten verses of a hymn that is meant to bless us with this same assurance.  We act as if the hymn is 10 long curses that we have to sing. Furthermore, through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus, you and I have been rescued from hell, the wrath of God, and death itself, yet at the first sign of adversity in our life - whether it is a lost job, a health problem, an attack from our enemies, or a financial hardship - we are quick to cry out,


“God, have you left me?  Do you not care for me?  Have you left me here to die?”


You see, the problem with Israel is the same problem with you and me; we are all plagued with impatient unbelief.  Our faith is weak.  Our faith is easily irritated and impatient.  It is like we have amnesia; we quickly forget all the blessings that God has done to us and for us.  Like those Israelites, we forget God’s provisions and are quickly and easily given to grumbling, complaining, and even attacking God for not giving us what we want, when we want it, and how we want it. 


Now, remember that staff of Moses?  What should God have done to the Israelites for their impatient unbelief – their grumbling, complaining, and quarreling against Moses?  Keep in mind that they were so agitated and worked up that Moses thought he was going to die – that they were going to stone him to death.  Personally, I wouldn’t have blamed God or Moses if Moses had taken that staff and struck the Israelites to death. That is right; just as Moses took that staff to reign down a plague on Egypt, I would not have blamed Moses for using that same staff to reign down a plague upon Egypt to smite every single one of them to death.   


As we think about our impatient unbelief and our grumbling as Christians, I am so ashamed of myself. We have been given so many gifts.  The Lord has given us daily bread.  He has forgiven us for our sins.  He has protected us from the Evil One.  And yet, at the first sign of struggle, pain, or adversity, I don’t trust, but I question God, and I even complain,


“Why, God, have you brought me into this predicament?  Have you left me here to suffer alone?  Do you not care about me?”


And so, God would be completely just to strike down each one of us, just as He unleashed His wrath upon the Egyptians.  However, He does not.  You see, instead of using Moses’ staff to strike Israel, Moses was instructed to strike a rock, and that rock then poured forth water for undeserving and impatient grumblers.  Likewise, God would be fair to strike us down for our impatient, grumbling unbelief; however, He does not.  Instead, He struck His only begotten Son on that cross so that His Son might pour forth blood for underserving and impatient grumblers named Matt Richard, as well as undeserving and impatient grumblers here at St. Paul’s. 


That staff of Moses did not wield down the wrath that they deserved but struck the rock to give them what they did not deserve.  The same is true for you and me.  We do not deserve the grace that the Lord has given us in our baptisms.  And we certainly do not deserve the grace that He gives us in holy absolution.  However, He gives it to us because we have a God who is rich in mercy and abounding in love.  We have a God who not only saved us but continually sustains us in the middle of our grumbling and in spite of our complaining by striking Christ on the cross so that His blood may be poured out for you and me – the same blood and body that we receive at this altar today. 


Baptized Saints, God is merciful.  He does not give us what we deserve.  And He is gracious because He gives us what we don’t deserve.  We are given Christ and His gifts to forgive us, keep us, and sustain us until life’s end.  This is most certainly true. 


In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

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