Beckett: Pastoral Thoughts – Jesus: The Rock Who Gives Us Water (Numbers 20:2-13)

When there was no water for the congregation of Israel, the people despair that they have no water, once again accusing Moses of bringing them out into the wilderness only to lead them to their death. So, Moses and Aaron enter the tent of meeting and fall on their faces before Yahweh—perhaps not knowing what to do other than laying themselves at His mercy—and His glory appears before them and He says to Moses, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So, you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle” (v. 8). Moses then somewhat obeys and instead of telling the rock to yield its water, he strikes it twice with his staff and water begins to overflow from it. Ending here, most commentators would reflect on Moses’ disobedience and thus the reasoning for his prohibition of entering the Promised Land. Though important, this is not the most vital thing to glean from this text. Rather, of more vitality is the fact that the rock foreshadows Christ, who is the Rock of our salvation who gives us water.

While Jesus was in the Temple, He quotes from Scripture that He is the Rock, “Have you never read the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in their eyes’?” (Matthew 21:42; cf. Psalm 118:22-23). Jesus is the Rock—the cornerstone—upon which faith is built, which He said as much earlier in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23). As He also said earlier, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church” (16:18), the rock being Peter’s confession of faith, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:16), not Peter alone since Jesus’ question was addressed to the other Apostles as well, “Who do you [plural in Greek] say that I am?” (16:15). That is, Christ is building His Church on the rock of faith that says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” which is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). The foundation of the Apostles is the confession of faith, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God,” who is thus the Rock upon which faith rests secure rather than some shifting, sandy foundation. (What is such a foundation built on sand? Anything that is not Christ.)

Furthermore, Christ Himself is also the water, as He Himself says to the Samaritan woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I Myself shall give him, he shall surely not thirst into the ages, but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to life eternal” (John 4:13-14, my translation).

All this raises the question: Where does Christ make such water from Himself available? That is, where do we find Him today as our Rock upon which we build our faith and where are His waters from which we drink? He is found in none other than Word and Sacrament respectively. Since the confession, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God” is the rock upon which our faith is built, we need to ask ourselves where such faith comes from. As Paul says, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ,” the primary purpose of which pastors are sent (Romans 10:13-17). Thus, Christ our Rock is found in none other than where His Word is found to be proclaimed, such as from the pages of your own Bible at home, and especially the Divine Service where His Word is spoken to you in the liturgy, the prayers, the sermon, and the hymns. This is the Word portion of the Word & Sacrament paradigm.

As our life-giving water, then, Christ satiates our thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6) in the waters of Holy Baptism. As Isaiah prophesied, “they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for He who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them” (49:10), which John repeats in his prophecy (Revelation 7:16). Consider also what Jesus says a little later after His dialogue with the Samaritan woman, “‘He who believes in Me, just as the Scripture said, “Rivers of living water will flow out from his stomach.”‘ But He said this about the Spirit, whom those who believe in Him were going to receive; for the Spirit was not yet, since Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:38-39, my translation). So then, the living waters are not just Christ Himself but also the Holy Spirit.

Now, this is not a contradiction since wherever the Holy Spirit is found, there is Christ also. “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, He will bear witness about Me” (John 15:26). The Holy Spirit always bears witness about Christ and nothing else. “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him” (Romans 8:9). “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!'” (Galatians 4:6). Christ and the Spirit are always joined at the hip, so to speak.

Thus, where do we receive the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Christ Jesus whom He sends into our hearts? Where does this happen? In Baptism, of course. “Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Baptised into the name of Christ also means we are baptised into Him, as Paul delineates elsewhere (Romans 6:1-11); and since where Christ is the Holy Spirit is not far behind, and wherever the Holy Spirit is Christ is there also, in Baptism we also receive the gift of Christ’s Spirit, who is holy. This is the Sacrament portion of the Word & Sacrament paradigm.

In short, Christ is our Rock in that our faith is built upon the confession of Him as the Christ, the Son of the living God. And He is the water whom we drink in the waters of Holy Baptism, through which we receive Christ Himself and therefore the Holy Spirit who is never far from the Son. “But we don’t put the waters of Baptism to our mouths and drink,” one might say. To this, the Apostle Paul comes to my defence, who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, writes, “For in one Spirit we were all baptised into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). We may not raise a chalice to our lips in Baptism as we do in the Lord’s Supper, but it is a drinking of the Holy Spirit, nonetheless. Thus, if ever you feel that Christ cannot be found, know He is never far from you; for He is near to you in the Word proclaimed (written and spoken), especially in the Divine Service, and He is perpetually near you—indeed in you (1 Corinthians 6:19)—since you have been baptised into Him and simultaneously received the indwelling of His Holy Spirit.

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