You Can’t Get Blood From a Stone! Right?
v.6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.
Dear friends in Christ, you’ve all heard the saying, “You can’t get blood from a stone,” right? We usually use this phrase when talking about economics and financial hard times to indicate that you can’t get more money from someone who doesn’t have any, just like you can’t get blood from a stone that doesn’t have any blood. Well, today in our OT reading we see the Israelites confronted with a slightly different problem. Following their exodus from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea, they are traveling through the Wilderness of Sin. This is dry, desert area—not a lot of water—and the people grow thirsty. What does God have Moses do? Get water from a stone! Graciously, the Lord provided for the needs of His people, even though they didn’t deserve it.
You see, the Israelites' real problem was not a lack of water, but rather a lack of faith. Though God had led them out of the land of slavery and death in Egypt—though God had very recently begun supplying them with Manna from heaven for them to eat during their journey—yet now, in this remote wilderness—their lips were dry, cracked, and bleeding—their livestock suffering from the burning of the relentless sun—their families wilting under the scorching heat—they doubt God—doubt His promises—doubt His care—doubt His provision. And whom do they take their frustration and anger out on? Moses, of course.
As Moses points out for us in v.7, the Israelites' problem was that of “testing the Lord” by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” Even after His many miracles—even though He travelled with them by day as a pillar of cloud and by night as a pillar of fire—signifying to them and all others, His gracious and permanent presence among them—yet they doubted Him still.
Now we may be rather quick to judge the Israelites in our text. We may be ready and willing to point and shake our finger at those silly, backward, people, believing that we are so much better—so much more trusting than they—but are we, really? How many times have you found yourself questioning the gracious promises of God—doubting His presence in your life (even as a baptized child of God)—even after just having received His body and blood in His house for your salvation? How many times do we receive His gifts here in this place and then immediately go back to worrying and wondering how this or that problem is ever going to be solved—whether we will receive health and vitality in the face of illness—whether the money will hold out to the end of the month—whether God is really with us and actually cares about us.
There are times, dearly beloved—many times—when it seems as though God has abandoned us to the scorching heat and devastation of this sinful world. There are times when our souls are dry, cracked, and bleeding—and we wonder if God can or even will do something to help us. There are times no doubt when we have even taken out our anger and frustration on God’s called servant because he was close at hand, throwing stones of false witness, slander, and hurt his way or someone else’s way, while we are really frustrated and angry with God, wondering why He would allow certain things to happen to us and treat us in this way?
In fact, much of the time, we act very much like the Israelites in Exodus 17—or the labourers in the vineyard of Jesus’ parable in our Gospel—complaining that God is being unfair toward us in some way. How quickly we forget that God is unfair—He doesn’t treat us the way we deserve—rather He treats us graciously in mercy and compassion. In our rebellion and sin we deserve to be treated with punishment and hell by God, yet instead, miraculously, He treats on the basis of His abounding grace in Christ Jesus!
For you see, you CAN get blood from a stone—as long as that stone is Christ the Lord, as St. Paul makes clear in our Epistle for today. Indeed, as the Psalmist (19:14) declared, and as we pray together before each sermon, “Let the words of my mouth and meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.”
Scripture calls Jesus the Rock of our salvation. He is the chief cornerstone of our faith because He was struck by the rod of God’s Law and wrath in our stead. He was broken on the rock of Golgotha—His body beaten and bloodied—His life given up into death—for your sin and mine. He has given Himself up in this way that we might eat and drink of His own holy body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith. You want to know if God really cares for you—really loves you? Then look no further than the cross. For there the innocent Lamb of God was struck down for your sin and mine.
Think back on Christ’s crucifixion, dear friends. Remember what happened after Jesus gave up His Spirit and died? As St. John records it for us (19:34), “one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” So you can plainly see, how it IS possible to get both blood and water from a stone—as long as that stone is Christ the Rock of our salvation. The blood and water that poured forth from His side flows to His Holy bride, the church, in the Sacraments to sustain her and give her life as she travels the wilderness of sin in this life.
St. Ambrose reminds us that as water flowed through the rock at God’s command to Moses, so also for you blood and water flowed from Christ. The water that the Israelites drank in the desert satisfied only for a time, but the water of Holy Baptism and the Blood of Jesus in the Supper that flowed from His pierced side at Calvary’s cross, satisfies for all eternity. For it is in His Word and Sacrament that the Gospel comes to you, dear friends, to forgive, lift up and restore your parched and dry, dead souls. With the water of Baptism He brings a renewing flood of His grace and mercy that forgives every sin—removes all guilt—and breaks through the hardness of your own unbelieving heart—to create and sustain a living faith for all eternity in Jesus your Lord and Saviour.
What is more, the body and blood of His Supper refreshes you in your own journey in the wilderness of sin—that the temptations of the devil, the world, and your own evil flesh—may not consume you and send you to the eternal fires of hell. In this Sacrament Jesus very plainly shows you that He is with you—not in wrath and punishment as you deserve because of your doubt and rebellion—but rather in mercy and grace—clean, cool, and refreshing righteousness.
Drink deeply from the well of His salvation, given to you this day and every Lord’s Day. For the Lord Jesus Christ Himself comes to you each week in this place to serve you with His own divine goodness and mercy. In the Words of the Absolution that I proclaim—hear Christ speaking to you—declaring you free from all guilt of sin and death. In the Invocation—be reminded of your Baptism—that it is for your ultimate good that Christ came and washed you clean—anointing you with His own Holy Spirit and putting His mark forever upon you and writing your name into His book of life. In the Supper you eat this day—rejoice in the full forgiveness of sins that Christ earned on the cross with His bloody death, and which He now gives to you under bread and wine His very own body and blood—that you may eat and drink and be restored to fullness of life everlasting.
When tempted to doubt God’s gracious will for you—when wrestling with sin and guilt—when fearful of death and dying—remember that the rock hardness of the Law and of sin and death have all been broken asunder by the power of Jesus’ cross from which we receive forgiveness, healing, and life everlasting—in His Word and Sacraments. These are His visible signs of His testimony of love for you—signed and sealed in His blood shed on the cross—and delivered to you through water, bread, and wine along with His Word of promise and hope. And there is absolutely no doubt about it. For you can indeed get blood from a stone—the Rock of our Salvation. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.