Sometimes I wonder how I can see anything through to its end because of wavering attitude or tiredness or lack of understanding! That word, “fickle” seems to fit me at times. How about you? It seems that when any kind of even mild “testing time” comes along, I find it hard to hang in there and “stay the course” as they say. Certainly, when it comes to following Jesus that word “fickle” comes to mind….
The fickle human heart is on full display this morning as we encounter this first moment of real testing of the faith in the Lord of this new community on their new journey.
• We left the Israelites in a joyful moment of victory on the shores of the Sea of Reeds as they sung the song Miriam and Moses wrote for the occasion, as they saw the bodies of the once mighty Egyptian military floating in the shallows after the Lord had comprehensively won the battle on their behalf.
• They had to put fear away, stand at the ready attentive to the Lord’s work in their midst and simply be still and know that he is the LORD and he wins the victory for them. At the end of it they all “feared the Lord and trusted Moses his servant”(14:31)
• After the celebrations of song and tambourine, it is off into the desert on this epic journey that will shape a nation into their vocation – to be a people through which God blesses all nations.
• They head east and travel through the North Western part of the Sinai Peninsular (Desert of Shur)
It is not long before the first of many food and water problems present themselves before this massive travelling community. Food and water are basic to life. When you are in a situation of not having enough water especially, things get rather desperate. I think of those early inland explorers here in Australia and their stories of desperation in the search for water – like Burke and Wills, Edward John Eyre…..
Well, God’s people are now in testing times!
But there is a point to the testing times as far as the Lord is concerned – the point of the testing is trust – trust in the Lord.
This journeying community of faith will be tested on this one issue over and over again. Moses makes the point of this hard testing clear in verse 26:
“If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep his decrees, I will not bring any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, because I am the LORD who heals you”.
We hear of one “water problem” just before our text and then we get to other problem of food in our text this morning. How will this community on the move be shaped by God to fulfil their role in the world survive the testing times they face? This is an obvious question for any person on the journey of faith in God. How will I continue on in faith in God? We are about to find out that God will feed the people.
The LORD responds to the complaint not with harsh judgement but free gift – the gift of bread and meat for his people in the desert.
But there is something more going on here. There is that continuing shaping and testing of the people by the LORD. He gives his gifts for a purpose. He gives his gifts out of commitment to his people and love for them, but also to shape them so that they fulfil their calling as his holy people of healing and blessing in his world.
But, as we can see here ourselves, and know in our own experience, we are so very fickle when it comes to relationship in general – maybe especially so in our relationship with the Lord.
Like the people of old, we cry out for sustenance, support, learning and help from people and God, and at the same time doubt whether God and people can and will respond to us.
We so quickly forget what has already been done for us and reject the very hands that feed us by attempting trying to control our life, our present and future without the very help and inspiration we sought from others and/or God.
We reject the Lord’s manna from heaven – Jesus Christ, and his living word in a number of ways –
We don’t bother to seek it. We misuse the bread of heaven as we try to force God’s word through a number of our “filters” like science, historical accuracy, self-help thinking, and whatever else is in the wind in our time, thereby making things far too complex and missing God’s voice in our “modern sophistication”.
We reject the Manna from heaven by gathering our own manna to sustain us – a more comfortable spirituality, a more individual faith journey without much reference to the Body of Christ – the church – with all its warts.
Of course the easy one is just accumulating more things or better things – relying on other “manna” we think will do the trick – now.
The list of our ways of doubting God and his promise to sustain us even in the desert of fear and evil and death goes on.
When will the complaint and doubt end? When will be able to trust the Lord and take him at his Word, even whether we fully understand it or not? When will we contentedly place our trust in God’s grace and power, take him at his word and commit our lives into his hands, even when we cannot understand what is happening to us, but keep moving in simple trust of our heavenly Father anyway?
Enter Jesus – the “Bread of Heaven”, who opens up the possibility and the way to an intimate trust of the Lord – not as a distant unfeeling, unthinking, unloving master, but a kind and loving Father who seeks us out, bears our weaknesses and forgives our rejection of his presence and concern for our life.
As Israel wandered in the harsh desert for 40 years, so Jesus entered the desert experience for 40 days where he was also put the harshest test by the Devil himself. The test was whether or not he would trust his Father and fulfil the promised plan to defeat sin and death once and for all. Jesus did, so we do (Matthew 3:15).
Jesus even cited those same words of Deuteronomy 8:3, “Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from God’s mouth”. So, he reiterating that we cannot truly live this life or our God-given calling by mere food and drink and the possessions of this world, but only by hearing every word that God speaks in his Word. The Word of God sustains our life – not anything less.
Jesus is far more than merely an obedient Israel. He is also the new and greater Moses who has begun a new age and a new relationship between the Lord and his new people – now Israelites and non-Israelites. Moses gave the people the Law (Torah) of God and was a mediator between God and the people. Jesus gives the new LAW (Matthew 5-7 – the Sermon on the Mount) and also feeds the people in the wilderness (Matthew 14:13-21).
Jesus is the “true Manna”, the “Bread of Heaven” (John 6:48-51). Jesus is the food from heaven himself who gives his own flesh and blood for the life of the world.
A friend of mine died this week in tragic circumstances. He left good mates, a loving wife and two loving boys behind, as well as a significant number of young boys in this community who looked up to him as their coach.
He was not one to partake of the bread of heaven – not in recent times anyway. I wish he was. I wish he did. Only God knows a man’s heart and God is gracious. He is the final judge on life – not you or me.
As I spent time with other blokes and their wives who also are not those who partake of the Bread of Heaven it has occurred to me again in this sadness that God’s bread is the only stuff that counts in then end.
God’s bread – Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified saviour of humanity, is life. He offers his own body and blood for life and living here and now. His body and blood and his Word are more precious than gold and of better quality than food cooked in a million cooking shows.
If you have discovered the Bread of Life and by faith receive it with God’s people then thank the Lord because this is what makes your life eternal and therefore hopeful – especially in times of grief and sorrow, but also in the everyday things of living and learning.
If you know people who have not tasted the Bread of Life, then the Call is on you to attend to his Word, be still in his presence often, trust Jesus in the testing, tell the story, do the action, invite people in to the Life of God in Jesus Christ.
If you are not sure you have ever tasted the sweet, sweet manna from heaven of Jesus Christ and his love for you, then the door is open and the gifts on offer – freely by simple faith in his good will toward you. Simply receive him.
Bread of heaven, in the desert,
feed me now and evermore.
Feed me now and evermore.