Chapter 6: Drinking from the Rock

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Drinking from the Rock:

Abundance in a World of Shortage

The image of a Rock in scripture is not limited to Daniel’s rock cut out without hands, or to Jesus’ foundation, or even to the Psalmist’s assertion that “the LORD is my Rock.” The Old Testament contains another picture of a rock which was of benefit to the children of Israel. When on two separate occasions (Exodus 17:1-7; Numbers 20:1-13) the Israelites found themselves thirsting in the desert, and complaining that Moses had brought them out there to die of thirst; that they would have been better off in Egypt, etc., Moses provided them water out of a rock. The tradition that was current in New Testament times added to these accounts by maintaining that this rock actually followed them in their journey, providing them water just as the manna provided them food. In the New Testament, Paul draws on this tradition and interprets it, saying, They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ (I Corinthians 10:3-4).

Thus for Paul the rock that gave water in the desert typifies Christ, who also provides us sustenance when we run up against shortages in our own lives. In fact it is just such unlikely, miraculous provision in face of impossible circumstances which sets the stage for what Paul says later in the same chapter:

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (I Corinthians 10:11-13).

The specific occasion for temptation in the Old Testament passages Paul is looking at, was a situation of extreme, critical shortage. It led the people to idolatry, immorality, unbelief and a lot of complaining, even though in fact their needs were miraculously provided for. The closing verses of Matthew 6 address the issue of how and whether those who put the words of Christ into practice can expect their own critical needs to be met.

Matthew 6:19-21

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be where also.

The question naturally arises in response to this directive of Jesus, What kind of riches can you store up in heaven? The saying, “You can’t take it with you,” certainly applies in terms of all our worldly wealth. But what kind of treasure do we take with us, when we pass from this world and go on into heaven? What kind of riches can we store that will still be there in eternity? Let me suggest a few things.

If we are right in saying that the kingdom of God is the kingdom of right relationships, we should look to relational matters for the riches we are talking about. Such riches begin with the bonds of friendship. When you establish a relationship with another person, you forge a link between two souls which both bear the stamp of God’s image. That relationship is going to survive into eternity, because God says (I Corinthians 13:13) that there are three things that last, namely faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love. Any relationship that is based on love is a relationship that will survive. It is a treasure being stored up in heaven.

The treasure of heaven also includes the art of giving. Jesus says in Matthew 10:42 that if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones, he shall not lose his reward.

Heavenly treasure also belongs to those who share the gospel both by word and by way of life. The book of Hebrews calls us to

run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).

What joy did Jesus have set before him? What did Jesus not have, that he couldn’t get except by going through the Cross? It couldn’t have been the joy of heaven, because he came from heaven. It couldn’t have been the joy of knowing God and having fellowship with the Father, because as the eternal son of God, he had that before he ever came to earth, and enjoyed it throughout his earthly ministry. The thing that he endured the Cross in order to obtain was the joy of having fellowship with folks like you and me; the joy of seeing sinners redeemed; the joy of seeing persons added to the kingdom of heaven; the joy of bringing us salvation. That was the joy he couldn’t get except by drinking that bitter cup. And Hebrews says we are to look to him as pioneer of our faith. The race marked out for us is the race he has already run.

There is a question at issue in all of this concerning the nature of reality. Jesus evidently saw a very different reality from that which was seen by his contemporaries; in fact he describes his own miraculous works as merely being a matter of doing what he saw his Father doing.

Matthew 6:22-23

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

This shows what great importance there is in how we perceive things. We need to see these issues rightly, because if we see wrongly it’s like living in darkness; in fact, it amounts to not seeing at all. “If your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.” Sometimes it takes a complete change in perception to understand what he is saying. Hundreds of years earlier, Isaiah urged just such a change in perception (Isaiah 55:6-8):

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.

In this passage God calls for repentance based on God’s promise of mercy; there is no threat or warning expressed here, only the announcement of a great opportunity which the hearer would do well to take advantage of. The mention of mercy and pardon for the wicked and the evil person must have sounded strange, even unjust, in the ears of Isaiah’s audience, who longed for the day when their oppressors would suffer appropriately for their crimes. But while human thoughts turn to punishing the wrongdoer, God thinks of providing redemption and transformation. When the light that is in us is darkness, our thoughts are unlike those of the Lord, because we think of probation rather than promise; our ways depart from the ways of God, because we choose punishment rather than pardon. But the gospel calls us to see everything in the world from a love’s eye view. It brings a perspective which values the person more than the deed. This is what happens when, as Jesus says, our eye is good. The same writer who says God is love (I John 4:8) also says that God is light (I John 1:5). The light of God will show us that God calls the wicked to forsake wicked ways, not because of the threat of divine retribution, but because of the mercy and pardon arising from free and abundant love. The same writer who speaks of love and light explains himself this way:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (I John 4:18).

If we are blind to this love and mercy of God for all creatures, the way we see everything that goes on in the world will be affected, as will the basis for a sense of what is valuable. Jesus says in another place, “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3). Scripture teaches that this new birth comes about by faith, which opens our eyes to the truth and allows us to see the world and ourselves in the light of God’s unfailing love.

Matthew 6:24

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

The contrast between light and darkness here takes concrete form in the rivalry between two possible masters of our lives. One master is God, who opens up for us a realm of positive choices based on the freedom that comes from love. Those choices, made in the power of the Holy Spirit, will produce through us positive relationships, love, friendship, the ability to heal and reconcile, the ability to bring people into fellowship with one another and with God. That’s a whole realm of treasure; a realm of service on behalf of others which has direct consequences for our life. But the other realm, the other master, the other thing that would enslave us, take up all our time and all our energy, and all our focus of intention and purpose and will and desire and ambition, is money, or what elsewhere is called “unrighteous Mammon.” Jesus says flatly that we can’t serve them both.

The key here is that all the treasures which we can identify as heavenly treasures are personal in nature, while earthly treasure in the form of money is impersonal. One dollar is easily replaced by another, but there is no replacing a particular friend, or a particular act of kindness, or even a particular prayer. And ultimately, these treasures have names, and faces, and histories. For we are God’s workmanship [poihma], created in Christ to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

Freedom from Worry

Matthew 6:25-34

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

The relationships we build in the course of seeking “God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness” cement our relationship to God. Therefore he talks about the birds and the flowers and how those are provided for, in order to encourage us to worry less about our physical or financial needs and focus our attention on those things that really matter, namely things that pertain to the Kingdom of God: relationships, friendships, the needs and hurts we see in the world; those persons that we care for because they need someone to care for them. That is what he is talking about when he says, Seek first God’s Kingdom, and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

The nourishment necessary for our life will be found springing up within us. We will be freed from some of the ongoing cares and worries that otherwise take our attention at the expense of those things that would enable us to live as citizens of God’s Kingdom. By letting our lives be built on God’s promises and priorities, we will find ourselves building on a Rock, though not one cut out by human hands.

Proceed to Chapter Seven…

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