"Rescue, Test, Rest"#87-36
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on May 3, 2020
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Exodus 16
"I feel like I'm missing something," Jonathan told me. "I have a good job. I make decent money. I have a lot of nice stuff, but sometimes it feels like there's something missing." Jonathan lived in my neighborhood. He and I had had a few conversations before this one, mostly chit-chat, but this conversation took a deeper turn and before we knew it we were talking about the meaning of life. What's life all about? What's it for?
Sixty-five years ago, a marketing consultant named Victor Lebow wrote an article titled, "Price Competition in 1955." Lebow reasoned in this article that if the economy, the mid-century post-war economy were to continue growing at that pace, then consumer demand would have to grow to keep up with the pace. Lebow wrote the following. "Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life."
Author Annie Leonard called this the story of stuff. It's the work-watch-spend cycle. It's when you go to work and then you come home and watch advertisements on a screen that tell you that you don't have enough stuff or that the stuff you have is too small or too slow or so last year. So you spend some more to buy more stuff, and then you have to work some more to pay for the stuff that you bought, and then you go home to watch more ads telling you that it's not enough. So you spend more and you have to work more so you can watch more. And that's how the story goes. Work, watch, spend. Work, watch, spend. Work, watch, spend. That's the story of stuff. Are you sick of living in this story of stuff?
On this program we have been seeing what it's like to live in a different story. The story of the Bible. The Bible is the most influential book of all time. It's really a collection of books written over about 1,500 years, and if you take it all together, Old and New Testaments, it is a unified story that leads to Jesus: Jesus from Nazareth who claimed to be the Jewish Messiah. Now you might not believe Him, but I do. I do, and this might sound crazy to you, but I believe that after He was crucified, God raised Him from the dead, and He is alive now and He rules over the universe, and He is coming back to raise the dead, to be the Judge of all people, and to make everything new. And I've become a part of His family, a part of His family of followers. It's a multi-lingual, multi-national, multi-generational family, scattered all across the world, and being a part of this family has transformed my life.
There was a time when I didn't want anything to do with God. I didn't want anything to do with Jesus, and I was angry and I was empty. But these people, they kept talking to me about Jesus, and I can close my eyes and I can see their faces. I can see Brian and Jeremy and Mike and Jamie, and they're talking to me about Jesus. And I can see them, and there's something different about their lives and they live in this different story. And I wanted to be a part of that story, and I still struggle with things. But I know that it's different. It's different because Jesus is with me and I am in His story. I'm a part of His story, and I know that He's leading me. And I know if you'll let Him, He'll do the same thing for you. So why don't you just rest a moment and listen to a Bible story with me.
It's from the book of Exodus, chapter 16. It's when the Lord—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of Jesus—it's when the Lord worked with Moses to bring His people, the children of Israel, out of slavery in Egypt. He's just split open the Red Sea, washed away Pharaoh's army, and now Moses and his brother Aaron—they're leading the children of Israel into the wilderness, and that's where the story starts when the children of Israel, the whole community, set out and entered the wilderness.
They entered the wilderness on the 15th day of the second month, about 45 days after they had come out of Egypt. And the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. They said, "If only we had been killed by the Lord's hand in Egypt—in Egypt where we sat around pots of meat and ate all the bread that we wanted because you, you brought us out into this wilderness to starve this whole community to death."
And the Lord said to Moses, "Look, I will rain down bread from heaven for you. And everyone is to go out and gather enough for their daily bread each day. And in this way I will test them. I will test them whether they will walk in My instruction or not. And it will happen on the sixth day, when they prepared what they have gathered, it will be twice as much as what they gathered on the other days." So Moses and Aaron said to the whole community of Israel: "In the evening, you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt. And in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord because He has heard your grumbling against Him. Who are we that you grumble against us? Why are you not grumbling against us? You are grumbling against the Lord."
And Moses said to Aaron, "Have the whole community of Israel come together before the Lord because he has heard their grumbling." And it happened as Aaron was speaking to the whole community of Israel. Look, the glory of the Lord appearing in a cloud. The Lord had said to Moses, "I've heard the grumbling of the children of Israel. Tell them in the evening you will eat meat and in the morning you will be filled with bread. And then you will know that I am who I am: the Lord." And it happened. In the evening, quail came up and covered the camp. And in the morning there was a layer of mist around the camp and when the mist had gone up, look on the face of the wilderness, thin flakes like frost on the ground. And the sons of Israel saw and each man said to his brother, "What is it?" And Moses said to them, "It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. This is the Word that the Lord commanded. 'Gather it, each of you, as much as you can eat, a measure for each person in your tent.'"
And they did so. Some gathered much and others only a little. And when they portioned it out by the measure, the ones who had gathered much did not have too much. And the ones who had gathered a little, did not have too little. Each had as much as he could eat. And Moses said to them, "None of you is to keep any of it until the morning." But they didn't listen to Moses, some of them. Some of them kept it until the morning, and in the morning it was full of maggots, and it stank. And Moses was angry with them.
Now morning by morning, everyone gathered what they could eat, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. And it happened on the sixth day, the bread that they gathered doubled, two measures for every person. And the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. And Moses said to them, "This is what the Lord said. 'Tomorrow is to be a Sabbath rest, a Holy Sabbath rest to the Lord. So bake what you bake and boil what you boil and whatever you have left over, let it rest for you until the morning.'" So the people let it rest as Moses commanded. And in the morning it didn't stink. It didn't have maggots in it. And Moses said to them, "Eat it today because today is a Sabbath rest to the Lord. There will not be any of it in the field today. Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath day, there will not be any."
But it happened that some of the people on the seventh day went out to gather, but they couldn't find any. And the Lord said to Moses, "How long will you all refuse to keep My commandments and My instructions?" See, the Lord has given you the Sabbath rest. That is why He gives you bread for two days. On the sixth day, everyone is to stay where they are. Don't go out on the seventh day." And so the people rested on the seventh day.
The house of Israel called the bread, manna, which means, "What is it?" It was white like coriander seed, and it tasted like wafers made with honey. And Moses said, "This is what the Lord commanded. 'Take a measure of manna and keep it for the generations to come so that they may see the bread that I gave you to eat in the wilderness when I brought you out of Egypt.'" And the children of Israel, they ate manna for 40 years, for 40 years until they came into a land that was settled. This is the Word of the Lord. Exodus 16.
So what if instead of living in the story of stuff: work, watch, spend. What if instead you lived in the story of the Bible? See, the rhythm of life in the Bible is not work, watch, spend. It's rescue, test, and rest—rescue, test, and rest. That's the rhythm of life in God's story. Now, if any of those three are going to give you trouble, it's probably the middle one, right? What's this about a test? Why does God test His people? Well, it's not so He can figure something out about you that He didn't already know. It's not that kind of test. It's not like the standardized tests you took in school where your teacher figured out if you were tracking, or a medical test where everybody's waiting for the results, or a drug test to see if you're on something. That's not the kind of test it is.
God doesn't have to figure out something about you that He doesn't already know. He doesn't have to figure out if He loves you, or if He's committed to you, or if you're worth it because you are. He's already figured that out. He already knows that. That's why He sent Jesus. That's why Jesus gave His life for you. God's not testing you to figure something out about you He didn't already know. He's testing you so that you can figure out something about Him that you didn't know, so that you can figure out that you can trust Him. You can rely on Him.
This is what our brother Paul said. Remember in the letter to the Philippians, he said, "I've learned the secret. I know how to be content," Paul wrote. "In every circumstance, I know what it's like to be well fed, and I know what it's like to be hungry. I know what it's like to have a lot, and I know what it's like to have a little. I know what it's like to be popular, and I know what it's like to be hated, and I've learned the secret to being content in every circumstance. I can do all things" Paul said, "through Jesus the Messiah who gives me strength." And Paul learned that because he was tested many times, and so God tests you.
Here's how God's going to test you. God will deprive you of something that you think you need, or God will give you something you think you can't handle. Maybe He'll deprive you of physical health or security or prosperity. Maybe He'll give you a burden that feels unbearable. Maybe it's a circumstance that looks impossible. Maybe it's a person who seems unlovable. And why does He test us like this? Why does He lead you into that wilderness—so that He can lead you to rest, so that you can know by personal experience that you don't need anything else to be content. You only need Him so that you can know that His strength is sufficient so that you can know Him.
God will test you, and along the way He will give you rest. It's not all test. He also gives you rest, the Sabbath. For Israel wasn't just about sitting in front of the screen and watching advertisements to tell you that you need more stuff. The Sabbath was rest in the Lord—rest to remember and celebrate what the Lord had done. And in the Sabbath, just like all the other threads of the Bible story, the Sabbath comes together in the story of Jesus. In Jesus you have Sabbath rest. You can rest in Jesus because your security isn't set in your circumstances. You can rest in Jesus because your value doesn't depend on what you can do. You can rest in Jesus because your future isn't determined by how well you can control the present. You can rest in Him now because the test is only for a season. It won't last forever. It will pass. Jesus will come. He will come again and He will raise you up from that last great test. He will raise you from death. And He will bring you and me and all His family into the promised land of the new creation. And until then, this is what you should expect: rescue, test, and rest. Rescue, test, and rest. Rescue, test, and rest. That's the rhythm of life in God's story.
I asked Jonathan where he finds meaning in life—Jonathan, the guy who lives in my neighborhood. He said he didn't know. So he asked me, "What about you? Where do you find meaning in life?" I told him that for me, meaning comes from relationships, relationships with my family and my friends, but ultimately my relationship with God.
And I told Jonathan about how I'd been reading the book of Exodus and how I love the book of Exodus because it shows the lengths that God will go for His people. And that's when Jonathan told me that he was Jewish. He said, "Well, not practicing, but I remember learning about the Bible when I was a kid, and I was taught that the Bible was a love story, love story of God and His people. And I don't know much about the New Testament," he said, "but that's what I remember about the Old Testament: that it was a love story."
And I told him the New Testament is the same. And then the conversation went somewhere else, and we didn't talk anymore about the Bible, but I wished I would have said a little bit more. I wish I would have told him that the New Testament is the completion of that love story and it leads to Jesus. Jesus has come to give His people rest. He's come to give you rest. If you're willing, I invite you to pray with me.
Jesus by Your blood shed on the cross, You've rescued us from slavery to sin and death and the power of evil. And now You're preparing a place for us in the promised land of the new creation. As we look for You to return to make all things new, You lead us through the wilderness and You test us. So also give us rest along the way because You live and You reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever.
Reflections for May 3, 2020
Title: Rescue. Test. Rest
Mark Eischer: Bringing you the assurance of God's presence and the power of God's Word during these days of uncertainty, you're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For free online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and much more, visit our website lutheranhour.org. Now, back to our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you, Mark. For the last 19 years, Rev. Dr. Dien Ashley Taylor has served Jesus as pastor of Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Bronx, New York City. Just five months after starting at Redeemer in 2001, Pastor Taylor found himself leading the people of his church through the aftermath following the horrific events of September 11th. And through that refining fire, the people of Redeemer leaned into their newly adopted parish motto, "God's people pray." Thank you for visiting with me today, Pastor Taylor.
Dien Taylor: Thank you for having me.
Mike Zeigler: Pastor Taylor, your congregation is in the epicenter of the outbreak of the coronavirus in the United States. You were their shepherd during the tragedy of 9/11. How has this been similar to or different from that time?
Dien Taylor: On that day, I vividly remember being with hundreds, if not thousands of people in various contexts. We began to realize the enormity of things as the smoke began to continue to billow from downtown, and as we received support from people all over the country and all over the world, it was a different moment though for us with respect to how that unfolded and how the novel coronavirus has spread among us.
One of the greatest differences between these two events were that's on the 12th of September, God's people gathered together at Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church to pray. It was a Wednesday night, and it began a Wednesday night worship service that continues even to this day. People gathered together to hear God's Holy Word, to confess their sins, and then to receive the Lord's precious body and blood. They were given that strength and that encouragement by being able to be together.
The novel coronavirus effect in New York city is quite different. We've been told that we are not allowed to be together. It's a very different kind of tragedy in that sense. An invisible foe in a virus and an ending that does not seem quite as clear. At this moment, we're separated physically from each other.
Mike Zeigler: Pastor Taylor, as I've learned a little bit about your congregation, I saw that you had adopted this motto, "God's People Pray," during a vacation Bible school the summer before September 11th, and that is still your motto today 19 years later. How is that motto, "God's people pray," continued to guide Redeemer and the surrounding community through this time, even though it is so different?
Dien Taylor: "God's People Pray" was a way to be able to help us see how the church is different from other entities. You don't ask supermarkets to pray. You don't ask other agencies to pray, but you always ask the church to be about the work of prayer in the world. So, as we are the church, the body of Christ together, the Lord has called us to be people of prayer.
Considering the things that have happened with the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, then as God's people pray, we certainly would love to be able to get together in our church building. But, we also know that when that is not permissible, when that may not be allowed in the same manner and way that we had grown so accustomed to celebrating, that we still celebrate with each other, and we still pray with each other, even at a distance. Even isolated, even in solitude, and even in our own solitary homes, we know that when we pray we do not pray alone for there is a great High Priest who prays for us: Jesus the Christ. And there the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groans that are too deep even for our words. But by the power and grace of that same, sovereign, merciful, and loving God, we are able to approach the throne of grace with confidence, seeking mercy, and finding grace to help us in our time of need.
In the book of Romans, it says, "Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." That means that social distancing cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. And that means that government regulations and research done by scientists all for the well-being of our world and for the health of all people cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. And as we are in Christ Jesus our Lord, not separated from His love, then nothing can separate us from each other. We are bound together, confessing our faith boldly, knowing that others throughout time have done so.
People throughout the ages have faced great tragedies, attacks of terror from without and from within—plagues, pestilence, and illness. But the church has continued all the while confessing a theology of the cross, understanding that God has a great deal to show us. God is showing us how His power is made perfect even in our weakness. He has a great deal to show His holy church, and He's been showing that mercy to us in abundant ways.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you so much for this time, Pastor Taylor. God bless you and the people whom He has called you to serve.
Dien Taylor: Thank you, Pastor Zeigler, and thank you to all of you for all of your love, your help, your support, and thank you for your prayers.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"The King of Love My Shepherd Is" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)