October 29, 2013

Back to Basics

Last month was bizarre! The pope resigned. A meteorite struck Russia, injuring about 1,500 people. The world-famous South African “Blade Runner,” Oscar Pistorius, was arrested for murder. Things are looking pretty shaky. The world needs a rock on which to lean.

The human family has always been fascinated with rocks. In the book Patriarchs and Prophets Ellen White painted a poignant picture of the one Moses struck in the wilderness (Num. 20:8-11). Popular legends circulated among the rabbis of Paul’s day. They told elaborate, almost grotesque, stories about it; some suggesting that the rock was round, like a beehive, and rolled along the desert behind the people, stopping where they halted in their journey so that they never thirsted again. Some said the smitten rock was a divine act unique to their society and sufficient to assure salvation for their people.

Paul detected the development of a similar attitude regarding Christianity among the believers in Corinth and addressed it in his first letter to them. He made a daring challenge to such erroneous concepts and underscored the danger that closely resembled the errors of Israel.

He wrote, “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from a spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did” (1 Cor. 10:1-6).

Paul used the experience and privileges of ancient Israel to emphasize that they were all under a cloud of salvation. They followed their human leader with such dedication that Paul described them as those who were “baptized [immersed] into Moses” when they passed through the divided waters of the Red Sea. They also ate the same spiritual food, a kind of communion, or Lord’s Supper; and drank the refreshing water that flowed from the smitten rock to quench their thirst, water being a symbol of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).

But they failed to realize that the Rock was Christ. Not a likeness of Him, but Christ Himself. To Paul, that Rock was not simply something familiar and common, but something more intimate and tender: Christ our Righteousness. Yet many of those who witnessed the miracle of the smitten rock in the wilderness failed to see this. They fell by the wayside. They suffered the ultimate punishment for sin: not making it to the Promised Land.

The same can be true of us if we do not accept Christ as a person with whom we develop an intimate relationship that is driven by faith. When we lack the power of a vivid imagination, we too can doubt His promises and make the same mistake as ancient Israel. We can forget that it is Christ, and Christ alone, who girds us with mysterious strength to meet the challenges of life. It is Christ who supplies all our needs and inspires new hope every moment of every day. It is Christ who is ever-present, and from whom nothing can separate us (Rom. 8:37-39). He is our rock and our salvation.

God has given our generation a greater opportunity than was afforded the Israelites: Christ has been revealed in Jesus, the one who was smitten for us, and by whose stripes we are healed (Isa. 53:1-6). Christ lives in His believers. From His gracious lips come invitations beckoning us to know Him more intimately, trust Him more completely, and enter into the joy of His fellowship more consistently.

Those invitations dare us to count on Him, lean on His strength, and bask in the light of His truth. Then we too shall drink and keep on drinking of that spiritual rock. Unlike early Israel, we know that Rock is Jesus Christ, who offers salvation to all who believe (John 1:12).