The hymn writer, Augustus Toplady, best-known for “Rock of Ages,” grew up in a religious English family. Contrary to his upbringing, he later left the Church as a young man. The Lord, however, guides in mysterious ways, using his brother, who decided to visit friends in Ireland. So, Augustus went along. At a religious gathering, the Gospel came to him anew, bringing him back to the Christian faith.
Not yet middle-aged, Augustus died at 38, writing “Rock of Ages” three years earlier, in 1775. The first stanza of his hymn, which begins, “Rock of Ages, cleft for me,” connects to our Old-Testament reading for today. “Cleft” means to separate or split open, something is stabbed or cut open for me.
Freed from Egypt, the Israelites travel toward the Promised Land. Not long after they begin, thirsty and without water, their journey slows to a halt. To die of dehydration is a long and painful death with delirium and hallucinations.
Such a future awaits the Israelites, for they discover themselves on uncharted, burning sands with nothing to wet the tongue or cool the lips. Hot and aching, meandering under the sweltering sun, without a drop of water. The more they picture refreshing, moving rivers, the more the blaze of anger burns inside them.
Desperate, they react in an all-too-predictable way. Panic and resentment take hold, not faith. Murmurs swell, rising into a rebellion. “Why did you bring us up from Egypt to kill us, our children, and our livestock with thirst?” (Exodus 17:3). Beyond complaint, they gather stones to hurl at Moses, to murder the mouthpiece of God.
So, the Almighty tells his prophet to take his staff and strike a particular outcropping. A crack develops, and water begins to pour out for the people. The boulder, which he hits, releases a stream to satisfy the physical needs of those weary travelers.
Later, centuries later, another rock is struck to supply the water of life for thirsting souls. The Apostle Paul reveals the Rock is Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4), pierced for you and me.
So, when did others strike Jesus like Moses struck the sizable stone, and when did the water outpour from Him? The scriptures tell us. At His crucifixion, Roman soldiers “came to Jesus and found out he died earlier, so they didn’t break his legs. One of the soldiers, however, punctured his side with a spear. At once, blood and water gushed out” (John 19:34).
The prophet Moses cuts the rock in front of the people, Jesus allows others to slice Him on the stony slope of death. The Rock, Jesus, is punctured to provide for all people, to release salvation’s waters, on a dark Friday long ago.
Each of us is twisting headlong toward eternal ruin because we inherited the seed of destruction. So, our Savior presses on, trudging to the wood of the cross. Still, He goes to endure mockery and curses, not because of His corrupted words, but because of ours. Not because of His sinful deeds, but ours, do others whip and scourge Him. The executioners pierce Him, and water pours out, which will wash our sins away.
The hymn writer, Toplady, links the rock and Christ’s spear-pierced side with such insight. “Let the water and the blood, from Thy riven side which flowed, be of sin the double cure: cleanse me from its guilt and power” (LSB 761, stanza 1).
So, where do we find the water and blood, the double cure for sin, from Christ’s wounded side? The scriptures speak of blood and water pouring from our Savior’s side. Why? To show us He died—but also more. The gush of water and blood point forward to how the salvation of the cross will come to us, here today.
Those blessings flow to us in the moving stream of Baptism and come to us in Jesus’ blood of the Supper. From His side pours out the purifying cleansing from above, bringing us the treasures of eternity. The “washing of water by the Word” cleanses us, removing every stain, spot, and wrinkle (Ephesians 5:26). The Holy Spirit bring us life, giving us a birth from above through such a heavenly washing (John 3:5).
Once someone is born, doesn’t he need to eat and drink to stay alive? Yes! Water and Word come together and breathe spiritual life into us where only death one reigned. Do not miss how Jesus calls baptism a birth from above, from heaven.
Not finished, the Crucified also prepares a meal for our spiritual strength. From the cross gushes His blood, which nourishes us as we journey to the Promised Land of glory. The Supper feeds us and, through Jesus and what He supplies, we live the life He gives us to live.
Also hiding in this hymn is something else for us to discover: “let me hide myself in Thee.” Those words point us to our sanctuary in the storms of life. The Psalms also tell us as much, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in distress. So we do not fear when the earth trembles and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas” (Psalm 46:1-2).
The Lord shelters us in this wayward and sin-corrupted world, like a cave in a mountain protecting us when the biting winds come our way. In Jesus, we locate our sanctuary during the mayhem and disasters of life. Like a bird, we can fly and hide in the crevice, finding shelter in our Savior’s side (Song of Songs 2:14). Yes, in the wounds of Christ, we receive our refuge, for what He provides completes us and makes us whole.
Let’s return to Israel’s wanderings. Oh, how easy for us to misjudge their plight without water on the burning sand. For what we may endure on a hot day with a swooning head cannot compare. A day of traveling in scorched, desert heat parches the mouth and tongue. Every part of the body cries out and burns for refreshment—fresh, cool water. Ready to fight for a single drop, they clamor for whatever what they can find.
All around, people yearn for what they lack. The behaviors we display to fill the hole in our heart unmasks the longing inside us. Why do you suppose every human society includes some substance to make people happy? View what takes place, and you will unearth alcohol or drugs in every culture, whether open or hidden.
The fallen nature in us leaves us with a void, which we search to fill. Too often, we assume, “If I buy something or another, all will be well”—but you are still left unfulfilled. Now, if your hands take hold everything you want, the euphoria is still short-lived. Soon, discontentment will worm its way back into your being.
Separated from our Creator because of sin, an inner longing, a hunger for something, remains unmet. Worse, we discover ourselves trapped in the devil’s dungeon, bereft and without hope. For, on our own, we will never find God; no, He must come to us.
Only resting in the Lord quenches our deepest cravings. Didn’t God create us for Himself? Yes! So our hearts are restless until they rest in Him (Augustine, Confessions, 1:1). Like another Psalm reveals, “As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1).
The One pierced for us, Jesus, flows to us, and for us. Through Him, our Father drenches the barren reaches of our dried-out souls. What Moses struck in the wilderness released water to satisfy Israel’s physical needs. Pierced for us, Christ, the Rock of Ages, pours out the waters of heavenly birth.
“Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink” (John 7:37). The world’s Savior proclaims who He is and what He does—He is the water of life. In Him, we can drink and not go dry, for He satisfies our longings, bringing eternal peace and contentment.
So, how do we receive what Christ provides? Consider this: A man comes to a water fountain, but he can’t figure out how to access the water. A sign nearby reads, “Stoop and drink.” Back and forth His eyes survey, but he becomes bewildered. For he finds no button to push or a handle to turn. Downcast, he walks away, grumbling.
The sign reveals how to find relief, which he thinks absurd. So, he doesn’t believe. To drink, he needs a change of thinking—he needs to repent. In the fountain, an electric eye controls the faucet. Now, if the man trusts the sign, he will bend down and drink, for the electric eye will release the water.
In repentance, we also need to lower ourselves to receive the Savior. For our best deeds and holiness cannot raise us to heaven. The devil, death, and sin—our enslavers—are too formidable for us to overcome. Eternal life only flows from Jesus, from His spear-punctured side. The One who alone can quench our fevered thirst, Jesus, comes to us in His Sacraments.
Through His means of grace, He drenches our waterless souls from His wounded side. Streams of living water flow from Him to us, to within us, and from us, because He is the source (John 7:37-38). The water of life from Jesus fills us, and we become wells of living water ourselves, drawing others to His life-granting waters.
Does Jesus not also come to quench the longing and thirst within them? Yes! So, He does more than supply our salvation—He also gives us purpose and meaning, to be the face of Jesus to others in our lives.
Today, in humility and faith, stoop down at the wounded side of the Savior cleft for you. Once, the water of life poured over you in Baptism, and the Holy Spirit caused you to be born from above. Now, drink in the salvation, which flows from our Savior’s side in His Sacred Meal, for Jesus will not leave you wanting. No, He continues to strengthen, nourish, and feed you as you make you way through the wilderness of this world. Amen.