Why is Jesus Called the Rock?

by Jan Shrader

One night after I had gone to bed early, the phone rang, and when my son picked up he heard a woman weeping on the other end.  She was crying so hard she could not find her voice, but fortunately my son gently said the right thing.


“You want to talk to my mom, don’t you?”


She muttered a feeble, “Yes.” 


And, then my son woke me up to talk and pray with my sweet friend.


Who do you call in the middle of the night when you need prayer?  Do you have someone you can call who is willing to lose sleep and comfort you, someone who feels like a rock of stability in the middle of your challenging circumstances? 


That night I was the one she called, but many times I reach out in tears seeking a solid rock friend to pray and encourage me, because sorrow is unexplainably common. 


One of the most precious pictures of Jesus foreshadowed in the Old Testament is the Rock. Paul believed Israel’s history pointed toward Christ.  Look at 2 Cor. 10:1-4.


I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.  For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them and the Rock was Christ.                                                      


In Matthew 21:42-44 Jesus knew he was the Rock when he quotes Psalm 118:22.


            Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:


“ ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes’?


Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.  And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”  


Jesus is the stone the builders rejected.  Through Jesus’ one-time sacrifice, God was going to reconcile the world to himself. 


In our next Rock passages God takes a contentious struggle between Moses and the Israelites to reveal the power of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  Look at Exodus 17:2-7.


Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”  And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me?  Why do you test the Lord? But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”  So Moses cried to the Lord?  “What shall I do with this people?  They are almost ready to stone me.”  And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.  Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb and you shall strike the rock and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.”  And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.                            


Dehydration is a serious problem for people who try hiking in the desert.  If you have never felt the pounding headaches, the vertigo or muscle cramps of dehydration, you might not fully understand what these people experienced and why they felt justified in their grumbling.  Mercifully, God did understand and even though they complained, God provided water when Moses struck the rock.


Unfortunately, this was not going to be the last time they ran out of water on their desert trek.  In Numbers 20:2-12 we have our second story of dehydration.


Now there was no water for the congregation.  And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron.  And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord!  Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness that we should die here, both we and our cattle?  And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place?  It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates and there is no water to drink.  Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces.  And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water.  So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.”  And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him. 


Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?”  And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank and their livestock.  And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”     


God wanted the Rock portrait to illustrate the wonder-working power of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice.  Compare these two Old Testament stories with Jesus’ sacrifice.  In the Exodus passage while Moses was alone with the elders, he was told to strike the rock and water would gush forth.  He was not to strike the rock in front of the entire congregation. Because the Sanhedrin, the Jewish elders, feared Jesus’ popularity, they arrested him in the middle of the night.  In a secret trial, away from the eyes of the congregation they beat him and condemned Jesus to die.    


In the Numbers passage Moses was supposed to speak to the Rock in front of the entire congregation and water would flow.  By speaking instead of striking the Rock this second event in Israel’s history was to prophetically point to the power of Jesus’ one-time sacrifice.  Now, in prayer we need only to speak to the Rock of our salvation.  God answers us based on Jesus’ once-for-all crucifixion.         


Moses was forbidden from entering the Promised Land when he willfully destroyed the picture of grace God wanted embedded in the Exodus.  Without understanding that God wanted to foreshadow Christ’s one-time sacrifice in Israel’s history, these two desert stories are difficult to interpret.  Blinded by leadership fatigue Moses felt he had a right to preempt God’s intentions.  With this Rock metaphor, we learn the value God places on his eternal plan of salvation. 


Hebrews 9:24-26, 28 also reminds us that Jesus’ sacrifice was a one-time sacrifice.


For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of
God on our behalf.  Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world.  But as it is he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 


… so Christ having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.               


Imagine the privilege God was bestowing on Moses.  God gave Moses the high calling of foreshadowing the supremacy of Jesus’ sacrifice before the entire congregation.  Unfortunately, Moses was viewing the Israelites as rebels instead of God’s children.  Close to the Promised Land, after years of faithfulness, Moses stubbornly sinned.


What is God asking of you that seems like a trial instead of an opportunity?


Sometimes leadership is exhausting.  As a pastor’s daughter and pastor’s wife, leadership fatigue is a common temptation. 


There is one place of leadership I have struggled to navigate.  Often times, drained and weary, I have felt like I simply cannot hear one more sad story.  This attitude while understandable is unsafe in a leader.  This was Moses’ sin.  When I am angry, frustrated with my calling, and not surrendering to God’s agenda, like Moses I am putting in jeopardy my move to the Promised Land.


Church members, friends, and family all come clothed in suffering.  Sorrow is unexplainably common.  So, what could I do with my chronic lack of mercy? 


I could pray the minute someone told me of a need.  I’ve learned the sooner I pray the easier it is for me to keep listening.  Sometimes I text a prayer, or immediately ask the person if we can pray.  When I surrender those who suffer to God, he hears.  I’ve finally learned listening to sad stories is an opportunity to see God move, not a trial to be delivered from.    


What are you being blinded by?  What trial is eclipsing the wonder-working power of the cross in your life?


Jesus’ sacrifice happened once.  This is the solid rock on which we stand in prayer.  We don’t come in our own righteousness and try to negotiate with the Almighty.  When God commanded Moses to speak to the rock it was to show how we come to God in prayer, through the power of Jesus’ blood sacrifice.  Our prayers find merit because we belong to Jesus and his merit has been imparted to us.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version. 


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