The Well Watered Christian

37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water. ’” 39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39 NRSV)

Here is a wonderful promise of the Holy Spirit so infilling the Christian believer that “rivers of living water” flow and others are blessed as well. You get the impression that there will be “times of refreshing” to borrow a common phrase and that things can’t help but grow in the presence of Holy Spirit filled people. The believer will be a “breath of fresh air” to change metaphors. Of course we recognize that God is the source, we are merely the vessels. Yet when we are being honest there are some days we feel more like a drip than a river, more dry in our own spirituality that overflowing with the goodness of God. How do we get to that place of being so refreshed by the presence of the Holy Spirit, God’s presence overflows to refresh and bring life and growth to others?

Jesus tells us how: “Let anyone who is thirsty . . . ” It begins with thirst. But thirst for what? The timing of Jesus’ call to the thirsty helps us figure that out for thirst was an important theme of the festival happening that day. Actually it was seven or eight days, depending on whether you counted the eighth day when things were being wrapped up. This was the Feast of Tabernacles and over the course of seven days priests would go to the Pool of Siloam to fill pitchers with water which would then be brought up to the temple to be poured out around the altar. All this happened with prayers being made for rain and with certain “watery” scriptures floating in the background of people’s minds.

For example, the people would have been thinking of the time God provided the Israelites with water from a rock in the wilderness following the escape from Egypt.

But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:3-7 NRSV)

That miracle began with thirst. They also would have been reminded of Ezekiel’s prophecy to God’s people in exile about coming back to the Promised Land. The temple was to be rebuilt and there would be a life giving river flowing from it.

1 Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. 2 Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and the water was coming out on the south side. . . . Then he led me back along the bank of the river. 7 As I came back, I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on the one side and on the other. 8 He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. 9 Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes. (Ezekiel 47:1,2,6-9 NRSV)

The exiled people of God were thirsty for God’s forgiveness and restoration. By the time Jesus makes his call to the thirsty the people had returned from exile, at least some of them, and the Temple had been rebuilt. However, with the Romans in charge, it hardly felt like God’s promise had been realized. Surely this is not what the prophecy through Ezekiel was pointing to! Hence, there was still thirst for the presence of the Lord in a fuller way, and for the fulfillment of His promises. “Let anyone who is thirsty . . . “, thirsty for God’s presence and provision, thirsty for God’s glory. Rivers of living water will not flow from us if we are not thirsting after the presence of the Lord.

While it begins with thirst, it does not end there: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.” Here we have not just thirst, but a call to decision. God’s people had faced decisions before. Looking back to the example of God providing water from a rock in the wilderness, the people faced a decision. They could either go back to Egypt, or go forward with God trusting He will continue with the blessings of His presence and provision. They could cave into temptation, or crave the presence of God. When Jesus calls out to the thirsty at the temple, he is pointing to Himself as the rock through whom God’s presence and provision happens. He is calling people to decision, to trust in him.

The example from Ezekiel is similar. When Ezekiel prophesied the restoration of the nation and the rebuilding of the temple there would have been a temptation for the exiles to just blend into Babylonian society instead. Ezekiel’s prophecy about a rebuilt temple with a flowing life giving river came with a decision, either cave into the temptation to blend in, or crave the presence and provision of God, looking forward with trust to His keeping of the promise. When Jesus calls out to the thirsty at the Temple, he is pointing to Himself as the Temple, the source of the living waters, and those waters will not flow from a building, but from Himself and through the people of God. He is calling people to decision, to trust in him. We face that same decision.

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.”

Perhaps we do not feel like the promised vessels of God’s blessing and refreshing because we are not thirsty for God. Or perhaps we are thirsty, but we try to quench that thirst with gods we have created instead of the God Who is. There is so much temptation all around us to cave and blend in. We will never be vessels for God’s living waters if we drink deeply from our society and culture with a firehose while we sip at God’s presence with a straw. When we feel dry ourselves, when we feel our presence in the lives of others lacks any kind of spiritual refreshment, let us evaluate our thirst for God. Then let us evaluate the decisions we have made in quenching that thirst. Have we gone to Him? Do we drink deeply?

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.”

An Outcast Seeks God

16343726933_0c52484539_nHow would you feel if you made a very long journey to see the natural beauty of Niagara Falls, but when you arrived you were told “you must keep your distance.” There you are, close enough to see the mist rising from the falls, but instead of enjoying that wonderful natural beauty you are kept in the highly commercialized part of town. There is something similar happening to an Ethiopian eunuch we meet in Acts 8. He has a desire to worship the God of Israel, and takes a long trek to seek God’s presence at the temple in Jerusalem. But he can only get so close before he is barred from going further. He is a foreigner and a eunuch, a guarantee of always being considered as too unclean to enter the temple. And so he can only go as far as the busy and noisy outer courts of the temple, where people are buying and selling for the sacrifices. Perhaps you feel you have a similar problem, wanting to draw close to God, but not feeling good enough to do so?

When we meet the eunuch, he is already on his way home. He has gone as far as he was allowed to go in his pursuit of God’s presence. Now, on his way home, we find something remarkable. God is pursuing him.

Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” Acts 8:26-29 NRSV

Sometimes we fail to see God in the details. We might be ready to affirm that God desires to bring salvation to sinners, but we might fail to appreciate that God desires to work in the life of this or that particular sinner. We might even be that particular person we doubt God could be interested in. Yet God’s work in the life of one individual could not be clearer than we find in His pursuit of the Ethiopian eunuch. Let’s see what happens next:

30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” 34 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. Acts 8:30-35 NRSV

The good news Phillip has for the eunuch is that Jesus is the one described in that prophecy of Isaiah 53:7,8 and he is now risen from the dead. Jesus is the suffering servant. And you can imagine Phillip pointing out the surrounding verses in that same prophecy of Isaiah to tell why he suffered:

Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:4-6 NRSV

 

They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the LORD shall prosper. 11 Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:9-12 NRSV

Jesus suffered to bring salvation to the sinner. But did he suffer for an outcast like the Ethiopian eunuch? “Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.” I wonder if Phillip went on to the prophecy of Isaiah chapter 56:

3 Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and do not let the eunuch say,
“I am just a dry tree.”
4 For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
5 I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.
6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant—
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
8 Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.
Isaiah 56:3-8 NRSV

I wonder if Phillip told the eunuch about Jesus quoting from this passage in the outer courtyards of the temple as he rebuked those making profits there. This was to be a house of prayer for all nations, but how could the nations worship among all the buzz of commerce? Did the eunuch’s heart warm as he heard about Jesus’ concern for the outcast, for the foreigner and the eunuch who came to the temple to worship? Did it burn as he heard that Jesus was the servant who suffered even for an outcast like him? Did it rejoice to know that this Jesus was risen from the dead and that God was pursuing him, specifically sending Phillip to tell him the good news? Something did indeed happen in the eunuch’s heart:

36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. Acts 8:36-38 NRSV

As an Ethiopian and a eunuch, there was only so far this man could go in becoming a Jewish convert with full privileges. And yet here he was baptized, symbolizing his complete inclusion into the body of Christ. As an Ethiopian and a eunuch, there was only so far he could go in pursuing the presence of God at the temple before he would be stopped by the religious authorities. But here God pursued him. Now through the Holy Spirit he had become the place of God’s presence. The good news for the Ethiopian eunuch is good news for us. God loves and pursues the outcast. Are you pursuing Him?

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