Picture, picture, picture. That was Rabbi George’s favourite phrase. He said it to us, everyday, during our tour of the Middle East.
Pyramid. Picture, Picture, Picture. Temple. Picture, picture, picture. A Shepherd with his flock. Picture, picture, picture.
Its not that George was inviting us to pull out our cameras all the time. What he was doing, rather, was inviting us to look. He wanted to give us eyes so that could see the concept behind the picture. To see through the picture, into the ways of God.
Its amazing just how many pictures God employs to communicate himself and his will.
For instance, in Isaiah we read: “A shoot will rise up out of the stump of Jesse. And from his roots a branch will bear fruit.” (Isaiah 11:1)
That’s a picture. Isaiah could have just said: Look people, God’s won’t forget the covenant he made with King David, Jesse’s son. Things look hopeless now, but you can count on God to raise up a new King. That’s the literal message. But the picture communicates better than literal message.
The same goes for what Isaiah says next about peace:
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them. (Isaiah 11:6)
Isaiah could have just say: And when that new King Comes, the result of his rule will be peace. That’s what is meant here. But instead of simply telling us, Isaiah paints a picture.
The bible is a long book. I’m sure that with a good editor, God could have distilled the message down to a few thousand words. But he didn’t. A he didn’t because he wanted to give us a lot of pictures. Pictures help us.
“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.”
Then I looked out over the valley, and behold, it was filled with dry bones. And then I heard a voice that said: Can these bones live?
Speak to the bones, the voice said.
I did. And the valley of dry bones came to life.
Picture, Picture, Picture.
One picture that shows up a lot in the scriptures is the image of living water.
Now, of course, living water isn’t just a picture in the scriptures, it was also a real and necessary substance. For the Israelite, living water was fresh water. It was water that moved in a river instead of sitting still in an old cistern. It was water that you could drink, and clean yourself in. Living water kept your animals alive and allowed your crops to grow.
So it was a real thing, just like fresh water is a real thing for us. But because of its importance, it also became a picture that God used to describe his ways in the world.
In Ezekiel 47, for instance, Ezekiel is given a vision of a river flowing out of the Temple. Its starts as a trickle. But eventually is grows so deep and wide that it cannot be crossed.
And all along the banks of the river, Ezekiel sees trees sprouting up. These trees are quite remarkable because they produce fruit every month, all year long. And the leaves on the trees produces a balm that brings healing.
What does this picture mean? It’s a picture of God’s Kingdom. And the life and abundance that flows out of the place where God resides.
Picture. Picture. Picture.
And let me tell you that this living water business was a big deal for the ancient Israelite.
Here in B.C. we have living water leaking into our basements. The rain drives us nearly insane for 6 straight months.
But in the middle east, every drop is precious.
This is so stark in Egypt. The nile flood plain is a lush, green place. Can you see the green in this picture. Palm trees. Hay that’s ready to harvest. Its a great place for growing food. But on the other side of the road, where the mountains are, that’s the beginning of the Sahara desert. The contrast is stark when you’re stand on the road. On the right side of the road you have life. On the left, you have death. Stay near the living water and you live. Venture away and you die.
And what did God do in the Exodus story? He took Israel away from the river, and into the wilderness. No wonder they complained about water.
“God brought us out here? Why did he do that? Moses!”
And so Moses, probably thinking the same thing, brought the people’s complaint to God. God told Moses to do something strange. He told Moses to speak to the rock. And he promised that as he spoke, water would come from the rock. But Moses is too angry to speak. And so he beats the rock instead with his staff. And water gushes out.
The Israelites roamed the wilderness of the Sinai for 40 years. They didn’t see a fresh water river or lake that entire time. They only drank what God provided them from the rock. And then, finally, they arrived at the Jordan River, just east of Jericho.
Can you imagine what that was like for them?
My recent tour spent 6 days in the wilderness of Sinai and Jordan. And let me tell you, when we arrived at the Jordan River, we were speechless.
Living water is life.
So its not wonder that the Biblical employ this picture, picture, picture, to speak the truth about God and his Kingdom
The prophet Zechariah jumped on this picture at the end of his message too. He prophesied of a day when the Lord himself would push back the enemies of Israel. And on that day, he said:
“… living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half to the eastern sea [Dead Sea] and half to the western sea [Mediterranean], in summer and in winter.” (Zechariah 14:8)
Jerusalem is an elevated city. Its all downhill to the Mediterranean on the west. And its all downhill to the dead sea on the east. So when it rains in Jerusalem, the water washes down to the East and to the West.
But in Zechariah’s picture, the living water doesn’t just flow during the rainy season. It never stops flowing.
This is a picture of life. And the goodness that flows out of the place where God resides.
So… with that water colour backdrop in mind, lets see if we have eyes to see the picture, picture, picture that Jesus gives in John 7.
37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. John 7:37-38
Jesus is in the temple as he shouts these words in a loud voice. It was the last and greatest day of the festival, we’re told. The Festival that Jesus was celebrating was the Festival of Booths, also know as the Feast of Tabernacles.
During this festival, the people lived in tents. They camped out. And as the camped, they intentionally remembered how God sustained them in their wilderness after they had exited Egypt. They remembered the manna that appeared every morning. And the water that came from the rock. In Chapter 6, Jesus already referred to himself as the manna which came down from heaven. And now, he’s going to lay claim to the water too.
The Feast of Booths took place at the very end of the dry season. Just after the harvest. And so, just as the people were remembering God’s provision in the wilderness they were also celebrating God’s provision at the harvest.
But this being the end of the dry season, it was also a natural time to start praying for rain. We feel something of this urgency for rain at the end of our dry season too. In late August our whole Island is parched.
But it’s even worse in Israel. Their dry season is much longer there. So, all through the Festival, they would pray for rain.
In fact, each day, a solemn processional would take place. The Priest would lead a group of people down to the spring at Gihon. The priest would dip a golden pitcher of water into the pool. As he did that the choir would sing a song based on Isaiah 12:3: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”
Then the processional would return to the temple through the water gate. The priest would take his place behind an altar, and pour out the water into a silver funnel. The water would then flow out on the ground. On the 7th day, the greatest day of the feast, this processional would happen again, except the Priest would walk around the altar 7 times before pouring out the living water.
Now… imagine you’ve just participated in this processional. Its hot. Its dry. You’ve prayed the prayers and sang the songs. You saw the water being poured out by the priest. And then, all of a sudden, you hear someone cry out in a loud voice. Is anyone thirsty? Let whoever is thirsty come to me and drink. For whoever believes in me… they will have living waters flow from within them.
Needless to say, Jesus words caused quite a stir. “Who is this guy? He already called himself the bread that came down from heaven. And now he’s calling himself the living water. What’s next, the light of the world?”
Some dismissed Jesus as being crazy. But others wondered… “Maybe this person is who he says he is. Do you think he’s the Messiah?”
Let whoever is thirsty come to me and drink. For whoever believes in me, they will have living waters flow from within them.
This is a big picture, people. Jesus is portrayed as the source of living water. An eternal spring welling up in a dry and thirsty land. Those who come to him in faith, he promises, will be filled up and overflowing. And they will now become a source of living water for others.
“Let anyone who is thirsty, come to me and drink. And if you do, streams of living water will flow through you.”
There is much that is amazing about this picture, but let me direct your attention to three things in particular.
First notice that thirst is the only qualification one needs in order to come and drink.
This means that the only thing you need to have in order, in order to come to Jesus, is an awareness of your need for him. Let me say that again. The only thing you need to have in order, in order to come to Jesus, is an awareness of your need for him.
The gospel invitation as wide open as the world. It is for Jew and Gentile; Male and Female. And every other category of person under the sun.
All you need is to know that you’re thirsty.
And we are thirsty creatures, aren’t we? One of the most universal things you can say about human beings, I think, is that we seek fullness in life. We want satisfaction. And so we try, and we try, and we try, and try. But we can’t get no, satisfaction.
We look for it in… Pleasure, food, alcohol, exercise, academic or career accomplishments, spouse, family, etc. etc…
These things can temporarily quench our thirst. But they don’t satiate in the way we desperately want them too.
The Christian gospel hands out Christ and says drink. Here is the source of life. The only water that truly quenches thirst.
And anyone can come to him. Free of charge.
But you do have to drink in order to experience the life.
And that’s the second thing to notice about Jesus words here. His call to Faith. It is possible, you see, to be aware of your thirst, without actually stopping to drink. Maybe you get distracted by something else. Or maybe you think the water is corrupted somehow, and probably shouldn’t be ingested.
Some who heard Jesus that day came to this conclusion. “We know this guy. They said. We know where he comes from. No living water flows from there.
But others came to him and drank. Zacheaus had a little sip and in his joy, he immediately started giving away all his possessions. Nicodemus was skeptical at first. He came to Jesus at night. He wanted to check the P.H. of this water source. He left unsure, but eventually he came back. And at the end of John’s gospel, Nicodemus is one of the people who helps Joseph of Arimathea take Jesus’ body down from the cross.
Maybe he saw the blood and water pouring out of Jesus side, and said to himself: Surely this man is the Christ.
To have faith in Jesus is to trust him with your thirst. To build your house upon his words. And to drink, exclusively, the water that he is offering.
And finally, notice what happens to those who come and drink. They themselves become bearers of living water.
Zechariah imagined a day in which living water would flow constantly out of Jerusalem, to the east and to the west.
Jesus says that those who come to him in faith, become that stream.
Now the narrator of John’s gospel adds an important little editorial comment here. By this (streams of living water business) [Jesus] meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. ~ John 7:39
Its like John wants to peel back the curtain for a minute, and tell us what all these pictures mean. “Its not that Jesus is talking about actual water here,” he wants to say. He’s talking about that life that is on offer in him, that he pours out when he sends his Spirit.”
Perhaps its not surprising that the bible uses pouring out language when referring to the coming of the Holy Spirit. Peter quotes Joel 2 in his Pentecost sermon. On that day, writes Joel, The Lord will pour out his Spirit.
John the baptist said, “I baptize you with water. But there is one coming after me and I’m not worthy to untie his sandals. He will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Spirit.
So this is a multi-layered picture we’re getting today. But the basic idea is still clear. Jesus is the source that truly brings life. He pours out his thirst quenching blessings on those who come to him in faith. And they in turn, become streams of water in the wilderness.
I have a little more water and a couple cups up front today. I need 3 volunteers. Together, we are going to try to picture the picture, picture, picture that Jesus gives.
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. John 7:37-38
Think about the Spirit brothers and sisters. The Spirit which comes from God and is poured out by Jesus himself. What does he give us?
The Spirit gives us new life in Jesus name.
The Spirit reminds us everything Jesus has taught us and makes us more like Jesus
The Spirit knits us into a new community. The Church.
The Spirit empowers us to serve Jesus in the world.
This is why Jesus poured out his Spirit. The there may be streams in the wasteland. New life in the wilderness.
New life. New purpose. God’s kingdom streaming out into the world.
Picture, Picture, Picture.
And you are, or could be apart of today, this stream that continues to proceed East and West from Jerusalem. The river that brings life to the world.
A story to conclude.
In the late 70s and early 80s, Henry Wildeboer was the Pastor at 1st CRC in Calgary. Through Christ’s leadership in that community, and Henry’s faithful witness, a charismatic renewal of sorts took place. The Spirit was poured out.
There was a man named Philip living in Calgary at the time. He was skeptical of this revival. He was an elder at the time too, in a different church. And his consistory sent him over to 1st CRC to monitor the situation.
Philip went into the service skeptical, but he came out filled up by the Spirit.
He went home and the next day he called a family meeting. He shared his experience with his adult children and his young grandchildren. He confessed his sins to them. And asked for their forgiveness.
One of the little grandchildren in that mix was a boy named Trevor. Trevor’s dad was greatly impacted by Trevor’s grandfather’s confession and experience. This impacted Trevor’s life because now his Father was more actively drinking Christ.
Trevor grew up and eventually went to Seminary. Now he’s at the 1st CRC in Vancouver. That Church almost folded, but its been given some new life over the last 10 years. One thing that has happened is that the Church attracted a small group of students studying at Regent College. Trevor and his wife poured into those students and modelled for them what the ministry of the gospel looks like.
Those students are now pouring out living water in cities all over western Canada. Andrew is pastoring in Prince George. Joe and Michelle in Telkwa. Calvin Chen is planting a Church in the Seattle Area.
Trevor and Julia have three sons. They named one of their sons, Philip, after the Grandfather who first drank from the well.
Many of you are here today, because at some point in your life, you crossed paths with someone who had a fullness that was attractive to you. And you came to discover that that fullness came from Christ.
The Spirit-Filled river has not stopped flowing. The water-fall cascaded onto Jerusalem many years ago, and it has been bringing life to the east, and life to the west, ever since.
Are you thirsty? Come and drink. And you too can be filled up with the living water that brings life.