So we are fortunate (to put it mildly) to live on this rare planet that can sustain life. Those of us who live in a developed country are doubly fortunate in that we have easy access to potable water. For much of human history the acquisition of safe drinking water was a formidable challenge, and it continues to be a challenge in underdeveloped regions of the world. According to the World Health Organization, eleven percent of the world’s population still lack reliable sources of safe drinking water. In terms of numbers, that represents almost 800 million people, a population more than double that of the United States. It also must be remembered that water is vital for our food supply and sanitation as well. When there is a crisis in the water supply, malnutrition and disease are sure to follow.
If you're reading this, chances are you have never experienced life-threatening thirst and dehydration due to a lack of potable water. Those of us in the developed world have a constant, abundant, and convenient supply of water at our fingertips. (Even my parents didn't enjoy this level of luxury during their childhood.) Furthermore, if the bottled water industry is any indication, we've also become water connoisseurs. Because if tap water is not to our liking, we will buy our favorite "brand" of water in plastic bottles and carry it around with us. People who are desperate for water are not concerned with such things.
As modern people, we have no idea what it is like to live under conditions in which water is hard to come by. Due to our effortless access to water, we hardly give it a thought. Consequently, the evocative power of a phrase from the Bible like living water is, to some degree, lost on us. But to a people group that lived in an ancient desert (people like the woman at the well) it would have had an entirely different impact. They had a very keen sense of their dependence on water. That is something we lack, because of the water faucet.
Ancient cities were usually built around natural water sources. Although the ancient world had impressive aqueduct systems and a network of wells, it was still a lot of work for the average family to retrieve enough water for their daily needs. The acquisition of water occupied a great deal of their time, and it meant carrying heavy water jars to and from a well, or some other source of water. It was also common to mix water with wine as a disinfectant because, more often than not, water was unsafe to drink by itself.
How many hours of your day are occupied with retrieving and disinfecting water? I'm guessing none. To live in a modern culture, is to live in a state of comfort and luxury that would have been completely foreign to the ancient commoner.
When Jesus offered living water, He was making a powerful statement to people who were desperate for water. He was drawing an analogy between our physical need for water, and our spiritual need for Him. In the same way that our bodies are dependent on water for physical life, we are dependent on Christ for everlasting life. Jesus is claiming that we are spiritually dead without Him. He is also claiming that, in the same way we are physically cleansed, refreshed and sustained by water, we are spiritually cleansed, refreshed and sustained by Him. Water is both a necessity and a deeply satisfying joy; there is no substitute. The same is true of Christ. Furthermore, Jesus didn’t only promise to give us living water, He promised to give us the very source of living water, the Holy Spirit.
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'" Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. -- John 7:37-39
Once again, I must borrow from C.S. Lewis with an excerpt from The Silver Chair (book #4 in the Narnia series). A little girl named Jill Pole had gotten herself into a bit of trouble, and she decided to run from Aslan, who is a Christ figure in the land of Narnia. Eventually Jill finds herself lost and thirsty, and despite her best efforts to avoid Aslan, she finds him waiting for her by a stream, his stream.
"Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion.
"I’m dying of thirst," said Jill.
"Then drink," said the Lion.
"May I -- could I -- would you mind going away while I drink?" said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. As Jill gazed at this momentous bulk, she realized she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
"Will you promise not to do anything to me if I do come?" said Jill.
“I make no promise," said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer. "Do you eat girls?" she asked.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings, emperors, cities, and realms," said the Lion. He didn’t say it as if he were boasting or as if he were sorry or as if he were angry. He just said it.
"I dare not come and drink," said Jill.
"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.
"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer." I suppose I must go look for another stream then."
“There is no other stream," said the Lion.
It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion -- no one who had ever seen his stern face could ever do that -- and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up the water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she ever tasted. You didn't need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once.So in this brief excerpt, we find Lewis depicting Christ as the great lion Aslan who offers Jill the only stream of water that will quench her thirst, and save her life. Christ extends that same offer to you and me.
Water as Metaphor
There is another profound truth that is waiting to be discovered and it is this: The very reason water exists is to point us to Christ. Why do I believe that? Because Christ was slain from before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8). When Christ used water as analogy for Himself, it was not an afterthought; it was according to the foreordained will of God. Nothing God does is an afterthought -- and all of creation, including water, sings to His glory. So the next time you enjoy your water faucet, a refreshing glass of ice water, or a swim in a lake or pool, you would do well to remember -- what water is to the body, Christ is to the soul. The equation is very simple: know Jesus = know Life.
Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. -- 1 John 5:12