Monday, April 22, 2013

Broken Cisterns

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns* for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. -- Jeremiah 2:12-13
As we make our way through Scripture, we will continue to meet various people. Last week we met Nicodemus, and this week we meet a Samaritan woman at Jacobs Well. She is never named, we only know her as the Woman at the Well, but we learn a lot about her back-story.  She had been married and (presumably) divorced five times, and now she was living with a man that she was not married to.

As we meet people in Scripture, one thing should start becoming abundantly clear, they suffer from common human maladies. In other words, they are very much like us. In Nicodemus we saw the best of the best, a  highly respected religious leader with great influence. And in the Woman at the Well, we see what society counted as the lowest of the low, a social outcast with a checkered past. Nicodemus was a somebody, and the Woman at the Well was a nobody. This is a study in contrasts and it tells us something; whether we are counted as the best of the best, the worst of the worst, or somewhere in between, we are all laid bare before Christ. When Jesus confronts Nicodemus, or the woman at the well, He is confronting the full range of humanity, which includes you and me.

It is fitting that Jesus first encountered this woman at Jacob's Well while she was working to quench her physical thirst. Because for many years she also had been working hard, trying to quench her spiritual thirst with men. She had gone to the well of relationships, time and time again, only to pull up empty buckets. She was trying to find in men that which can only be found in God. Her meeting with Jesus was not just a chance encounter, she had an appointment with Divine Providence.

Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." -- John 4:13-14

Biblically speaking, this woman was guilty of idolatry, and we humans have a long history of committing the sin of idolatry. What is Idolatry you might ask? To put it simply, idolatry is anything we put in God's rightful place; it can even be good things.

As modern people, we tend to ridicule our ancient counterparts for their primitive forms of idolatry. How could they fashion idols from things like gold, wood and stone and worship them as gods? Not only did they have personal idols for their households, they also built elaborate temples for their idols. So we look around our land today and think, no temples, no household idols, we're good -- we're better than our ancestors. Well, not so fast. We are no less guilty, the only difference is that our modern idols are mostly idols of the heart. But rest assured, idolatry is alive and well.

Little children, keep yourselves from idols. -- 1 John 5:21 

So what does it look like to have an idol? An idol will hold a supreme place in our affections, passions, and thoughts. At base, we believe that our idols will save us. They will save us from meaninglessness, hopelessness, a lack of respect… the list could go on and on. Our idols also give us a sense of pride, in that, if we have our idols securely in hand, we will feel superior to others.

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man... It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest." -- C.S. Lewis

An idol is also our attempt at self-salvation and self-justification. For example we might say, if I can only do this, or accomplish that, then my life will have meaning. My place in this world is justified because of what I have accomplished. We look to our idols for ultimate meaning and purpose. To one person it might be a successful career, to another it might be the pursuit of a dream, to another person it might be sex and romance, or even marriage and family. These things are not inherently bad in themselves; but even a good thing can become an idol if we make it our god and our reason for living. And know this, our idols will always fail us.

For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? 
-- Mark 8:36

Furthermore, an idol will also shrivel our souls, because we will ultimately become what we worship:

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. -- Psalms 115:4-8

In short, idols will leave us spiritually deaf, dumb, and blind. Ancient Israel abandoned God, the fountain of living waters, and replaced Him with idols, (also known as broken cisterns). When we commit idolatry, we do the same. Essentially, we fail to give God the rightful place in our heart. 

To use another analogy, idolatry is like drinking salt water to quench your thirst. In the end, it creates a vicious cycle of thirst and dehydration that will ultimately end in death. It is like a cycle of addiction, in that you crave more and more of the very thing that is killing you. But idols can never fill an eternal soul, only an infinite God is big enough to do that.

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.'" -- John 7:37-38

We foolishly believe that our idols will give us life, meaning, and joy. But in reality, our idols are heavy burdens and harsh task masters that will destroy us in the end. In contrast, Christ offers us a light burden and rest for our souls:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." -- Matthew 11:28-30 

Jesus confronts our idols. He said that you cannot serve two masters, you will hate one and love the other (Luke 16:13). A Christian is someone who, by God's grace, has turned away from his sin and idolatry and has come to treasure Christ above all other pursuits, pleasures and ambitions. In short, we renounce all other masters, including self, to follow Christ.

"Having made Jesus his all, he shall find all in Jesus." - Charles Spurgeon 

As God takes His rightful place on the throne of the heart, something wonderful begins to happen, we begin to be transformed into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). Although we will never be perfect on this side of heaven, the Christian is already being transformed into the image of Christ. (Remember, we become what we worship.)

The grace of Christ frees us. We no longer need to be slaves to our idols, and we will no longer try to get from others that which only comes from God. We begin to understand that not even the best of circumstances, the best spouse, the best children, the best job, none of these things can carry the burden of being our God. And that frees us to love people and have joy and contentment through the trials and tribulations of life, because we have already found our greatest treasure in Christ.

By God's grace, the Christian grows to understand that, in light of all that Christ has done, we no longer need our idols because He is our salvation, our justification, and our joy. We rest in Him. God is the fount of living water that quenches our dry and thirsty soul. For the Christian, God is the fountainhead of all true and lasting joy. He is not a means to an end, He is the end.

In closing, I leave you with the words of this wonderful old hymn, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus:

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.


Cisterns: ...Jerusalem depends mainly for water upon its cisterns, of which almost every private house possesses one or more, excavated in the rock on which the city is built. The cisterns have usually a round opening at the top, sometimes built up with stonework above and furnished with a curb and a wheel for a bucket. ( Ecclesiastes 12:6 ) Empty cisterns were sometimes used as prisons and places of confinement. Joseph was cast into a "pit," ( Genesis 37:22 ) as was Jeremiah. ( Jeremiah 38:6 ) - Smith's Bible Dictionary

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