Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Considering Culture: The Water Faucet

We live on a little blue dot hanging out in space called Earth. Astronomers tell us that, in all the known universe, our planet is unique in very important ways -- ways that sustain life as we know it. Sure, that notion has come under fire in recent years but, as of this moment in history, we have yet to discover a planet like ours. One of the most unique features about Earth is that it contains a vast supply of a life sustaining liquid known as water. That is also the reason our planet is a lovely blue. Over seventy-percent of the Earth's surface is covered by water, and our bodies are roughly sixty-percent water. Because water is essential for life as we know it, the equation is very simple: no water = no life.

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

What is the Bible Basically About?

Biblical Motifs: Living Water

(Note: This is part of an ongoing series that is best read in order. If you haven't already done so, you can read the previous posts here.)


Last time during our Biblical Motifs series, we talked about how the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years after they left Egypt. During that time God supernaturally sustained them with manna, or bread, from heaven. And we saw that the manna was a type and shadow of Christ. This time, we are going to look at how God supernaturally provided Israel with water in the desert. And this provision is a recurring theme in Scripture that, once again, points us to Christ.

As you will recall, God delivered the Jews from their bondage in Egypt with a mighty display of power. Despite God's faithfulness, Israel had a stubborn tendency of rebellion, complaining and distrust toward God. Instead of trusting in the faithfulness of God, somehow they would come to resent the mercies of God and long for their days of slavery in Egypt. It came to the point that Moses would actually fear for his life.
Then all the congregation of the children of Israel set out on their journey from the Wilderness of Sin, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped in Rephidim; but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people contended with Moses, and said, “Give us water, that we may drink.”

So Moses said to them, “Why do you contend with me? Why do you tempt the Lord?”

And the people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moses, and said, “Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”

So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!”

And the Lord said to Moses, “Go on before the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel. Also take in your hand your rod with which you struck the river, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.

And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. So he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the contention of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” -- Exodus 17:1-7 

God instructed Moses to strike the rock once, and water came gushing out of it -- water that would provide life for the people of Israel. We see a familiar foreshadow here -- once again, in the same way that the people grumbled and complained before Moses, they grumbled and complained against Christ, even as provision was being made for them.

Now let's take a look at what the Apostle Paul said about this same passage.
For I do not want you to be unaware, 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. -- 1 Corinthians 10:1-4
Here we learn that the rock Moses struck was another picture of Christ. When Moses struck the rock and water came gushing out, it was a picture of Christ's sacrificial death that gives life. Christ was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities -- in His death we have life. This theme of living water that Christ provides by His death is a frequent refrain in Scripture, both Old and New Testament. Here is a sample:
He split rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep. He made streams come out of the rock and caused waters to flow down like rivers. -- Psalms 78:15-16

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

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. -- Isaiah 12:3

"Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. -- Isaiah 55:1

And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. -- Isaiah 58:11

Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." -- John 4:10

And he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. -- Revelation 21:6 

That brings us to our text this week in John 7.
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
Even as officers stood ready to arrest Him, Jesus made a public spectacle of Himself with a loud and earnest cry for the thirsty to come and drink. No doubt, some stopped and listened, and some became angry, while others glibly passed by with complete indifference. The same is true today. The words of Christ have continued to ring in our ears for over two-thousand years, and they still elicit the same reaction.

Jesus made this proclamation during the Feast of Tabernacles in which water played a central role. This is how John MacArthur describes this event:
A tradition grew up in the few centuries before Jesus that on the 7 days of the Feast of Tabernacles, a golden container filled with water from the pool of Siloam was carried in procession by the High-Priest back to the temple. As the procession came to the Watergate on the S side of the inner temple court, 3 trumpet blasts were made to mark the joy of the occasion and the people recited Is. 12:3, "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation." At the temple, while onlookers watched, the priests would march around the altar with the water container while the temple choir sang the Hallel (Pss. 113–118). The water was offered in sacrifice to God at the time of the morning sacrifice. The use of the water symbolized the blessing of adequate rainfall for crops. Jesus used this event as an object lesson and opportunity to make a very public invitation on the last day of the feast for His people to accept Him as the living water...

The significance of Jesus’ invitation centers in the fact that He was the fulfillment of all the Feast of Tabernacles anticipated, i.e., He was the One who provided the living water that gives eternal life to man.* 
What an amazing picture of how Christ beautifully fulfills the types and shadows in Scripture. I will close with one of my favorite passages in the Bible. It is a beautiful picture of a new heaven and a new earth, and the water of life that flows from God's throne. -- Selah
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. -- Revelation 22:1-2


*The MacArthur Study Bible

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Biblical Motifs: Bread from Heaven

(Note: We will be taking a look at several Biblical Motifs. If you haven't already done so, please read the introductory information on this subject before continuing.)

Man ate of the bread of the angels; he sent them food in abundance. -- Psalm 78:25

Do you remember The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston? I probably watched it just about every Easter Sunday as a child. As the story goes, the Jewish people labored under the oppression of the Egyptians until God sent them a deliverer. There were plagues and miracles that culminated with the parting of the Red Sea and the destruction of the Egyptian Army. At the end of the movie, Moses was an old man and the Jewish people were set to enter the Promised Land -- and so the movie ended on a high note.

The Ten Commandments was loosely based on the second book of the Bible called Exodus, which means departure. Exodus is about the departure of the Jews from Egypt that took place roughly 1400 years before Christ. Obviously, you can't squeeze everything into a single movie, so they missed some key events from Scripture. What we didn't see depicted in the movie were the years that the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness. Because of sin and unbelief, God did not allow the older generation to enter the Promised Land. Consequently, they wandered in the wilderness for forty years until that generation died off.

So how did Israel survive as a nation in the harsh environment of a Middle Eastern desert for that length of time? Because God sustained and nourished them supernaturally with manna every morning. Manna was also known as bread from heaven (Exodus 16:4). Eventually, Israel would grow tired of manna and they would start to grumble and complain against God because of it (Numbers 11:4-6).

In addition to manna, bread is a recurring theme in Scripture, and it also played a central role in the Passover and Temple ceremonies. During the time of Christ, every good Jew would have been very familiar with these things.

It is into that setting Jesus came and claimed to be the true Bread from Heaven that gives eternal life (John 6:32-35). In fact, the very reason God gave the children of Israel manna in the first place was to foreshadow the coming of Jesus their Messiah, who would deliver them from their sins (John 6:47-51).

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal." -- John 6:27 ESV

Manna serves as a type and shadow. Simply put, a type and shadow is anything from the Old Testament that points us to Christ. It might come in the form of a person, a thing, a ceremony or even an event. And God has given us many types and shadows (or "pictures") that point us to Christ.


Even though they are separated by roughly 1400 years, notice how closely the events surrounding the manna in the Old Testament, and the events from John 6 in the New testament parallel each other. For example, in the Old Testament, when God miraculously provided manna for Israel, they grumbled and complained. Likewise, in John 6, Jesus miraculously fed thousands of people with the loaves and fishes, declared Himself to be the true bread from heaven, and they grumbled and complained once again (John 6:60-66). They grumbled against God's provision in the Old Testament, and they grumbled against Christ, the true bread from heaven, in the New Testament -- thus fulfilling the type and shadow.


Jesus told us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread". Even today, bread is a type and shadow for a far greater spiritual reality that is intended to point us to Christ. Just as bread will sustain and nourish our physical bodies, Jesus is the true and only bread from heaven that can give us spiritual life and nourish our souls. If bread for the body is important, bread for the soul is of ultimate importance. Without bread or sustenance, the body will die; and apart from Christ, there is no life for the soul. In Christ we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:27-28). Not only are we dependent upon God for our daily physical sustenance, but for our daily spiritual sustenance as well. Christ pictured as the bread of life, is a recurring theme throughout Scripture.


Recovering the Awe

The Loss of Wonder

"He who is a stranger to wonder is a stranger to God, for God is wonderful everyway, and everywhere, and everyhow." -- C.H. Spurgeon 

Many years ago, my favorite television show was The Wonder Years. It was about the life and times of a young boy named Kevin Arnold and his journey to manhood. It told the bitter-sweet tale about coming of age and leaving childhood behind. Implicit in the show's title is the notion that childhood is a time full of wonder, but the day will inevitably come when that sense of wonder is lost forever. Although the story was fiction, it did what all good fiction does, it resonated with real life.

Bertrand Russell, near the end of his life, lamented his loss of wonder when he said, "There is darkness without and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendour, no vastness anywhere, only triviality for a moment, and then nothing."

Bertrand Russell was a brilliant and accomplished man. He was an intellectual of the highest caliber who wore many hats. He was a highly regarded historian, philosopher, logician and mathematician. It should also be noted that Bertrand Russell was an atheist as well.

There was another brilliant man by the name of Charles Darwin who wrote about a similar loss of wonder in  his autobiography. He wrote:

"Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds... gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays… formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost my taste for pictures or music… I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did… The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature."
It should be noted that Charles Darwin, who popularized the theory of evolution, also was an atheist.

But would it surprise you to learn that we find similar sentiments expressed in Scripture? They were written by King Solomon who was one of the wisest men who ever lived. In the book of Ecclesiastes, it is evident that Solomon had experienced a loss of wonder as well:
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity [meaningless].-- Ecclesiastes 1:2
All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. -- Ecclesiastes 1:8-9
For what does a person receive for all his toil and in the longing of his heart with which he toils under the sun? All his days are painful, his labor brings grief, and his heart cannot rest at night. This also is vanity! -- Ecclesiastes 2:22-23
I share here only a brief portion of Ecclesiastes. But there is much cynicism and angst expressed throughout its twelve chapters. It should also be noted that, for a long period of time, Solomon lived in open rebellion against God.

Certainly, these noteworthy men are not alone in their loss of wonder. We all feel that same loss, to one degree or another. People have disappointed us, we have disappointed ourselves and others, and life has disappointed us. We tend to become more cynical and jaded with each passing year. In fact, this is usually considered a mark of sophistication. We buy the t-shirt that says, "Been there, done that" and grow old. There is nothing left to impress, nothing left to move the heart, we've seen it all, and we are often left with despair in the quiet hours of the night. But the truth of the matter is this; even though the world is fallen, and even though we are fallen, creation is still full of wonder. God, in His common grace, has seen to it.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. --Psalms 19:1b-4a

Jesus taught that we can learn something about God by considering His creation. He told us to consider the lilies (Luke 12:27), to consider the sparrows (Matthew 6:26, 10:29), to consider the grass of the field (Luke 12:28), and even to consider each other (Matthew 7:9-11). Creation is crying out to us about the glory of God, if we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. But if we lose our sense of wonder, we will be blind to God's glory.

So how do we lose our sense of wonder? It is because we are fallen creatures. Our hearts grow increasingly hard and dull because of sin, and like an atrophied muscle, it loses the ability for wonder. A hard heart loses its sensitivity to God and man. Sin causes us to lose a sense of awe and wonder before the God who gave us life and holds our breath in His hand this very moment.

The common joys of life should draw our hearts to God, but somehow we lose the ability to even notice them. If we were stripped of the things we take for granted, we would do anything to get them back. How often do we take our loved ones for granted? What price could you put on the beauty of a sunset or the glory of a sunrise? What would you pay to feel a cool breeze on your skin? When was the last time you stared up at the nighttime sky with wide-eyed wonder? The list is literally endless. All of these things are wonderful gifts from God, but how often do we delight in them? How often do we thank God for them? So much has been given to us, but we act like spoiled children. We ignore what we have been given because we are always looking for something else. We treat the priceless gifts of God as though they are worthless.

The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. - C. S. Lewis

When we lose our delight in God, eventually our capacity to delight in anything is diminished. As we saw in the lives of Bertrand Russell, Charles Darwin and King Solomon, their lives were devoid of meaning, joy and wonder. Whether we deny God's existence altogether like Russell and Darwin, or claim to believe in God but take no delight in him like Solomon, the end result is the same -- despair. If we do not delight in God, only two options remain; despair, or distraction from despair. Because ultimately, life without God is a vanity of vanities.

There is an interesting paradox in our cynicism and loss of wonder. Because even as we lose our sense of true wonder, we still crave it to the core of our souls, and we will look for it to the point of exhaustion. That is one reason why entertainment is such big business. When we lose our God given wonder, we will seek it in the artificial. We will look for it in amusement, sex, drugs, drink, food, you name it. We will gorge ourselves on things with diminishing returns in a futile attempt to fill our longing for wonder and delight. On some level, our pursuit of these things is a pursuit of joy. But if we do not find our ultimate joy and delight in God, we will look for it in trifles, and fill-up on junk food for the soul.

"… it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."
-- C.S. Lewis
In our text this week (John 6), once again, we see that the people in Scripture are very much like us. Notice how quickly the crowd turned on Jesus. They had just witnessed the miracle of the loaves and fishes, they heard the words of Christ, and God incarnate walked among them. Glory and wonder was right before their eyes, but they turned away unimpressed. They left the Bread of Life to go fill up on trifles. How often have we done the same? How often have we turned away from the Bread of life for mud pies in the slums? No one is immune, even believers can lose their sense of wonder and turn to lesser things.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins with this question: What is the chief end of man? The Answer: To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. That is why we were created. To glorify God and find our deepest joy in Him. All lesser joys are not an end in themselves, they are just signposts that point us to the fountainhead of all Joy, God Himself.

So what can we do about a stony heart that has lost its sensitivity to God? We can repent and turn to the mercies of God. The Great Physician is willing and able to give us a tender heart of flesh if we acknowledge that we are sick and in desperate need.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. -- Psalms 51:7-12
And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. -- Ezekiel 11:19-20