Casting for something
In the last message we examined Jeremiah 2:9-13, where the Lord accused his people of forsaking him, the Spring of living water, to dig their own cisterns that could not hold water. The Lord wanted his people to come to him with the thirst in their souls, but they took their thirst elsewhere. They turned to other gods. The Lord called the heavens in as witnesses against his people, saying,
"Be appalled at this, O heavens,
and shudder with great horror."
We too forsake the Spring of living water and seek to satisfy our thirst elsewhere, in indulgence, as the younger son did in the parable of the prodigal son, or in performance, as the older son did (see Luke 15:11-32). But those cisterns spring leaks. They cannot hold water. Jeremiah 2:9-13 leaves us in the middle of the desert, dying of thirst next to our broken cisterns, and invites us to be appalled, to shudder with great horror, because of this development.
If we're thirsty, and if we're appalled, we're ready to hear from Jesus.
In the final scene of the movie A River Runs Through It, Norman MacLean is casting for trout on his beloved Big Blackfoot River, but if you read between the lines, you'll see that he's casting for something else as well. He ruminates,
Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand in my youth are dead, even Jessie [his wife]. But I still reach out to them...When I am alone in the half-light of the canyon, all existence seems to fade to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that fish will rise...I am haunted by waters. (1)
At the end of a full and beautiful life, he's haunted, he's still reaching out, he still wants. He's still thirsty.
Jesus speaks into our thirst and invites us to bring it to him. If we come to him, he will give us cool water for our thirsty souls.
The words we will hear Jesus speak in this message emanate from the temple during the annual Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:14). The setting of the temple provides an important backdrop for the words of Jesus.
On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him. By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
Jesus cries out
The Feast of Tabernacles commemorated the Lord's provision
for the people when they were in the wilderness. Each day during
the feast, priests marched from the Pool of Siloam to the temple
and poured out water at the base of the altar. The ceremony reminded
the people of how God had provided water for their forefathers
in the wilderness when Moses struck the rock (Exodus 17:6). The
eighth and final day of the feast, was marked by a sacred assembly
(Leviticus 23:33-36). Jesus takes this occasion to present himself
as the fulfillment of the imagery suggested in the ceremony. He
presents himself as the giver of water-a different kind of water.
Literally, Jesus "cries out." He wants to be seen and heard, by "anyone," he says-anyone who is thirsty, that is. He doesn't mean anyone who is religious or righteous or popular. This is everyone. Everyone is thirsty. Jesus stands up and cries out because he wants to be seen and heard by you.
This is a cry, not a murmur. Jesus cries out from a place deep within him, and he cries out to a place deep within us-that place where our needs and hopes and fears are the greatest, where our thirst is the most acute.
How do we hear his voice when he speaks into our thirst? We hear it in different ways.
Sometimes I hear the voice of Jesus when I leave my study after poring over a passage of Scripture, dumbfounded that the living God has seen fit to meet with me in my ruminations over his word. I heard his voice when I saw the movie Shawshank Redemption and walked away stirred by thoughts of hope, friendship, and freedom. I heard it when I read Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, having been pummeled by wave after wave of God's grace. I hear it with the first whiff of spring, when I am transported to the springtime of my youth, when that very same smell meant that another baseball season was just around the corner. I hear it at the climax of a wedding ceremony when I ask a man and a woman if they will commit their lives to loving one another and each answers, "I will."
The voice of Jesus is so beautiful that it causes your heart to ache when you hear it. When it fades, its memory lingers at the edges of your soul and leaves you wanting something more. When you hear the voice, and when it fades, you know you are thirsty.
When you know you're thirsty, and when you feel it deeply, it can be a frightening sensation. When sleeping passions are aroused, you may feel desperately out of control. If you feel desire in the place where your needs are the greatest, you may feel afraid that those needs won't be met. It feels much safer when you don't know about these things.
Jeremiah depicts the Lord as the Spring of living water, the one who satisfies the thirst in the human soul. Now Jesus says, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink." That quality of the one true God that satisfies the thirst in the human soul is resident within Jesus. The implication is that Jesus is the one true God. He is the Spring of living water.
"Come to me," Jesus says. Why Jesus? We've "come" to so many places, so many people, so many events-and they have failed to quench the thirst in our souls. Experience tells us there's no such thing as a free cup of living water. Everything that says "come" seems to say so with a hidden agenda. What makes Jesus different? Look for yourself. Read the gospels. Take in the entire story, from incarnation to crucifixion to exaltation, and ask yourself this question: "Is he the kind of person I'd want to be with?" If the answer is "yes," ask yourself another question: "Does he want to be with me?"
Why did he leave the Father? Why did he go to the cross? Why is he so desperate that he stands up and cries out in the temple? What does Jesus want? He wants you to come to him. He is desperate to be with you. Why does he want to be with you? When you hear the answer, you might want to say, "That can't possibly be true." But if you allow yourself to think even for a moment that it just might be true, it may cause you to shiver-not shudder with great horror, as in the Jeremiah passage, but shiver with great delight. And if you were to take a moment and think about it objectively, you would conclude that it has to be true. There can be only one answer. Why does Jesus want to be with you? He wants to be with you because he enjoys your company. Do you think Jesus intends to spend eternity with someone he doesn't like? He left the Father, he went to the cross, he cries out in the temple so that you might come to him, so that he might be with you because...he enjoys the pleasure of your company.
"If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink." We must "come." We need to take a trip. How do you take this trip? You do it in your mind. You use your imagination. You can do it right now. Jesus stands up and cries out during a gathering of God's people. Jesus dwells in the midst of us. In your mind, picture Jesus standing up in the middle of the room. Hear him cry out, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink." Picture yourself coming to Jesus. What do you do when you reach him? Picture Jesus handing you a cup of water. Drink from it. Feel the water soothe the ache within and bring refreshment to the depths of your being.
Or pick another image. The Scriptures give us plenty to choose from.
Perhaps you have pursued a lifestyle of indulgence, casting off restraints and denying yourself few pleasures. You have run away from God. Remember the story Jesus told about the one like you.
The young man left his home, having shamed his father by asking for his inheritance, and squandered all his wealth on loose living. Destitute, he decided to head home. As he approached the village, an angry mob probably gathered, taunting him and perhaps threatening violence for the shaming of his father. Now, a nobleman in the ancient Near East never ran anywhere. To do so, hiking up his long flowing robes, would be to behave in a most humiliating manner. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him" (Luke 15:20, NASB). The father left his house and ran to protect the son who shamed him from the angry mob and to welcome him home. To do so, he humiliated himself in front of the entire village, assuming the shame that was his son's.
Here we have a picture of the incarnation and crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus hiked up his robes and left his heavenly house. On the road to Calvary, he ran to greet us, and on the cross, he humiliated himself in front of all creation, assuming the shame that was ours. So, you who have indulged yourself, picture yourself coming home. Picture the angry mob gathering. Picture Jesus running out to get you. With one hand he hikes up his robe; with the other he reaches out for you. The look on his face conveys the desperate love that drives him to this humiliating act. The robes cause him to stumble, but he doesn't stop running. When he reaches you, he embraces you and kisses you.
The same story in Luke 15 gives us another image. Again, it's a picture of the incarnation and crucifixion. Perhaps you have pursued a lifestyle of performance, disciplining yourself to meet expectations but never feeling much love no matter how well you performed your duties. You've been disappointed that your performance somehow hasn't gotten you the payoff in life that you think you deserve. You too have run away from God, though perhaps it doesn't seem that way. The older son in the story is like you. He served his father, and he expected to be paid like a slave, but he never really wanted to be a son. When the father threw a party for the younger son, the older son would be expected to assume the responsibilities of a host. But he refused to even enter the house. This would be a tremendous insult to the father. The father at this point would be expected to explode with anger. But what did he do? For the second time in a day, he went out. Again, he publicly humiliated himself to reach out to a rebellious son. Here's what he father said:
"My child, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours" (15:31, NASB).
Now, you who have performed so well and have expected a payoff
for the performance, you who have chosen slavery over sonship,
picture Jesus leaving the party and coming out for you. He shames
himself for you, the one who shamed him. Picture him looking into
your eyes and telling you, "My child, you have always been
with me, and all that I have is yours." He doesn't want to
pay you as a slave; he wants to give to you as a son.
Here's another image: In the upper room, on the night in which Jesus was betrayed, John leaned back against the breast of Jesus (John 13:23, 25). Picture yourself leaning against the breast of Jesus.
Perhaps God will give you an image as he did one particularly quiet nun who attended a retreat directed by Brennan Manning. Here's what happened, as described by Manning:
On the afternoon of the fourth day I invited each person to share what the Lord had been doing in his life the past few days. After a couple of minutes of silence, the uncommunicative nun (whom I shall call Christine) reached for her journal and said, "Something happened to me yesterday, and I wrote it down. You were speaking, Brennan, on the compassion of Jesus. You developed the two images of husband and lover found in Isaiah 54 and Hosea 2. Then you quoted the words of St. Augustine, 'Christ is the best husband.'
"At the end of your talk, you prayed that we might experience what you had just shared. You asked us to close our eyes. Almost the moment I did, something happened. In faith I was transported into a large ballroom filled with people. I was sitting by myself on a wooden chair, when a man approached me, took my hand, and led me onto the floor. He held me in his arms and led me in the dance.
"The tempo of the music increased and we whirled faster and faster. The man's eyes never left my face. His radiant smile covered me with warmth, delight, and a sense of acceptance. Everyone else on the floor stopped dancing. They were staring at us. The beat of the music increased and we pirouetted around the room in reckless rhythm. I glanced at his hands, and then I knew. Brilliant wounds of a battle long ago, almost like a signature carved in flesh. The music tapered to a slow, lilting melody and Jesus rocked me back and forth. As the dance ended, he pulled me close to him. Do you know what he whispered?"
At this moment every retreatant in the chapel strained forward. Tears rolled down Christine's cheeks. A full minute of silence ensued. Though her face was beaming, the tears kept falling. Finally she spoke, "Jesus whispered to me, 'Christine, I'm wild about you.'" (2)
Picture Jesus saying the same thing to you, and hear him address
you by name: "_______, I'm wild about you."
If you can get any of these images in your mind and linger over them for a few moments, you are coming to Jesus and drinking the water he offers. When you feel your thirst, the ache can be agonizing, and the fear can be overwhelming. When you drink from his love, the water is soothing and satisfying.
Jesus does not awaken thirst and invite you to bring it to him without also satisfying it. That's why we don't need to be afraid of passion when we feel it. He won't satisfy it completely until he takes you to the city you were made for, which is just ahead of you in your journey. But he gives you enough of his living water here to keep you pressing on to reach that eternal place that features "...the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb...." (Revelation 22:1).
The water that Jesus gives is pure, cool, and refreshing. It is unpolluted by hidden agendas. The words of Jesus obviously made an impression on John, the author of this gospel, for later in life he echoes them when he himself bids us to come to Jesus in Revelation 22:17: "Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life." The water is free. It comes without cost. Jesus doesn't give you something in order to take something from you, like so many other offers of love.
So get those images in your mind, and drink up!
The water flows
Jesus says that "as the Scripture has said," streams of living water will flow from the one who comes to him and drinks. What do the Scriptures say about the flow of living water? Water is used as a picture of the Holy Spirit in Isaiah 32:15 and 44:3-4, as it is here in John 7. Genesis 2:10 says that a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden. Eden was where God dwelt, where he walked with man in the cool of the day. God then took up residence in the temple in Jerusalem, enthroned between the cherubim of the ark of the covenant (2 Samuel 6:2) inside the most holy place. The prophets Ezekiel and Joel both envision a strange kind of water one day flowing from the temple and imparting life (Ezekiel 47:1; Joel 3:18).
Now, in John 7:38, Jesus says that streams of living water will flow from within the one who comes to him. Literally, he says that this water will flow from the "belly"-a graphic metaphor for the innermost being, the soul. Where is Jesus standing when he says this? He's standing in the temple. The prophecies provided the imagery of living water flowing from the temple, the place of God's dwelling. Now Jesus, standing in the temple, is prophesying that living water will flow not from the temple but from the one who comes to him. What is he saying? The one who comes to him is a temple! These great and awesome prophecies about living water flowing from the temple are fulfilled in the one who comes to Jesus and drinks from him. They are fulfilled in, of all places, you! Jesus is saying that the most holy, precious, and desirable place in the universe, the place where the Spirit of the living God chooses to make his home, is your innermost being.
Jesus is also saying that when you come to him and drink from him, something changes deep within you. This internal change is so radical and so extensive that you become, to some degree, like God, like Jesus-you become a spring of living water. Streams of life-giving, living water flow from you, bringing healing to the land. What is this life-giving water? It's love, created and nurtured by the Holy Spirit. What pours into you, pours out of you. If you come to Jesus and drink from him, it will happen. Love will flow from you. It is unavoidable and irrepressible. There may be a logjam of internal fears, ambitions and ambiguities that restricts the flow, but the water of Jesus' love sweeps it away twig by twig, stick by stick, log by log. As John says in his first epistle, "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19). In other words, we love because we can't help ourselves.
Hear how the stream flowed from a young pastor in Zimbabwe who was killed for his faith in Christ. This note was found in his office:
I'm part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have the Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made-I'm a disciple of his. I won't look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure. I'm finished and done with low living, sight walking, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, worldly talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don't have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean in his presence, walk by patience, am uplifted by prayer, and I labor with power.
My face is set, may gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way rough, my companions are few, my Guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of the enemy, pander at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
I won't give up, shut up, let up, until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, preached up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till he comes, give till I drop, preach till all know, and work till he stops me. And, when he comes for his own, he will have no problem recognizing me...my banner will be clear! (3)
There's a man who drank deeply from the love of Jesus. Life-giving love flowed out of him.
Come and drink
Perhaps you've never been able to identify the voice of Jesus before. You've never drunk from the Spring of living water. But you do know you're thirsty. Jesus is standing and crying out for you. Picture him in your mind, and listen to his voice: "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink." He requests the pleasure of your company. Leave your broken cisterns. They've given you nothing but obsessions, addictions, and misery. Come to Jesus. Drink. Taste the living water. It will so revolutionize your internal constitution that a spring of living water will form within you and streams of living water will flow from you to bring healing to this dry, barren, thirsty land.
Let us drink together.
1. A River Runs Through It, produced and directed by
Robert Redford. © 1993 Columbia Pictures, Burbank, CA.
2. Excerpted from The Signature of Jesus, © 1992 by Brennan Manning. Used by permission of Multnomah Publishers, Inc. For church/educational use only, not to be copied for any other purposes without prior written consent.
3. Manning, pp. 29-30.
Unless indicated otherwise, all Scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Where indicated, Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE. © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Catalog No. 4578
May 16, 1999
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