Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Living Water


On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and cried out, "If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink! John 7:37

The story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt is likely familiar to everyone whether or not they were raised in a church. The Israelites were suffering under the rule of the Egyptians, and Moses, being chosen by God to lead the Israelites, formally requests their freedom with those famous words, “Let my people go.”

When this bureaucratic approach doesn’t work, God brings plagues upon the land, being careful to instruct the Israelites on how to protect themselves from this wrath. These plagues eventually convince the Pharaoh to let Moses and his people go; a decision that is quickly reversed by the leadership in Egypt. The Egyptians chase the Israelites to the Red Sea, which is parted for the people of God who pass through unharmed. The Red Sea then destroys the Egyptian army when it closes upon them. These miracles which ensured the deliverance of the Israelites provided some of the first proof to the Israelites that God will protect them and provide for them.

It was not long after their liberation from Egypt that the Israelites begin to fall into that all-too-easy human behavior; complaining. It only takes one chapter for the people to become agitated at their discomfort. At the beginning of Exodus 15 we read a song of praise for the God that delivered them. The chapter begins, “I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him."

The beginning of Exodus 16 is a stark contrast to the praises of the previous chapter. The Word tells us “on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt.  In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

God has provided for them, and met their every need. However, they are unsatisfied. Not even two months in they are already sick of the food, and ready to go back to Egypt. God sometimes gets an undeserved bad reputation; especially when people read the Old Testament. “The Old Testament God” I’ve heard people call him. They characterize him as vengeful, wrathful, and furious. However, I think God proves them all wrong in this chapter. Rather than curse the Israelites for their ungratefulness; rather than destroy them for their unfaithfulness; God listens to them, and sends manna and quail to feed his people.

In the next chapter we read that they traveled, but couldn’t find water. What do they do? They aggravate Moses like a van full of kids aggravates their father on a road trip. I can almost see it now…

“Moses!”

“What? What? What could you possibly want now?"

“Well, we are thirsty, Moses.”

“I’ll turn this Exodus around if you all don’t stop complaining!”

Again, we see that God meets their needs. He doesn’t get angry. He doesn’t curse them. He doesn’t say, “Keep going another hundred miles, and I will put water there." God meets them where they are. His children are thirsty, so he gives them water. He instructs Moses to strike a rock with his staff, and outpours the running water. Not just a pool of stagnant water, but a fresh spring of running, living water.

If you’re wondering why I would start with a verse from the Gospel and immediately begin a long explanation of the Exodus in the desert, it’s because I said all that to explain and give weight to what Jesus is saying in that verse. The festival they are celebrating at this time is called the Feast of the Tabernacle. It was a joyous celebration of the days when God’s people roamed the desert while God miraculously met their every need. Think of how you feel after working all day in the hot sun, and you get that first ice-cold drink. This very moment in their history is what they are celebrating years later in the time of Jesus.

Tradition says that every day during the festival a Jewish priest would go to the wells of salvation, from the spring of Gihon, the same water used to anoint Solomon as king of Israel, and would draw a jug full of water. The people would follow the priest like a parade. They would sing and dance behind the priest all the way through town on their way back to the temple. Once there, the priest would pour the water on the altar; reminiscent of the day when God caused water to spring out of the rock in the desert. On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus shows up, and decides to steal the show by saying, “If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink!”

Jesus makes a bold, unmistakable proclamation here. He is saying, “I have something greater. I have something greater than water. I have something greater than a festival. I have something that will sustain you better than your parade, better than your traditions, and better than your history.”  We, being redeemed people, know that Jesus did not have water for our cups, but the Holy Spirit for our bodies. After Jesus died, was resurrected, and ascended into Heaven the Holy Spirit poured out onto those with faith in God’s Son, and continues to do so to this very day.

This being said, it’s still human nature to complain. Just like the Israelites in Exodus, we all love to feel sorry for ourselves. We all love to amplify our sufferings, and downplay our blessings. Sometimes it may feel like you are going through a desert. Sometimes it may even feel like God has abandoned you. Sometimes it feels like God is never going to help. In those times I urge you to pray, and remember that the Spirit of God is always with you to provide for you wherever you are.

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