[Note: the first part of this sermon was The Gospel According to Water.]
How This Fits with Epiphany
Epiphany means “manifestation,” it means a sudden bolt of inspiration, understanding: “Aha!” One of the supreme places the Bible and the church fathers have pointed for one of these great manifestations is the baptism of Jesus. There the God who made the waters came down into the waters. The one who led Israel through the sea came down to be led through the sea. The One who cleansed and purified Israel, the One who was always clean and holy came to be washed clean for the forgiveness of Israel, to fulfill all righteousness. Then, right on schedule, as Jesus was coming up out of the water, the Spirit descended upon him and the Father spoke from heaven identifying for the whole world, His beloved Son. This beloved Son, filled with Spirit, became the Rock that was struck so that living water might flow out to the ends of the earth (Jn. 19:34). And when we read and hear this story of the rivers, the story of the waters, and we see Jesus standing in the midst of the waters, how can we not glorify Him? How can that not hit us? How can that not open our eyes? Jesus is our living water, our Spirit-filled water.
What Should Studying the Bible Be Like?
This why when you read the Bible rightly, when you are studying it prayerfully, it should be like drinking water, like cool fresh water on your face on a hot day, like a happy, gurgling stream in a mountain meadow, like riding in a fierce, raucous squall. It should be at turns refreshing, sweet, comforting, peaceful, unnerving, terrifying, and overwhelming. Because Jesus meets us in His Word.
- It should be sweet and refreshing: The word of God is “sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb” (Ps. 19:10) “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! Yea sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps. 119:103, 141:6, Ez. 3:3). They should quench our thirst: “As a hart longs for flowing streams of water…” (Ps. 42) “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life that a man may avoid the snares of death (Pr. 13:14, 14:27).
- It should be satisfying and cause growth: “Ho, every one that thirsteth come ye to the waters… incline your ear, and come to me: hear, and your soul shall live… For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Is. 55:1, 3, 10-11). God’s word gives life, causes growth, and is never wasted.
- Reading the Bible is like a refreshing bath, like jumping in the pool on a hot day: Christ washes His Bride, the Church with His Word to sanctify and cleanse her (Eph. 5:26). Jesus came to fulfill all the law and the prophets (Mt. 5:18). He comes as the Word made flesh, and He comes to give “living water” (Jn. 4:14). That living water is the Word of God stirred up and poured out by the Spirit (Jn. 14:26, 16:13, Acts 2:11, 16-21ff).
- It should be somewhat unsettling, startling, overwhelming: When the Bible is read, studied, explained, proclaimed it is the voice of Jesus going forth, the rushing, stormy sound of many waters (Rev. 1:15).
Conclusions & Applications
To know Jesus, to see Jesus, walk with Jesus is to be fully hydrated, soaking wet with His Word, the Bible. This isn’t just a personal, quiet time thing. This is the Word studied in community, taught in classes, proclaimed to the lost, prayed together in faith, sung to one another with joy, feasted upon with thanksgiving in your homes. As you do this, you become fountains of living water, and together we become a well of life for our neighbors, our city, this world.
But we should not just read the Bible and pray for lightening bolts. We shouldn’t just check the boxes and pray for a random, out of the blue revival. Of course God is free to send a revival to Moscow or any place whenever He pleases. But ordinarily God uses means. In the great 16th Century Reformation He used printing presses and preachers and one particularly wicked smart monk with a really bad attitude.
As we look across our nation, it’s increasingly dead wood, dry, barren wilderness. It’s barren with the corpses of murdered babies. It’s barren with the insanity of sodomy and fornication and pornography. It’s barren with lies and theft and manipulation and greed and abuse and loneliness. And meanwhile our culture offers up increasingly empty mirages in this desert. You can drown your sorrows in beer and booze and pot and Meth. Don’t mind the headaches or the damage you caused in the meantime. You can score with pictures and movies on the internet, spilling your seed in the streets. You can go for the fake macho buzz with video games where you get to fantasize about being the best, conquering pretend worlds, blowing up pixelated people, all while sitting on the couch in your boxers. There are mirages of power on offer as well, so-called ladders to success if only you sell your soul to terminal degrees, business gurus, or just lie, steal, cheat, or sleep your way to the top. Grab, demand, go for the gold. Or maybe it’s the secret gnostic knowledge of health and nutrition, organic carrots and free range chickens. Still others go lunging after the mirage of liturgical theatrics. Trying to dig wells in front of icons and candles and elaborate robes and big pointy hats. But it’s all a mirage. It’s fake. It’s false. And people wake up with their mouths full of sand and dirt if they do ever wake up again. Because it doesn’t satisfy. It doesn’t make you clean. And everywhere you look there’s sand. Everywhere you look it’s a barren wasteland, a desert.
We need rain in this land. We need water. People are thirsty. And Jesus came on a mission to dig wells, to break open the rocks, to cause rivers to flow in the dry places, to turn the wastelands into gardens.
When we talk about the Bible, about Scripture being living water, this is what we mean. God created this mind blowing world. He created everything, and He created it all to be beautiful, to be lovely, to be glorious, to be full of pleasure and enjoyment and satisfaction. God invented this world, and He knows how it works. He knows the mystery of trees and fruits that explode with sweetness in your mouth. He knows the mystery of the sun, moon, and stars, the ocean tides and the galaxies light years away. He knows the mysteries of love and sex and friendship and family. He understands the complexities of the whole universe. Maybe we should listen to Him. Maybe we should actually do what He says.
This is the living water. Living Water is water that’s alive, water that moves, water that gives birth, water that heals, water that restores, water that produces fruit and fruitfulness. Living water is moving water, and it’s moving because the Spirit is hovering over it. God is breathing on it. God is speaking. And when we listen and obey, we begin to be refreshed. And the source, the fountainhead of this spring, in this broken, barren world is Jesus’ pierced side. When Jesus was crucified, one of the soldiers shoved a spear up into His chest, and John says that blood and water came out. In other words, we need the living water that only Jesus gives through His life, death, and resurrection.
But that’s not just a slogan. That’s not just something Christians say. That’s not just a nice way to tidy up the end of a sermon. The water of life is obedience to Jesus, submission to Jesus. The living water is doing what He says. He’s the King, He’s the Lord, He’s our Master, and when we listen and obey we are refreshed.
And we have been told that this water starts as a trickle coming from the cross. Jesus was the Rock who was struck. He is the chief cornerstone under the altar in Ezekiel’s new temple. We begin there, and so we begin by proclaiming the forgiveness of sins in the sacrifice of the Lamb who was Slain. We begin our submission to Jesus here. We begin by listening and obeying here. And we call every man, woman, and child to submit starting here. Here, drink this water. What’s that water? It’s the water of forgiveness and cleansing. To those who have killed their babies, we proclaim forgiveness and cleansing in Jesus. To those who have molested little children, we proclaim forgiveness and cleansing in Jesus. To those who have committed adultery, slept with prostitutes, looked at porn, to those who have lied, stolen, or cheated in any fashion, we proclaim forgiveness and cleansing in the blood of Jesus. We proclaim His blood for the remission of sins, and this Word that we proclaim is the Water that cleanses from all unrighteousness. Are you filthy? Are you dirty with sin and guilt? Have you hidden sin from your wife, from your husband, from your parents? Are you afraid of being found out? Are you ashamed? Confess your sins! There is cleansing for you. There is no stain, no dirt, no sin, no evil that can withstand the blood of Jesus. There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s vein And sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains.
But there is more water, more living water. To those who have been abused, who have been molested, who have been raped, who have been mistreated, to those who have been hit, shoved down, beaten, or hurt by hateful words, cursing, obscenities, angry accusations and lies, to those who have been abandoned, to those who have spent nights aching with loneliness and despair and pain and shame, we proclaim the same Jesus. We proclaim Him crucified. We proclaim Him spat on, mocked, betrayed, lied about, laughed at, whipped, flogged, struck, cut, and stabbed. And by His wounds you are healed. Do you feel dirty, used up, worthless, disgusting for what has been done to you? For what has happened to you? For what has been said about, for what has been screamed at you? Are you bitter? Angry? Has injustice been done to you? Do you burn with shame and indignation and fury? We proclaim the Innocent Lamb who was slain. He humbled Himself to death, even death on a cross. He was rejected for you. He was despised for you. He was put to shame for you. He came to take it all, to bear it all, to endure it all so that by His stripes you might be healed. This word that we proclaim is water to put out your fire of shame, water to put out your fire of anger, water to put out your fire of bitterness. Jesus suffered for your suffering. Jesus was put to shame for your shame. Jesus was beaten and abused for your abuse so that you might not be defined by it any more. Because He took it down into the grave and rose up victorious over it. He rose up victorious over it. You are not a victim in Jesus. You are victor. You are not defined by what has been done to you. You are defined by what Jesus has done for you. His sufferings wash you clean; they soothe the burning. They put out the fire. His blood brings you peace. His blood is living water that can heal your shame.
So this is the living water that we offer the world. This is the cool, clean water of the gospel, the forgiveness of sins, the reality of new life in Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We aren’t some kind of social club, some kind of Sunday morning country club. We are gathered here in the midst of a barren land to proclaim the living water of the gospel: Jesus struck: Living Water for the world.
But there is more water, more living water. It starts as a trickle at the cross under the altar, but it runs out of the temple and into the land and it expands. The Water is the Word of God, all of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, that brings healing and restoration to every barren land. It does this by showing us true justice, true mercy. It shows us how the world was meant to work. It shows how we were meant to live. It shows us what it means to be truly human. And we drink this water by hearing and obeying. When we obey and when we share that obedience with others, we are drinking justice, the living water of righteousness and goodness. When you point out the lies your coworkers are telling and living and love the truth instead, you are pouring cool, clean water on to the dry ground. You are pointing out the sand, the mirage, their confusions. And you can offer them water. You can offer them the water of life, the water of cleansing, the water or forgiveness, the water of hope. Some will refuse the water. Some hate the water of life. They hate the God who gives life, they hate Jesus, and they hate His water. His water seems rotten and poisonous to them. It smells like death. And it does mean a certain kind of death. It means death to the old Adam, the old man. It means the sin has to die, the death has to die, the barrenness has to die, but it always means life on the other side. This is what baptism means. It means drowning your old man, your old self and being crucified with Jesus, and then it means rising to newness of life, clean, alive, refreshed.
So think of the Word of God, the Scriptures like a faucet, like a hose, the more you love the Word, the more you sing the Word, the more you share the Word, the more water is spraying out of the faucet, out of the hose. And when you love your neighbors, you want to share the water with them. You see their barren yards, their lives and families on fire with strife and sorrow and hurt and confusion. And you have water. We have been given the water of the Word, the water of the Spirit. And it’s for them, and we know it’s for them because we’ve tasted it and it’s good. It’s sweet. It’s soothing. It has put out the fires in our hearts and lives. It has healed our brokenness. So we tell our homosexual friends and family members, you’re pouring gasoline on your lawn. Here, try some water instead. One man, one woman is the way God makes us fruitful and happy. Your life is all yellow and brown and dry because you need the water of cleansing and obedience. We tell our politicians to stop stealing money, to stop lying, to stop murdering, to stop abusing their authority and power, to stop manipulating the weak. And we point to the Word of God, to the Scriptures, to the water. You aren’t the lords of this land. Jesus is the Lord of this land. You are not the lords of the storm, the masters of the wind and the water. Jesus is the Master of the Storm. Jesus commands the wind and the waves. He is the Judge of the Living and the dead. Kiss the Son, submit to Him, listen to His word. It’s like cool, clean water. And it will turn this wilderness back into a garden. But in order to point others to this water, we need to be drinking it, tasting, regularly seeing its goodness in our lives. We need to know what the Bible says about sex, what the Bible says about marriage, what the Bible says about economics and politics and war and mercy to the poor, to the orphans and the widows. So we need to drink deeply, and then we need to share the goodness boldly.
Reformation starts as a trickle, a dripping faucet, a dripping that turns into a stream that won’t stop because Jesus has come and we love the water.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!