Adam and Eve were supposed to build boats and ride the river down the mountain. They would have had great adventures. Which river would they have gone down first? The Pishon? Looking for the gold in Havilah? Or try the Gihon going down to Ethiopia, or the Euphrates perhaps? Four rivers going out to the ends of the earth, the ends of the compass. The whole world was theirs because the whole world was their Father’s and they were safe in His love. But instead they plodded down that eastern hill in sadness, dust clouds licking their feet.
Grace was when they walked in the garden, when springs of water came up from the face of the ground to water the flowers and plants. Grace was the river that ran out of the garden, out of the presence of God, and down the mountain to the ends of the earth. Grace was drinking that living water, splashing in those streams, riding them, walking in them with the God of the Universe.
The curse of sin was death, dying, growing old, filling up with weeds, thorns, contaminating life. The curse was dry bones in the baking sun, parched lips, and painful dehydration. And when it finally rained, it poured down, and the deeps were broken up and the windows in the heavens were opened. God’s grace, God’s goodness came rushing upon the earth like a mighty river, a storm of wind and water, a flood of judgment. Always the Spirit hovers over the waters; always the Spirit makes it surge and splash and live. But the Life of God, the Grace of God is too potent, too powerful, too good unless we cling to Him, unless He holds us. So only Noah and his family were saved. Only Noah and his sons walked on the water in the ark with the Spirit hovering, blowing, howling over the water.
Later, Abraham and his sons built altars and dug wells in the wilderness of Canaan. Abraham’s servant met Rebekkah at a well. Jacab met Rachel at a well. Then Joseph was thrown into an empty well by his brothers, so Yahweh buried him in an Egypt prison before causing him to spring up like a fountain of life in that parched land. But the pharaohs forgot. The people forgot where the water came from. They thought it came from the Nile. They thought it came from natural forces or economic forces or gods or demons. So God sent an old man with a stick to turn the waters to blood, to cause frogs and dead fish to fill the waters, to disrupt the whole world, to make the economy crash, to show that He was the Lord of the Nile, the Lord of the Waters, the rightful Lord and husband of Israel. But when pharaoh didn’t get the point, Moses commanded the sea to come apart and the wind and the waves obeyed him, and Israel, His bride, went through on dry ground. Then he closed it up again and drowned the Egyptian world in another flood. But when Israel came out of Egypt, they were still contaminated with the doubts and fears and unbelief and bitterness of Egypt. So God showed them how He could turn their bitter waters and make them sweet again. So a tree was cast into the bitter water of Mara to show that God was the Lord of the Waters. He could turn anything, any place, in situation into a well of living water. Later, He caused sweet water to pour from the rock that was struck in the desert.
The Lord brought Israel to himself in the wilderness. He met her at a well He made at the rock. He married her, and they set up their tent in the midst of Israel and there was lots of water of course, drinking and washing with water. The priests washed in the bronze laver, the people began learning to wash when they were unclean, the sacrifices were washed before burning. God said again and again, I am the God of the waters, the God who causes water to live. I am the God who makes you clean, who brings you through the waters into my presence, who satisfies your thirst. I cause you to be safe, to walk through the waters unharmed. Even in the wilderness, I have water here for you. I can make water here, water that lives by the breath of my mouth, my Spirit. When you wash and drink here in my presence you will live. And then the Jordan folded in half when the priests walked into it with the ark of the covenant. When God is with you, the waters obey you, the waters become life for you, you can walk through the waters as though you walked on the waters, as though they were dry ground, as though God carried you.
But Israel forgot where the water came from again and again. They forgot about His love and grace, about how He could satisfy their thirst, how He could wash them clean. So they followed other gods, they looked for water in other places. So one prophet prayed that it would not rain and for three years there was no rain. If they would not seek their water from God, they would not have any water. The world would dry up. The ground and sky would become bronze and barren. The god they worshiped was named Baal – he was supposed to be the storm god, the god of wind and thunder, the lord of rain and water. So Elijah took the prophets of this storm god up on to a high mountain and told them to pray for lightening, pray for fire to light their sacrifice. Surely the storm god would meet them on the top of a mountain. Surely they could call down fire and water if Baal was the true storm God. But though the prophets of Baal called, and screamed, and cut themselves, their god never answered. And Elijah mocked them. He told them their god might be sleeping or on a long journey or meditating or having a rough go of it in the bathroom. Then in that dry land, in that parched land, Elijah commanded buckets of water to be poured on to his altar, and then again, and again. There was no water in that land, and Elijah poured out buckets of the stuff on his altar. Then he asked God for a storm. He prayed for lightening and fire to receive his offering, and God heard and answered and the fire licked up the entire altar and all of the water, and then Elijah asked for rain to prove that Yahweh was the true God, the true storm God, the Lord of the waters. And it rained.
But that was only one summer storm, and the prophets promised a flood of living water. But when Israel was carried away into exile for her sins, cast into the deep salty sea of the gentiles, Yahweh promised to come fishing for them. He promised that even in the deeps of the sea, He could keep them safe. He could keep them safe even in the bellies of great fish. He could keep them unharmed in the waters. If they trusted Him, they would walk through them as though on dry ground. And sure enough, Cyrus, that great Persian Sea Dragon, was moved by the Lord to spit them out back into their land. Faithful Ezra and Nehemiah led the people to build the temple, the Lord’s Ark, His Great Ship again, to trust the God of heaven as the Lord of the Waters, the God of Life. But Ezekial saw a new temple with water flowing out from the altar out over the threshold of the temple, growing deeper and deeper and spreading into four river heads, like a new Eden, a flood of grace, healing the nations, turning the death of salt water, bitter waters, into sweet waters again.
And at another Mara, in the wilderness of Israel, God began to turn the waters sweet again. But this time, God didn’t come as a rock, as a tent, as a well, as an angel. He came for us as one of us. He came as a child, a man, the Lord of the Waters came to calm the storms of the world. He came as a sailor, as a ship captain, as a fisherman. So He spoke to the raging demons and they fled and drowned in the sea. He spoke to the wind and the waves, and they obeyed Him. He walked on top of the waters as though they were dry land, as though they were a path through the sea. He called men to walk with Him, to learn to become fishermen like him, to go fishing for Yahweh’s fish. It wouldn’t be like before when they went fishing all night and caught nothing. He would bring a new morning and if they listened to His voice, they would put their nets down on the other side of the boat and haul in more fish than they could handle. He met a woman at a well and told her about His living water. He came to be struck so that His life-giving tree might be cast into the bitter waters of the world and make them sweet again. He came to wash away the sins of the world. He came to make us walk through the waters of death and fear no evil. He came to birth us and this world again, and when Jesus was struck, the curtain was torn in two. And the world’s water broke. Blood and water came out of Jesus’ side, and the Spirit came rushing out to begin a new world, to cause the waters to flow, to live.
And then Jesus sent us on a mission to fill the world with living water. He breathed His Spirit upon us and said that His Word, His Life would become springs of living water pouring out of us. He sent us to baptize in His Name, to make water drip off the heads of men and women and children, to bring them into the Ark of Christendom, the Ark of the Church, the Ark of the Spirit where the waters surge and blow and live. Where we ride the waters of Life fearlessly because we walk with the Lord of the Waters and He carries us.
[Note: The second half of this sermon is Looking for Jesus: Part 7]