BIBLICAL NARRATIVE OF THE WATER OF LIFE
Q1/Ice Breaker: What are the top 3 things you cannot live without?
1 Then he brought me back to the door of the [a]temple; and there was water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the front of the temple faced east; the water was flowing from under the right side of the temple, south of the altar. 2 He brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me around on the outside to the outer gateway that faces east; and there was water, running out on the right side.
3 And when the man went out to the east with the line in his hand, he measured one thousand cubits, and he brought me through the waters; the water came up to my ankles.
4 Again he measured one thousand and brought me through the waters; the water came up to my knees. Again he measured one thousand and brought me through; the water came up to my waist. 5 Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross; for the water was too deep, water in which one must swim, a river that could not be crossed. 6 He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?” Then he brought me and returned me to the bank of the river.
7 When I returned, there, along the bank of the river, were very many trees on one side and the other. 8 Then he said to me: “This water flows toward the eastern region, goes down into the [b]valley, and enters the sea. When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed. 9 And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever [c]the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes.
This video clip encapsulates the Biblical Theology of the flow or stream of God’s story of redemption for His creation. The story of the Bible started with rivers flowing from Eden, giving life to God's creation. If "the heavens declare the Glory of God" and the "Mountains represent His majestic Presence"; RIVERS symbolise the Life-Giving and Healing Flow of the Holy Spirit.
Rivers, being a significant symbol and source of life; many ancient Civilisations began and thrived on Riverbanks - the Great ancient Empires like Egypt, for instance, lived and thrived by the Nile River. Even today in our modern times - many popular and thriving capital cities in the world are found along rivers: London, Paris, Cairo, Rome, Melbourne, Amsterdam, Bangkok, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Budapest, Delhi, Lisbon, Perth, Moscow, New Orleans, New York, Prague, Quebec, Sydney, Shanghai, Vienna, Tokyo, Warsaw, Washington DC, (Manila?) :)
This is a picture of the top 4 longest rivers in the world. From the top left to the bottom right:
Nile River 6,693 Km (stretches to flow through 11 African Countries)
Amazon River 6,436 Km (South America)
Yangtze River 6,378 Km (China)
Mississippi River 5,970 Km (North America)
THE STORY of RODNEY, MISSISSIPPI
Rodney was once such an important and thriving city that it very nearly became the capital of the Mississippi Territory in America in 1828. Today, it is a ghost town with only a handful of area residents. What happened to this city?
In 1870, the Mississippi River started to change course, moved two miles west and by 1930, Rodney was no longer considered an official town. Its population declined to nearly zero after the Mississippi River gradually changed course.
Why did the river change course?
They have discovered that over time as the developments and infrastructures were being built- there was a great build-up of debris from developments that caused the movement of large sand bars in the nearby Mississippi River, causing the grand waterway to alter its course. And over time as the city drifts farther and farther away from the river - the more desolate, dry, barren and unliveable it became.
Q2: What can we reflect on in the story of Rodney, Mississippi?
DRIFTING AWAY FROM THE RIVER
This is a great illustration of where we find human society right now spiritually speaking. We are so thirsty and hungry for more that we do not know that what we are building and trying to pursue is the very same thing that drives us away from the very Life Source of our existence. That’s the story of the Israelites as well in the time that Ezekiel prophesied this in Babylon in 597 BC. At a time when all hope seemed lost, where everything looked dry, and while he was a captive among thousands of other Jews - He wrote Ezekiel 47, remembering the River of God from Eden - from Mt. Zion - as he was sitting by a river: Ezekiel 1:1
In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.
From beginning to end, God tells His story of redemption through the literal and symbolic meaning of creation.. in this case, rivers. The text in Ezekiel 47 can only be fully understood when we see the context of where it is situated in the full narrative:
THE RIVER BEFORE THE FALL (Origin)
8 Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden was the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin[d] and onyx are also there.) 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
- Genesis 2:8-14
THE RIVER AT THE SECOND COMING of CHRIST (Creation Restored)
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever.
- Revelations 22:1-5
In between Genesis to Revelation is the story of God’s redemption history for His people - and in here we find Israel's and our story. The Lord’s Message to Ezekiel and the people of Israel in a nutshell is this:
"Yes, you can look back and wallow in your regrets, you can look at your present situation as captives and be crippled and depressed and hopeless or you can come back to God, begin to look up and look forward to the promise of restoration He has for those who seek His face." So this prophecy gave them hope and stirred up their faith in their captivity. Their Temple will be rebuilt, their city will be restored and the river of God will flow through it once more. This prophecy is both literal (Nehemiah and Ezra and Zerubabbel rebuilding the walls and the temple when they returned from exile) but also symbolic.
JESUS FULFILS EZEKIEL'S PROPHECY
The prophecy of Ezekiel points to the final fulfilment of the Millenial Reign of Christ in Revelations - when Jesus Christ comes back again, but its inauguration is the First Arrival of the Messiah on earth that we find in the Gospels. Jesus fulfills the prophecies of Ezekiel and the prophets.
Q3: How do you think Jesus fulfils the prophecy of Ezekiel 47?
Look at the prominent symbols in the Ezekiel 47 prophesy: The Temple, The Altar, the Gate and the River - These are all pointing to and is fulfilled in JESUS. He is the new and perfect temple (John 2:19). He is the Sacrificial Lamb on the Altar (John 1:29). The river flowed from the Altar at the Temple - THE CROSS was this ultimate ALTAR from which the Lamb of God was slain. When the Guard pierced the side of Jesus it says that BLOOD and WATER flowed. (John 19:34). He is the Gate by which the sheep can enter (John 10:9).
And ultimately JESUS is the Source of this River. During the great “feast of tabernacles,” the Jews would remember the promise of the temple to come, which the prophet Ezekiel had spoken of in Ezekiel 47, in a day in which Jerusalem would be saved from all of her enemies. In anticipation of this, the priests and rabbi were said to have gone to the pool of Siloam each year at the feast and filled jars with water, carried them back to the Temple and poured them out as a symbolic longing for that promise of Ezekiel. One day during that feast, John tells us in John 7:
37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 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 Christ stood up in the midst of the people celebrating that feast, who were looking for that temple to come, and cried out these words. Jesus knew exactly what He was doing. He was claiming to be that Temple, that Altar and that Gate which Ezekiel had spoken of, and out of Whom flowed a river of life which the Old Covenant temple had only been a shadow of.
Today, as present-day followers of Christ, we look at Ezekiel's prophecy and we see it from a vantage point. It is situated at the PAST - The Return from Exile and the First Coming of the Messiah. And it is also what we look forward to in the near FUTURE - The Second Coming of Christ and His Millenial Reign (Revelation 22). We are in the in-between - the NOW and NOT YET - and this river has flown from eternity past and is flowing here right now in the midst of us and from within us as God's children and will flow for all eternity.
Q4: What does it mean that Rivers of Living Water will flow from within us?
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. - Psalm 46:4
5 THINGS WE CAN LEARN IN THIS PASSAGE ABOUT THE RIVER OF GOD:
1. From Small to Big
Then he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and behold, the water was trickling out on the south side.
When God wants to send a flood it usually starts with a trickle.
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
The huge things that God wants to do usually start small. You don’t know how that small idea can turn out to be the floodway of the salvation of many people. A small thing plus God is big enough!
Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.”
Remember where we began as a church - JRM Sydney. Let’s remember our humble beginnings. The Lord is telling us to dream again and pioneer again! The River of God still wants to flow and grow and reach more people. Every act of service. Every volunteering. Every KIDS TV recording, every rehearsal, every devotional sharing are "trickles" that God uses and we do not see how far and how big it can grow. That trickle could be a prayer or an idea, an initiative coupled with faith!
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
You could be a Cephas - a pebble - but that’s where God wants to start..
“Lord I can be your pebble… I can be your mustard seed ... use me as you will.”
How does a river of salvation start to flow - how does revival start - it starts from one person who has genuinely encountered the Life-Giving force of God’s Salvation, Love and Grace and who genuinely was transformed by it and surrenders His life for God’s use and shares his life to another.
Q5: This week what was or will be the "trickle of water" you plan to do that will bless others? Who is that person you will pray for or call and minister to?
2. From Death to Life
Where God’s River flows there is life..
7 When I returned, there, along the bank of the river, were very many trees on one side and the other. 8 Then he said to me: “This water flows toward the eastern region, goes down into the valley, and enters the sea. When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed. 9 And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes.
What verse 8 is pertaining to is the Dead Sea - the lowest place on earth - 1300 feet below sea level - it’s salinity level is 6 times greater than the ocean - 25% Salt content - too much salt content that you cannot even sink in it - you will float. No life is possible to survive in those waters nor around it. What an incredible picture of our salvation:
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
The Gospel is not about bad people becoming good, it is about dead people coming to life. We were dead once - but we were born again! That’s why the church is about celebration. It is my prayer that every week it will be like a birthday party because every week there will be people who are being born again.
Q5: How was your life like the Dead Sea before you were saved and met Christ? What has the River of Life brought healing in your life?
3. From Toxic to Fresh
The prophet Joel echoes the prophecy of Ezekiel and describes how the River of Life will bring freshness and restoration to the wastelands of Shittim.
“And in that day
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and the hills shall flow with milk,
and all the streambeds of Judah
shall flow with water;
and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord
and water the Valley of Shittim.
SHITTIM - a specific area in the Valley of Kidron along the path going to the Dead Sea. It is a wasteland, a barren valley toxic and at the time of Jesus this has been made to be a landfill - a place also where dead bodies are thrown and burned when there is no place or money to buy a burial site for the dead.
Q5: What are the Shittim areas of your life where you need the River of Life to flow and wash away?
After God brings you from death to life - He wants now to deal with the Shittim parts of your life - this is what discipleship and sanctification are all about. He loves you as you are but He will not allow the toxicities of bad habits, wrong mindsets and beliefs, wrong relationships, vices and negative behaviours to remain in your life. He wants His river to flow and wash over those parts of your life, your mind your heart that brings toxicities to your soul.
3 Strengthen the weak hands, And make firm the feeble knees.
4 Say to those who are fearful-hearted, “Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, With the recompense of God; He will come and save you.”
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
6 Then the lame shall leap like a deer, And the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, And streams in the desert.
7 The parched ground shall become a pool, And the thirsty land springs of water; In the habitation of jackals, where each lay, There shall be grass with reeds and rushes.
Q6: Remember these scenes from the movie 'THE LION KING"? Relate these scenes to the verse in Isaiah 35:3-7? How was the story of Lion King relate to the story of Jesus' Redemption story in the Bible?
4. From Shame to Celebration
The Lord brings healing to the toxic lands of our lives AFTER he brings salvation to our souls. What religion gets wrong is it wants to deal with the Shittim first and then you will have salvation but that is the opposite of what God wants you to do .. come to Him first in repentance and surrender and let Him wash over all your toxicities in the process of surrender. Don’t give up on yourself because God will never give up on you.
1 By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down, yea, we wept When we remembered Zion.
2 We hung our harps Upon the willows in the midst of it.
3 For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song, And those who plundered us requested mirth, Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How shall we sing the Lord’s song In a foreign land?
Have you bought into the lie of shame? Have you given up on yourself? Have you hanged up your harp and stopped singing? You can be stuck in condemning yourself to live in regret and hopelessness if you believe the lie of the enemy that God's done with you. Refuse to define yourself by the worst day of your life. Define yourself by the worst day of Jesus’ life - the CROSS. Turn your eyes upon JESUS - look up to a merciful God who doesn’t condemn you anymore because He has already condemned sin in His Son on the cross. Remember the difference between Judas and Peter. What used to be the cause of shame for Peter became His testimony of Grace.
Instead of your shame you shall have double honour,
And instead of confusion they shall rejoice in their portion.
Therefore in their land they shall possess double;
Everlasting joy shall be theirs.
God will never ever say “shame on you” but he will always declare “shame off you” because the shame was already imputed unto the Son of God for us.
5. From Shallow to Deep
What started as a trickle becomes a mighty rushing river…
3 Going on eastward with a measuring line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water, and it was ankle-deep. 4 Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was waist-deep. 5 Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen. It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through.
This is a picture of how we are invited to go deeper in Jesus. There’s always more to discover.. always more to explore… always more to experience with Him.
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and[a] knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
Some Christians have been deceived to believe that seeing and hearing the river is enough.
The Bible says taste and see that the Lord is good - to taste is to experience. Some have been satisfied to stay on the water's edge.. ankle-deep.. but you have to keep going, get going deeper.. never stop there - not knee-deep only, not waist-deep, but all-in and overflowing!
Q7: How do we go deeper in our walk with God?
"Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” - John 7:38
If you have no thirst, you wouldn't drink.
Continue to DRINK
If you don't drink, you can't be filled.
Desire to be FILLED
If you are not filled, you can't overflow.
Share the OVERFLOW
We are meant to spill over and overflow towards others.
The Nature of Rivers is that they are flowing. Water that becomes stagnant doesn’t flow. Don’t let the river stop on you. Let God flow in you and through you. We are not dams but river channels.
STAY IN THE RIVER
Lastly, don’t be like Rodney, Mississippi. Don’t neglect nor drift away from the River.
Stay where the River flows.