Rivers define the land.
Wide, slow moving rivers twist and turn from the source in the uplands to the delta by the sea depositing rich soil through the land fortunate enough to host them.
- Mountain streams burst forth from solid rock, crystal clear and cold, carving canyons through deserts.
- Tidal rivers hardly move at all filling large plains with brackish water, salt water mixed with fresh.
- Along the way, rivers recruit smaller streams to join them in their service to the land.
At once, great rivers are barriers, difficult to cross, and highways of commerce making a way to the sea.
The land is defined by its rivers. Here is the continuing drama:
- deserts have few and they are shallow and seasonal;
- mountain ranges have swift, crashing rivers, hurrying to obey the pull of gravity;
- fertile plains surround broader streams, imbibing their substance and coloring their waters brown; and
- river deltas, spread the river into a triangle of streams to finally enter the sea but the sea is never full. (Ecclesiastes 1:7)
Rivers of Living Water
With his brothers somewhere in the crowd watching His every move, Jesus chose the climax of the feast—remember, this was the climatic feast of the whole year!—to draw the attention of the Temple crowd to Himself. Many scholars believe that Jesus chose a spectacular moment to make His amazing pronouncement. At the moment when tradition says that a parade of priests carried jars of water from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple, Jesus stood and commanded the attention of the crowd. His words were amazing, revolutionary, and true.
“If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.”
Water had long been the illustration of God’s blessing, thus the procession of priests with jars of it. Jesus redirected the quest of the people from the long-established sources of the waters of life—the traditions of the elders—which had their headwaters in the words of Jehovah Himself. Jesus called the people to Himself instead of the Temple. It was another way of announcing a New Covenant. Add this to being “born again” and to “worship in spirit and truth” and it is clear that something new and better was in the offing. The crowd fixed their attention of Jesus and the priestly parade halted. Jesus went on:
“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said,
out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
The stunned crowd was confused. Was this man crazy? No one had ever spoken this way or made these kinds of claims. Somewhere in the crowd, the other sons of Mary sought to separate themselves from Jesus. He had followed their advice.
The River of the Holy Spirit
It makes sense to us today: Jesus was talking about the River of Life, the life-giving flow of the Holy Spirit from the heart of the believer. John’s commentary explains:
“But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive;
for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
Of course, first there had to be a cross and then an empty tomb, but then, in a New Covenant in His blood, the Throne of God would come to the heart of each believer. According to Ezekiel and John the Revelator, the River of Life flows from the Throne of God and of the Lamb. When we believe the River flows through us to the healing of the nations. This River defines my life.
On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Ezekiel 47:1-2; 7-9 NKJV
Then he brought me back to the door of the 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. 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. …When I returned, there, along the bank of the river, were very many trees on one side and the other. 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. And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live.
And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.
Lord Jesus, when I gave my heart to You, Your Holy Throne came to rest there. Beneath that Holy Throne is a bubbling spring of Living Water. Without ceasing, I drink from that spring and it is in me, life, just as You Promised. This living water flows out from me in praise, obedience, witness, deeds of mercy, kindness and peace. It is a river of peace and of healing. Any good that I may do, will actually be the waters of life flowing from You through me. “There is a river that never shall run dry!” Thank You, Lord! Amen.
There Is a River
Words and Music: Max and David Sapp
1. There came a sound from Heaven, Like a rushing mighty wind,
It filled their hearts with singing, And gave them peace within,
The Prophet gave this promise, The Spirit will descend,
And from your inner being, A river with no end.
There is a river That flows from deep within,
There is a fountain That frees the soul from sin,
Come to this water, There is a vast supply,
There is a river That never shall run dry.
2. There was a thirsty woman, Who was drawing from a well,
Her life was ruined and wasted, Her soul was bound for hell,
Then she met the Master, Who told of her great sin,
And if you drink this water, You’ll never thirst again.
© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved