Healing Water

healing water

Healing.  It can mean 1. to make healthy, whole or sound; to restore to health or 2. to bring an end or conclusion, as conflicts between people or groups, to reconcile, or 3. to free from evil, cleanse, and purify.  The apostle John reveals Jesus as Divine Healer, Son of God, uniquely empowered to do all three.

In chapter 5 of the Fourth Gospel, John brings the reader to another pool of water.  This one was called Bethesda, an Aramaic word that can be translated “House of Mercy.”  In Jerusalem, this was the hangout for the powerless and invalid; ones in need of a little mercy in a culture that afforded them none.  We might call it Mercy Hospital today, your best hope when you get a dreaded diagnosis.  Common consensus was that the waters had healing qualities, physical and mystical, even if the improvement was only short-lived.  As a physical therapist, I’ve seen therapeutic water work wonders on spastic, paralyzed bodies.  If you couldn’t walk for 38 years and had to sit and beg, why not camp out here?  Worst case, you’re not alone in your infirmity; best case you might get a hand up or out, maybe even a cure.  Either way, the man is helpless.

John points out that Jesus came here on a special day, a ritual day of rest and devotion, Sabbath.  Jesus is about to make the rounds of the three big Jewish Festivals in Jerusalem, and Sabbath sets the tone for them all.  To a Jew, these were the high holy days of devotion to God, and observing them perfectly was imperative.   Good Jews had a valid reason; these observances were laid out to the letter in Scripture, and intensified by rabbinic interpretation.   They were each a means to an end, the promised Messiah, but they became an end unto themselves.  Jesus, in John, takes each Festival and deepens its meaning, revealing himself as the very object of their worshipful expectation.

At Bethesda, the Father of all Mercies is at work in the Sabbath.  While His people rest, God is restores bodies and soul to health, physical and spiritual wholeness.  Jesus makes his way to a place where the need of healing is great.  He selects one man from among the masses, a soul who represents the deep disappointment and despair of mankind.  When Jesus heals the paralyzed man on the Sabbath, he is uniquely claiming to be God, the Son, doing only what the Father is in fact doing on that special day.   Jesus radically heals the man’s body, but more importantly exposes his heart’s desire, leading him to repentance and reconciliation.  This supersedes any power of angelic water or even the letter of the law; Jesus is the only one who gives life.

John quotes Jesus’ defense of himself to the pious who condemned him.  Jesus says, “For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.  Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.  For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.  Moreover the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father who sent him.”  Glory.  It is God’s alone and Jesus reveals it.  He has the power to heal the body and the soul.  He is the living water, all that needs to be stirred up for ultimate healing.

Where do you turn for healing?  Do you trust the hospital or the Holy?  Do you fear the one who can destroy the body more than you trust the one who can restore the soul?  Do you pray for physical healing and neglect prayers for spiritual healing, reconciliation and purification for the sick and dying?  James, Jesus’ brother and leader in the early church said it this way, “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:15-16) Healing and forgiveness are connected.   Our prayers are powerful and effective for true healing, for reconciliation between ourselves and our fellow man with God, and for ultimate triumph over sin and death.  Sabbath healing is ours to claim in Jesus Christ, life giving rest for the body and for the soul.

Redirected by Living Water

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Redirection.   We all need it, but we rarely want it.  Just as water will always seek the path of least resistance, so human nature will choose to go around or under an obstacle rather than up and over whenever possible.  The composition of the terrain determines whether water will be able to erode a path through a mountain or will ultimately have to run parallel to the barrier.  So, too, the Spirit of God, living water, must find in its host a willing heart, an open and malleable spirit, if He is to change the direction of a life from mortal to eternal, from a life of sin to a life of worship and witness.

The woman at the well in Samaria, who Jesus encounters in John 4 and to whom he makes this life altering offer, is an unlikely candidate for change.  To the first readers of John, she represents the opposite of Nicodemus in every way, an uneducated and unnamed woman from the wrong side of town, a heathen no less, from a pagan tribe of people with whom Jews didn’t associate.   Even amongst her own people, she is shamed and marginalized, one who has suffered great dishonor and disgrace by being cast aside by previous husbands and left to fend for herself.   Jesus recognized in her, however, the heart of a God seeker, and broke every Jewish protocol in speaking to her at all, radically offering her words of life!

John uses great literary skill to show his Jesus as the light of the entire world, no longer a respecter of race, religion, or gender, equally Jewish Messiah and Gentile Redeemer, a savior for all who will believe in him.   In a great paradox, the respected Jewish rabbi, Nicodemus, came to Jesus at night and remained in the dark, while this outcast woman encountered Jesus in the middle of the day at peak daylight and was  enlightened!

Jesus asked the woman for a drink of water.  He used a basic and essential human need to reveal himself to her.  He said,

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it was that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water…Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Living water was a common term of the day, a descriptor for water with a perpetual source, a continuous spring.  It was extremely valuable, and its water was used for Jewish ritual washings.  The Samaritan woman knew that there was no living water in Shechem, and likely thought Jesus was being pretty audacious, trying to one up a hero of her faith, Jacob, who she believed gave her people the well.  Little did she know that the water he spoke of would change her life!  When Jesus went deeper and got personal with her, revealing her sin and the sins committed against her, she quickly diverted attention to her religion and its limitations.  Sound familiar?

Jesus graciously and lovingly met her at her level of understanding, but refused to leave her there.  He was pursuing the heart of a worshipper.  He said that “true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, and the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”   Jesus saw in the woman a receptive heart so that the living water he offered would be in her a perpetual source of truth, power and eternal worship welling up into eternal life.   Believe she did!  As unlikely as she was, she became the first missionary recorded in the gospels, empowered to face those who shunned her, telling her community about and leading them back to Jesus.  Many more believed because of her witness!

Have you faced the seemingly unmovable barrier of sin in your life?  Are you diverting attention off of yourself and blaming others for your stagnancy?  Instead of opting for the path of least resistance, will you allow Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the living water, to do the work of erosion in the soft terrain of your heart?   He has already overcome sin and longs to give you peace, joy, and purpose, an abundant life indeed!  May you be empowered to worship and witness today!

Water and Spirit

water dove

Transformation is tricky.  We often try to do it on our own.  We believe that if something in us needs to change, we can, through self-determination, just change it!  From diets to self-help, we are quick to externalize change and convince ourselves that a plan or check list will do the trick.   We are slow to examine the heart, the inner place that is desperate for real help, for a power to change us that is beyond our own abilities and will.

Jesus said it this way to Nicodemus, a strict Jew, a guy desperate to figure out how to be a good rule follower,   “I say to you, unless one is born again (from above) he cannot see the kingdom of God.”   When push back inevitably followed, Jesus answered, “I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  Frustrated with Nicodemus’ refusal to believe this deep foundational truth, Jesus concludes the discourse saying “…so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:1-15)

More than a ritual washing or a religious conversion, Jesus seems to be presenting to Nicodemus a means to complete renewal of the whole person, a total transformation, a birth, from above, of water and of Spirit.   Just as a baby cannot birth herself, but rather submits to the contractions that push her through, so one must submit to radical soul mutation, the renewing birth process of the Spirit to be able to see and to enter the kingdom of God, into an eternal life that is both here and now and not yet.

Passage through water is important in God’s kingdom on many levels, as a means to the promised land, (Exodus 14-15, Joshua 3-4) as a means of cleansing and hope of renewal (Ezekiel 36:25-27, Isaiah 44:3), as a means of repentance (John’s baptism pointing to Christ, Acts 19:2-5, John 1:15) and finally as a means to die to sin and rise to new life (Christian baptism; Romans 6:1-4.)   Water in itself, however, is not enough to accomplish its work.  It is symbolic of the Holy Spirit’s power to cleanse, redirect, redeem, save, and transform.  The Gospel of John points to Jesus, God incarnate, who would baptize “with the Holy Spirit.” (John 1:33)

This birth of water and Spirit is God’s work, not ours.  It is God who has the power to remake the whole person, from the inside out, to rebirth a person into His kingdom.  The law on its best day works on a person from the outside in and is unable to enact lasting change.  Jesus came to fulfill the law and to write a new law (a completed version of the first one) on our hearts by his Spirit.  Our part, as Jesus told Nicodemus, is to believe and to submit.  The Holy Spirit continues his changing work, making God’s children look, talk, act more and more like Jesus every day! (2 Corinthians 3:18)  That is true transformation!

Jeremiah 17:7-8 says:

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.

They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.  It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.  It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.

May we accept and trust this awesome transformative power of water and Spirit to produce in us good, lasting, undaunted Kingdom fruit.

Water and Wine

glass of wine

I like things that are really good.  I like good books, good movies, good food, and good coffee.  When I experience something good, I love to talk about it with people I love, sharing good things with good friends.  Jesus did too.  He shared conversation with good friends, often using the good food and drink they enjoyed as a way to reveal himself and his Father as the ultimate source of blessing!

John carefully selects seven signs in his gospel to reveal a complete picture of the depths of the Father’s glory, physically manifest in his son Jesus Christ, and confirmed by his own Holy Spirit.   John is remembering these events later in his life as he reflects on what it means to follow a resurrected Savior and friend whom he can no longer see, but whose very Spirit lives inside him.   I’m sure the amazing events they witnessed together and the loving conversations they shared replay in his head as he decides what to write and how to write it.

John’s first recorded sign is a curious event, where Jesus seems to reluctantly change Jewish holy water into celebratory wedding wine.  Perhaps John was remembering the numerous references Jesus made to himself as living water and to his own blood as wine to drink during his lifetime, and the fulfillment of those claims in his death, resurrection, and outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps he was thinking of the numerous implications fresh water and wine had in Jewish ritual law and practice and how Jesus took them to a new level.  Perhaps Jesus’ mother, in John’s care after his death, often reminded John of the time when her son made some really good wine!   For whatever reason, this event reveals something deeply important to John about his friend and Lord Jesus!

The water in this story is significant.  John clearly states that Jesus commanded six stone jars, used for the Jewish rites of purification, be filled with water.   We know that the Jews only used water that came from a running (or living) source, like a spring to use for numerous ritual cleansing and purification rituals.  (See Leviticus 15)  They associated living water with the promises of God to cleanse them from their sin, and enable them to follow the law.   Ezekiel prophesied that a day was coming when God would cleanse them with clean water and put his own Spirit within them, where he would remove their hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh! (Ezekiel 36:25-28)  Could John be introducing his audience to the one who would do that very thing?

The wine in the story is also significant.  The Jews had long associated wine, and the abundance thereof, with the blessing of God. (Psalm 104:14-15, Proverbs 3:5-10)  A wedding feast, in Jewish culture, was the ultimate display of joy, honor, tradition, and community.  At great expense, a week-long celebration was on display, with food and wine for all!   At the wedding in Cana, the standard issue wine proved not enough.  As it ran out, the honor and reputation of the family involved did too.

When Jesus reluctantly got involved, at the request and demonstration of faith by his mother Mary, he proved God’s ways, his kingdom, to be really good, fulfilling every need from the basic to the eternal.  He took purification water, used in a habitual attempt to cleanse the curse of sin, and made it into a seemingly endless and valuable blessing for all involved, the best for last, according to the wedding host!  In many ways, Jesus fulfilled the law in their presence, just like he said he would do. (Matthew 5:17-20)  The few that knew what had just happened, including John, saw glory and believed!

When God gets involved in my messy life, I’m amazed at His transforming power!  The God who made water into wine, makes me new every day, conforming me little by little into the likeness of Jesus! (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)  He even takes my stone water jar attempts to cleanse my own sin and assures me that when he looks at me, he only sees the perfection of Jesus as His Spirit lives in me!  Even the angels celebrate that with him!  He’s a celebratory wine kind of God!  I do like things that are really good!

Water As Good News

blue water

Water is an important motif used throughout God’s story in Scripture. In the beginning, God’s Spirit was hovering over the waters, (Genesis 1:2) before Father, Spirit and Son created order out of chaos. In the end, God declares these trustworthy and true words via his servant John, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Revelation 21:6-8)

A motif is defined as a usually recurring, important thematic element in a story or book that has symbolic significance. I think the author of the Fourth Gospel, likely the apostle John, was mesmerized by God’s identification with water throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. From its creative significance to its redemptive and cleansing power to its prophetic importance, water was synonymous with the Spirit of God, promised to be poured out on His people. As an aging John set out to pen a very unique gospel account in the late first century, he seemed to want to tell the story of his beloved friend and Lord, Jesus, from a deeply personal yet spiritually rich perspective. He aimed to reveal Jesus as God, uniquely Son, intimately connected with Father and Spirit, and used literary techniques to signify what cannot be explained by words alone, His glory! One of many literary techniques employed by John, the motif of water as a symbolic and thematic element representing God’s Spirit, was used to accomplish this task.

John’s origin story of Jesus parallels God’s origin story in Genesis beautifully. In the beginning, God created with spoken words. (Ge 1:1-2:3) In the beginning was the Word…He was in the beginning with God and all things were made through him. (John 1:1-3) In the beginning, God said into the chaos of darkness, “Let there be light, and there was light (before there was a sun.)” (Ge 1:1-3) John said, “The light (Jesus/the Word) shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5) As the Spirit of God hovered over the waters of Genesis 1, God’s Spirit hovered over the baptismal waters of Jesus and descended and remained on Jesus as he began his ministry. (John 1:32-34) As the writer of Genesis describes 7 days of creation, so John, in his first chapter, marks 7 days in the life of Jesus (from John 1:19-2:1), leading us to the first miraculous sign in John 2, pointing to God’s glory.

In Genesis, God separated the waters below from the waters above (where His Spirit had hovered) with an expanse called Heaven. (Genesis 1:6-8) In John, this divide between heaven and earth was bridged by the divine Word made flesh and dwelling among us, so that all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, born not of blood or the will of the flesh nor man, but the will of God. (John 1:10-13)

What amazingly good news, a gospel that I want to drink in, be filled with, and overflow with in songs of praise! (Ephesians 5:18-21) As we seek out the motif of water through the pages of John’s gospel, may we allow the Spirit of God to penetrate our hearts and minds as we witness the glory of God!

Good Art

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Good art speaks. By nature of its designer’s line, color choices, stylistic nuance, or interpretation, a painting or symphony or story is able to take on its own life, revealing something new each time it is absorbed. People bring their unique knowledge, experiences, and emotions to art and look through a very personal lens into its depths. People often see and hear new things every time they read a book or look into a painting, as their understandings of their world and their own perceptions change and grow.

The Bible is like a gallery full of art, or a library full of books, all telling a singular story, a grand epic, about God and his people. It is a collection of literature, made up of poetry, prose, music, speeches, letters of correspondence and remembered and recorded history, divinely gathered and breathed to life by the very Spirit of God. It reflects both the divine nature of the God that inspired it and the human nature of the flesh that spoke it, penned it, heard it, corroborated it, copied it, told it, sang it, gathered it, validated it, and translated it. It speaks the very word of God with us (Father, Son, and Spirit) from beginning to end. It is as alive as those who engage it and apply it. James says it is like a mirror that reveals what humans really look like. The great preacher of Hebrews proclaims the Word of God as sharper than any sword, a word of promise and rest and yet a discerning word of judgment that can expose the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  The Bible is to be read with the mind and the heart, engaged over and over again with a soul hungry and thirsty for the God it reveals.

It is my intent to look into this library and appreciate its art while growing in my relationship with my Father, through Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit. I yearn to drink and be satisfied by living water. I believe that God will speak through the pages of Scripture and through the people in whom He’s chosen to dwell as we read and think and communicate with one another through this blog. We’ll start in a book full of literary depth, rich metaphor, and poetic beauty, whose author’s clear intent was to reveal this God with us as Jesus, the Christ, the son of God, the way back to the Father, the only one who can offer life, true, abundant and eternal, and his own Spirit to guide the way. Let’s gaze into the Gospel of John and listen to God speak.

To whet our thirst and prepare our minds, here’s a great clip by N.T. Wright about approaching the good news of God, the gospel: