Water of Consecration

The Jordan River

The Jordan River

My husband asked me to marry him on a rock. This wasn’t just any rock. It was specially chosen by him. The view from the rock framed a beautiful river valley, nestled in the Colorado Mountains. It represented his home, his history, a part of himself, and he hoped it would mark a start to our future together. More than anything, it was a place where we both felt the presence of God, and we sensed the Spirit leading us to commitment. We’ve since taken our children to that very rock, a place of consecration for our family. It was there that our family’s collective service to God began.

The Jordan River, in John’s gospel, frames Jesus’ ministry as a special place of consecration. It was in these waters that John the Baptist testified to the Holy Spirit’s consecration of Jesus as God’s chosen one. (John 1) It is back to these waters that Jesus returns at the end of John 10 to remain until the appointed time for his journey to the cross. It is no accident that Jesus returns to the Jordan River after a special Feast of Consecration, the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, where he proclaimed himself the very dwelling place of God that the feast sought to commemorate.

The Jordan River was no stranger to consecration. It was at this same river more than 1000 years earlier that Joshua proclaimed to the Israelites, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” (Joshua 3:5) And wonders He did, halting the waters as the feet of the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant hit the river bed and gathering them into a water wall so that the Israelites could pass through from wilderness wanderers into Promised Land dwellers. Reminiscent of the parting of the Red Sea, the Israelites associated God’s deliverance with his power over water.

To consecrate means to set apart something or someone for the worship or service of God.   The Israelites were God’s chosen ones, agents of His glory! As a nation, they would suffer domination and occupation for centuries. Their temple, reclaimed from the pagan desecration of the Seleucid King, Antiochus Epiphanes in 165 BC by the Maccabees, became a symbol of God’s presence and miraculous power, consecrated for his glory! They celebrated it with the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah.) It was after this Maccabean retaking of the temple, that one single oil lamp miraculously burned in the temple for 8 days. As a part of Hanukkah, candles commemorated this event, lit for 8 days in November/December of each year, even to the time of Christ. As a Jew, Jesus recognized the great significance of this Feast.   Jesus longed for his followers to see and realize that He, the light of the world, was now the consecrated, chosen one of God to bring the miracle of redemption to his people. Later Peter told the early church that as believers in the atoning blood of Jesus and his resurrection victory over sin and death, we are now God’s consecrated ones, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people possessed by God to proclaim his glory! (I Peter 2:9)

The rock by the river in Colorado is a symbol of my covenant commitment to my God, my man, and my marriage. The waters of the Jordan are symbolic of God’s commitment to his people, his deliverance, his provision, and the way back to himself, his incarnate son as the agent of redemption and reclamation of his true dwelling place, the hearts of all who would believe in and trust him.

Spiritual Sight

understanding

I recently read Helen Keller’s autobiography, The Story of My Life. What struck me most was how uniquely and profoundly Helen could “see” the world despite being deaf and blind since infancy. Jesus seemed to talk about this ironic phenomenon a lot. He said the blind could often “see” (perceive or understand) what those with sight could not. Jesus recalled the words of Isaiah, as he attempted to reveal spiritual truth in story form to his followers in parables, “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ (Matthew 13:13-15)

The apostle John longs for his readers to “see” spiritual truth in his great narrative as well. In chapter nine, he concludes the events surrounding the Feast of Tabernacles and its unique way of revealing Jesus as the son of God. The last day of this feast included a great water ceremony where Jesus boldly declared himself the living water, which the Jews ceremonially poured out from the Pool of Siloam. (7:37-39) It was followed by a great light ceremony in the Temple court of women, where sixteen bowls were placed on four large stands, filled with oil and wicks, and the night sky of Jerusalem was lit up to singing and dancing. It was likely in this very place that Jesus declared in John 8:1, “I am the light of the world! Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.”

Enter a blind man, who regularly walks in darkness, who will tie these great revelations of Jesus together in a profound way. He is enabled to see light in the world for the first time by the one who declared himself the light of the world. He is asked to wash spittled mud from his blind eyes in the same living water of the Pool of Siloam (which means sent) by the one who had been “sent” from God. (John 4:34, 5:23, 37, 7:28, 8:26, 12:44, 14:24) Again, Jesus heals him on the Sabbath, a day where only God should be at work, baffling the smartest guys on the street as to who Jesus really was, and leaving them spiritually blind!

The story culminates when Jesus meets with the newly seeing blind man privately to expose the spiritual sight he has received! After the man had boldly proclaimed Jesus to be God and been subsequently kicked out of the synagogue, Jesus asks him a more probing question, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He had made a reasoned conclusion in his head; now Jesus was asking him about the condition of his heart. The man’s confession of faith, “Lord, I believe” and his worship of Jesus reveal an open embrace of Jesus as Messiah. He is certainly not walking in spiritual “darkness” anymore.

What about you? Are you able to see, but still walking around in the dark? Have you allowed the living water, the Spirit, to open your eyes so that you can understand with your heart the healing power of Jesus Christ? He longs to shine his light into your dark places.

 

Drink Up

Offering Living Water

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” 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. –John 7:37-39

Have you ever been really thirsty? To say that we “need” water is an understatement. Dehydration is fatal and the symptoms experienced are brutal. As a person loses only 2% of their total body fluid, (we are literally made of water) the symptoms are subtle.   You may feel thirst, loss of appetite, fatigue, weakness, chills, dry skin, dark colored urine, dry mouth, and headache. But the longer you go without water, the more urgent the need becomes. When you reach 5% fluid loss, you can’t deny that something is wrong. You feel your heart rate racing and your temperature rising, you can’t sweat or urinate, and extreme fatigue and muscle cramps takes over and demand you take notice. At this point you are actively seeking water. If it’s nowhere to be found, at 10% fluid loss, death is imminent. You can’t walk, see, or urinate. Your skin starts to shrivel, pain overtakes you, breathing slows, and you finally succumb to unconsciousness. To be thirsty, quite literally, means you are on a path to death and need to access water in a hurry!

To be spiritually dehydrated is no less fatal, and the symptoms start out just as subtly. Maybe you have lost your appetite for God’s word; reading it just doesn’t taste as good as it used to? You question if words written thousands of years ago can really “speak” into your life; alter your difficult circumstances? Maybe you’re questioning whether your faith is really accomplishing anything? You feel dry, complacent, and unable to pray. You’re going through the religious motions because they are what you’ve always done. Maybe you’re just tired, weak…worn out?  The longer you go without a drink, or the longer you go trying to satiate your spiritual thirst with fleshly drinks, the more intense these symptoms become.  You struggle to find peace, purpose, even hope? Are you thirsty?

Jesus claimed to offer living water to the thirsty, a continuous source of hydration from within, his very Spirit to drink.  John records Jesus’ offer pre-sacrificial death; pre-glorification, so he offers us a commentary on Jesus’ claim. John said that Jesus was speaking of the Spirit that he was yet to pour out to those who would believe.

These words of Jesus had all sorts of implications to John’s audience, because the context of the claim was an important Jewish Festival, the Feast of Tabernacles. One of three yearly pilgrimage festivals for the Jews to Jerusalem, this one celebrated the fall harvest and recalled the provisions of God in the wilderness wanderings of the Jews, when they lived in temporary shelters and their breakfast, lunch and dinner fell from the sky and their water poured out of rocks. On the last day of the Festival of Tabernacles, in Jerusalem, an important ritual ensued. A mass of worshippers followed their high priest who took a golden pitcher, filled it with water from the Pool of Siloam, walked back up the steps of the temple, and poured it out in front of the people, recalling God’s promises to pour out His Spirit on his people. Jesus boldly interrupted this ritual when he screamed out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him COME TO ME and drink.” It was if he was saying, “I’m the water you’ve been waiting for!”

Close to 2000 years on the other side of Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, witness and ascension back to the Father, you and I still have access to this spiritual drink, the very Spirit of God the Son, Jesus Christ, and God our Father. The offer is a free gift, a complete filling, a loving response to our belief in him, our complete trust in his saving, redemptive work on the cross, but it demands that we drink.  Paul said to our Christian ancestors, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (I Cor 12:13) Later, he told believers to be filled with the Spirit instead of getting drunk on other kinds of “spirits.”

The physical symptoms of dehydration demand we go on a hunt for water and then get it into our system!   The good news for the believer in Jesus is that we already have a continuous stream of living water, the Holy Spirit residing inside of us! We have all of the Spirit, but the Spirit may not have all of us. If you are experiencing the symptoms of spiritual dehydration today, drink deeply! Cry out to God in prayer, asking him to help you pour out the junk in your heart and mind that is blocking the cleansing, empowering work of the Spirit within you. Seek him… in the words of Scripture, through the counsel of a Spirit-filled friend, in heart felt worship via song, poetry, dance…and you will find him, when you seek Him with all your heart. (Jer 29:13)

Overcoming Waters of Fear

I fight with fear…a knock-down, drag out fist fight of the mind. The waters of self-doubt seem to swell most at night, when the enemy convinces me that I’m not good enough as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, or friend. My body convinces me that I am in danger. Fear convinces me to trust my own instincts of self-preservation in order to remain safe and secure, either fighting to defend myself against rejection or taking flight when the water threatens to get over my head. The apostle John presents Jesus calming the waters of fear and doubt in John 6 to show his followers that He is the same God who had delivered them through the dangerous waters of their past.

John chapter 6 brings us to the Jewish feast of Passover, a time of great remembrance and celebration for the Jews, recalling God’s protection and provision when he led the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery and into their promised land of Canaan. The apostle John masterfully blends elements of this week long ritual observance with the work of Jesus,  proving him to be the Messiah, the Son of God, and the perfect object of their Passover observance! Just as God proved himself powerful over water by parting the Red Sea, enabling the Israelites to walk through on dry ground to escape their Egyptian enemy, Jesus walks on water and calms a storm in the presence of his disciples. Just as God provided manna and quail daily in the wilderness to provide for his people, Jesus multiplies a few pieces of bread and fish to feed the multitudes. Finally, as the culmination of the observance, John will have Jesus referencing his own flesh and blood as the bread and wine of the Passover meal, which was consumed to remind the people of the redemption they experienced when the angel of death passed over their doors in Egypt, prompting their release from slavery.

From this context, let’s consider Jesus’ command over the Sea of Galilee, dispelling the fear of his followers.  In John 6:16, His disciples were no doubt exhausted and confused, pursued by a crowd of people who had witnessed some amazing miracles and were ready to make Jesus king by force! Facing a riled up mob, their leader withdraws to pray and leaves them to fend for themselves after dark, in a meager boat on an angry sea.   Put some creepy background music to this scene, and you have the elements for a good horror flick!  Faced with a fight or flight response, they take the flight option, flying by the seat of their pants, and rowing for 3 ½ miles into blackness, wind and swells.   I think John was kind to describe them as “terrified” when they saw Jesus approaching the boat and walking on water. They were probably screaming like little girls, out of their minds and their bodily functions with sheer horror and panic.   Just as the Israelites faced fear as an entire Egyptian army approached and pinned them in at the Red Sea, with nowhere to go but to their assured death in the waters before them, the disciples likely feared for their lives.  Jesus uses the same type of phrase to describe himself as God used with the Hebrews, “It is I” (John 6:20) is reminiscent of “I am that I am,” (Exodus 3:14) and the message was the same as it was to Moses, “Do not be afraid.” The disciples are persuaded to take him into the boat… faith in the grip of fear.   Immediately, the boat reaches the shore… fear abated.  Perfect love, indeed, drives out fear. (I John 4:18)

The message is unchanged for you and me as Christ followers, today. The perfect Passover lamb has been sacrificed on our behalf and rose again to conquer fear and death once and for all, leaving his very Spirit residing in us as believers! When fear grips us, and fight or flight tempts us, Jesus says, “I am here; don’t be afraid.”  If God, the Father, Son and Spirit has power over the elements of nature, over his very grave, do you not think He can handle the people, diseases, and circumstances that threaten us today? Paul put it this way, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) The storm may still rage and our bodies may or not be spared, but we are promised that our hearts and minds are always guarded in Christ Jesus. This is the weapon I fight with on my fearful nights. I envision Jesus calming the storm in my mind, and taking my meager boat to the shore where I’m heading. May you find his peace today in the middle of your storm!