A few years ago I attended training course on “Resilience” for vicars. It was designed to help us manage our time better, adopt a healthier lifestyle and minimise stress. The various tips and techniques in resilience they taught us have certainly come in useful during the last year of lockdown! Tips like minimise your screen-time, divide your workload into discrete 20 minute tasks, and be sure to take regular exercise.
One of the other things I was taught is the importance of drinking water. As you probably know, our bodies are approximately 70% water, and we really don’t run well without it. Extreme dehydration can cause dizziness, fatigue – and eventually, death. So one top tip we were given on our resilience course was to always keep a glass of tap water on our desk and a bottle of water in our bags. Getting enough water is essential for physical life.
The same principle also applies to our spiritual lives. As Ezekiel and Jesus make clear in both of our Bible readings today, we human beings need the spiritual ‘living water’ that only the Lord can provide.
Ezekiel’s vision: A river of life
At the start of his vision today, Ezekiel sees a trickle of water emerge from underneath the Temple – the place in which God’s presence and glory now dwells. As he follows it eastward, the trickle turns into a stream and finally a fully-fledged river. By the time it flows into the Dead Sea it is a fully-fledged torrent, large enough to turn the saltwater sea fresh.
What’s more, Ezekiel sees evidence of the life-giving properties of this river all along its route. Plants and animals are nourished by it, fish swim plentifully in it, and trees stand all along its banks. What’s more, the trees remain green all year round – they produce fruit for food, their leaves never wither, and they have healing properties for anyone who needs them. This wonderful water seems to provides life and health to everything and everyone it touches!
So what is this remarkable river, what is this life-giving water that Ezekiel encounters? To answer this question we need to turn to the New Testament, including our John Gospel reading for today.
Jesus’ offer: A gift of living water
The Feast of Tabernacles was one of the great feasts in the Jewish calendar. It was their harvest festival, and the climax of the celebration included the symbolic pouring out of water in the Temple, a visual reminder of how God had provided water from a rock as Moses and the Israelites journeyed through the desert after the exodus from Egypt.
Jesus used this festive occasion to say these remarkable words: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” (see Jn 7:37-44).
With these words, Jesus was intimately identifying himself with the God who’d provided Moses with water in the wilderness, the same God who’d given Ezekiel his remarkable vision of a life-giving river. No wonder John says that those who heard Jesus speak were astonished, and began debating amongst themselves whether he was indeed the promised Messiah, the Christ.
What’s more, John explains for us what this “living water” really is. In verse 39 he says that the living water Jesus offers is the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit whom those who believed in him were later to receive”. You see, living water in the Bible is God’s Holy Spirit, the Spirit whom Jesus would pour on every Christian from the day of Pentecost onwards.
You’ll remember that in Ezekiel’s vision the remarkable river he sees provides life to all it touches, and produces fruit from the trees it nourishes.
In the same way, the living water Jesus that gives – the Holy Spirit – produces eternal life within all Christian believers. As we heard a fortnight ago, it is the Holy Spirit who transforms our hearts, it is the Holy Spirit who gives new life to our souls – and it is the Holy Spirit who will one day raise our physical bodies to glorious, resurrected life in the world to come. As Jesus himself once said “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14). So if we are Christians we can have a sure and certain hope beyond the grave, because the Holy Spirit has got to work within us.
The Holy Spirit also makes us fruitful, just as Ezekiel’s river produced a bumper crop on the trees it watered. As the apostle Paul famously says in Galatians chapter 5, the fruit of the Spirit in our lives includes “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” So When the Holy Spirit gets to work on our hearts, a ‘harvest of righteousness’ is always the result.
Conclusion: A New Creation
So with the New Testament as our guide and interpreter, we can make good sense of Ezekiel’s watery vision today. The living water he sees is a fortaste of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God who is now being poured out by the Lord Jesus on all who believe in him. A Spirit who will renew our hearts, transform our character and grant us everlasting life.
Before I finish, its worth noting that there is one other place in the New Testament where Ezekiel’s vision finds fulfilment. Listen to these words from Revelation chapter 22, the final chapter in the whole Bible:
“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 for ever and ever.”
Hopefully the similarities between that scene and Ezekiel’s vision are obvious and striking. The Book of Revelation uses exactly same imagery as Ezekiel to describe the New Creation – the new world that God is preparing for his people to enjoy forever. In that world to come God’s blessings will sweep over his people like a flood. He will provide light and life for all in Christ’s church. When this divine river flows, there will be no more death, disease or decay.
It’s a wonderful vision, a glorious hope. One we all thirst for – especially in times like these. It’s a thirst that only Christ can quench, when we come to him repentance and faith. So why don’t we do that in prayer now?
Lord Jesus, we come to you in repentance and faith this morning. Pour into our hearts the gift of your Holy Spirit, the living water that produces life and fruit wherever it flows. Quench our thirst for forgiveness, grace and hope we pray – both in this world and the one that is to come. Amen.
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