“River Talk”

3 October 2004

Texts: John 7:37-44; Isaiah 12:1-6; 44:3-7 & Hebrews 10:1-10

 

            Three incidents as prelude for today’s sermon.  The first transpired when I was college age and went with friends to climb Mt. Chochorua in New Hampshire.  It was a hot, dry day in August.  We ran out of water shy of the springs which were still potable then and I remembered how our thirst was slaked as we drank that clear, cold water.  Our strength returned.  We replenished our canteens and headed down.  But it was still very hot.  If we had sweated through our shirts once, we must have done it five, or six times.  We were gritty with the salt of our exertions.  It was late in the afternoon when we came to the spring fed streams near the end of the trail.  I can still picture the large, deep pool of roiling water.  There were other hikers already in the water.  They invited us to join them so off came the boots and socks and shirts and in we went.  It was marvelous, wonderful to swim in a river of living waters--hence the title of this sermon.  The second incident is much more recent and it has to do with the implantation of a stint in my heart’s LDA artery--where I had a 95% blockage.  My heart attack was hardly a pleasant experience.  Thanks to the Lord and many prayers of the saints, my life was spared and I was restored to my family and church.  But what I want to relate is the instantaneous cure, the restoration of a healthy flow of blood to my heart.  From the moment that the stint was implanted, I was suddenly healthier than I had been for months, if not years.  From that moment, I began to heal in my extremities--and I experienced the tingling of that restorative process for some two weeks thereafter.  And, now, the third incident: on September 27th, a brother in Christ privately and lovingly reproved me for what he saw as possible sin in my life.  This was proper.  It was neither pleasant nor particularly welcome--I must be honest, strong medicine seldom is--but it was entirely necessary.  It wasn’t accusatory, nor condemning.  It was difficult and painful.  But as I prayed over what he laid before me, I found it necessary to repent.  And, more than that, to humble myself to confess that sin to the Lord and to others and, then, to ask them to pray for me over the specific sin in question.  Then, as I went before the Lord, I encountered several verses of Scripture that spoke life to my soul:

Prov 14:10  The heart knows its own bitterness, And a stranger does not share (intermeddle with) its joy.

 

Prov 1:23  "Turn to my reproof, Behold, I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you.

The first verse speaks to the condition of the heart upon repentance.  Forgiveness is like the implantation of a stint--the dying ends and life begins.  Furthermore, there is great joy for those who repent of sin.  And, just like the sorrow over sin that precedes confession, there is a joy which is sacrosanct--no one else knows it and, as the KJV wonderfully puts it, nobody can “intermeddle” with that joy which is your upon becoming right with God.  The second verse is a promise for all who will turn away from pride and sin.  Forgiveness is accompanied by refreshment, empowerment and a renewal of intimate relationship.  God speaks a river of life into your soul--the flow of the river resumes, the blood reaches to the extremities of your body.  You have escaped the snares of the devil.  You have received a blessing that you may have even forgotten how to ask for.  And all this because our God is merciful and kind--especially to broken sinners.

 

            These autobiographical details are not irrelevant to the passage before us.  They illuminate and personalize the truth expressed in John 7: 37-44.  So I want you to reflect upon the refreshing waters of a mountain stream, the wonder of blood being restored to a fullness of flow in the heart and fruit of repentance.  Sin is indeed a disease of the heart and you do not need to have heart disease to understand that!  So, even those of you who do not have stints can enter in with those of us who do.  What we have before us is a gospel invitation to come to Christ--the invitation is to “comfort” and “happiness.”  The promise is to satisfy the true, deep longings of our heart in relationship to Him.  Jesus cries out loudly, and generally, to all that are within the range of His voice, “Hear My voice and live!”  Now many of us are like myself prior to May 12th, oblivious to how close to dead we are.  We have lost our hearing, or feeling so gradually, that we are unaware of the impairment which has come upon us.  So, too, we may say of sin that it has an encroaching nature--it creeps up on us stealthily, and gradually grows from “little” to “great.”  But, dear friends, that is just the snare of the devil.  Scripture records that God’s wrath is provoked by surprisingly little things: the eating of an apple, the gathering of a few sticks on the Sabbath, and accidental touching of the ark of the covenant.  There are no little sins, and all sin leads to death.  But the invitation goes out anyway. 

 

            Now in this gospel, the neediness of humanity is depicted in several ways.  Here, at the Feast of Tabernacles, people are addressed as thirsty and Jesus claims to be the Rock which yielded water--when the people were wandering through the wilderness.  Scripture records Christ as the Rock which followed them, out of which there came life-sustaining waters.  In Jesus’ day, however, this figure means that they, the people, are thirsty for the Law, or for the Holy Spirit, or, most probably, both.  People must see themselves as spiritually indigent, or their self-sufficiency will harden their hearts, impair their hearing.  There is a real danger that people will be so absorbed with the comforts of this life, worldly things, trinkets and toys that their lives will be completely, and disastrously absorbed with them.  They will squander themselves on their lower motivations, so that their higher aspirations atrophy, or die of neglect.  There are so many who prefer to be entertained to instruction, recreation to worship and so on.  Such as oblivious to their thirst, their own need for repentance, restoration and the river of life.  Sadly, awfully, there are those who do not hunger and thirst after the things of God.  Their interest in the spiritual is, if it exists at all, the interest of a tourist, someone who is merely passing through--not someone who is invested in the things of God.  That is why the promise is to those who hunger and thirst after righteousness-they are the ones who will be filled.  Before we viewed people in terms of their thirst, we were invited to see them as poisoned, snake bitten folk who would die unless they looked upon the brazen serpents raised up for their redemption--so Jesus says, If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto Myself.  The bronze serpents prefigured Christ on the cross.  And we also viewed people as “hungry and weak---”You give them something to eat,” Jesus said to His disciples as He prepared to feed the 5,000.  He claims that the manna of the wilderness prefigured Himself, the bread of life sent down from heaven.

 

            Are you spiritually indigent today?  Do you thirst inwardly and outwardly for living waters?  Do you desire earnestly the good will of God towards you, and the good work of the Lord in you?  If so, this word is for you: go to Him in faith, receive of Him and you will not only be saved, but you will become like Him--as source of love, and life, and hope and joy to all around you.

 

            Jesus’ invitation is plainly a divine claim.  He doesn’t want people going to ceremonial law which can neither pacify the conscience, nor purify it from sin.  Religion is not able to make one perfect.  Christ is.  He says, “Come unto Me.”  He is able to make the “comers thereunto perfect.”

 

Heb 10:1  For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never by the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near.  Heb 10:2  Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins?  Heb 10:3  But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year.  Heb 10:4  For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.  Heb 10:5  Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, "SACRIFICE AND OFFERING THOU HAST NOT DESIRED, BUT A BODY THOU HAST PREPARED FOR ME;  Heb 10:6  IN WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN THOU HAST TAKEN NO PLEASURE.  Heb 10:7  "THEN I SAID, 'BEHOLD, I HAVE COME (IN THE ROLL OF THE BOOK IT IS WRITTEN OF ME) TO DO THY WILL, O GOD.'"  Heb 10:8  After saying above, "SACRIFICES AND OFFERINGS AND WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN THOU HAST NOT DESIRED, NOR HAST THOU TAKEN PLEASURE in them" (which are offered according to the Law),  Heb 10:9  then He said, "BEHOLD, I HAVE COME TO DO THY WILL." He takes away the first in order to establish the second.  Heb 10:10  By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

 

Come to Jesus and you shall have a soul that is happy--happy in Him, not happy in itself!

 

            And not only this, but out of the belly of this satisfied soul shall flow rivers of living water.  The graces and comforts of the Lord which come to reside in you are overflowing principles of spiritual life.  The word “river” carries the sense of plentitude, continuance and power--the currents thereof bear down the oppositions of doubt and fear.  They overcome barriers and walls and hindrances.  Those who are divinely comforted, become comforting in turn.  And these things are held in the hear with a joy that no one can meddle with!  I want to exult with you today in this “river talk” for the river I have in mind is mightier than the Mississippi River, even at high water.  We may construct dykes to the east and to the west of it but the whole river valley is full of water, of power and life!  Jesus never fails, the river never falters.

 

Isa 44:3  'For I will pour out water on the thirsty land And streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring, And My blessing on your descendants;  Isa 44:4  And they will spring up among the grass Like poplars by streams of water.'  Isa 44:5  "This one will say, 'I am the LORD'S'; And that one will call on the name of Jacob; And another will write on his hand, 'Belonging to the LORD,' And will name Israel's name with honor.  Isa 44:6  "Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel And his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: 'I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me.  Isa 44:7  'And who is like Me? Let him proclaim and declare it; Yes, let him recount it to Me in order, From the time that I established the ancient nation. And let them declare to them the things that are coming And the events that are going to take place.

 

Joel 2:28  "And it will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions.

 

Zec 12:10  "And I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him, like the bitter weeping over a first-born.

 

And of us, His church, we read:

Song 4:15  "You are a garden spring, A well of fresh water, And streams flowing from Lebanon."

All this, taken with John 7:37-44, it “river talk.”  According to the text, all this pouring out will occur soon, at Pentecost (Acts 2).  It awaits the conquest and triumph of Christ on the cross.  It is a gift awaiting the purchase of blood  Indeed, Christ’s atoning death is the valuable consideration upon which the gift of the Holy Spirit is conveyed; it is the foundation for the grant.  Yes, it was also an answer to His prayer for us as well as being the first act of dominion performed by Jesus entering His dominion as King of kings and Lord of lords.  The conversion of the Gentiles--which was foreshadowed in the visit of the Greeks (after which Christ exclaimed, ”Now is the Son of Man glorified.”)--includes us all. This is glorifying to this Risen Lord of ours--we are among His seed, we are His children.  This Christ, crucified for our sins and raised for our justification, stands and invites?  What will you do with His invitation to salvation? To restoration of relationship?  To forgiveness?

 

            I would that I could relate that the multitudes received His invitation and swarmed into the Kingdom, but they did not.  The result of the gospel invitation was a division.  And the division occurred over the person of Jesus, over His claim to be God and to be the One who satisfy fully the truest, deepest desires of the human heart.  I have no doubt that He is entirely able to do what He has promised even now.  I also know that the gospel invitation I have issued is like good medicine--it will stir up, in some sinful humors, but it will do so in order to expose and expel them.  Some thought Jesus the Prophet (an error).  Others thought Him the Christ (but were not willing to forsake all and follow Him--the condition of discipleship).  And still others were enraged against Him.  They may have been instructed in the perversion of Scripture, but they deliberately chose to believe misinformation about Jesus--His lineage and place of birth--when all they had to do was ask Joseph, Mary, or Jesus’ own siblings!  However unreasonable their malice may appear to us who believe, what is most surprising is that they were completely unable to act upon it at that time.  This is a great comfort to us for we know that all things are under the control of our Sovereign Lord--He directs us to rivers of refreshing in due season.  He restores life, and health and hope--even to flow of blood through our bodies.  He offers the fruit of repentance to those who will come.  Are you at the end of a long, tiring trip through some wasteland?  Are we debilitated, sick or weary?  Do you long for forgiveness?  Do not linger for this is the hour.  He is inviting you.                          Amen.

 

Prov 14:9  Fools mock at sin, But among the upright there is good will.

Prov 14:10  The heart knows its own bitterness, And a stranger does not share (intermeddle with) its joy.

 

Prov 1:23  "Turn to my reproof, Behold, I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you.

 

Joel 2:28  "And it will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions.

 

Isa 44:3  'For I will pour out water on the thirsty land And streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring, And My blessing on your descendants;

Isa 44:4  And they will spring up among the grass Like poplars by streams of water.'

Isa 44:5  "This one will say, 'I am the LORD'S'; And that one will call on the name of Jacob; And another will write on his hand, 'Belonging to the LORD,' And will name Israel's name with honor.

Isa 44:6  "Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel And his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: 'I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me.

Isa 44:7  'And who is like Me? Let him proclaim and declare it; Yes, let him recount it to Me in order, From the time that I established the ancient nation. And let them declare to them the things that are coming And the events that are going to take place.

 

Zec 12:10  "And I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him, like the bitter weeping over a first-born.

 

Song 4:15  "You are a garden spring, A well of fresh water, And streams flowing from Lebanon."

 

Heb 10:1  For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never by the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near.  Heb 10:2  Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins?  Heb 10:3  But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year.  Heb 10:4  For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.  Heb 10:5  Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, "SACRIFICE AND OFFERING THOU HAST NOT DESIRED, BUT A BODY THOU HAST PREPARED FOR ME;  Heb 10:6  IN WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN THOU HAST TAKEN NO PLEASURE.  Heb 10:7  "THEN I SAID, 'BEHOLD, I HAVE COME (IN THE ROLL OF THE BOOK IT IS WRITTEN OF ME) TO DO THY WILL, O GOD.'"  Heb 10:8  After saying above, "SACRIFICES AND OFFERINGS AND WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN THOU HAST NOT DESIRED, NOR HAST THOU TAKEN PLEASURE in them" (which are offered according to the Law),  Heb 10:9  then He said, "BEHOLD, I HAVE COME TO DO THY WILL." He takes away the first in order to establish the second.  Heb 10:10  By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.