Originally published by The CiRCE Institute (used by permission)
by Brian Phillips (Pastor of Holy Trinity Reformed Church)
Christ as Water, the Gospel of John, and Listening for Echoes
In Matthew 5:6, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” In the previous Beatitudes, Jesus spoke of those who are “poor in spirit” (verse 3), those who “mourn” (verse 4), and those who are “meek” (verse 5), those who are "hungry and thirsty" (verse 6); none of which carry the appearance of righteousness or strength. Those who are blessed by God are those who are needy and know it.
It is a strange paradox of the Kingdom that those who are the neediest are those who are most blessed. The one who dies will live. The one who loses his life will find it. The one who is first shall be last, while the last shall be first. The one who humbles himself will be exalted. The one who is wise in his own eyes will be shown a fool, while the one who cries out in need of wisdom will be given it. All such needs are filled in Christ.
The language of hunger and thirst frequently appears in Scripture. David prays, in Psalm 42:1-3, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me continually, ‘Where is your God?’” Expressing his great thirst and hunger for God, David found only tears for food.
But David answers his own soul in verses 5-7 of the Psalm: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.”
What happens to those who hunger and thirst for God? They are filled. David was fed and quenched by his tears for a time, but God answered him with deep waterfalls, breakers, and waves over him.
Isaiah 55 provides a similar picture: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”
God has compassion on the hungry and thirsty. Verses 6-7 of the same passage says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
When man hungers and thirsts for righteousness, what does God do? Verses 10-11 say, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” God’s compassion and mercy are not merely enough, they are overwhelming. God blesses those who hunger and thirst for righteousness with water from the very heavens (“rain and snow”), with bread to eat and with seed – that is, plenty of bread to come.
Earlier, in Isaiah 12:1-3, “You will say in that day: ‘I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.’ With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”
Jesus alludes to this passage in the Gospel of John chapter 4. There He met a Samaritan woman to whom He identified Himself as “living water.” He said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13). Later, in John 7:37-38, Jesus says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
Jesus flows with the rivers of living water and those who come to Him receive the Spirit of righteousness (John 7:39) and they too will flow with rivers of living water. No longer thirsting for righteousness, they will overflow with it.
Only the Gospel of John records Jesus’ meeting with the woman at the well. Only John records Jesus’ declaration of Himself as “the living water.” Only John tells of the miracle at Cana – the turning of water into wine, an echo of baptism and the communion feast. Only John mentions Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, in which He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
Such beautiful connections, echoes, or traces are found throughout Scripture and, indeed, all of life because all reality is rooted in the Triune God Himself, and incarnate in the Person of Christ. Learning to listen for such echoes is a source of joy in reading, teaching, and all of life.