August 26, 2016

The Outflow of Good Deeds: Fresh Water to a Brackish World

The outflow of the mighty Amazon River is so great that you can skim fresh water off the Atlantic Ocean for a couple of hundred miles offshore from the river mouth.  Amazing eh?

Salt water turned fresh. Sounds like another river you may have read about in the prophetic book of Ezekiel.  The prophet is led by an angelic figure and sees a river flowing from the middle of the temple and that river just gets deeper and deeper, until…

… he led me back to the bank of the river. As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other. And he said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea;[b] when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh.[c]And wherever the river goes,[d] every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea[e]may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. 10 Fishermen will stand beside the sea. From Engedi to Eneglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets. Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea.[f] 11 But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. 12 And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food.Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.” (Ezekiel 47:6-12)


Water flowing out from the  sanctuary:  centre of God’s presence, and the one place for sacrifice for sin. Water flowing into all the world and making salt water fresh.  Hmmm.  Kinda sounds like:

37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as[f] the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)

Jesus is here speaking of his heart (belly?), not the believer’s heart or belly, because he is after all, the new temple and the new place of God’s presence and sacrifice for sin. It’s Ezekiel’s prophesy fulfilled.

In my last post I said that the good deeds mentioned in 1Peter are primarily done within the church and before a watching world. That was in response to Morling College’s David Starling’s Eternity article about whether or not Christians are actually in exile.  David responded to my piece with a great comment (check it out in the comments section of the last blog post) which included these thoughts:

I agree with you, too, that the mutual good works of Christians, within the church, are of enormous importance to Peter, and that part of their importance lies in the fact that they are performed before the eyes of a watching world. But I’m not convinced that Peter’s understanding of the scope of the “good works” Christians are to perform is restricted exclusively to the good works that we are to do for each other. In the quotation from Psalm 34, for example (quoted by Peter in 3:10-12), “do[ing] good” and “seek[ing] peace” seems to me to make best sense as a description of conduct that includes the way in which righteous deal with their enemies, not only the way in which they deal with their fellow-righteous. (The way that Peter frames the psalm quotation in 3:8-9, 13-22 seems to have both in view.)

That’s hard to disagree with. In fact it’s easy to agree with!  I wouldn’t wish for us to think it is all by us for us.   In fact the outflow of fresh water from the church cannot help, – just like the Amazon, just like Ezekiel 47, just like John 7 -, freshen the whole world.

In other words the Christian community because it has Jesus as its centre, now has the Sprit outflowing, and it’s pretty clear that God’s Holy Spirit isn’t going to be contained by us, hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world. What starts as fresh water tributaries in our individual lives, join up in community to become a river that then flows into the brackish world, freshening it. Or that’s the theory at least.

The big picture image in Ezekiel is a recovery of God’s good plans for the creation, an image fulfilled by the final verses of Revelation 22:

Then the angel[a] showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life[b] with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Rev 22:1-2)

God’s final intention is a new creation.  All works done in that new creation will be good works, simply because all evil is banished.  All evil is not yet banished. but the manner in which we witness to a watching world is through a community that models goodness, and then as that goodness grows, spill over into that world. I think that’s the order.  That’s why I am a fan of the church – it’s God’s witness to what the future could look like!

The strength of our good works, and their witness to Jesus, will propel them out into the ocean.  The question is, how far? Will people, far from shore and dying of thirst from drinking salt water, benefit from the overflow of the fresh water flowing from our communities?  We should pray and act in accordance with that hope.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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