Summary: What Makes the River of Life So Great? 1) It flows from Christ. 2) It flows through ever Christian
I want to start off with a geography question this morning. What is the greatest river in the world? Well that depends on how one measures greatness. If I mean what is the longest river in the world, that would be the Nile in Africa. The Nile is 6,650 km (4,132 miles) long. That’s 1,500 km longer than the distance between Victoria, BC and St. John’s, NL! Or if by greatness I mean the volume of water the river discharges, that would make the Amazon River in South America the greatest. Approximately 20% of all the freshwater discharged into the world’s oceans is from the Amazon River alone. Or if by greatness I mean the river most people depend on, you could argue that the Yangtze River in China is the greatest. It’s the third-longest river in the world and one of the busiest with commercial traffic. It also pushes water through the world’s largest hydro-electric power station.
But none of these is the greatest river in the world. There’s another river that is greater than the Nile, the Amazon, and the Yangtze put together. “A river whose streams make glad the city of God,” in the words of Psalm 46:4a. Strangely this river doesn’t hold any water and yet you can drink from it and wash in it. In fact if you don’t, you’re not really alive. Although this river doesn’t have a formal name let’s call it the River of Life. It’s the greatest river there is because it flows from Christ, and it flows through every Christian.
Although you won’t find the River of Life on any world map it’s not an imaginary river because God’s Son says it’s for real. Jesus made that pronouncement at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. This was an annual religious celebration around October when the Jews would live in make-shift shacks for seven days to be reminded of how their ancestors had lived in tents for 40 years when they travelled to the Promised Land. That exercise helped every Jew of every generation remember that this world is not their home – a truth we would do well to remember.
One custom at the Feast of Tabernacles to help the Israelites remember God’s miraculous care for his people during their years in the wilderness was to pour water out onto the altar of burnt offering. This symbolized how God had made water gush from a rock in the wilderness so that his people did not die of thirst. This custom also served as a prayer for God to keep providing abundant rains for the harvests. It was perhaps at this point in the feast when Jesus stood up and said in a loud voice: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:37, 38).
This was not the first time Jesus had offered such water. He had done so before when he spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). Jesus told that woman that he could give her water that would quench her thirst for good. He was of course talking about the forgiveness of sins that he had come to win – forgiveness which that Samaritan woman desperately needed because she was living with a man who was not her husband. But Jesus’ disciples needed forgiveness too for wanting to be master and not servant. Every human needs forgiveness if they’re hoping to live forever in the eternal joys of heaven.