Allen Jackson - Rivers of Living Water - Part 1
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We've been walking through a series, looking at spiritual things. Our primary text has been 1 Corinthians 12 and verse 1 where Paul wrote to a church, a very spiritually active church, a group of born again, Spirit-filled, Spirit-baptized people, and he said, "About spiritual things I don't want you to be ignorant". Most modern translations say, "About spiritual gifts I don't want you to be ignorant". The word "gifts" is an addition of the editors; not inappropriately: the Greek word doesn't have an English equivalent.
So we could talk about spiritual manifestations, spiritual gifts, and I don't think we're doing a grave injustice to talk about spiritual things. It's a bit more inclusive. Paul's writing to this church. He said, "I know you speak in tongues and you prophesy and you pray for the sick," but he said, "you're a very carnal group of people. You're drunkards, you're gluttonous, you practice sexual immorality that even the pagans won't practice". You know that Christians have the same struggles with sin that non-Christians have, right? But you should look at the person on your right and say, "I had wondered about you". You shouldn't smile when you do that, though. That should be a grave... We're not immune to temptation. But there's a power within us to help us overcome it.
So our objective through this little study has been to try to gain some insight and understanding and perhaps a bit more comfort in the discussion of and the expression of spiritual things. We're gonna have to have more than language for the Spirit of God. We're gonna have to have practices. Every tradition, every orthodox tradition, has some beautiful language, liturgy, around the person and the work of the Holy Spirit. But we often have very little intent of actually inviting him into the midst of our lives. We're quite content to look through the family album and say, "Yeah, we know of that, but we hope he never visits our parties". And we have arrived at a place in the unfolding story of the church where we will not survive without the help of the Spirit of God because the power of darkness and evil is on full display and the only thing it will yield to is a power greater than itself and that is the Spirit of God.
Now, the good news is if you're born again, the Holy Spirit lives within you, but that's not the whole story. And so I would like to spend our time in the Gospel of John. There's an advantage to that. If we stay with a single author, he's gonna use words in the same way, so context is simpler. And I wanna invite you into the broader picture of the Gospel of John. Of all of the apostles that Jesus recruited, John is the one closest to him. He's Jesus's best friend. The other apostles knew that. You got room in your brain for that? I mean, Jesus helped them all but there was one that was closer. There were three that were the inner circle. That was Jesus. Wow, that just blows the equity bubble right there. But John wrote this Gospel. It's different from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, significantly different in many ways. I'm not gonna take the time to point out the distinctions; perhaps on another occasion.
But I wanna invite you, John is telling us a story. He's inviting the reader on a journey in which he intends for you to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. If you wanna look for a singular theme in John, it's that. He's inviting the reader to believe: believe specifically in the person of Jesus. But I'll start in John chapter 1 and verse 10. He's introducing us to Jesus, not with the birth narrative like Matthew did or Luke did. He said, "He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own didn't receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or of a husband's will, but born of God".
Now, you get the story at the very beginning. John just told you the objective of this book, that you can become a child of God. Wow, you're pretty calm about that. I've still gotta wait you out, but that is the essence of John's story. But I'll call your attention to that first verse we read, verse 10. He said, "He was in the world". John's gonna highlight that little idea for us multiple times. We won't follow it all the way through the Gospel, but I at least wanna plant the seed. Look in chapter 12 and verse 46. Jesus is speaking this time. He said, "I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. It was just before Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and to go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love".
Again, it's a theme through this Gospel of John. Jesus, in the world, he's gonna leave the world. Now, in the New Testament, the word is typically used to convey not just this ball of matter that is hurtling through space in the orbit of the sun, but the order of this present world that stands in opposition to the purposes of God. So it's not just about the planet that John is referring to, but this present world system, because ultimately Jesus is coming back to rule and to reign on this planet. But as an illustration of this notion of the spiritual realm, or the spiritual world, I wanna call your attention back to John. He says he was in the world, and in chapter 12, Jesus said, "I have come into the world, but it's time for me to leave this world". He certainly doesn't seem to think that his existence is over. "I'm in the world for a while. I'm gonna be someplace else. I'll come back".
You see, I don't think we live with that reality very close to us. We live pretty much as just everything there is and everything there will ever be and every aspiration and every goal and every dream and every objective is fully and totally and completely anchored in this present world order. Because if it's disrupted or threatened or our dreams get shredded or we get rejected or something happens that we don't like, everything comes apart. And Jesus is calling us to a different awareness, and John is really the one that's putting us into that story. Look in John 14. It's a familiar passage. We don't often read it in this context, but Jesus again, "In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I'm going there, to my Father's house, to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I'll come back and take you to be with me that you can be where I am".
He's not talking about changing neighborhoods in Jerusalem. He's not talking about moving from Capernaum to Tiberias, or to a summer place in the Golan where it's cooler. He's talking about a different realm of existence. "'You know the way to the place where I'm going.' And Thomas said, 'Lord, we don't know where you're going, so how can we know the way?'" You gotta love the disciples. And you gotta love the integrity of the Scripture. It puts the disciples' angst just right out there for all of us. We hide ours more. Thomas said, "Lord, you know..." "Yeah, yeah, whatever". "We don't know. We put the address in our GPS and nothing came up. We don't know where you're going. We don't know how to get there. What are you talking about? What do you mean, a house, and rooms and we'll go and we can't, we..." "Jesus answered, 'I'm the way, the truth and the life. And no one comes to the Father except through me".
Again, what's John's message? He's gonna hit it over and over and over and over again in this Gospel. Do you believe in Jesus? What are the implications of believing in Jesus? What are the outcomes of believing in Jesus? What's the evidence of believing in Jesus? We have had an interrupted discipleship path for too long. We have said we'll believe this little part of what Jesus said but we're not interested in the rest of it. We'll accept this little portion but we're too busy, we're chasing everything in this present world order and we don't wanna put it at risk with the rest of what Jesus had to say. See, by this point, the disciples have watched him walk on the water and raise the dead and open blind eyes. They'll follow him anywhere. That's what they're saying here. "We don't care where you're going. We're in. If you're leaving the country, we're leaving the country. If you're going on a road show, we wanna go on the road show". And Jesus says, "No, there's something more important".
So I wanna invite you back into this discussion again of this present world order and another realm of existence. A material world comprised of matter, and of a spiritual world that is just as certain and just as real. The biblical narrative says the spiritual world gave rise to the material world. If you can tolerate the definition, matter is defined as anything that has mass and occupies space. That's what fills our material world, it's matter. And we understand it in a macroscopic way, that's people and objects, big things that we can see and interact with. There's a microscopic world. It's just as real, just as much composed of matter. Those are organisms we can't see but we can see the impact of them. You can see them with a microscope or an electron microscope or some aid, but with your physical senses you can't. But you'd be, we would consider you foolish, you wouldn't be following the science if you didn't believe in the microscopic.
And then there is particulate matter: atoms, molecules, compounds. Certainly we don't see those but we believe they exist. They're a part of our explanation for the world in which we live. We can support them mathematically. So there is some physical evidence that they exist. Well, just as certainly as the material world exists, comprised of matter, a spiritual world exists. And if we don't believe that, why are we here? Let's go have a picnic. It's 70 degrees in Tennessee in January. Let's go enjoy it. It's gonna rain. And we live far too often as if the spiritual world isn't significant.
I have belabored the point with you through these weeks because our lives suggest we're just not really that convinced. We think a politician will fix us or a political party or an economic change or a better job. Or a different kind of a relationship. Or a nicer car. Or our kids in a different school or a different label in our clothes. And we keep rinsing and repeating and we stay in the same broken condition. We think, "Well, I'll succeed a little more the next time," so we climb a little faster and we get a little higher up the hill and we still feel empty and we think, "Well, maybe next time". And so we run a little harder. And we live ignoring the reality of spiritual things.
If the only invitation we give is to be born again, we have a very diminished spiritual life. We're malnourished. We need invitations to walk in the fullness of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit and the freedom of the Spirit. We need invitations to walk as disciples. We need invitations to walk as servants. We need invitations to yield our time, to yield our resources. There are many invitations. We need an invitation into the supernatural. We need invitations and to be commissioned as ambassadors. I don't wanna diminish the invitation into the kingdom, it's essential, it is important. But please don't imagine it's the only invitation. John chapter 3. He's talking to a religious leader, a Jewish leader. The man's come at night, he's interested in Jesus, he believes he's been sent from God. And Jesus responds to him and he said, "I tell you the truth". You know by now, right?
When Jesus says that, buckle up, buttercup. "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he's born again". And Nicodemus is puzzled. "He said, 'How can a man be born when he's old? Surely he can't enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!' And Jesus said, 'I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You shouldn't be surprised at my saying, "You must be born again".'" Jesus expects him to understand this. What do you suppose Jesus expects us to understand? That's an interesting question. I didn't bring you a readymade answer but it's one I would to hand to you if you're a tenured Christian, if you grew up in a Christian home, you've been affiliated with the churches most of your life, I think it's a reasonable imagination that there would be some expectation that you have matured and grown.
What do you expect Jesus would anticipate you to know, to practice? "You shouldn't be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases and you hear its sound, but you can't tell where it comes from or where it's going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit". John presents the new birth to us as being born of the Spirit, you become spiritually alive. So a fundamental component, characteristic, if you prefer, of being a Christ follower, is being spiritually alive, being aware of spiritual things, of being attentive to them, of having a different kind of awareness than people who aren't born again. There's a whole 'nother realm of existence that influences your thoughts and your values and your choices and your aspirations. You've been born of the Spirit of God. You become a participant in the eternal kingdom of Almighty God. You've been delivered from the corruption of this present age and brought into the eternal kingdom of Almighty God so that we might live with an awareness of spiritual things, to which we often respond, "Well, you know, I'm just not sure I believe in that".
Well, bless your heart. We forfeit a lot. We forfeit a lot. And it may have been, we got away with that for a while, but I don't believe we're gonna get away with that, with what's before us. You know, my family went to church when I was young. We went every weekend. If you lived with George Jackson, bless God, you went to church. And if you had an excuse that was so profound you could get out of church, you were gonna be locked in the house for days. You with me? Here's the part you should also know. We weren't Christians. We showed up every week. We dressed up. That was back when you had to dress up to go to church. And for little people that was, like, painful. They put these clothes on, you had to keep 'em clean, which meant you couldn't have fun. And they took us to church and, you know, church back in the day wasn't like it is now. We didn't smile.
Boy, if you'd have laughed at church, you'd have walked with a limp for days, all right? You couldn't even, you had to look forward. You might be excused if you looked sideways, but if you looked over your shoulder, you're gonna meet a hand. Church was a forward-looking experience. And my memory of the person who presided over those services, there was a big pipe organ in the place I remember, these towering pipes, they frightened me. And the person who presided over that wore black, long, and it looked like he had laughed once, but it had been so long ago he couldn't remember. And I never understood what he said. And we went every week. You know, you can sit in church and not know God. You can sit in this church and not know God. You can have a Bible and know the language and the vocabulary, your parents may have been believers.
The entry into the kingdom of God, the new birth that Jesus is describing is explained to us as hinging on two things. You have to believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord. And the Bible tells us that if you do that, something supernatural happens to you. You're made spiritually alive. You become a completely new creation. And a part of you that was dead, that's why a new birth is just as dramatic as a physical birth of a child, the spiritual birth of a person opens up an entirely new realm of existence to you, a new way of life. It's not just a metaphor. It's a spiritual experience. Something that had no life has life breathed into it. I think if we're gonna talk about it, we ought to have an opportunity to practice. I'm just gonna lead you in a little prayer.
If you've prayed it 1000 times, 1001 won't hurt you. If you've never prayed it and meant it, this will be a good time. And if this is old news, you don't wanna waste the time, I would submit you need to know how to help somebody else do this. You need to be loaded, ready to help somebody else find their way into the kingdom of God. It's not complicated. In fact, it's unimaginable to me that you can be a person who's been around church for a year or two or five or ten and you're not just absolutely, "Oh yeah, I got this. Help me find somebody that maybe would like in. I got 'em".
You know, we have coached ourselves towards spiritual incompetence. We've imagined that we hired ministers like we hired plumbers: I don't have to know how to take out a garbage disposal. Somebody will come to my house and do that. 'Cause if I do that, I will lose my Christianity. I'll watch the YouTube video and it looks so simple. The video's 4 minutes long. I watch it. I think, "Well, I'm not experienced at this, it'll take me 10. In 10 minutes, I have water spraying around the kitchen, and I've lost the skin on three knuckles and any semblance of righteousness". So, I call a plumber in my humiliation and shame and say, "Can you come help me"? And we've built the idea that that's what professional Christians are for. They're to do the work of the kingdom of God.
Folks, we are the church. So I wanna invite you to that prayer. I just gave you a minute. I want you to have a chance to sort through it yourself. If you're not confident that if you stepped out of time tonight that you're prepared to meet the Lord, you can be. And the right answer is not you've filled out enough outlines for Pastor Allen, he should let you in just out of compassion. The answer has to do with your relationship with a person, his name is Jesus. Let's just say this prayer together. You can close your eyes with me, if you will.
Almighty God, I'm a sinner and I need a Savior. I believe Jesus is your Son, that he died on a cross for my sins, and that you raised him to life again, that I might be saved. Father, forgive me of my sins and I forgive all those who have sinned against me. Jesus, be Lord of my life. All that I am, all that I have, all that I'll ever be. I wanna honor you, in Jesus's name, amen.
Welcome to the kingdom. But that's not a campsite. That's an entry portal, and now we've got a road to travel, hills to climb, valleys to go through, lessons to be learned, faithfulness to be demonstrated.
The evidence that we are hearing the Word of God is that it impacts our behavior. I don't want Satan to steal his truth from our lives. Let's ask the Holy Spirit to help us put it into practice:
Father, I thank you that you sent your Spirit to help us. May we not only hear your Word, show us how we can be doers, how we can give application to it in our lives at home, in the marketplace, wherever, in Jesus's name, amen.