On Twitter this morning I saw a picture of a little girl, barely holding on to life.
She is three years old, and her name is Ava Grace. She is holding on to a thread of life after falling into a swimming pool. Tubes are attached to her. Holding her foot is a woman, a young woman. This woman’s other hand holds the arm of a man to the left of little Ava Grace. He is bent over her, with his hand on her head And to her right there is another young man kneeling on the floor, holding her little hand. I’ve placed the picture here. Please look at it. Please pray for this broken, hurting family. I don’t know them at all, but I can’t help but weep. This picture hurts me.
I saw this picture before I read John 7 through John 9, today’s reading in a summer of reading the New Testament in 90 days. My wifi was down this morning at my home, and, believing that every moment in life is a moment of listening to God, had my wifi worked, I would’ve never seen this picture. I was supposed to see this picture.
I constantly thought of this picture as I read of Jesus, at the temple, during the Feast of Tabernacles. He makes some startling claims, which now is no surprise to me, after reading Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and seeing Jesus in these remarkable situations, making remarkable statements.
This Feast was, maybe, the most important feast for the Jewish people. It was a celebration. The Jewish men made tents, and lived in those tents during the seven days of the feast, to commemorate the time when the Jewish people lived in portable shelters after the Exodus from Egypt. At the end of the seven days, there was an additional day of celebration, when men no longer lived in these tents, but it was to praise God for their deliverance.
Each day of this Feast, Levites would go to the Pool of Siloam, gather water in a golden bowl, then re-enter Jerusalem through the Water Gate, making their way to the temple. Once there, they would sing passages from the Psalms, then pour both the water, and wine, into two bowls on the altar. Those bowls would overflow, and water, from this Pool, would spill over, covering the altar, and pouring down the temple steps.
It was not only a real-time celebration and praise, but also a reminder of future deliverance. Drawing from passages like Zechariah 14, it was clear that an abundance of life-saving water would be available to the entire world, after God destroys the enemies of his chosen people.
The Feast also had a ritual celebration of light. Four menorahs were lit every night, and the Talmud claims that they were seventy-five feet high, and could be seen all over Jerusalem. Perhaps, as some think, this was to commemorate the pillar of fire God provided the Jewish people in the Exodus.
After these celebrations ended, Jesus, on the last and eighth day of the Feast, made two bold claims. Remember, all of Jerusalem was buzzing with this celebration. Pilgrims came to the city to celebrate. It was the only thing happening for eight days, and almost 50,000 people were aware of the Feast, and its significance.
And it is at this moment, when the rituals ended, and people were celebrating all that God had done for them, and all that God would do for them, Jesus says this:
“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”
He is claiming to be the new temple. This tabernacle God will be the source of all living water, forever. All nations, from Zechariah 14, will come to him. To receive this eternal, life-giving water (4:14), all you need to do is to come to Jesus, and put your faith in him (7:37). That’s it. And that’s powerful. No more need for rituals. No more need for a permanent building.
In Ezekiel 47:7ff, these sorts of life-giving waters came from the Temple, the immovable presence of God. With Jesus becoming the tabernacle God, he more than replaces that prophecy. He fulfills it. He is the center of the world. He is the presence of God.
And he quenches every thirst by giving God’s breath to every one who asks.
And he lights the world (8:12), drawing an immediate reference from these six-story-high menorahs which were visible all over Jerusalem during this Feast. He is the ultimate fulfillment of light.
I know these things. But I saw that picture, of that little girl, and wept. I did. The horrible grief of that family spilled from that picture to my heart. I followed the trail of that picture on Twitter, and found this picture, of a kneeling family in a waiting room, steeped in prayer:
Somehow, to me, today (and if I am being honest with you by writing what is laid on my heart), I don’t know how the story of Jesus, at the temple, making such controversial declarations, will really do much good.
I have suffered greatly in my life. I know the depth of sorrow, and the constant grief it still affords me. Most of my years have been lived beneath the shadow of my own father’s death when I was a boy.
Yet Jesus makes these statements in a broken world. Even he knew that. The very idea of that Feast was to celebrate God’s deliverance to a people who couldn’t save themselves.
I need a tabernacle God. I need a God that comes to me, when I can’t come to him. When I can’t catch my breath through my weeping, when I think of an alternate life, with my father alive, with him playing with his six grandchildren. This world, this present reality, is nothing like it was supposed to be.
Today, I will pray to a tabernacle God. I will pray to a God who visits us in our extreme circumstances, who visits a broken world to give hope and life. And I will think about this little girl today, and ask God to replace the common and dirty water in the jars of her family with a new wine and a living water that will one day, again, bring joy to their lives.