I’ve been writing recently about my experiences during a recent trip to Israel–see, for example, this post. I haven’t said much about Jesus yet, but he was on my mind throughout my time there. Several times I thought or said to someone “It’s incredible that Jesus was here.” I meant something different by that than when I remarked on places where other Biblical figures had been–David, Samson, Hezekiah, Peter, Paul, and the like. The difference has to do with who Jesus is. Christians believe that he was both divine and human–“fully God and fully man.” During the trip I think I came to appreciate both these aspects more fully.

This post will describe a couple insights I had into Christ’s divinity. First, there’s water. As I mentioned in an earlier post, hiking in the Judean wilderness gave me an appreciation for water and for Biblical descriptions of Yahweh as water for the soul. Thus, the psalmist compares his thirst for God to a deer longing for living (that is, flowing) water (Psalm 42), and Jeremiah said,

“…all who forsake you will be put to shame.
Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust
because they have forsaken the Lord,
the spring of living water. (Jer. 17:13)”

Ezekiel described a vision of water flowing from the temple–God’s dwelling place–getting deeper and deeper the further it flows, eventually entering the “sea of stagnant waters,” or Dead Sea, transforming it into fresh water that sustains fish (Ezekiel 47:1-12). I swam in the Dead Sea, and it’s truly dead–nothing lives there. The image of it being restored to life is remarkable!

Christ applied the image of living water to himself. In John 4, Jesus breaks custom by asking a woman from Samaria for a drink and, when this puzzles her, he remarks, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” I imagine this response as something of an offhand comment, an “Oh, by the way, here’s something you might find interesting.” The conversation goes quickly from a cup of water to profound spiritual depths.

A couple chapters later, Jesus is in Jerusalem for  the Feast of Booths. Tim Keiper, our guide, explained that during the last day of this feast, there was a celebration in which everyone worshiped Yahweh, the living water. What did Jesus say on that day? “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. (John 7:37)” The connection Jesus made between himself and Yahweh couldn’t be more obvious. As C.S. Lewis put it, someone who makes such an audacious claim could only be one of three things–umad, evil, or truly God incarnate.

So Jesus is the living water available for all to drink. Another metaphor for him is the bridegroom.  Here, too, Jesus is describing himself using a term that in the Hebrew scriptures was reserved for Yahweh. For example, Ezekiel describes God as becoming the husband of his people: “I spread out my hem over you, and I covered your nakedness, and I swore to you, and I entered into a covenant with you,’ declares the Lord Yahweh, ‘and you became mine. (Ezekiel 16:8)” Jesus referred to himself as a bridegroom when the religious leaders asked why his disciples didn’t fast; the disciples are the bridegroom’s attendants, he said, and don’t fast while the bridegroom is with them (Matthew 9:14-15). Other writers of the New Testament pick up this theme, describing the church as Christ’s bride (Ephesians 5:23; Revelation 19:7-9).

Something that happened our first night in Israel made the bridegroom and bride theme particularly poignant for me. We were at our hotel, finishing dinner and looking forward to bed, when someone said, “There’s a wedding going on outside.” We went out on the hotel balcony, where we could see the Mediterranean Sea in the distance and, nearby, a courtyard where a traditional Jewish wedding was taking place. Portions of the ceremony were sung, portions were chanted, and portions were spoken. We were fascinated, even though we couldn’t understand a word of what was being said. The service ended; joyful music played; the married couple came slowly down the aisle. Men danced in front of them, gradually retreating; women danced behind them. The bride was dancing, too. On and on it went. The ceremony took place at sunset, and the sunlight was gradually fading, eventually diminishing to a genial glow levitating above the sea.

There was an elderly Jewish lady on the balcony with us. She and I talked a bit about the wedding. Our conversation started like this:

Lady: It’s too bad I lost my husband. He would like to see this.”
Me (thinking he had died): “Oh! I’m so sorry you lost him.”
Lady: “It’s fine. He wandered away after dinner. He’ll show up.”

She told me that traditional Jewish weddings are held at sunset because that’s the start of a new day. She indicated that it isn’t typical for the bride to dance, as this bride did. The lady concluded, “She must be very happy.”

So I don’t think I’ll ever read those Bible passages about Christ and his bride the church without thinking of the wedding at twilight that started a new day, and also of the bride who danced for joy. The eschatological promise is that, when Christ returns, the wedding to end all weddings will take place. There’ll be plenty music and dancing then! I’m looking forward to it more than ever.

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