Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Where the River Flows, Day 1

Leslie Basham: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth reminds you that God's kingdom is advancing in ways you may not see.

Nancy: So lift up your eyes. If you feel pain, dysfunction, confusion about what's going on in our world or in your world, have you seen this? Are you looking? Open your eyes. Look to the river of life. See what the Spirit of God is doing in this world and its transforming effect in us and through us throughout the world.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Brokenness, for Wednesday, March 20, 2019.

Nancy's beginning a series called "Where the River Flows."

Nancy: I was thinking this morning about a number of friends I have who are going through just some really difficult times—deep waters, hard times. The friend, the couple who helped produce my piano CD found out just within the last couple of weeks that she has been diagnosed with cancer. She had surgery. She's in a tough, tough battle. She probably is not going to make it here on this earth. She's going to make it in the big picture. She's headed to heaven. But just a couple of days ago, their daughter got married in the hospital so the mother could be at the wedding.

Two weeks ago they didn't have any idea this was going on. Now their world has been turned upside down and inside out. Just tears as my husband and I were talking about this and praying for them yesterday.

And we pray for a number of families every night before we go to sleep who have prodigal sons and daughters—people who are burdened for their children, carrying that kind of pain. We have friends who have struggling marriages; some of those perhaps represented here today.

And I've had women even as we've been in Atlanta over these days who have poured out their hearts to me about things that they're walking through with children, with family, with business, with finances, with physical situations. A lot of pain. A lot of heartache. A lot of dysfunction. A lot of brokenness in this world.

And not only in our personal lives but you turn on the news and you're going to read about more pain, more dysfunction, more problems, more crime, more violence, more craziness, more result of pagan worldview in our world and sin reaping its natural consequences.

In the midst of all that, in the craziness when your eyes are filled with tears, sometimes it's easy to lose perspective. And we end up with our vision filled with what's broken, and then hope gets eroded. And we come to the place sometimes where we just want to throw in the towel, give up, quit.

We forget too easily this is not what God intended. This is not what God had in mind when He placed Adam and Eve in that Garden of Eden. We forget that God is a redeeming God who is making all things new.

One of the things we need to do as we go to God's Word day after day is get away from the news, get back in to the Word of God and get a fresh vision of God's greatness and His power and what He's doing in our world and what part we play in the story that He is writing.

That's what we want to do in this short three-part series—to take a look at a passage in the book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel 47. So if you have your Bible with you, let me encourage you to turn there. I want you to follow along if you possibly can.

Now, if you're listening to this program while you're driving, it might not be best to turn to your Bible. But if you're in your home, you're at the workplace, you're in this audience today, let me encourage you to turn to your Bible. And I want you to look at this passage with me. We're going to unpack it and see how we get hope and vision for what God is doing in our world and where all this mess is going ultimately.

Now a little bit of background there as you find Ezekiel 47. Ezekiel was a priest. He was a Hebrew. He was a Jew. And along with thousands of other Israelites, he had been in exile in Babylon for about twenty-five years at this point. And as God's man, there with the other Jews in Babylon, he received visions from God. God gave him a message of hope for God's people.

Now, the most famous of those visions is one we're not going to be looking at today but I just want to mention it. It's found ten chapters earlier in Ezekiel 37. You remember the vision of valley full of dry, dead bones.

Ezekiel was told to prophesy, to speak to those dead, dry bones so that they might what? Live—come to life. And sure enough, through the Spirit of God and the Word of God, those dead bones came to life, came together, and were raised up as a great army of righteousness.

And this was a picture for the people of God who were facing the judgment and the devastation that had resulted from their sin. It was a reminder of the fact that dead things can live through the power of God's Spirit.

And then we have in chapters 40–47 of Ezekiel, the priest, the prophet of God is transported in visions to Jerusalem in the homeland where the Jew's beloved temple had been sacked decades earlier. Ezekiel is led on a prophetic vision, a tour of the millennial end time temple. It's a complicated passage, and we're going to be looking at chapter 47 at the very end of that tour.

I'm going to be reading verses 1–12. I want you, as you listen to this, because it's confusing if you don't think hard while you're listening to it. Listen for repeated words or phrases. This will give you an idea of what the theme of this passage is all about. Listen for key words, repeated words.

I'm beginning reading in verse 1. "Then he brought me back to the door of the temple." Now, Ezekiel has been on the tour of this temple. The "he" is some sort of heavenly tour guide—probably an angel, maybe even Christ Himself. We don't know. But . . .

He brought me back [at the end of this tour] back to the door of the temple and there was water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the front of the temple faced east; the water was flowing from under the right side of the temple, south of the altar. He brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me around on the outside to the outer gateway that faces east; and there was water, running out on the right side (vv. 1–2).

Now, let me just pause here and say there is no natural source of water anywhere near the temple in Jerusalem. So to see water flowing out from the temple is an unexpected sight. It's an extraordinary sight. It's an amazing sight. This had to immediately capture Ezekiel's attention.

And when the man went out to the east with the line in his hand, he measured one thousand cubits [close to a half mile], and he brought me through the waters; the water came up to my ankles. [Just a few inches deep.] Again he measured one thousand [cubits] and brought me through the waters; the water came up to my knees. Again he measured one thousand [cubits] and brought me through; the water came up to my waist. Again [a fourth time] he measured one thousand [we're at approximately two miles now], and it was a river that I could not cross; for the water was too deep, water in which one must swim, a river that could not be crossed. He said to me, "Son of man, have you seen this?" (vv. 3–6).

Now, what a question to ask. "Have you seen this?" This is amazing. Sometimes when we read passages like this in Scripture, our eyes just kind of glaze over. Yes. Seen that. Done that. Been there. Ezekiel is seeing this for the first time, and he's going, "Wow! This is amazing. Have you seen this?"

Sometimes I wonder if God would want to ask us the same question about what His Spirit is doing in our world today. We've lost sight of it. It's become ho-hum, humdrum to us. Have you seen this? Are you looking? Open your eyes! Look and see what God is doing.

Then he brought me and returned me to the bank of the river. When I returned, there, along the bank of the river, were very many trees on one side and the other. Then he said to me: "This water flows toward the eastern region, goes down into the valley, and enters the sea" (vv. 6–8). 

Now, that would be geographically the Dead Sea which is to the east of Jerusalem and the temple.

Now, a little parenthesis here. When you go to Zechariah 14, you read about this river again and how the water flows from Jerusalem. But it tells us there that the water actually divides and goes two directions. Half flows east toward the Dead Sea, and the other half flows west towards the Mediterranean Sea. Ezekiel in his vision only follows the branch that goes toward the east. Continuing in verse 8:

When it reaches the sea [the Dead Sea], its waters [the Dead Sea waters] are healed. And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters [the water from the Temple in Jerusalem] go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes. It shall be that fishermen will stand by it from En Gedi to En Eglaim [These are cities along the shore of Dead Sea]; they will be places for spreading their nets. Their fish will be of the same kinds as the fish of the Great Sea [Mediterranean to the west], exceedingly many. But its swamps and marshes will not be healed; they will be given over to salt. Along the bank of the river, on this side and that, will grow all kinds of trees used for food; their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. They will bear fruit every month, because their water flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for medicine (vv. 8–12).

Oh Lord, would you give us understanding. Give me understanding. Speak to our hearts, I pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

What were the key words that you heard in this passage? What's the one that you just heard more than any other? Water fourteen times if I counted correctly in this translation at least. Water. And then there's another word. The water becomes what? A river. Seven times we read that word.

Now, as you hear about this water and this gate and this door and that gate and it's flowing this way and there are cubits and this and that, did you feel a little bit confused at points? Just trying to picture what's happening here?

It's okay if you feel that way. Matthew Henry who was a great Puritan commentator said of this whole passage that is was "one of the most difficult portions . . . in all the book of God." And we're going to try and just get a glimpse of what it means in these sessions this week.

Now, some Bible scholars thinking about this passage in Ezekiel 47 believe that this river is strictly literal. A life-giving river that flows from the future millennial temple. One study Bible says that this passage describes the "amazing physical and geographical changes [that] will occur on the earth" during the millennial reign of Christ. So there will be topographical and geographical changes in the earth and this describes what that will be like.

Other scholars say that this passage is strictly symbolic. It's figurative. Well, I think it's probably both. There is certainly the physical dimension. As sin's curse is removed, and Jesus comes to reign and rule here on the earth, the earth will be restored. and there will be blessing that will flow far as the curse is found as we sing at Christmas.

But I believe this is also a prophetic parable—a picture of the River of Life. You see, all throughout Scripture, water is associated with the Holy Spirit. And we see here a parable of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And in a symbolic sense I think the fulfillment of this picture perhaps began when God poured out the living water of the Spirit on the church on the day of Pentecost.

And then the gospel began to spread. And that fulfillment of this picture continues today as the Spirit is continuing to move throughout the world, throughout the nations through the gospel witness of His people who are filled with the Holy Spirit of God. The river flows into them, through them, into the world.

And so we see in this picture the progress, the advance, the spread of the gospel into the world. We see the presence, the work of the Holy Spirit moving throughout the world. And we see the work of the Holy Spirit moving in our own hearts and in our churches—a river of blessing and growth and fullness and fruitfulness and healing. It's the river of life that flows from the temple and the Spirit of God.

And the ultimate fulfillment of this passage, I believe, will come on that day when Christ returns to reign on the earth. And He will bring in the new heavens and new earth and will complete the work that is only now partially done.

So, I want us to examine this river over the next few days. We're going to look at its source, its starting place. I want us to see its rise and its progress. Look at some characteristics of this river and then look at some of the effects of this river. What difference does it make in the world.

In the first two verses of Ezekiel 47, we see the source or the starting place for this river. "He brought me back to the door of the temple; and there was water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple." And then it "was flowing from under the right side of the temple, south of the altar."

So where does this river begin? It begins at the temple. That's its source—the dwelling place of God, the place of God's presence being manifest, the place where God meets with His people, where heaven meets earth, where God and sinners are reconciled.

The temple. The dwelling place of God. All spiritual life and growth begins with the presence of God. There's no other place where we can find true life, true growth other than through a relationship with God by grace through the power of His Holy Spirit.

It sprang up "from under the threshold," the Scripture says. It started down under the threshold, under the temple, below the surface, hidden from sight. This is an inner work of God's Spirit in the hearts of His people.

The source of the Christian life is a mystery. When somebody becomes a Christian, you can't see it on the outside. It's a work of God's Spirit planting the seed of faith and repentance—the seed of the Spirit being planted in the life of that person. "Your life is hid with Christ in God" Paul says in Colossians 3 (Col 3:13).

And so it begins in the temple, and it flows past the altar. That's where sacrifices were made. This river points to the cross, to the sacrificial work of Christ. As Warren Wiersbe says about this passage, "All of God's blessings must begin with the altar," and that's because this all points to Christ. Christ is the final New Testament temple. He is the door. He is the altar. He is our life and those hidden, living waters of life, spiritual life, flow from Him.

Now, people are trying a lot of other ways today to find life, to find vitality. But we need to get back to where this angelic tour guide took Ezekiel, "back to the door of the Temple," back to Christ. That's where we find life.

Then in verse 3–6 we see the rise and the progress of the river. This river starts as a trickle coming up from under the threshold of the temple, past the altar, out the gate on the east side and flowing eastward.

And so, this angelic messenger takes Ezekiel on this vision tour about a half-mile, out and the water is now a few inches deep—ankle deep. Then they continue going, and they see the progress of this river about another half-mile out, and it's now knee deep. The river is getting deeper. It's getting more intense. There's more water. There's more volume. It's increasing. And they go another half-mile, and you see that it's up to his waist. And then another 1000 cubits and it's "a river that I could not cross; for the water was too deep, water in which one must swim."

So this trickle of water increases rapidly in depth and in volume. It becomes a shallow brook, then it becomes a flowing stream. By the end of this vision, it is a raging river. In fact, it's called "rivers" by the time you get to the end of the passage. Its massive volumes of water all starting with one little trickle coming out from under the threshold of the temple.

And what are the characteristics of this river. Well, first of all, it's a supernatural supply. As we have said, there is no natural source of water near the temple. So there's no human or natural explanation for where this water came from or how it got there. There are no feeder streams. There are no tributaries. There's no external source other than God Himself.

God is the one who starts this river. He's the one who makes it grow. He's the one who makes it increase. He's the one who makes it flow. He's the one who builds it up until it is a great, mighty river. It could not possibly happen apart from Him. And there is no spiritual life or growth possible apart from God.

Beginning in Genesis 2 it says, "the Lord God made every tree to grow" (Gen. 2:9). God's the one who brings life. God's the one who brings growth in your life, in your husband's life, in your children's life, in the life of your church, and in the spread of the gospel throughout this world.

We are born spiritually dead. We can't regenerate ourselves. We can't bring ourselves back to life. But 1 Peter 1 says, "According to His great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope" (1 Pet. 1:3 ESV). Spiritual life comes from the Spirit of God. He's the source of all life.

We can't manufacture spiritual life, vitality, growth, fruitfulness on our own. We can't do it in our own lives. We can't do it for our families. We can't do it for our churches. We can't do it in this world. But God can. Sometimes, praise God, He does. He's the one who brings about this river of life.

Now, notice that it's a flowing, running river. It's not stagnant, still waters. This is living water. And I think it's a picture that the Spirit of God is always alive and moving and at work and transforming everything He touches. The Word of God is active. It is alive.

Paul prayed that the Word of God, the gospel might run rampantly. That's this river of life flowing, making a difference. There ought not to be any such thing as a stagnant Christian, a stagnant church, a stagnant gospel witness, because the Spirit and the Word of God are always moving and flowing—including here in this room here today, in our hearts, if we will let that river flow.

Then it's an abundant supply. It's an endless supply of water. It never dries up, as most streams do in Palestine. In fact, Zechariah 14 says of this river, "It shall continue in summer as in winter" (Zech. 14:8 ESV). All the time. An abundant, full, endless supply.

Now, all of this is the picture of the progress of grace in our hearts. As the seed of the gospel is planted, it takes root and it begins to grow and to develop and to mature and to produce fruit. It's a picture of the effect of God's kingdom and the expansion of the gospel throughout the world. It starts as a trickle. Then it gets deeper and deeper, and it increases and grows as it flows along.

It's what Jesus talked about in Matthew 13 where He said, "The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field [a tiny, little seed]. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches" (vv. 31–32 ESV). Another metaphor, another picture, a parable there similar to this river of life.

Remember how the gospel began there in Jerusalem? One hundred twenty believers gathered in the upper room, and they prayed and God sent His Holy Spirit, a little trickle from under the threshold of the temple coming from the twelve apostles to those 120 believers.

Then on the Day of Pentecost, wow, 3000 were saved. The Spirit is moving and flowing and the gospel is going forward. And then within a period of just days upwards of 5000 men had been saved. Families were coming to Jesus.

We see how the gospel was first preached to the Jews in Judea and in Galilee, then to the Samaritans, then to the Gentiles and throughout the Roman Empire, and now throughout the entire known world. This astonishing growth and expansion of the gospel of Christ as the river of life flows and grows and deepens and expands and goes throughout the world.

There have been times over the centuries when other powers and governments and false religions and false ideologies have come and tried to push back the expansion of the gospel. But this river of life that flows from God—the spread of the gospel in the world is ultimately unstoppable.

Scripture tells us that one day, "The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Hab. 2:14 ESV). The river of life filling you, filling me, filling us, filling this earth with the glory of God.

So, lift up your eyes. If you feel pain, dysfunction, confusion about what's going on in our world or in your world. Look to the river of life. See what the Spirit of God is doing in this world and its transforming effect in us and through us throughout the world. Amen.

Leslie: That's Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth giving you an important perspective on the spread of the gospel throughout the world.

She’s been in a series called “Where the River Flows,” taken from Ezekiel 47. And Nancy, I’m so excited that Revive Our Hearts gets to play a role in helping to spread God’s Word across the globe.

Nancy: I am too, Leslie. And it’s definitely something God is doing, not something we cooked up in a strategy meeting. But women from across the world have been coming to us, asking to translate Revive Our Hearts material into their language. And I’m excited to tell you about one of those opportunities. Earlier this year, Sabrina Aslan sat right at the microphone I’m using now. She recorded forty podcasts, translating Revive Our Hearts into Farsi. That’s the language spoken by over 110 million people around the world, including Iran. Imagine the impact God’s Word could have as it makes its way into this country that has been so hostile to the gospel.

The Revive Our Hearts Monthly Partner team is key to letting us take these kinds of opportunities. This is a group of listeners who commit to pray for the ministry. They also tell friends about resources that are available through Revive Our Hearts. And they give to support this ministry—at least $30 a month. We see a huge need at Revive Our Hearts for new ministry partners. They keep the ministry stable when other types of donations fluctuate.

So if your heart beats with the mission of Revive Our Hearts, now would be a great time to join this team. When you join this month, we’ll send you a welcome package full of resources. And each month you’ll receive an exclusive devotional called Daily Reflections. And you can be our guest at the Revive '19 conference this September. Partners get one registration each year to a Revive Our Hearts conference.

If this ministry has been a blessing to you, would you ask the Lord if He would have you join our Monthly Partner team? You can get more details at ReviveOurHearts.com. You can also call 1–800–569–5959. I’m so grateful for every Monthly Partner who helps us as together we call women to freedom, fullness and fruitfulness in Christ!

Are there any places in your life that feel barren? Tomorrow hear why you can have hope for real change. Nancy will talk about the river that brings new life here on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is reminding us that God is a work in ways we can't always see. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the NKJV unless otherwise noted.

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