the river of life
7th Sunday of Easter – C LSB #’s 389:1, 4-6, 673, 474
Text – Revelation 22:1
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God & of the Lamb.
THE RIVER OF LIFE
Mythology has been a topic that many people are curious to learn about. College courses routinely cover Greek & Roman mythology. It can be mystical & fascinating trying to tie together all the characters of those ancient stories.
The word is derived from the Greek word “mythos,” meaning story of people, & “logos” which means speech. Therefore, mythology is simply a story that tries to explain the origins or the meaning of life. In mythology, people are asking, “Where did we come from? Why are we here?” Every culture that has existed has stories they pass on from one generation to the next.
At their most basic level, myths comfort people by giving a sense of order & meaning to a world that often appears to be chaotic & even cruel. The recent murderous rampages in Oxford, MI; Buffalo, NY & Uvalde, TX, are modern examples of the type of event that mythology would be used to explain.
One of the chief roles of mythology is to explain what happens at death. Closely connected to that are explanations of the afterlife. In the land of the dead, the River Styx dominated the Greek underworld. It formed the border between that world & the world of the living. Translated from Greek to English, the River Styx would be known as the River of Hate.
Also translated into English, the other major rivers of Hades were the River of Pain, the River of Forgetfulness, the River of Fire, & the River of Wailing. Do you get the impression they thought Hades was not going to be a fun place? Those rivers are the invention of mankind, & their mythology was created by human beings in order to answer big questions of life, questions like, “Where did we come from? Why are we here?” The Bible is, in that sense, a type of mythology. Remember, at its root mythology has nothing to do with being true or untrue. It is simply a story given to explain the origin or the meaning of life.
Like Greek or Roman mythology, the Bible also attempts to answer those questions for us. By the definition of Christianity, Christians are people who believe the answers that the Bible gives. People who do not believe the Bible’s answers may believe other mythologies, like the ancient Roman or Greek myths.
The Greek myth had their Rivers of Hate & Pain, Forgetfulness, Fire & Wailing. The Bible also has a river. In the Book of Revelation, God presents to us the River of the Water of Life. It is a very different river than those of the Greek mythology. This river is meant to bring life & to sustain life. In fact, it flows from Yahweh Himself.
We don’t have to pay some dark shadowy figure to ferry us across this river, as in the Greek mythology. In the Greek afterlife, only the most exceptional mortals are blessed with eternal happiness. The mythology of the Bible tells us that while we were yet sinners, God sent His Son to rescue us that we might spend eternity with Him in paradise.
That is the ultimate purpose of our lives here on earth – to end up in paradise living with the very God who created us. The meaning of our lives does not depend upon what we do. It depends, instead, upon the perfect life that Jesus lived in our place. No mythology created by mankind ever grants paradise to human beings based upon the perfect life of a god.
In Greek mythology, for the vast majority of souls a bleak existence waits after death, a place of shadows, darkness & hopelessness. They weren’t overly bad, nor were they overly good, so their “blessing” is to drink from the River of Forgetfulness, meaning they forget their previous lives & exist forever & ever in mindlessness. Through the Bible, Father, Son & Holy Spirit offer so much more for the afterlife, & that blessing does not depend upon our being exceptionally good. There is no need to live in fear that I will fall short & end up in mindlessness forever & ever, or even worse, in suffering & torment that never ends.
Because Jesus died & rose from the dead for us, those who believe the origin & meaning of life that God’s Word teaches will rise from the dead as well. They will have a physical body to live a full & perfect life as God intended it to be in the Garden of Eden. We will live productive & useful lives where everyone will be exceptional, yet with humility.
And all of the new heaven & earth will experience that same vitality, purpose & meaning. All of that life will be fed & protected by the River of the Water of Life. There will be no sickness or death, no suffering or pain, but the best news is that we do not need to live exceptional lives here on earth in order to earn that.
God’s heart breaks as He sees us living in the brokenness of this sinful world. So Jesus endured the punishment that all of us deserve. He endured the torment of hell to pay for all the sins of all the people from all of history. If God didn’t pay for all sins, then how would He pick & choose who was good enough to enter His paradise?
In truth, it is often in this life that we exist in mindlessness, incapable of using our gifts & abilities to their full extent because sin has corrupted us. It is because of sin that the tragedies of life occur like the shootings in Oxford & Buffalo & Uvalde. It is because of sin that evil men like Vladimir Putin send their armies to massacre civilians by the thousands.
It is because of sin that you & I disrespect our neighbors instead of loving them, & we hate our enemies instead of praying for them. Ancient mythologies determine the eternal future of your soul by what you do & fail to do here on earth. There is no hope of resurrection to living a fulfilling life in eternity. At best, you hope for more of the same mindlessness we often experience already now, but without even a body. Since the Word of God came 1st, mythology is trying to do the same thing that the Bible does. It’s just that mythology is a secular, man-made version. It seeks to achieve its goals without the true God, who designed & created all things. By definition then, mythology has to be a false version of life’s meaning & purpose.
On August 20, 2021, Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee posted a photo of herself cradling an Afghan baby in her arms. “I love my job,” she wrote. On August 26th, she & 12 other service members were killed in a suicide bombing outside Kabul Airport during the chaotic withdrawal of American forces.
This Memorial Day, as all others, has been dedicated to remembering the more than one million men & women who have died in service to our country. And while, at our best, our mourning may last a day, for our Gold Star families that mourning occurs all year long.
Together, long after they are gone, the names & faces of those died at war bear witness to the words of Jesus, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13 ESV) Jesus laid down His life for us & was raised from the dead in order to pay for all that we have done wrong, & for all the good that we have failed to do.
In heaven, the River of the Water of Life will feed & nourish our body & soul so perfectly that no one there will ever suffer in any way. We will never take for granted the blessings that the heavenly Father bestows upon us. We will never weep, as the families weep today, of those murdered in these past months, anywhere in our nation or in Ukraine.
As a child of God, you have the hope that their families need – the message of the River of the Water of Life. The knowledge that everything will end well, in heaven, for all who believe, helps us to keep all of this life in its proper perspective. There is hope to come that will never fade. Each of us already now has infinite value because of the Lord who created us, & because of our life to come that will never end. Amen.
Jerusalem, my happy home, when shall I come to thee? When shall my sorrows have an end? Thy joys when shall I see? O Christ, do Thou my soul prepare for that bright home of love that I may see Thee & adore with all Thy saints above. Amen. LSB 673:1, 6.
 The American Legion Magazine, May 2022, p. 4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet