THE Watershed

The Appalachian, the Pacific Crest, and the Continental Divide are the three great long-distance hikes in the United States. Each is over 2,000 miles long and takes the typical thru-hiker 5 months or more to traverse. An interesting feature of each is that somewhere along the trail, the hiker will walk along a ridgeline that is also a significant watershed. Hikers on the Continental Divide Trail probably walk along the longest watershed of the three.

A watershed is a fascinating thing, if you think about it. Let’s suppose you’re hiking along the CDT on a ridge high in the Rocky Mountains. You look off to the west and see the approaching storm—watching carefully to make sure it’s not a thunderstorm. You really don’t want to be walking a ridge above tree line in a lightening storm! Anyway, before you know it, the rain begins to fall as the storm tracks west to east. Hiking north, you see the rainfall to your left, on the western side of the watershed, and imagine yourself hitching a ride on one of those raindrops. You would enjoy quite a journey down a mountain stream that before long empties into the Colorado River and, hundreds of miles later, you’d find yourself swimming with whales in the Pacific Ocean. But then you turn to the right and track the falling rain as it lands on the east side of the watershed. Again, your imagination kicks in, but this time your journey takes you down a mountain stream that spills into a reservoir. Eventually you find yourself in a drinking glass in Denver!

Geographically, a watershed is an important line of demarcation—which explains why the term has taken on its figurative expression, referring to some significant turning point or dividing line in life. For example, most Americans immediately recognize that the numbers 9/11 stand for a watershed event in our nation’s history.

With that figurative meaning in mind, this past Sunday—Easter Sunday—my sermon focused on the watershed event in human history: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. You can hear the full sermon here, but I used Paul’s famous sermon on Mars Hill in Athens as the text (Acts 17:1-34), pointing out that all went fine as he preached until he made the statement that God raised Jesus from the dead. At that “watershed” point, Paul’s sermon essentially came to an end with the record of four “streams” of response. The first was curiosity, as some heard the idea of the resurrection and wanted to hear more. Next came rejection, as some flatly ridiculed the notion. The third response was reservation, not completely dismissing the idea, but not embracing it either. The final response was reception: several people heard what Jesus did in his person and work and how, after his death, he rose from the dead, and they believed in him, putting their faith and trust in him as their Lord and Savior.

The thing is, those streams arrived in different destinations. Only the fourth response—or stream, if you will—emptied into the “sea of eternal life,” for as John 3:16 states, “God loved the world in this way: he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life.” Clearly, this watershed has significant, eternal implications, making it the watershed!