Monday, June 24, 2013

The Living Water that Christ Supplies (John 7:37-39)

They say everything’s bigger in Texas, and having recently spent a week there, I think we would agree. One evening, after a riverboat ride and a long stroll along San Antonio’s Riverwalk and the Alamo, we were all craving a little late night snack. We found an all night café famous for its cinnamon rolls. But we soon discovered that one of those cinnamon rolls was big enough to feed a small army – it weighed three pounds and was bigger than my head. We did all we could do to it, and it was delicious, but we only ate about two-thirds of it. It satisfied our hunger, and then some. We started offering it to people sitting around us, and finally we suggested that the server share it with her coworkers. We left there so full that we could barely walk, but as is so often the case, we awoke hungry again the next morning. I was thinking, “Man, we should have kept the leftovers of the cinnamon roll!” Similar to that cinnamon roll, in our text today, Jesus offers the world something that will satisfy us and then some. He offers to provide living water that will satisfy the thirsty soul, and then some. It will flow forth from within us to spill over into the lives of others. But unlike that cinnamon roll, which fills for a while and then leaves us hungry again, the living water that Christ provides satisfies the thirsty soul forever. Drink of it and never thirst again.

The setting of Jesus’ words here is important to understand. Verse 37 says that it was “on the last day, the great day of the feast.” We have to go all the way back to verse 2 to remember that the feast here is the Feast of Booths, or the Feast of Tabernacles as it is more commonly called. This was the most popular of the three festivals in which it was expected that all Hebrew males who were physically and financially able must make a pilgrimage to celebrate the feast in Jerusalem. During the weeklong feast, pilgrims would dwell in crudely built shelters around the city, reminding them of the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites as they left Egypt and prepared to enter the Promised Land in the days of Moses. It was the most joyous of the Jewish festivals, as it celebrated the great acts of salvation and provision in the past and anticipated the coming of the Messiah, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the ingathering of the nations in the future. During the week of celebration, more animals were sacrificed than during any other time of the year.[1] The Mishnahs depict this season as a time when every road leading to Jerusalem would be thronged with festively clad worshipers, singing the songs of Zion, and bringing their gifts and offerings to the Lord.[2]

Over time, traditions and rituals developed apart from the Scriptural instructions surrounding this feast, and one of the most popular was the daily ceremony of drawing water from the pool of Siloam and the pouring out of that water on the Temple altar. For six days, one of the carefully chosen priests would take a golden pitcher to Siloam, accompanied by a great throng of worshipers playing instruments and singing the Psalms, and returned to the temple, where he would circle the altar one time as the multitude chanted the words of Psalm 118:25, “O Lord, do save, we beseech You; O Lord, we beseech You, do send prosperity.” The plea for salvation was voiced with the Hebrew word, Hosanna, “Save us now!” The final day of the festival, the “great day” as John calls it here, was known as the Hosanna Rabbah, “the great Hosanna,” because on this day, the priest circled the altar with the water of Siloam, not once, but seven times, accompanied by the repeated chants. It was a joyous demonstration of the prophecy in Isaiah 12:3, “You will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation.” With this outpouring of water, they remembered how God had provided water from a rock in the wilderness to satisfy the deadly thirst of the people. They also did this as a prayer for the Lord to pour out rain on a dry and thirsty ground, to prepare the soil for plowing and planting in the season to come. The Hebrew Mishnah said that “he who has not seen the rejoicing at the place of water-drawing has never seen rejoicing in his life.”[3]

But on this particular day of the festival, something unusual, something very out-of-the-ordinary happened. Hear the words of a Messianic Jewish scholar describing the unusual events of that day:

Picture this scene … It was Hoshana Rabba, on the last and greatest day of the Feast. See the crowds in the temple courts, watch the white-robed priests as they climb the steep ascent from Siloam to the Temple. They are carrying a golden vase of the water they just drew with joy from the well of Siloam. The water was poured into the basin near the altar. Then as the priest stood with his empty flask, a Man who had been watching cried with a loud voice: “If a man 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” (John 7:37-38). These were strange words to say, anywhere, at any time. But in the Temple on Hoshana Rabba, they were not just strange, they were audacious.[4]

That audacious Man who spoke these audacious words was none other than Jesus, the Christ. In just two sentences, Jesus takes a ritual that spoke of the slaking of physical thirst and the saturating of hardpan soil and radically reorients it to point to a greater need, and a greater means of satisfaction. More than any weary desert pilgrim needs water to drink, more than a farmer needs rain to soften the hard dirt of his fields, every human being needs the living water that Christ supplies to satisfy the longing of our desperately thirsty souls. While the priest’s golden flagon has gone dry here at festival’s end, and the pilgrims will have to wait another year to see the water poured on the altar,  the Lord Jesus speaks of an inexhaustible supply of living water that He can provide, which will satisfy the aching thirst of our souls and spill over onto others as His life works itself through us. Here in His brief words, we find a gracious invitation and a glorious promise. And this invitation and promise are the core of the Christian gospel.  

I. Christ’s Gracious Invitation to Thirsty Souls (v37)

When I was preparing for Seminary, I got a book from the student life office on campus about scholarship opportunities. As I looked through there, I noticed that some of the funds were very limited in scope. Some of them said things like, “you must be a United States veteran living in the Pacific Northwest pursuing a degree in Nouthetic Counseling.” I was scouring through the book with a red pen, crossing out ones that did not apply to me. It was a discouraging process. But when it comes to the living water that Jesus has to offer us, His invitation is universal.

Notice in v37 that Jesus stood and cried out. He put Himself in a position for all to see and spoke out so that all could hear, and He announced, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.” There are no limitations on the offer. It is available to anyone who is thirsty. Now, there may have been some in the crowd who thought, “Well, He’s not talking to me, because I am well hydrated; I’ve had plenty of water to drink today.” But Jesus is not talking about physical thirst. He is talking about a spiritual thirst, and that, my friends, is something that every person has. Each one of us has a gaping hole in our lives that nothing but God Himself can satisfy. Some of you know from experience: you’ve tried to satisfy your soul’s deepest longings with money, material possessions, education, career, relationships, and a host of other pursuits; and none of it satisfied. And all around us every day are multitudes of people who are chasing after empty promises, and who, if they were honest, would say that the theme song of their life is the Rolling Stones’ “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” But to a world of spiritually thirsty people, the Lord Jesus graciously beckons saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.” It doesn’t matter who you are: Jew, Gentile, young, old, rich, poor, man, woman, child, religious, unreligious, the invitation is given to anyone and everyone. Come to Jesus, and drink, and you will be satisfied. The only limitations on the offer are that you must be thirsty – and we all are; and you must be willing to admit you are thirsty – and that is something many people are unwilling to do. The late James Montgomery Boice wrote,

I never stand to preach the gospel but I am made aware of the fact that there are many who do not understand the gospel, and who, even if they do understand it, will not receive the Savior. To such we preach soul-satisfaction. We share Christ's invitation. But they, although they are in the midst of a spiritual desert of their own making, will not drink from this fountain. We warn them of their danger, and they dismiss it lightly. We speak of the Law's condemnation, and they laugh at such old-fashioned notions. The mass of men never thirsts after salvation. Do you thirst?[5]

You do. But will you admit that you do? Will you come to Him and drink? But what does it mean to come to Him and drink? First notice that the invitation is to come to Him, that is to a person. The invitation is not to come to a place – like a church building – or to come to a ritual that you must do. In America today there are multitudes who have come to church, they have come to be baptized, they have come to the Lord’s Table, and so on, but they have never come to Jesus! How can we come to Christ? Is He not in heaven, and are we not cut off from that place because of our sins? Indeed, but Christ has come all the way to you, being made flesh and coming as a man to live among us, to die as the sacrificial substitute for our sins, and to conquer sin and death through His resurrection. He has come all the way to you, so that the steps you have to take to come to Him are minimal. It is a decision of the heart to turn away from sin and turn toward Him.

And when we come to Him, we are invited to drink. What does He mean to come and drink? He tells us in the next verse: it is to believe in Him. It is to turn to Him in recognition of your spiritual thirst and in faith that He alone can satisfy that need in your life. To believe in Him is more than just to acknowledge the historical facts of His existence and the truthfulness of His claims. It is to personally trust in Him – to make a personal appropriation of the salvation that He has accomplished in His life, death and resurrection for you. It is to believe that He alone can save you from your sins and make you right with God, and to trust Him alone to do so.

 To come to Him and drink, to believe in Him, is not a means to seeking God; to believe in Him is to lay hold of God Himself. Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” This is the same promise that God had declared centuries before through the prophet Isaiah: “Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk Without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live” (Isaiah 55:1-3). In making this announcement, particularly at the place and time at which He made it, Jesus is saying, “The God whom you seek is here in your midst in the flesh. Come to Me, drink, believe and live.” So, have you come to Him? Have you drank? Have you believed? The invitation is there to all who are thirsty. It is a gracious invitation, and it is coupled with a glorious promise.

II. Christ’s glorious promise to all who come believing (vv 38-39).
Sometimes, when we are presented with an offer of something that seems too good to be true, we wonder what the catch is. We think there has to be a hook hidden in that bait and we are skeptical to fall for it. Jesus says here that all who are thirsty can come to Him and drink. So, what’s the catch? Where’s the hook? No hook, and no catch. Only a glorious promise. And what is the promise? “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”
This is a glorious promise of everlasting satisfaction. That spiritual thirst that every person has in their heart will be quenched with living water. The words that Jesus speaks here are reminiscent of those that He said to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. There, beside the historic well of Jacob, Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). Just like Jacob’s well, it could be said of every would-be fountain in life that promises us satisfaction apart from the Lord Jesus: “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again.” If any satisfaction can be found at all there, it is fleeting and temporary, and only leaves us thirstier than we were before. But the Lord Jesus promised that Samaritan woman, and all of us as well: “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give Him will never thirst again.” The aching thirst of our souls is satisfied in Him, in Him alone, and in Him forever. This living water that He supplies becomes a “well of water springing up to eternal life.” Your greatest need in life is to be reconciled to the God who made you and before whom you will stand at life’s end to give an account. Jesus Christ, and Him alone, has met that need through His life, death, and resurrection. Come to Him and believe, and you will never have that need again. He will save, and save to the uttermost. Having redeemed you from the curse of sin, He has bound you to Himself in covenant love that can never be severed. Should life bring you rejection, you have acceptance before God in Him. Should life bring you sorrow, you have joy in Him. Should life bring you alienation and loneliness, you have in Him a faithful friend who will never leave you nor forsake you. Should life leave you an orphan or a widow, you have through the Lord Jesus Christ a Father and a Husband who will be with you forever. If you have come to Him to drink of His living water, believing and trusting in Him, you can say with the Apostle Paul, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” No, nothing “can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 39). He gives you the promise of everlasting satisfaction.

But the promise is not just that your thirst will be satisfied and your longings fulfilled. It is even greater. In addition to the promise of everlasting satisfaction, Jesus promises to those who believe in Him overflowing supply. He says that the living water will not just fill you, but will flow out from your innermost being.[6] So abundant is the supply of living water that Christ endows to those who believe on Him, that it sloshes out and gushes forth from within us and begins to impact others. What Christ has put in you, you will not be able to contain within yourself. It will spill over into the lives of those around you. My kids really enjoy swimming; I really do not. When I go to a swimming pool, I like to just sit on the edge, maybe get down in the water a little bit, and just relax. But there’s always some kid in the pool – sometimes its my own kids – who are not content to swim around in the water, they want to make sure that everyone else gets thoroughly saturated as well. They are cannonballing, splashing and flailing about, and ruining my attempt to remain predominantly dry. That’s kind of the idea here. The Christian in the world is like that kid splashing about in the pool getting everyone else wet. The blessings of God are overflowing and splashing onto the people you interact with and encounter. The living water is not just for our own enjoyment; it begins to flow into the lives of others as the life of Christ works within us and through us.

Now John gives a word of necessary explanation in verse 39. He says, “But this He spoke of the Holy Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive.” This living water of which the Lord Jesus speaks is the divine Holy Spirit, that third person of the Triune Godhead who would be poured out upon all who believe upon Christ.[7] But the time of this indwelling had not yet come on God’s timetable. Though the Spirit was active and present in the world, and particularly in the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Himself, there was coming a day when all believers would be baptized of the Spirit and indwelt by Him. God had purposed that this should not occur until Jesus had “been glorified.” In speaking of Jesus being glorified, the Apostle is looking ahead to the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, by which He returned to His Father having completed His mission to rescue humanity from sin, and whereby He received “the glory which” He had “before the world was” (17:5).  Some ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven, Pentecost came, and on that day the Spirit came upon all who believed upon Jesus. Not only were they filled with His power, but the Spirit began to work mightily through them as they proclaimed the Gospel message on that day, and three thousand more were saved and received the Spirit. And from that day forward, the Spirit continued to work through believers far and wide, filling them with the living water, and flowing forth through them to impact multitudes wherever providence directed them. And He continues to do so through the lives of believers today.

The Spirit’s indwelling presence in your life is not a matter of mere personal satisfaction, though He certainly does this! He does more, not less, than this. He flows forth through us into the lives of others. He is one Spirit, yet He flows forth from us as “rivers (plural) of living water,” bringing blessing and refreshing to all we encounter. He does this through the gifts with which He endows every believer, and the fruit that we bear as a result of His presence within us. As you read the New Testament letters, you will note that the fruit and gifts of the Spirit are not inwardly focused on the self, but they are “other-focused.” In Galatians 5, the Apostle Paul says that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. What are these but divinely manifested qualities that affect how we interact with others? When we act with love, patience, kindness, and all of the other attributes that the Spirit produces in us, the rivers of living water are flowing through us and spilling over into the lives of others. And the gifts that we have because of the Spirit’s work within us are not a means of self-fulfillment. In 1 Corinthians 12:7 we read that “to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” As we serve the Lord in the power and gifting of His Spirit, others are blessed and edified. The waters flow through our innermost being and pour onto others. So you see that Jesus saves us, yes, for our own good, but we are also redeemed for the well-being of others. Your life, no matter how you estimate it, or how others do, is valuable to God and He has a purpose to use you in the work of His Kingdom. He desires to work through you to bring the living water to other thirsty souls. He desires to use your gifts within His church to strengthen and bless others. Are you living a life of isolation, cut off from the fellowship of fellow believers? If so, you are blocking the flow of living water that He desires to pour forth through you into the lives of others. You are depriving your brothers and sisters in the faith of the blessing that God uniquely wants to use you to deliver to them through your specific giftedness. He will do this, both within the church and outside of it, as His Spirit works in you and through you. He has not given you this Living Water to keep to yourself. You will never exhaust the supply. So let the river of living water flow through your life into the lives of others. Do not let the water of the Holy Spirit stagnate in a heart of self-centeredness. Others are in need of the water of life that Christ has promised to channel through your life as you live for His glory, with a heart that is fully satisfied in Him and Him alone.

So, in closing, allow me to ask a few pointed questions:
1) Have you recognized and acknowledged your thirst for that which only Jesus Christ can satisfy?
2) Have you come to Him in faith and trust, to drink, as it were, from the fount of Living Water? He bids you come, all who are thirsty, and never thirst again. Find the satisfaction that your soul desires in Him if you never have before.
3) For those who have, to whom, and in what way, will you allow the Spirit of God to work through you to bring blessing to others today? This week? And in the days to come? To whom in your circle of acquaintances will you show the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control of the Holy Spirit? Is there anyone in the church who will be blessed and refreshed as you exercise the gifts that the Holy Spirit has imparted to you for the common good? Will you let the Spirit of God flow through you into the lives of others? 

[1] Mitch and Zhava Glaser, The Fall Feasts of Israel (Chicago: Moody, 1987), 173.
[2] Daniel Fuchs, Israel’s Holy Days in Type and Prophecy (Neptune, NJ; Loizeaux Bros., 1985), 76.
[3] Sukkah 5:1. Cited in Fuchs, 78.
[4] Fuchs, 78.
[5] James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of John (An Expositional Commentary; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 2.585.
[6] Jesus says here that this promise is “as the Scripture said.” Yet, there can be found no Old Testament passage that corresponds precisely with this promise. No one in recent times has surpassed the explanation offered during the Reformation era by John Calvin on this potential problem: “I think that Christ is not referring to any one scriptural passage but takes a testimony from the common teaching of the prophets. … Therefore all the predictions about living waters are fulfilled in Christ, who alone has opened and revealed God’s hidden treasures.” John Calvin, John (Crossway Classic Commentaries; Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1994), 197. Thus, it seems that rather than pointing to a particular Old Testament scripture, Jesus is alluding to an entire corpus of prophetic writings on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to those who believe upon Him.
[7] John knows this when he composes this Gospel, but like everyone else present when Jesus spoke these words, he was likely oblivious to the cryptic statement that Jesus declared. So, how did John come to know that Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit? In the Upper Room Discourse, recorded in John 13-16, Jesus taught the Twelve much about the forthcoming ministry of the Holy Spirit, including the promise that the Spirit would empower the Twelve to compose and oversee the composing of the New Testament canon (14:26; 16:13). After Christ’s ascension, the Spirit came at Pentecost. By the time John wrote this Gospel, he had experienced the indwelling of the Holy Spirit for over half a century. Therefore, he is able to insert commentary here in the text to inform the reader of information that was not yet known at the time Jesus spoke these words.

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