Rivers of Living Water
May 28, 2023 |Rivers of Living Water | John 7:37-39
This morning we unite with many churches across the world as we celebrate what is referred to as Pentecost Sunday.
A commemoration of that first Pentecost Sunday after the resurrection when God poured the Holy Spirit out on his people. It has been seven weeks and a day since Easter, or 50 days.
Which if you are not familiar is why it is called Pentecost. The term Pentecost comes from the Greek Πεντηκοστή (Pentēkostē), meaning "fiftieth". It refers to the Jewish festival of Shavuot celebrated on the fiftieth day after Passover. It is also known as the "Feast of Weeks" and the "Feast of 50 days" in rabbinic tradition.
Together with the feast of tabernacles, and the feast of Passover, these three form the major feasts in Judaism, given by God to his people for them to observe throughout the year.
Passover commemorates the redemption of the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery. On the first Passover each Hebrew household sacrificed a perfect yearling lamb and sprinkled the blood on the crosspiece and side posts of the door.
Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks, also is calculated from the first feast, Passover. It comes 50 days after the Passover Sabbath, thus the name Pentecost which means “fifty.” This is a Greek name, but the Jewish people call it “Shavuot,” which is the Hebrew word for weeks. Shavuot is also a harvest festival, thanking God for the wheat harvest.
The seventh and final feast is the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles, known in Hebrew as Sukkot. In Bible days this was the final fall harvest festival, a time of ingathering at Jerusalem. The Jewish people built booth-like structures and lived in them during the feast as a reminder of the temporary dwellings the Israelites had in the wilderness.
Understandably, Jesus’ ministry often coincided with these festivals, especially towards the end of his ministry on Earth. Specifically the eight day or first day of the week, Sunday of the festivals.
Today, having heard in our scripture reading about the events of Pentecost and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, and having 50 days ago celebrated Easter, coinciding with Passover and the resurrection of Jesus, we turn to the third festival where Jesus stood and declared an amazing promise in the midst of the temple on a Sunday, or the 8th day of the festival of tabernacles.
Let me share with you one reason this is significant for us today. As one commentator says,
This places Jesus’ action on the first day of the week, the day that fits his theme of the coming Holy Spirit. The coming of the Spirit is tied to the resurrection, which occurred on Sunday, as did the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost. We may see these three events—all of which took place during the three great feasts of Jesus’ last year—as linked in a sequence. On the eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit; on the eighth day of the Feast of Passover, his resurrection inaugurated the age of the Spirit; and on the eighth day of the Feast of Pentecost, Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on his church. This is why Christians worship not on the seventh day but on the first day of the week. We worship and live not in the old seven days but in the first day of the New Testament Sabbath that fulfills the hope of the Old Testament feasts. We are people of the Spirit of God, living in the age of the outpoured Holy Spirit, which Jesus came to give.
Understanding that it is all related and although in the year, this festival of tabernacles is the last of the three, we see chronologically, in the coming of the promised Holy Spirit, it is first. At the feast of tabernacles, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit, at the festival of Passover, Jesus dies in our place, securing the gift of the Holy Spirit from the Father, and at the festival of Pentecost, Jesus pours out the Spirit on his disciples, the church.
It is to that event, Jesus, in the temple, on the 8th day of the feast of tabernacles, that we turn to now. We find it recorded for us in John, chapter 7. We will begin with verse 37.
John 7:37-38 (ESV) 37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
As we dig into our text this morning, we are going to look at the posture, the proclamation, and the promise of Jesus at the feast of Tabernacles with the goal of better understanding the events of Pentecost Sunday and its implications for us today.
First, we turn to…
To fully appreciate the scene before us, we need to dig a little deeper into this feast mentioned by John.
We know what feast this was because of John’s commentary in John 7:2 (ESV) 2 Now the Jews' Feast of Booths was at hand.
This feast was prescribed by God to the Jewish people through Moses in Leviticus.
Leviticus 23:33-36 (ESV) 33 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 34 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month and for seven days is the Feast of Booths to the LORD. 35 On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work. 36 For seven days you shall present food offerings to the LORD. On the eighth day you shall hold a holy convocation and present a food offering to the LORD. It is a solemn assembly; you shall not do any ordinary work.
We know that it was tied to the nation's agricultural cycle, which is why it is sometimes referred to in scripture as the feast of ingathering, we know that it was to be a time of rejoicing as well as a time of remembrance. Listen to God's continued instruction for the people.
Leviticus 23:39-43 (ESV) 39 “On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest. 40 And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days. 41 You shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. 42 You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, 43 that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”
In Numbers 29:12-40 we find the prescribed sacrifices for each day of the festival.
The feast of tabernacles is associated with a few important historical events.
It was during this feast that Solomon dedicated the temple and moved worship from the temporary tabernacle to the more permanent temple.
When Nehemiah and Ezra led the return of the Israelites to Jerusalem, when the wall was rebuilt and they read to the people from the law, the people realized that it in fact time for the feast of tabernacles and this was the first feast celebrated by the Jews returning from captivity.
In addition to the prescribed days of sacrifice, sabbath, and rejoicing, later additions to the festival had to do with other ways to commemorate God’s people’s time in the wilderness.
These included drawing water from the Pool of Siloam and pouring it on the altar and of lighting lamps at night, in memory of the water brought from the rock in the wilderness and of the pillar of fire that traveled with them at night during their wanderings.
From Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary we find this description of the water pouring.
The last day, that great day of the feast—the eighth (Le 23:39). It was a sabbath, the last feast day of the year, and distinguished by very remarkable ceremonies. "The generally joyous character of this feast broke out on this day into loud jubilation, particularly at the solemn moment when the priest, as was done on every day of this festival, brought forth, in golden vessels, water from the stream of Siloah, which flowed under the temple-mountain, and solemnly poured it upon the altar. Then the words of Isa 12:3 were sung, With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of Salvation,... So ecstatic was the joy with which this ceremony was performed—accompanied with sound of trumpets—that it used to be said, "Whoever had not witnessed it had never seen rejoicing at all" [LIGHTFOOT].
Now, surely you can already begin to see the moment unfolding before us.
Jesus, standing in a prominent position, lifting his voice, and crying out ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink’
Maybe right before the water was poured during the quiet expectation, maybe immediately after the shouting died down, whatever his timing, it would be hard to imagine Jesus’ statement not being at this time,
When you think about it, this posture Jesus takes is astonishing.
We find in the preceding verses, the religious leaders were seeking to kill him, the leaders had already sent men to arrest Jesus because he had been teaching in the temple starting about midway through the feast.
You would think Jesus might make himself scarce or to withdraw, but rather he stands and cries out to the gathered crowds.
But not if you know Jesus. Because, in these crowds are people who are wondering if he is the Christ, some who are astonished by his teaching and miracles, and there are others that are certain that he is. Jesus will not let this crowd disperse without issuing this great invitation. It is to that proclamation we turn now. First we have looked at Jesus’ posture, standing in the temple, on the Sabbath day, on the last day of the feast of tabernacles, with all of it’s memorial elements, with its pictures and prayers, with its great expectant hope of God’s work, and crying out, come to me, second we will consider…
What is interesting when you read John’s account of the feast week, is that this is not the first proclamation Jesus makes. The first was in response to the murmurings of the crowd.
John 7:25-27 (ESV) 25 Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, “Is not this the man whom they seek to kill? 26 And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ? 27 But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.”
John 7:28-29 (ESV) 28 So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I come from. But I have not come of my own accord. He who sent me is true, and him you do not know. 29 I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.”
The word translated ‘proclaimed’ is the same word translated ‘cried out’ in our text.
The word comes from the idea of a loud croaking sound, like a raven makes. It is often translated as crying out. It is an attention getting, meant to be heard, kind of scream.
It is clear that Jesus’ intention here is to be heard above the noise of the crowd, above the noise of the temple.
Let’s read again what he cries out.
“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
Every part of this proclamation is interesting, so let’s take a look at each portion individually before we consider it as a whole.
If anyone shirts, let him come to me and drink. Many commentators and cross-reference bibles tag Isaiah 55 here, and for good reason. Listen to what God the father says.
Isaiah 55:1-3 (ESV) 1 “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.
Jesus is claiming to be the satisfaction for those who are thirsting.
If anyone thirsts. Jesus uses a universally understood and experienced human condition to paint a picture of the greatest need of mankind. Everyone knows what it is like to be thirsty.
Did you know that you can go much longer than you think without food? Anywhere between 1-2 months without food.
Around three days, that's how long you can make it without water. Thirst is the body warning you of impending danger.
According to Spurgeon, thirst “is the absence of a necessary.” “Thirst is a painful need . . . an emptiness . . . . Thirst is conscious need, conscious to a painful degree . . . a salutary warning that something very important is wanted.”
Now, no more than Jesus was offering the Samaritan woman at the well actual water, is he here offering some kind of magical water to quench the thirst of men and women desiring a drink.
Rather, he is using this common human experience to point to the deeper thirst of humanity.
One commentator called it the thirst of the soul, saying, He calls to those deeply conscious of their need to be cleansed of sin, be renewed in spirit, and find acceptance with God.
To those who have tried the world’s well and found it lacking fulfillment, those that have tried the well of religion, but found no satisfaction for their soul, those who know that they need something, there is a thirst deep within them that the world cannot satisfy and they thirst for it.
What is the means by which those who recognize their thirst find satisfaction. Jesus says, come to me.
Not physically, but in faith believing he is the only source of life and satisfaction for your soul.
And not in your own way, but in his, on his terms, in his way, you come.
And in doing so, you find not only temporary, but eternal satisfaction for your thirsty and weary soul.
Listen to the way Jesus said it to the woman at the well.
John 4:13-14 (ESV) 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Imagine it, no more thirst. No more moving from drink to drink, trying to finally and fully quench the thirst of your soul, no more searching out wells that may be the answer, complete and utter satisfaction, this is what jesus offers when he says, If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.
What is Jesus proclaiming here?
That he is the well of salvation promised in Isaiah 12.
Isaiah 12:2-3 (ESV) “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” 3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
The very promise they are singing together as the priest pours the water on the altar is standing there in the temple proclaiming that he has come and any who are thirsty may drink. How does one drink from this divine well of salvation, Jesus says, whoever believes in me.
This is not the first time Jesus has proclaimed this, but it is certainly the most public. In John 6:35 (ESV) 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
To believe in Jesus is to put your faith in him, to be fully convinced that he is the way, the truth, and the life and that no one can come to the Father except through him. It is to believe that he is your only hope, your only good, and your only source of salvation. It is to wholly trust in his name and his name alone.
And what an invitation, if anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.
Do you recognize your need for Jesus today? Do you know that the thirst in your soul that the world has not been able to quench can be fully satisfied in Jesus? Then come to him and receive the promise.
38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
To come to Jesus is to be fundamentally changed, it is to have your old dead stony heart replaced with new life.
It turns a lifeless dead tree into a living, fruit yielding, flourishing one by the power and presence of God.
How do we know this is what Jesus is talking about here with this picture of rivers of living water? Because John tells us in his commentary, as he recounts this wonderful event, writing later in his life, exactly what Jesus is talking about. We have looked at Jesus’ posture, Jesus’ proclamation, finally, let’s look at…
Let’s pick up and read verse 39 here in John 7.
39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Now this- now what? Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water- this he said about the Spirit.
John wants us to understand the promise Jesus makes here to those who believe in him.
They WERE TO receive- John is writing from an interesting viewpoint. As a firsthand witness who heard this promise, who then experienced the pouring out of the spirit on Pentecost. He is not speaking hypothetically, he is saying, this promise about living waters flowing out of the believer's heart, did in fact happen, they did receive it when the Spirit was given, but at this point it was a future promise because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Now we looked at this a few weeks ago in John 14 so we will not dig too deeply into it this morning, but to briefly say that the events of Pentecost, promised here to those that believe were possible because Jesus, after giving his life on a roman cross, being buried, was raised from the dead and forty days later, ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, received the promised Holy Spirit and poured it out on his church.
John, looking back at Pentecost and at the events of Passover, ties the two together with this proclamation.
Jesus was talking about the pouring out of the Spirit on those who believe.
The imagery Jesus uses illustrates what happens when someone believes in Jesus.
God does not just do a little work in the life of a believer, he so fills a believer’s heart that it becomes like rivers flowing out of him or her.
This is the transformative work of the Spirit. Like a river flows to bring life and refreshment to a dry and weary land so the Holy Spirit flows in the believer’s life, to satisfy and refresh their needy soul.
He brings peace to weary souls, purity to sin filled hearts, and purpose to aimless lives.
The Spirit’s presence tells us that peace has been made with God for the enmity has been dealt with by the blood of Jesus.
The Spirit’s presence tells us that purifying work has taken place for God cannot dwell with the wicked.
The Spirit’s presence tells us that purpose has been given, because having received reconciliation, we are now ambassadors of reconciliation, as the Spirit flows from our lives and touches others around us.
This promise of Jesus is an echo of the promises that God made throughout scripture.
Isaiah 44:3 (ESV) 3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.
Zechariah 14:8 (ESV) 8 On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea.
What is interesting is that Jerusalem has no river, indicating that God is speaking figuratively of his Spirit being poured out at Jerusalem and spreading into the world. Which, as we celebrate Pentecost today, we realize has happened. Here halfway around the world, some 2,000 years later, God’s Spirit in us is a testimony to the promise that Jesus issued in our text.
And here is the most beautiful part of the promise: until he returns, the Spirit will continue flowing into the lives of men, women, and children who come to Jesus in faith because of the testimony of those who have been brought to life by it’s powerful influence.
This morning we have looked at Jesus’ posture, his proclamation, and his promise. I want you to understand that Jesus still stands and proclaims this promise. His only condition?
If anyone thirsts.
Jesus offers no provisions that put his promise out of our reach, no metaphorical hoops to jump through, just a recognition deep in our soul that there is a thirst within us that cannot be satisfied apart from him.
If you have not come to Jesus, if you do not know him, do you this morning feel that thirst within you? Know that you can come to him and be satisfied.
If you know him, if you have tasted the waters of life and still find there is a thirst in you, is it because you are trying to drink from the world's wells? Then come back to the only water that can satisfy, stay near Him through his word and his church. Experience more and more of what he offers, knowing that you never have to thirst again, for the living waters of the Spirit never run dry.
I want to close with a verse of the hymn ‘come to the waters’
Come to the waters, whoever is thirsty; Drink from the Fountain that never runs dry. Jesus, the Living One, offers you mercy, Life more abundant in boundless supply.