READ : John 7:37-39
You know what a keynote speech is. It’s the address at a political convention that highlights what is of primary interest to the group. It concentrates on creating a sense of unity and arousing enthusiasm. The speaker is always carefully selected. The message is skillfully crafted. A great deal depends on that speech.
I want to read you now what sounds very much like a keynote speech of the kingdom of God, a vital message for all who want to be involved in it. Listen. This is from the Gospel according to John, chapter 7, beginning at verse 37:
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, `Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'” Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Notice the occasion. It was the Feast of Tabernacles, a festival rich in symbolism and popular appeal. The people gathered to camp out in leafy bowers. They carried bunches of leaves to symbolize the stages of Israel’s journey in the wilderness and fruit to symbolize the promised land. On each of the seven days of the feast, a priest would draw water in a golden flagon from the pool of Siloam, and bring it in procession to the temple, amid the blare of trumpets. There the water was poured into a bowl beside the altar. These ceremonies were acted thanksgivings for God’s past mercies in giving water. They were action-prayers for rain in the days ahead.
Now it’s the last day, the great day of the feast, the last time when the symbolic water would be poured out before the people. In some ways, it was the most dramatic moment of the Jewish year. The Lord’s timing was perfect.
Notice that He stands up. A teacher usually sat in the midst of his disciples, so Jesus’ posture called attention to His words as especially important. Also, He was in a position then to make the maximum number of the people see and hear Him.
Again, we’re told that Jesus cried. He proclaims His message loudly and emphatically, perhaps also with strong emotion, so that all may hear and heed. This is obviously a keynote address, a key moment in the Lord’s self-disclosure, in the witness He bears to God’s kingdom.
The first word is a striking invitation. “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink.” The people had been focussing on the poured-out water, on God’s past and future provision of refreshment for His people. You know what it does for us when we see sparkling water being poured, especially on a warm day, when we’ve been watching a long ceremony. It makes us instantly thirsty. That’s the genius behind all those beer and soft drink ads that picture a beverage cascading over ice cubes. The advertisers want every TV watcher to take a break and head for the refrigerator. They know the mere sight of that flowing liquid will have its effects.
“If any one thirst,” Jesus says. Who doesn’t? Thirst is our accompaniment every day we live. We may go for prolonged periods without food but we can’t endure for very long without moisture. Everybody’s thirsty every day and several times a day. What do the medical authorities say we should drink? At least six to eight glasses of water a day.
Perhaps that’s why thirst has become such a widely recognized symbol of something else. To thirst is to want something urgently, to have a craving, an unsatisfied need. When we thirst, our whole being cries out for satisfaction. All of us can tune into that.
Think about people whom you know. What are they thirsting for? For recognition? For affirmation? For wealth, for success, for companionship, for real love? And what about you? What are you after? What feels most like a clamoring thirst in your inmost heart? What is it that you must have, that you’ll go anywhere to get? Something fits that description, doesn’t it? Every one of us has a craving inside, of which our yen for water is a powerful sign.
One of the things the Bible does for people is tell us what that inner thirst is all about. What is it that down deep we want, need, yearn for most? What satisfies our souls as water refreshes our bodies? Here’s the open secret. It’s God Himself. Listen to the psalmist: “As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps. 42:1-2). Or, again, “O God, thou art my God, I seek thee; my soul thirsts for thee; my flesh faints for thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is” (Ps. 63:1).
Now we can grasp what Jesus is saying. He’s saying, If anyone is thirsty, thirsty like that, then let him come and drink. Let him move toward the refreshment. Let him open up and take it in. Move where, Jesus? Drink what? Here’s the startling word: “Let him come to me.” Jesus gives the real refreshment. He offers the living water. If you’re thirsty for the living God, He’s the one you want. He’s the One you need. If you move in His direction, if you take Him at His word, if you welcome Him into your life, that deepest craving of your heart will be satisfied. You will have tasted and seen that the Lord is good.
Next, along with the invitation is a remarkable promise, “He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, `Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'” Jesus is making it plain what coming to Him, drinking of Him involves. It’s believing in Him, trusting in Him, committing oneself to Him. The person who does that, who keeps on doing that, will become in some mysterious and marvelous way a channel for the living waters.
What was Jesus referring to when He said here, “As the scripture has said”? Biblical scholars have puzzled over that. After looking at all the possibilities suggested, I’m convinced that Jesus was referring to a passage in Ezekiel’s prophecy. Listen as I read it and see if it doesn’t sound like what He’s talking about here. It’s from the prophet’s vision of a renewed temple:
Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east. . . . Going on eastward, with a line on his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the loins. Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through (Ezek. 47:1,3-5).
Isn’t that something? The farther away it flowed from the temple, the deeper the water got. Now listen, “He led me back along the bank of the river. As I went back, I saw upon the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other. And he said to me, `This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the stagnant waters of the sea, the water will become fresh . . . So everything will live where the river goes” (Ezek. 47:6-9).
Imagine that. Here’s God’s temple, with water flowing out of it, that becomes deeper the farther it goes. That water exercises an amazing influence. It makes the stagnant waters fresh. It makes the desert blossom as the rose. Wherever it flows, everything around comes alive.
I think Jesus is talking about that passage here. He’s saying that if you believe in Him, if you come to Him and find God through Him, if you find satisfaction in Him, if you receive Him into your heart and life and become a fulfilled person, then a great miracle will happen. From inside you, from within your heart, this life-giving water will begin to stream forth. Wherever you go, as one in fellowship with Jesus, as one partaking of His life, the rivers will flow. And think of this: everything the waters touch will be refreshed.
Do you know people who affect you like that? Just being around them has a way of making you feel more alive. I’m thinking of a friend who does that for me. Whenever I’m with him, my enthusiasm for life begins to rise. I think of a student I knew in seminary. Whenever I sat at a table with him in the dining hall, my interest in theology and in the things of the gospel was rejuvenated. I remember another dear brother who is now 85 years old. I haven’t been with him for almost 30 years, but I still recall that every time I was in Hubert’s company my feeble zeal to share the gospel got a shot in the arm. Many times my life can become pretty dry, but when I’m in the company of people like that, I get revived and refreshed.
You know what I mean. You know people who affect you like that, don’t you? Well, here’s their secret. They keep on believing in Jesus. They’re in touch with Him. They’ve drunk deeply at the fountain, and as a result, you and I are sensing the overflow.
THE SECRET SOURCE
Now the gospel writer is going to identify the secret source of this life and power. Listen.
Now this he said [that is, Jesus] about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
That living water people receive when they come to Jesus in faith, what is that? It’s the gift of the Holy Spirit. It’s the Lord’s own life breathed into them, so that they live in Christ and He lives in them. And that can happen, explains the gospel writer, because Jesus died for us, rose again, ascended to heaven and has sent His Holy Spirit to His people. Ever since Pentecost, what Jesus was talking about has taken on new meaning and power. Now everyone who believes also receives. When you trust in Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within you, making your body a temple of the living God. Then the living water that goes pouring forth from within your life is the ministry of the risen Christ, through His Holy Spirit.
So, friends, though this keynote address was given originally at the feast of tabernacles, it has a contemporary ring. It’s a word especially for us. Jesus has been glorified. The Holy Spirit has been given. The fulfillment has become evident in this world again and again. So the invitation is clear: If you’re thirsty, thirsty down deep for something you know not what, realize that it’s a thirst for God. Believe what the great Augustine said to God: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” Oh, realize that within you there’s a huge God-shaped void that only He can fill. And recognizing that, go with that thirst and need to Jesus Christ. You will find in Him the true and living God, and He will be your satisfying portion.
Then when you have found the secret, when your heart has been filled to overflowing, He’ll make you one of His refreshing people. He’ll pour His life and love through you. He’ll make you a means of blessing for the people in your world. Will you respond to His invitation today and come to Him in faith? Why not trust His large promise for your life – and watch what happens?