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True drink - John 7

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the morning service on 22nd October 2017.

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Probably one of the most gifted script writers in Hollywood is Aaron Sorkin. He is famous for the film ‘A Few Good Men’ as well as the award winning series ‘The West Wing.’ He is highly intelligent, very perceptive and a master wordsmith. He also wrote the script for the movie, ‘The American President’ starring Michael Douglas. In one scene the President is surrounded by his group of advisors deep in discussion because his ratings are slipping in the polls. And after several heated exchanges one advisor, played by Michael J Fox, appeals to the fact that people are searching for purpose in the world and says, ‘The people want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert towards a mirage and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.’ And in many ways that’s right. There is something deep down in the human psyche which can only be described as ‘longing’ which is akin to thirst. It is a desire which is more than a physical desire, although it resembles it. That is why many make the mistake of thinking that it can be satisfied with physical things like money, possessions, sex- but at each turn it feels more like the man who has drunk saltwater to slake his thirst, it simply makes the thirst more savage. Someone who discovered this to be so was Patrick Winston, a publishing executive from Bath. He said, ‘I had a great job, a partner, a good social life—everything I’d wanted, but gradually this sense of ennui took over and it left me feeling blank and demotivated. I started to feel that my life—including me—was fraudulent. I kept thinking: what next? I went through a period of heavy promiscuity, which made things worse. I felt that all that was in front of me was the same-acquisition of wealth and status, which had come to mean nothing to me. I became impotent, started drinking heavily and hated myself.’ His experience is not unique. And the Bible gives us an account as to why we feel like this and where the answer is to be found. We feel like this because we are made that way. Just as having a stomach indicates that we are physical creatures made for physical food, so our deep spiritual thirst tells us we are spiritual creatures made for spiritual drink. And there is one passage in the Bible in particular which invites us to the one who alone can satisfy that longing- John 7:37-39 where Jesus says, ‘“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.” So let’s look at this passage under three headings.

 

 

First, the scriptural sign which is to be found in the setting in which this breathtaking statement of Jesus is made, v 37, ‘On the last and greatest day of the festival….’ The festival John is referring to is the Feast of the Tabernacles. It is almost impossible to convey the electric nature of this festival which went on for a whole week. Think of the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations in London and that might give you some feel for the occasion. For the first six days of the feast the Jews used to fill a golden flagon with water from the Pool of Siloam and carry it back to the Temple. When they reached the Water Gate, three blasts on the ram’s horn trumpet were sounded. When they arrived at the temple, they processed around the altar and sang the Hallel (Psalms 113–118) with all the people shaking their Lulavs which were bundles of myrtle, palm and willow bound up together while the priests shook theirs made from willow. The flagon was then taken to the priest on duty at the altar who had two silver bowls, one for the water and the other for wine. These bowls were filled and then the contents poured over the altar. On the seventh day they processed around the altar seven times. Now the thing is this: the people believed that when the Messiah came he would provide water just as Moses had done.[1] That is the setting- one of joyous celebration and messianic expectation- like Christmas, Harvest and Easter all rolled into one.  

 

It was also a harvest festival, when the people with spiritual eyes would look in three directions: They looked back and remembered how God had provided water from the rock during the wilderness wanderings (Nu 20:8-11). In fact part of the celebration was that the people made temporary shelters in which they lived during the festival similar to the shelters or ‘booths’ or ‘tabernacles’ in which their ancestors lived when God led them out of Egypt and they wandered in the desert. They looked at the present and praised God for the provision of the harvest. But they also looked forward toward the future and spoke prophetically of the coming days of the Messiah when God’s blessing would be poured out on the nation as for example in Zechariah 14:8, "living waters will flow out of Jerusalem." They looked back to God’s rescue, they looked up in gratitude to God’s provision and they looked forward to God’s supreme rescue in the coming of the Messiah.

 

So all of this is going on culminating in the great climax of the last day and that is when Jesus stands up and drops his theological bombshell resulting in complete pandemonium, v 40ff, ‘On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet. Others said, “He is the Messiah.” Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. Some wanted to seize him.’

 

What was the theological bombshell? It was the open invitation, v37b, ‘Jesus stood and said (lit ‘cried out’) in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

 

Do you know what you have in those few words? You actually have the Gospel message-the Christian Good News.

 

It is a message centred on a person- Jesus Christ who proclaims the message. He talks about coming to ‘me’.

 

It is a message which is universal in scope- ‘Let anyone’.

 

It is a message acknowledging human need, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty.

 

It demands a personal response, ‘Come to me and drink.’

 

It results in life transformation, ‘Rivers of living waters will flow from within.’

 

And so we are back to one of the main themes of John’s Gospel, that of ‘life’. Water means life, without it there is death and here in Jesus we have the great life giver. Like Lady Wisdom in Proverbs, Jesus cries out to all passers-by to come to him to have their deepest longings satisfied, their parched tongues quenched. All that surrounds him in the festival is an imitation, he is the reality. It is not a matter now of looking back to Moses and the great deliverance, or looking up to God the great provider or looking forward to the coming Messiah, for the fulfilment of the feast is here in flesh and blood- Jesus. He is the one according to the beginning of the Gospel who is God tabernacling in the world in human flesh (1:14). Moses brought the people out of slavery in Egypt; Jesus delivers people from slavery to sin. God is the one who gives us our daily bread, Jesus is the living bread. The Messiah is no longer expectant- going to come; he is extant- having already come. No wonder he caused such a rumpus! And when people respond to his words they find his claim to be true.

 

So let me tell you the true story of a man who attended a church meeting in a small town in Ohio, in the States and was greatly convicted of his need of the Lord Jesus. He went home, deeply troubled but concealed his feelings from his wife, who was a lovely Christian. One evening when she was away, he became so anxious about the state of his soul that he began pacing the floor- backwards and forwards, backwards and forward. His daughter, noticing her dad’s agitation, asked him what was wrong. "Oh, nothing," he replied, trying to cover up his pangs of conviction. Then his daughter looked up to her Dad and in the way only children can with astonishing simplicity said:  "Daddy, if you were thirsty wouldn't you go and get a drink of water?" Her words practically floored him. He then thought of his thirsty soul, his parched heart. Then he remembered what he had heard the preacher say at the meeting—that the Gospel was like a freely flowing fountain. That night he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ. ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.’

 

Now the interesting thing is this: the verbs Jesus uses are all in the present tense, ‘If anyone is continually thirsting, let him keep coming to me and keep drinking from me.’ Similarly in the parallel verse 38, ‘whoever keeps on believing in me.’ Sure, there is the initial coming to Jesus to drink, but it is not simply a once and for all matter, you keep coming to him, you keep believing on him because we keep on thirsting because we are human and fallen and our need is deep and continual. Once you become a Christian like that man did, you never stop coming to Christ, day by day, moment by moment to find true satisfaction in him. If you do stop, then you begin to dry up its as simply as that. And maybe that is the way you are feeling this morning. Christ has become little more than a name to you, church going, just that, going to church. Well, there is only one remedy for the one who has for whatever reason decided to wander off into the desert- go back to the source and drink. Jesus won’t turn you away, he won’t abandon you- the cry still goes out today as it did on that day- ‘Come to me.

 

But what exactly does the Lord Jesus give to slake our deepest thirst? ‘Rivers of living water which come from deep within’- yes, denoting abundance- rivers-plural not droplets, and flowing freely and continuously. But John goes on to tell us specifically what it is Jesus is talking about in verse 39, ‘By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.’ John is referring to a time after Jesus had died on the cross to restore us to God, having been raised from the dead and ascending back to his Father- then he will be in a position to send the third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit to live in believers. This is the lasting Gift.

 

Let’s just think about this.

 

Only God can send the Spirit of God, which means that Jesus himself must be Divine.

 

Since it is God himself who comes to live within the believer, that must mean that the way has been opened for a person to be in touch with God again since God can’t be communing with those who reject him in sin. That is why the sending of the Holy Spirit couldn’t happen until after Jesus ‘had been glorified’- died on the cross and raised from the dead.

 

What is more, this shows that our real need is God himself. If the sending of the Spirit satisfies our deepest longings, then it must be that we have been longing for the Spirit unknowingly, all along. The trouble is we have been looking for the wrong thing in all the wrong places. But when the Spirit comes into us as we come to Jesus in saving faith, then all of that is changed. And notice it is an outflowing of the Spirit from within, not an inflowing from above. That is from believers who by faith in Jesus have received the Holy Spirit comes blessings to others.

 

Let me give you an example of what I mean. This is what a minister writes who visited a Christian amputee who lives in Melbourne, Australia. He said, “When this girl was 18, she was seized with a dreadful affliction and the doctor said that to save her life he must take off her foot. Next the other foot was removed. The disease continued to spread, and her legs had to be amputated at the hips. Then the malady broke out in her hands. And by the time I saw Miss Higgins, all that remained of her was just the trunk of her body. For 15 years now she has been in this condition. I went to offer comfort, but I did not know how to speak to her or what to say. I found the walls of her room covered with texts, all of them radiating joy, and peace, and power. She explained that one day while lying in bed she inquired of the Lord what a total amputee could possibly do for Him. Then an inspiration came to her. Calling a friend of hers, who was a carpenter, she had him construct a device to fit her shoulder, and attach to it an extension holding a fountain pen. Then she began to write letters witnessing to the grace of God. She had to do it entirely with body movement, yet her penmanship was beautiful. She has now received over 1500 replies from individuals who have been brought to Christ through the letters she produced in that way." The minister said to her; "How do you do it?" and she smilingly replied, "You know Jesus said of His own that out of them `shall flow rivers of living water.' I believe in Him, and He has helped me to overflow to others."

 

No other religion and no other person brings about a transformation like that other than Jesus, the Giver of the Spirit.

 

I just love the way C.S. Lewis picks up on this episode in one of his Narnia books, ‘The Silver Chair’. Jill Pole has played the ‘know all’ and has managed to get her friend Eustace Scrubb into trouble. Shortly afterwards she comes upon the Lion, Aslan the Christ-like figure which turns and moves slowly back into the forest. Jill then hears running water and finds herself very thirsty, whereupon she plucks up her courage and steals carefully from tree to tree in its direction. She comes upon an open glade from which the sight of the enticing water ahead increases her thirst all the more. Ready to rush forward, she suddenly checks herself because there, between her and the stream, is the Lion lying quietly with its head raised and its paws out in front. It is looking straight at Jill. The two face each other for a long time. Jill’s thirst is now so persistent that she must have water even if the Lion catches her. We read the following dialogue: In a “heavy, golden voice” the Lion finally asks, “Are you thirsty?” “I’m dying of thirst,” Jill promptly responds. “Then drink,” said the Lion. Hesitantly Jill suggests that the Lion go away while she drinks, to which a low growl is the only response. Then she says, “I daren’t come and drink.” “Then you will die of thirst.” Taking a step nearer, Jill says, “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.” “There is no other stream.” Now frantic with thirst, Jill proceeds to the sparkling stream and drinks what is described as “the coldest, most refreshing water she has ever tasted.”

 

Maybe that is where you are this morning. There is a spiritual ache in your soul but for some reason or other you are holding back from coming to the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps you are afraid of losing your freedom. Maybe you are unsure what the commitment to him will bring. It could be some bad experience in the past has you in its grip. But there is no other way to that water except through Jesus. It may seem risky, but the benefits are literally out of this world. Why not take him at his word as millions of others have done and find him to be true, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me rivers of water will flow from within them.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] "As the former redeemer made a well to rise, so will the latter Redeemer bring up water, as it is stated, And a fountain shall come forth of the house of the Lord, and shall water the valley of Shittim (Joel 3:18). (Qohelet Rabbah 1:9.1)"

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