River of the Spirit (John 7:37-39)
Rob Tennant, Sunday, June 12, 2011
Thursday afternoon this past week, I was working on this sermon. Ideas weren’t coming. So I went for a walk. I thought activity would wake up my sleepy mind.
You may remember Thursday. Humid. 94 degrees. I did not want my bald head sunburned, and did not bring a hat. So I got a costume cowboy hat out of the 4’s and 5’s Sunday school room. I must have been a sight – sweating profusely, with a child’s cowboy hat sitting atop my head, I walked along in Southern Village reading my Bible out loud as I sought inspiration.
Not many people were out – most joggers and walkers do there thing early when it is cool. I did pass one guy. He was in slacks and a dress shirt. I guess he ride the bus home from and was walking from the bus stop. He was sweating through his clothes.
As we walked toward each other I thought, “How can pour living water onto him?” I don’t know what his thoughts were. As we passed one another, he gave me a weird look. I can’t imagine why.
Is it odd? (I don’t mean walking around in unbearable heat in blue jeans wearing child’s cowboy hat reading the Bible out loud as I walk. I know that’s odd.) I mean is it odd that seeing someone I would think, how can I pout living water onto him right now, in this moment?
Jesus says, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”
Candy, my wife, had living water poured on her several years ago. She was in the hospital recovering from surgery after her appendix had ruptured. She felt vulnerable and scared. I should have stayed, but I thought she was fine. I went home. After I was gone, she felt very alone. That’s when God poured out a river on Candy.
It came in the form of the night nurse, a little lady with an annoying, high-pitched voice. She had an exceedingly cheerful disposition and it quickly became clear that she was a Christian. She and Candy were sisters in Christ. She held Candy’s hand. She prayed with her. Now, seven years later, Candy still remembers her, a nurse who was an angel, who encouraged her through a scary time.
I like that story because it was blessing to my wife. I also like it because it’s something each of us can do. We can pour out living water by being positive, encouraging, and cheerful. The nurse probably wasn’t appreciated by all her patients the way she was by Candy. Every time we show love the way she did, we won’t impact people. But, we never know when we will come across someone who is alone, scared, uncertain, hurting. So, we make it a practice to be positive, available, joyful with everyone. We’re ready in the moment when the Lord will speak through us as He spoke his love to Candy through that nurse.
What is living water? Hope for the one who’s a lost a job.
What is living water? Someone to listen and love when life is unbearably hard.
What is living water? It is keeping the faith along side a person who has lost the faith. We keep the faith for our friends and for strangers who are broken. We let them know they are loved and that God has not given on them even if they have given up on God.
What is living water? It is the undeniable reality that God is in this moment no matter what this moment is. Everyone in our church family has gone through pain – some are going through it right now. Everyone we meet outside the church in the daily comings and goings of life has been hurt. Some are weeping even as we meet them. We don’t know what their pain is. We just see them be rude to us as we wait in line. We just see them be impatient with the check-out clerk at the store. We don’t know the story. So we practice joy and encouragement, patience and generosity. We do it not because of the other, whether the other is a friend, stranger or enemy. We do it because of what Jesus is to us – Savior, Lord, Guide. Because he gives us life, we pour life out onto people – all people.
The problem is believers do not always do this – pour out life. Christians are not always cheerful and joyful. People who claim to be Christ-followers are not always ready to give love, to give blessing. We are sometimes cranky or grumpy; sometimes prejudiced; sometimes foolish; sometimes impulsive; sometimes jealous. The believer is not always poised to share Christ.
Furthermore, there was a problem when Jesus made his statement at the Great Festival about rivers of living water flowing from believers and the narrator names the problem. He says Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit had not yet come. The way it reads in the New Revised Standard Version, as yet there was no Spirit).
How then does the narrator of John’s Gospel get us to this statement of Jesus, a statement that could not yet be true? Jesus told his brothers he would not attend the Festival of Booths. Then he went, but secretly. He tried to keep a low profile. But as soon as he began teaching, people were astonished at his wisdom, knowledge, and authority. The crowds buzzed with excitement even as some religious leaders seethed with hatred. They hated that he was smarter than them. They hated that he interpreted the scriptures better then them. They were enraged that the crowds would listen to him instead of them.
On the last day of the Festival (v37), Jesus cried out. He didn’t whisper. He did not speak in elusive code words that only the initiated would understand. He did not reject some in the crowd while blessing others. Jesus cried out for all to hear.
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me.” He summoned seekers, and he indicated that anyone could be a seeker. A thirsty person has not found the water yet. He won’t stop looking until he does. It’s water or death. The spiritually thirsty person knows without doubt the only satisfaction he can find in is in God. Jesus invites all God-seekers to come to him for satisfaction. This is for all who know they have a deep need that nothing can meet. Jesus will meet that need.
Next he says “Let the one who believes in me drink.” Those who already believe he is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior, the believers are invited to drink of Jesus. We are invited to walk in his ways, receive his love, and live our lives on the terms he gives. This invitation goes to all people – it did when Jesus said it and it does now. Jews and Palestinians, Afghan Taliban members and American soldiers, liberals and conservatives – all people are invited to come to Jesus.
To review … at the festival, Jesus spoke out loud, to be heard. Jesus invited those seeking God to come to him. Jesus invited those who already believed to also come to him. When we are in Him, and he is in us, we get filled to the point that He pours out of us.
The prophet Isaiah said, “Everyone who thirsts come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! … Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich foods” (55:1a-b, 2c-d). Also the prophet Zechariah, who speaks of the day the Lord comes. “On that day, living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem … it shall continue in summer as in winter” (14:8). In Jesus, the Lord has come and the living waters are flowing.
He told the woman at the well,
Those who drink of the water I give will never be thirsty. The water that I give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life (John 4:13-14).
Jesus fills us and then fills others through us. The idea that God provides and then blesses others through His people is as old as God is. Grace did not begin with Jesus. The coming of Jesus is the most significant gift grace in a long history of gifts of grace because after Jesus came all the previous gifts of God, given through Israel could be understood. Because Jesus came and comes to each of us, each one of is a child of God, and each one is empowered to pass on the blessings of God.
How? I have shared that sometimes Christ followers are crabby and unavailable. That’s true of all of us. So how do we become the point from which the living water flows? I have already mentioned John’s observation that when Jesus said this, it wasn’t yet possible because the Holy Spirit had not come – at least not in the person way we understand the Holy Spirit coming on believers in this post resurrection age. So how does living water pour out of us?
We aren’t the source. God is. In fact, we need it as much as the woman at the well, as much as the anxious person lying in a hospital bed, as much as the tired person walking home from work, as much as the person who reads the news of disasters and terrorism and wars and wonders if the world is about to end. We are fragile broken people, all of us. We need living water.
Yet, if we are believers, Jesus not only says we will be filled and never thirst again. Jesus says, living water will pour out of us. How? How do we get to that point?
Since Jesus stood up on that last day of the festival and cried so all would hear that seekers and believers alike could to him, a couple of crucial things have taken place. He died. He rose from death. He ascended to be at the right hand of the Father with the promise that at the judgment, he would be back to all who believed in Him to be with Him for eternity.
Then we come to the book of Acts. The narrator said in John 7:39, “For as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” By the time we get to Acts 2, Jesus had been glorified.
There we read,
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”
“Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” The narrator in John 7 says this statement of Jesus is about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God. The river that flows out is God flowing out of us. How does that world become a better place? It happens with God at work in His church; God at work in individuals who have given their lives to Jesus.
In our deepest need we are satisfied when we seek Jesus. No matter how hard life gets, we come to Him. He has invited us. When we do, he doesn’t just fill us. He pours out of his, His Holy Spirit, onto the work around us.
The Holy Spirit is here, in this place, in the world. We go out seeking Christ. And we go out, looking at the world with open eyes, so when we see someone on the path or in the normal places life, we constantly ask, “Holy Spirit, how will flow through me and pour out a river of living, life-saving, life giving water on all those I meet?” Most people aren’t ready for that Holy Spirit River. But we will come across those who are. When we do, we’ll be ready to play our part, and the Spirit will flow through us and pour life – eternal life onto all who will receive it.