«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.” (Jn. 7:37). I n the ...»
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IF ANYONE THIRSTS
Rev. Richard D. Phillips
Second Presbyterian Church, Greenville, SC, September 14, 2008
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.” (Jn. 7:37).
I n the Bible, the week is a most important unit of time. God
created the world in seven days, and God has given us the week
as the basic structure for our lives, with six days for work and one day for rest. Weeks are also important in John’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry. Chapters 1 and 2 presented the dramatic first week of Jesus’ ministry, beginning with John the Baptist’s testimony and concluding with the miracle at the wedding of Cana. At the end of John’s Gospel is the week of Christ’s Passion, culminating with the cross and resurrection.
Beginning in chapter 7, John recounts another important week in Jesus’ ministry, his final celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. This feast marked the end of the harvest season and was regarded as the Jews’ chief festival. This occasion, along with its aftermath, provides the setting for the important events of chapters seven through nine, and probably the first half of chapter ten. Perhaps most dramatic was an event recorded only briefly by John: “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’” (Jn. 7:37).
A GREAT CLAIMW hen John refers to “the last day of the feast, the great day,” he probably means the eighth day, the special Sunday sabbath after the feast, established by Leviticus 23:36 as a “holy convocation” and “solemn assembly.” 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 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.
During the Feast of Tabernacles, the crowds assembled in the temple court for a daily ritual. The priests processed from the nearby pool of Siloam, bearing a golden flagon filled with water, their arrival sounded by the blast of trumpets. Once at the temple, the priests marched around the altar as the temple choir sang the Hallel (Psalms 113-118). At the conclusion, all the men in the crowd took up a sheaf in the right hand and a piece of fruit in the left – signifying the gathered harvest – and cried out “Give thanks to the LORD!” three times. At this moment, the water was poured by the priests upon the altar.
This ceremony made three points. First, it recalled the exodus, when God provided for Israel by making water flow from a rock. Secondly, the ritual thanked God for the harvest and petitioned him for abundant rains in the year to come. Lastly, the ritual looked forward to the coming age of the Messiah, recalling Isaiah’s promise, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isa. 12:3).
By the eighth day, the rituals were over. The pilgrims dismantled the booths in which they had stayed during the feast and enjoyed a day of psalm singing. It was on this day, as the festival rites faded into memory, that Jesus stood forward to proclaim their true meaning. “If anyone thirsts,” he cried, “let him come to me and drink” (Jn. 7:37).
John’s Gospel is famous for Jesus’ many “I am” sayings. During the previous Passover, we heard him teach, “I am the bread of life” (Jn.
6:35). In John 8:12, Jesus adds another great claim: “I am the light of 470 the world” (Jn. 8:12). Although John 7:37 does not employ the “I am” formula, we should understand this as another of Jesus’ great claims. With the memory of the temple ritual close to people’s minds, he declared “that He is the true fountain of life, the supplier of all spiritual necessities, the reliever of all spiritual wants.”1
A GREAT INVITATION
A s with all of his “I am” sayings, Jesus followed this great claim with a great invitation: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (Jn. 7:37). The very fact that Jesus would give an invitation is remarkable. Jesus had come to a city that was largely against him, the leaders of which were known to be seeking his life.
But still he rises in the midst of the people, and John tells us that he cried out from the passion of his soul. Charles Spurgeon writes, “Whereas his custom was to sit and teach the people who gathered in a ring around him, on this closing day he now sought a prominent place… and there he stood, conspicuous before them all… Behold, he stands and pleads!... I think I see the Master’s face beaming with holy affection, and his eyes streaming with tears, as he pleads as for his life with the throng which is so soon to melt away.”2 This invitation – one of the great ones in the Bible – is directed to particular persons. Jesus began, “If anyone thirsts.” Thirst is the most powerful of all human sensations of need. The pain of hunger may be endured, but the pain of thirst is a desperate one.
Once in my Army days, I was commanding a reconnaissance unit in a scalding desert, with temperatures in excess of 130 degrees. We were operating far forward of our own lines, which made it hard to get supplies. On one occasion our resupply did not arrive and we went without water for most of a day. I attempted to radio for help, but my tongue was so swollen that my speech could not be understood.
Fortunately, one of my enterprising sergeants was returning from having his vehicle repaired in the rear areas. He overheard my radio call, raced over to a supply unit, hitched a “water buffalo” to the back of his tank, and within a couple of hours brought our desperately J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: John, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1999), 2:45.
1 Charles H. Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 63 vols. (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1973), 31:674.
2 471 needed relief, possibly saving our lives. It is to needs of this severity that Jesus spoke, when he cried, “If anyone thirsts.” 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.”3 Jesus was of course speaking of a thirst of the soul. He calls to those deeply conscious of their need to be cleansed of sin, be renewed in spirit, and find acceptance with God.
Do you thirst in this way? Then Jesus’ invitation is addressed to you.
Jesus invites all who thirst: “let him come to me and drink.” What is this but an offer to meet your need and satisfy what you lack and desire? Anyone who has truly been thirsty has nothing more pressing upon his mind than to drink. And this is what Jesus offers to the parched souls of this world. Jesus sets himself forth as the one and only fountain who can satisfy our great need. “If anyone thirsts,” he cries, “let him come to me and drink.” This is what Christianity offers to this world: if anyone is thirsty, come and drink. Ryle points out: “The saints of God in every age have been men and women who drank of this fountain by faith and were relieved. They felt their guilt and emptiness, and thirsted for deliverance. They heard of a full supply of pardon, mercy, and grace in Christ crucified for all penitent believers. They believed the good news and acted upon it.”4 Jesus promises to all who thirst: “Let him freely take from Me everything that his soul wants, -- mercy, grace, pardon, peace, strength. I am the Fountain of Life.”5 This raises an all-important question: How might a thirsty soul receive this drink that Jesus offers? Is there some quest to perform?
Must we accumulate a certain number of good deeds? Can a check written out to the church gain entrance? Is there some ritual to perform? The answer is No! Jesus puts it simply – and here is the heart of his gospel – “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me.” Jesus means that we must believe in him; we come to him not with our feet but with our faith. Just as we dip into a fountain with a cup,
3 Ibid., 31:678.4 Ryle, 2:46.5 Ibid., 2:51.
472 our faith receives the grace of Christ and we drink it in our souls.
Coming to Jesus means believing his claim to be the only Savior of the world; it means receiving him as our own Savior and trusting ourselves to his care. It means bringing our sins to his cross, where his blood was shed for forgiveness. And it means walking with him, our thirsty souls drinking from the salvation he daily gives, receiving peace and purity and power.
But faith is not just receiving; it is yielding to Jesus. This is ably depicted in C.S. Lewis’s children’s novel The Silver Chair. The book’s heroine, Jill, sees a lion and flees into a deep forest. She is soon worn out and becomes so thirsty she thinks herself about to die.
Just then, she hears the gurgling of a brook in the distance and staggers towards it. But as she draws near to the water, she sees the lion crouched before it. “If you are thirsty,” says the lion, “come and drink.” Jill does not move. “Are you not thirsty?” the Lion asks.
“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill. “Then drink,” said the Lion. “May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill. The Lion answered with a low growl, and Jill realized that he would not move away.
“Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said the Lion. Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer… “I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill. “Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion. “Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.” “There is no other stream,” said the Lion.
Lewis makes a vital point. Jesus invites you to come, but only on his terms. You must come yielding yourself to him, taking him not only as Savior but also as Lord. Jesus does not promise not to do anything to you! Jesus is not a tame lion, and the petty priorities of our lives are not safe in his hands. Jesus intends to revolutionize our lives with the priorities of his holy kingdom. But how loving and good he is!
When finally Jill knelt down and drank from the Lion’s waters, she found “it was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted.”6 So it is with the Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory and Lion of Judah.
C. S. Lewis, The Silver Chair (New York: Harper Collins, 1953), 21-23.
W hat does Jesus intend for those who drink from his fountain of life? The answer is found in John 7:38, which adds a great promise: “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” John is the most theological of the Gospel writers; wanting us to grasp Jesus’ meaning, he adds: “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” (Jn. 7:39).
Jesus was speaking of his sending the Holy Spirit upon his followers as the result of his glorification. This reminds us that the cross was not the end of Jesus’ work. Likewise, the forgiveness of our sins and our justification before God is not end of our salvation; in an important sense, our forgiveness is a means to a greater end, just as the cross was followed by Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus saves us from our sins and to eternal life with God. The goal of our salvation is that God should come to live in us by his Spirit as we live to his glory forever.
In John’s Gospel, the time of Jesus’ glorification is that of his cross.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem for his final time to take up the cross, he exclaimed, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (Jn. 12:23). When Judas departed the Last Supper to betray him, Jesus said: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him” (Jn. 13:31). So it is out of his own death that Jesus supplies the Holy Spirit. This is why John records that one of the soldiers pierced the side of Jesus’ dead body “and at once there came out blood and water” (Jn. 19:34). The blood is the sacrifice for our sin, and the water is the sign of the Spirit who flows from Jesus’ blessed wounds.
So when John says that the Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified, he has the cross in mind. It is after our sins have been put away that the life of God can enter into our souls. Spiritual renewal can only occur after we have confessed our sins and brought them to the cross to be forgiven.
What happens when we believe in Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit?
Perhaps the greatest description of the indwelling Holy Spirit is the one given by Jesus here: “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture 474 has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (Jn. 7:38).
As a river flows to bring life and refreshment to the weary land, so the Holy Spirit flows in the believer’s life, to satisfy and refresh the needy soul. The Holy Spirit is not a sip of medicine we drink just once, but a river of living water that Christ plants within us, a bestower of blessings that have no end.
Notice that Jesus speaks in the plural – “rivers” of living water. He offers an abundance of blessings to meet our every spiritual need.