John 7:37-39 Rivers of Living water

The Rivers of Living Water

–A Study on the Holy Spirit–

John 7:37-39

John has been concerned with two things in the Gospel of John. He is building our belief in Christ as the Son of God but also through a stronger faith in Christ to have a more abundant life. Some people have it all wrong. They think that if I can get away with going to church less, than I’ll more fun. Misconceptions like these lead us to make very poor life decisions. John points us that as we draw closer to Christ in faith then our lives begin to be greatly blessed.

Outline of Gospel of JohnJohn chapters 5 to 12 reveal special incidents from Jesus’ public ministry. These chapters are for everyone. Jesus is at this point welcoming all to come and see what He was saying and doing. This gives us a good picture of better understanding who Jesus Christ really was and what was He offering us. In this message we have the opportunity to look at an amazing claim of Jesus Christ. He is saying that what He can do for you is something you should have. Because of popular misconceptions, so many Christians are ambling about.

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.’” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)

As we discuss this passage, remember that we want to better understand who Christ is and how that should affect our lives. Let’s look at the setting. In this case a good understand when and where Jesus was when He said these things helps us more completely comprehend Jesus’ message.

A. What is significant about the last day of the feast of Tabernacles?

Israel's Seven Biblical Holidays diagram and chartJohn 7:37 says that on the last day, the great day of the feast something special happened. The last day of the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths) had a water ceremony. It seems very probable that it was at that time Jesus stood up and cried out,

 If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water (John 7:37-38).

They would then pass straight to the altar. They would then pour that water down into a silver funnel that stood high above the altar and went down to it.

Right afterwards they would cite the Hallel, Psalms 113 to 118 inclusive. It was chanted antiphonally accompanied by the flute. They would repeat the last verse of Psalm 118 and shake their palms (in right hand).  The offering of the special sacrifices would follow along with the Psalm of the day which was Psalm 1182:25 on.

We should note that Psalm 118:22-24 are verses that speak to the rejection of Christ. God was preparing a sacrifice. Christ would first be covered with branches before the offering of the sacrifice. The branches would be put around the altar. It was like Christ was being readied for the sacrifice (Christ’s death) during Palm Sunday where they lay branches before Him. They would surround the altar seven times like Jericho signifying their win over the pagan nations, and call out the “Great Hosanna”. Note Psalm 118:26, “Blessed is the one who comes in he name of the Lord.” Let’s just review some of the powerful verses that they then recited.

Psalm 118:17-18
I shall not die, but live, And tell of the works of the LORD. The LORD has disciplined me severely, But He has not given me over to death.
Psalm 118:22-23
The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone. This is the LORD’S doing; It is marvelous in our eyes.
Psalm 118:26
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD; We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.
Psalm 118:27
The LORD is God, and He has given us light; Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.

These ceremonies were full of powerful scriptural significance. Jesus was claiming to be better than the Pool of Siloam. After reading the water ceremony and reading of Hallel is probably when Jesus declared these verses openly to the public. They had to go to the Pool of Siloam to get the water but the funnel high above the altar meant that it was symbolic of coming from heaven. Jesus was claiming to be the real source for the streams of life. Isaiah 58:11 says,

And the LORD will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.

So what did Jesus actually declare?

A) “If any man is thirsty”

The first thing Jesus said was to identify the needs of the people. “If any man is thirsty.” We have lots of people taking a drink. Starbucks is open. A lot of people go there. Others go to the grocery stores to buy different beverages. Others go to a tavern. But these only provide temporary quenching of the thirst. They are at best temporary thirst quenchers.[2]

More significant, they only quench your physical thirst. A lot of people carry bottled water around them. But it is not going to help their life. We don’t know of any beverage that tries to improve the quality of your lives. They only admit to meet your superficial life needs.

Finding substitutes for Christ JesusWhen people heard Jesus, they knew He was not referring to physical thirst. This is all too symbolic of a great thirst deep within each person. Many of us purposely make ourselves too busy so that we will not feel the loneliness and sadness that are embedded deep in our lives. Others distract themselves with demanding goals in life such as degrees. Others drug themselves up. Drugs of course are a superficial ‘life thirst quencher.’ A more popular substitute is sexual immorality where the couple gets bursts of high feelings and feelings of relationship.

But all of these are horrible substitutes that take away more than we had in the beginning. Every moral compromise brings more pain and guilt. The only solution is to drink more goals, sex and alcohol down. People have great needs and are thirsty, but not many are willing to admit it. They are too fearful to expose their real heart pain for they don’t have any hope that it could really be eliminated. In fact, all they hear is that this is how life is.

Jesus is not without purpose exposing our tender heart sorrow. He knows of your deep and inner thoughts. He knows all about your pretend life. He is encouraging you to pinpoint your deep inner need.  Can you? Dare you? He wants to bring healing to your life. What is your deep inner need like? Have you recently been quiet enough to hear your hearts’ real longing?

Prayer: Maybe you can at this point just tell the Lord that you are thirsty. In a quick moment I will share how He will bring healing to that desperately thirsty heart of yours that is crying for meaning and purpose. Don’t worry. I will not have you tell others. Jesus is now asking you, “Are you thirsty.”  As you tell Him, you might feel like lots of tears swelling up in you. That is okay. We know what that is like. But they are really for you and the Lord to know about because He is there to care for you.

B) How is this thirst quenched?

Jesus is out in front of this excited crowd not only identifying that He knows the brokenness of their hearts but points to Himself for quenching that life thirst. He says,

If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water. (John 7:37-38).

What is it that Jesus means? How does He do this? His meaning is clear and yet vague.

Jesus said Come to me and drinkThe first thing a person needs to do is to see his own need. He will become very aware of the thirst of his soul. As evangelists, we need to help people identify the needs of their souls. Much evangelism is far too superficial. People have sinned and besides having hidden guilt face many sad consequences in their lives. But Jesus does not stop by being able to see that he or she is needy.

We are told to do two things: (1) Let him come to Me and (2) drink. They are connected.

(1)  Let him come to Me

Jesus tells us to come to Him.

The biggest problem of Christianity is not that there are people fed up with Christianity but that many so-called people that supposedly come to Jesus are dead dry. They might sit in churches on Sunday morning but are dry as dead bones. They might hold a pew Bible. They might even carry one back and forth to church, but there is not one drop of living water in them.

We must not equate ‘coming to Jesus’ with attending a church service or going through a ceremony of baptism.  Of course there are people who have met Jesus there. But many find a church just because they want a religion that tells them that they are good people. A little pampering, and they are able to forget the thirsts of the soul. Jesus has countered every religion by showing us that we have absolutely nothing to bring before God but our sins and despair. If you can notice your heart needs, your sins will be nearby. If you can acknowledge your heartaches, you probably are very aware of your own sins. Our heart sufferings stem from our sins.

Let us return to what Jesus meant by ‘coming to Him.’ If you feel the Lord prodding your heart, then you should also be aware of Jesus’ presence. Jesus is here at this moment. You have heard correctly that He has died, but He has also risen. He is alive and as King of Kings presides over all through the Holy Spirit. He is seeking out His people. When He calls, you should listen and go to Him.

Maybe you are thinking, “How do I know it is Him?” This is a good question. Many of us are so secularized, we are like infants when it comes to spiritual things. We just haven’t thought much about those things.

  1. First of all, remember you are not to make Him up or imagine His presence. This is spiritualism and is dangerous. We are to come to Jesus. He is real and living though we cannot see Him. There are lots of things we believe in that we cannot see like the wind.
  2. Secondly, we should simply acknowledge His presence. Say a simple prayer like, “Jesus, I know you are there.”  If you already told Him that you are thirsty, you already spoke with Him.
  3. Thirdly, if you haven’t yet, tell Him of your heart’s thirst. It can be a very emotional time. Many of us have suppressed our pains for so long that we all of a sudden find ourselves buried deep in our emotions. That is fine. It happens to people who meet Jesus.
  4. Fourthly, let me suggest to ask Him for forgiveness. This does not often need to be said. If Jesus Christ is speaking to your heart, then you are already very aware of your sins and consequences. Ask God to forgive you through Jesus Christ. This is the reason God sent His Son to die for sinners. He came to forgive you. Forgiveness always precedes renewal.

(2) And Drink

When we come to Jesus we are to drink from Christ. This might sound rather mystical. You really need to meet Jesus to know what He means. The point is that when you are so broken before Him, you have all these inner dry caverns deep in your soul that open up. The pains and superficiality of life has haunted you through the years but figured this was what life was supposed to be like.

‘Drink’ then describes how we open our hearts to the ministering of His Holy Spirit in our lives.

You never knew these empty parts of your soul were to be filled by His wonderful love and presence. ‘Drinking the Lord Jesus’ simply means that He will come and abide in you and fill those empty places in your lives. You will become an absolutely new person in Christ. The scriptures call this a “new creature in Christ.” ‘Drink’ then describes the process by which we open our hearts to the ministering of His Holy Spirit in our lives. The more we consciously allow Him to touch our lives, the more we find His peace and presence.

What happened when you became a Christian? Did you have that period of brokenness? Without it you will not acknowledge your sin’s guilt. Jesus said it is only the sick that go to see a doctor. Only those wanting a drink will go buy a drink. If you have never repented from your sins, then you will never really need the Savior. Repentance is the door to salvation.

I want to pause here for a moment. Jesus is here. I believe there well be could some thirsty souls right now in our congregation. I remember when I became saved. I had absolutely no intention about getting serious with God when I went to a youth meeting. Even afterwards when they told be to bow my heard, I was just interested in going home and playing. But then God showed me my emptiness and selfishness. I became so thirsty that I would run ten thousand miles to get a drink that would quench my thirst. Fortunately, the gospel message I heard led me simply to believe in Jesus. I remember my belief in His death brought forgiveness into my life. I welcomed His life into my broken one. And wow, I never have been the same. God’s Spirit has been poured out into my soul and it has kept running through me.

How about your own soul? Can you sense someone prodding your heart? Don’t harden your heart. You might even hear words like, “You are no good” or “If people really knew what you were like, then they ….” This is the evil one trying to keep you dry. The truth is that we are desperate people and when you acknowledge that, then He comes to help. If you sense this prodding, just tell Jesus to speak and fill your soul’s thirst.

We should not think we are too bad to come because as we mentioned earlier, it is the thirsty not the filled soul that comes to Him. And if He lets us know our thirst, by all means call out to Him to quench your thirst. Put the Pepsi and Starbuck’s special down. Cry out for Jesus. Only He can fill you. Let us explain this in two parts. First of all we will look how this coming to Jesus impacts a Christian’s life (Point C) and then explain the reason that we do not always seem to have the streams of living water pouring through our lives (Point D).

C) The Interpretation of the Waters of Life

Now some are wondering how does this apply to the Christian. Some of you remember how God worked in your life at one time but that seems so long ago. You might not even sense a flowing stream. I believe this is why the clarification in verse 39 was made. The new believer is so enthralled over the change Jesus has made in his or her life that they have nothing more on their minds than Jesus. They need the Word of God to make things clear and remembered.

Some wonder if this is an experience that is to happen over and over? Or they wonder if it the memory that we need to play over and over so that we will again live in the newness of the experience. We instead see that the explanation given to us helps us to understand how this  will continue to impact our lives.

The Lord told us that the rivers of living water represent the Holy Spirit that is to be given to everyone who truly believes in Jesus.

‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water. But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

There is no healing without the Spirit. Those who say that salvation is a two-part process are wrong if they mean that the baptism of the Spirit is something later. Does Jesus say that? Does He say take a swig now but later in life the real thirst quencher will come? No. The Spirit might move in a mighty way in a believer’s life, but that must be distinguished with the coming and indwelling of the Spirit. It is at this point every believer has access to the fountains of life in the present of the Holy Spirit in His life.

The Spirit is God Himself lives in our lives. 1 John 2 says that we all have an anointing from Him.

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know (1 John 2:20).

Whereas Jesus was limited to a body, the Spirit is spirit and makes His dwelling in His people. When a person believes, then God dwells in that person. In a true sense God makes His people His throne. When Jesus explained His kingdom was not of this world, He was speaking the truth. His kingdom is not in physical lands but when His glorious ways of love are carried out through His people. Jesus clearly teaches what the apostles have taught us. Those who abide in Jesus will have the Holy Spirit in their lives. Every Christian has the Holy Spirit as a down deposit of the great riches that has been bestowed (Ephesians 1:13).

Life coming from waterThe Spirit did not come and dwell in His people before He ascended. He first had to go to the Father and then the indwelling of the Spirit upon His people became common from Pentecost on. It signified a new way in which the Father would commune and work with His people. In the past the Spirit came upon a person or two. Now all of God’s people have the Holy Spirit. We should be humbled by God’s presence in our lives and tremble upon our accountability to Him.

We might then ask, “How do we relate to the Holy Spirit?” Witchcraft uses God’s power for its own selfish purposes. We do not ‘use’ the Holy Spirit. We work along with God just as Jesus Christ did (see John 5:19-20). It is best to see this whole process, as God working out His will through our lives. As long as we stay pure, the Holy Spirit can and will do marvelous things in our lives.

The symbolism of fire, wind and water used to describe the Holy Spirit are not accidental. Each symbol helps us better understand some aspect of God’s work through the Spirit. Fire represents the purging and cleansing effect of the Holy Spirit. We say He consumes us. The wind speaks of God’s presence being everywhere. We know His presence by His works (John 3). Water of course is what we are today speaking. Water in dry land speaks about the abundant life-giving powers of the Holy Spirit.

In our self-reliant secular lives we have dry and unfruitful lives. We can think of dry skin. It is such a nuisance. Dry land keeps an otherwise productive land from producing a lush harvest.

Water, fresh and abundant water, however brings a whole new picture to the scene. Life is associated with water. With an abundance of water comes the ability to grow as designed. Without it, we just cannot grow. We know several things about the operation of the Holy Spirit from verse 38.

  • Our life-change comes from a change within and not without. It is not because of some outward experience that brings us to be a Christian. We instead learn that there is a whole new spiritual nature given to us. It is ongoing. It is a heart change.
  • The Holy Spirit resides in our lives. The picture is ever so clear. The living waters flow out. Certainly this does not originate in our own selves but in the Living God. The living waters flow from His presence in us. I believe that if we tried hard we could not even produce one clear drop of water on our own. Our own well is polluted and dry. His is a running river with His life-giving spirit.
  • Thirdly we note that this stream is not only abundant but extra abundant. We are not just speaking of one river but rivers. A river by nature has excess. It is flowing. We have so many tons of water by our shore for the brief moment. In a moment if it is not captured, it moves on. We always have more than we need. There is no situation that God’s goodness cannot provide sufficient grace for.
  • Fourthly, we should note that the water is living. It is vivacious. It is life-giving and changing. By its very nature it brings hope, life and joy to our lives. You know the fruit of the Spirit, do you not? I was so glad to recently hear a new Christian speak how he scrutinizes his life by whether he has God’s peace, joy, etc. He is right on. The Spirit bears a certain kind of fruit. We should not imagine it is like apples and oranges but soul fruit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).

Do you brother and sister have such fruit in your life? Is your crop always abounding? Do you sometimes sit back in awe over how God helped your through a situation with joy and love? This is the normal Christian life.

  • Fifthly, we should remember that the reason for the image of the river is that it reaches beyond our own lives. Just as God is love, His goodness overflows from His throne down to the shores of earth. God’s love is spilling over into the lives of others. He is like a river current which is obsessed with looking to where it can flow. We might want to hold on to what God has given us. Don’t. The best thing is to record it, find a scripture that accompanies it, thank God for it and in your abundance share God’s glory with others. The moment we try to capture and hold onto that blessing, like manna it spoils. We must live our lives in the present and not past great experiences.

Summary

These five points clearly tell us about the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian. If we are going to be a growing Christian, and one which helps others grow, we need to be very clear on these significant teachings. This is the anointing that filled Christ and is designed to fill ours so that we might yet do greater works. 

Some have critically commented that it is the weak and needy that need faith. They claim that Christians are weak because they need a crutch to get along in life. I answer them by telling them about cars. Cars are wonderful machines. A car ride recently brought me hundreds of miles back home. But does it make any sense to say that a car is a poor machine because it needs gas? Of course not. The car agreed is very dependent upon gas. If we didn’t fill it up, then the car will go nowhere.  The car, however, was designed with the gas in mind. The gas is a rich feature of the car.

The same is true with a person. People were designed to have God live in their lives. Without God, man in desperation tries all sorts of unsatisfying attempts to get by in life with as little suffering as possible. We can understand why they need drugs and entertainment. Without Christ their souls are thirsty. But man was designed for God to fill his life. Adam before the fall walked with God in the garden. When man rebelled from God, he then had to live on his own. The Gospel brings the powerful presence of God back into our lives.  Christ is not a crutch to our lives but the original design to fill our lives!

This is the power of the Gospel come alive. It began with Christ. He is the source of the river of life. Believe in Christ and we shall also have rivers of life-giving water flow from our lives. The question I know some of you are asking is, “What happened to me?”  Let’s look at this now.

D) The Application to Stale Christians

backsliderHe who believes in Me, as the Scripture said,

It is fair to ask about our own lives. Fortunately, Jesus hints as to how we are to maintain that intimate and close relationship with Christ.  You see, the problem is never not enough Spirit. There is a fount that is always springing up. The problems we face in our churches and Christian lives always has to do with messing around with the flow. We hinder the flow of God’s Spirit.

Jesus tells us how to maintain that abundant life. Verse 7:38 says, “He who believes in Me.” Please note with me that it does not say, “He who has had faith or belief.” Instead it uses the participle form emphasizing continuous operation. Literally it says, “he who is believing in Me.”  The way we trust the Lord then has everything to do with ability of the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. Self-reliance is trust’s biggest enemy. We begin to trust ourselves rather than the Lord.

If we are living close to Jesus, then the Holy Spirit will fill us. If we begin to forget the glory and importance of Christ in our lives, then our faith dwindles. The Spirit of God no longer has open places to move.

I suppose an example when I was younger will help. My Mom and I were in the garden working. She noticed a hole. Actually as she explored a bit, she found that the hole went real deep. She thought it was a dangerous old well, so she just began to drop all the yard rocks down this hole. New England yards are filled with rocks. Would you believe it that in a day or two our house started facing significant plumbing problems?  We then figured that the hole was to allow excess gas out of the pipes rather than an unused well. The rocks put down the hole made it so that the water couldn’t get out!

We needed to get my cousin to come in with a backhoe[3] to dig up the yard. What a mess and expense. This is exactly what we do in our lives. We clog up the arteries of our faith by throwing rocks of self-reliance in them. Here are a few rocks.

·       I found a lover. I am no longer thirsty.
·       I graduated and have a job. I am no longer thirsty.
·       I finally found employment. I am no longer thirsty.
·       I’m managing quite well. I am no longer thirsty.

The moment we lose our awareness of our need for Christ, we block the Holy Spirit’s flow from our lives. This is why your prayer life is a good indication of whether you are relying on God or yourselves. Because of ease, luxury, self-confidence and self-reliance, we are no longer thirsty for Jesus. Something superficial is covering up our real needs.

If we sin and do not confess our sin, then it is just like putting a rock in the path of the Holy Spirit. You might think all is well because of a past experience, but it is not that way. A river needs to flow.  Every little sin becomes a rock that blocks up the rivers of life. Where there is no outflow, then there is no flow. Simple as that.

Summary and Application

Is God speaking to you about your own life? Did you once know about the filling of the Spirit only to now just feel your life again is so superficial? You used to tell others how to live in God’s presence, but now you yourself feel dry and thirsty. You do not need to come to know the Lord again. Once saved, always saved. But you do need to take some serious steps to get those rocks, your sins, out of your heart. You have doubted God. You have not trusted Him. You set your heart on other things.

Confession brings God’s backhoe right to your heart. An open time of repentance will eliminate all of those rocks. Just tell Him to start and you will be on His path to cleansing so the rivers of life can again freely flow. We of course do not deserve His forgiveness. Nor do we deserve great gushing waters to stream out from our lives again. But He is willing not only to forgive but to bless us so that you and I can join Him in His great kingdom work.

Are you ready for Him to get moving? In your heart, just tell Him it is okay. You have had enough of your old self and now you want to get back to where you should be. Praise God for His eternal patience and His desire to overflow in our lives!

In the middle of a tremendous festival, Jesus spoke words that no man has spoken before nor would dare to speak. Only Jesus could both identify our heart wounds and yet bring a balm so gentle and healing to our darkest sins. Only Jesus has died to take away our sins on the cross by His death. Only Jesus says to us come. Why would we hold back? Can we find One so tender and caring anywhere? No. So come when you have a chance. Come when you hear His voice. Come we you can feel your thirst. Jesus is here to quench your thirst with waters of living water.

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.’”  (John 7:37-38)

Gaining New Life 
PowerPoint for this message.


Other Gospel of John articles:

Introduction to Gospel of John: Purpose, Power (7 signs, miracles), Penetration (I Am), Plan (Outlines)
John 1:1-13 The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ Bible Study Questions
John 2:1-11 The Great Transformation: Biblical Perspective on Drinking and Drugs Bible Study Questions
John 2:12-25 Opening Up Our Lives: Intimacy with God Bible Study Questions
John 5:18-23 Affirming Christ's Deity
John 5:19-20 Christian Living by Understanding Christ's Mind Bible Study Questions
John 6:1-71 Jesus the Sustainer, the Bread of Life
John 7:37-39 Rivers of Living Waters Bible Study Questions
John 8:32 Finding Life in God's Word
John 10:30 I and Father are One
John 12:20-36 The Investment of Your Life Bible Study Questions
John 14:6 Jesus is the Way, Truth and Life
John 15:1-2 A Word on Christian Suffering
John 15:1-17 Abiding in Him Bible Study Questions
John 15:15-16 Genuine Friendship
John 19:17-30 Bible Study Questions

Biblical Foundations for Freedom



Rev. Paul J. Bucknell

footnotes

[1] It was from this ceremony that the Water Gate got its name.

[2] Some drinks actually eliminate water from your system because of the caffeine in them.

[3] See www.kingofpeace.org/ images/building/backhoe.jpg