Sermon on John 7:37-39, for Pentecost 2020 (A), "Living Water"

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters!” (Isaiah 55:1a). Come to Jesus Christ, the Living Water! Amen! Today is Pentecost, one of the three great Jewish festivals of the Old Testament, and the day full of grace when Jesus poured out His Holy Spirit on the disciples. But I want to talk to you about one of the other of the three great Jewish festivals—the one mentioned in our Gospel reading, John 7! Because at the Feast of Tabernacles (which means tents or booths) Jesus prophesied about sending His Holy Spirit on the disciples. 
So, in John 7:37, it says, “on the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out…”  So, if you look earlier in the chapter, you find out that this last day of the feast is referring to the Feast of Tabernacles. It was a joyful, annual holiday, rich with reminders of how they lived in tents in the wilderness as God lead them to the Promised Land. There was lots of beautiful imagery—God dwelling among His people in His own Tabernacle—the Tent of Worship; God giving water from the rock to the Israelites in the desert; God feeding them with manna; and providing for them all the way to the Promised Land. To celebrate the feast, they build ceremonial tabernacles or booths to camp in. Like a grand campout in Jerusalem!
But there was also a unique ceremony that happened all week long and built to a climax on the last great day of the feast. We should understand this ceremony, even though it’s not mentioned in the Bible, because it was rich with Old Testament imagery, and we know from Jewish sources that it was observed at least 100 years before Jesus. It was the water-pouring ceremony. It involved the High Priest leading a procession of worshippers from the Temple to the Pool of Siloam; a one-mile round trip. 
At the Pool of Siloam, the High Priest filled a golden pitcher with water, and processed with the worshippers back to the Temple. Arriving at the altar in the Temple, they blasted the shofar or ram’s horn three times, and the priests shouted or sang, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation”—a song in Isaiah 12:3. Notice the connection between water and salvation. And as the High Priest ascended the altar, there were two basins. He poured the golden pitcher of water into one basin, while another priest poured a pitcher of wine into the other, to the sound of three more trumpet blasts. Then the congregation and the choir would sing Psalm 118:25, “(Hosanna) Save us we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success!” 
This was repeated for seven days, and the seventh day, the day mentioned in John 7:37 as “the last day of the feast, the great day”—is called the Hosanna Rabah. On that day, the procession circled the altar not once, but seven times, and they blew the trumpets 3 times 7 blasts, and each time, louder and louder, the people cried out the Hosanna—please bring salvation now. Please God, please save and bring salvation now! The joy built and grew and another procession of worshippers shaking willow branches would join them, so that the sound of rustling branches, trumpets, and louder and louder songs and cries of the people must have been a breathtaking energy of joy and praise to God! They prayed for rain to bless their lands, for salvation from their enemies, and for the water from the wells of salvation. (Christ in the Feast of Tabernacles, Ch. 4, “Tabernacles in the time of Jesus” by David Brickner). 
This was the joyful, exuberant context, with the water pouring ceremony front and center in their celebration, and the word “Hosanna” was echoing through the Temple. The echo of ram’s horns and rustling branches and crowds singing Isaiah’s song about water from the “wells of salvation” was fresh in their mind and ears when Jesus speaks these short but powerful words. What were those words? He said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of this heart will flow rivers of living water.” It must have already been electric with the energy of the crowds and the celebration of the water-pouring ceremony—and then to hear Jesus speak to the spiritually thirsty crowd and tell them—if you want the water from the wells of salvation, come to me and drink! Believe in me and you will overflow with living water!
Immediately people said that He was the promised Messiah or Christ, and “No one ever spoke like this man!”—but the leaders rejected Him and the crowds were divided. Jesus was directly co-opting the water imagery of the Festival and applying it to Himself, and the crowds had never heard anything like it. And Jesus had begun: “If anyone thirsts…”
Stop for a moment and reflect on thirst. It’s rare in our daily lives that a faucet, drinking fountain, pitcher or bottle of water is far out of reach. Most of us have never had to perform the ancient, daily survival task—drawing water from a stream or well and carrying it to wherever it was needed. Indoor plumbing is an incredible labor-saving innovation that totally transforms our lives, and we hardly give it a second thought. But water is life, just as much today as ever. There’s no substitute to water. If you lose too much water from your body, and don’t replace it, you become dehydrated. And you can’t survive dehydration very long before you die. But it’s rare that any of us have pushed that limit of thirst and really experienced it.
But that’s physical thirst. When you feel it you are compelled to drink. Your body demands it. What about spiritual thirst? What does it mean to become spiritually dehydrated—to lose too much water and not replace it? God made man and woman to be in relationship with Him. We are spiritual creatures—we crave connection to our God and Creator, even if people don’t always understand that searching, longing feeling inside them—God put it there. Even if we try to plug the square peg in a round hole and try to fit other things into the “God-shaped hole” in our heart, nothing fits right but God.
All too often we ignore spiritual thirst and spiritual dehydration becomes deadly. God spoke about it in Jeremiah 2:13, when He said His people had committed two evils—they had forsaken Him, the fountain of living waters, and they dug out cisterns for themselves that were broken, and could hold no water. A cistern is not a well, fed from underground water sources, but an underground tank to store water. God’s saying that by leaving Him, they gave up living water, and were left with a broken tank that can hold no water. God has no replacements! There are none like Him! There is no substitute source or fountain of living water. And “living water” means fresh, flowing, moving, life-giving. Not the stagnant water of a cistern or pond. God is Living Water!
Living in Afghanistan last year, I was constantly in awe of the “thirst” of the land. Even when it rained, the land seemed too barren to flourish. Much of the land looked scarred and desolate, unable to hold and benefit from the water. In any land, farms without rain will struggle to grow anything. Water is life-giving and essential, but it can seem fickle. But the fountain of living waters, our God, is not fickle, and He does not withhold the gift of His Holy Spirit from those who ask for it. Jesus invites the thirsty to come and drink from Him, by believing in Him. And He says the result is to have the living water of the Spirit pour out from within us!
While we may live in a well-watered land where irrigation and plumbing are plentiful; there is a living fountain, a spring of water, that is too often neglected and unused. Our God! Some people are committed to denying their spiritual thirst. They say they have no need for God and will not submit to Him or hear when He calls. Some people don’t recognize their spiritual thirst, and end up chasing wealth, pleasure, power, or fame, but don’t understand why it never brings complete fulfillment or happiness. Some people may be more spiritual in a generic sense, and gravitate toward religion, but what “feels good” means more to them than what is true, and right, and often hard. So false religions and weak commitments also leave people spiritually thirsty. There’s just no substitute; no one on par with the One True God, revealed in Jesus Christ.
Jesus invites: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Jesus knows how sin leaves us dry, disoriented, and dehydrated. And He knows about giving life to the dying. His whole ministry on earth showed His power over sickness, sin, and death. Jesus spoke about living water pouring out from our hearts, about the Holy Spirit He would pour out on His disciples at Pentecost, which we celebrate today. The Old Testament Scriptures use this rich imagery all over, of physical and spiritual thirst. The land experienced drought, and the people prayed for God to send rain. The individual believer was devastated by some situation in life, and was spiritually dry and desolate, and craved the Living God. God promised restoration and healing after years of sin and punishment, and that restoration was pictured as flowing streams of water healing the land and forgiving the people. 
Isaiah 12:3 sang about the joy as they “draw water from the wells of salvation”—the verse that the worshippers sang in the water-pouring ceremony. Ezekiel 47 talks about a mysterious fountain of water that begins in the Temple and grows larger and larger as it flows down and out from the Temple, until it becomes a vast river, healing and restoring the salt-wastes and desert land. Isaiah 44:3 describes the pouring out of water on the land the pouring out of His Spirit on the children of Israel. Zechariah 13:1 talks about a fountain being opened to cleanse the people of Jerusalem from their sin and uncleanness. And this is also on a particular day—the day that the promised Messiah would be pierced for His people (Zech. 12:10)—the day of Jesus’ crucifixion!
So all of these images of thirst and water, of the Spirit and life-giving forgiveness, are rolled into Jesus’ words, and He gives you this life when you thirst and drink from Him! Believe in Jesus, and the life of His Spirit will overflow from within you, not only to heal and bless and forgive you, but to overflow to others! The life of the Spirit in you is not stagnant water in a cistern or storage tank, but it is a living water, a fountain or well-spring bubbling up to pour out for others! Refresh others by living a life of free and generous forgiveness. Giving a cold drink of water to the thirsty—a literal drink of water, or a spiritual drink from God’s Word—a Word of refreshment when they are discouraged, defeated by shame, or down and low.
Invite others to Jesus, wellspring of life. He’s the Living Water, and on the day when He was pierced for our sins, a flowing fountain of forgiveness and cleansing opened up and poured out to all the world. And on Pentecost, when He poured out the special measure of His Holy Spirit on His disciples, He sent that message out to all the ends of the earth. There is life and forgiveness for the dry and the thirsty! Come to the Living Water—to Jesus Christ, Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
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1.       Read Isaiah 55:1. How does this invitation parallel Jesus’ invitation in John 7:37-39?  The three great Jewish feasts were Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 16). Today we observe Pentecost, but John chapters 7-8 happen when Jesus is at the Feast of Tabernacles.
2.       What happened at the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths), and what did it commemorate from Israel’s history? Leviticus 23:33-43. At some unknown time, a few hundred years before Jesus, a “water-pouring ceremony” was added by the Jews to this celebration. At key points they sang or shouted the words of Isaiah 12:3 and Psalm 118:25. How did these events take on special significance as Jesus applied this imagery to Himself?
3.       How did the crowds respond when Jesus spoke these vivid and startling words about Himself? John 7:40-52. Why were they divided?
4.       How do we take water and access to water for granted today? What would life be like without such easy access? How often would you have to concern yourself with getting water? What happens if you don’t have water?
5.       What does our body demand of us if we are dehydrated? What does the Bible mean when talking about spiritual thirst? What would spiritual dehydration look or feel like? What, or WHO is the only solution for that spiritual thirst? Jeremiah 2:13; 17:13. What is special about living water? What other kind is there?
6.       Jesus described Himself as that fountain of living water. What in His ministry showed that He was life-giving and rehydrating?
7.       What Scriptures point to this idea of living water welling up for us and out from us? Isaiah 12:3; Ezekiel 47; Isaiah 44:3; Zechariah 13:1 (12:10). Who is the source and origin of that wellspring? What does it mean that it does not just stay within us, but overflows?


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