Good News for the Thirsty

John 7:37-39

We’re told by our doctors that we need to drink at least eight, 8-ounce glasses of water a day in order to have a healthy functioning body. We need water to survive and thrive. No water = no life. Medical experts will tell you they estimate more than 60% of our body is water. Apart from brains, bones, and a few organs, we’re basically walking water balloons.

We need to be constantly filling up. Try to stop drinking for a while and see what happens. Your coherent thoughts will begin to vanish, your skin will grow clammy, and your vital organs will wrinkle and stop functioning correctly. Your eyes need water, fluid to cry. Your mouth needs moisture to swallow. Your glands need sweat to keep your body cool. Your cells need blood to carry them, and your joints need fluid to lubricate them. Your body and my body need water the same way a tire needs air. Water is important!

A few years ago, our congregation began sponsoring teams of people to run. We gave the money they earned to World Vision International to put wells into villages where there was no water to drink. Life without water is absolutely miserable. In fact, it is difficult to survive. Life needs water.

Yet life is more than physical, isn’t it? We are spiritual beings, as well, created in God’s image, needing refreshment for our hearts and souls. Jesus reminds us of this in today’s text.

It seems a lot of people walk around these days with a dehydrated heart. It’s all shriveled up and lacking real life. People are thirsty for peace within, forgiveness for the guilt they bear, a sense of truth to believe in and build a life upon, for a sense of purpose. The bottom line, though, is our thirsty hearts long to enjoy the presence of God. Our hearts desire a relationship with the One who made us.

Psalm 72 tells us, “As a deer pants for living water, so my soul longs for you, Lord. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” When you think about it, dehydrated hearts send some rather desperate messages. Externally, we may exhibit a snarling temper, waves of worry and anxiety, growls of fear and guilt, loneliness, hopelessness, or insecurity. Knowing this about us, Jesus spoke at a public gathering to the inner thirst of people like you and I.

Jesus was at a big festival called the Festival of Booths in Jerusalem. It commemorates the wilderness wanderings of the Jews when God took care of them after saving them from slavery in Egypt and providing everything they needed along the way. One of the big events in the Festival was remembering when people cried out against Moses because they needed water. They were dying of thirst and very angry. God had Moses strike a rock and from it came a gushing stream of water for all the people and their livestock to drink.

During this festival, they would commemorate God providing the water we need. It was a reminder that, even in the agricultural society of that day, God is the one who gives us the water we physically need to survive. So the priest would take a golden pitcher, fill it with water from the Pool of Siloam, proceed to Temple, and pour it out on the altar commemorating the event when God provided.

On the last day of the festival – the great day as it was described in John’s Gospel – a voice shouted out an invitation and a promise. It was the voice of Jesus. He wasn’t simply clearing His throat saying, If you’re looking for water, I know where to get it. No, this was a cry, a shout.

Jesus, by the way, was taking a chance in speaking up. Jerusalem was hostile territory for Him. Many of the authorities had been trying to figure out a way to destroy Him. But this news was so important Jesus couldn’t keep it to Himself. So, before the pitcher was poured out, Jesus shouted, “Anyone who is thirsty, come to me. Let the one who believes in me drink. As the Scripture has said, ‘Out of the heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”

John editorializes this and says, “He said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive, but was not yet there until Jesus was glorified.”

Here we have the reality being stated as Jesus speaks out. I know you are thirsty in your heart and in your soul. God wired you that way – for a relationship with Him. You need God in your life. He feels too far from you. I know this has to be happening in your life. That’s the reality. 

With this reality comes an invitation and a claim. “Come to me,” Jesus said. “Drink of me,” which means believe and trust in Me for your salvation. We can’t help but be reminded of a passage out of the Old Testament, Isaiah 55, from the prophet Isaiah. Speaking on God’s behalf, he says, Everyone who is thirsty, let them come and drink. Jesus seems to be making a divine claim that He is God. To look into His face is to see the face of God. “Come to me and drink.” This is God speaking. He’s making a God claim.

This invitation has a promise attached. “(If you come to me), out of your heart shall flow rivers of living water.” The heart refers to the inner person, the part of us that cries out for God. It is our inner life that needs God. “Out of your heart shall flow . . .” Moving water.

I love the way Jesus talks about it in the plural. “You shall have rivers of living water.” Not just a river, but rivers. This basically means abundance, not just a drip or a trickle in your life. It is a total dousing, a flood so to speak.

In another place, Jesus said “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). So we’re talking about this abundance Jesus wants to put deep within us.

John steps into the story now and editorializes. Whenever he does that, according to what I’ve learned, we really need to pay attention for he is trying to teach us something. “Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” He was talking about the Holy Spirit. When John said the Spirit was not there, he meant the Spirit was not within the disciples yet. The Holy Spirit has been in the Bible from Genesis on, but not available.

When John talks about the glorification of Jesus, his frame of reference is the cross where Jesus died and paid for our sins. It is where Jesus suffered thirst as He said, “I thirst,” so we would not have to thirst any longer ourselves. It is where He experienced separation from His heavenly Father so we would not have to experience separation from God any longer in our lives.

Water and the Spirit is a regular theme in the Old Testament. In Isaiah God promises, “I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground. I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants” (44:3). “The Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your needs in parched places and make your bones strong. You shall be like a watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail” (58:11).

Ezekiel the prophet spoke of the new river of life that would flow from the Temple in Jerusalem and bring life to things that were dead (chapter 47). He was talking of the Spirit.

As I was studying this text, I began thinking about these rivers of blessing from the Spirit. What are they?

The first river that comes to mind is the river of cleansing and healing. Step into the waters of forgiveness, which Christ has won for us.

In India, people go to the Ganges river to dip their bodies in it believing they will get healing outside and in their souls as well. How sad. Jesus, the source of water, says Come to me! Come to me and drink! I went to the cross and paid for your sins. A new start, a clean slate, a restored relationship with God is just sitting there, waiting for you. 

I am reminded of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism and the meaning of the third article. “. . . in this Christian church, day after day, the Spirit forgives my sins and the sins of all believers.”

It’s a river of joy as well. It’s the joy of the presence of the Lord.

A member in my congregation, Marge, who recently passed away, once took a class from me on Becoming a Contagious Christian. One assignment for the students was to write their faith story to serve as their testimony the next time the Lord opened the door to sharing their faith. This is Marge’s story: “When I heard from friends and acquaintances how exciting it was to have a born-again experience, I realized something was missing for me. I wanted that uplifting and reassuring feeling, and I didn’t have it.

“As a child, I was exposed to the Christian life in my church. I attended Sunday school, Bible school, confirmation, and so on. In my teenage years, I went to my friend’s church. I even married a Christian. Still, something was missing. Then after a couple Sunday sermons, hearing the same message, I discovered what was missing. It was the gift of grace in my life. It was there for the asking. Forgiveness leading to eternal life was just the gift. What a discovery to realize Jesus had paid my way. I simply needed to ask Him to forgive me and receive His invitation to come into my life eternally so I could have a right relationship with God.

“It hasn’t always been easy to let go and let God lead my life, but I have experienced a great comfort and an exciting new life. JOY has replaced the feeling that something is missing. Now I am uplifted and assured. Others now want what I have. So I just tell them of the joy I discovered in Jesus Christ!”

Then Marge asked the question, “Is something missing in your life? Have I got news for you!” Marge discovered the river of joy, walking in a joyful assurance – she belonged to God through Jesus Christ. God would never let her go.

Think of the river of peace. “Someday I’m gonna die, but I have the peace of knowing where I am going to go; I am going to heaven! Not because of anything I’ve done, but because of what Christ Jesus has done for me.”

I think of the river of strength. As Paul says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). That is the Spirit at work in us.

The river of confidence. I am loved. I am sealed by the Spirit. I belong to God forever. Nothing can snatch me from His hand. Paul writes, “For all who are led by the Spirit are children of God. You didn’t receive the Spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption (Rom. 8:13).

There is the river of knowledge and truth, meaning getting to know Jesus personally through the working of the Holy Spirit – Living Water within us.

G. Campbell Morgan, a great preacher of the last century said, “Those disciples knew more about Jesus in the first thirty seconds after Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit than in three years on the road previously.”

That river overflows, then, into the lives of others who wonder where is that joy coming from. Where is that peace coming from? Where is their love coming from? Their assurance.

May I ask you a personal question today? What have you done with the invitation Jesus has given you to come to Him and drink? After Jesus made this statement, the people had a division of responses. Although He was inviting everyone to come, some were not sure what to make of Him.

Is He a prophet? 
Is He the One from God, the Messiah? 
He’s just a nut; we have to destroy Him. He’s trouble.

You see, you have to ask Him in. You have to swallow Jesus, the living water. He won’t force His way in.

Now some of you might be thinking, You know, I have asked Christ in my life. Yet, I still have a couple dry moments. Paul speaks to that in Ephesians. I think he gets it from Jesus that being filled with the Spirit is something you keep doing. Paul says, “Be filled with the Spirit,” which means keep being filled with the Spirit. You see, as sinners we continue to leak.

A black preacher was once asked what it’s like on the inside to be a Christian. Silently he thought on the subject for a bit, and then he said, “Well, it’s like I got two dogs inside of me. One’s a good dog, the other’s a bad dog. They are always fighting.” When someone asked which dog is winning the fight, the preacher said, “Whichever one I feed.” I would add, whichever one I give water to.

That is why we have the community of faith. Luther says we need the community of saints around us in the Christian church day after day. We need to not walk through life alone. We need to be at worship and hear that our sins are forgiven, we belong to Christ, and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. We need to take a daily drink of His holy Word, have a devotional each morning as we get ready to start our day. We need to ask the Spirit to come in, because Jesus promised that when we pray, God will give us the Holy Spirit.

When people join our church, we pray this blessing upon them. I am going to personalize it for you today.

Gracious Lord, through water and the Spirit you have made me your own. You forgave me all my sins and brought me to newness of life. Continue to strengthen me with your Spirit, and daily increase in me Your gifts of grace, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge, and the fear of the Lord – the Spirit of joy in your presence. Through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.

May you this day say once again, Come Lord Jesus, I’m thirsty. He will. Amen.

Rev. Steve Kramer