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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Through Christ’s Spirit, living waters flow from those who believe!
Text:John 7:37-39 (View)
Topic:The work of The Holy Spirit

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 42:1,5                                                                                                                             

Ps 63:1,2                                                                                                                              

Reading – John 4:5-14; John 7:1-39

Ps 107:13,14,17

Sermon – John 7:37-39

Hy 47:1,2

Hy 73:1,2,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, people will always gather close to water. If you look at the cities and towns that have been established in this country over the years, you’ll often find water nearby. Settlements have been built on rivers, or near reliable springs, or on bays along the ocean. The reason for this is clear: you can use water for transporting goods and people, and water is a natural defense against attackers. And more basically, water is vital for life itself. Our bodies need water in order to function; without it, we would last only a handful of days. If there is no water, there is no life.

In the Scriptures we hear the Lord God speaking regularly about water. For example, God says in Psalm 65 that it is He who sends the rains in their proper times, and who causes all things to grow. God also uses water to teach us; He compares Himself and his power to water, for like it, God is able to restore and refresh. Or think of how Psalm 1 says that the person who delights in the law of the LORD is like a tree “planted by streams of water,” because being in God’s Word will sustain our life and make us fruitful. In other places too, the Lord’s gift of salvation is said to be like streams of water in the wilderness, because those who believe in God are made alive in a way that no spring can match.

In our text the Lord Jesus also speaks about water. For He announces, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37). It is Christ, the living water, who can satisfy our deepest desire. Yet that’s not all that Christ says. He says that the Holy Spirit is like a beautiful river of refreshment and life. And Jesus says that even believers become like fountains of water. This is water that has its source in Christ, a water that flows through the Spirit, and is channelled by us. I preach God’s Word to you,

Through Christ’s Spirit, living waters flow from those who believe!

        1) Christ’s invitation to drink

        2) the Spirit’s supply of water

        3) the believer’s current of life


1) Christ’s invitation to drink: Our text begins by telling us what time it is, “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out…” (v 37). The Old Testament people of God celebrated a number of feasts throughout the year; the one we’re most familiar with is the feast of Passover, to commemorate how God delivered his people from slavery. But if we back up to verse 2 of our chapter, we see what feast is meant here: “The Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand.”

This was the longest festival of the Jewish year. While Passover was about the deliverance from the land of Egypt, Tabernacles was about what happened afterwards, when the people of God journeyed through the wilderness. At that time they were essentially homeless refugees, living in tents. The little “tabernacles” or tents that they had to build for this feast reminded the people of those difficult days in the desert. Yet at the same time they could remember how LORD had cared for them all the way. He sent manna from heaven. And time and again He provided them with water. Tabernacles celebrated God’s care in the desert—and celebrated how God continued to provide in the harvests every year.

In his law God had given instructions about how to celebrate the feasts. But over time there were other customs that developed around them. It happened with Passover, for example, that cups of wine became part of the ritual.

For the feast of Tabernacles too, the rabbis tell us that the celebration came to involve a ceremonial drawing of water. On each day of the feast, a golden pitcher was filled with water from the pool of Siloam in Jerusalem. Then it was carried in a procession to the temple, and it was slowly poured out before the LORD at his altar. As that water was being carried to the temple, the people would sing the words of Isaiah 12:3, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”

What was the meaning of this ritual? It was a visual for how God had provided water for his people in the desert, like when He opened that rock at Meribah and Massah, and fresh water poured out. The LORD had sustained their life, even in miraculous ways. For the people who lived in Jerusalem or in the surrounding countryside, this was a powerful display. Because in the land where they lived, they still often faced a shortage of water—but the feast was a clear reminder: God would care for them, as He always had.

And the words of Isaiah 12 added a depth to their celebration: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Because God wasn’t just planning to secure Jerusalem’s water supply. No, He was going to provide the salvation that He’d always promised. One day their deepest need would be met, for God would grant the forgiveness of their sins—a salvation that would be like a never-ending stream of water, a well of life that will never run dry.

It’s at this feast, with these past events and future promises on everyone’s mind, that Jesus stands up. John says it was “on the last day, that great day of the feast.” This was probably the eighth and final day, perhaps the Sabbath—the high point. Jesus has chosen his time carefully, and He makes clear that He has something very important to say, “Jesus stood and cried out…” (v 37). When you read the four Gospels, you notice that it’s not very often that Jesus does this, standing up and crying out. He’s usually sitting, and talking. Now He wants everyone’s attention: this is crucial.

And this is what He cries, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (v 37). Now, just try to imagine how the people would receive this. For seven days in a row, they’d seen the water-drawing ritual performed. For a week they’d been remembering the old stories of the wilderness, and how God made water come from the rock. They’d been thinking about the wells of salvation, and how God promised to make rivers flow from Jerusalem. And now Jesus says this: He announces that He is the source of living water—that if anyone is thirsty, they should go to Him! He alone can quench our thirst!

Jesus said a similar thing in a private conversation, a short while before. He was speaking with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, and He told her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst” (John 4:13-14). He can give the thing that the Samaritan woman has been searching for her whole life. She’d been chasing earthly pleasure and material security in one man after another. But it is Christ alone who can give satisfaction, the blessing of drinking deeply of Him. “You will never thirst again.”

Now Jesus announces it publicly, for He wants to invite everyone: “Come to me and drink.” The feast of Tabernacles will be no more—it’s over, because He’s come. Just like Christ will put an end to every sacrifice of blood, so here He fulfils the feast. In the previous chapter, He already gave new meaning to the wilderness manna, when He said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall never hunger” (6:35). What Moses gave cannot satisfy! What you buy at the grocery store cannot satisfy! Christ is the bread of life. And He’s the Rock from which true water flows.

Christ is available for anyone who “thirsts” (v 37). Who is thirsty? Those who sin. Those who know their weakness and inability. Those who realize, like that woman by the well, that this world can give us nothing that will last forever.

All of us get fixated on earthly gifts and worldly pleasures and temporal treasures. But if you’re looking for love in all the wrong places—or for answers, or for happiness—you’ll never have enough. We’ll always be looking for more, and accepting cheap substitutes of the real thing. If you depend on what you see, or what you can hold, you’ll always thirst again, and soon you’ll be hungry again.

But if you’re starting to realize this, then Christ’s invitation is beautiful to hear. Like the Psalmist says in Psalm 42, “As the deer pants for water brooks, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (vv 1-2). If you’re learning that sin doesn’t satisfy, if you’re learning that you can have everything and yet be empty without God, then how good it is to hear Christ’s words.

“Come to me,” He says. For this is the heart of Christ: his longing for the salvation of sinners. He always desires to help those in need. Compare it to how there can be needy people in our life, but after a while we try to avoid them—we’re afraid of being tired out by them, dragged down by their burdens, depleted by our giving. But Christ says to the helpless, “Come to me.” He is all-sufficient, ever-ready to give of Himself.

But to enjoy Him, we have to go to Him, He says. What does Jesus mean by that? It’s best understood by contrast. When you read chapter 7, you notice unbelief and rejection in every corner. The Jews are seeking to kill Him. Others are afraid of standing beside Him. Even his own brothers don’t accept Him. But against all this opposition, Jesus says, “Come to me. Believe in what I say. Trust that I’ll provide for you, just like my Father did in the wilderness. Stand with me, no matter what happens. Come to me, and drink.”

And when weary and thirsty souls go to Christ, He gives relief. When you trust in Him, He’ll never let you run dry. You are coming to the banks of a mighty river—the Mississippi, the Nile, the Amazon—yet greater than the greatest of them. Beloved, know that Christ is a source of life like none other: always brimming over, always clean, never running out. “Let him come to me and drink.” So go to him in faith.


2) the Spirit’s supply of water: Some of us have dug wells on our property, sunk deep holes into the ground looking for water. It’s an exciting moment when water is struck, and a reliable supply was found—because water is so essential. This is what happens to those who believe in Him, Jesus says. There will be a marvellous change: “As the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (v 38). Those who are thirsty, and those who come to Christ to drink, become themselves like a source of water.

We’ll speak more about this in our next point, so for now we want to see what Jesus is saying about the Holy Spirit. For John adds a comment in verse 39, “But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive.” It’s the Spirit who causes people to become like a supply of water, a refreshing fountain and stream.

Jesus refers to Scripture in verse 38, “As the Scripture has said…” Now, usually when someone like Jesus or Paul quotes from the Old Testament, we expect that there’s a specific chapter and verse that we can look at. But for this reference to “rivers of living water” coming from our hearts, there’s no exact quotation.

Instead, we find several Old Testament passages that connect water with the gift of the Holy Spirit. For example, this is what the LORD says in Isaiah 44:3, “I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit on your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring.” The Spirit is like water for the thirsty.

Ezekiel too, speaks of the coming gift of the Holy Spirit. God says that when the Spirit comes, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols” (36:25). And Zechariah 14 tells about a day when living waters shall flow from Jerusalem, rivers of water that bring healing to all those who seek refuge in the Lord.

So when Jesus says that this is what’s written in Scripture, He’s probably taking the general sense of a few passages. From more than one prophet, the forecast was clear: When He comes, the Spirit will bring heavy rains of refreshment and cleansing. The pouring out of the Spirit will be like a flood of water on a land of drought.

For the Spirit brings us new life. When the Holy Spirit enters a person, his or her shrivelled heart begins to thrive. The deadness of sin is removed, the filth and mud of corruption is washed away, and in their place the Spirit brings joy and love and peace. When we believe in Christ, his life-giving Spirit fills us with blessing. If you have the Holy Spirit, then you’ll know this: that He’s like a river of water on the dry ground of your heart, making you alive for God!

Now, let’s take a closer look at what Jesus says in verse 39, “This He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive, for the Holy Spirit was not yet given.” Is that really true? Was the Holy Spirit not given before this?

We know from the Old Testament that the Spirit was indeed present among God’s people. One example is how the two craftsmen for the tabernacle were filled with the Spirit, so they could properly carry out their important duties of building God’s house. Or Samson, who was moved by Holy Spirit to defeat the Philistines and to rule the land. The Spirit of the Lord also came upon David as a young man, and as king of Israel. Prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel and Zechariah were inspired by the Spirit too, so they could speak the words of God.

Even in the people of Israel who were not leaders, the Spirit of God was moving. The LORD wanted true faith and genuine love. He wanted their repentant hearts and believing spirits. So was that possible for the average Israelite, if the Holy Spirit wasn’t working on him in some way? Just like today, God’s people back then couldn’t repent on their own strength, or trust God by their own will. The Spirit was moving among them.

But Jesus says there’s going to a great change. The gift will be fuller and more beautiful than ever before. This is what Jesus says about the Holy Spirit in John 14, “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth” (vv 16-17). This is one of the glories of the new covenant, that the Holy Spirit of God abides with us—dwells in our hearts constantly!

And what’s behind the change? Why this new era in the work of the Holy Spirit? What turns on the taps, and opens the floodgates? Something essential has to happen. John tells us in verse 39, “The Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” Jesus needed to be glorified. And by this, John means the cross, and the resurrection. This is the brilliance and wonder of Christ—his great glory—because this is what He came to do: dying for sin and conquering death. Once that happens, the Spirit can be poured out.

It is the death of Christ that marks the beginning of the new season of God’s grace. There is a direct line from the cross and the empty tomb, to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit flows like water onto dry ground, all because of that flow of blood from Christ’s body!

In John 14 Jesus says about the Spirit, “He will glorify me, for He will take of what is mine and declare it to you” (v 14). This is the power and glory of the Spirit: He takes the gospel of the crucified, resurrected and ascended Christ, and He makes it known to us! The Holy Spirit reveals to us our sure hope in Christ. He assures us that Christ redeems us from sin, and the He restores us through his power. First the cleansing work of Christ, then the renewing power of the Spirit, making everything alive.

Like Isaiah said, the Holy Spirit is like the pouring of floodwaters onto dry ground. Maybe you’ve heard about those lakes in Australia or Africa that are dry almost all year. For most of the time, it’s just a sunken area with patches of mud, a few trees around it, and very little life—just brown grasses and shrivelled-looking plants. But then finally the winter rains start falling, and it keeps raining for days, and that lake begins to fill up. And at once there is a stunning change, for everything comes alive through water. Suddenly everything is green, the plants and trees and grasses. Suddenly even animals appear, and fish that had burrowed deep into the mud. The floods of water transform the dry ground in a spectacular way.

So it is for us sinners. We come back to life through what Christ has done on the cross, and through the Spirit He sends us. Alive in faith, in hope, in good works! Christ has completed his work on earth, and now He gives the church the fullness of his Spirit. This means that now streams of living water can flow—flowing from Christ and his Holy Spirit, flowing to us, and even flowing from us.


3) the believer’s current of life: In our text there’s a great surprise. Did you catch it? Jesus is inviting the thirsty to drink from Him. He’s talking about “rivers of living water” through the Spirit. But then He also says that these streams will flow from us, from those who believe in Christ! “He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

This is surprising. We think of ourselves as spiritually dehydrated and empty. A lot of the time we feel depleted and parched. But the person who believes in Christ and has his Holy Spirit becomes himself a source of living water!

The text says it will come from our “heart,” but literally, Jesus says that this water will flow “out of the belly.” This is the Bible’s way of describing that place deep within us, the seat of our life, the core of a person. Knowing Christ and having his Spirit changes us fundamentally. And this spring of water isn’t some passing rain shower, it’s a river, a constant rush—channelled by the believer.

And from us, where does the water go? Like so many rivers and springs, the water in us must become a blessing to other people. This is where people come to be refreshed and sustained. This is the outflowing of the Holy Spirit in our life. When we believe in Christ, we need to become a source of life to the people around us. A tree is known by its fruits, and a fountain by its streams.

It’s similar to what Jesus said in John 4 to the Samaritan woman. He told her that the water He gives becomes a force for good in the life of the believer. Jesus said, “The water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (v 14). When we receive the Holy Spirit, that’s not meant to be the end of the stream, like a dam that holds back all the water and never lets it go. It is Christ’s will that the blessings of his Spirit go from us and out toward others.

Like most things, we probably tend to view the work of the Holy Spirit in a self-centred way. “He gives me faith. He helps me with the wisdom that I need. He encourages me when I’m down.” All this is true, and these gifts are essential to our life. But the blessings we receive through the Spirit are also meant to be shared.

Just think of how many of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5 have an outward focus: love (for others), peace (with others), patience, goodness, gentleness, kindness. These are fruits in which others can share! Or think of how the gifts of the Spirit in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 are oriented toward serving others: mercy, leadership, teaching, encouragement, and more. The Spirit fills you with His life-giving current, so that living waters can flow from you, out toward the people in your life.

We do this by our words, when we try to be upbuilding in speech. Share Scripture with one another, and share a testimony to God’s work in you. Tell other people too, about your Saviour. If a person doesn’t know Christ, they’re living a dry and weary land, but Jesus invites everyone to come and drink from Him. Share that invitation! By our actions too, we can bring refreshment. You can refresh those who are needy and struggling with your deeds of service and love, pouring out generosity and kindness.

What about you, beloved? Can your life be compared to a river of living water, to which others can come and drink? In your workplace, and on your street, and in this church, are you a stream of holy influence, a current of blessing? Do you channel to others what you first received from the LORD?

It’s natural for us to be a drain—to let God’s blessings disappear within us, and never be seen again. But through the Spirit we’re not to be drains, but fountains. When we have drunk deeply of Christ, and when we have received his Spirit, from within us should come streams of living water!

Hear then, the invitation of Christ, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever desires, let him take freely from the waters of life!”  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2017, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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