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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:Jesus proclaims a Pentecost promise
Text:John 7:37-39 (View)
Topic:The work of The Holy Spirit

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 67
Hymn 82:3,4
Psalm 118:1,5,6
Hymn 50
Hymn 47:4,5

Readings:  Exodus 17:1-7, John 7:1-15
Text:  John 7:37-39
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Our text finds Jesus in Jerusalem at the temple.  It is the last day of the Feast of Booths.  Let me tell you some things about that feast.  This was a feast commanded in the law of Moses.  It was meant to be a commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt.  The Jews would gather together in Jerusalem for seven days – although by Jesus’ time an eighth day had apparently been added on.  During this time they would live in makeshift huts to remind themselves of what their forefathers had been through.  They had lived in temporary dwellings for all the years of the Exodus.  But the Feast also reminded the Jews that even in the Promised Land they were pilgrims.  But the main focus was on the Exodus from Egypt.

By the time of Jesus, certain ceremonies had developed as part of this feast.  One of those involved water.  Water had been a huge issue in the Exodus.  We read from Exodus 17 and we saw how the Israelites craved water.  Moses struck the rock and water was miraculously provided for them.  As part of the Feast of Booths in Jesus’ day, water was drawn from the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem by a priest.  This happened each day of the feast.  The priest would take a golden pitcher of this water and with a trumpet sounding the water would be brought up to the temple.  There the water was poured out ceremoniously into a bowl beside the altar.  The bowl had a tube which brought the water down to the base of the altar.  The rabbis explained that this had two purposes.  One was to remind the people of the Exodus and how God provided water in the wilderness.  The other was as a sort of dramatic prayer to God for rain in the coming year.  Without water, the crops would never grow and the people would suffer. 

All of this is important background information as we approach our text.  Jesus is at the temple on this special occasion, this last day of the Feast of Booths.  And actually, this is the last Feast of Booths of the Old Testament era.  The Jews would celebrate more of these feasts, but all of them would be after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.  All of them from this point forward would be after Pentecost.  In other words, the Feast had been fulfilled.  Every attempt by the Jews to celebrate this feast afterwards only resulted in a pseudo-feast, a pretend feast.  This feast has its fulfillment in the work of Christ.  So, as he attends this feast for the very last time, our Saviour utters some amazing words.  I proclaim to you God’s Word:

On the last day of the last Feast of Booths, Jesus proclaims a Pentecost promise

We’ll consider:

1.      Who this promise is for

2.      What this promise involves

3.      How this promise gets fulfilled

Our Saviour was at the temple along with all the other Jews who gathered in Jerusalem for this feast.  There he stands up and emphatically makes an authoritative statement.  He says it loud and clear for everyone to hear:  “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.”

The Exodus is on their minds.  The need for rain is on their minds.  We live in a country where clean drinking water is abundant.  But in that area of the world, water for drinking was not so easy to come by.  Not only that, but it was hot and dry for a good part of the year.  It would be easy to have physical thirst. 

But of course Christ was not speaking about physical thirst.  His words here involve the need for life in its fullest sense.  Sin creates separation between human beings and the God of life.  Sin engenders death and decay.  Thirst signifies that one is on the path of death and wants to get off.  Thirst indicates that there’s a recognition that you have a need for something that can give you life and strength.  What Christ is saying is, “If anyone recognizes his need for life, if anyone recognizes that he is on the path of death and destruction, let him come to me and drink.”

“Let him come to me and drink.”  Let’s unpack what that means.  It is a command.  The one who recognizes his need must come to Christ.  You might disobey this command, but you are not allowed to.  In other words, there are consequences if you do not come to Christ and drink.  We have to be careful that we don’t look at these words merely as an invitation, as if Christ is only suggesting that it might be a good idea for people to come to him.  His listeners at the temple would have understood quite clearly that he was not presenting an option or a choice, but a command.  He wants you to come to him and he is commanding you to come to him. 

But what does it mean to come to him and drink?  Thankfully, Christ himself explains that for us at the beginning of verse 38.  It simply means to believe in him.  It means to trust that he is your Saviour.  He is like the Rock in the wilderness that can provide life when death lurks around you.  In fact, in 1 Corinthians 10, the apostle Paul says that Christ was the rock in the wilderness during the Exodus.  He explicitly draws a line between Christ and the rock.  Just as the Israelites survived by drinking the water from the rock, so we survive and are saved by believing in Christ.

And all it takes to be saved is faith.  We recognize our thirst and we come to the Rock and drink.  We fix our eyes on Jesus and we are given life-saving water.  We need perfect righteousness before a holy God and he provides it for us in his obedient life.  We need the forgiveness of all our sins against a holy God and he provides it for us in his death on the cross.  The gospel proclaims this message again and again.  And as often as we hear it, we ought to embrace it and say “Yes, this Saviour is mine.  I get this life-giving water from him and no one else.”

That brings us to focus on the question:  who is Jesus speaking about here?  Loved ones, that’s one of the most beautiful things about what he says here.  In verse 37, “If anyone is thirsty…”  And at the beginning of verse 38, “Whoever believes in me…”   Yes, what Jesus says here is held out for all.  Anyone who recognizes their need can (and must) come to Jesus and be saved.  Whoever believes in him will be richly blessed.  There are no restrictions here apart from the recognition of your need.  If you recognize that you’re a sinner and that you are in deep trouble, threatened with eternal death, you can and must come to Jesus and trust in him for your well-being now and forever.  He will not turn you away.  He said it himself in John 6:37 that whoever comes to him he will never drive away. 

Perhaps you have your doubts.  That sometimes happens.  We can struggle with wondering whether the promises of the gospel are also for us.  Does what Jesus says here apply also to me?  Can I also come to him and drink?  After all, I’m a great sinner.  I’m not worthy of this.  I have these doubts and questions.  I struggle in my faith.  I have thoughts that I can’t even talk about with anybody else because everybody else seems to have it all together.  What can I do with what Jesus says here?  Beloved brother or sister, what you can do is pay close attention to the exact words of our Saviour.  Look carefully.  He says, “If anyone is thirsty…”  By struggling, you show that you recognize that apart from Christ you are not merely dying, but already dead.  You’ve got more than just a foot in the grave.  But you have that thirst, you have the stirrings of life, you’re begging for answers, and where does that desire come from?  It comes from the working of God in your heart with his Spirit.  He is causing you to wrestle and thirst.  And because you thirst, you must come to Jesus and trust in his work for you.  The doubts and questions don’t disqualify you – quite the opposite!  The promises of our text are not for those who are already perfect, who think they have it all together.  They’re for those who are humble and who are in the midst of the battle, struggling to understand what it means to believe in Christ and the gospel.  All you who doubt and question, brothers and sisters, these words are for you too.  You thirst!  In his grace, God holds out water in the gospel of Jesus.  The water is there for those who are not worthy of it and who know it.  It’s for you.  Take and drink, trust and rest in Christ.  In him you will find peace and solace for your restless heart.     

Now in verse 38, Jesus goes on to elaborate on what he is promising here.  He says that those who place their trust in him will have streams of living water flowing from them.  Before we look at what that means, there is another matter we need to consider briefly.  Our Lord Jesus says that this is what the Scripture has said.  Now if you have a Bible with cross-references, you might look up some of the verses that are there, but you won’t find any verse which says exactly what Christ says here.  He doesn’t seem to have one exact verse in mind.  Instead, what he’s doing is drawing together several strands of biblical teaching from the Old Testament.  There are several places in the Old Testament that speak generally along these lines.  As one example, I can mention Isaiah 58:11.  There God says that his people will be “like a spring whose waters never fail.”  There are other passages too and I’ll come back to some of them in a moment. 

For now, let’s look closer at what Jesus is saying here and what this promise involves.  Whoever believes in Jesus, streams (or rivers) of living water will flow from within him.  Believing in Jesus does something to the believer.  It changes him or her.  Broadly speaking, that’s the point.

He speaks of something flowing from within the believer.  These are rivers or streams.  That speaks of quantity, that speaks of overflowing abundance.

In these rivers are living waters.  That speaks of the quality of the water.  Living waters have the capacity to give life.  In the Old Testament, in passages like Jeremiah 2 and 17, God called himself the fountain of living waters.  And in John 4, Jesus was speaking with the Samaritan woman and he said that he could give her living water.  Living water is the water that has the potential to bless and support life. 

Now remarkably Jesus says here that the one who believes in him will have this living water coming out in abundance.  Believing in Jesus means that the believer will be a fount of blessing to those around.  The believer will be a source of life and good things. 

How can this be?  Those who first heard Jesus say this might have scratched their heads over this saying.  Apart from a divinely inspired explanation, we might too.  But John gives us the meaning of Jesus’ words in verse 39.  He directly tells us that our Lord was speaking about the Holy Spirit.  Later on, at Pentecost, those who believed in Jesus would receive the Holy Spirit.  Up to this point, however, he had not yet been given.  That was because Jesus had not yet been glorified – which is John’s way of saying that Jesus had not yet been crucified.  The Rock had not yet been struck.    

Hearing that might raise more questions.  Does this mean that before Pentecost there was no presence of the Holy Spirit?  Was he around on earth before Pentecost?  To answer that, we can go to the Old Testament.  We find him mentioned there in several places.  For example, David in Psalm 51 asks God not to take his Holy Spirit from him.  We also know that no one can have faith apart from the Holy Spirit.  People had faith in God and his promises in the Old Testament, therefore the Holy Spirit must have been present and working already then.  So what changes at Pentecost?  There’s a hint in our text.  The hint is in the word “streams” or “rivers” (as it can also be translated).  As I just mentioned, that word speaks of abundance.  The Spirit is poured out at Pentecost – he comes in abundance.  He comes richly, overflowing.  So when John says, “the Spirit had not been given,” we need to add something mentally to fill that out.  “The Spirit had not been poured out,” or maybe “the Spirit had not been given at Pentecost.” 

That brings us to consider how these words are fulfilled.  They begin to be fulfilled with Pentecost.  Fifty days after Good Friday and ten days after Christ’s ascension.  The believers were gathered together in a house.  A sound like a violent wind filled the house.  What seemed to be tongues of fire rested on their heads.  And then they began to speak in foreign languages.  Peter immediately began preaching and he explained that this was the pouring out of the Holy Spirit that had been prophesied by Joel and others.  At that moment, the words of Jesus in our text were coming to fulfillment.  Out of the hearts of the believers, living waters were coming forth to bless the Jews who were listening.  The gospel was being proclaimed!  And those living waters from the Holy Spirit brought forth more life – on that Pentecost Sunday about three thousand people were added to the number of believers.  Amazing!    

Those believers in Christ in turn were filled with the Holy Spirit.  He filled them and caused them to have rivers of living water flowing from them.  They went out and blessed others and were God’s instrument to bring the life-saving news of Jesus.  The process continued on and on through the ages until the present day.  Believers through the centuries have been filled with the Spirit and have had rivers of living water flowing from them as they’ve blessed the people around them with the gospel. 

And now there’s us.  Here we are two millennia later.  As we rest and trust in Christ, as we drink from him, he tells us that we too will have rivers of living water flowing from us.  It’s interesting that there’s no command here in our text in that regard.  The only command in our text is for the thirsty to come to Jesus and drink.  To believe in him.  What comes afterwards is only descriptive, not prescriptive.  It doesn’t say, “You must have a river of living water coming from you.”  Instead, Jesus describes what will happen with those who hear his call to faith and respond.  They will have streams of living water coming from them. 

Now we might at this point turn to those Scripture passages that give the command to be a blessing to those around, and especially to those passages which speak about sharing the gospel with the world around us.  There are enough of those passages, to be sure.  Let no one think that we don’t have a calling as believers to do that – we are called to bless the world around us with the gospel, with the living water that Jesus came to give.  But our text is different – it describes what will happen under the ministry of the Holy Spirit with those who believe.  Through the Spirit, those who believe will be a life-giving blessing to those around them.  This is what happens with Christians.  It’s a promise. 

This is not the only place in Scripture where this is prophesied.  I mentioned Isaiah 58:11 where believers are described as springs of water.  But there’s another remarkable line weaving its way through Scripture on this score.  It has to do with the temple.  Let’s follow that line for a moment.  As we do so, we’ll be swimming in the deep end for a few minutes.  It’s sometimes good to do that, to spend some time in the deep waters of God’s revelation in Scripture. 

Though we don’t often think of it this way, the Bible begins with a sort of temple.  God is dwelling with humanity in the Garden of Eden.  Like the temple in Jerusalem, the Garden was located on the top of a mountain.  Ezekiel 28:13-14 says that the Garden was on “the holy mount of God.”  From Eden proceeded rivers, four rivers that watered all the earth.  At the beginning, then, rivers came from the temple of God to bless and bring life to the earth. 

What about the temple in Jerusalem in the days of Solomon and afterwards?  Psalm 46:4 says that “there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.”  But anyone who knows anything about Jerusalem knows that there is no natural river flowing through it.  What is that river that the Sons of Korah were writing about in Psalm 46?  One possibility, a very likely one in fact, would have to do with the sacrifices that were offered in the temple.  When the sacrificial system was in full operation on Mount Zion, countless animals were slaughtered for sacrifices.  All of that involved substantial amounts of blood.  In fact, there was a drainage system carrying all this blood out of the temple – it was like a stream or river of blood running out and away.  That was a river which looked ahead to Christ and in so doing spoke of forgiveness and peace with God – a river like that certainly makes the people of God rejoice.  It is a river which flows out of the temple and brings blessing and life.  And we sang Psalm 67 earlier and that certainly speaks of God’s intention for this river to be a blessing to others beyond the borders of Israel too.

Then we have some of the prophets, prophets like Zechariah.  In Zechariah 14, the prophet proclaimed that someday living waters would flow out of the temple – half would go to the Mediterranean and half to the Dead Sea.  Ezekiel prophesied something similar in chapter 47.  The prophets announced that rivers would come rushing out of the temple to bless and give life to many.

And now here we are in the New Testament era.  And God still has his temple.  The temple is Christ, the temple is his body – the Church, and the temple can also be described in terms of individual believers.  It’s that last notion that comes into focus here in John 7.  In fulfillment of the Old Testament, and in fulfillment of what we hear from Christ here in John 7, temples of the Holy Spirit today have rivers of living water pouring out from them to bless and give life to many.  This is where the history of redemption has been tracking towards to this point.  This is where we’re at. 

At that moment, on the last day of the last Feast of Booths, it was Christ’s intention to build new temples of the Holy Spirit.  The booths of that Feast were temporary structures.  But Christ has come to build permanent temples for his Spirit.  Believers will be temples of the Holy Spirit into eternity, even though we die and our bodies break down and decay.  Yet through Christ they will be raised immortal and glorified.  And in this life, these temples that are us are intended to be for the benefit and blessing of everyone around us.  As members of Christ’s body, he will work through us to bring life and goodness. 

Brothers and sisters, according to what we read here in our text, Pentecost is not just a blessing for us.  It certainly is that – it’s wonderful to have God near us through his Spirit.  But it is not only that.  Pentecost is also a blessing for this world, because through the Spirit living in us, we become instruments to bring life to a world in darkness.  Let’s then continue looking to Christ our Saviour in faith.  Let’s pray that as we do that, we will have these streams of living water pouring from us to advance the gospel in this lost world.  As that happens, these temples will bless their neighbours.  More importantly, these temples will fulfill their ultimate purpose:  the glory of the God who built them and who inhabits them.  AMEN.


God in heaven,

To you we give thanks again for the gospel.  We thank you that we can come to Jesus and drink and have our thirst satisfied.  He is our drink to life eternal.  We’re glad that he is the Rock who was struck so that living water would pour forth for us and other thirsty sinners.  We’re also thankful for the Spirit who has been poured out on the church.  We thank you that he dwells in our hearts.  We pray that he would continue to work so that living waters flow from us like mighty rivers.  We pray that we would be a blessing to the world around us, as you have designed us to be.  Father, let us be instruments in your hand to bring the gospel to a world lost in darkness.  Please use us for the good of our neighbours and for your own glory.                        

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

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