Here in the Willamette Valley we may find it more difficult to relate to drought, not only compared to some who live in other parts of our country, but especially to those lived in the arid Middle East. The theme of God’s river-like grace flows through Scripture, from the rivers that watered the Garden of Eden, including the river of Psalm 1 and Psalm 46, Isaiah 12:3; 55:1, Ezekiel 47; Zechariah 14:8; and culminating in Revelation 22. These passages describe God’s faithful provision of water, both physical and as a symbol of the salvation he offers.
Celebration and joy marked the Feast of Tabernacles. Not only was it a harvest feast, but as the people of Israel lived in booths or tents (thus the “Feast of Tabernacles”) for a week they recalled the care that God had provided during their decades of wandering in the wilderness. Over the years a special ceremony became a traditional high point of the feast. A priest drew water from the pool of Siloam and carried it through the rejoicing crowds to the Temple, where it was ceremoniously poured into a basin beside the altar. The water ceremony look back to provision of water from the rock in the wilderness. It expressed thanks for the rains that had made the harvest possible. And it looked ahead, praying for rain in the coming year. The joy was such that a rabbinic saying records: “He who has not witnessed the rejoicings at the water-drawing has, throughout the whole of his life, witnessed no real rejoicing.”
John 7:37-39 records Jesus standing and shouting: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” On the concluding and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus is unwilling to allow the crowds to leave without blessing them with the gospel, the good news, the news about himself, the One who satisfies your deepest needs.
Jesus calls you to come to him and drink. He explains that in terms of believing in him, trusting in him to fulfill your needs. Don’t think primarily of the first time you drank, but rather the way you need to keep drinking. He, and he alone, can truly slake your thirst. The crucial question is whether you continue to drink of Jesus. Is your thirst being quenched?
If you come to him and drink, from you, then, will flow rivers of living water. That may sound like a strange image, but John explains that Jesus was talking about the gift of the Spirit, who was to be given after the death and resurrection of the Savior.
We often focus this passage on the individual. You need to come to Jesus and drink. That is appropriate and very true. But there is also a corporate dimension. When Ezekiel 47 describes a flowing, expanding, life-giving river, it flows from the Temple of God. What Ezekiel pictured symbolically has come about in the church. It was upon the church that the risen, ascended Christ poured out the Spirit. It was to the church that he gave the command to go and make disciples of all nations. Are you seeking to be a channel of living water to those around you who do not know Christ? Are we as a church serious about the responsibility of bringing the good news of Jesus to our local and broader communities?
Too often the church finds herself dispirited. The challenges of serving Christ in a world that rejects him seem overwhelming. But discouragement is never appropriate, because, in a literal sense, the church can never be dis-Spirited. The Spirit who was given at Pentecost has not been recalled. He continues to equip the people of Christ to trust and obey. Are you praying for the Spirit’s work in your life and in the life of the church?
John Sittema grasps the excitement of Jesus’ cry as he writes: “Isaiah’s promise had been extravagant: to a people who once had wandered through a dry and dusty wilderness, their thirst slaked only because they journeyed in the presence of a might God who split open a rock to give them a drink, to generations of Middle Eastern people who knew experientially that water meant life, waters from within sounded incredible, an impossible dream. Jesus’ words offered the key to the puzzle: the long-expected blessing had come, and it had come in Jesus, who would pour out the Spirit to quench the deepest longings of the heart.” Meeting Jesus at the Feast: Israel’s Festivals and the Gospel.