The Bible is filled with references to natural phenomena. Mountains, valleys and waters are the setting for many of the events described throughout its pages. Previously I have thought quite a bit about how people experienced God in the mountains and in the valleys. In this new series I am going to be exploring a selection of the Bible’s most significant references to water. We find for instance references to streams, brooks, springs, rivers, waterfalls, lakes & seas. Then there are weather related phenomena such as clouds, rain or drought. Often water takes centre stage to some of the key encounters between God and His people. In other usages the Bible uses water in a whole range of symbolic ways including cleansing, idolatry, judgement, eternal life, difficult times, spiritual things and the Holy Spirit.
The Bible also speaks of what it calls Living Water which gives rise to our overall title. There are quite a few places where this is used and we will be looking at some of them in this series as well as a number of encounters that take place involving water. The idea of Living Water picks up on how God himself is the source of the spiritual water that truly refreshes and revives. Many of the Psalms picture our souls as thirsting for God. For instance in Psalm 42 the Psalmist likens us to deer panting for streams of water. In Psalm 63 the Psalmist describes his thirst for God felt in his whole being as he lives “in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” Water is going to be our framework to think about what it is going to look like for us to come to the spring of Living Water. It is to that thought which we now turn as we consider Jesus’ invitation to come and drink from the waters.
1. An Invitation to Come and Drink (John 7:37-38a):
John 7 records Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles, which was a week long celebration during which God’s people camped out in temporary shelters to remember God’s faithfulness in the wilderness in the days of Moses. Jesus’ brothers went up to the feast but Jesus chose not to go, because His time had not yet fully come (v8). After that however, Jesus did go up to the festival not openly but in secret (v10). The Jewish leaders were looking out for him (v11), but it wasn’t until half way through the festival that Jesus began to teach openly in the temple courts. The Jews were amazed at His teaching, but there was much disagreement about who He was. Then in v37-39 we read the following incredible invitation from Jesus to come to Him and drink:
37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.John 7:37-39
During the first 7 days of the festival, water was carried in a golden pitcher from the Pool of Siloam and poured out at the temple altar. It was a reminder of God’s provision for Israel in the wilderness. On the final day however, there was no pouring out of water, symbolising the fact that they had come into the Promised Land. It is on that day that Jesus stood up in the temple courts and poignantly declared in a loud voice, that anyone who was thirsty should come to Him and drink (v37). Given the fact that no water was poured out on that day it was a staggering claim that He had the water they were thirsting for. Then (v38) Jesus gives us an insight into what it means to come and drink. He seems to say that it is to do with believing in Him. When we recognise our thirst and come to Jesus to meet that thirst, we are putting our trust in Him and responding in faith.
2. The Promise that Living Water will flow from within (John 7:38b)
To those who do respond in faith and believe, Jesus promises that rivers of living water will flow from within them, from our hearts. Wow! What a statement that is. Jesus is talking about a constant stream of living water flowing from the innermost being of all who believe in Jesus. So not only does Jesus invite us to come and drink from Him, but He also promises that rivers of living water would flow from us. Notice also that in v38 Jesus says that Scripture has already said that this would happen. This may well be a reference to, and fulfilment of, the following passages:
1 ‘On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity. Zechariah 13:1
8 On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter. Zechariah 14:8
3 For 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. Isaiah 44:3
1 ‘Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. 2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Isaiah 55:1-2
Each of the above passages arise from one of the Old Testament Prophets. They look forward to a future outpouring of water. In Zechariah we read about a fountain opened to the house of David to cleanse them from their sin and about a day when living water would flow out from Jerusalem. In Isaiah we read about how God would pour water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground. If we jump to the end of the Bible, there is also a reference in Revelation where John is told by the one sitting on the throne that He would give water to the thirsty. This water would come without cost from the spring of the water of life:
He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.Revelation 21:6
3. Living Water and the Holy Spirit (John 7:39):
John unpacks Jesus’ incredible promise by explaining that He meant the Holy Spirit. These rivers of living waters are a direct consequence of the Holy Spirit living within us. His presence within us creates this outflow into the lives of others. Just read again what he says:
37 … ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.John 7:37-39
John also notes that those who believe in Jesus would later receive the Holy Spirit. At this point the Holy Spirit had not been given because Jesus had not been glorified. Jesus glorified through His death and resurrection. Before ascending to Heaven Jesus tells his disciples: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8. The very next chapter in Acts is Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon believers. This ushered in the New Covenant under which the Holy Spirit would dwell in all believers.
These connections between the Holy Spirit and living water should not surprise us because we have already seen this in Isaiah 44:3 (above) and in 1 Corinthians 12:13 where it says that we were all baptised by one Spirit and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. In this context the ideas of living Water and the Holy Spirit appear to be synonymous. As we come to the Living water we drink deeply of Him and He in turn creates this outflow of living water from within us.
In conclusion, can I encourage you to take up Jesus’ invitation to come and drink. On that last day of the festival when the water was no longer being poured out, it was poignant that Jesus offered to meet their need. Deep down all of us know that we are thirsty too. We need God and we need the life and refreshment that only He can provide. Taking this step of faith in coming to drink of the living water should come naturally to all know and love Jesus. However, we know that we often seek to quench our thirst in all sorts of ways but only Jesus can provide water which will truly satisfy – living water. More on that next time!
See other posts in this series:
- Invitation to the thirsty
- Idolatry: Broken Wells
- Sustenance: Drinking Deeply
- Suffering: Through the Waters
- Faith: Getting your Feet Wet
- River of Life