Video of the Service of the Word is here. The sermon begins around the 19:35 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Water is one of those things that we tend to take for granted. We don’t think about water except when we don’t have enough of it. It’s only when I’m thirsty that I think about water, and the thirstier I get, the more I think about it. It’s like breathing. We don’t usually think too much about inhaling and exhaling. Our bodies just do it, and the only time we think about breathing is when we can’t breathe, or the air is bad, or we don’t have enough oxygen.
Water is necessary for life; you can only go for a very short time without water. In the Scriptures, water is used in different ways, as nourishing, cleansing, refreshing. In the flood, water is destructive, but also purifying. The Word of God is like water coming down from heaven, causing plants to grow and bear fruit. It’s like water breaking forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. Here in John 7, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit is like living water.
But this isn’t the first time that Jesus has associated the Spirit with water. Already in John 3, Jesus was talking to Nicodemus about being born from above, and Nicodemus thought Jesus was telling him to enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time. And Jesus said, what is born of the flesh is flesh. Everyone who is born into this world is born the same way. But what is born of the Spirit is Spirit. If you want to be in the Kingdom of God, you must be born from above by water and the Spirit. And it’s this way with everyone who is born of the Spirit: you hear the voice of the Spirit, the words of Jesus, but you can’t control it, or explain how it happens. It happens by the Spirit.
And it happens when Jesus’ words are attached to water. Physical water, by itself, doesn’t do anything. It sustains only your physical life. But when Jesus adds His word to it, it becomes something different. Then it’s Spiritual, giving what Jesus promised. And so Jesus stands up on the last, great day of the Feast—the Feast of Booths, when Israel celebrated God’s rescue of them from slavery in Egypt, and on the way to the Land of Promise, they dwelt in booths. Jesus stands up and cries out, Whoever is thirsty, let the one believing in Me come to Me and drink. Out of His heart will flow rivers of living water. It is not, first of all, out of the believer’s heart that living water flows. It flows from the one to whom you may go and drink. Like when He spoke to the woman at the well, and He said to her: if you knew the gift of God and who it is who is asking you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water. Whoever drinks from this (physical) water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give will never be thirsty, even into the age to come.
So it is here: come to Jesus and drink. And John explains that the living water is the Holy Spirit, who hadn’t yet been been (given). The Spirit was poured out on all people on Pentecost, when everyone heard the Word of God in his or her language, that this King of the Jews was the King of all nations, Lord of all lords. All the nations separated at Babel were brought back together as one in Christ. But John tells us that the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus had not yet been glorified. And Jesus Himself says that He must go to the Father and the Spirit will come. But Jesus is glorified when He is exalted on the cross. And there on the cross, the one who said He had living water to give said, I thirst. I thirst. And then He bowed His head and “handed over the Spirit.” And the soldier came and pierced His side and blood and water came out. Out of His heart will come living water, when He is glorified, and the Spirit is given.
This is what happens when God gives living water: there is a river and there is a tree and there is life. God put Adam and Eve in the Garden, and in the midst of the Garden was the tree of life. And a river flowed out of Eden to water the Garden. It’s the same when Ezekiel has his vision in chapter 47. He sees water flowing from the temple, with trees on either side, bearing fruit each month, whose fruit will be for food and whose leaves will be for healing. And he says that “everything will live where the river goes” (Ezekiel 47:1-12). This is the temple that was destroyed on the cross and rebuilt in three days, the place where God dwells, in the flesh and blood of the man Jesus. From Him flows living water.
And John saw its fulfillment in the Revelation. The holy city, new Jerusalem, comes down out of heaven from God. And there is a river of living water flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, down the middle of the city. The tree of life is on either side, bearing fruit each month, and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:1-2). Don’t we need healing in the nations!
And all of this is the living water that comes from God, just as when the people of Israel thirsted in the wilderness. And God said to Moses, I will stand on the rock and you will strike the rock and the people will drink. And Paul says, they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ. It starts in Eden, and flows through the Exodus, all the way to its fulfillment in Christ, the one who cries out: Come to Me, all you who are thirsty, and let the one believing in Me drink! Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters!
Everyone in this world is dying of thirst. We try to satisfy that thirst by fulfilling our own desires, doing what we think is right and good. We seek out water that will finally soothe our parched throats; our own thoughts, and experiences, and opinions, and… But it’s all like so much salt water, and all it does is keep killing us. When things are good, we take it for granted that what we are doing is good water, but God tells us that all we’ve done is forsaken the source of living water and tried to make our own wells, broken wells that can’t hold water.
There is only one well of living water, our God whom we know in the Christ whom He has sent. It is the river that has caught us up, in the water by the Word, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit who hovered over the waters of creation, who descended on Jesus at His baptism, is the Spirit who came to you at your new birth. He is the one whom the Son has given from the Father to remind you of everything Jesus has said, so that you hunger and thirst only for His righteousness. And by that Spirit, God fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah to His people, to His Church: “Yahweh will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail” (Isaiah 58:11), because Jesus does not fail—that is, His resurrection life cannot be exhausted. You will never come to the end of it, because it flows into eternity.
In all the scorched places, the wilderness places, the desert places of this world, wherever you are, only God will satisfy your desire. The scorched places are everywhere, but God gives water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; He pours His Spirit upon your offspring, and His blessing on your descendants, as at Pentecost (Isaiah 44:3). Jesus says, at every time, in every difficulty, in every affliction, in every temptation, in the hour of death: come to Me, all you thirsty! You, who believe in Me, come and drink! And you who have drunk, who have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, you know then how to comfort those who dwell in the desert, wilderness, scorched places. The wells of salvation are inexhaustible, for you and for all.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/29/20