The Day of Pentecost, May 31, 2020
The True Water of Life
Text: John 7:37–39
When was the last time you were thirsty? I mean, really thirsty. Not cutting the grass on a hot day and having/needing a beer thirsty, but worse. I am figuring none of us have been stuck in the desert, or anything like that. I can tell you that I have run in races, run for training, on days that were warm, muggy, and I was really thirsty when I finished. After a run, Powerade, eggs, bagels, whatever, tastes really good. Trust me. I mention this today because the Gospel for this Pentecost Sunday, the day we consider the Birthday of the Church, this Gospel lesson is a time when Jesus said that we should go to Him when we are very, supremely thirsty.
In the Gospel today, we see a time when Jesus’ heart was broken for His people. One of the worst experiences we can have is to see someone suffer, especially if it’s someone close to us. It stinks, yes? We wish we could do something to help. Jesus was hurting, looking at His people, as He attended the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths, which is the context of our Scripture text. The Feast of Tabernacles was an eight-day celebration remembering God’s love and generosity as the people of Israel were brought out of captivity in Egypt and entered the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. As the children of Israel and their livestock suffered from thirst, God commanded Moses to strike a rock in the middle of the desert, and water miraculously gushed out. God wanted to teach the Israelites through this object lesson that He would always provide for His people and that they should not doubt Him.
God then commanded them to gather once a year to commemorate this event and remember how He helped them when they were thirsty. As you can imagine, God used this feast as an opportunity to remind them that He would satisfy their spiritual thirst by sending them the Messiah. For a thousand years, faithful Jews made the trip to Jerusalem not only for the celebration, but with the expectation that the Messiah might finally reveal Himself at the event.
Imagine the agony on Jesus’ heart at that moment. For two and a half years, He has been preaching, calling people to repent because God’s kingdom was at hand (Him). He performed miracles as signs for people to see that He is, indeed, the promised Savior. He openly stated that He is the fulfillment of Scripture’s prophecy, that He was sent by the Father to save the world from sin. Yet most folks, including most of the religious leaders, rejected Him. John notes in this same chapter of his Gospel that even Jesus’ own brothers rejected Him at this time. I can only imagine how much it hurt Jesus to be rejected by His own family.
Now, as Jesus is in the middle of temple celebrations with water pouring out around the altar, trumpets sounding, people singing, Jesus stands up and tries to out shout the crowd: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’ ” (vv 37–38). Once again, Jesus demonstrates the love and compassion of God. God wants all of His creation to be saved; therefore, Jesus will not give up. He calls out to all who are spiritually thirsty to come to Him. At a festival that celebrated God giving them water in the desert, Jesus tells them He is the true water of life.
John adds that Jesus said these things “about the Spirit, whom those who believe in him were to receive” (v 39a). The day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2 was a fulfillment of Jesus’ word, because, as John reminds us, at the time of this Feast of Booths, “the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (v 39b).
The Feast of Tabernacles in our text is just six to seven months before the next feast, the Feast of Passover. This was the last feast that Jesus would attend. By the end of Passover, Jesus was the sacrificial Lamb of God, to take away the sin of the world. At that holiday, Jesus was sacrificed, was crucified, taking the punishment for the sin, death, and spiritual thirst of all creation as our substitute, so we could have spiritual life and our thirst quenched. Think about this: The One who is the source of living water suffered such thirst, was so dehydrated during the whole ordeal on our behalf that Jesus had to ask for a drink before He could say, “It is finished.” And what was finished was His mission to be THE sacrifice for our sins.
The Holy Spirit is the one who gives you this faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit also points out to us our sins from the Word of God. When we know we are sinners, we know we thirst for what God offers. The problem is that your sinful nature will always want to turn away from Jesus and deny your thirst or search for spiritual fulfillment from other places. As your pastor, I say to you, don’t deny your brokenness and spiritual thirst. Don’t pretend that everything is okay as you secretly try to hide your guilt and shame and pain. Please don’t try to fill the emptiness in your soul with unhealthy relationships, consume your life and time working for things that don’t last and don’t matter (like money and wealth), or mask your pain through drugs and alcohol. Instead, hear the invitation of Jesus. Come to Jesus, the living water, and receive His mercy. Drink deeply. Drink often. He will fill you, not with just a trickle or little stream of water, but with an overflowing of His Holy Spirit.
Jesus gives His Holy Spirit so that we may receive faith, believe His Gospel, and receive Him through the promises of His Word and Sacraments. I’ve told you that every Sunday here is Easter. One could say that each Sunday is also a Feast of Tabernacles. Each Sunday is a Feast of Pentecost. You receive the Holy Spirit as you hear, in a language you can understand, the Good News of Jesus as the living water, who satisfies your spiritual thirst. People throughout the world today are hearing the Gospel proclaimed in their own language, just as they did on the day of Pentecost. It is only through the Holy Spirit’s saving work that anyone is able to recognize their spiritual thirst, learn of Jesus, and receive His merciful forgiveness in the waters of Baptism, in the Words of Absolution, and in the very body and blood of Jesus that was shed for them on the cross (which we will do again next week).
And with that Spirit in here, we can show His love out there. You can now be a blessing to your family, to your neighbors, to your co-workers and share the mercy that you have received freely. Help your family. Help your neighbor. Help those with whom you work. Look in on those who are still sheltering in place. That’s the sort of thing the first Christians did. And if you’re asked, you can speak to them about Jesus. You can invite them to drink of Jesus. You can invite them to join you, here in person or online, where Jesus Quenches Our Spiritual Thirst and Enables Us to Be Rivers of Living Water.
This Day of Pentecost, this birthday of the Christian Church, is here to remind us that as the Holy Spirit showed up in that upper room 2000 years ago, He is in each of us, bringing us our faith, delivering to us the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, quenching our thirst for the goodness and Love of God. With Jesus in here, we are never thirsty.
Happy Church Birthday. (Chirthday?)
In Jesus’ Name.