The Promised Spirit and the Glorified Christ
Passage: John 7:37–39
Sermon from John 7:37-39 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on Sunday, November 3, 2013
Let me begin with a word of thanks to all who helped with the Reformation Day activities last week, from the men’s breakfast on Saturday all the way through the service and picnic and clean up on Sunday. Your services were a blessing to God’s church. I especially want to thank Travis Bennett for all his work in setting up his Reformation display. The Lord has really equipped Travis to open our eyes more to God’s faithfulness to his church throughout history. And then I want to say “Thank you, Justin Durst and Bryan Walker and Jonathan Watson for taking the time—in the midst of your very busy schedules to prepare and then exhort us in treasuring the word of God.” One of Jonathan’s points was that “the word of Christ in the church reforms her fellowship.” My prayer is that the Lord will continue to do just that this morning—reforming our fellowship as a church—as we sit under the word of Christ from John 7. So read with me now God’s word from John 7, beginning in verse 37.
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “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.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
God's Purpose in the Feast of Booths
As you can see from verse 37, we are still with Jesus at the Feast of Booths, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles. Leviticus 23:33-43 tells us that this particular Jewish Feast was to be held annually in the seventh month, just after they’d gathered in all the produce of the land; and it was supposed to last eight days, from one Sabbath day through the next. And between those Sabbath days, the people were to construct booths from branches of palm trees and the boughs of other leafy trees, and camp out in these booths all seven days.
Now, the Lord had a couple of purposes for all this. One purpose was for the people to celebrate God’s bountiful provision in the harvest that had just been gathered—not in the wilderness, but in the Promised Land (Lev 23:39). The other purpose was for the people to remember that God made them dwell in booths when he brought them out of the land of Egypt (Lev 23:43). The booths were supposed to represent their journey to the Promised Land. This was a Feast to commemorate God delivering them from the tyranny and oppression in Egypt and bringing them into the land of abundant provision. The Feast was a regular way for all the families in Israel to celebrate God’s bountiful provision and a time for the parents to teach the younger generations about God’s great exodus deliverance (Lev 23:43).
Jesus Fulfills the Feast of Booths
This is the Feast John continues to highlight in his account of Jesus here in Jerusalem. He began chapter 7 before this Feast (7:2); we then followed Jesus up to the Feast (7:10); we listened to him teach in the middle of the Feast (7:14); and now we’re with Jesus on the last day of the Feast—“the great day” as verse 37 calls it—when Jesus cries out with some of the most profound words about God’s bountiful provision. What Jesus wants these Jews to see (v. 38), and what John wants us to see (v. 39), is that all the anticipations about God’s saving provision for Israel have come to their fruition in Jesus and his mission. The Feast of Booths was not instituted simply to remind the people to look backward at God’s provision in the exodus deliverance and entry into life in the Promised Land. The Feast was also teaching the people a pattern of the way God works to save his people and then these patterns of his saving activity urged the people to look forward to a much greater deliverance and superior provision that was coming with the Messiah and his kingdom. Why else would you hold a feast in the Promised Land if you’ve already arrived? The point was that the Promised Land was only a foretaste of the kingdom that was yet to come with God’s messiah. The exodus was only a foretaste of God’s greater deliverance in Christ still to come.
John has done this several times already with Old Testament patterns like the tabernacle (1:14), the Passover Lamb (1:29), the Davidic king (2:12-21), the bronze serpent on the pole (3:14-15), or the manna from heaven (6:1-68). Each one of these patterns anticipated God’s superior salvation coming with the Messiah and his kingdom. And again and again John tells us that all these patterns find their ultimate expression and fulfillment in the person and mission of Jesus Christ. So, for example, Jesus fulfills the tabernacle because he reveals the glory of God supremely in the tent of his flesh (1:14). Jesus fulfills the Passover lamb because he provides total deliverance from eternal death not just temporary relief from physical death (1:29). Jesus fulfills the anticipations for a superior Davidic king whose universal rule defeats sin, death, and the devil (2:17). Jesus fulfills the pattern observed in the bronze serpent on the pole—only Jesus’ cross fully absorbs the sting of God’s wrath in our place (3:14-15). Jesus fulfills what the heavenly manna anticipated, God’s own Son coming down and giving his flesh for the life of the world, not just Israel (6:50).
Again and again John highlights how the Old Testament patterns of God’s saving acts find their goal in Jesus and his mission. So along the same lines, Jesus stands up at a Festival commemorating God’s pattern of provision in the exodus—provision like sustaining his people with water from the rock—and says, “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.’” Jesus is again drawing off an Old Testament pattern that anticipated God’s bountiful provision in the Messiah; and the pattern he has in mind, here, is God’s provision of water to satisfy his people’s thirst—and not merely satisfying their physical thirst, but ultimately satisfying their spiritual thirst as well.
Jesus Alone Satisfies Our Spiritual Thirst
That’s apparent from Jesus’ own words about the heart in verse 38: “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” The heart is his concern. The heart is the "causal core of your personhood" (Tripp); it’s what sways your entire being to love this or that; it’s the seat of your affections for good or for evil. You transform a person’s heart; you transform everything about that person. So Jesus’ interests go well beyond quenching our physical thirst. His interests lie in showing these Jews where to find satisfaction for their souls.
He knows their story, and he knows their attitudes toward him right now line up with that story really well. He knows that once Israel settled in the Promised Land, that they pushed aside the Rock of their salvation. The Scriptures tell us that throughout the exodus deliverance, God made provision for them by supernaturally causing water to gush from a flinty rock. The merciful and regular provision of water from the rock was so bound up with God’s character, that he even revealed himself as “the Rock.” But once they reach the Promised Land, they’re done with him. Israel became so focused on their immediate needs, that they even reduced the God of the universe to a means to get what they want. As good materialists, they’d gotten what they really wanted—a prosperous land with all kinds of abundant crops—and so they didn’t see a great need to follow this Rock of their salvation any longer. They began to idolize their possessions, depend on their own strength to save them and forsake the only God who could save them.
The result is that God removed his presence from Israel; he made their land desolate; and he left their thirsty souls to shrivel up in Babylon, just like he said he would if they forsook him. And so what we then find the prophets doing again and again in Scripture is pointing out that the reason the Promised Land is now desolate and thirsty is that the people sought spiritual refreshment and satisfaction from things that could never really provide it to begin with; and so God gave them over to their evil preferences. In fact, Jer 2:11-13 even define evil in these terms, in terms of people seeking satisfaction for their soul in things other than God. Jeremiah calls all of heaven to witness against Israel for their idolatry; and he uses these words: “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
What is evil according to Jeremiah? Evil is looking at the God of the universe who made you to be wholly satisfied with his infinite worth and beauty, and saying, “No thank you; I can find something better in Egypt or in this little statue I made the other day or in this dollar bill over here or in this pornography website over there or in this job market over here or in this power-trip over there or…you fill in the blank.” Throughout the prophets, this is why the Promised Land lays so desolate; this is why Israel as a people is so thirsty: their hearts run to find satisfaction in everything else but their God. And for the most part, the hearts of the people in Israel shriveled up by pursuing those things in creation which could never truly satisfy their souls like the Creator.
And Jesus knows this is still the condition in Israel; they’re not coming to their Maker for satisfaction. They don’t even know him: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him” (1:10). So Jesus cries out and invites them once again to find the life they’ve always needed with God in him. What’s even more, he tells them that should they come to him for true spiritual refreshment, then what their own Scriptures have promised with respect to the Spirit will be fulfilled. And let me just give you a sampling of what Jesus means by that from a few Old Testament passages where God’s provision of water and the outpouring of his Spirit come together.
Living Water and Gift of Spirit in the Old Testament
So, I’m taking Jesus’ assertion that the Scriptures promise rivers of living water and John’s assertion that this is connected to the giving of the Spirit; and those two things come together for us in several Old Testament passages. Sometimes, we’re too quick to create our own meanings for Jesus’ words instead of looking to the very place he gives us to understand his words, namely, the Old Testament Scriptures.
So, turn with me first to Isa 32:12-17. This is just prior to them going into exile; and Isaiah has just finished calling the women of Israel to repentance and warning them of the desperation of the coming judgment. Verses 12-14 even pictures the coming scene like so: “Beat your breasts for the pleasant fields, for the fruitful vine, for the soil of my people growing up in thorns and briers, yes, for all the joyous houses in the exultant city. For the palace is forsaken, the populous city deserted; the hill and the watchtower will become dens forever, a joy of wild donkeys, a pasture of flocks.” Soils full of thorns and briers, pleasant fields now deserted—they’re facing a very barren and thirsty situation and they can do nothing within themselves to change it.
But in his mercy God promises this in verse 15: “until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is deemed a forest [that doesn’t happen without water]. Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.” So, exile for a little while, and then God pours out his Spirit and does so in connection with the in-breaking of his bountiful kingdom; and the results are not just outward—a prosperous land—but inward—righteousness, quietness, and trust in the Lord forever. When God moves, the results are incredible.
Now, turn with me to Isa 44:1-5. Again, pretend that you’ve just learned from chapter 43 that sin has led to utter destruction, and then God promises this: “But now hear, O Jacob my servant, Israel whom I have chosen! Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you: Fear not, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams. This one will say, ‘I am the LORD’s,’ another will call on the name of Jacob, and another will write on his hand, ‘The LORD’s,’ and name himself by the name of Israel.”
The connection between the outpouring of water and the outpouring of God’s Spirit is a bit clearer here, but the essential message is the same as that of Isa 32:15. God was promising a new work, involving both outward and inward renewal—the outward renewal of the land and the inward renewal of people’s hearts. The assumption is that without the coming of the Spirit, the people would remain corrupt and lifeless. Israel’s greatest need was not merely a renewed land; they needed renewed hearts. They needed a spiritual restoration that would overcome the problem that brought about the exile to begin with, namely, their wayward hearts. When the Spirit came with the refreshing waters of God’s kingdom, the result is a new people who know the Lord. [I even think verse 5 has Gentiles in mind who wear the Lord’s name with gladness of heart; the language of this one…another…and another suggests that multitudes want to identify themselves with Yahweh].
Let me point you to one more, Ezek 36:24-27. God promises his people: “I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” So, again, the message is very similar to that of Isaiah. The people are naturally unclean because their wayward hearts are filled with idols; and only the provision of God’s life-giving Spirit will bring them true salvation.
The Outpouring of God's Spirit and the Kingdom of God
What we’re seeing is that the outpouring of God’s Spirit in association with his bountiful kingdom being established on earth is central to the hopes of Old Testament prophecy. The prophets have taken God’s provision of water in the wilderness and associated it with a new and greater work that God would achieve by sending his Spirit to transform his people and give them new life in his final kingdom. Eventually, some of these promises even reach their climax in texts like Ezek 47:1-12 and Zech 14:8, both of which point us to the living waters flowing from God’s throne in the new heavens and the new earth—waters that give life to all the nations.
When Jesus says “Whoever believes in me…‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water,’” what he means is that all the spiritual blessings of God’s coming kingdom—its righteousness, its quietness, its peace, its bounty, its abundant life, its truth, its riches, its saturation with God’s glorious presence—all the spiritual blessings of God’s coming kingdom are mediated to our innermost being through the Holy Spirit. When you come to Jesus for spiritual drink—for a new heart, for new life, for inward refreshment of your soul—the Spirit mediates the blessings of the new age to you. That is much of what John means by eternal life throughout his Gospel. In a nutshell, eternal life—equivalent to the “rivers of living water”—is the Holy Spirit supplying us with the forever-nourishing life of unhindered fellowship with God characteristic of the age to come. When you come to Jesus that life is yours. We don’t have to wait for the kingdom to have eternal life; it becomes a present reality by the Spirit.
Come to Jesus as Desperately Thirsty
But we need to be even clearer about what it means to come to Jesus. In our text, coming to Jesus means that you come to him not merely as a sinner who is desperately thirsty—though that’s true—but also as a sinner who is convinced that he drank the cup of God’s wrath so that you can drink the rivers of God’s Spirit [That’s what this Table is about]. I get this from verse 39: “Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” Now, we’ll have more opportunities to address what it means for the Spirit not yet to be given, but suffice it to say for now that it doesn’t mean the Spirit began working only after Jesus’ resurrection; but it does mean the work the Spirit does after the resurrection is remarkably different under a new covenant and in the new creation. We’ll address that more in chapters 14-16. What I want to focus on this morning is Jesus’ glorification.
When John refers to Jesus being glorified, he normally means one of two things. He either means that Jesus’ glory is displayed through his death on the cross; that is, the glory of God’s holiness and wrath and justice and love and compassion and so on is all put on display most supremely when Jesus dies on the cross. Or, he means that Jesus is clothed with glory upon returning to his Father in heaven. When he humbled himself and became a man, he left glory; but after his death and resurrection, God then re-clothes him with the glory he had with the Father before the world existed.
Based on the way he lays matters out in chapters 14-16, I think John means the latter here: that once Jesus ascends back to his Father and is clothed with glory; that’s when he sends the Spirit—but until then, he doesn’t. But here’s the thing. Even when John has one or the other in mind, as more of his Gospel unfolds, the two types of glorification are so bound up with one another that they only serve as two essential parts of a whole. The effect, here, would be that the Spirit wouldn’t be sent by a risen Christ who had not died to save anybody. What need would there be for him to come if he did not have the riches of the cross to apply to anybody? But the fact is that Jesus did die for sinners; he did stand in their place beneath God’s wrath; he did rise from the dead; and he was glorified to the right hand of the Father; and he did send the Spirit to dwell in the hearts of everyone who comes to Jesus with confidence that he drank the cup of God’s wrath in their place, so that they might drink from the blessings of his future kingdom enjoyed now through the Spirit. So what all does this really mean for us?
1. Anyone Can Find True Satisfaction for Their Soul in Jesus
First, it means that anybody in this room who is spiritually thirsty and destitute without God can find true satisfaction for their soul in Jesus Christ. Jesus names one condition in which you may come to him: thirsty. Jesus puts no ethnic, social, political, economic, familial, or religious conditions on who can drink of his Spirit. The only condition for receiving life-giving drink from Jesus is that you come to him thirsty. Anyone—from the self-righteous Jewish types like Nicodemus to the lawless Gentile types like the woman at the well;* from classy business men types who think they’re on the top of the world to the poor and downcast who want nothing but escape from this world—Jesus says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” It doesn’t matter what kind of rotten person you are or how wayward your heart has strayed in loving what is evil, the invitation from Jesus is real to all without distinction. Don’t overlook the fact that he offers this water even to the Jews ready to kill him. If you’re thirsty, then come, drink, and you will know true inward transformation and satisfaction for your soul.
2. Experience the Life of God's Coming Kingdom Now
Second, our passage means that when you come to Jesus—trusting that his cross has removed every obstacle for you to gain life in the Spirit and trusting that his resurrection life empowers life in the Spirit—he promises you the Spirit who gives you the life of his kingdom now. The kingdom itself is not now; it’s future. But the abundant life characterizing that future kingdom is ours now when the Spirit takes up residence within us. Each morning we rise, the Spirit isn’t frustrated by our thirsts, but has infinite supplies of grace and is glad to pour them out within us. He has infinite love to pour out within our hearts: Rom 5:5, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” All the spiritual blessings of God’s kingdom secured for us at Calvary minister to our weary souls, meeting the smallest of needs to the greatest. The Spirit has nourished me with living water on at least three occasions this week when my soul grew thirsty.
For example, my son Levi has fairly bad allergies and we found out this past week from the doctor that he has even more. One of those allergies is to dairy, which means I cannot give my son root-beer floats like my daddy used to make me when I was a little boy. I was disappointed at first, but then the Spirit nourished me with this truth as I sat praying over the situation: “I might never be able to enjoy giving my son a root-beer float as my dad enjoyed making for me, but I can still give him Christ. He can’t develop an allergy to Jesus; and more than that, Jesus will satisfy him infinitely better than a root-beer float.” Jesus will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4); and that's what we both desperately need.
On another occasion, I learned that my hometown pastor and Max’s daddy both have severe cancer. I was really saddened by this news. But I went to Jesus for drink and he reminded me of his words, “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life…” (John 5:28-29). Max’s dad is even being nourished with the same living water. The doctors told Max’s dad that with respect to his brain tumor, the worst case scenario is death, to which Max’s dad immediately replied, "that is not the worst case scenario!" Yes! He knows that to live is Christ; to die is gain. Death is entry into glory! That’s what is looks like for the Spirit to produce in us now the life we’re looking forward to in the age to come when there will be no more thirst (Rev 7, 22).
One more occasion. I’m probably the most ignorant person when it comes to the political scene and the state of our economy, but occasionally I’ll ask the staff guys to brief me on the subject matter. And so this week Obamacare was mentioned at some point, and so I had Kevin and Gary just give me a summary of what’s at stake in the whole ordeal. And at one point that evening, I remember some worry begin creeping in; but the Spirit helped me to remember Psalm 33: “He brings the counsel of the nations to nothing and frustrates the plans of the peoples; and his counsel stands forever.” Interpretation? “God is frustrating our healthcare plans so that we drink deeply from his primary care and everlasting security.”
3. Experiencing the Life of God's Kingdom Doesn't Mean Christians Won't Struggle, but that Christians Have Drink When They Do Struggle
Third—and this stems from the previous application—having the abundant life of the Spirit doesn’t mean we are somehow transferred from a struggling faith to a purely triumphant faith. Some of you who have the Spirit might read a text like this and leave discouraged because you’re not experiencing some sort of emotional high. And because the emotional high is missing, you’ll be tempted to doubt whether you truly know these rivers of living water. But we should remember that even after Pentecost, Christians still struggled. Paul says in 2 Cor 1:8 that his various afflictions drove him to be so utterly burdened beyond his strength that he despaired even of life itself. And there’s also a reason why Paul exhorts the Thessalonian church to “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thess 5:14). So even after Jesus pours out his Spirit on the church, it doesn’t mean we won’t struggle. Rather it means that when we face all of our struggles in Christ, God provides a spring of life that will never run dry. No matter how low this world, the flesh, or the devil brings you, your union with Christ frees you to drink freely from the wells of salvation, so that we might endure the difficulties and keep persevering till he returns or takes us home.
4. Everybody in the New Covenant Possesses The Spirit
Fourth, we shouldn’t forget the corporate implications of this sort of spiritual life either. You see, unlike times past when God poured out his Spirit upon a select few people in Israel—like prophets, priests, and kings—to mediate God’s blessings to the people, now God has poured out his Spirit on everyone in his covenant people. Yes, we each have our own distinct gifts, but all of us possess life in the Spirit. For those of us in Christ, God has made us all a kingdom of priests, filled with the Spirit to mediate God’s spiritual blessings to one another. Moreover, when fullness of the Spirit is in each of us—satisfying our souls—there’s no need to oppress others to meet our own needs. Rather, since God has met every need of ours in Christ and made our thirsty souls content with his Spirit, we are freed and empowered to serve others from fullness. When you’re satisfied with God, you’re a servant not a tyrant.
Lastly, when rivers of living water fill our hearts, we will abound in mission to the world. Look with me at one more text, Isa 12:1-6 (p. 576): “You will say in that day: “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
More in The Gospel According to John
May 24, 2015Eyewitness Testimony to the Greatness of Jesus
May 17, 2015Loving Jesus & Feeding His People at All Costs
May 10, 2015Believing the Apostle's Testimony When Not Seeing Jesus