Recently I started working out again. It seems the older I get, the more aware I am of my body’s shortcomings and the need to be healthy. And every time I start working out its hard. Really hard. This last time after my workout I felt particularly thirsty, like a man crawling through the desert trying to get to a spring, kind of thirsty. After downing one bottle of water and starting another, my thirst finally felt quenched.
I thought about that experience this week as I mediated on John 7. The chapter tells the story of Jesus leaving Galilee to go to Jerusalem for the Feat of Booths, one of the traditional 7 feasts of Israel. Jesus originally didn’t want to draw attention to himself, at least not yet, as he told his ungodly conniving half-brothers before he left. There was a certain time and place the Spirit had told Jesus to begin teaching and reveal himself (as the Pharisees and rulers of the Jews had been conspiring to kill Jesus). It wasn’t until the middle of the feast that Jesus began teaching at the Temple.
In the midst of all the uproar from the people and the Pharisees about who Jesus really was, whether he was a prophet, the Messiah, or someone else…on the very last day or the feast, Jesus stood up and said something that really caught my attention for this devotional.
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 8:37-39
This isn’t the first time that Jesus has talked about “living water.” If you remember earlier in John 4 we met the Samaritan woman at the well. There too, a discussion began around water.
1 “Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” – John 4:1-16
Jacob’s well that was in front of them served as the perfect illustration of the abundant life. The woman, who was living in sin (but who was thirsty to be set free), had encountered none other than the Messiah himself, the one who had the power to not only forgive her of all her sins, but to give her the freedom and forgiveness that her soul thirsted for.
We don’t learn it here, but the “spring of water welling up to eternal life” is the Holy Spirit, something our passage over in John 7 makes clear.
I think it’s interesting that here Jesus speaks of “springs” of living water, and then over in John 7 he speaks of “rivers” of living water. In the pursuit of a relationship with Jesus we always graduate to even more abundance of the life changing Holy Spirit.
Back in our text in John 7, Jesus adds something that I find curious. Again he says:
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.” – John 8:37-38
It says here that the “scriptures say” that rivers of living water will flow within those who believe in Jesus. But where does the scriptures actually say this? If you search all through all of the Old Testament you will never once find a specific scripture or reference to “rivers of living water” flowing from within the believer. So what is Jesus specifically referring to here?
The answer takes a bit of digging.
If you search through the Old Testament for images of “living water,” you do find that the image is always connected to God. For example…
“For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, The fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, Broken cisterns that can hold no water.” – Jeremiah 2:13
“O LORD, the hope of Israel, All who forsake You will be put to shame. Those who turn away on earth will be written down, because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the LORD.” – Jeremiah 17:13
“O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” – Psalms 63:1
“And in that day living waters will flow out of Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and the other half toward the western sea; it will be in summer as well as in winter.” – Zechariah 14:8
So even though there is no Old Testament verse that speaks of living water flowing from within a person, the idea of God as water is present throughout the Old Testament. So Jesus’ quotation seems to be Jesus not quoting a specific verse as much as it is quoting a set of images that are found throughout the Old Testament.
But I think if we keep digging we find something even more interesting.
If God is the “living water,” according to the Old Testament images, then it makes sense that Jesus says in John 8:37, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.”
In other words, the source for the living waters, is not us, it’s him…in us. Just as God is the living water in the Old Testament, so Jesus here refers to himself as the living water in the New Testament. This makes sense, as Jesus is God in the flesh.
Now watch this. Verse 37 refers to a feast, but one has to go all the way back to verse 2 to see that this is referring to the Feast of Booths (a.k.a Feast of Tabernacles). Though this feast was instituted in Leviticus, it was often neglected to be observed by the Israelites. One instance when it was celebrated, however, was during the rebuilding of Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah.
Beginning in Nehemiah 8:13 and continuing through Nehemiah 9, we see the Feast of Booths celebration taking place, and those present honored God by remembering what he had done for them. Several times in this prayer, the priests remembered God’s provision for them from the rock that Moses struck to brought forth water (see Exodus 17:6):
You gave them bread from heaven for their hunger and brought water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and you told them to go in to possess the land that you had sworn to give them.” – Nehemiah 9:15
So then, flowing water has been connected to the Feast of Booths before; and this is not the last word that Scripture says about this rock from which water sprang either. In 1 Corinthians 10:4, Paul explains it always was from Christ that the water sprung:
“For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”
So even though there is no specific verse in the Old Testament that talks about the Messiah bringing “living waters,” inside a believer, the images across the Old Testament do refer to God as being living water Himself.
And since Jesus is choosing to reveal himself on the final day of the Feast of Booths as the one who provides living water, I think the images couldn’t be more powerful. Everyone knew that the Feast of Booths was connected to Moses striking the Rock and water coming forth. And Paul tells us that Jesus WAS that rock, in both the Old Testament and in the New Testament.
So then, Christ being the source of living water flowing for the thirsty is no new thing at all—he was the source for Israelites in the Exodus as he is for all who believe in him. Jesus in John 7 is purposely making the connection between himself and God. He is telling the Jews that HE is the great provider for their souls—always has been and always will be!
So what is the living water? It is Jesus himself. It is his Spirit, the Holy Spirit, coming in to live inside the life of the believer. Again, John 7: 37-39 tells us:
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.”
Here Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the living water. Why is this unique? It’s unique because external influence of the Spirit had always been given in the conversion and sanctification of the Old Testament saints and prophets, but the gift of the Spirit who would indwell believers had not yet been received.
And how is the Holy Spirit like “rivers of living water” inside of us?
Of all the gifts given to mankind by God, there is none greater than the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has many functions, roles, and activities.
- First, He does a work in the hearts of all people everywhere. Jesus told the disciples that He would send the Spirit into the world to “convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:7-11). Everyone has a “God consciousness,” whether or not they admit it. The Spirit applies the truths of God to minds of men to convince them they are sinners. Responding to that conviction brings men to salvation.
- Once we are saved and belong to God, the Spirit takes up residence in our hearts forever, sealing us with the confirming, certifying, and assuring pledge of our eternal state as His children. Jesus said He would send the Spirit to us to be our Helper, Comforter, and Guide. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (John 14:16). The Greek word translated here “Counselor” means “one who is called alongside” and has the idea of someone who encourages and exhorts. The Holy Spirit takes up permanent residence in the hearts of believers (Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, 12:13). Jesus gave the Spirit as a “compensation” for His absence, to perform the functions toward us which He would have done if He had remained personally with us.
- Among those functions is that of revealer of truth. The Spirit’s presence within us enables us to understand and interpret God’s Word. Jesus told His disciples that “when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). He reveals to our minds the whole counsel of God as it relates to worship, doctrine, and Christian living. He is the ultimate guide, going before, leading the way, removing obstructions, opening the understanding, and making all things plain and clear. A crucial part of the truth He reveals is that Jesus is who He said He is (John 15:26; 1 Corinthians 12:3). The Spirit convinces us of Christ’s deity and incarnation, His being the Messiah, His suffering and death, His resurrection and ascension, His exaltation at the right hand of God, and His role as the judge of all. He gives glory to Christ in all things (John 16:14).
- Another one of the Holy Spirit’s roles is that of gift-giver. First Corinthians 12 describes the spiritual gifts given to believers in order that we may function as the body of Christ on earth. All these gifts, both great and small, are given by the Spirit so that we may be His ambassadors to the world, showing forth His grace and glorifying Him.
- The Spirit also functions as fruit-producer in our lives. When He indwells us, He begins the work of harvesting His fruit in our lives—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). These are not works of our flesh, which is incapable of producing such fruit, but they are products of the Spirit’s presence in our lives.
The knowledge that the Holy Spirit of God has taken up residence in our lives, that He performs all these miraculous functions, that He dwells with us forever, and that He will never leave or forsake us is cause for great joy and comfort.
It is the ministry of the Spirit, flowing out of a heart redeemed by God, that blesses believers and, through them, brings life and light to the world.
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.” – Jesus