DISCOVER HOW TO QUENCH THE THIRST IN OUR LIVES

Survival experts talk about the rule of three. You can live without air for about 3 minutes, without water for 3 days, and without food for about three weeks. Obviously, there are exceptions, but that is generally the limits for human existence. It is interesting that Jesus describes a relationship with God in terms that we can understand. In Jesus’ wilderness experience under great testing by the devil, Jesus responded to the temptation of turning stones into bread in order to satisfying his hunger with these words speaking of what should take priority in our lives.

Jesus answered, ‘It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[i]

To sustain spiritual life, we need to consume God’s word, even as food sustains our physical life.

In John 6:35 Jesus said that He was the bread of life. Eternal life can only be found in Him. In John 7 Jesus focuses on human longing and desire that drives our lives. There is a thirst in every heart. Just like water is essential for human existence, the absence of water is a crisis. In a land like Canada, where we have water in abundance, we take it for granted, but living in a desert where there is a scarcity of water, its value is more deeply appreciated. In Israel, there are only a few sources of fresh water, one of which is the amount of rain, another is the diversion of water from the small Jordan river flowing from the mountains of Lebanon, and today there are some desalination operations in the Mediterranean. Water is critical to Israel’s existence and the people there understand that. So, when the Scriptures speak of water, they are speaking of what sustains life.

In the Old Testament we find prophetic utterances that speak of having thirst quenched by what God provides. One example is found in Isaiah.

‘Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters;

Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.[ii]

Water was thought of in ancient times as a provision from God. Donald Bowes explains that

“Divine blessing is spoken of in terms of water …and the desire for spiritual life described in terms of thirst for water.[iii]

In our text today, John zeroes in on this symbol that was a central part of the Feast of Tabernacles.

On the seven days of the Feast, a golden flagon was filled with water from the pool of Siloam and was carried in a procession led by the High Priest back to the temple. As the procession approached the watergate on the south side of the inner court three blasts from the sopar–a trumpet connected with joyful occasions–were sounded. While the pilgrims watched, the priests processed around the altar with the flagon, the temple choir singing the Hallel (Psalms 113-118). When the choir reached Psalm 118, every male pilgrim shook a lulab (willow and myrtle twigs tied with palm) in his right hand, while his left raised a piece of citrus fruit (a sign of the ingathered harvest), and all cried ‘Give thanks to the LORD! three times. …The wine and the water were poured out into their respective silver bowls and then poured out before the LORD.[iv]

What was the significance of this action?

These ceremonies of the Feast of Tabernacles were related in Jewish thought both to the LORD’s provisions of water in the desert and to the LORD’s pouring out of the Spirit in the last days. Pouring at the Feast of Tabernacles refers symbolically to the messianic age in which a stream from the sacred rock would flow over the whole earth.[v]

Jesus will tie these thoughts together in our text today, but more importantly for us, what does this personally mean for us? How does Jesus quench the thirst in our lives? It is in this context of the feast of Tabernacles, that we discover how to quench the thirst in our lives.

THE FIRST ASPECT IN QUENCHING THE THIRST IN OUR LIVES IS TO ACCEPT THE INVITATION OF JESUS

Jesus makes a stunning announcement about how the deepest longings will only be realized in coming to Him and receiving His life within us.

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.

Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’

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.[vi]

What Jesus is saying is that He is the fulfillment of all that this feast was promising. Jesus is saying that he is the One who will provide what satisfies and quenches the thirst within our soul. The living water that will flow from believers is the Holy Spirit. 

A. As the Scripture has said.

There is no specific verse that Jesus is referring to but rather a compilation of verses that bring out this idea of ‘rivers or springs of water flowing’ to bring God’s blessings and presence to His people.

The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.[vii]

For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.[viii]

Yet, the one text where these ideas flow together historically during the Feast of Tabernacles is to be found in Nehemiah chapters 8-9. After rebuilding the wall, the people were called to worship God and listen to the law before the Water gate. It was while they were celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles that they prayed, confessed their sin, and recited historical realities of their pilgrimage through the wilderness.

In their hunger you gave them bread from heaven and in their thirst you brought them water from the rock

You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst.[ix]

B. By this He meant the Spirit.

So as not to be confused, Jesus is saying that what quenches our innermost being is the Spirit of God that will live within us. This is the most amazing promise. That God will not only be with us, as we read in Christ’s first coming as He is to be called Immanuel (which means God with us)- Mt. 1:23, but through the Holy Spirit, God would live within believers after the resurrection of Jesus, which was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. We now have this interchange of thought of God dwelling within us, as expressed in Christ in you, the hope of glory (cf. Col. 1:27), and ‘being filled with the Spirit’ (cf. Eph. 5:18). In which Paul describes believers as ‘temples of God.’

Do you not know that your bodies are temples [place where God dwells] of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.[x]

C. How are we going to respond to Jesus’ pronouncement?

Jesus is still making that claim today, that in Him, the thirst in our soul will be quenched? Will we come to Him? Will we believe in Him? Will we receive Him?            

THE SECOND ASPECT IN QUENCHING THE THIRST IN OUR LIVES IS UNDERSTANDING THE CONTROVERSY THAT ACCEPTING JESUS CREATES

People have always been divided over the question of Jesus’ identity. We need to understand that Jesus is a polarizing figure. People today as well as back in the first century were conflicted regarding Jesus.

A. Jesus is too often misunderstood, and it creates controversy in the minds of people.

On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”[xi]

            What did they mean by this pronouncement? This goes back to the words of Moses:

‘The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.

I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name.’[xii]

Once again, they were aware of the multiplication of the loaves of bread, and how Jesus is speaking of providing water in this wilderness called life, to quench not just the physical, but the deepest thirst within our soul.

Others said, ‘He is the Messiah.’[xiii]

D. A. Carson points the value of hindsight and how this confusion is no longer an issue for Christians.

A contemporary Christian reader might find it difficult to imagine how these two confessions could be divided. In the first century, however, many Jews thought of the promised Prophet and of the Messiah as two separate individuals.. …It is possible (though not certain) that Christians were the first to identify the Davidic Messiah with the Prophet like Moses, precisely because they recognized in Jesus the one who perfectly fulfilled both prophecies–just as it is doubtful that anyone systematically liked the suffering servant prophecies with the royal messianic prophecies until Jesus himself came on the scene.[xiv]

However, there was another group who dismissed these musings because of their own lack of knowledge and possible regional prejudices.

Still others asked, ‘How can the Messiah come from Galilee?

Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?’

Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.[xv]

John reveals the irony of their conclusion because, as readers, we know that Jesus is both a descendant of David and was born in Bethlehem, but John’s gospel is not focusing in on his human origins but rather making a case for His divine origins. Jesus came from heaven and has an eternal element.

B. Jesus is seen as a threat to some and therefore persecution is the result.     

Why is it that Jesus and his followers still threaten people? Here we see that this controversy is not just an intellectual debate but is far more sinister in that evil tries to destroy what is good. Darkness battles against the light.

Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.[xvi]

Here we see that some were so threatened by Jesus that they wanted him arrested and executed. Yet, John tells us that this was not the moment for his death, so those who had come to arrest Him were divided in their opinion of Him as we will discover. Once we embrace Jesus, we will soon discover a price that is paid. Not all will rejoice in our faith.

THE FINAL ASPECT IN QUENCHING THE THIRST IN OUR LIVES IS EMBRACING THE COST OF BEING A FOLLOWER OF CHRIST

It is true that followers of Jesus are ridiculed and diminished because of their faith. What is tragic is that those who are in authority and who resisted Jesus, abused their authority and endeavor to quench the work of God in the lives of people.

A. Conflict between blind prejudice and openness to truth.

Evil can’t be reasoned with. There is a state of spiritual blindness that drives persecution. John has already explained what is driving this persecution so that truth is rejected and denied.

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.[xvii]

John, in relaying this incident, brings us back to those who had been sent out to arrest Jesus. Why had they not followed through and arrested him? While we know that God protects and we can understand God’s sovereign plan and timing, here we see the human side of the equation.

Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, ‘Why didn’t you bring him in?’

‘No one ever spoke the way this man does,’ the guards replied.[xviii]

…why had the temple police had not performed the task assigned them? The response of the guards sharpens up the reasons for their hesitation. No-one ever spoke the way this man does. Their problem lay partly in the fact that they were not brutal thugs, mercenaries trained to perform any barbarous acts provided the pay was right. They were themselves drawn from the Levites; they were religiously trained, and could feel themselves torn apart at the deepest level of their being by the same deeds and words of Jesus that were tearing the population at large. …The witness of the guards was not borne of genuine faith, but John intends his readers to perceive that the guards spoke better than they knew. Literally rendered, their words mean, ‘No man (anthropos, ‘human being’) ever spoke as he does’–for John’s readers know, as the guards did not, that Jesus is not merely a human being, but the incarnate Word (1:14), the one whose every word and deed is the revelation of the Father (5:19-30; 8:28-29).[xix]

B. The response to openness is often ridicule and shaming.        

So how did the majority of these leaders respond? They verbally abused these temple guards.

‘You mean he has deceived you also?’ the Pharisees retorted.

‘Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him?

No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.’[xx]

Here the majority of leaders of the Pharisees paint their temple officials as being part of the common people known as the ‘am ha’aretz. They were stigmatized because they were often ignorant of the Torah, or were not scrupulous in keeping the oral traditions of the law. This was simply a stigma of social class. In these leaders’ verbal attack on the temple guards, they were basically saying that they were behaving like people who were ignorant and despised.

Craig Keener points out the blind prejudice of the very elite in Jewish society who were deeply opposed to Jesus.

The leaders appeal to their view of Jesus as a false prophet. Ironically, they question the competence of those who heard Jesus firsthand (7:46) without hearing from Jesus themselves (7:51), merely on the basis of social class (7:48-50).[xxi]

Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked,

‘Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?’[xxii]

Keener explains what Nicodemus is driving at.

The point seems to be that the very standard accepted by the authorities is the standard that convicts them (5:45-47). They pronounce a curse against the masses who do not know the Law (7:49), yet prove unlearned in that same law themselves (7:51-52). They also fail to judge ‘righteous’ judgments (7:24). If Nicodemus warns that the Law requires them to hear Jesus and know what he is doing (7:51), John explicitly informs his audience that the elite have failed to ‘hear’ Jesus (5:37; 8:43, 47), and that they did not know him, where he was from, or what he was doing (8:14,19).[xxiii]     

They replied, ‘Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.’[xxiv]    

Again this is a generalization and not the truth, as other Old Testament prophets had come from the region of Galilee. The prophet Jonah was one such example as he came from Galilee. What we have in their response is a regional bias that was blinding them to the message of God and the person of Jesus.         

What is John communicating to us the readers? The primary thing is that in Jesus, He meets our deepest longing and thirst. He is the One that all the Scriptures have been pointing to. Jesus is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to humanity. Yet, despite this beautiful reality, we see a dark and sinister side. A picture of rejection, stigma, and persecution against those who embrace the life of Christ.

For those who may not be aware, we have been heavily involved in working alongside of a great ministry in India, involved in church planting, training leaders, and caring for orphans. As a church family we even built one of the two orphanages and are the primary supporters of all of the orphans. Yet, as wonderful as that all is, it too has been marred by earthly tragedy. The price of following Jesus in some places in our world is very steep. A number of years ago, one of the orphans, a young boy of 11, who had memorized all of Psalm 119, was back in his home village over a school term break visiting extended family, where an uncle murdered him simply because of his Christian faith. Even as I think of it my heart is grieved, but we know that this life is not all there is. I’m comforted when I think that this injustice will one day be addressed by our loving Father in heaven.

When we look past this earthly life, we know that a day is coming when all evil will be defeated and every injustice addressed by God.

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.

They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’

Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.[xxv]

God will avenge the death of His children. May we understand that we are living in a hostile world to our faith. That is the reason why God gives us the beautiful gift of Christian community called the church, so that we can find love and acceptance here. Let us not be seduced by the veneer of a ‘civilized’ society when evil is seeking to destroy life. Is the cost of following Jesus worth it? Absolutely! We are speeding toward that amazing hour when ‘The kingdom of the world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and He will reign for ever and ever (cf. Rev. 11:15).’

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[i]     Matthew 4:4, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.

[ii]    Isaiah 55:1a, 3.

[iii]    Donald R. Bowes, “Water,” The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 5, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 903.

[iv]    D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 322.

[v]     Ibid.

[vi]    John 7:37-39.

[vii]   Isaiah 58:11.

[viii] Isaiah 44:3.

[ix]    Nehemiah 9:15a, 20.

[x]     1 Corinthians 6:19-20.

[xi]    John 7:40.

[xii]   Deuteronomy 18:15, 19.

[xiii] John 7:41a.

[xiv]   D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 329.

[xv]   John 7:41b-43.

[xvi]   John 7:44.

[xvii] John 3:19-20.

[xviii] John 7:45-46.

[xix]   D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 330-31.

[xx]   John 7:47-49.

[xxi]   Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 732.

[xxii] John 7:50-51.

[xxiii] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John, Vol. 1, 734.

[xxiv] John 7:52.

[xxv] Revelation 6:9-11.

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