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Rivers of Living Water

Themes: Holy Spirit, Ministry
Text: John 7:37-39

Over thirty years ago, when I was a very young pastor still adjusting to all the demands that fall upon one in pastoral ministry, I found myself neglecting my study in order to meet other needs. One Sunday evening following the worship service a dear lady — a person who loved and cared for her pastor—said to me, "Pastor, I can hear the dipper banging against the bottom of the bucket."

I have never in all these years gotten over that remark. It was her way of admonishing me to not neglect my time in the Word and with the Lord. My pitcher was empty…and she knew it.

What about your life, pastor? Do you have supernatural power in your life and ministry? What is your power source? Are you weary and worn-out — can people hear the dipper banging against the bottom of your bucket? Or are you vibrant and victorious?

We have before us one of the most remarkable and challeng­ing statements in the whole of the New Testament.Jesus said,"If anyone thirsts, let him come unto Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water" (John 7:38). These words were spo­ken by Jesus to people who were spiritually dry, empty and defeated. They are like many people of our day, going through religious ritual and ceremony but finding no real meaning, life and victory.

The apostle John includes the commentary on the words of Jesus. John 7:39 tells us that Jesus' statement about "rivers of living water" is a reference to the Holy Spirit.

When it comes to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, it is possible to go to extremes. However, despite our fear of one extreme, we must not go to the other extreme and be devoid of the person and power of the Holy Spirit. Herein lies the power for life and ministry. The Holy Spirit is our power source.

The 21st century church needs to be reminded of the purpose and power of the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. It seems that the modern church has replaced the power of God with the performance of man. Instead of singing, "Holy Spirit breathe on me," we are saying, "Lights…cameras…action."

The setting of our Lord's words amplify their meaning. The occasion was the Feast of Tabernacles, the third in a series of Jewish Feasts. In the Old Testament, the Feast of Tabernacles lasted seven days. In the New Testament the Feast of Tabernacles lasted eight days. It was a Thanksgiving Feast.

The guidelines for the Feast are found in Leviticus 23. The people were required to leave their permanent residences and build booths of willows and palm branch­es. During the Feast of Tabernacles they would live in these booths made of branches as a reminder of their nomadic days in the wilderness. It was a time of remembering God's wonderful provision. During the Feast of Tabernacles, the city of Jerusalem and the Temple area were filled with booths made from branches.

At the heart of the Feast was a daily pro­cession. Priests carrying Golden Pitchers would lead a parade or procession through the city to the pool of Siloam singing the words of Isaiah 12:3, "Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salva­tion." The great crowd of people would parade back to the Temple and the Priests would pour the water from the pool of Siloam down upon the Altar and the peo­ple would shout and wave palm branches.

This procedure went on for seven days, but on the last day the procedure was repeated with two significant exceptions. First, when the parade of people returned from the pool of Siloam, the Priests would march around the Altar seven times com­memorating Joshua's victory at Jericho. Secondly, the Priests would raise the gold­en pitcher over the silver funnels as they had done each day previously, but this time there was no water — only an empty pitch­er. This signified the disobedient genera­tion that died in the Wilderness. Instead of a shout and the waving of palm branches as the people had done each day, they now stood in silence.

It was in the moment of silence — this moment of bewilderment, emptiness and meaninglessness — that Jesus cried out. You must get the picture. Our Lord had been watching the people go through the motions, perfectly following the order of service, but there was no meaning, no power, no life. They found themselves right where they had started. Nothing was any different.

I often think of the great crowd of peo­ple who gathered annually for this obser­vation of the Feast of Tabernacles. I think about their lives, their homes, their jobs, their communities and their churches. I think about what they brought with them to the great Feast: their hopes, their dreams and their expectations. I think about what they took away when they returned to their homes. Were they any different? Or did they just go through the same old motions only to conclude with an empty pitcher?

What happened to that crowd over two thousand years ago still happens to people in our world every Sunday. People go to church filled with hopes and dreams and expectations. And all too often they go away unfulfilled and empty.

Fellow pastors and church leaders: are we sending our people away empty? Do they come to the House of God in search for the Water of Life only to hear the clanging of an empty pitcher? Do they hear the dipper banging against the bottom of your bucket?

E.M. Bounds wrote this statement regarding the anointing of the Holy Spirit: "This unction comes to the preacher not in the study, but in the closet. It is heaven's distillation in answer to prayer. It is the sweetest exaltation of the Holy Spirit. It impregnates, suffuses, softens, percalates, cuts and soothes. It carries the Word like dynamite, like salt, like sugar; Makes the Word a soother, an arraigner, a revealer, a searcher; Makes the hearers a culprit or a saint, makes him weep like a child and live like a giant; Opens his heart and his purse as gently, yet as strongly as spring opens leaves. This Unction is not a gift of genius. It is not found in the halls of learning. No eloquence can woo it, no industry can win it. No prelactical hands can confer it. It is the gift of God—a signet set to His own messengers…It is given to those who have sought this anointed honor through many an hour of tearful, wrestling prayer."1

Look at the text and notice first of all,

The Condition Described (v. 37)

Jesus said, "If anyone thirsts…" Thirst is a consciousness of an unsatisfied need. Thirst expresses desperation. Thirst will kill faster than hunger. One can go weeks without food, but only days without water.

Are you thirsty?  Are you thirsty for God? Years ago I heard Stuart Briscoe make a statement I have never forgotten. He said, "God will meet man on the level of his desire, man can have as much of God as he wants."

Eric Alexander, the former pastor of St. George's Tron, Church of Scotland, in Glasgow once said, "We need to learn that the blessing of God is not a cheap com­modity lightly dispensed."

The Psalmist said, "As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my sour for You, O God, my soul thirsts for God—for the Living God" (Psalms 42:1-2).

Do you have an unsatisfied need for God in your heart? Are you thirsty?

The text also reveals,

The Invitation that was Given (John 7:37)

We are reminded here that Jesus stood to extend this invitation to the crowd. This is significant because no Jewish teacher ever stood to speak. Those who stood to make announcements were Imperial Heralds who represented a King or a Caesar. We have before us an imperial invitation.

Notice that the invitation was not to attend church or a program or a meeting or a Bible study. It was an invitation to come to a Person!

Lastly we see,

The Promise Jesus Made (John 7:38)

"Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water…"

Jesus did not promise a trickle or a stream or a flow…He promised a river. Can you get your mind around this? The Holy Spirit is like a mighty rushing river…a life-giving river. He is like the mighty river found in Ezekiel 47 that produces life wherever it flows.

The mighty Amazon River finds its origin above the freeze line of the Andes Mountains in South America. There, little trickles of water emerge from the frozen ground and flow down the mountain. One little stream flowing into another little stream until a majestic river is formed. As the river flows it picks up speed and power. It flows for 3,600 miles before it reaches the

Jesus did not promise a trickle or a stream or a flow… He promised a river.

Atlantic Ocean, where it hits the ocean at a rate of 1.4 million gallons of water per sec­ond and with such force that it pushes fresh water some 60 miles out into the Atlantic ocean. What power!

Jesus said, "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water" (John 7:38).

It is my prayer that you will experience the awesome life giving power of the Holy Spirit in your life and ministry. ❖

1 E.M. Bounds, Complete Works of E.M. Bounds on Prayer (Power Through Prayer), Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1990, pp. 479-480