Jesus invited everyone who is thirsty to come to Him and drink, but who is thirstythirsty for God, that is? You might think the answer is everyone, but thats not so. Everyone should be, but only some are. Spiritual thirst is the longing for more of God, not Gods power, not His gifts, not His blessings, not a miracle, Him. Wanting God and wanting His help arent the same thing. Both acknowledge that He exists. But one comes to Him to get something, and the other wants to be close to Him; one uses Him, and the other loves Him. And I dont know what causes the difference, but it seems that it has to do with how much a person still loves this world. To some its an exciting place full of wonderful pleasures and opportunities. Their goal is to discover how to get more of it, and they resent anyone or anything that gets in their way. But to others the pleasures of this world have become increasingly disappointing; most of their human relationships have ended up shallow or worse, and the days and years of their lives seem to fly by. This kind of disappointment creates in them a great loneliness, and when that happens a dangerous path beckons them.
A dangerous path
Its cynicism. Its that hopelessness that can grip the human heart when there seems to be no end to the pain, and weve discovered were powerless to stop it. The danger that comes at that moment is the temptation to stop struggling and look for ways to numb our pain and then wait for death. And that dangerous path doesnt tempt only those who are in their later years of life, it even comes to those who are very young if they see no way to escape their misery.
Yet there are those who do not walk down that path. Instead of becoming cynical, some become thirsty. These are the people who lift their eyes to heaven and begin to look for God. Rather than concluding that there is nothing beyond their five senses, their heart tells them there must be more. They intuitively sense there is a purpose for which they were born; and that Someone they cant see has been watching over them all along; and theyre humble enough not to blame their problems on Him.
Its at this juncture, this dangerous moment when our human hopes and plans have failed, that we become either cynical or thirsty, angry or humble, passive or watchful, closed or open. And I assume that dangerous moments come to everyone, at some point in their lives, because the promises this world makes are ultimately lies and disappoint us sooner or later. When that happens, the key question is: Who do we blame, ourselves or God? Those who blame God can be pretty hard to reach. They see themselves as victims of abuse by a cruel Creator. But those who blame themselves are able to look for meaning beyond this present life. Theyve become thirsty, and that thirst can lead them to Jesus.
A pitcher of water (Jn 7:37-38)
By pouring out that pitcher of water onto the altar, the priest was symbolizing three things: 1) It reminded everyone that God provided water in the desert during the Exodus (Ex 17:1-7; Nu 20:11; 1Sa 7:6; 1Co 10:4); 2) It was a prayer for rain at the end of the dry season (Dt 11:8-17); and 3) It was a prophetic symbol of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which the Messiah would bring at the end of the age (Ps 42:1-2; Is 11:9; 12:3; 55:1; 58:11; Eze 36:27; 37:14; Joel 2:28-29; Zec 14:16-18).
Jesus cried out
Psalm 118 was chanted during this ceremony, and it may have been at the moment when all the voices died down that Jesus stood to His feet and cried out in a loud voice: If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, out of his belly will flow rivers of living water (literal). His voice must have startled the worshippers and outraged the religious leaders. Ordinarily the temple guard would have immediately arrested anyone who dared to interrupt the services, but they along with everyone else were profoundly moved by His words (Jn 7:40-47).
Come to Me
Jesus used symbolic language to tell that assembly that He was their Messiah. By coming to Him in faith a person could receive the promised indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Gihon spring provided water for thirsty people all year round, those who believed in Him would receive a constant supply of Gods presence because the Holy Spirit Himself would take up residence inside them.
The Feast of Booths comes at the end of the dry season. No rain normally falls for six or seven months, so by the end of summer the springs begin to dry up, the cisterns are empty, and the water thats left has gone bad. So by pouring out some of their precious water on the altar, the people were calling on God to send rain and declaring that they were confident that He would do so. After all, when Israel was thirsty in the desert, water had poured forth out of a rock.
Strike the rock (Ex 17:1-7)
About two months after leaving Egypt Israel ran out of water. They were camped at a place, not far from Mount Sinai, called Rephedim. The people angrily complained to Moses, and God told him to,
Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel (Ex 17:5-6).
On this first occasion Moses was instructed to strike the rock and water poured out into the desert, enough for over a million people to drink.
Speak to the rock (Nu 20:1-13)
Forty years later, after all but three of the original generation which left Egypt had died, Moses led a young nation back to the southern border of Canaan, and as they passed through the wilderness of Tzin there was no water. Sadly this young generation responded just like their parents. They told Moses they wished they had died with their parents rather than live in that desert. They wanted to return to Egypt. Then the Lord told Moses,
Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock (Nu 20:8).
But Moses was furious. These youth who he hoped would have the courage to enter the promised land were behaving just like their elders. In his anger he gathered the assembly and said,
Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock? (Nu 20:10).
And then he,
lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly (Nu 20:11).
But the Lord said,
Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them (Nu 20:12).
The reason Moses mistake mattered so much is because God intended that rock to be a prophetic symbol of Jesus Christ. Just as He is the serpent who was lifted up (Jn 3:14), and the manna sent from heaven (Jn 6:49-51), and the Passover lamb whose blood delivers us from death (Jn 6:53), Hes the rock in the wilderness that pours forth streams to quench our spiritual thirst (Jn 7:37). According to Gods plan of salvation the Messiah was to be struck only once, by being crucified for our sins, but after that when thirsty believers come to Him, they need only to ask Him and He will satisfy them with rivers of living water.
Drink (Jn 7:39)
Its wonderful for those who are saved to know that they have become righteous in Gods sight and will go to heaven when they die. But that knowledge alone doesnt quench our thirst to be closer to God. In this verse, John explains that what Jesus was promising that day was not salvation, but a miraculous encounter with the Holy Spirit which John himself received, along with thousands of others, after Jesus was resurrected and ascended into heaven. He says this for a reason. Hes telling us, His readers, that now that Jesus has been glorified this promise which He spoke on the last day of the Feast of Booths is available to us. We can have what John had: Gods Spirit dwelling within us in such abundance that there will be more than enough to refresh others. But it all starts with being thirsty, of longing to be closer to God.
1) Read Psalm 42:1-2. What does it feel like to be thirsty for God? When was the last time you felt that way?
2) What do you do when you need to draw close to God? How can you tell when Hes close to you? How can you tell when Hes not?