Rivers of Living Water

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On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37–39, NKJV)

Verse 37 begins, “on the last day, that great day of the feast.” Chapter 7 describes a series of interactions Jesus had with the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. Verse 2 tells us that Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles.

The Old Covenant instructed the Jews to celebrate several festivals throughout the year. The Feast of Tabernacles (Booths, Shelters) was the third of the three major yearly festivals (the first was Passover and Unleavened Bread, the second was Pentecost). It was called the Feast of Tabernacles because on the first day of the feast every household constructed a very simple shelter from tree branches which they lived in for the rest of the eight-day festival.[1]

The first day of the Feast of Tabernacles was a Sabbath day and no secular work was permitted. Every day a series of sacrifices was required including bulls, rams, lambs, and goats, as well as grain and drink offerings. Also, by New Testament times, a tradition developed where each of the seven days of the Feast a priest led a parade of people making joyful music to the Pool of Siloam, where he drew water using a golden pitcher and brought it back to the temple.[2]

On the eighth day, a Sabbath day, each household took down its shelter and there was a great community feast, but the priest didn’t go down to the Pool of Siloam. This is the day and the great feast when Jesus stood up and said, “He who believes in Me, … out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).

So on the eighth day, the priest stopped going to get water at the Pool of Siloam. And on the eighth day, Jesus stood up and claimed to offer Living Water. John tells us plainly in verse 39 that Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit. So here, Jesus used the symbolism of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles and the water from the Pool of Siloam to share the promise of the Holy Spirit for all who believe with everyone at the Feast.

But the timing of Jesus’ statement about himself being the source of Living Water—the Holy Spirit—has additional significance. The Feast of Tabernacles was instructed as a festival of remembrance for the time the Israelites spent wandering in the wilderness.

It might seem like the shelters were a form of fasting—depriving them of the comforts of living in their own homes. And in a literal sense they were, but spiritually, something else was going on. The shelters were a physical reminder of how God delivered the Hebrew people from bondage in the house of Egypt and into freedom that comes through trusting God for everything they need.

In Exodus 16, the Israelites complain to Moses about not having food and the LORD provided Bread from Heaven for their daily sustenance. In Exodus 17, the Israelites complain to Moses about not having any water and we see how the LORD provides water for Israel. Water that flows from the rock, the rock which was stricken, in the wilderness, so that the Israelites might live. That rock is a picture of Jesus Christ, and the water is a picture of the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob in John 4, he said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (John 4:10).

On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles—the Jewish festival that celebrates God’s provision for the Israelites in the wilderness—Jesus stood up, quoted Isaiah 55:1, and proclaimed, “If anyone thirsts, let Him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, … out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

Christ is the Rock of our salvation. And for all who are willing to come to him and ask, He gives us eternal life. But God didn’t intend for our eternal inheritance to be characterized by a dry, arid wasteland of legalistic intellectualism. Nor did He intend it to be a wild-eyed, unrestrained exhibition of unbridled emotionalism. God intends for his gift of eternal life to be characterized by the outpouring and overflowing of His life-giving Spirit, Who nourishes us daily, fill us with God’s love, grace and mercy, leads us in all truth, empowers us to serve His Kingdom, and comforts and strengthens us even in our darkest times of grief, frustration, and heartache.

But such a vibrant life in the Spirit has one recurring condition. We can’t do it on our own power and He won’t force it on us. To experience the life-transforming power of the Spirit in our lives, day-by-day and moment-by-moment, we have to humble ourselves and draw near to our Lord Jesus Christ. As the Scriptures say, we must go to Him to drink.

[1] R. K. Harrison, “Booths, Feast of,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Rev. ed., ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 535. Logos Bible Software.

[2] Merrill F. Unger, “Festivals,” in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, ed. R.K. Harrison (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988). Logos Bible Software.

God Our Good Shepherd

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“For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live. Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign LORD. (Ezekiel 34:11–15, NLT)

Earlier in the chapter, Ezekiel prophesies against the leaders of Israel, whom the LORD rebukes for being “bad shepherds.” These bad shepherds are guilty of (1) feeding themselves instead of their flocks, (2) taking the best food and clothing while the people starve, (3) forsaking the weak, sick, and wounded, (4) ignoring the wayward and lost, and (5) ruling harshly with cruelty. This is a picture of Israel’s political and religious leaders. But when we look long and hard at what’s going on in our country and in the world, I think maybe we can relate.

Anyway, Israel’s leaders bore a significant amount of the blame for Israel’s sinful ways. Israel’s kings, queens, prophets, and priests, for the most part, instead of leading the people in worshipping the LORD, led the people in worshipping idols. And instead of turning to the LORD in times of need, like invasion of foreign armies or famine, they turned to foreign nations, especially Egypt and Babylon, and many others. This is in addition to all of the previous ways we mentioned about how they amassed their own wealth while exploiting the people.

But at the end of the day, that’s what we do. We’re all sinful. Even as believers, while we wait to receive our eternal bodies and heavenly abode, we wrestle with our sinful flesh and it’s ugly selfishness. That’s why it’s so important for us to seek the LORD daily, dying to ourselves moment-by-moment, so He can live through us, especially those of us who are leaders, in our church, in our workplaces, in our homes.

We are like sheep, easily distracted, not very smart, and biting, kicking, screaming, when we don’t get our own way. When that doesn’t work, we run aimlessly to the world. That’s what Israel did. And that’s what we do, too.

But the LORD is a good shepherd. He is not like Israel’s leaders or our world leaders today. He is holy, righteous, and true. He is always good, whether in dispensing justice or mercy. When we run, He comes after us. When we bite and kick and scream, he lets us throw our fit, then He sets us right again. Sometimes he bops us with His rod, other times He holds us down until we listen. And always He’s calling to us, gently beckoning us to come back to Him.

In these verses, the LORD promises Israel that He will bring them back to their land, make them prosper in the land, and give them peace. These are special promises for God’s chosen nation Israel. Not because Israel deserved it. The entire Old Testament shows us that they didn’t. But because Yahweh chose them.

The land promise was specific to Israel, but our Lord Jesus Christ makes us a similar promise about our eternal inheritance. In John 10, Jesus says,

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.” (John 10:14–16)

And in John 14, Jesus says,

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And where I go you know, and the way you know.” (John 14:1–4, NKJV)

We are those other sheep, not of Israel’s sheepfold, but of the same spiritual flock, following the same Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. And though Israel’s land promise, may not be for us, the LORD promises us eternal life abiding with Him, if we will only trust in Him.

So, when your life is going great, trust the LORD. Don’t be like Israel’s bad shepherds, hoarding your wealth, ignoring those who are suffering, and exploiting those around you. Instead, generously share whatever blessings the LORD has given you with those around you. And when your life seems like it couldn’t get worse, know that if you’re trusting in Jesus Christ, this world is the closest to hell you’ll ever get. Because we have a Good Shepherd who promises us a future of eternal glory abiding with Him.

God Our Mighty One

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Though the LORD is very great and lives in heaven,
he will make Jerusalem his home of justice and righteousness.
In that day he will be your sure foundation,
providing a rich store of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge.
The fear of the LORD will be your treasure. (Isaiah 33:5–6, NLT)

The LORD will be our Mighty One.
He will be like a wide river of protection
that no enemy can cross,
that no enemy ship can sail upon.
For the LORD is our judge,
our lawgiver, and our king.
He will care for us and save us. (Isaiah 33:21–22, NLT)

These verses emphasize God’s transcendence. Transcendence is a fancy word that refers to God’s greatness compared to the natural world. God transcends time and space—He is not bound by the natural laws of the universe. He has no beginning, no end. He has always existed, always does, always will. He is Spirit. He is not composed of matter and is not restrained by physical dimensions. He exists everywhere, at every time, always in full measure of Himself.

For us to know God, or to know anything about God, we need Him to reveal Himself to us. We cannot fully understand who He is, but He has revealed much of Himself to us, and His revelation is to us our wisdom, our knowledge, and our salvation. He has revealed enough for us to acknowledge that He is greater than anything we can imagine. And this idea should fill us with awe, wonder, humility, and reverence at the mere thought of Him.

These verses emphasize God’s immanence. Immanence is a fancy word that refers to God’s presence in the world and nearness to His people. He is not a dictator who ruthlessly governs us from afar. He is a loving shepherd who compassionately meets us where we are and invites us into a personal relationship with Him. He transcends time and space, He enters the physical world and works to win the hearts of wayward souls and welcome believers into His family of faith.

God is our king, sovereign and just. Anything true and righteous is found in Him. But He is a loving king who cares. He knows our limitations, our hurts, our weaknesses, and our desperate need to be delivered from our slavery to sin and death. He has always known these things, which is why even before He created the universe He made a plan to come and rescue us and to abide in our hearts to comfort us and lead us in His ways.

Verses 6 and 22 both mention how the Lord is our salvation, that He saves us. In context, God gave this message to Israel through the prophet Isaiah. Prior to chapter 33, God told Israel that He would send them into exile for their wickedness. But in this chapter, God describes how he would go with them and how he would one day deliver Israel from her oppressors restore her as a nation.

When we look at Israel, we are reminded of ourselves. Israel was wicked and God called them to account. Similarly, we are sinful people and God calls us to account. But God knows we’re slaves to sin and He knows we need a deliverer to rescue us. Jesus—God the Son—came to do just that. He became a man and died the death that we deserved to deliver us from our sinful fate. Now he gives us the choice to trust Him with our lives.

As believers, every day is a new day to walk with Him. Every day we can choose whether or not to trust and follow Him. So often we’re like Peter walking on the water, who, when he saw the storm raging around him, began to sink. Life’s storms capture our full attention so easily that we can forget about Jesus. But like with Peter, Jesus is right beside us, holding out his hand, inviting us to look to Him, let go of the world, and follow Him.