The Day of Pentecost
Sunday, June 12, 2011
“Out of Whose Heart Will Flow Rivers of Living Water?” (John 7:37-39)
In the Holy Gospel for today, Jesus makes this statement: “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But the question then arises: Out of whose heart? Those rivers of living water–out of whose heart will they flow? Today I want to explore two possible answers, either of which comes out as good news for us. We’re going to take two different routes and hopefully end up at the same place. And so our theme this morning on this Day of Pentecost: “Out of Whose Heart Will Flow Rivers of Living Water?”
Let’s look at the Gospel reading again, John 7:37-39: “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
So let’s set the stage. Jesus is in Jerusalem. He’s there for the Feast of Tabernacles, also called the Feast of Booths, one of the great pilgrimage festivals of the Hebrew church year. On the last day of that festival, there was a certain water ceremony that was held, to commemorate how the Lord had miraculously provided water for the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings on the way to the Promised Land. And with that water event on people’s minds, Jesus uses the occasion to point to a new water experience that’s about to happen, the flowing out of rivers of living water.
And here we’ll go with the first of the two possible translations we have for this passage, the one that’s in the text as you have it. Jesus says: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
Now the way this translation reads, it seems that the living waters will flow from out of the believer. “Whoever believes in me,” it says, “‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” And you can certainly make a case for that reading, both grammatically and theologically. Grammatically, you can read the Greek text that way, so that the “his” in “his heart” refers back to “Whoever believes in me.” And it can make sense theologically, too. For, look at it, the person who believes in Christ–yes, you could say that the Christian does have rivers of living water flowing out of him. His faith wells up in him and overflows. The living waters of the gospel flow out in an abundance of hope and joy, in the Christian’s life of good works, in praise and worship of God, and in verbal witness to Christ the Savior. “Whoever believes in me . . . ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
Isn’t this what Jesus told the Samaritan woman, the woman at the well, in John 4? Jesus spoke of “living water” that would become in the believer “a spring of water welling up.” And that woman then did overflow in joy and excitement and told her whole village about this man who is the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. Rivers of living water, flowing out from the woman at the well.
And then we have a similar scenario on the Day of Pentecost, which we are celebrating today, as we read about it in Acts 2. Rivers of living water are flowing out in all directions from the heart of Peter and all the believers there that day. Moved by the Spirit, their tongues are telling the mighty works of God. Peter begins preaching the life-giving word to the crowd that had gathered, giving them the promise that “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Living water, praise-and-witness water, flowing out from the hearts and mouths of the believers on Pentecost Day.
So all of this supports the first way to read this text, ““If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”’ In this reading, the living waters flow out of the believer.
But as I say, there’s a second way you can read this passage, and it too makes sense, both grammatically and theologically. Let’s look at that. It would read as follows: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me, and let him who believes in me drink. As the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
This too is a legitimate way to translate the passage. In fact, it is the alternate translation that is given at the bottom of the column in the ESV Bible, and in other Bibles, as well. This translation uses the same words in the Greek text. It just breaks up the two sentences at a different point, which could be done. Literally, it would go like this: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me, and let him drink, the one who believes in me.” Then the second sentence would be: “As the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
Now notice what this does. In this translation, the first sentence consists of two parts that say the same thing in parallel fashion. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me,” is the first half of the sentence. And the second half then restates the thought: “and let him drink, the one who believes in me.” This type of parallel construction is very common, biblically. And here it would describe faith as the thirsty person coming to Jesus and believing, that is, drinking of the thirst-quenching water that Jesus provides. Makes a lot of sense. The first sentence, then, is an invitation by Jesus, in two parallel parts, for thirsty people to come to him and have their thirst quenched.
And so that changes where the second sentence begins. Now it would read: “As the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” And so this changes the one from whom the rivers of water flow. In our first reading, they flowed out of the believer. In this way to read the text, the rivers of living water flow out from Jesus. Thirsty people are invited to come to Jesus and drink, because he is the source of that living water. “Out of his heart,” that is, out of Jesus’ heart, “will flow rivers of living water.”
My friends, this is abundantly true, whichever way you translate the passage. Jesus is the source of the living water. He invites us to come to him and drink and have our thirst quenched. How about you? Are you thirsty? Do you feel the dryness in your soul that comes from sin and a guilty conscience? Are you troubled by your sins? Come to Jesus and drink. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”
Yes, Jesus is the source of the living water. That’s also what he told the woman at the well: “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Likewise on the Day of Pentecost. The living water comes from Jesus. Having been crucified and then raised from the dead, having ascended into heaven and now sitting at the right hand of God the Father, it is the exalted Lord Jesus Christ who pours out the Spirit on his church. He provides the water, he provides the life.
Now remember, I told you, Jesus made this living water statement in John 7 at the Feast of Tabernacles, which commemorated how the Lord miraculously provided Israel with water in the wilderness. And how did that take place? It happened when the Lord God directed Moses to strike a rock with his rod, and out flowed fresh water in the desert. A miraculous, divine, life-saving supply.
So it is with Jesus. Jesus was taken to Golgotha, Calvary, the Place of the Skull, a place of death. There he was crucified. And when he died–when the Lord of life, the Son of God sent from heaven, died to atone for the sins of the whole world, your sins and mine–when Jesus Christ died, a soldier came up and struck him with a “rod,” so to speak–a spear, in Jesus’ side–and out flowed a sudden rush of blood and water. Jesus himself is the Rock of Ages, from whose pierced side flow the rivers of living water. Because he died, we live. By his blood, shed for our forgiveness, and by the living water of the Spirit, which Jesus gives us so that we receive the gift of faith, you and I are saved from death for eternal life.
And now as believers, this new life in the Spirit overflows and spills out from us to others: works of mercy, words of witness, worship and praise. The source is Jesus. The flow goes from him to us, and then out from us to others.
Out of whose heart will flow rivers of living water? Out of Jesus’ heart and into us. And then out from our heart, toward God in praise, and out to our neighbor in witness and service. “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” Either way you read that passage, you come out at the same place. And it is a refreshing, thirst-quenching oasis of life.