“Out of His Heart Will Flow Rivers of Living Water” (John 7:37-39)

The Day of Pentecost
Sunday, May 31, 2020

“Out of His Heart Will Flow Rivers of Living Water” (John 7:37-39)

Please take a look at the front of your bulletin for today. There you will see a photograph of water flowing out in a river. And written over the picture are these words from John 7:38, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” Those are the words of Jesus from today’s Holy Gospel. There Jesus says exactly that: “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But the question is: Who is it that Jesus is talking about? Out of whose heart will flow those rivers of living water? Today I want to explore with you two possible answers, either one of which will come out as good news for us. We’re going to take two different routes to get there now, but hopefully we’ll end up at the same place.

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 for the Feast of Tabernacles, also called the Feast of Booths–Sukkoth, one of the great pilgrimage festivals of the Hebrew calendar. 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. With that water event on people’s minds, Jesus uses the occasion to point to a new water experience that’s going to happen, the flowing out of rivers of living water.

And here we’ll go with the first of two possible translations of this passage, the one found on your Scripture insert. 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 sounds like 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 that 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 the 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 like what Jesus told the Samaritan woman, the woman at the well, in John chapter 4? There 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. She told her whole village about this man who is the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. So there were 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’re celebrating today, as we read about it in Acts chapter 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 gospel to the crowd that had gathered, giving them the promise that “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” So there were rivers of living water flowing out from the hearts and mouths of the believers on Pentecost Day.

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 way to translate the text, the living waters flow out of the believer.

But then there’s a second way to read this passage, which also makes sense both grammatically and theologically. Let’s look at that. This way 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’s the alternate translation that’s given at the bottom of the column in the ESV Bible and in other Bibles as well. This translation uses the same Greek words; it just changes the punctuation. It 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.’”

Notice what this does. In this translation, the first sentence has 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 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 a thirsty person coming to Jesus and believing, by drinking the thirst-quenching water that Jesus gives. That makes a lot of sense. This sentence then is Jesus’ invitation in two parallel parts, for thirsty people to come to him and to have their thirst quenched by trusting in him.

And so that changes where the second sentence begins. Now that second sentence would read: “As the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” And this changes the one from whom the rivers of water flow. In the first reading, they flow out of the believer. In this second 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 we translate the passage. Jesus is the source of the living water. He invites us to come to him and to 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? Then 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 the Father, the exalted Lord Jesus Christ pours out the Spirit on his church. He provides the water. He provides the life.

Now remember, I told you that Jesus made this living water statement in John 7 at the Feast of Tabernacles. Tabernacles 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. There the Lord of life, the Son of God sent from heaven, died to atone for the sins of the world, your sins and mine. And when Jesus died, a soldier came 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 will live. By his blood, our sins are forgiven. And by the living water of the Spirit, which Jesus gives, we receive the gift of faith. By Christ’s death and resurrection, you and I are saved from death for eternal life.

And by our ascended Lord pouring out the Spirit on his church, on us his Christians, now the rivers of living water flow out from us to others: in works of mercy, in words of witness, in joyful songs of worship and praise. The source of the living water is Jesus himself. The flow goes from him to us, and then from us to others. Brothers and sisters, what are some ways the living water might flow out from you to others this week? Be alert for those opportunities.

“Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” Out of whose heart? Out of Jesus’ heart and into us. Then out from our heart, toward God in praise, and to our neighbor in witness and service. “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” Either way you read that passage, we come out at the same place. The rivers of living water flow out to us and then out through us. So go with the flow!

Published in: on May 30, 2020 at 12:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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