When God Comes Near: “I Believe in the Holy Spirit”
May 16, 2004
“On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified” (John 7:37-39).
This is a moment of high drama. It is the last day, the greatest day, the eighth day of the final feast of the year, the Feast of Tabernacles. It usually took place in early October, at the time of the final harvest. And it was a great celebration. For seven days the Jews lived in lean-to tents or shanties or booths made of palm branches, leaves and tree limbs. This was their way of remembering the 40 years that their ancestors spent wandering in the wilderness. That was a hard time, a long time, and a whole generation died while waiting to enter the Promised Land. Why celebrate that difficult period? Because every day, even in the wilderness, God provided manna and quail. Though they lived in the desert with the sand and heat and the flies and the desolation all around them, God never failed them. They discovered that God could prepare a table in the wilderness and feed them for 40 years. So for seven days each year the Jews came to Jerusalem, made their lean-tos, and celebrated God’s goodness.
But it wasn’t just food that God gave them in the wilderness. He also gave them water. When the people became thirsty and had no water, they accused Moses of bringing them into the desert so they would die of thirst. The Lord told Moses to take the same staff he used to part the Red Sea and hit the rock at Horeb. When he did, water gushed out. Clean, fresh, pure water, more than enough for all the people. It was a mighty miracle—made even greater because the people had grumbled against God—and he provided for them anyway. So each day for seven days during the Feast of Tabernacles, the priest would form a procession from the Temple to the Pool of Siloam. There he filled a golden urn with water and brought it back to the Temple. While he poured the water on the western side of the massive altar, the choir of 4,000 singers accompanied by 287 instrumentalists began to sing. The people cheered and sang Psalm 118, which ends with these words: “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” The priest repeated that ritual every day for seven days—and the people cheered for joy each time. When the eighth day came, things were different. This was the final feast day of the entire year. It was truly the greatest day. On that day there was a solemn convocation, but the priest did not go to the Pool of Siloam to draw water.
On that day—the greatest day of the final feast—the day with no water—Jesus stood up and spoke to the throngs of people crowding the Temple precincts. The fact that he stood would have gotten their attention since Jewish rabbis normally were seated when they taught. The impact of his words on this particular day was enormous. On the one day when there was no water, Jesus said, “If any one is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” The Jews understood him immediately. For Jesus to say those words at that moment meant, “I am the rock that brought forth water in the wilderness. I am the true source of living water. Come to me, believe on me, and I will give you living water from heaven.”
With that as background, I want us to see that these words are for us today. They speak a message of hope to a thirsty world.
I. We come to Christ because we are thirsty.
Most of us know very little about thirst. If we are thirsty, we go to the refrigerator and get some water or some milk or some tea or a coke. We go to the faucet and turn it on, and if we don’t turn it off, water pours out 24 hours a day. So most of us rarely experience true thirst. A few years ago Gatorade promoted itself with this slogan: “Gatorade—for that deep down body thirst.” One commercial showed a runner at the end of a race, having crossed the finish line totally spent, bent over, arms resting on his knees, his body dripping sweat. The commercial sends the message that there is a deep thirst that Coca-Cola can’t satisfy. We know that a man can live for weeks without food, but he can only live a few days without water. Once thirst takes over, it becomes a raging demon and all you can think about is finding a few drops of water. And when thirst controls a person, you will do anything, anything at all, to get those few drops. You will lie or cheat or steal or kill if necessary.
Inside all of us there is a thirst that nothing in this world can satisfy. We all have a “God-shaped vacuum” that only God can fill. Some people thirst for sexual fulfillment, so they hop from one relationship to another. Some people think career advancement is the key to happiness, so they move from job to job. Husbands leave their wives for other women, and still they are not happy. Wives leave their husbands for other men, and they aren’t happy either. Some of us are adrenalin junkies, always on the move, looking for the next jolt of excitement, the next big adventure, the next battle to fight, trying to fulfill the “Wild at Heart” impulse we feel on the inside. But adventure itself never lasts very long. Life returns to the ordinary and we wonder, “What do we do now?” Some people thirst for significance, others thirst for power, others thirst for fame or wealth or close relationships to fill the lonely void inside.
· There is the thirst of the intellect—we want to know the truth.
· There is the thirst of the conscience—we are guilty and need forgiveness.
· There is the thirst of the heart—we desperately search for happiness and don’t know where to find it.
We come to Christ because we are thirsty, and until we see our need and cry out for help, we will never come at all. As Jesus said, only the sick need a physician. Only the hungry will be fed. Only the lost are found. Only the thirsty drink the living water.
II. When we come to Christ, our thirst is quenched.
How simple it is to be saved. It’s like drinking a glass of cool water on a hot day. Notice the verbs that Jesus uses: Come … drink … believe. We all know what these words mean. Jesus used simple words so everyone could understand the Good News. This week I received a letter from a prisoner in Kansas named Bennie. He received a copy of my book, An Anchor for the Soul, and wrote me after he read it. This is his letter exactly as he wrote it:
“May 2, 2004
“Hello Pastor Ray,
“First of all, may God bless you. I pray that this letter finds you in the best of health. Me, I’m blessed, Sir, I just got done reading your book, “An Anchor for the Soul,” and believe me, I have been a mess up all my life, and my wife and my kids have always be saved, “Godly people.” It’s always been me the messed up father and husband, but after reading your book—Oh, I’m in prison now for drugs and I got to do 58 months, my out date is 8-03-07, but after I read your book, I asked the Lord Jesus into my life, and I don’t know what happen, but I do know it were good. So thank you for everything and I would like for you to assist me more about knowing Christ.
“Pastor Ray, I would really like to hear from you.
Isn’t that a wonderful letter? I was touched by his straightforward honesty about his own sinful past, but this is my favorite part: “I don’t know what happen, but I do know it were good.” Those are the words of a man who has found Living Water; he just doesn’t know how to explain it yet.
Lest you think that this has something to do with his station in life, or a lack of education, or because he is in prison, let me share part of an e-mail I received a few days ago. It comes from a man who has been attending Calvary for a few months. Now his life has changed radically and this is what he says:
“I am writing to you today to share with you how Calvary changed my life. Almost two years ago for unknown reasons I decided to check out Calvary one Sunday morning. I liked what I saw and heard and began to attend pretty regularly.
“Then sometime last fall something happened in my life that was profoundly different. I believe that is when I developed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. All of a sudden material things don’t matter very much and I have an inner peace that I have never had before.
“The rest is history. I began to come every Sunday and because of your encouragement at the membership seminar I joined an ABF where I have made new friends and learned many new things.
“I can’t explain how all this happened but I am very thankful that it did.”
I love that last statement—”I can’t explain how all this happened.” That sounds a lot like what Bennie said—”I don’t know what happen, but I do know it were good.” In a real sense, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in prison or on the outside because apart from Christ, we’re all in the same boat together. We’re all hungry and thirsty and desperately searching for something we can’t quite find. Then one day we meet Jesus, and suddenly everything is different.
Here is one mark of true conversion—we are deeply changed by Jesus and we know it. That’s the meaning of “streams of living water will flow from within him.” The Greek literally reads “out of his belly,” meaning out of the deepest place, the seat of the emotions. When we talk about a “belly laugh,” we mean the same thing. A “belly laugh” comes from deep within us. The deep change Jesus makes touches us at the very core of who we are. You will know you are converted when you come to Jesus and something happens to you that you cannot fully explain. True conversion is more than walking an aisle, saying a prayer, or raising a hand. True conversion means that Almighty God enters your life, in the deepest, most personal part, and takes up residence within. You can truly say, “I am converted,” when you know that God has done something for you that only God can do. Let me say that another way: If everything in your life can be explained apart from God, what do you need God for? True conversion goes beyond religion—which is why religious people are often the last to be converted. Religious people trust in their religion—but their lives are never changed. They go to church and go through the motions, they may even pray the prayers and say all the right words, but they have a Sahara heart—hot, parched, barren, empty.
When Jesus comes in, living waters flow out. And they keep on flowing.
III. When our thirst is quenched, we become a river of living water for others.
Here we have the whole course of the Christian life set before us.
We cry out to God.
He gives us Living Water.
We give the Living Water to others.
Or we can say it another way:
I’m not thirsty anymore.
Or we can say it even simpler:
From God … to us … to others.
What starts with God, comes down to us, and then goes out from us to other people. Living water flows from God into us, and then from deep within us (from the “belly” of life), the river flows out from us for the benefit of others. The concept of a river of living water can be found in various places in the Old Testament, including Isaiah 44:3, “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” In verse 39 Jesus tells us the living water is the Holy Spirit. That’s the connection with the Apostles’ Creed, which says, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” And what does the Holy Spirit do? He brings God to us. When Jesus was on the earth, his name was Immanuel—God with us. Now that he has gone back to heaven, the Holy Spirit comes and brings God to us. The moment we believe in Jesus, the Holy Spirit opens the springs of life and a river of living water begins to flow from within us.
But God never gives his blessings simply to be hoarded. He gives his blessings to us so that we can share them with others. Here is a simple sentence to help you think about this truth: The Holy Spirit brings God to us so we can bring God to others. The river flows from us to others. A genuine believer in Christ is not self-centered. He says to himself, “I have been greatly blessed. I must pass these blessings along to others. I can’t keep them for myself.”
What God gives me, I give away. If it’s money, it’s not mine anyway. If it’s my time, it all belongs to God anyway. If it’s something I own, I can give it away because I don’t own anything; God owns it all. If it’s a helping hand, I can do that because God reached down and helped me.
The Greater Golden Rule
Behind this principle is the truth I call the Greater Golden Rule: “Do unto others as God has done unto you.” Has God blessed you? Then bless others. Has God been kind to you? Then be kind to others. Has God shown grace to you? Then show grace to others. Has God forgiven you? Then forgive others. Be a river of living water for some thirsty soul this week. As I was working on this part of the sermon, an old Christian chorus came to mind. It’s been around for a long time. I suppose I first heard it when I was a teenager. Back then it seemed very “cutting edge.” Today we rarely sing it. It goes like this:
It only takes a spark to get a fire going,
And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing;
That’s how it is with God’s love,
Once you’ve experienced it,
You spread his love to everyone
You want to pass it on.
It ends with these words:
I’ll shout it from the mountain top—PRAISE GOD!
I want the world to know
The Lord of love has come to me
I want to pass it on.
It’s not a profound piece of music and no one would confuse it with “A Mighty Fortress” or “How Great Thou Art,” but it contains a powerful truth—You spread his love to everyone, you want to pass it on. That’s what the Holy Spirit does when he enters your life. New life bubbles up from within and you become a river of living water.
The first step is coming to Jesus. It’s all very personal. Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me.” He doesn’t say, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to the church.” Or “let him come to the pastor.” Or “let him walk an aisle or sign a card.” Or even “let him learn Bible doctrine.” Jesus invites a thirsty world to come to him. Christianity is Christ. It’s not a religion; it’s a relationship.
Good News for Sinners
Not only is the invitation personal, it’s also universal. “If anyone is thirsty.” Here is good news for the worst of sinners. Christ turns no one away. Here is good news for homosexuals trapped in their sin. Here is good news for murderers and adulterers and liars and thieves and cheaters. Here is good news for angry men and woman. Here is good news for defeated, despairing, discontented souls who feel like giving up. Here is good news for those ruined by drugs and alcohol. Here is good news for prisoners—and for all who are trapped in the prison of sin. Here is good news for the worst of sinners. If you are thirsty, come and drink the Living Water.
Note that Jesus stands and cries out with a loud voice. He pleads with people to come and drink the living water. You would think it would be the lost world that cries out for help, but it is the Lord himself who pleads with us. This is a strange thing. We are the ones who choose to die. It is God who pleads with us to live. He doesn’t say, “Clean yourself up and then I’ll give you living water.” Thank God, we can come begrimed with the dirt of our sin, and the living water itself will wash us clean.
One other word and I am done. The word “rivers” is plural. Not a river—but rivers of living water will flow out from us. Think of the Nile plus the Danube plus the Amazon plus the Mississippi plus the Ganges plus every other great river. It all equals inexhaustible abundance. Come to Jesus and the rivers begin to flow because all the rivers flow from him.
An old woman, a true saint of God, was dying. For many years she had studied the Bible, committing much of it to memory. As her health failed, her mind began to falter and she couldn’t remember many of the passages she once quoted by heart. She passed her days sitting in a rocking chair in her sunny living room, remembering as much as she could. Near the end she could only remember one verse, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him against that day” (II Timothy 1:12). Little by little she lost her ability to say even that one verse. Eventually she could only repeat one phrase—and she said it over and over—”that which I’ve committed unto him.” In her last few days, her family saw her lips moving. She was repeating something over and over. When they leaned over, they could hear her whisper one word: “Him … Him … Him.” At the end she had lost the whole Bible except that one word, but in that one word she had the whole Bible. The Bible is all about him.
Salvation is always personal. Come to Jesus. Believe in him. Trust in Him. Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me.” This is not just a word for those without Jesus; it is a word for all of us who know him. He says to each of us, “Come to me. Come just as you are. Come and don’t delay. Don’t spend another moment drinking from polluted fountains. Come and I will give you living water.”
I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Behold, I freely give
The living water; thirsty one, stoop down, and drink, and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank of that life-giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived, and now I live in Him.
Are you thirsty for something better? Do you have a thirst deep inside for a brand-new life? Is your soul parched and dry? You don’t have to stay that way. Come to Jesus and the rivers will begin to flow.
What a Christ!
What a Savior!
What an amazing invitation!
If you are thirsty, come!