Pentecost Sunday, May 28,2023
37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 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.
If you asked the question, “Which is the greatest river in the world?” you would probably get several answers. Some would say the Nile River because at just over 4,000 miles it is the longest river on earth. Others, though, might say that the Amazon River is the greatest river in the world. They would point out that it disperses the greatest amount of water in the world. Over 20% of the fresh water that flows into the world’s oceans comes from the Amazon. Some would argue that the Yangtze River in China is the greatest river in the world because of the vast number of people who rely on it for their existence.
You could make a case for any of these three rivers, or possibly others. There is another river which, oddly enough, doesn’t hold any water and yet you can drink from it and wash in it. In fact, if you don’t, you’re not really alive. Although this river doesn’t have a formal name let’s call it the River of Life. The Psalmist (Ps. 46:4) wrote, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.”
The “River of Life” is the greatest river there is because it flows from Christ, and it flows through every Christian, offering eternal life to all who drink from it and are cleansed by it. The Apostle John describes this river and offers us….
I. Flow from Christ
II. Flow through Christians
Although you won’t find the River of Life on any world map it’s not an imaginary river because Jesus said that it’s real. He made that pronouncement at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. This was an annual religious celebration around October when the Jews would live in make-shift shacks for seven days to be reminded of how their ancestors had lived in tents for 40 years when they travelled to the Promised Land. That exercise helped every Jew of every generation remember that this world is not their home – a truth we would do well to remember.
One custom at the Feast of Tabernacles to help the Israelites remember God’s miraculous care for his people during their years in the wilderness was to pour water out onto the altar of burnt offering. This symbolized how God had made water gush from a rock in the wilderness so that his people did not die of thirst. This custom also served as a prayer for God to keep providing abundant rains for the harvests. It was perhaps at this point in the feast when Jesus stood up and said in a loud voice: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37).
While we can easily see the meaning of the picture that Jesus was painting for us, many at the time that he spoke these words did not. Opinions varied greatly from “a good man” to “a deceiver.” Some correctly identified him as “The Christ,” but others would only call him “a prophet” or “an imposter.” John noted that “For even his own brothers did not believe in him” in verse 5 of this chapter.
None of the errant opinions about Jesus stopped him from being who he was or from doing what he had come to do. His invitation stood. Those who were spiritually thirsty could come to him, and he would satisfy their thirst. Since Jesus gave this invitation during the religious ceremonies that were taking place, the people would understand that he was using figurative language. The thirst was caused by sin and the cure would come through true repentance.
People are born spiritually thirsty, but not for forgiveness. Job’s friend Eliphaz said that people are corrupt by nature and “drink up evil like water” (Job 15:16). Jesus would make people aware of their need for the “water of life” that he could give them by making them aware of their sinfulness. This is often a painful process for people. Who likes to be told that they are evil and corrupt? Jesus had said, “The world…hates me because I testify that what it does is evil” (7:7). Most would reject Jesus, and soon put him to death. But some held onto his invitation and turned to him for forgiveness and eternal life.
Peter would share a similar message on the Day of Pentecost. After receiving power and wisdom from the Holy Spirit, Peter accused those present of crucifying the Son of God who had been sent to be the Savior. The Holy Spirit worked through Peter to bring 3,000 people to faith that day. The living water that flowed from Jesus quenched their thirst and gave them new life, life that would carry them into eternity.
We have also been given the living water of faith in Jesus. We know that it is no use to try to deny our sins, cover them up, or excuse them. The book of Hebrews says that “Everything is laid bare before him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13). It is an act of love that God exposes our sins. It may not be a pleasant experience. God’s law stings and weighs on us just as it did King David after his sins of adultery and murder. And then we hear the invitation of our Savior, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” The river of God’s love flows full and fast.
And here’s more good news. We don’t have to hoard and store the forgiving water that comes to us from our Savior. It will always be available and will always keep us alive. While the River of Life does flow from Christ, it will also…
II. Flow through Christians.
When Jesus prepared to return to heaven, he gathered his disciples together and said to them, “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). This was a reinforcement of the words from our text, “…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.” The Holy Spirit was sent to the disciples as we heard in our first reading. The “streams of living water” began to flow through them as they shared the message of salvation and helped the people see Jesus for who he truly was.
That worked continued as we hear from Acts 8:4, “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” That work was blessed by the Holy Spirit and the church grew and spread in spite of the opposition from the devil. Philip ministered in Samaria and was followed by Peter and John. Peter’s ministry developed as he shared the word with Gentiles, something that hadn’t been done much before. Paul continued that work as God sent him to Greece, Asia Minor, and Italy. Wherever the word was preached, the Holy Spirit used it led people to Jesus.
We see the power of the Holy Spirit working today. Our church body was invited to build a Theological Training Center in Hanoi, Vietnam in 2020. Over 12,000 Hmong people were brought to faith that year and 57 church leaders began to take online courses to become ministers. Today there are over 1,300 who are waiting to take classes, making it clear why the Theological Training Center is needed. Two WELS pastors have been commissioned to this project and the training that will take place there. The Training Center was completed this past January.
It hasn’t been without opposition. When the WELS was invited to establish this training center, Covid delayed the work for over 2 years. The borders of Vietnam were mostly closed off meaning that we could not get into the country to do the planning and work. Now that Covid isn’t such a hindrance, the prevailing religions of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism must be overcome so that the “streams of living water” that flow from Jesus will be able to flow into Vietnam. Jesus still says, “You will be my witnesses,” and the Holy Spirit continues to provide the wisdom and strength to God’s Word so that it can quench the religious thirst that we are seeing in Vietnam and around the world.
Both the Feast of Tabernacles that is referred to in our text and the Feast of Pentecost were harvest festivals. It seems fitting that Jesus used these two festivals to emphasize the harvest that God’s Word will bring to his kingdom. It reminds us that the work that we have been called to do is no different than what Jesus called his disciples to do. We are to be witnesses to the power and love of God that saves people from sin. We are to let the water of life that flowed from Jesus to us flow out of us to others.
Watch for the opportunities that God will give to you to share your faith. You won’t need fancy words or seminary degrees to fulfill God’s assignment to be his witnesses. Just be witnesses. Tell what you know. Share your faith and let the Holy Spirit take it from there. Pray for God’s blessings as the greatest river in the world, the river of God’s love, continues to flow throughout the world quenching spiritual thirst. Amen.