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 comes to me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” John 7:37-38
As we’re seeing in John’s Gospel, Jesus was controversial – so much so that he ended up crucified, with nearly everyone agreeing that he deserved it. Up to that climactic moment, we see people speculating and debating about him. John chapter 7 is filled with it. Look at the headings in our English Bibles. Verse 25: “Can this be the Christ?” Verse 32: “Officers sent to arrest Jesus.” Verse 40: “Division among the people.”
Here is what it means for us today. If we follow this Jesus, we will be controversial too. Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20. Here’s why. Our world is deeply divided, obviously; but it isn’t really about politics or economics. The real divide is two versions of heaven competing for our allegiance. One version is saying, “We can create our own heaven on earth, if we’ll all just pull together.” The other version is saying, “We love this world, but what we’re longing for is what only God can do.” All of us used to believe that first message. The argument among us was only about the best politics and the best economics. We were left, right and center. But we all believed in our own potential. Then God opened our eyes to what only he can do, and we let go of our old belief. So now we find ourselves in an awkward place. We are under pressure to support the old belief, which dominates our world. And those who still believe in that cause are pursuing it with religious fervor. That’s what got Jesus in trouble. The elite of his time had to go against him. He was a threat to their religion. They truly believed that their own better world was within their grasp, if only Jesus and other troublemakers would join the effort. And the Bible is saying that we, in our generation, are being pulled into the present-day form of that age-old controversy. It’s still about two basic beliefs. And Jesus the rebel is still undermining every false ideal in this world. So as we follow him, here’s what we can expect – a life filled with both blessing from above and trouble here below at the same time. We’re not asking for an easy ride; we only want to follow our King, whatever path he chooses for us. I have a video of the Blue Angels flying team. When the team leader leads them through a film of their acrobatic displays after an event, as he points out where they could improve, their standard response is, “Just glad to be here, sir.” And those are the best pilots in the Navy. We’re not the best, but we do belong to Jesus. We’re just glad to be involved with him, and we don’t mind paying a price to believe in what only he can do. When I was a boy, we sang this courageous hymn:
Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize, and sailed through bloody seas?
Every generation finds a way to oppose Jesus and his teachings. The focal point of controversy today is the sexual revolution. If, because you are following Jesus, you believe that manhood and womanhood are more than cultural constructs but are a glorious gift from God, if you believe that your own sexual identity is more than your feeling about yourself but is a wonderful reality defined by God, if you believe that erotic expression belongs only within the marriage of one man with one woman, then two things are true of you. One, Jesus is saying to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Two, the most influential people in this world won’t like you, no matter how reasonable you are. Let’s never stir up needless controversy, and let’s never duck the cost of following our crucified Lord. One of the early Lutherans wrote this back in the 1520s:
If I profess with the loudest voice every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, then I am not confessing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is tested, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace, if he flinches at that one point.
I pray that Immanuel Nashville will always stay true to Jesus, not because you love a fight, but because you love him. Don’t get cranky, and don’t chicken out. Stand courageously for Jesus, according to Scripture, with all the grace of Jesus himself – to the tenth generation.
So here we are, surrounded by a swirl of controversy in our day. How can we stand strong in the face of that tsunami? How can we thrive under pressure? There is a way. Jesus himself tells us here in John 7. In this context of strife, Jesus stood up and shouted something. In the midst of all those other voices and their opinions, verse 37 says Jesus “cried out.” What did he want us to hear over all the noise?
If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever comes to me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” John 7:37-38
Do you see the three amazing things the Lord says here about himself? One, how open he is. Two, how personal he is. Three, how generous he is.
How open he is
If anyone thirsts . . .
That’s amazingly open in two ways. First, the word “anyone.” We saw last Sunday how the gospel loves these inclusive words, like “anyone” and “whoever.” This word “anyone” is big enough for every single one of us here today. You are pre-approved by the grace of God to receive his priceless gift of living water. Put out of your mind right now any thought that he cannot mean this for you.
The second way this is amazingly open is what the Lord doesn’t say after the word “thirsts.” The Lord doesn’t say, “If anyone thirsts for God,” or “If anyone thirsts for holiness,” or “If anyone thirsts for truth.” I hope we do thirst in all those ways. But what the Lord says is simpler: “If anyone thirsts.” And everyone does. Who do you long for and thirst for and desire today? Whatever it is, what you’re really wanting is Jesus. I believe it was G. K. Chesterton who said, “When a young man knocks on the door of a brothel, he’s really looking for God.” What door are you knocking on?
Some of us long for friendship, because we’re lonely. Jesus is the friend you’re looking for. In fact, he loved you first, before you cared about him. Some of us yearn to be clean again, because we’ve defiled ourselves with some foul and stinking sins. Jesus is the cleansing you’re looking for, and he adds no reprimand with it. Some of us thirst for safety, because we’ve been violated. Jesus is a fierce defender of all who come to him. Some of us wish we were just happy. For us, it’s that simple. Our hearts are heavy, and we wish they were light. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Some of us wish we could be certain about God and the big questions of life, because we’ve been fooled by bogus but popular theories. Jesus said, “I am the truth” (John 14:6).
What’s your thirst? It might not even be a noble and spiritual thirst. Maybe what you want is to be invited to the best parties and be asked out on cool dates. Maybe you’ve been sitting here in church wondering when it will finally be over so that you can go home and look at wicked things on the internet. Maybe, for you, it would be heaven if only your kids would like you for a change. There are as many thirsts here today as there are people, and all of us thirst for things that are right, and all of us thirst for things that are wrong. But whatever you ache for, here is what you must know. Your thirst, whatever it is, can be satisfied in its truest essence in Jesus Christ, and in him only. You were made for him. Your heart is perfectly designed to enjoy him, above all else. But we all give our hearts to others first. He sees our hearts. We’re not fooling him. And he cares for you and for me. He says to us all and our hearts at this moment, “Come to me and drink.” That’s amazing. Is there any limit to his humility? Is there any depth to which he will not stoop to win our hearts? He’s amazing in his openness to us.
How personal he is
If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.
I see only two people in this picture. There is anyone – that’s you – and there is Jesus. No one else is complicating it. And the you that you really are – that unrehabilitated you can come directly and personally to Jesus, by faith, and he will receive you immediately and personally, by grace, and will give himself to you with a drink of living water through his forgiveness and assurance and clarity and guidance and friendship and sheer joy. Don’t worry about the mechanics of it, the how-to’s of it. For him, it’s so personal, he will make it work. He says in the Bible, “I will put my Spirit within you” (Ezekiel 36:27).
Not only that, but his personal offer is for every one of us, beginners and advanced and everyone in between. The New American Standard Bible includes a fuller translation in its margin: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come and keep coming, and let him drink and keep drinking.” We never get beyond John 7:37. If you’re empty and aching and sick because you’ve been avoiding Jesus and drinking down in the sewers, you can come to him today and never stop coming and drinking. And if your heart has been gulping him down richly and your whole being is thrilling to him and you only want more of him, you can come to him now and never stop coming and drinking. Whoever you are, Jesus is calling to you personally and offering himself endlessly. You don’t need to figure out all your theology first. Jesus says come and drink. And for you today, it might be now or never. Tomorrow is not guaranteed to us.. Right now he wants you to know that he is ready for you and all your need. You may have to push aside a false dream you’ve been clinging to. Simone Weil, the French Jewish intellectual, said it well:
Nothing is so beautiful, nothing is so continually fresh and surprising, so full of sweet and perpetual ecstasy as the good. No deserts are so dreary, monotonous and boring as evil. But with fantasy it is the other way round. Fictional good is boring and flat, while fictional evil is varied, intriguing, attractive and full of charm.
We have all believed lies, and we have all been defrauded. But if you’re seeing through the false narrative of this world and are willing to drink in the true and endless refreshment that Jesus is, he personally invites you to come indulge yourself in him. He could not be more sincere. It’s amazing how he cares so personally.
How generous he is
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.”
All we do is drink, and he turns our sip into his rivers. But wait a minute. There’s a problem here. Do you see it? I can’t find any Old Testament Scripture that says, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (By the way, “living water” means running water, not stagnant but always fresh.) That sentence doesn’t appear in the Old Testament. What then is the Lord saying? His point is amazing. He is summing up the entire Old Testament message. He reads the Old Testament from beginning to end, looks up from its pages, and says to us, “Here is the gist of it all: a divine promise of overflowing human fullness and abundance and flourishing: ‘Out of your heart will flow rivers of endless refreshment.’” That is the great message of God to the human race – freely given through the finished work of Christ on the cross and the endless power of the Holy Spirit, humbly received with the empty hands of faith.
Think about it. The whole biblical story begins in the Garden of Eden, where there was a river so abundant it divided from there into four rivers flowing out into the world (Genesis 2:10-14). Then later in the story, when the Lord provided for his people out in the desert, what did he do? He gave them water gushing from a rock, of all things (Exodus 17; Numbers 20). The laws of nature don’t regulate God. He creates whatever he wants – life flowing out of a dead rock or a wooden cross! God loves to refresh exhausted sinners. Then in the Psalms – how does the whole book of Psalms begin? With a believer who is like a tree planted by streams of water whose leaf does not wither and in all that he does he prospers (Psalm 1). Psalm 36 speaks of the river of God’s delights (Psalm 36:8). Later in the Psalms David cries out to God, “My soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1). David longed to see more of what only God can do. Then in the prophets, Isaiah says, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3). So here we are – thirsty, weary, dirty people pulling up bucket after bucket of fresh, cool water in endless supply from the gospel wells, drinking deeply, pouring it over our heads, dunking our faces into it, splashing one another for the sheer joy of it. That is a biblical picture of the amazing generosity of our Lord – the very life of God, drenching our hearts with full assurance of his love. The prophet also said, “The Lord will satisfy your desire in scorched places; and you shall be like a watered garden, whose waters do not fail” (Isaiah 58:11). I love the realism there: “in scorched places.” Many of us are in those scorched places today. Our hearts and hopes and dreams are burned right over. We feel almost nothing. But that does not determine our future or even limit our present, because the fullness of Jesus flows into scorched places. Those are the very places his heart is most drawn to. And then finally, at the end of the Bible, we are shown our eternal happiness this way: “The Lamb will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17). But until we are there forever with the Lord, the people most responsive to Jesus are always found in the scorched places. John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, tells us how he finally saw that Jesus is the one he longed for:
The good providence of God brought me to Bedford for work. And walking down the street one day I met three or four poor women sitting in a doorway, talking about the things of God. I drew near to listen, being a pretty good talker on religion myself. But they were far out of my reach. Their talk was of a new birth, the work of God on their hearts, and their tragic condition in themselves. They talked about how God had visited their souls with his love in the Lord Jesus and how they had been refreshed, comforted and supported. And it seemed that joy itself made them speak. They seemed to me to have found a new world. So I often made it my business to go visit those poor people, for I couldn’t stay away.
What a privilege to be poor people enjoying Jesus, drinking in his truth together, plunging into his fullness of grace upon grace! For two thousand years he has been pouring rivers of living water into the hearts of people just like us, with a happiness this world cannot give and cannot take away, because it comes down from above. This is what only God can do. And he is saying to us here today, “Come and drink.” Come to him with your thirst, and he will keep his promise to you, and he will never run dry.
There is more for you in Jesus than you can possibly handle. Open up.