Sermon on John 7:37-52 – “Rivers of Living Water”

November 17, 2019 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Sermon Text:

[Jhn 7:37-52 ESV] 37 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. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” 39 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. 40 When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” 41 Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? 42 Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” 43 So there was a division among the people over him. 44 Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. 45 The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” 46 The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” 47 The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? 48 Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? 49 But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” 50 Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, 51 “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” 52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”

INTRODUCTION

Have you ever tried standing in a river? What happens? The current tries to topple you over! So I’ve learned in crossing rivers that if you stand side-ways you have less of profile and the water doesn’t push as hard against you. This worked well for me as a human, but for my old 100-lb dog his side profile was much more area than his front profile and I’d have to hang on to him so that he wouldn’t get carried downstream. Well, if one river is powerful, how tremendous is the flow of multiple rivers! In our passage today we hear that the Spirit will flow out of the heart of the beat with RIVERS of living water! More than one. Many rivers. Surely an unstoppable force.

We now come to the final day of the Feast of Booths. This was a seven day feast followed by an eighth day rest or “holy convocation.” There is debate whether this “last day of the feast” was the seventh day or the eighth. Ultimately the value of the story does not depend on whether it was the seventh or eighth day and so it is not of great value to rehearse the arguments. Rather, we want to look today at the meaning of Jesus’ statement “Whoever believes in me ‘out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” and to look at 4 different reactions to Jesus at the time he made this statement.

So, to outline out passage, we have:

I. Jesus’ Invitation (v. 37-39)

II. Four responses

A. The Convinced (v. 40)

B. The Contrary (v. 41-44)

C. The Confused (v. 45-46)

D. The Contemplative (v.47-52)

III. Your response

 

I’ve largely taken this outline from the commentary of John MacArthur. While he’s not always the most Reformed commentator, he is definitely good at alliteration – the convinced, the contrary, the confused, and the contemplative.

First, we look at Jesus’ invitation.

I. Jesus’ Invitation (v. 37-39)

37 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. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” 39 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.

This is now a second speech or dialogue of Jesus’ at the Feast of Booths. Recall that the first speech was “about the middle of the festival.” Now the second speech occurs at the last day, be it the seventh or the eighth day of the festival.

What we have first is properly called “The General Call of the Gospel.” The Gospel is to be preached to ALL men in ALL places and in ALL times. The outward call of the Gospel is “general.” It is for all people.

The General Call must be distinguished from the Effectual Call of the Gospel. When God, through the Holy Spirit calls a person internally, it is Effectual, it is irresistible. The Effectual Call comes to God’s People alone and always succeeds. The General Call goes out to all, but not all accept the invitation.

The General Call might be likened to open tryouts for a school sports team. Everyone is notified that there will be tryouts for the basketball team. But not everyone has received the God-given skills to play the game.

The General Call matches well with out sentiments today, but it must have been quite a shock to the Jews of the first century. Jesus says “If ANYONE thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” He is not limiting this call to the Jews. It is for ANYONE. He’s not limited the call to the wise or the rulers or the holy, but it is for ANYONE who thirsts. Thirst, in the physical sense, burdens all people. No matter how strong a person is, he may be quickly defeated by thirst. One can go a long time without eating, but cannot last long without water. A spiritual thirsting likewise is a recognition of our own limitations. We cannot go long without Christ.

If you thirst for holiness, for joy, for forgiveness, for peace, come to Jesus. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to ME and drink.”

“To drink” is quickly explained in the next as “to believe in Jesus.” Hence we continue the Apostle John’s emphasis on the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ. You must believe in Him for eternal life.

But now Jesus tells us about some of the blessings of believing in him.

“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

There are a number of Scriptures he likely had in mind:

Psalm 46:4 – “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.”

Isaiah 58:11 – “And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”

Isaiah 55:1 – “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, com, buy, and eat!”

Isaiah 44:3 – “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.”

Now, we might ask, what does it mean exactly to have “rivers of living water flowing out of your heart”? Fortunately our text tells us at least part of the answer. “Now this he said about the Spirit.” Jesus is referring to the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Triune God. But there is a still a metaphor here. We certainly don’t want the Holy Spirit to flow OUT of our hearts if that means He is leaving us! As Christians the Holy Sprits dwell IN us. So, what does it mean then from the Holy Spirit to flow out or your heart? It means at least these two things.

1. The fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control with flow from having the Holy Spirit dwell in you. John Calvin notes “as the word rivers being in the plural number, I interpret it as denoting the diversified graces of the Spirit.” RIVERS of living water will flow out of your heart.

And,

2. Becoming a channel of blessing to others. When you drink of the living water — when you believe in Jesus Christ — and have the Holy Spirit in you, the Lord uses you as a channel of blessing to others. For one, the Lord uses Christian men to preach His Gospel in the assembly and he uses all Christians to preach the Gospel in the world. And then, as Christians the love you show to others blesses them. You have drank from the waters of life, and that has not only changed you, but it positively affects others. William Hendriksen says, “The blessed one becomes, by God’s sovereign grace, a channel of blessings to others.”

But, to finish up, Jesus’ statement here before we look at the 4 responses, we need to look more closely at what he says in verse 39:

39 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.

A cursory reading of this verse might have one erroneously thinking that Jesus is saying that the Holy Spirit had never yet come to anyone! But we know that this is not the case, and that this verse must not be so interpreted. The Holy Spirit had come to Old Testament saints. All who believed did so by the power of the Holy Spirit in them.

The Holy Spirit is definitely present in places such as Psalm 51:11 where David says “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” And Psalm 143:10 – “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!”

The Holy Spirit was working even in Old Testament times. What Jesus then is referring to is a new phase of increased Spirit work.

Calvin says, “The Evangelist does not absolutely affirm that the grace of the Spirit was not offered and given to believers before the death of Christ, but that it was not yet so bright and illustrious as it would afterwards become.”

After Pentecost (and to this very day) the Spirit is given to believers in a new fullness.

Jesus has thus invited all to come and believe in him and have the Holy Spirit flow like rivers of water out of their hearts.

So what is their reaction? What is the reaction of the people?

II. Four Responses

We’re going to look at four reactions in the text. The convinced, the contrary, the confused, and the contemplative.

A. The Convinced (v. 40)

40 When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.”

The first response is from those convinced that Jesus is really the Prophet spoken of in the Scriptures. Again, like so many times in John’s Gospel, it does not seem that they yet believe that Jesus is the Son of God. But they have concluded he is the Prophet. Certainly the words of Jesus are powerful enough to convince his hearers that he is the Prophet. No one has ever spoken like him. This is not your ordinary teacher. He speaks with authority. From where does this authority come but from God? This is all that is recorded of this first group — “the convinced” — “This really is the Prophet.”

More is said of the second group. Those whose reaction to Jesus is to be contrary. They are “the contrary.”

B. The Contrary (v. 41-44)

41 Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? 42 Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” 43 So there was a division among the people over him. 44 Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.

Previously the people said “when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.” Now they seemed to have wised up some for they say “Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” They know that Jesus is from Galilee, but apparently do not know that he was born in Bethlehem.

They ultimate are opposed to Jesus, but don’t know the truth, that he was born in Bethlehem. Yet their contrariness did not lead them to put a hand on Jesus. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. It was not yet his time. God ordered and ordained every moment in Jesus’ life to occur exactly as it did. He could not be arrested because it was not yet his time.

In addition to “the convinced” and “the contrary” there are “the confused.” The confused are the officers expected by the authorities to arrest Jesus.

C. The Confused (v. 45-46)

We read,

45 The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” 46 The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!”

These officers are confused because they have their bosses on one side saying “arrest this fraud” and they come to Jesus and see that he is speaking with authority. They must have done a double-take. Stopped in their tracks unsure of what do to. The chief priests and Pharisees then question them “Why did you not bring him.” Why did you not arrest him. And they respond “No one ever spoke like this man!” You might say they were in shock or awe of Jesus and therefore unable to carry out their orders to arrest him.

When we come to a situation like this in our own lives – having to decide between our boss and our God, we must always choose God. We must always choose God over the world. In the book of Acts, Peter and the apostles said “We must obey God rather than men.” We cannot be confused in the least. In confusion, we’d be stuck like the officers sent to arrest Jesus. While the earthly boss (or government) might on one side produce fear in our minds, we must fear God far more. We must not be confused. We must always choose God and do so swiftly!

Then there is a fourth group. But it is really just an individual. Our old friend Nicodemus. Recall that he is one of the pharisees himself, but has spoken with Jesus and is starting to come around. He knows that something is “up” with Jesus. He might not yet know that Jesus is the Son of God, but he will in time come to faith.

D. The Contemplative (v.47-52)

So we read of Nicodemus, “the contemplative”:

47 The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? 48 Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? 49 But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” 50 Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, 51 “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” 52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”

Rather than listening to Nicodemus, they push him aside and joke that he must be from Galilee, that he must support Jesus. And maybe it is true that Nicodemus does support Jesus in some way, but the impression he is trying to give is that he supports the law. “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” Nicodemus is asking for “due process.” He’s asking that Jesus not be condemned without first being found guilty of something. But Jesus has not broken any laws and so cannot be found guilty. The one law that people believe he has broken is that of blasphemy. Because Jesus equates himself with God, the people and the authorities think he is guilty. But, since Jesus IS GOD he is only guilty of the telling the truth. He is not guilty of breaking any law.

So we see the diversity of responses to Jesus. He invites ALL, and diverse answers result. There are those agreeing with him (the convinced), those opposed to him (the contrary), those unsure of what to do (the confused), and thinking Jesus might be who he says he is (the contemplative.)

So I must ask, “What is your response?”

III. Your response.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and savior?

Do rivers of living water flow from your heart?

If so, praise the Lord. And recognize that they are rivers of His Spirit. The good things you do are not of your own, but are done through you by the Holy Ghost. And we should praise the Lord for all the blessings each of us have when another displays these rivers flowing from them. A positive, active, prayerful, loving Christian can bless hundreds of other people. We see the benefits here. Water flowing from your hearts splashes on each other and on to me. The Holy Spirit makes you a prayer warrior, and your prayers benefit each of us. And the Love of God leads you to help others in our community who are in need. And the joy of Christ that you have blesses others who have come to know Christ through you.

I pray that be up to our eyeballs in water; flooding living water which has flowed from Holy Spirit in our hearts. So great, do I pray, that we be surrounded by the Holy Spirit that none can escape His great influence. Let the waters abound among us.

If your reaction is Jesus and his invitation to drink of living water, if your reaction is not belief in Him, what is holding you back? Are you convinced but not ready to believe? Are you contrary to him? Are you confused? Are you contemplative? If there is something holding you back, come talk to me or one of the elders. And pray that God grants you belief in His Son. For in Him is living water. Christ, one commentator says, is “an inexhaustible fountain.” Whoever you are, whatever your past, whatever your present, He invites you to come to Him. Let Christ be your future. And in believing in Him you will have rivers (plural) of living water flowing from your heart to your benefit and to the blessing of others.

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”

The words of the Lord. Amen.

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