John 7:37-39 (The Day of Pentecost—Series A)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
June 8, 2014
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in John 7:
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.
It is late September or early October and Jesus is in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. This was a harvest festival recalling God providing for the children of Israel during their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. It was not uncommon for the people to set up tents in and around Jerusalem, reenacting their ancestors’ time in the desert. Immensely popular, it was simply called “the Feast” by the Jews, a time of thanking God for the harvest and especially for the rain that helped grow that harvest. The Feast lasted seven days. On each of the first six days during Tabernacles the priests marched in solemn procession carrying water from the Pool of Siloam to the temple where they poured out the water on the base of the altar. On the seventh day of the festival there was a special water-pouring rite and lights ceremony, which would be followed by a sacred gathering on the eighth day, a day set apart for sacrifices, the joyful dismantling of the tents, and repeated singing of Psalms 113-118.
On that eighth day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone should thirst, come to me and drink. The one who believes in me just as the Scripture says, ‘From his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Just when the water-pouring ceremonies have come to a close and the events of the Feast and the thanksgivings for rain were beginning to sink into the people’s memories, Jesus’ words promised a continuous supply of water addressing a special thirst that only He could quench.
Thirsty? That’s what Jesus is asking you today. Through His Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament Jesus comes to you to quench your spiritual thirst. He comes to you through His Spirit to satisfy your thirst so that you are then able to comfort, teach, and serve others with the same living water of the Spirit.
Thirst. We know what it is to be physically thirsty. We know what it is like to be parched on a hot day. You and I also have come to know what it is like to have spiritual thirst. After 26 years in a good marriage and after raising three children to adulthood and self-sufficiency, Penelope couldn’t explain the sense of emptiness she was feeling. She had a fruitful life and could think of nothing specific that she lacked. She and her husband, Roger, had done quite well and were living comfortably. She craved something more, but she couldn’t put her finger on what it was.
People like Penelope, you and I in fact, sometimes feel a void, an emptiness, an undefined and general dissatisfaction. Although our lives are filled with good, we sense something is lacking. We have a spiritual thirst, a thirst of the soul, as Luther called it. He wrote in his commentary on John, “This is not a physical thirst, such as is felt for beer or wine, but a thirst of the soul, a spiritual thirst, a heartfelt desire, yes, a distressed, wretched, terrified, and aroused conscience, a despondent and frightened heart which longs to know on what terms it is with God. Such is the timid, fainthearted conscience; it feels its sin; it is conscious of a weakness of spirit, soul, and flesh; it is aware of a menacing God; it fears God and sees His Law, wrath, judgment, death, and other penalties. Such anxiety marks proper thirst. It is natural that people who live in fear, amid temptation and distress, are athirst by reason of their anxiety. For at such a time the tongue becomes parched, we grow feverish, … and this creates thirst. How much more will our soul grow thirsty from spiritual temptation, when sin and God’s wrath stare us in the face!”
This is the message of God’s Law which creates this thirst in us. When we examine our lives in the areas that really count—our relationship to God and His Word—we find out that we do not always love God with all our heart as we should. You and I must then confess, “’Oh, dear God, I have failed to do this! I have not kept the Law. For I do not love God with all my heart today, nor will I tomorrow. Year after year I make confession. I never finish admitting that I have done this and that.’ When will it end? When will [our hearts] be at rest and be certain of divine grace? . . . Where will [our consciences come to rest and find a sure footing? Where will [we] find assurance of [our] good relationship to God?”
In other words, who can quench this spiritual thirst and longing for peace with God? People seek to answer that question and to satisfy their spiritual thirst in all kinds of places. Cults have never been more popular. There is an unparalleled demand for spiritual gurus and advisors. People are guzzling drinks that do not quench thirst. They have drunk every last drop, yet they are dying from dehydration.
If you find yourself spiritually thirsty today, you have come to the right place to quench your thirst. If you are burdened by your sins, your guilt, and the consequences of sin in your lives, you have come to the place of refreshment. What is offered here to you from God’s holy Word is meant for the thirsty, the spiritually dehydrated. Christ says to you this very day in His Word, “Come to Me! I will not let you die of thirst. I will give you drink.”
Jesus addresses us and speaks right to our thirsting hearts and souls these comforting, friendly words. They are Gospel words that refresh, console, and strengthen the thirsty: “Your sin is forgiven!” This means that you and I are at peace with God. We are no longer under His wrath and displeasure. We are set free from everlasting death and physical death has lost its power over us.
On the cross, bleeding and dying as punishment for our sins, suffering death and hell in our place, Jesus was physically thirsty. “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’”(John 19:28 ESV) Enduring unimaginable physical thirst and pain, through His sacrifice on the cross, Jesus won the refreshment of our spiritual thirst forevermore. “The blood of Jesus . . . cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7 ESV) “Death is swallowed up in victory.”(1 Cor. 15:54 ESV) “Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”(Rom. 8:34 ESV) And the risen and ascended Lord Jesus who is interceding for us has poured out upon us the Holy Spirit, just as He said He would.
It is the Holy Spirit whom Jesus called “rivers of living water.” It is the Holy Spirit who delivers to us personally through the Gospel in Word and Sacrament the gifts that Jesus won for us with His death on the cross and with His resurrection from the dead. It is the Spirit, in bringing us the Gospel of Christ, who quenches our spiritual thirst by delivering to us through these Means of Grace (Gospel, Baptism, and Lord’s Supper) the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, salvation, and the strengthening of our Christian faith. As we confess in the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, “The Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgiveness all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.”
With our spiritual thirsts satisfied by the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Christ, you and I are then called upon to comfort, teach, and serve the entire world in the power of the Holy Spirit. Not only does Christ satisfy your thirst, but through you He also alleviates the spiritual thirst of others. We who believe in Jesus and who are supplied with living water by Him are also in the position to console and refresh others with this Gospel drink. For out of you, from the very inner heart of faith, flows the Holy Spirit, rivers of living water, sent to quench the thirst of those still lost in the dehydration of sin and death. You are able, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to counsel and comfort others, not only physically, but also especially with the Word of Christ. You give others to drink of the waters of life. Streams of comfort flow through you so that all the thirsty shall be satisfied with a boundless supply of Christ through the Gospel by the work of God the Holy Spirit.
It is the Holy Spirit, given in power first on the Day of Pentecost and given to us in Holy Baptism, who on the basis of Jesus’ mighty Gospel acts at the cross and the empty tomb, enables you to drink the water of life and be satisfied. It is the Holy Spirit who enables you to transmit that life-saving, life-giving Gospel water of Christ to others. So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, continue to come to the waters, all of you who thirst! Come at Jesus’ invitation to hear His Gospel, receive His gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and the thirst quenching strength for your faith in His Sacrament—His Body and Blood, given and shed for you. Refreshed and renewed, live as fountain streams of the Holy Spirit as He uses you to share Christ’s love and forgiveness with others so that their spiritual thirst may also be satisfied by Him. Amen.
 Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 23: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 6-8, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 23 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 267–268.
 Ibid., 270.