We can see from what we studied last week in the sermon “What Did Jesus Say (WWJS)?” that the word of God causes controversy in the marketplace. It always has and always will. Today, we will see that this same dispute will break out again in reaction to the words of Jesus. The opponents of Jesus wanted to arrest Him and had sent police from the Temple to do so. However, the Father protected the Son from arrest because it was not His time. Let us listen carefully to what God says in His word this morning.
Exposition of the Text
In verse 37, we learn that the events that were about to take place took place on the last day of the week long Feast of Tabernacles in which the Jews remembered the forty years their forefathers spent in the wilderness. This served as a sort of what we in America would call a “Camp Meeting” in which we left the regular lives for a period of spiritual renewal. The people of Israel in like manner were to leave their houses and camp for the week in tents. By the time of Jesus, the Jewish people from all over the Roman and even Parthian Empires made difficult and dangerous voyages to come and camp out at Jerusalem for the week. There were ceremonies which happened at the Temple such as remembering the pillar of fire by night and the cloud which led them by day which had served as the feet of God which Israel was to follow into the Promised Land.
The particular remembrance for the last day of the feast was the water which poured forth from the belly of the rock which Moses struck by which God gave lifesaving water to the thirsty Israelites. When we understand this, it makes Jesus’ following statement more clear.
On that last great day of the feast, Jesus arose and cried out to the people. As we noted earlier in the chapter, there is probably more here than just raising one’s voice to be heard in the large crowd. This terminology is used in the Old Testament for the voice of God. Whether this is the case here or not, I don’t know, but it was the voice of God crying out nevertheless. When God speaks, we are summoned to listen carefully to what He says. Jesus did everything in His power to make the voice of God clear and plain to His people. He did not speak these words in the hidden recesses of an ivory tower to some initiated people. He instead made a public proclamation. This is to be the model for our preaching, teaching, and proclaiming the Gospel. It is true that many will refuse to listed and twist or obscure the plain teaching of Jesus or try to suppress the voice. For them they would turn the Word of God into riddles without answers. Nonetheless, we proclaim the good news to all without distinction and without fear of adverse reaction.
What then did Jesus cry? The punctuation that one puts into a Greek text which was written without punctuation marks or even spaces between the words makes for two possibilities. The one that most translations say “If anyone is thirsty, let Him come to me and drink.” For the Scripture says out of his belly shall come rivers of living water. This punctuation then would teach that the Holy Spirit flows out from the believer; however, one would be hard pressed to find a Scripture in the Old Testament to support this. Yet Jesus cites Scripture as proof.
The other possible way to translate the statement of Jesus is: “If anyone is thirsty let him come. And let him drink who believes in me. For the Scripture says: ‘Out of its belly (that is the belly of the rock) shall come rivers of living water.” This way of punctuating the verse makes Jesus the source through whom the Holy Spirit comes. This punctuation preserves a parallelism, a literary device often used in Hebrew. “Let him drink who believes in me” is an extension of the first thought which invites the thirsty to come and helps explain how this thirst can be satisfied. This also makes sense of the Scripture Jesus quotes. After all, this was the event the Jews were commemorating that day. Jesus tells them that He is that rock from which the thirsty need to come for living water. This agrees with the invitation Jesus gave to the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus in John 6 invited those who heard to eat and drink Him. So it makes perfect sense to understand the verse if one uses the second punctuation.
In verse 39, John gives us the explanation of Jesus’ statement. God wants the believer to understand His Word. It is the enemy which tries to obscure it and say “Did God really say that?” Jesus way preparing the way for Pentecost when the Holy Spirit will be poured out on the believer. In John 14-17, He will elaborate the person and work of the Holy Spirit more fully in His final words to the eleven before His crucifixion. At this point in the Gospel, those who were not already in the community of faith and were reading this gospel for the first time, they would not have known what Jesus was talking about. Perhaps they had encountered believer’s full of the Holy Spirit and were puzzled. As the stated purpose of this gospel was to being people for faith in Jesus the Christ and have everlasting life by believing on Him it is only appropriate here to inform the reader of what Jesus meant. John by sharing this gloss prepares the reader for the doctrine and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is too important to wait until later for explanation.
John also mentions that when Jesus said these words, the Holy Spirit had not been poured out on believers because Jesus had not yet been glorified. We will learn more later in the gospel that the glorification of Jesus refers to the passion of Christ on a cross. We also will learn more of the connection between the death and resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit,
The statement of Jesus caused a buzz in the crowd. Some saw Him as “the Prophet”. Others confessed Him as the Christ”. This sudden declaration of Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles convinced them that Jesus had fulfilled their expectations of the appearance of the Messiah at the Feast of Tabernacles. But there was also loud rejection by others. They kept on saying to those who confessed Him that it was impossible for Jesus to be the Messiah as Jesus came from Galilee. The people of Jerusalem and Judaea in many cases looked down at those who came from Galilee as uneducated country people who were not in touch with “modern” times. It was beyond their imagination that God would raise up a peasant to be their king.
John lets us know from the very beginning of the Gospel that The Word came from heaven to become flesh. So Jesus as God the Son had qualifications far beyond what the Pharisees and Jewish leaders could ever have imagined, or even us had we not been clued in. Yet as Jesus the Son on man is concerned, He came from a more humble background that His opponents could have thought either. His opponents were so culturally blind that they did not remember that God has a history of raising up rustics as prophets and kings. They should have remembered that the great King David they all revered was a humble shepherd and the least of all his brothers. Again, the leaders of the Jewish nation thought they knew all about Him, yet knew nothing at all. This is further followed by their showing that they were unaware that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
It appears that the debate about Jesus became quite heated. Yet once more, some were so angry that they wanted to arrest Jesus. But again, no one dared to lay hands upon Him. Earlier on we had seen that the Pharisees had requested that the Temple guards arrest Him. Apparently they were in the crowd. But Jesus’ words had paralyzed them from doing what they were sent to do. They had felt the power of His words. And the Pharisees were none too pleased when the Temple police came back empty-handed. They were astonished that they had not arrested Him and asked why. The guards had realized that this was not the words of an ordinary man. They replied that they never had heard someone speak like this, not the Priests, not the Scribes, or even the Pharisees. This compliment of the content of Jesus’ message was a slap in a face to them.
The Pharisees responded in demeaning terms to the Temple police. The jist of what they were saying is “Surely you haven been duped also? The Pharisees saw most Jews as being “people of the land” and looked down on them as being ignorant. So it was also quite an insult to the Temple Police to be classed with them by the Pharisees. The Pharisees separated themselves from the opinions of what they considered to be the rabble and reminded the attendants that not a single one of them nor of the other Jewish leaders had believed him. Again they were ignorant of the fact that some of them like Nicodemus was wavering about the person of Jesus. Who was the real authority, Jesus or the self-proclaimed authorities?
Application of the Text
Jesus reminds us gain that He is the source of eternal life. Even the Holy Spirit who is a member of the Trinity and who lives in the believer comes from Jesus. Later on we will also learn that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father also. This is the living water which refreshes us weary pilgrims on the way. In our life of work and witness, we will find ourselves in many controversies with the unbelievers. We live in a mixed world who hold various positions about Jesus. Some of them are positive, others are open minded, but most are opposed to the Gospel. We will be called names by sell-proclaimed religious authorities such as “Bible Moths”, “Fundamentalists”, “Holy Rollers”, “Bigots”, “Narrow-Minded”, “Intolerant”, and other such epithets. They accused the early church of cannibalism and incest. They accused the followers of John Wesley and George Whitfield with the sneering title of “Methodist”
So we need to expect to be called names and suffer the hate that results from being a follower of Jesus Christ. If we belonged to the world, we should expect their admiration and applause. But we do not belong to the world; we belong to Jesus Christ. Jesus tells us that His disciple should expect the same treatment as He received.
We are out in the crowd today. We need to continue to affirm our faith in Jesus in the midst of the controversy. We know that no man ever spoke like Him. Our affirmation will cause a commotion, but this is no time to be silent. We need to speak the truth in love. And we need the power of the Holy Spirit to do so. Let us see the controversy as presenting the possibility that others will believe in Jesus. We need to make the voice of God heard in the public arena. We need to cry to them to come to Jesus who alone can slake the thirst of a dying world. Invite them to come to Him. Do it in love. Just do it.