Rivers of living water
“If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37-38)
With these words Jesus announced the coming of the Holy Spirit following His glorification. God’s Spirit had been with His people as they worshipped and by the Spirit God had spoken to them through His prophets. Now, however, a new era was to begin; through the baptism of the Holy Spirit God would not merely be with them but in them (John 14:17), bubbling up in them as a spring of life and flowing from them to others to impart that life. Jesus, who is the Life, came to bring life to all who believe in Him.
John the Baptist had testified concerning Jesus, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ (John 1:32-33) Now at the Feast of Tabernacles, which reminded the Jewish people of God’s supernatural provision of water in the desert during the Exodus, Jesus was announcing the fulfilment of this promise.
When we look at the world in which we live it can feel like a spiritual desert; our society seems to be falling apart. The ever increasing self-centredness is resulting in the breaking-up of families, a relentless competition for power and material possessions and an alarming increase violent crime. Yet we get the feeling that the worse things get around us, the less people are willing to hear the truth about God’s love and redeeming grace. Why is it that we as God’s people are not impacting our society as we should? Why are even we ourselves often so affected by the spiritual death around us?
Water in the desert is a recurring theme throughout the Old Testament (Isa. 43:19; Ps. 63:1). For us in Britain it may be hard to imagine actual physical drought, but the people living in the region of Israel were very conscious of their dependence on the seasonal rainfall, without which they would suffer hunger and thirst. Therefore they could relate to Jesus’ words, “If anyone thirsts …” And they would also have understood His reference to spiritual drought. Their land was occupied by a foreign nation, they were suffering material deprivation due to the heavy tax burden imposed on them, and their political and religious leaders, rather than offering them a solution, seemed to be accommodating the oppressors for their own personal gain. When would God intervene on their behalf? When would the promised Messiah come to deliver them and establish His kingdom of righteousness? When would the ‘rivers in the desert’ become a reality?
This is what Jesus was announcing: He was that deliverer, that fountain from which God’s living water would spring (John 4:10). And those who would drink from Him would not just experience the quenching of their own thirst; they themselves would become springs of living water through the Spirit who would come to live in them. Jesus came not just to give life, but to transform all who believed in Him and were reborn of His Spirit into a fountain of life. Through His death and subsequent resurrection and exaltation He would remove the barrier created by humanity’s rebellion against God, making the way for Him to live within His people.
God came to His creation by taking on human flesh and thus restored those who received Him and believed in Him to Himself. He brought life to a dead world, and He makes those who believe in Him into agents of that life. Let us become conscious of what God has placed in us. Let us not focus on the drought around us but rather on the source within us. Let us turn our spiritual eyes on God in true spiritual worship (John 4:23) and allow His life-giving presence to flow from us and bring life to those around us.
Before Jesus returned to the Father He said to His disciples, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:21-22) Jesus is still sending and He is still breathing His Spirit on those who will answer His call. It is for us to obey His call, depending not on our own ability but on the life which He has placed within us. That way we will be agents of life, capable of bringing new life to a dying world. It is for this purpose that He has called us.