Pentecost • John 7:37–39 • June 12, 2011
By R. Reed Lessing
“The Fly-Over Lands of our Lives”
John’s Use of Water
Our Lord’s turning water into wine at the Cana wedding (Jn 2:1–11) makes Jesus the focal point of water symbolism in John’s Gospel. Speaking to Nicodemus, Christ links water and the Spirit (Jn 3:5), while “living water” (Jn 4:7–15) is symbolic of eternal life. The healing of the lame man in John 5:1–9 takes place at the pool of Bethesda. Again demonstrating his authority over water, Jesus walks on the Sea of Galilee (Jn 6:19). When we arrive at the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7 it is not surprising that this festival was associated with water. Later, in John 9, the pool of Siloam becomes the site of yet another healing. The next narrative to focus upon water is the Savior’s washing of the disciples’ feet where water serves as a symbol of Christ’s cleansing power (Jn 13:1–15; 15:3). At the cross, the profound irony is that this Lord and giver of water actually thirsts (Jn 19:28)! In John 19:34 we learn that the blessings connected to water come only through Christ’s death. Roman soldiers pierced Jesus’s side with a spear, resulting in a “sudden flow of blood and water.”
Overview of John 7:37–39
We meet Jesus on the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles, which had a special connection to the temple since the days of Solomon (1 Ki 8:2). On each of the seven mornings a priest filled a golden pitcher with water as the choir repeated words from Isaiah 12:3. Water was then poured on the base of the altar. On the seventh day the priest poured water seven times into a silver funnel surrounding the altar. When Jesus stood up on this “the last and greatest day of the feast” (Jn 7:37), the people’s prayers for water were answered in a way they could hardly have expected. He is the new temple (Jn 1:14; 2:21) and from his riven side will flow the gift of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Jn 5:7).
Comments on the Text
Verse 37: Jesus “cried out” (ἔκραξεν). This is the same verb used to describe John the Baptist (Jn 1:15), as well as Jesus (Jn 7:28, 44). It denotes a solemn proclamation of truth.
Verse 38: This verse presents us with two difficulties. First, do the streams of living water flow from Jesus or the believer? Reasons to believe it is Jesus include (1) the Roman spear thrust, when water flowed from his side (Jn 19:24), (2) the Johannine description of living water flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb (Rv 22:1), and (3) according to John 7:39 the water is the Holy Spirit, and in John’s Gospel Jesus is the sender of the Spirit (Jn 20:22). The second question posed by this verse is this: what passage of the Old Testament is cited? Because many of John’s Old Testament types come from the exodus narrative (e.g., Jn 1:29 [the paschal lamb]; Jn 3:14 [the bronze serpent]; Jn 6:31 [manna]), it is most probable that the Scripture points to water coming forth from the rock (see Ex 17:1–7; 1 Cor 10:4). Perhaps the closest Old Testament text is in Psalm 78:15–16.
Verse 39: The symbolism whereby water stands for the Holy Spirit seems a bit strange, but verbs applicable to water are often used to describe the gift of the Spirit (e.g., Is 32:15; Acts 2:17). Christ’s “glorification” is Johannine shorthand for the cluster of events that encompass our Lord’s crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and ascension.
Homiletical Development of the Sermon
Have you ever been on a flight that takes you over portions of Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, Utah or some such state that is composed mostly of barren wasteland? There is a reason these places are called “fly-over lands.” We fly over them to get to other, more exotic places, like New York or Los Angeles.
We all have “fly-over lands” in our lives, memories or relationships that are desolate and filled with tumble-weeds and blowing sand. In these places wagging fingers and torching tongues remind us of our past sin. Desert demons live in these badlands, pointing out our ugly duplicity, ongoing pride, and lustful idolatry. What is our response? Fly-over!
It’s time to stop denying these painful places and come to the only one who can quench our thirst. A major motif in John’s Gospel is the gift of water. (Here use references from the section above titled “John’s Use of Water.”)
Our text links earlier uses of water in John with the ultimate gift of water at our Lord’s death. How can this be? (Here employ ideas from the section titled “Overview of John 7:37–39”—then detail the text.)
Jesus knows the pain of fly-over lands. Oh God, Jesus knows! All the pain of human history and all the torment of the Fall are captured in his fly-over land called Golgotha. The horror is expressed in these infamous words in John 19:28, “I thirst.”
In one ironic twist for the ages, the raging river of life flowing throughout the fourth Gospel is reduced to just a drop until it completely dries up. Look. Blood and sweat are caked to his cheeks. His lips are cracked and swollen. Tight nerves threaten to snap as death pangs its morbid melody. Then witness the Roman spear thrust and a sudden flow of blood and water. Here is the temple, crushed and cursed by the sin of your life and mine. And how did people respond when they saw this bloody mess? Flyover.
But not so fast. Come to this Jesus, crushed and yet alive forevermore. Watch the Holy Spirit he sends flood your baptismal font, forgiving your filth, defeating your death, and quenching your thirst. His living water has one destination, the fly-over lands of our lives!