When I woke up a few mornings ago, my mouth was so dry I felt my lips were cemented together. I couldn’t wait to get a drink of water! I screwed open a bottle of Ice Mountain and practically poured it down. It tasted so good! It was exactly what I needed.
When Jesus, truly God, but also truly human, lived on the earth, He did so in an arid land. Among His last words from the cross, hanging beneath the harsh Judean sun, were, “I thirst.” Jesus knows what it is to thirst, to crave the life that water gives.
That’s part of what gives such power to what He told the Samaritan woman at the well. She was tired of going to the village water source under the midday sun. Jesus tells her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)
And in John 6:35, Jesus tells the crowds He has fed with a bit of bread and a few fish, “Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
In passages like these, Jesus uses the need we all have for water for life to talk about something we need even more desperately than mere water, now and in eternity.
Our short Gospel lesson for this Pentecost Sunday finds Jesus in Jerusalem on the last day of the Festival of Tabernacles or the Festival of Booths. It was one of the three great festivals of the Jewish year. It lasted, as it even does today among modern Jews, seven or eight days. In ancient times, it celebrated several things: the just-completed harvest, God’s provision for His people during the forty years in the wilderness, and the giving of God’s Law, the ten commandments, at Mount Sinai.
The Mishnah, a collection of Jewish rabbinic oral traditions about the Old Testament, tells us that one of the most important temple rituals each morning of the Feast of Tabernacles was “the celebration of water libation.” Priests would circle the altar in the temple, carrying freshly drawn water from the pool of Siloam. This was done with prayers that God would provide the water needed for a good harvest the next season.
This helps to explain why Jesus expresses Himself as He does in today’s lesson. Take a look at it now: “On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.”
When Jesus cites Scripture here, He seems to be referring to a number of different passages of the Old Testament that refer to life-giving water, life-giving wisdom, and even the life-giving Spirit.
One place is Isaiah 43:19-20 in which the prophet quotes the Savior Who would come hundreds of years later in Jesus as saying, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen…” God promises refreshment and renewal--living water--to people born dead in sin, like you and me.
And in Jeremiah 2:13, God tells ancient Israel: “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” In other words, God’s people had gone to their idols of choice rather than drawing life--living water--from its only true source, the God now revealed to all in Jesis.
In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus tells us that it’s God the Holy Spirit Who quenches our greatest thirst. It’s a thirst that every human being has...
- a thirst for hope and peace amid the suffering and uncertainty of our world,
- a thirst for life where death seems to have the final say,
- a thirst for forgiveness for the sin with which, we know--deep down--we’ve broken God’s heart and harmed ourselves and others,
- a thirst for the meaning that every busy day seems sometimes to drag right out of us.
This desire for more that we all have has its roots in two human desires, one legitimate and one illegitimate.
On the illegitimate side of the ledger is the desire, like Adam and Eve, to “be like God.” We think that if we take on more experiences, more money, more financial security, more health, that we’ll be gods unto ourselves: independent, strong, self-sufficient. If we don’t learn the futility of this fantasy when we’re young, growing older has a way of forcing the lesson down our throats. Yet we're born with this desire to be like God.
But the legitimate side of our desire for more lies in the fact that it makes us realize that there’s something missing in our souls, a yawning need, that persists no matter how much money, security, health, acceptance, or strength we have, no matter how many amazing experiences or friendships we attain in life. Saint Augustine expressed our common human yearning for more in this way: “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds rest in You.”
It is God the Holy Spirit Who fills the holes in our souls.
The Holy Spirit quenches the thirst we all have, the emptiness that can only be filled by the God Who made us and Who saves all who trust in God the Son Jesus from the sin, death, and futility that marks the lives of those Who don’t trust in Jesus.
It was the Holy Spirit Who emboldened the praying, but still frightened, first disciples of Jesus to speak the Gospel Word that all who repent and believe in Jesus have everlasting life with God on the first Christian Pentecost.
It’s this same Holy Spirit Who enables us to believe, despite the horrors of a world dying in sin displays each day, that God is with us and will have us with Him for all eternity.
It’s the Holy Spirit Who gives us God’s Word in the Bible and Who creates and sustains faith in Christ through the humble witness of loving parents, children, friends, co-workers, and even inadequate, ineloquent preachers.
The Holy Spirit is living water for souls dying of thirst for Jesus, even for the souls of those who already know Jesus and realize with special clarity just how desperately and constantly we need Him!
In 1 Corinthians 12:3, the apostle Paul tells us, “...no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”
If you can confess that Jesus is your Lord, even on the days when you’re not feeling it, then you know that the Holy Spirit is filling you with the Living Water, with life with God through Christ.
And if that’s so, you also know that each day, whatever your circumstances, whatever you’re feeling, you can turn to the Father in Jesus’ name and be filled again and again with the Holy Spirit Who brings you all that we confess the Spirit brings in our Creeds and Confessions:
- the Word of God,
- the life of God,
- the Baptism by which God claims us as His own,
- the Communion by which we abide in God and His people and they in us,
- the assurance that Jesus, God the Son, is with you always, the resurrection of the dead from God, and
- the life everlasting with God.
Each day, bring your thirsty soul to God in the name of Jesus and the Spirit will fill you again with Living Water! Amen