Out of Your Heart Will Flow Rivers of Living Water
From Gospel Translations
Jesus is in Jerusalem teaching a divided crowd of listeners. Some want him arrested. Verse 30: “So they were seeking to arrest him.” Why? Because they saw him as a pretender who can’t possibly be the Messiah. Notice how they argue in verse 27: “But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ [=Messiah] appears, no one will know where he comes from.” There was a popular view among the people that the Messiah would appear suddenly, as out of nowhere. But here Jesus is, a man from Nazareth, with no sudden appearance, and looking nothing like a Messiah.
But others thought he was the Messiah—at least it was a good chance. Verse 31: “Yet many of the people believed in him. They said, ‘When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?’” In other words, they were really impressed with his miracles. Maybe their faith was real; maybe it wasn’t (like his brothers’ in verse 5).
Divided Crowd, Opposition Intensifying
So they were divided. But the reason the opposition intensified in verse 30 (“seeking to arrest him”) was not merely because he failed to look like a Messiah, but because of what he said—and the most offensive part (and it remains offensive 2,000 years later) was what he said about them, not about himself. Look at verses 28-29.
So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple [speaking here with pointed irony, I believe], “You know me, and you know where I come from. But I have not come of my own accord. He who sent me is true, and him you do not know. I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.”
Don’t miss the words “him you do not know.” You, the most religious, the most privileged, the most well-taught people in the world, the people with the very oracles of God, the Jewish Scriptures—you do not know God. This is why you want to kill me. I know God. I am from God. God sent me. And since you don’t know him, you can’t recognize me.
If You Reject Jesus, You Reject God
Over and over in this Gospel, Jesus makes plain that if you reject him as God’s Son, his Messiah, and as the supreme Treasure of your life, you don’t know God or honor God or love God or have God as your Father—no matter what your religion, and no matter what you say your relationship with God is. Here are five examples:
- John 5:23: “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.”
- John 5:42–43: “I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me.”
- John 6:45: “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”
- John 8:19: “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”
- John 8:42: “If God were your Father, you would love me.”
If you want to help somebody discern if he really knows God or not—say a Muslim or a Buddhist or a Hindu or a Jewish person, present him with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, crucified for sinners as the only hope of the world. What they make of him reveals whether they truly know God, or honor God, or love God, or have God as their Father. If they will not have Jesus as Lord and Savior, they do not have God as Father.
Jesus’ Answer: Calm and Authoritative
This is why the crowds wanted him arrested in verse 30 (and why you will not be popular in this pluralistic world of ours if you speak the word of Christ). But some thought he just might be the Messiah. And when the Pharisees got wind of that positive response, verse 32 says they took action: “The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest him.”
We are not told until verses 45–46 what happened with those officers (next week’s message), but what we are told here is that Jesus responds with calm and authoritative words in verses 33–34: Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. You will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come.”
In other words, you may try to arrest me but I will choose where I go, when I go, and who will follow. You can’t take me early. You won’t keep me here when I choose to leave. And you can’t follow me later. Your plans with me are futile. I have come to do my Father’s will, not yours. And it will be done. Exactly on time. And in the way he has designed it.
Their Clueless Response
In response to this calm authority, they are clueless. Verse 36: “What does he mean by saying, ‘You will seek me and you will not find me’?”
So the situation we have is that the crowds have been told that they don’t know God, and the Pharisees have been told that they are powerless in their plots. Now what? What will Jesus do? What will he say? The Feast of Tabernacles, that brought him up to Jerusalem in the first place, is almost over. There’s one more day. He is surrounded by people that want him arrested. The Pharisees have sent officers to do it.
No One Speaks Like Jesus
Perhaps those officers are standing there in front of him waiting for him to slip. It seems like it. The officers that the Pharisees sent in verse 32 return to the Pharisees in verses 45–46. Listen to what happens: “The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, ‘Why did you not bring him?’ The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!’”
Indeed. No one ever spoke like this man. So what Jesus is about to do at this moment into the face of Pharisees and chief priests and hostile crowds and arresting officers is speak words that no one has ever spoken. And these are the main focus of our message. Verses 37–39:
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. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 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.
Why Should We Care If Jesus Is True?
Last week the point of Jesus’s amazing words in the temple were designed to tell us how we can know that he is true. Remember, he said,
“If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true.” (John 7:17–18)
The issue there was: Is he true? How can you know? Today the issue is: Why should you care? There are many true things that just don’t matter. You could believe them or not believe them, and it wouldn’t make much difference. So why should we care if Jesus is true? What difference will it make if we come to him as true or not? That’s what he tells us now.
So you should ask now not only: Is he true? Is he real? How can I know? But also: Would I want him if he were true? What would it mean if I did come to him? What would it be like? Would it be worth it? Those are the questions Jesus is answering now.
Extending an Open-Ended Invitation to His Enemies
And I hope you see that part of the answer to whether he is the kind of person you might want to come to is that he is speaking these words to his enemies. He is issuing a totally open-ended invitation to everyone in the sound of his voice, and in the sound of mine, to come to him and drink. And the only qualification he mentions is thirst. Verse 37: “If anyone (anyone!)—any Pharisee, any chief priest, any officer trying to arrest me, any offended person—if anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”
Do you remember how near the end of his life Jesus looked out over this city and cried,
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Matthew 23:37)
How often I stretched out my hands to you! This is one of those times. How many times have you heard him say this to you in your life? “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” Amazing. He is saying this to his enemies. And he is saying to you.
What Coming to Him Means
And what would it mean if you came?
Let’s answer that by looking at five things: the thirst, the coming to drink, the rivers that flow from the heart, the reference to the Spirit coming after Jesus is glorified, and the fact that this was prophesied in Scripture.
1) Three Things Implied in Thirsting
Verse 37: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” It seems to me that there are three wonderful things implied in the words “if anyone thirst.” First is that the gift of the water is free. The condition you must meet is need. “If anyone thirst.” That’s the condition. And the action you must take is to drink. Receive the gift. There is no thought here of earning or meriting. Anyone. Anyone who knows his own thirst is invited.
Second, the human soul has thirst. We know he is not talking about physical thirst. That’s clear. But what he is saying is that the soul has something like physical thirst. When you go without water your body gets thirsty. And the soul, when it goes without God, gets thirsty. Your body was made to live on water. Your soul was made to live on God.
This is the most important thing to know about yourself. You were made to live on God. You have a soul, a spirit. There is a you that is more than a body. And that you, if it does not drink from the greatness and wisdom and power and goodness and justice and holiness and love of God, will die of thirst.
Third, implied in the word “thirst” is that what Jesus offers is satisfying. The aim of all theology, all study, all biblical learning, all preaching it to spread the satisfying banquet for you to eat with joy, and to protect the kitchen from poison. The aim of cooking is eating. The aim of digging wells and clearing springs is drinking. Everything Jesus came to do and teach is aimed at providing the soul with food and drink that satisfy forever.
That’s what I see in the word “thirst.” The water is free. The soul has a thirst. And Jesus aims to satisfy the soul forever.
2) Three Observations About Coming to Jesus to Drink
Versed 37–38: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Three observations:
First, Jesus is what we drink. “Come to me and drink.” Jesus doesn’t just have what our souls need; he is what our souls need. Recall John 6:35, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” He is the bread of life. He is the living water. Our souls were made for Jesus. The ache in our hearts is at root an ache for Jesus. This is how the soul lives on God. It lives on Jesus.
Second, the soul can drink. It can swallow. He is speaking spiritually, not materially, when he says, “Come to me and drink.” This drinking is not something you do with your mouth and your throat. You do it with your soul. You do it spiritually. You were made to do this. You are not a mere animal. You were made for this—coming, not physically, but spiritually, to Jesus, and drinking, swallowing the water for your soul that he is.
Third, this coming and drinking are what it means to believe on Jesus. Verses 37–38: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me . . .” That last phrase is another way of saying come and drink. Coming and drinking Jesus is what happens when we believe. It’s what believe means.
We saw it in the parallel structure of John 6:35: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Believing on Jesus is coming to him to eat and drink for our soul’s deepest satisfaction.
So be done forever with the sad notion that saving faith—that believing on Jesus—is a mere decision to believe facts. No. It is a coming to him as a feast. A treasure. A banquet. A spring in the desert when we are dying of thirst. This is what the apostle John meant when he connected believing on Jesus and receiving Jesus in John 1:12. Believing is receiving him as water, food, life for the soul.
So those three things: Jesus is the water we need, the soul does the drinking, and that is what believing means—coming to Jesus to drink for our soul’s satisfaction.
3) The Rivers That Flow from the Soul
Verse 38: “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Literally, it says, out of his belly. But the point is our inner being, call it belly, heart, soul, spirit. What does this mean?
It means that when you come to Jesus to drink, you don’t just get a single drink, but you get spring, a fountain, a well. You get Jesus. Rivers of water will flow because a River-Maker is in you. That’s the point. You will never have to search again for a source of satisfaction for your soul. Every river that needs to flow for the joy of your soul will flow from Jesus. When you come to him, you get him. And he never leaves.
4) The Spirit of the Glorified Jesus
Verse 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.”
There was an experience of the Spirit that could not be enjoyed until Jesus had died for our sins, been raised triumphant over death, and ascended to the right of the Father in glory—namely, the experience of fellowship with the Spirit of the glorified, risen Christ. This is what the Father gives to everyone who believes. The presence and power and fellowship of the Spirit of the risen and glorified Christ.
Once Jesus was with us as an incarnate man, and now he is in us by his Spirit. Listen to John 14:16–17: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
And he is indeed in everyone who believes on Jesus. Remember what Paul said in Romans 8:9? “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” If you come to Christ to drink for your soul’s satisfaction, you get Christ. And now we see that he means: You get the Spirit—the Spirit of God and of Christ.
Christ, as the incarnate Son of God, is in heaven. We can’t see his body now. We walk by faith and not by sight. But he is in us (Romans 8:10). We have the Spirit of the risen and glorified Christ living in us. Which means Christ is in us.
5) The Witness of Scripture to the Plans of God
Verse 38 again: “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
There are so many Old Testament texts that point to this reality. Let me give you just one. Isaiah 58:11: “You shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”
But here is the way we should end—the really wonderful implication for us that God spoke of this reality hundreds of years before it happened. It means that God was planning this for you. God was planning to send his Son. He created you to have an unquenchable soul thirst that could draw you to him. He planned for Jesus to stand in Jerusalem, and for me to stand in this pulpit, and cry out: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me [Jesus] and drink.”
This is God’s invitation to you. Not just mine. Not just Jesus’s. But God’s. Come, drink, live.