The Invitation of Jesus - Come and Drink
Come and Drink
On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." 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.
It is as if Americans had discovered water again. Restaurant patrons want water brought in a bottle so they can read the label. Something like fifty-nine varieties of bottled water are available today. For serious water drinkers to order water now demands the same discernment that used to be reserved for other beverages. A waiter may be asked, "Is this water imported or domestic? Is it natural (all from one source) or processed (mixed from several sources)? Is it still or effervescent? And if it's effervescent, is the carbonation natural or was it added artificially?
I'm not kidding! From Europe alone come such brands as Solare, Fiuggi, Spa, San Pelligrino, Apollinaris, and of course, Perrier, from Vergeze, France—the bottled-water champion. Recently the company doubled its operations to eight hundred million bottles per year. In the United States you can buy Mountain Valley Water, which has been bottled for 115 years in good old Hot Springs, Arkansas. All this attention makes it seem as if people were looking for something special in water. Perhaps they're looking for a meaning that water itself does not hold.
People in Jesus' generation could not be so selective about the water they drank. To have water at all was a great gift of God. The last great feast of the year, the Feast of Tabernacles, celebrated God's gift of water to His people. It was on this occasion that Jesus made His great statement about water, describing living water flowing from within, the Holy Spirit residing in and presiding over the lives of His people.
This same living water is still there for us today when we come back to God—and stay. It swirls through us and around us, quenching us, energizing us, comforting us, inspiring us, and protecting us. It is the gift of life everlasting in God's presence.
Each year the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem recreated the wilderness wanderings of the Hebrew people. On the streets, in the courts, and on the roofs people lived in arbors constructed of palms, myrtles, and olives. Looking up at night, they saw the stars through these booths and remembered the Exodus. The ceremonies of the week defy description. Seventy bulls were sacrificed for the seventy nations of the world. The temple trumpets sounded a triumphant blast twenty-one times. On the evening of the first day a huge candelabra was lit in the court of the women, and in the light of the torches men danced until the temple gates closed at night. The celebration of water dominated the whole week.
On each of the seven mornings of the feast, the multitude followed the priests to the pellucid pool of Siloam, fed by the sacred spring of Gihon southeast of the temple hill. There, with great ceremony, the white-robed priest filled a shining golden pitcher with the living, sparkling water of the spring as the people cried out from Isaiah with one voice, "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation." Then the masses of people—children wild-eyed with wonder, women rapturous with joy, old men with renewed vigor—all of them proceeded back up to the temple, singing the six psalms which end with Psalm 118.
In their left hands the people carried twigs representing the journey of the Exodus and in their right hands they held fruits representing the land of promise. The silver trumpets blasted as they circled the altar, and then the real moment arrived. The priest ascended a ramp with the golden pitcher in hand and poured the water through a bright silver funnel until it landed, laughing and splashing, on the pavement below. The occasion was so filled with joy that one rabbi said those who had not seen it did not know what joy meant. If it rained during the feast, it was seen as a forecast of abundant rain and harvest. All of this was the setting of one of Jesus' greatest statements.
John 7:37 says, "On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice. . . ." Some believe that the last day of the feast was a solemn Sabbath with no ceremony, and that the people were quiet and stilled as they kept the Sabbath around the great temple. Amid that quiet setting, Jesus stood up and cried out. Normally He taught from a seated position, but here His posture as well as His voice demanded attention. He cried out in the midst of the solemn Sabbath, His voice reverberating in the halls of the Jerusalem temple. Just as we are told Jesus "cried out" in the tomb of Lazarus, calling life out of death, with that same intensity He "cries out" into the lifeless religious ceremony in Jerusalem.
It was an electrifying interruption. The impact would be similar to someone standing up and crying out the same way in the public worship service of a large church. It would be like crying out at a presidential inauguration or a solemn graduation. It was an audacious, preempting, substitutionary act. Jesus cried out that He is the replacement for all empty ceremony; He is the substance of which all else is the shadow. He is the real of which all else is the symbol.
Many of us need to hear that cry. We come to religious ceremonies, we follow the order of service, we watch the pageantry, and hear the praises, but still we thirst. We are parched, and still not fulfilled.
Hearing the Invitation of Christ
Christ calls first for our recognition of need: "If anyone is thirsty. . . . " Jesus compared the intensity of higher spiritual needs with the intensity of lower physical needs. Before Jesus, the psalmist had cried, "My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God" (Ps. 42:2, KJV). And Jeremiah had cried out to his generation that they had "hewn themselves . . . broken cisterns" (Jer. 2:13, NKJV). In that day, people's lives leaked. They were like cracked containers, the water of life slowly seeping out of them. Jesus had proclaimed earlier, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled" (Matt. 5:6).
Jesus' use of thirst in His appeal would surely touch a nerve in His desert-dwelling listeners. Today, we cannot imagine what thirst really meant to that generation. The Feast of Tabernacles took place in October, after the seemingly endless stretch of blistering desert days. The thirsty person of Jesus' day knew the torture of fine sand entering every pore of the skin, choking and blinding, and the scorching wind drying up the very marrow of the bones. A human can live a long time without food; but seventeen days is the world record without water. Experts say there are five stages of extreme physical thirst. First, there is a protest stage of disbelief and discomfort. Then the mouth feels as dry as cotton and the tongue sticks to the roof of the mouth. Next there comes the agony of the tongue shriveling into a knot; in agony, the victim tears at his clothes. Next the skin cracks from lack of water. And finally there's the writhing, convulsive end. This is the picture of extreme physical thirst.
But spiritual thirst can be just as real. And even worse, there are some so dead to life and to God that they are beyond spiritual thirst. They have drunk at the fetid, stagnant, foul wells of godless existence until there is no spiritual thirst left. For them life is only a long day's journey into night.
If they have not found the Source of living water, those who do feel a spiritual thirst try to fill it endlessly. They fill their thirst with money, but only want more. They fill it with sensuality, but one conquest only makes them want another. They fill it with ambition, but that is like drinking salt water. They fill it with the desire for power, but every little bit makes them jealous of those who have more. When you try to fill the God-shaped void in your life with conquests in the bedroom or the board room it only stokes inward fires with an intenser heat. It is the same thirst felt by a drug abuser who moves from amphetamines to marijuana to cocaine to crack to heroine, trying to douse the fire within him. If anyone has eyes to see he can witness a horde of people whose souls have shriveled with spiritual thirst.
What do you have to know to come to Jesus Christ? The only fitness required is the knowledge of your need. All you need to do is humbly admit, "Lord, I thirst." And hearing your whispered plea, Christ opens His arms: ". . . let him come to me and drink." He simply offers Himself. When we come back to God to stay, that is all we need.
The image of Jesus' invitation is one of comfort and refreshment. Remember the setting in the Feast of Tabernacles. The priest had ceremonially poured out water from a golden pitcher into a silver funnel for seven days. But despite the elaborate ritual, when the people drank, the ceremonial water quenched their thirst only temporarily. Those who drank from the waters of the ceremony would eventually be thirsty again. But Jesus gives an invitation away from a ceremony to a person, away from an outward rite to an inward reality.
The first meaning of this invitation is that Christ calls us away from the external, formal, and ritual in religion and calls us to Himself. "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst" (John 4:13).
The whole of John's Gospel presents Jesus as the fulfillment of every religious ceremony and symbol. In chapter 1 He is the true lamb of God and the true ladder to heaven. In chapter 2, He is the real temple; in chapter 3, He is the real birth; in chapter 6, He is the real manna from heaven; in chapter 7, He is the true water from the rock; in chapter 8, He is the true light of the world; and finally, in chapter 19, He is the true passover lamb.
Christ professes to be the inexhaustible person, welcoming all of humanity in every generation; even then, there will be more than enough from this artesian well. Place these words on the lips of anyone else and see how ridiculous they sound. A pastor could never say this—I certainly know that! I pour myself out in preparation, preaching, visitation, counseling, and then in emptiness I must come back to the great Font. No Plato of philosophy, no Einstein of intellect, no politician, no academician, no sage or philosopher ever made this statement. But Christ can, and twenty centuries have proven its truth. The apostles drank from this Source in the first century; but at the end of their era the blessed Source was still brimful.
Justin Martyr and Irenaeus and thousands of other Christian martyrs drank of it in the second century, and they died saying it is still full. Origen and Clement and the great commentators of the third century drank; and when they laid down their pens, the well was still overflowing. Augustine and his generation drank in the fourth century and died crying out, "There is still more!" That well flowed through the Dark Ages, a river flowing through the night of superstition that chained Bibles in cathedrals. In the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries they came to drink—John Syclif, John Huss, Thomas Aquinas, and others, and they all cried out, "The longer it flows, the deeper it grows!" Then the great reformers and the thousands they brought to Christ all drank.
Luther gave the cup to Calvin, and cried, "John, it's still full!" Calvin passed the cup to Knox in Scotland, and cried, "The more you drink, John, the more there is!" Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans drank and John Smyth and the Separatists drank, and still, the further it went, the wider it would grow, and the deeper it would flow.
That river flowed through colonial America in great awakenings and it became a mighty wave that flowed over the Appalachians to the great revivals on the frontier. It flows right down to this very day. Will you drink?
The Resource for Life
Jesus, the Source of Life, promises to flow to and through the believer—and through us as sources to others. In order to say this, Jesus laid His hand on two great images from the old Testament—the water from the rock of the Exodus and the river from the temple in Ezekiel.
In the Old Testament Exodus, God provided water for His people by telling Moses to "smite the rock," and from that rock flowed water. The rabbis maintained that the rock followed after Israel in the wilderness. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:3-4, "They all . . . drank the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ." The water came from a smitten rock. John adds in this passage that "Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified" (v. 39).
It was in dying that Jesus, the great Living Stone, opened His side to give the water of life. "One of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water" (John 19:34). There is water from the Rock! It is a great mystery that out of the death of Christ we find the water of life.
Less profound mystery also surrounds some of the water in our earthly life, especially the world's great rivers. High among the everlasting snows of the tallest Andes, a thin trickle of water suddenly bubbles forth and starts to trace a hesitant line on the face of the rock. It edges its way slowly down like a twisting sliver of light. More than thirty-six hundred miles later the Amazon empties into the Atlantic at 180,000 cubic meters per second, draining one-fifth of all the water that runs off the earth's surface. Sixty miles into the Atlantic it still purifies the salt water. Yet it began as a tiny trickle from a mysterious source.
The greatest mystery of all is the Nile. It begins in an unknown source more than eighty-five hundred feet up in the mountains of Burundi, and empties into the sea 4,154 miles later.
The water of life that flows from the side of Jesus Christ is more than a river of mystery; it is the water of life. From the smitten Rock of Ages, from the side of the wounded Christ, flow water and blood.
The other image on which Christ laid His hand was the mighty river from the temple in Ezekiel 47. The great prophet foresaw that from the temple in Jerusalem there would come a river that would flow to the Judean desert, into the Jordan, and on to the Dead Sea. The further it went, the deeper it would grow, and the wider it would flow, Ezekiel wrote. Jesus had claimed to replace the temple: "the temple he had spoken of was his body" (John 2:21). And in the last pages of Scripture we read of the river that flows "from the throne of God and of the Lamb" (Rev. 22:1).
But it is not enough that Jesus is the Source of life for others. The great meaning is that this Source enters the life of those who come to Christ—who come home to God, and stay. He who comes to the Rock becomes a rock. He who drinks from this Fountain becomes a fountain. This answers the promise of Isaiah: "You will be . . . like a spring whose waters never fail" (Isa. 58:11).
Jesus Christ pours Himself into us and we become fountains like Him. We become like the melting snows of the highlands, which pour themselves down into some great lake whose clear water reflects the blue sky above; we become like the rivers that carry to the lowland valleys all of the glorious force of the snow-melted waters from the hills. The water of life empties itself into the great lake of Jesus Christ, but He then flows through the innermost being of all those who are His. In this way, the Christian life is lived as He meant it to be lived, showing these three characteristics:
1. The life of Christ through us is one of effortlessness— the waters flow. There is no effort about a river—it simply flows. What strain there is in the life of most of us! We pump ourselves up and whip ourselves into shape. But when we touch this soothing secret of Christ, life flows without a sense of strain to us or to others.
2. The life of Christ through us is one of abundance. The word "abundant" comes from the Latin ab unda which means "wave upon wave." Notice in John 7:38 that Christ said "streams of living water will flow from within him"— streams, plural. Not one, but many. There is more than enough living water for everything in your life. A stream of water for your home, a stream of water for your work, and another for your service to Christ.
3. The life of Christ within us is internal in its origin. It leaps forth from our innermost beings. We have an inward source that speaks to those around us of something divine. When I was a boy, I saw a fascinating exhibit at the famous Fort Worth, Texas rodeo. It was a faucet hanging on a string. Water came from it, but it was not connected to anything. It was, of course, a trick; a thin, transparent rod carried water up through the stream of water to the faucet. What appeared to be a secret source of water was really an optical illusion. But with Christ there is no illusion. There is only reality. He really is a Source fed from unseen reserves who pours His very life into us.
F. B. Meyer, the great Christian mystic of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, told of a meeting of 150 of God's servants. They met with Meyer and Dr. Wilbur Chapman out in an old woods, on an Indian mound. One of the Christians told of the way he had struggled up and out of his former discouragement. He had read in a secular newspaper an address which made it clear that one thing mattered in Christian living: "whether a man worked for God or whether he let God work through him." His whole life changed because of that simple but radical distinction. Meyer, Chapman, and all the others knelt down in the woods and prayed audibly, one after another, "Not henceforth for thee, O God, but Thou through me." The difference afterward was electrifying in life and fulfillment. (Homiletic Review, October 1899, 323) Jesus offers to flow through you in a new dimension of Christian living. That is the way to stay back when you have come back to God.
Homesick for God.