Come and Drink
Text: “37 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. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37-38)
40 years in the desert is a long time. It’s said that an army marches on its stomach. What is meant by that saying is that even the greatest army can be easily defeated if it runs out of basic supplies like food and water—in the worst case, defeated without even a single shot. Obviously that was true for the Children of Israel led by Moses, as well. And this wasn’t a months-long military campaign; it wasn’t a 40-day offensive; nor was it just an army. Soldiers can endure quite a bit for the sake of their mission. They can survive on rations that were produced with more concern for giving them the nutrients they need than for taste. But this is literally a huge extended family—men, women, and children who all needed to be provided with food and water. Forget about how they were going to take possession of the Promised Land when they got there; they needed to know where they were going to get water to keep them alive for the next day.
Starting there in the wilderness, two of the enduring pictures of God’s provision and deliverance were the manna—“bread from heaven”—and the rock from which God provided a stream of water to sustain them in the desert.
That’s part of what this feast was all about. “On the last day of the feast,” our text begins, “the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out….” Which feast? The Feast of Booths. The annual commemoration of their ancestors living in the wilderness for 40 years before they finally entered the Promised Land. On the last day of that feast, one of the traditions was to take water from a spring under the Temple Mount and pour the water around the base of the altar of sacrifice to commemorate the water that flowed from the rock. Drawing on that image, Jesus stands up and declares, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” It is as if He is telling them, “Are you waiting and watching for God to send His Savior, the One who will sustain you through the hardships of this life and lead you across the Jordan River into the Promised Land? I’m here.” He is the fulfillment of that event. He is the rock that the Children of Israel drank from in the wilderness.
And today—Pentecost—is a big deal because God’s people still live in a wilderness on our way to the Promised Land. Life in this world can be grueling. You finally put one burden behind you only to find another has taken its place. That’s one of the great lessons of parenting, isn’t it? You start to get your feet under you, so to speak, to feel like you have some idea what you’re doing, just in time for your child to move on to the next stage when everything changes. There are always conflicts—things rarely work out nicely or neatly.
And we haven’t even started to talk about the more direct effects of sin. The sins of others beat on us like ocean waves, wearing us down. Living, itself, sometimes drains you as quickly as a desert sun. Our own sins constantly plague us, as well. The Children of Israel constantly lamented how good they had it back in Egypt. The good food that they had, the comfortable life they had. But Moses had taken all those good things from them. That’s an accurate picture of our lives, as well. This life would be so much better if God would just let us…. (You know how many ways we’ve come up with to finish that sentence.) They hungered and thirsted for the life they had. But it was nothing more than an illusion for them, then, and it is nothing more than an illusion for us, now. To have tried to satisfy their thirst by going back to Egypt would have been like drinking salty ocean water to try to quench your thirst. We, as God’s people, still live in the wilderness on our way to the Promised Land. In fact, the burden can be even greater for us, who feel the need to at least look pious, pure, righteous, and blessed when you and I are just as thirsty as anyone.
The symbol most associated with today—with Pentecost—is fire. And for good reason. That day, the coming of the Holy Spirit was visible in something like tongues of fire that rested on each of them. John the Baptist promised, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” There are a number of passages that connect the Holy Spirit with fire. But there’s another symbol that might mean even more for us: water. It’s certainly the symbol suggested for us by Jesus, Himself. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink,” Jesus said. “38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit…” (Jn 7:37–39). God gave the Children of Israel water through a rock as they traveled through the wilderness. That is what sustained them on their way to the Promised Land. And the spiritual rock that He’s given you is Jesus Christ.
Just like everything that He has given you in Jesus Christ, it all flows from the cross. When Jesus said, from the cross, “I thirst,” it wasn’t just the physical suffering that He was going through for you. It was a reflection of the fact that He was taking the full curse of sin upon Himself. This is what God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah: “19 Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. 20 The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, 21 the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise” (Isaiah 43:19-21).
Because He cried out, “I thirst,” because He took upon Himself the sin that makes this world a barren desert, His cross is a life-giving fountain in the wilderness of this world. From it flows the River of Life, bright as crystal, to sustain His People (Rev. 22:1). It is done. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. “To the thirsty [He gives] from the spring of the water of life without payment” (Rev. 21:6).
And, as Luther wrote: “Even if the whole world were to draw from this fountain enough grace and truth to transform all people into angels, still it would not lose as much as a drop. This fountain constantly overflows with sheer grace. Whoever wishes to enjoy Christ’s grace—and no one is excluded—let him come and receive it from Him. You will never drain this fountain of living water; it will never run dry. You will all draw from it much more than enough, and yet it will remain a perennial well. …But if you want to become truly pious, pure, righteous, and blessed, go to Him on whom God the Father has set His seal (John 6:27). He is the rich and inexhaustible Fountain and Fullness from which all patriarchs and prophets, in brief, all the saints—including me, John—also drew, always have drawn and taken, and still do. All of us without exception, no matter how holy we may be, come empty and fill our little casks from His well and His fullness.”
That is what God is pouring out today as He gives His Holy Spirit: He’s pouring out water in the wilderness. In the promise of Pentecost, “17 The Spirit and the [Church, the] Bride [of Christ] say, “Come.” …And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17).
We join our voices to the voice of the prophet Isaiah: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live…” (Isaiah 55:1-3).
Look back to your baptism and see, there, what St. Paul describes in Titus chapter 3, “the washing of [rebirth] and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that [having been] justified by his grace [you are also] heirs [having] the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7).
Look to His Supper, to the body and blood He gave and shed for your on the cross, and find, there, the grace to forgive even your enemies as He has forgiven you.
Look to His Word and trust His promise: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11). The power in that Word is nothing other than the Holy Spirit, turning the desert of your heart into pools and the parched land of your soul into springs of water.
“37 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. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38). That promise was fulfilled on the cross and delivered on the day of Pentecost. That Spirit will sustain you—not just for 40 years—but for as long as God takes to lead you through this wilderness, across the Jordan River, and into the Promised Land of Heaven.
 Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 22, pp. 134–135). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.