June 22, 2014

Jesus, the Source of Living Water, Extends an Invitation to All Who Thirst ~ Part 2 of 2

Jesus, the Source of Living Water,
Extends an Invitation to All Who Thirst
[source: Bible Gateway]

The words of Jesus' invitation echo in our ears. Jesus stands at the doors of our hearts and speaks to the heart of each person on earth, offering the water of eternal life--the life that flows from God. Evangelism is a matter of our giving voice to this spiritual call. Christians need to hold up Jesus in all his beauty, that those with a desire for God may find the God who is offering himself.

While Jesus is clearly offering the water of the Spirit, it is not entirely clear to whom him refers (v. 38). Both the ancient church and modern scholars are divided over whether him refers to Jesus or the believer (cf. NIV text and margin). A reference here to Christ is more in keeping with John's thought. Christ is clearly described as the one through whom believers receive the Spirit; he breathes on them and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (20:22). Although John 4:14--"Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life"--refers to the believer with language similar to that in verse 38, Jesus speaks there not of an outward flow to others, but of an inward well of eternal life. Christ indeed dwells in believers and radiates from them his light and life and love, but, despite the claims of some contemporary ministers, believers do not mediate the Spirit to others. Rather, they bear witness to Jesus (4:39), and people come to him (4:40-42) and receive the living water of the Spirit (4:10) from him. This is clear in the context of Jesus' invitation, for it is to himself that he invites the people to come (7:38) and those who believe in him are the ones who receive the Spirit (7:39).

No Old Testament verse speaks of living water that flows from within him, him being either a believer or the Messiah. But there are many Scriptures that speak of God's provision of water as evidence of his grace and as an image of his gift of life in his presence. Indeed, many of these texts were read at this festival, such as the gift of water from the rock (Ex 17:1-6), the water from the eschatological temple (Ezek 47:1-11; cf. Joel 3:18) and the water from Jerusalem that will flow in the age to come (Zech 14:8; cf. Beasley-Murray 1987:116). In Nehemiah there is a reference to the water from the rock in the wilderness (Neh 9:15), which is followed by a description of God's gracious provision: "You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst" (9:20; cf. Carson 1991:326-27). In Nehemiah the focus is on the giving of the law, but the connection between the gift of the Spirit and the giving of manna and water suggests correlations in the Jewish tradition. Given John's motif of Jesus as the fulfillment of God's earlier revelation, the reference here to Scripture probably recalls a general set of images in the Old Testament rather than one particular text. Jesus provides the promised water of the age to come, which was itself a fulfillment of earlier provisions of water.

The people could not receive this Spirit until Jesus was glorified (Jn 7:39), that is, until his death (cf. 12:16, 23; 17:1). In the Son's death the glory of God shines brightest since God is love and love is the laying down of one's life (1 Jn 4:8; 3:16). One of the Spirit's roles is to bear witness to Jesus (Jn 15:26), and he could not do this until the revelation was complete. Until the Son's death, the heart of God could not be known and thus eternal life, which is knowledge of God (Jn 17:3), could not yet be experienced (cf. 1 Jn 2:20). Until the death of the Son, the life of God could not be conveyed by the Spirit.

Jesus' offer of the Spirit is both universal and addressed to individuals: If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink (v. 37). The first requirement is thirst. Everyone has spiritual thirst, for it is part of the human condition. Our need, our thirst, is what we bring to our relationship with God. This verse is one of many revealing, diagnostic texts in John. What do we thirst for? What do we really desire? Sin is our seeking relief from this thirst in something other than God.

Jesus invites those who know their need, those who are poor in spirit (cf. Mt 5:3), to take the initiative and come to him and drink (v. 37). Drinking refers to believing (cf. v. 38), which means aligning oneself with him, trusting him, receiving his teaching and obeying his commands. Such faith will enable one to receive the Spirit and enter an abiding relationship with Christ after his glorification. All of this is based on who God is and what he has done for us. When we believe we open our hands to receive what his grace offers--we come and drink.

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