[Note: This post is from a session that took place during the last day of our 2011 Feast of Tabernacles service, in honour of Jesus’ sermon on the last day of that festival almost two millennia ago. The Scripture references below are from the New International Version]
Genesis 2 describes the first home of humanity as a garden watered by a river that is the headwater of all of the major rivers in the world. The picture here is that God’s river brings life-giving water to the whole world.
In Revelation 22 A river flows from the throne of God to bring life and water the tree of life (which appears for the first time since Genesis 3)
Zech 14:8 – On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half to the eastern sea and half to the western sea, in summer and in winter. The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name.
These prophecies were memorialized yearly each morning of the Feast of Tabernacles during a priestly water-drawing ceremony. Priests would draw water from a well and carry it in a procession up to the Temple. At one corner of the Temple the High Priest would pour out the water, symbolizing the promise of a stream starting at God’s Temple as mentioned in Zech. 14 and other places. It was considered a Messianic prophecy.
John 7 depicts Jesus Christ preaching during the entire Feast of Tabernacles, amazing the crowd. We pick up the story in verse 37.
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. On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” Others said, “He is the Christ.” Still others asked, “How can the Christ come from Galilee?”
The imagery of streams of living water goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden, and is picked up in Ezekiel and Isaiah in passages like the following:
Ezek 47:1 The man brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was flowing from the south side. As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in–a river that no one could cross. He asked me, “Son of man, do you see this?” Then he led me back to the bank of the river. When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river.8 He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Sea. When it empties into the Sea, the water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live.”
Is. 35:1 “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God. Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.”
Based on the descriptions above, living water seems to bring life to all the land it touches. Living water brings joy and gladness to the desolate places. It decorates the surroundings with lush growth by creating conditions for growth. Like the Nile, Tigris or Euphrates rivers, it overflows its banks at just the right time of the year, spreading fertile soil and moisture to ensure a marvellous, sustaining crop along its flood plain.
If Jesus provides us with streams of living waters coming out of our innermost being, how is that reflected in our lives and in the lives of those who touch our lives? Do we bring life, health and joy to those around us? Do we radiate the peace of Christ to those who are near us?
Or do we bring shame, condemnation and fear to those around us? Are we the downer in the lives of our neighbours? Are they afraid to talk to us because of what they know we’ll say about their way of living?
I think Jesus calls us to let His streams of living water flow out of our hearts and into the hearts and lives of others around us. He gives us living water to refresh and bring joy to others, not to hoard it for ourselves or even for the church. It overflows our banks, spreading hope, life and joy and growth wherever the water reaches.
Let’s let the streams flow unhindered in our lives.