Full and Overflowing (John 7:37-52)
Topic: One Lord: No One Like You Passage: John 7:37–52
I. Merely a Symbol?
Several weeks ago, Dr. Barna and the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University released another of their American Worldview Inventories. This latest report, updated for 2021, reveals (and I quote) “that the meaning of 'Christian' in America today is far from monolithic, with a number of diverse and often conflicting theological views—even beliefs that are thoroughly unbiblical perspectives—among those who embrace the label.”
Just one example of “these thoroughly unbiblical perspectives” concerns the Holy Spirit, also known in Scripture as the “Spirit of God” or just “the Spirit”. As one commentator summarized the findings in regard to the Spirit...
Of self-identified Christians, 58 percent contend that the Holy Spirit is not a real, living being but is merely a symbol of God’s power, presence, or purity. Surprisingly, those who identify as born-again Christians are even more likely to hold that view (62 percent), and half of “theological born-again Christians” also deny the Spirit is a being. (Joe Carter)
For those who know and love the word of God, these numbers are extremely troubling. Why? Because we understand the importance of the Spirit. And we recognize the importance of this topic because Jesus himself stressed its importance. We see this, for example, in John 7.
II. The Passage: “Now This He Said About the Spirit” (7:25-36)
Look with me at the closing section of John 7, verses 37-52. This is what the Apostle tells us...
On the last day of the feast [of Booths], 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.  When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.”  Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee?  Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?”  So there was a division among the people over him.  Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.  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!”  The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived?  Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him?  But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.”  Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them,  “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?”  They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”
So if we start with the setting, as we've talked about in previous lessons, Jesus was in Jerusalem for (7:2) “the Feast of Booths”. Now, Deuteronomy 16 talks about this feast lasting for seven days, but Leviticus 23 adds a special eighth day observance as well. So it's not clear whether John is talking about the seventh or eighth day here when he mentions “the last day of the feast”. Either way, it doesn't affect the importance of what Jesus declares in verses 37-39.
I think it is importance to point out that, even though we've heard Jesus responding to some in the crowd and to Jewish leaders, here in chapter 7, John has told us nothing about what Jesus was teaching the crowds in the Temple courts during the festival. So verse 37 is the first time we're hearing from Jesus in this way.
So what I'd like to do is really zero in on verses 37-39 this morning. It's obvious the declaration contained in this passage is central in terms of why Jesus came to Jerusalem for the Feast. But it's also important to note that what we find in verses 40-52 is just more of what we talked about in our last lesson: uncertainty and division among the people regarding Jesus. We've seen these same responses throughout the chapter, haven't we?
And so, if we focus on verses 37-39, it's hard to miss what John himself tells us about this proclamation by Jesus. Look again at verse 39... “Now this he said about the Spirit...” So... on “the last day of the feast, the great day,” John tells us that, “Jesus stood up and cried out...” About what? About the Spirit! In fact, I believe God has revealed three things in this passage about the Holy Spirit. First, the Spirit brings us the blessing of Christ, second, the Spirit channels through us the blessing of Christ, and third, the Spirit came to us because of the blessing of Christ. So let me show where these ideas are coming from in the text. First...
1. The Spirit Brings Us the Blessing of Christ (v. 37)
What is the cry of Jesus at the great climax of this festival? Verse 37: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” Now, Jesus has talked about thirst before, hasn't he? In the last chapter he told his listeners, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (6:35) Two chapters before that Jesus had this famous conversation with a Samaritan next to a well:
“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?...”  Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,  but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (4:10–11, 13-14)
The similarities to our present passage shouldn't be hard to spot. In both passages, Jesus is speaking to spiritually thirsty people about drink that only he can give them. In both passages something called “living water” is mentioned. And in both passages, this living water is talked about as at work inside or coming out from inside someone. So what is this “living water”? Well remember, in verse 39 John actually explains what Jesus is talking about: “Now this he said about the Spirit...” So the living water that Jesus offered the Samaritan woman, is the same water he offered the spiritually-thirsty festival goers in John 7. That spiritual water is in fact the Holy Spirit of God. This gift of the Spirit would not be surprising to those in the early church, especially those familiar with the Gospel accounts. Luke 11:13...
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
So the eternal life Jesus is offering actually comes to us through the Holy Spirit. But why describe the Spirit here in John 7 as water for the thirsty? Well, remember why the Jewish people celebrated the Feast of Booths. It was to remind them of how their ancestors had lived in tents when they wandered in the desert after the exodus from Egypt. And how did God provide for them in such a barren place? He brought bread from heaven (as we talked about in the last chapter, John 6) AND he gave them water, even water from a rock. Isn't it interesting how the Apostle Paul connects this miraculous desert water with Jesus. I Corinthians 10:3–4 tells us how those Hebrews in the wilderness...
...all ate the same spiritual food,  and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
I think what Paul is saying there echoes what Jesus is saying in John 7. If you want God's provision of true, spiritual, heavenly water, then come to Jesus. He has been and is fullness of life for all people. And wonderfully, that life comes through the Spirit. But notice that Jesus goes on to describe how...
2. The Spirit Channels Through Us the Blessing of Christ (v. 38)
What did Jesus mean when he said “come to me” in verse 37? Did he mean move physically closer? No. Look at verse 38... “Whoever believes in me...” That's what he meant. Whoever comes... in faith. Whoever looks to him... with a trusting heart. This morning will you cry out to Him in prayer just as he cried out to the lost in John 7:37? If you will, if you have, then notice the promise give by Jesus. Verse 38... “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
To be clear, Jesus is not quoting one specific verse here. He's saying something like, “As the Old Testament teaches...” What kinds of verses might Jesus have in mind here? Well, I think he has a number of verses from the prophet Isaiah in mind. First, his cry echoes Yahweh's in Isaiah 55:1, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters...”. This may be connected to a promise made earlier in that second half of the book, in Isaiah 44:3... “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” What effect will this have? In chapter 58, a chapter well-known for its descriptions of true righteousness and true compassion and true justice, the prophet comforts his readers with these words,
And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. (58:11)
So the call of Jesus here in John 7 is not simply a call to drink and be satisfied. It's also a call to be filled and overflow; that as you are filled with the blessing of the Holy Spirit, that same Spirit, and the blessings he brings, will flow out from you into the lives of others. Do you want your life to be a blessing in that way? Does verse 38 describe you? If not, why not? What a prayer for us to pray: “Father, allow the living water of the Holy Spirit to flow out of my heart today, that I might bless others with the blessing of Christ.” Speaking of that blessing, we also read here that...
3. The Spirit Came to Us Because of the Blessing of Christ (v. 39)
Look again at John's commentary on Jesus' invitation and this “living water” in 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.
If we were to continue reading John's Gospel this morning, we would discover, especially in chapters 14-16, a whole lot more about the work of the Holy Spirit. But notice the two final ideas John conveys to us in verse 39. We read that 1) the original listeners of Jesus, those who had believed, had not yet received the Holy Spirit, but they would. And 2) the Spirit was not yet given to God's people in this way because Jesus had not yet been crucified and raised to life.
Why is this an important detail? Because it reminds us that we cannot be temples of God the Holy Spirit unless we are first cleansed and consecrated by God the Son. The forgiveness that Jesus made possible when he paid our debt on the cross not only restored us to God the Father, but he did so through the Spirit. As Paul told the Thessalonian disciples...
But we ought always to give thanks to God for you... because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. (II Thessalonians 2:13)
III. Gratitude, Acknowledgment, and Prayer
Sadly, many confessed Christians today believe the Holy Spirit “is not a real, living being but is merely a symbol of God’s power, presence, or purity.” As we've talked about this morning, this is certainly false. The Spirit is a very real being. The Spirit of God is, in fact, God. No, John 7 does not go into depth about the Spirit. But this passage is a beautiful reminder of a much larger and incredibly precious collection of verses, many, many verses, that describe who the Spirit is and why he is so important. What have we learned this morning? First, the Spirit brings us the the blessing of Christ (the blessing of new life), second, the Spirit channels through us the blessing of Christ (the fruit of that new life), and third, the Spirit came to us because of the blessing of Christ (because of his death and new life).
How should we respond to these amazing truths? First, simply give thanks to God for the Holy Spirit. Do that even now. Second, acknowledge that new life to you and through you never comes from within you, but from outside you... from the Spirit. Would you take a moment and acknowledge that now? Third, pray and ask God to make you a full AND overflowing Christian. Please remember that as we bring to Jesus our spiritual thirst, he doesn't simply want to fill us. He wants to fill us to overflowing, that others would be blessed. Blessed by my love? My joy, my peace, my patience, my kindness, my goodness, my faithfulness, my gentleness, my self-control? No, for these are the fruit of the Spirit, as Paul makes clear in Galatians 5.
The Spirit of God changes us. One subtle reminder of that is found in verses 50 and 51 of our text this morning. Nicodemus, the Pharisee who came to Jesus under the cover of darkness in John 3 reappears here. In John 3, Jesus talked to Nicodemus about the Spirit, didn't he? Notice what we see here. Not only is it daytime, but Nicodemus is willing to stand up for Jesus, at least in a generic way. Could this be evidence of change, of Spirit-inspired change, in Nicodemus? Of course, the more important question this morning is, “What kind of change is the Spirit inspiring in you... and through you?” How does it all begin? With the cry of Jesus Christ; with his invitation. Hear it again this morning: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”