Short Sayings of Jesus

Short Sayings of Jesus

John 7:37-38

Teaching t12286


This morning we begin a series I’ve entitled “Short Sayings of Jesus.”  Jesus was a master teacher, and He employed many teaching forms (e.g., lecture, Socratic discussion, parables, etc.).  He also uttered two types of short sayings:

Aphorisms, which are short, pithy sayings that are intended to express a general truth (e.g., “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”).  Most of the Proverbs are aphorisms (e.g., Prov. 14:4).  We will look at several of Jesus’ aphorisms in this series.

Mini-teachings, which briefly develop an important truth.  Jesus frequently utters these in response to a situation/person (e.g., Lk. 10:41,42), or as part of a longer teaching (e.g., Matt. 7:3-5).  We’ll look at one of these today.

Why study Jesus’ short sayings?  Anything that Jesus said is worth studying, because He is God’s Word incarnate, and all of His words are spirit and life (Jn. 6:63).  But His short sayings are easier to memorize because of their brevity, and they have wide application to our lives – as we will see.

We will use a simple, easy-to-follow framework in studying these short sayings.  First, we will look at the setting of the saying, including any relevant historical background.  Then we will interpret the meaning of the saying, examining key words, the context, and other parallel passages.  Finally, we will apply the saying to our world and to our own lives, sometimes referring to other biblical passages that apply this same truth.  Let’s begin with this mini-teaching in Jn. 7:37b,38 (read).  We sense that Jesus is speaking figuratively, not literalistically (i.e., “I am humanity’s water cooler).  But the setting of this statement confirms this . . .

The setting: the Feast of Booths

Read 7:37a.  Jesus’ loud words interrupted the final day of a Jewish feast.  The feast was the Feast of Booths (7:2).  God instituted this fall feast for the nation of Israel 1400 years earlier (Lev. 23:33-43; Deut. 16:13-16).  During this week-long work holiday, the Israelites were to celebrate God’s provision of another harvest (like a week-long Thanksgiving feast!), being sure to include the poor and the aliens.  They were also to remember God’s Exodus provision for their ancestors by constructing and living in foliage tents (“booths” - SLIDE) like their Exodus ancestors lived in.  Each day also involved special animal sacrifices (including sin-sacrifices).

By Jesus’ day, they had developed a way of observing this festival that connected God’s past provision of water with the future coming of the Messiah.

For the first several days, thousands of people would gather in the Temple precinct (SLIDE).  The priests would circle a high platform once, and then ascend it and pour water into a bowl on the altar (SLIDE).  This commemorated God’s supernatural provision of water for the Israelites through Moses (explain Ex. 17).  Immediately after the priests poured the water, the people anticipated the coming of the Messiah by reciting passages from Psalms 113-118 and Isaiah, including: “Come, all who are thirsty, come to the waters . . . With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isa. 55:1; 12:3).[1]   

On the final day, they tweaked the format to heighten the drama.  Instead of circling the platform once, the priests circled it seven times while the crowd watched in growing anticipation.  Then the priest held the water pitcher higher and higher as the people waited in anticipation – before he poured it out into the bowl.  Then they recited the above passages, and then there was a short pause before the preparing of the animal sacrifices.

It was likely at just this moment that Jesus stood up and shouted these words (read 7:37b,38).[2]  Talk about dramatic!  All spectators’ eyes and ears would have been dialed into Jesus and what He said.  The priests would probably have been furious that Jesus interrupted the high point of the feast.  Now we’re in a position to understand and appreciate this saying . . .

The meaning: “I am the Messiah & I can quench your spiritual thirst with God’s Spirit”

It’s clear that through these words Jesus was announcing Himself as this feast’s fulfillment!  He is saying: “I am the promised Messiah.  I am the Source of spiritual “water” for every person, able to fully quench every person’s spiritual thirst.  And I will do this by giving God’s Spirit to every person who simply comes to Me and believes in Me.”

How do we know that Jesus is referring to God’s Spirit as the “living water?”  In 7:38, Jesus says of this promise “as the Scriptures said” – referring to an Old Testament prediction.  He was probably referring to Isa. 44:3, which predicts the day when God will pour out His Spirit on spiritually thirsty Israel (read).

In the next verse, John tells us what Jesus meant (read 7:39).  7:39a identifies receiving the Spirit as synonymous with 7:38’s promise of “receiving rivers of living water.”  7:39b tells us that this giving of the Spirit was yet future.  It was not until after Jesus died for our sins (the meaning of “glorified” in John) that God’s Spirit could indwell sinful people.  But now that Jesus has died for our sins, His Spirit is available as a free gift to all who come to Him.

Think about what a titanic claim Jesus is making for Himself!  Do you see why it just won’t do to say that Jesus claimed only to be a good moral teacher/example, or to be one of many ways to God?  I am all for being respectful of different religions and their followers.  But we should also be respectful for what the founders actually say, and not put words in their mouths.  It is disrespectful to say that Jesus only claimed to be one of many ways to God!  This is manifestly wrong – He claimed over and over again that He is the only way to God (Jn. 14:6), that He is the only Source of spiritual life (Jn. 7:38), that He is the only Savior (Jn. 8:24).  Furthermore, in claiming to be the Messiah predicted by the Old Testament, the Old Testament also portrays this Messiah as the only Savior and rightful Ruler for all of humanity (Dan. 7:13,14).  So putting words in His mouth is disrespectful, and speaking positively about Him if He is wrong about this claim is foolish.  How positively would you speak about me if I claimed to the sole Savior of the human race?  Being wrong about this makes me fundamentally untrustworthy at best, or deeply deranged or deceptive at worst.  So it is with Jesus.

Think about what a tantalizing promise Jesus is making for you and me!  That soul-thirst we have experienced our whole lives, that sense that there must be something more, that thirst that no amount of money, toys, sexual experiences, career achievement, human praise, romantic relationships, etc. can quench.  That thirst that we try to ignore through busyness and distraction – but which resurfaces sometimes when we’re alone at night.  That thirst that makes us weary of life and unable to give to others as we know we should.  He is saying: “I can give you My Spirit.  He will be an inexhaustible Source of love to your soul (quote Rom. 5:5).  His love will quench your thirst and provide you with love to give away to others.”  No other religious founder has ever promised this!  Millions of people testify that they have experienced the truth of this promise!  What if this promise is true?  What if you don’t have to keep drinking “waters” that don’t satisfy, what if you don’t have to stay cynical to protect yourself from another disappointment?  This leads us to the personal application of this short saying . . .

The application: “How can I ‘drink’ the ‘living water’ of God’s Spirit?”

No works, rituals, vows or self-reform are necessary.  The Spirit is a gift from Jesus that He paid for through His death.  The only requirement is that we believe in Him (re-read 7:37 and show that “come to Me and drink” is synonymous with “believes in Me”).  If you are dying of physical thirst, you simply entrust yourself to someone who gives you water to drink.  If you are dying of spiritual thirst, you simply entrust yourself to Jesus who then gives you God’s Spirit.  This passage implies, and other passages state, that we need to do this in two ways and in chronological order:

First, receive the Holy Spirit by entrusting yourself to Jesus as your Savior.  Using this same analogy with a different person, Jesus said (read Jn. 4:13,14).  The offer is the same.  The verb tense in 4:13 is present-continuous – “Whoever keeps on drinking this (physical) water will thirst again.”  But the verb tense in 4:14 is aorist-punctiliar – “Whoever drinks one time of the water that I give him will never thirst . . .”  The moment you receive Jesus as your Savior, He accepts you permanently and His Spirit permanently indwells you.  TIMELINE: There is a point before which you are justly under God’s condemnation and separated from His love.  And there is a point after which you are forever accepted by God and indwelt by His Spirit.  And the point that separates these two states is the point of your decision to come to Jesus and entrust yourself to Him as your Messiah and Savior.  You can do this today, right now . . .

Then, having been indwelt by God’s Spirit, we need to stay filled with the Spirit.  After we believe in Jesus, the fundamental thirst of lostness is gone.  But we can experience a lack of spiritual abundance unless we keep drinking from Jesus.  It is interesting that the verbs in 7:37,38 are present-continuous tense verbs: “. . . let him keep coming to Me and keep drinking.  He who keeps believing in Me . . .”  This probably encompasses the initial drinking above – but it emphasizes the need for ongoing coming, drinking, believing.

Paul emphasizes this same truth in Eph. 5:18 (read).  “Be filled” is present-continuous: “Keep allowing the Spirit to fill/control you (like drinking wine – but with healthy vs. dissipating results).”  And in 5:19-21, Paul tells us how we can develop a “drinking” habit that keeps us more consistently filled with the Spirit:

Read 5:19.  “Speaking to yourselves/each other” God’s Word – especially passages that emphasize God’s gracious and faithful character and promises.  Meditating on memorized passages (of which singing is a subset) is key to this.  Reminding each other of these truths is another way.  As we align ourselves with reality in this way, God’s Spirit uplifts us with His peace and hope (Rom. 15:13).  Conversely, if we focus on our problems/what we don’t have, we get dragged down further into the negativity of this fallen world.

Read 5:20.  “Giving thanks for all things to the Father.”  Because we know what God is like and what He has given us, we can give thanks for the great blessings we already have.  Because we know He is working for our good even through difficulties, we can also thank Him for that.  As we align ourselves with reality in this way, God’s Spirit fortifies us.  Conversely, when we default to complaining and self-pity, we short-circuit the Spirit’s empowering.

Read 5:21.  “Being subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  We tend to relate selfishly to the people in our lives as our relational default.  This results in a lot of disappointment when they don’t come through, read our minds, interrupt our comfort plans, etc.  Instead, we can choose (on the basis of the above) to “submit” to them – to consider how we might serve them (EXAMPLES).  When we adopt this posture, we unleash God’s Spirit to do what He wants to do – to give people God’s love, and to pour more of His love into our souls as we give His love to others.[3]


NEXT WEEK: Lk. 14,18 – Humility & Exaltation

SUMMARIZE two ways of “drinking”  >> QUESTIONS & COMMENTS

[1] Philip W. Comfort & Wendall C. Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John (Tyndale House, 1994), p. 122.

[2] “It was then, immediately after the symbolic rite of water-pouring, immediately after the people had responded by . . . (praying) that Jehovah would send salvation . . . and then silence had fallen upon them – that there rose, so loud as to be heard throughout the Temple, the voice of Jesus.  He did not interrupt the services . . . He interpreted and fulfilled them.”  Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol. 2 (Eerdmans, 1977), pp. 159,160.

[3] “Power and overflowing joy – these are the characteristics of great drinkers of the Spirit.  But . . . we never experience satisfaction as we are meant to until our lives give satisfaction to others . . . When our lives become (spiritually) stagnant. . . the remedy is not to concentrate on our own satisfaction but on . . . Christ seeking to flow through us (to others).  When we come to a wall in our spiritual lives, we need to look for avenues of service.”  R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe (Crossway Books: 1999), p. 218.