Sermon preached on Pentecost Sunday 2011.
In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.) John 7:37-39
When the Lord stood and cried these words, He was observing with the rest of Israel the Feast of Tabernacles. So we are informed in John 7:2, 14. The Feast of Tabernacles was one of the three main holy festivals, we could say, extended worship services, of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, as you may read in Leviticus 23. That extended worship service lasted seven days. The first day was a Sabbath, and then the eighth day (the day following) was also a Sabbath. And it was on that day, the great day of the feast, that Jesus spoke the words of our text.
During that holy festival, all of the males of Israel were to gather in Jerusalem for the worship of Jehovah God. There were two main purposes of the Feast of Tabernacles. One was that the people would celebrate and give thanks to God for the harvest of their crops, which was completed by this time.
The second purpose of God with this festival was that Israel would remember the hardships that they had endured during their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. They were to recall God’s special care of them during those forty years in which He provided for them in wonderful ways—the manna from heaven, their clothes not wearing out, and God’s bringing water out of the rock for them in that dry and thirsty wilderness through which they passed.
During the Feast of Tabernacles the people of Israel had to remember, in a curious way, God’s care of them during the forty years of their wilderness wandering. The men had to dwell for seven days in little huts, or booths, that they made for that purpose out of the branches of trees. That is why this religious festival got the name that it had: the Feast of Tabernacles, or the Feast of Booths, with reference to those little huts in which they dwelt. Evidently during the time of the forty years of the wandering of Israel in the wilderness, that was the kind of lodging that they had. And, of course, as they dwelled in those huts during the Feast of Tabernacles, they would remember that God brought their fathers and mothers safely through the wilderness and finally gave them the land of Canaan, in which they could dwell, as they were doing at the present time, in goodly houses.
The Feast of Tabernacles was therefore characterized by joy. It was a joyous, holy festival. The crops were in, so that the people could live physically. And they recalled with joy God’s gracious unfailing care that had brought them into the land of Canaan. They were to show that joy during the Feast of Tabernacles in a peculiar way. They cut down branches of palm trees and waved those palm branches, expressing their great joy.
That Feast of the Tabernacles is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. That is the meaning of Jesus’ words on the last day of this feast: “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. In me, by coming to me, which you do by believing on me, you have the reality of the Feast of Tabernacles and the real celebration of that Old Testament feast.”
Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of those Old Testament ceremonies. All of them. We observe the Feast of Tabernacles, but not by living in booths and remembering in a special way God’s deliverance of Israel through the wilderness into Canaan, but by coming to Jesus Christ and believing on Him. He is the fulfillment of that Old Testament holy festival.
And yet, Jesus is the fulfillment of that Old Testament festival in such a way, so He teaches, that He bestows on us the Holy Spirit. According to our text: “This spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive.” The fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles is Jesus Christ pouring out His Holy Spirit upon the church on the day of Pentecost. And then, He is the fulfillment of that feast in this way: when we have received from Christ the Holy Spirit, that Holy Spirit flows out from us to others. Out of his belly, said Christ, shall flow rivers of living water.
With this text we observe Pentecost Sunday. Let us consider the Word of Christ: “The Outflowing of the Spirit.” We notice from the text, first, that this was a striking promise; second, that that promise speaks of a strange source of the Spirit; and, third, that in that connection Christ gives a stirring call.
A Striking Promise
When Jesus cried out with a loud voice at the end of the Feast of Tabernacles, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink,” He was promising the gift of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. He was promising that great event of salvation that took place fifty days after His resurrection from the dead and ten days after His ascension into heaven—the pouring out of the Spirit, at that time, upon the 120 believers who, waiting for that Spirit, were gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem. And the signs of that gift of the Spirit, according to Acts 2, where that great event is recorded, were the sound as of a rushing mighty wind, tongues as of fire hovering above the heads of believers, and their speaking in many different languages.
That gift of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost had lasting effects for the church of Jesus Christ down the ages. That Spirit was poured out in such a way that He abides with the church and gives Himself to the individual elect members of the church to the world’s last day. That Christ, in our text, was promising the outpouring of the Spirit is the authoritative explanation of those words by the apostle John in verse 39: “But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive.” Christ promised the Spirit.
The promise of the Spirit was striking, first of all, because it implied that at that time the Spirit was not yet. That is exactly the explanation by the apostle in verse 39, for he adds: “for the Holy Ghost was not yet.” Our Authorized Version inserts the word “given.” When Jesus spoke those words the Spirit was not yet.
That cannot possibly mean that the Holy Ghost did not exist. For the Holy Ghost is one of the three persons of the blessed Trinity of God, and as one of the persons of the Trinity, shares in the perfection of being eternal. As the Father is eternal and the Son is eternal, so also the Holy Ghost is eternal. Hebrews 9:14 expressly describes the Holy Ghost as eternal. There never was a time when He did not exist. In the being of God, the Holy Ghost is always proceeding from the Father to the Son (as we read in John 15:26).
That the Spirit was not yet refers rather to the fact that when Jesus spoke these words (which was, of course, prior to His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension into heaven) the Spirit was not as the Spirit whom God would give to the man Jesus Christ, to be the Spirit of the man Jesus Christ. And then, as the Spirit of the man, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to be given by Jesus Christ to the church and to the individual members of the church.
That that is the meaning is indicated by what John adds in verse 39. After he has written “for the Holy Ghost was not yet,” he adds, “because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” When Jesus would be glorified, that is, when He would be raised from the dead as the One crucified for the sins of His people, and then exalted up into heaven in the ascension, and given all power over heaven and earth by God’s seating the man Jesus at His own right hand, then the third person of the Trinity would become the Spirit of the man Jesus Christ. We read of that in Acts 2:33. On the day of Pentecost Peter, as the explanation of the outpouring of the Spirit, preached about Jesus to the crowd that was gathered in Jerusalem: “Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.” Upon the glorifying of Jesus, the Spirit becomes the Spirit of Christ.
That was a significant event for the third person of the Trinity, just as it was a significant event that, in the fullness of time, the second person becomes a human being in the womb of Mary. That may help us to understand what verse 39 means. Just as the man Jesus ‘was not’ before His conception and birth, so the Holy Spirit ‘was not’ before Jesus was glorified and the Spirit became the Spirit of Christ.
The Spirit’s becoming the Spirit of Jesus Christ depended upon the glorifying of Jesus Christ. Only after Jesus is glorified could the Spirit bring this glorified Jesus to Jesus’ church in the world. Only after Jesus is glorified can the Holy Spirit bring the beginning of the completion of salvation to each of us as a believing member of the church.
You see how Pentecost, in fact, was the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles. At the time of the Feast of Tabernacles in the Old Testament, all of the harvest of the crops of Israel was safely in the barns and in the storehouses, ready for the use and enjoyment of the people. So now, after Christ is glorified at God’s right hand in heaven, all of our salvation, having been completed by the cross and resurrection of Christ, is safely stored in the man Jesus at God’s right hand, for us to begin to live from and to enjoy by the presence among us of the Holy Spirit.
Before Pentecost the Spirit was not, as far as the church in the world is concerned. But after Pentecost the Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus in us and for us. Before Pentecost the church of Jesus Christ in the world did not have and enjoy the Spirit as the Spirit of Christ and the great salvation that is stored up in Christ. Now, after Pentecost, the church has that Spirit of Christ and enjoys the salvation that the Spirit brings to us from Christ.
It is not as though the church in the Old Testament did not have the salvation of Jesus Christ whatsoever. They did. There is only one salvation for God’s people, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. By faith Abraham had the forgiveness of sins, just as we have the forgiveness of sins. By faith the people of God in the Old Testament were made holy, just as we are made holy, delivered from the power of sin and freed to serve God. So it is not an absolute difference, as though the Spirit did not bring the salvation of Christ to the people of God in the Old Testament in any sense or degree whatsoever. But it is a matter of the richness and fullness of salvation that now the church enjoys through the Spirit who has become the Spirit of Christ. In the Old Testament, salvation was a kind of dribble, a very small stream. In the New Testament, after the outpouring of the Spirit, it is a river of salvation from Jesus Christ. We enjoy, already now, the abundance and the riches of salvation that the people of God in the Old Testament did not have.
And because of the difference of abundance, it is as though the Spirit was not yet then, but now is the Spirit of Christ to the church today.
That promise of the outpouring of the Spirit is striking, not only because it implies that the Spirit was not yet, but also because that promise teaches that the Spirit will flow out of us. The Pentecostal Spirit will flow out of us. Notice that. Speaking of the Spirit, the Lord promises, with regard to everyone who believes on Him, “out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” It is this kind of expression that makes the reading and study of the Bible exciting. There is always something surprising in it, maybe something that you never noticed before. What would you expect here, since the Lord is here promising the gift of His Spirit? You would expect Him to say, or expect John to explain Him as teaching, “This spoke he of the Spirit which he would pour out into his people.” But instead, the Lord’s promise is this, that the Holy Spirit shall flow out of His people.
“Rivers of living water” in the text is a figurative description of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Jesus Christ. It is as though the Lord says, “Out of his belly shall flow the Spirit as the Spirit of Me, the Messiah.” This Spirit is aptly represented as water, and then living water. For the Spirit Himself is alive, and the Spirit is the worker of life wherever life is to be found. The Holy Spirit, by His work of providence, gives physical earthly life to every creature, whether that creature is a worm or a tree or a reprobate unregenerated unbeliever—every earthly creature has its, or his, physical life from the Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. We sing that in one of the Psalters based on a Psalm: “Thy Spirit, O Lord, makes life to abound.” Even the secular, unbelieving scientist finally admits that life is a mystery. The ultimate explanation of physical life defies the brilliance even of the PhD, the scientist. And that is because physical life originates in the mysterious Spirit of God.
But the reference in the text is not to physical life. The reference in the text is to spiritual life. Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water—the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ is referred to here in His operations, His saving operations and works, and with regard to His blessings, His saving blessings, His gifts of salvation. The Holy Spirit bestows eternal life, communion with God. And sparkling on these rivers of water, which are the Holy Spirit, are the benefits of salvation, the pardon of sins and righteousness before God, holiness of life and the power to overcome sin in the world and in one’s self, the hope of the resurrection of the body in the day of Jesus Christ, and all the other blessings of salvation.
This Holy Spirit, as the living stream of eternal life with its blessings of salvation, does not only flow to you as a church from Christ, but also flows out of you as the church of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of eternal life and salvation, not only flows into you personally as an elect, believing child of God, but also flows out of you as a believing child of God. That is the striking aspect of the promise. Pentecost is not only our reception of the Spirit, but is also the flowing out of the Spirit of Jesus Christ from us to others.
There are three ways in which it is true that the rivers of living water (which are, I remind you, the Spirit of Jesus Christ Himself) flow out of the church and out of the believer to others.
First of all, the Holy Spirit flows out of the church to God. He does that by the public worship of God by the church, and by the church’s thanking God in her songs and in her prayers, and also by the praise of God through the reading and preaching of the Scriptures in the public worship services of the congregation. You see, water always seeks its own level. The Holy Spirit, called the rivers of living water in the text, has His origin in God, through Jesus Christ at the right hand of God. Those rivers come down to us as salvation. But they must go back again to the level of their origin, which is heaven itself where God is. That is what is happening in the worship service. That is what the worshiping congregation is engaged in. That is what each one of us who is a living member of the congregation and joins in the worship from the heart is doing in worship. The Holy Spirit is flowing out from us, back to God, whence that Holy Spirit has come. That is the importance of the public worship of God by the church. That is why it is your calling individually to be here, if it is at all possible, every service of public worship that the church has. You are part of this body, are you not, who has received rivers of living water from the crucified and risen Christ. It is important to you, is it not, that you join with the church, so that these waters may flow back to God in the praise and thanksgiving and worship of Him.
If you stay away deliberately when you could and should attend, that guilty feeling you have is the working in you of the Holy Spirit, who wants to get out and flow back again unto God.
The second explanation of the flowing out of us of these rivers of living water is that the Spirit flows out of the church to all the nations of the world in missions and in evangelism. That is certainly what happened immediately after Pentecost. By the preaching of the gospel, the Spirit of Jesus Christ went into all the world among the Gentiles. There was reference to that, unwittingly, on the part of those who asked: “Is Jesus going to go away? Is He going to the Gentiles?” Yes, indeed, that is exactly where He is going to go, because the Spirit is going to flow out of the Pentecostal church in the preaching of the pure gospel of salvation, for the salvation of all the nations in the elect among them. And we are thankful that that happened, because most of us are those Gentiles to whom the Spirit of Jesus Christ came after Pentecost in the gospel of salvation.
And still today, in the missions and the evangelism of the church, the Spirit goes out to others for the salvation of God’s elect children. But also for the hardening and leaving without excuse of many others.
Then, the third way in which the Spirit flows out of the belly of the people of God is more personal, although there is a personal aspect to the other two instances as well. This instance is more individual. Notice that Christ is quite personal in verse 38: “He that believeth on me…out of his belly [individually] shall flow rivers of living water.”
That takes place when we speak a true word from Scripture to each other, or, as we have opportunity, in witness to others outside the church. This refers to the father who is instructing his son. This refers to the mother who is teaching her daughter. This refers to the church member who goes to the hospital and opens up the Bible and gives a comforting word to someone who is in the hospital. This refers to a word that the believer must speak to a fellow church member when he sees that fellow church member walking in sin and thus headed on the way to destruction, a word of rebuke. Then these rivers of water, which are the Holy Spirit, are coming out of the belly of the individual child of God, flowing to his fellow believers especially (or, in the case of a witness, to an unbeliever).
Pentecost is not only the inflowing of the Spirit to the church and her members, but also the flowing out of the Spirit to others—to God, first of all; to the nations of the world; and then to each other.
There were two bodies of water in the Old Testament land of Canaan. One had not only an inlet, but also an outlet. That was the Sea of Galilee. That lake was alive, it was not stagnant. It was not dead. People could fish that lake; and they did. The other lake had an inlet, but it had no outlet. And it was aptly named: the Dead Sea. The Holy Spirit is no stagnant, dead water. He is living water. He makes His entrance into the church and into the believer and then He also flows outward, out of the believer.
A Strange Source
That immediately confronts us with the strangeness of the source of the Holy Spirit. The source is our belly. You would not expect that. You would expect that Jesus would have said something like this: Out of his mouth, or out of his heart, or out of his mind, or out of his soul, will flow these rivers of living water. But, no, out of his belly. Christ spoke here as a good Hebrew. The Hebrews of the Old Testament regarded the bowels, located deep in the belly, as the location of the experience of the child of God. That carried over in passages of the Bible that speak of “bowels of compassion.” Oh, when somebody dear to us, say a son or a daughter, is in deep trouble, deep distress, then a parent feels that trouble, and his compassion for that child, deep down in the stomach, in the bowels, in the belly.
We receive salvation in our heart. We know salvation with our mind. We experience salvation in our belly.
Experience is not the main thing with regard to salvation, but it is an important thing. The Holy Spirit not only gives to you and me salvation, but also the experience of salvation. Imagine what life would be if we were forever devoid of the experience of salvation! The Spirit conveyed to me the forgiveness of sins, but I never had peace. The Spirit bestowed upon me holiness of life, but I never had the experience that I am powerful to resist sin, to say “No” to the world around me, to put to death and crucify my powerful sinful inclinations within me. What if the Holy Spirit spoke to us in our mind about the resurrection of the body and never gave us the experience of the hope of that resurrection, which helps to take us through the loss of loved ones and our own dying, when it comes to that.
There is a place for the experience of salvation. There must be a place for it in the preaching of that salvation. There certainly is a place for it in the scriptural revelation of salvation. There is a place for it in our own life. The Holy Spirit is the Comforter Spirit. He affects not only our mind and our will, but also our feelings or experience.
And thus it is that out of the belly of the church and out of the belly of the believer flow those living waters to others. The church that has experienced the comfort of salvation by grace alone will praise and thank God in her worship services. The church that has experienced the preciousness of the truth of the gospel herself, in her belly as it were, cannot keep her mouth shut to witness to others in missions and evangelism. Yes, and the church that knows the preciousness of the gospel of salvation by grace alone cannot keep her mouth shut when that gospel is opposed and denied and corrupted.
The individual child of God who has himself or herself experienced the forgiveness of sin as the removal of all shame, the removal of all punishment so that he or she has peace with God, will speak that gospel, will speak of the crucified Christ, to his wife, to her husband, to their children, to their grandchildren, to each other, and, as opportunity arises, to anybody and everybody.
That is strange, at first sight, that the source of the outflowing Spirit is our belly. No less strange is it that we are the source of the outflowing Spirit at all. Who are we that the Spirit of Christ, rivers of living, eternal water, should proceed out of us at all? Notice, by the way, something about the Holy Spirit. He is always proceeding. He is never stagnant. In the Godhead He proceeds from the Father to the Son and from the Son to the Father. On the day of Pentecost He proceeded from the Son to us. And all our lifelong, and as long as the church is in the world (which will be till the end of history), He is proceeding from the church back to God, out to the nations, and to each other.
But who are we that He should proceed from us at all? We are not a source of living water. We are dry. We do not have any eternal life. We do not have any goodness. There is not any salvation whatsoever within us ourselves. By nature we are dry with the guilt of our sins. We are arid with the wrath of God burning upon us. We are a wilderness of defilement and depravity. Out of us shall flow the Holy Spirit? Christ humbles us with the truth of our natural dryness in His opening words: “If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink.” We are thirsty. Thirsty people are people without water. And these thirsty people are those without any moisture of goodness, life, or salvation within them whatsoever. We must come to Christ. From Him we receive these fountains, these rivers of living water. Only as we are in union with Christ does this living water flow from Him to us and then out of us to others. We are not the ultimate source of the Spirit. We are not the ultimate source of the rivers of living water. We are only channels. Christ is the fountain of all the waters of salvation, the glorified Christ at the right hand of God. By His crucifixion He has earned this salvation. By His resurrection He has entered into the possession of it. Now, on the right hand of God, He is the One who has the Spirit as His own Spirit to bring the waters of eternal life to His people, so that they may flow out of us as Christ wills, back to God, out to the nations, and to each other.
Did not the people of Israel at this time, in celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles, remember that great incident during the forty years in the wilderness? They were remembering God’s care of them. They were without water in that dry and thirsty land. And God brought water out of the rock. Jesus Christ is the Rock, the source of the waters of life.
A Stirring Call
That is why He issues this stirring call: “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink these rivers of living waters.” That is, receive the Holy Spirit and His operations and works of salvation.
This address is particular. A thirsty person is not simply one who lacks water, not even one who lacks all water. You can go to the local mortuary today and you will find corpses there that are without any moisture whatsoever. They are not thirsty. Christ is addressing His call to those who have been made thirsty by the regenerating Spirit of Jesus Christ within them, and in whom also is worked the desire to have the waters of life—forgiveness and holiness and peace and joy and hope. To the thirsty, spiritually thirsty, He gave this call.
It was a gracious call. There is a fountain of water opened up to the thirsty—the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. The thirsty may drink. The thirsty are summoned to drink. And to the thirsty there is no price, there is no cost, for these waters of life, of everlasting life, a life of body and soul.
As the Lord gave that call, once upon a time, at the Feast of Tabernacles, He renews it today. Hear Him, you thirsty (and I include myself): “Come unto me and drink. Always be coming unto me, always believing and always drinking.”
And the promise is implied: He will quench your thirst, He will satisfy your longing with the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ, bringing to you the beginning of all of the blessings of salvation, so that out of you the Spirit may flow back to Christ and God, to the nations, and to each other.
Thus we keep the Feast of the Tabernacles. They kept it once by living in huts. We keep it truly by believing in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. A joyful feast. Pentecost. The outpouring to us of the Spirit of Christ for the outflowing from us of that Spirit.