Rivers of Living Water
August 16th, 1987 @ 8:15 AM
RIVERS OF LIVING WATER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-16-87 8:15 a.m.
Once again welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering the message entitled Rivers of Living Water. It is an exposition of a central part of the seventh chapter of the Book of John:
In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirsts, let him come unto Me, and drink.
He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his koilia—
sometimes translated “womb,” it refers to the inner body; today we would translate “out of his soul, out of his heart”—
shall flow rivers of living water.
The feast, now in the last day of the feast: the seventh chapter begins with Jesus attending the Feast of Tabernacles [John 7:2, 10]. It was five days after atonement; it began the fifteenth day of the Jewish month of Tishri and lasted seven complete days [Leviticus 23:6]. The Day of Atonement was a day of humiliation before the Lord; it was a day of soul searching, confession [Leviticus 16:1-34]. The Jewish community, wherever they are, observe that Day of Atonement; a day of the affliction of the soul, of a prostration before God [Leviticus 16:29-31].
Five days after that time of confession and affliction, the Feast of Tabernacles [Leviticus 23:33-44], was by far the most joyous and gladsome and glorious convocation of God’s people. They poured into Jerusalem, the city of solemnities, from Dan to Beersheba. Out of every village and town and valley and hillside did they come. You see it was also called the Feast of Ingathering [Deuteronomy 16:13]; it was also in rabbinical literature referred to as the Harvest Festival. From every village and valley and hillside, all the people gathered in the city of solemnities, in Jerusalem, there to thank God for the conclusion of the gift of the harvest from the vine, from the tree, from the field. It was the most joyous celebration of the year. It concluded the ecclesiastical twelve months.
According to the word of the Lord, the people were to build for themselves booths, tabernacles, huts made out of leafy foliage. For example, reading in the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus:
Ye shall take you on the first day boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. And ye shall keep it as a feast unto the Lord seven days in the year. It shall be a statute for ever for your generations: ye shall celebrate it in the seventh month. Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths—
Hebrew sukkot, the Feast of Succoth, the Feast of Booths, the Feast of Tabernacles [Leviticus 23:40-42]. And in keeping with that, the whole vast area around Jerusalem looked like a congeries of huts and booths. They took those boughs and everybody for seven days lived in those leafy walls. The Mount of Olives covered, the whole city covered, every flat-top roof covered: it looked like a forest of boughs. And the people were there without loss of one in the community. The king was there, the princes were there, all the common people were there, everybody living in those booths for seven days [Leviticus 23:42].
We are told here in the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus, “That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” [Leviticus 23:43]. It was a celebration, not only of the concluding harvest [Deuteronomy 16:13-15], but it was a celebration also and a remembrance of the forty years wandering in the wilderness. And another beautiful aside: it was a public thanksgiving for their coming and being settled in Canaan, the Promised Land.
If I could make an aside of how appropriate such a feast is: they were dwelling in leafy walls, little temporary shelters, and thanking God for the permanent home—a beautiful picture of our lives: so temporary here in these days, but eternally in the heaven promised in the world to come [Philippians 3:20].
There was one other thing in that feast that was remarkable: each of the seven days, at the time of the morning sacrifice, the priest went down to the pool of Siloam, and taking a golden ewer, a golden pitcher, he filled it full of the water of Siloam. And then following behind him a great procession, he made his way to the temple. And when he came to the steps of the temple, there was a great shout on the part of the vast throng. And as he walked up the steps and to the high altar, he poured out the water on the western side of the altar, amid the choirs singing the Hallel, Psalms 113-118. That was a picture of the water that God gave them in the dry and desert wilderness [Exodus 17:6]. And Paul, following that picture, speaks in 1 Corinthians 10:4: “They did all drink of the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.”
So it was in the last day, the great concluding, climactic, consummating day of that Feast of Tabernacles, that joyous, glorious acclamation of the goodness and presence of God, that, “Jesus stood up and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture saith, out of his soul shall flow rivers of living water” [John 7:37-38].
May I begin by commenting on that word, “Jesus stood and cried, saying…” [John 7:37], the pleading of our Lord? Always in that day the teacher, the rabbi, the preacher sat down to teach, always. But in this great day of the feast, He stands and He cries [John 7:37]; a picture of the urgency of the gospel message of our Lord. And what an amazing thing that He is pleading, that we drink the water of everlasting life! Why should He plead with us? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for we who are dying and lost sinners, that we plead with Him, that we fall on our faces and on our knees and plead with God to have mercy upon us, and to let us drink of the water of everlasting life? It’s just the opposite: it’s God that pleads with us [Isaiah 65:2]. We choose death instead of life. We choose this world instead of the world to come. We choose our own selfish wills instead of the will of God. And it is God that pleads with us. What an amazing turn of life and fortune!
And as the Lord stands and cries and pleads, He says to us, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me” [John 7:37]. Our Lord had said to that woman of Samaria, “Whosoever drinks of the water of this life shall thirst again” [John 4:13]. Solomon wrung out of life every possibility, every experience; and when he had gone through the gamut of all, he said, “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity” [Ecclesiastes 12:8].
“Whosoever drinks of the water of this life shall thirst again” [John 4:13]. Bobby Burns, the Scottish poet, said it like this:
Pleasures are like poppies spread:
You seize the flower, the bloom is shed;
Or as the snow falls on the river,
A moment white—then gone forever;
Or like the Borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm.
[from “Tam O’Shanter,” Robert Burns]
“Whosoever drinks of the water of this life shall thirst again” [John 4:13]. What a tragedy that we spend our time with the trifles of sense and temporary pleasures, when the realities of eternity call us and beckon to us!
I think I’m not mistaken when I avow deep down in the heart of every human soul there is a longing and a hungering and a thirsting for the meaning and the purpose of life, for God. In this century past, the great English poet Rudyard Kipling came to America, visiting some of our great cities. And to the sorrow and hurt and consternation of all America, in San Francisco he became ill unto death; and they thought the great poet was dying in our country, on our shores. In those days when Rudyard Kipling was so desperately ill, a nurse noticed that he was whispering something, he was saying something. And she bowed down her ear to his face to hear what the great poet was saying, and it was this: over and over and over he was repeating, “I want, I want, I want God.” Ultimately, finally, all of us are like that: there is a thirsting in our souls for God. As Augustine said, “O God, Thou hast made us for Thyself, and we are restless until we rest in Thee.”
“If any,” translated here “man,” “if any one, if any one thirst, let him come unto Me” [John 7:37]. “If any one”; the invitation is as broad as humanity itself. In the Book of the Revelation, our Lord said it like this: “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, ho thelōn, let him take the water of life freely” [Revelation 22:17]. It’s unusual to me as I read the text, ho thelōn, “If anyone, if anyone will do His will” [Revelation 22:17], that was my sermon last week; here it is again ho thelōn, “If anyone thirsts,” and in that great invitation in Revelation 22:17, “Ho thelōn, if anyone, if anyone will, let him take the water of life freely” [Revelation 22:17]. Grimed in sin, a publican, or a hated, despised outcast, welcome. An old man given his life to the inanities of this world, welcome. A child, the rich and the poor, even the unlearned who cannot read, they can drink. Come and welcome [Revelation 22:17].
The great Puritan preacher of three hundred years ago said, “Had I found in the Bible my name there, Richard Baxter, I would have thought God was referring to another man by my same name. But when it says ‘any’, I know it includes me.”
“If any one thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink” [John 7:37]. What a marvelous invitation! Come, come, without any change of life or heart or mind or soul, come. Just come. He does not say, “after self-improvement”; He says just, “Come, come as you are, just as you are” [John 7:37]. That’s a remarkable thing!
You know, I was reading about some of these hymns. And I was astonished to read that that beautiful invitation “Just as I Am” was written by a woman, Charlotte Elliott, in 1834, forty-five years of age, and an invalid in a wheelchair. And what happened was that seeing around her in the passing years people so busy, so busy, so able, so capable, and she so useless, and in her invalidism, and in her despair, and in her doubts, and in her depression she finally made a commitment to Christ, to give her life to the Lord; and thus wrote that invitation hymn:
Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind;
All I need, in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come!
Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt;
Fightings within, and fears without,
Just as I am, O Lamb of God, I come!
[“Just As I Am,” Charlotte Elliot, 1836]
Just as you are: not waiting to change anything, not waiting to be improved in any area of your life, just come as you are.
You will do much better with Him than you will trying to solve all the doubts and questions of life by yourself. The big commitment is to Him, and then all of the extraneous things that are addenda, a thousand questions and doubts, doctrines, the essences of things, let Him help you solve them out. Come. “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, unto Me” [John 7:37]. The sum and substance of salvation is Christ, all of it, all of it. It is He, it is our Lord, all of it [John 14:6; Acts 4:12].
I made my way upon a time to Colchester, England, in Essex, on the eastern side. I wanted to go to that Primitive Methodist chapel where Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the greatest preacher who ever lived, where Charles Haddon Spurgeon was saved. Going into that little chapel on Artillery Street, he was on his way hopefully to another church; but a vicious snowstorm made it impossible for him to make his way, so he turned aside into that little Primitive Methodist chapel. When you go into the little church, there on that side is a great big bronze plaque, saying this is where Charles Haddon Spurgeon sat in that service, with just about a dozen people. Well, I sat there, and reviewed the life of that incomparable minister of the gospel of Jesus. And then I went up to the pulpit and stood there, and relived again what had happened. The storm was so severe their preacher couldn’t come. And one of the layman stood up to deliver the message. And he took as his text, “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth” [Isaiah 45:22]. And he exhorted on that text, “Look unto Me, and be ye saved.” Don’t look at the ordinances, don’t look at the rituals, and we’re not looking to priests, and we’re not looking at feelings, and we’re not looking to ourselves; but we’re looking to Jesus. “Look unto Me, and be ye saved” [Isaiah 45:22]. And the preacher turned to that young Spurgeon and addressing him, said, “Young man, you look so miserable. Young man, look to Jesus, look to Jesus, look and live!” And Spurgeon said, “That day I looked, and I lived.”
It is that simple. It is that plain. It is that easy. God made it that for us who maybe couldn’t do more. “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink” [John 7:37]. There’s all sufficiency inexhaustible in Christ; pardon, forgiveness [Ephesians 1:7], persevering grace [Ephesians 2:8]. Christianity is Christ, and Christ is Christianity, all of it. Other religions point to the truth and create systems of philosophy. Not the Lord: the truth is He; He is the truth [John 14:6]. And He is accessible. You can touch Him in your heart. You can hear Him speak in your soul. He is as near as hands and feet, and as close as your breath. Come. Come. Come [Matthew 11:28].
In this moment when we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, a family you coming, “Pastor, we’re putting our lives in the circle of this dear church. This is God’s day for us, and we’re coming.” A couple you, building your home upon the Lord, “We’re coming, pastor.” A one somebody you, “Pastor, the Lord has spoken to me today, and here I stand.” Make the decision now, and on the first note of this first stanza, down one of these stairwells from the balcony, down one of these aisles in the press of people on this lower floor, “Pastor, God has spoken to my heart, and I’m not tarrying, I’m not waiting, I’m not debating; I’m coming.” Do it, and may angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
I. The Feast of Tabernacles
A. Began five days
after Day of Atonement
B. Each family
commanded to dwell in booths (Leviticus 23:40-42)
Commemorates deliverance from Egypt, forty years wandering, and entrance into
led procession carrying pitcher of water from the Pool of Siloam
People sang the Hallel as priest poured out the water (Psalm 118)
Symbolized water from the Rock in Sinai desert (Exodus 17:6)
That rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4)
II. The Pleading Christ
A. The Lord stands and
cries (John 7:37-38)
B. If any thirst
1. Water of this
life unsatisfying (John 4:14, Ecclesiastes 1:2)
in every heart is a longing for God
C. The breadth of the
invitation (John 7:17, Revelation 22:17
III. The invitation
A. Come and drink
self-improvement before coming; come just as you are
B. Come unto Me
1. Jesus the
center and sum of our salvation
a. Conversion of
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
2. Christ is accessible
C. The flow of the Holy
Spirit (John 7:38-39)