The Day of Pentecost
May 31, 2020 - John 7:37-39
On the last day of the feast – 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.’”
If you’re like me, you probably don’t quite grasp the full impact of Christ’s words. If you want living water, that is, running water, you turn around and walk to the bathroom, or the kitchen, or the drinking fountain, or the bathroom in pastor’s office, or the outside faucet. If you’re in your own home you seek out many of these same places – you lift the handle or turn the knob and viola rivers of living water gushing forth through the ease and comfort of modern living. Not so in Jesus’ day. Living water wasn’t so easy to come by. It took work. You had to seek it out, find and dig a well, or search for a flowing river or stream. Then you had to fill a water jar and carry the heavy jar back home with you. You might even need to make more than one trip in order to get the water.
This wasn’t just an optional inconvenience. It’s not like one can do without the water. As we all know, water is necessary for survival – living water. Yucky, stagnant water – laden with bacterial growth – just won’t do the job. To survive one needs fresh water, flowing water. Jesus spoke of rivers of living water flowing from the heart, which caught the people’s attention. For He declared this promise during the Feast of Booths. That annual feast commemorated the Israelite journey through the wilderness, when God provided them with much needed water along the way. Jesus declares Himself to be the water of life. Of course, He had already told this to the Samaritan woman at the well. Now Jesus declares how one is to receive Him.
St. John clarifies for us today what Jesus speaks of – the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God is the giver of Christ – the living water – so that we may drink of Christ and live eternally. How does one come to receive the living water? By the power of the Holy Spirit. Martin Luther explains what the Holy Spirit does, saying, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith” (Small Catechism).
So what is the Holy Spirit’s job? To give you living water – Christ Jesus – and keep giving you living water – Christ Jesus. Whenever and wherever this happens, not only is Jesus glorified, but so also is the Holy Spirit and the heavenly Father. For the Father’s good pleasure is to give you the kingdom, and you receive the kingdom through Christ, by the power of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit has called each of you by the Gospel. The Spirit has enlightened each of you with his gifts (Word and Sacrament). The Holy Spirit has sanctified (made you holy by joining you to Christ through Word and Sacrament), and the Holy Spirit keeps you in the one true faith through Word and Sacrament.
And yet, too many Christians believe that they play the big role in receiving the living water. It is said, you’ve got the responsibility to get the living water for yourself. It is said, your forgiveness and salvation rests on you choosing to believe in Jesus. It is said, you make the decision to make Jesus the Lord of your life. This is wrong. This is like choosing up sides for a baseball game. You know – everybody picks two captains (usually the most athletic kids), but in this scenario, it’s the players who choose which captain they want to play for. That’s backwards. And likewise when it comes to forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus. One doesn’t pick a Savior. One is blessed to have the Savior save them!
Another way to undercut the work of the Spirit is to imagine that you don’t need Jesus – that you don’t need spiritual water. What I mean by that is if you never or rarely attend church, Bible study, or at the very least read the Bible at home or listen to a faithful worship service, and yet you say, “I believe in Jesus.” Again, this is the idea that belief in Jesus is something you can come up with on your own out of thin air and you can keep this belief for yourself out of thin air. Meanwhile, every moment of every day the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature are trying to pry you away from Jesus without you ever realizing it. Sadly, very sadly, you may be dying of thirst, but you’ve convinced yourself that everything is okay.
No, you need living water – you need Jesus. How do you get Jesus? His Word and Sacraments. Through these means – the means of the Spirit – the Holy Spirit gives you Jesus Himself and everything He has done for you.
The Holy Spirit wants to you receive Jesus. He wants you to believe through the Gospel, be enlightened, sanctified, and kept in the true faith. It glorifies the Holy Spirit when people believe in Jesus. The Spirit wants you to know and to hear over and over and over again that you are a sinner for whom Christ has died, that in Jesus you have forgiveness of sins, that in Jesus you are washed clean of everything you do wrong, that in Jesus the sins that make you worthy of death are gone so that you have new life, that in Jesus the troubles and tribulations of this world that weigh you down as a heavy burden are lifted away and you are given rest through Jesus. The Holy Spirit wants you to receive all this, because the Holy Spirit is the giver of Life. He gives you life by giving you Jesus and keeping you in Jesus forevermore.
So how do you get Jesus through the Holy Spirit? Some suppose that you can get Jesus while on a mountain, or on a lake, or strolling through the peacefulness of nature, or by some sort of inner experience or inner peace. You won’t find any of this in Scripture. The Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel – the power of God for salvation to all who believe. Jesus died on the cross for every bad thing, every sin, every mistake you ever did so that your debt is paid for. You don’t owe God anything to be good enough for heaven. You are forgiven and set free to live for God here in time and in His kingdom eternally. That’s the Gospel, by which the Holy Spirit calls you to receive the living water.
The Gospel is given to you when it’s declared to you (as I’m doing now), when you are baptized (because Baptism isn’t a one and done thing, it’s with you your whole life long, so that anytime doubt of God’s love and forgiveness creeps into your mind, you may remember that you are baptized into Christ, and God loves you and you are His child), and the third way the Gospel is given to you is the Lord’s Supper (because you eat and drink Christ Himself for the forgiveness of your sins). That’s it. You don’t have to look for Christ like trying to find your car-keys or a needle in a haystack. God tells you in His Word where Jesus is received by the power of the Holy Spirit – Word and Sacrament. These are God’s gifts – the gifts of the Spirit.
This is evident in the book of Acts. On the day of Pentecost, the Day of the Holy Spirit’s outpouring, Peter preaches the Gospel and the people receive it. They desire salvation and 3,000 are baptized after hearing that sermon. Then those who believe devote themselves to four things: The apostles teaching (which means hearing God’s Word), the fellowship (which means gathering together as they were able), the breaking of bread (which means the Lord’s Supper), and prayer (or calling upon God for help and in thanksgiving. The very same things you do.
FROM YOU, DEAR BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST, FLOWS RIVERS OF LIVING WATER
For the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel and enlightened you with His gifts. He makes you holy and He keeps you with Jesus Christ – all through the Word and Sacraments that you receive. This is better than having a constant supply of running water, for the water given by the Holy Spirit overflows out of the hearts of all believers into eternal life. So drink of Christ, and rejoice in Him. Amen.