Peter Misselbrook's Blog
May 13 2013 - John 7:1-32-52 – Rivers of living water

The Feast of Tabernacles was designed to remind the Israelites of the way in which God had cared for them when they lived for 40 years in a dry and thirsty wilderness. God had kept them alive by providing them with food and with water. On two occasions God had miraculously provided them with water from a rock.

On the last day of the feast Jesus declared to the crowds, “If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink. Anyone who believes in me will have rivers of living water flowing out from his heart, just as the Scriptures said.” This is not the first time that Jesus has spoken of himself as the source of living water (cf. 4:10-14; 6:35), but here he speaks of this water flowing like a river from those who believe in him.

But the most puzzling element in Jesus’ words is his statement that this had been prophesied in Scripture. What Scripture is Jesus referring to? It may be that Jesus has no particular Scripture in mind but is speaking generally of the way in which his coming fulfils all that was written beforehand (cf. 5:39) – the way in which Israel was provided with water in the wilderness was just a foretaste of the provision of life-giving water in and through Jesus. Nevertheless, I like to think that one of the Scriptures that Jesus had in mind was the remarkable prophecy regarding God’s renewal of life to his covenant people that we find in the latter chapters of Ezekiel.

In particular, in Ezekiel 47:1-12 we have a striking picture of water flowing from the temple in Jerusalem. The remarkable thing about this water is that the water gets deeper as it flows further from its source, yet it has no other tributaries feeding it along the way! Streaming from the temple this river gives life to whatever it touches. There are trees flourishing on its banks bearing fruit for food and leaves for healing. The waters flow on to revive stagnant swamps and turn the salt sea fresh so that it teams with life, providing food to all who fish there. This stream of life flows from the temple, it proceeds from the presence of God with his people.

Jesus is the one in whom this Scripture finds its fulfilment – the one in whom God has returned to his temple and has come to dwell among us. The river of the water of life flows from him.

John tells us that Jesus was speaking of the Spirit which had not yet been poured out because Jesus had not yet been glorified. For John, Jesus’ glorification is tied up with the cross. In his death the age of death is brought to judgment – the wilderness is at an end. In his resurrection a new age has dawned, a new creation has sprung into life. With his ascension the Spirit is poured out bringing life to all who believe in him – the cross becomes the Tree of Life from which we may now take and eat and live for ever. But more than that, we too then become the source of life – rivers of living water flow from us into a dry and dusty world, bringing life and healing.

Shine, Jesus, shine
Fill this land with the Father's glory
Blaze, Spirit, blaze, Set our hearts on fire
Flow, river, flow
Flood the nations with grace and mercy
Send forth Your Word, Lord And let there be light

Lord Jesus, fill me with your living water, and may it then flow from me to bring your life and healing to those living in a dry and thirsty world. Help me to scour out of my life anything that would prevent the living water from flowing freely.

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Peter Misselbrook