Jesus finds himself on the way to the Feast of Tabernacles, an annual celebration lasting one week in duration which fell in the Fall season of the year, just after The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). The celebration commemorated the memory of the time when Israel dwelt in tents in the wilderness - having been delivered from Egypt - but not quite ready to enter into their promised land of Canaan. Jesus has stayed back a while, allowing his family to go on ahead. He has been dealing with all kinds of misunderstanding on the part of his brothers - simply because they did not recognize him as the Messiah. The journey to Jerusalem is going to be filled with some effort on the part of the religious leaders to undermine Jesus' teachings and ministry - as their opposition is escalating by the time we see him making this journey. In fact, John tells us they were already out looking for Jesus - to accuse him publicly, to oppose his ministry, and to deny the reality of his miracles.
“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says.” (John 7:38 MSG)
We find Jesus unfazed by their opposition - teaching in the Temple, as was his custom. The religious leaders are appalled at how much of the Law Jesus knows and how well he explains it. In fact, they are engaged in a heavy discussion about where he received his "credentials" to preach when Jesus responds to their curiosity with a simple statement: "I didn’t make this up. What I teach comes from the One who sent me. Anyone who wants to do his will can test this teaching and know whether it’s from God or whether I’m making it up. A person making things up tries to make himself look good. But someone trying to honor the one who sent him sticks to the facts and doesn’t tamper with reality. It was Moses, wasn’t it, who gave you God’s Law? But none of you are living it. So why are you trying to kill me?” (vs. 16-19) All this "banter" between the religious leaders and Jesus begins to get some in the crowd talking about Jesus' "origin" and his "ability" to be "in ministry" without any "formal teaching". Doesn't it just seem the crowd always has to include some who will question the validity or motivation of anyone who is in public view?
Jesus is steadfast in his teaching - never wavering despite the continued and escalating opposition. The religious leaders are jealous of him receiving the following of the crowd - a powerful opponent to humility is the devil we call pride! Yet, in all Jesus "endures" at the hand of the crowd of onlookers, their are those "in the crowd" who he knows are on the brink of hungering and thirsting for the reality of "God with them". To them, he begins to minister - "If ANYONE thirsts...." This is not likely an invitation to the religious, but to the seeking hearts who long for something more than set of rules to follow and a place to gather on "church day".
Two things Jesus tells them: "Come to me" and "drink". Look at the little three-letter word which begins this invitation - "let". Jesus is saying to the religious "righteous" - "allow, permit, grant access" to the thirsty - they need what I have to offer. It was as though he is saying to the rabble-rousers in the crowd, "Stop standing in their way and let them alone!" He recognizes the hungry among the crowd - those who desire more. It is these seeking hearts he desires to touch. Jesus never sought to "convince" the religious "righteous" of his greatness - he just opened heaven to those who were willing to admit their own righteousness would never be enough to truly bring peace to their souls and right-thinking to their minds.
Come to me is the first invitation - permit these hungry among you to experience access to what it is they desire. Then he adds the instruction to allow them to drink - the place of refreshing awaited those who would draw near enough to experience the "flow" of his grace fully. Religious righteousness only makes people more "thirsty" for something which will truly satisfy - Jesus is simply offering himself. The filling-up of one's thirsty soul with the presence of Jesus is the only truly satisfying position the thirsty can find - for the rivers of grace flow freest and clearest the nearer we come to the source of the "water".
Then he adds what becomes a message of hope to the thirsty among the crowd - "Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way". Dry to the bone, you will be refreshed beyond your capacity to "contain" or "hold" what is offered by the infilling of his grace! Rivers are not tiny streams which trickle along in some lazy way, following the path of the least resistance. Rivers have currents - they cut paths right through whatever stands in their way! Jesus tells us his grace has the power to cut paths where there is resistance - to overcome obstacles to refreshing and renewing. Can you say, "Awesome!"
He adds the rivers will "spill out". Ever "over-pour" a glass of soda? You know, you just did not expect it to "fizz up" and overflow the top of the glass, pooling around the base of the glass and dribbling onto the floor. He is not talking about this kind of "fizz up" overflow here! In fact, he talks of it being a river which spills out - from the depths of one's being. Soda fizzes up and then the "overflow" dissipates, doesn't it? Nope, his "river of living water" is non-dissipating! It flows and flows and flows. Grace has no limits! Grace abounds - the more we need it, the more is spills out!
I don't know about you, but I want this kind of "overflow" in my life! I don't want an occasional "sprinkling" or "fizz up" of his presence, but the genuine flow of his grace constantly renewing me, cutting paths through the places of resistance in my life. How about you?