Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;
“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.’ ” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:37–39, ESV)
(Thanks to Rev. Reed Lessing, Concordia Journal, June 12, 2011)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Have you ever been in an airplane flying over one of those states that is mostly desert? You know, states like Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. There’s a reason they’re called “fly-over lands.” We fly over them to get somewhere else more important, places that have more interest. A few years ago, a politician called the Midwest “fly-over.” He seemed to indicate that our values are not as important and far less interesting, as those on either coast. Those of us in Iowa would disagree. We don’t believe we live in “fly-over land.”
You may not live in “fly-over land,” but we all have “fly-over lands” as part of our lives. We have bad memories, broken relationships, and regrets that we try to put in the back of our minds. We put them there because they are our failures brought about by our own sin. We don’t want to live in them. They are dry desolate places without hope. We don’t want to be reminded. We want to fly-over. After all, they are parched desert lands. Remembering them only makes you thirsty for things to be different.
Jesus says if you thirst you can come to him and he will quench you. What he means is that it’s time to quit denying our sinfulness. It’s time to acknowledge our pain. It’s time to acknowledge our dry thirsty “fly-over lands” and bring our sin to the one who can quench our thirst with living water. Jesus is the one who has living water to quench the thirst of our sin.
Jesus is no stranger to water. The gospel of John is full of him using it. In fact, his first miracle is changing water into wine (John 2:1–11). He heals a lame man in the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1–9). He walks on water showing his authority over the elements (John 6:19). He uses the Pool of Siloam (John 9) to bring about site in a blind man. And, Jesus even washes the disciples’ feet with water (John 13:1-15, 15:3).
“If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” (John 13:8, ESV)
And here in our text for today, John links Jesus’ use of water to the ultimate gift of salvation at our Lord’s death. How does he do that? It begins with the last day of the feast, the seventh day. It’s the Feast of Tabernacles. This Jewish holiday has a very special connection to water. Each morning of the seven days of the festival, a priest fills a golden pitcher with water as the choir sings the words,
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. (Isaiah 12:3, ESV)
That water is poured on the base of the altar. On the last day, the seventh day, the water is poured seven times into silver funnels surrounding the altar. The altar is drowned in water. This last day is the day that Jesus stands up and says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me for drink.” The prayers of the people, water for salvation, are answered in Jesus. He is the one who gives living water for thirsty sinners. It is from his side that the water of salvation flows.
It is out of Jesus living water flows. On the cross, the spear pierces Jesus’ heart and outflows life-giving blood and water. It is also the river of the water of life that flows from the throne of the Lamb of God as John describes it in Revelation.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. (Revelation 22:1–4, ESV)
Back in Exodus, the people complained about being thirsty. God instructed Moses to touch the rock with his staff. The rock split open and water poured out for the thirst of God’s people (Exodus 17:1-7). The hymn Rock of Ages is about this. Rock of Ages cleft (that means split open) for me. The Rock of Ages is Jesus. St. Paul makes that very connection in 1 Corinthians (10:4). He calls this split open rock, Jesus himself. It’s a picture of Jesus split open on the cross.
On the cross, Jesus suffers all the pain of human history. All the sins, regrets, and failures tucked away in our dry desert “fly-over lands.” The horror of it all, the punishment received, the hanging suspended between earth and heaven in God’s righteous wrath, is expressed clearly in Jesus own words, “I thirst.” This is the most ironic twist in all of human history. The one from whom flows the river of the water of life hangs suffering thirst. He dies. The Roman spear splits him open and outflows blood and water. Here is Jesus crushed and cursed and cleft by the sin of your life and mine. Here is the result of all the things we tuck away in our minds in those “fly-over zones.” Here is where we see the horrible cost of our sin. Here is where we see the seriousness of our sin. It cannot be overlooked. Sin must be dealt with. Just like the witnesses of the crucifixion, we may want to fly-over this scene. We can’t even bear to see Jesus on the cross. We want to skip the punishment and run straight to the resurrection.
The cross is necessary. We preach Jesus Christ crucified. His suffering and death are your suffering and death. His suffering and death make it possible for your thirst to be quenched. And Jesus says, “Come to me! I have living water for thirsty people.” This Jesus is crushed and killed but made alive for you. On the cross, he has earned forgiveness for you by taking the punishment you deserve for your sin. In his grave, he carries your sin into his death, your death. In his resurrection, he promises that forgiveness is yours. Look at the thirst-quenching water in your baptismal font. Here is where Jesus connects you to him through his living water. It washes you clean. It floods away your filth. It defeats your death. Jesus is here, from him flows living water to quench your thirst. He floods your “fly-over lands” with forgiveness. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.