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With a little help from an encyclopedia this week, I learned something about thirst. The sensation of thirst occurs when there is a loss of water from the blood cells of our body. As those cells pass by a particular censor in the brain, the censor alerts the body that water needs to be added. First, there’s the dry mouth and a craving for fluids. Then there is decrease in the production of saliva and then difficulty swallowing.
If the body still doesn’t get the liquid it wants, it begins to suffer dehydration. The skin becomes dry and wrinkly. A fever develops, sweating stops, kidneys shut down, and death can result.
The thing that surprised me is that dehydration takes place with the loss of only 8% of the body’s water content. And under normal conditions, with no water intake, we loose 2.5% of the body’s water content per day. If it’s dry or we perspire a lot due to heat or activity, it goes up from there. That means that even under very ordinary conditions, we could experience fatal dehydration levels within 3 days of no water intake.
I. Israel in the desert
A. Exodus 15 ‘ Bitter water made sweet
Now maybe we can understand Israel’s complaint in the desert. Exodus, chapter 15 we read that after passing through the Red Sea, Israel entered the desert and for 3 days they couldn’t find any water. Finally, they came to a lake but the water was polluted (or bitter in the Hebrew) and they couldn’t drink it. And so they ‘grumbled’ against Moses saying, ‘What are we to drink.’ They were dehydrating! The Lord told Moses to do a very strange thing. Moses took a piece of wood and threw it into the polluted lake and the water, miraculously became ‘sweet.’ And all Israel drank and were renewed.
And if you were to listen carefully you could hear a faint, distant voice saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.’
B. Exodus 17 ‘ The Rock that gushed water
After a month by the lake, Israel moved on. Sure enough, after several days journey, they were thirsty again. In Exodus, chapter 17, we read that they quarreled again with Moses saying, ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and our livestock die of thirst’? Again, they were dehydrating! This time, the Lord told Moses to do an even stranger thing. ‘I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock and water will come out of it for the people to drink.’ And when Moses did, sure enough water gushed from the rock and all Israel drank and were renewed.
And now this time the voice can be heard even more clearly. ‘”If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.’
I know that we look for a rational and scientific explanation for everything these days. But Israel was firmly convinced that this was nothing else but an act of God. Israel attached a great deal of religious significance to this ‘water giving rock.’ It became a central theme in their worship. The 78th Psalm sings:
‘He split rocks in the wilderness
and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
He made streams come out of the rock
and caused waters to flow down like rivers.’ (Psalm 78:15-16)
C. Feast of Tabernacles
While Israel was in the desert, God instituted three, weeklong festivals for the people to observe after they entered into the Promised Land. The three festivals were, Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles.
The purpose of each of these festivals was to remind the people of the great and awesome ways that the Lord brought them to the Promised Land.
Passover celebrated their great deliverance from Egypt and Pharaoh. Pentecost celebrated the way that the Lord fed Israel with food in the desert. And Tabernacles celebrated the way that the Lord supplied water for their thirst in the desert.
On this day of Pentecost, it is actually the Feast of Tabernacles that we want to take a closer look at.
During the Feast of Tabernacles everyone built huts or booths made out of branches and sticks that they lived for the entire week. It was like a big, church campout. This reminded them of the huts that their ancestors lived in, in the desert for 40 years.
One of the rituals during this festival reminded everyone of the way God had provided water from the rock at Horeb. Each day during the week, the High Priest would take a water pitcher made of gold and fill it with water. He would walk around the stone altar with it to symbolize the walk in the wilderness. And then he would pour the water into a perforated silver bowls and the water would run down over the altar.
While he did this, the trumpets would sound and the people would sing. They would sing Psalm 78 that we’ve already mentioned. They would also sing, Isaiah 12:3, ‘With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.’ They would also sing Zechariah 14:8, ‘On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter.’
Then, on the 7th day, the last and greatest day of the Feast, the High Priest would carry the pitcher of water around the altar seven times, (seven is the number for completeness), representing the entire journey of Israel through the desert. And then he would pour the water into the silver bowls. The trumpets would sound and the people would sing, as the water ran down over the altar and flowed out to where the people were gathered.
In this way, the people would be reminded of the way that God provided water for their ancestors from a rock in the desert.
II. The Fulfillment of Tabernacles.
A. Jesus At Tabernacles
Our gospel reading this morning takes place in Jerusalem, during the Feast of Tabernacles. Jesus is present at the festival. John tells us, ‘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, Jesus was not talking about ‘physical thirst.’ He was talking about ‘spiritual thirst.’ And just so we’re sure about that, St. John tell us, ‘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)
What Jesus was saying to those gathered at the feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem was, ‘You know that rock that gushed water in the desert to renew dehydrated Israel? That rock was Me. I am the rock.
St. Paul would later say the same thing to the Corinthians. ‘They all ate the same spiritual food (as we eat) and drank the same spiritual drink (as we drink); for they drank from the spiritual rock and that rock was Christ.’ (1Cor. 10:4).
Jesus was announcing, that the rock in the desert was a foreshadowing of an even greater renewal that God would supply His people. Just as He provided water for His thirsty people in the desert, now He was going to provide the Holy Spirit for His thirsty people in this world in which we can become so spiritually dehydrated.
It was on the day of Pentecost that we celebrate today, that the ‘true rock’ gushed forth with the Holy Spirit, Who satisfies our spiritual thirst and renews all who will drink of Him. On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was ‘poured out’ on the disciples, just as Jesus had promised He would pour the Spirit out upon them.
And ‘rivers of living water flowed out of their heart.’ They gushed with the gospel of Jesus Christ and everyone who was present heard it preached in their own language.
During the festival of Pentecost, just as during the festivals of Passover and Tabernacles, men and women from the east and from the west were present in Jerusalem. The ‘Living water,’ the Holy Spirit, was poured out upon them. Literally, the Spirit was poured into their ears. And their ears swallowed it down. And they were refreshed and renewed.
And, in addition to being spiritually refreshed themselves, ‘rivers of living water also flowed out of their hearts.’ Each one returned home, to the east and to the west, pouring out onto others what they had seen and heard in Jerusalem, just as the prophet Zechariah had foretold.
Today, the ‘river of living water’ that flows from Christ, flows all the way to you and me. And today, the Holy Spirit brings us the ‘Living Water’ that renews and refreshes our thirsty souls. And we drink in the precious gospel through our ears ‘ Jesus Christ has atoned for all of your sins by His precious blood, shed for you on the cross.
And the same Holy Spirit that brings Jesus to you through the hearing of His gospel brings you to Jesus through by giving you the gift of faith through the same hearing of His gospel. And you believe the incredible good news that you hear, and your thirsty soul is refreshed and renewed.
C. We all suffer from thirst.
I want to touch, for just a moment in conclusion, on what we mean by ‘spiritual thirst,’ and also how our ‘spiritual thirst’ is truly quenched by the Holy Spirit.
In the 42nd Psalm, the Psalmist cries out, ‘My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God’? (Psalm 42:2) In His ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ Jesus says, ‘blessed is he who hungers and THIRSTS for righteousness,’ and then promises, ‘for he will be satisfied.’ (Mat.5:6)
Like Israel of old, our soul thirsts too. God made us to have not only a physical thirst, but also a spiritual thirst. We thirst for ‘God, the living God.’ We thirst for ‘the righteousness that comes from God.’ We have a spiritual thirst for spiritual things, such as, ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.’ (Gal.5:22-23). And we all know what it means to be dehydrated and thirst for any number of these things.
We know how to quench our physical thirst and there are hundreds of different ways to do so. But there is only one way that our spiritual thirst for God, the righteousness of God and the fruit of the Spirit is quenched and we are renewed. Only the water that flows from the Rock, which is Christ, will satisfy our spiritual thirst. Because the water that flows from Christ is the Holy Spirit.
No other water will do. An ocean of water can surround us. But if you drink it, it’ll kill you. Sadly, we are always being tempted to try to satisfy our spiritual thirst by drinking from the wrong water, the wrong spirit. It looks so inviting. It looks like it will surely quench our thirst for love, joy, peace, etc. And we fall into temptation and drink.
So, here’s a simple guide that will help you determine if the water that you are tempted to drink to quench your spiritual thirst is ‘living water’ or ‘dead water.’
First, does it flow from Jesus? That is, does it flow from His Word? The Holy Spirit only flows from the Word of Jesus. If you trying to satisfy your spiritual thirst with water that is foreign or contrary to the Word of Christ then you can be sure that the Holy Spirit is not in it. And it will not renew you or refresh you.
Second, does it take you to Jesus for spiritual renewal? If it takes you to other spirits, or to an internal spring inside you, or to a nameless, faceless, ‘higher power,’ if it doesn’t take you through the cross of Christ crucified, then it cannot be of the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit takes you to Jesus.
D. Final Renewal
That we constantly struggle and suffer with a spiritual thirst should not surprise us. We are weak and we constantly fall into temptation and drink from dead water to satisfy our spiritual thirst. But the day will come when we will be totally satisfied, just as Jesus promised.
In John’s revelation of heaven he sees of all things, a river flowing down the middle of the city. And now we know that the river is the Holy Spirit. John hears the Alpha and Omega say, ‘To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.’ ‘Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires, take the water of life without price.’ (Rev.21:6; 22:17).