Philip Casmer

It’s That Time…

by Philip Casmer on May 28th, 2023
John 7:37-39

It’s almost that time… when our building project will be done. Now, we have two beautiful parts of that project coming to completion but, preschool forgive me now, I’m going to focus on the church-side for a moment. Aren’t you ready? I am. We’ve been so blessed with volunteers and helpfulness and ability to worship fairly well in this space but, man, am I ready to be in that other room. It will be so good!  Just imagine how that will be… 

Beautiful outside, of course, but once you walk through the 8ft. doors into the church… You’ve all seen the renderings, right? It’ll be beautiful flooring and pews and lights sweeping overhead and wood paneling that draws your eyes to the front. And, as your eyes track up that aisle, they’ll hit the chancel with a beautiful, quarter-sawn, oak altar and a place for preaching and for baptizing – and there will be candles and crosses in new ways… and a giant stained-glass window… 

And, in that place, all the ritual of worship will happen – whatever it is – like: lighting Advent wreath candles, or singing songs and playing instruments, to “I baptize you in the name of…”, and “The body of Christ given for you…” You know, it might even be that when we dedicate that space, that we’ll do something like begin the service with a cross procession – an overt way to say with our movements and our orientation that Jesus is our Lord and Savior and King – highly valued among us. Rituals are meant to do that – we all do them – whether people raise hands in prayer or light candles or make the sign of the cross – they’re actions that speak. 

And, if we’re thinking at all about ritual – visual things that speak to us – what we do doesn’t hold a candle to – say, the kind of thing that was going on in that time, when Jesus speaks in John 7. Look through that chapter some time – here’s what’s happening: Jesus’ brothers had told him basically, “Hey, if you’re the miraculous Messiah… no better place to prove it than Jerusalem and no better time than the Feast of Tabernacles… Let’s go!”; but Jesus didn’t go. He said, “That’s your timing, not God’s timing…” So they left Jesus behind, but Jesus did go a little while later, only in secret (and you get the sense in John 7 that Jesus is sort of just listening to what the crowds say about him). Halfway through the feast, Jesus goes to teach in the temple publicly – and, characteristically, people are astounded by his wisdom but also divided by his words – because he clearly points to himself as the Messiah… And as it goes on – they grumble about Jesus, they try to kill Jesus, and try to arrest Jesus, but “his time had not yet come,” so they couldn’t. And you finally come to the last and greatest day of the feast, and Jesus stands and shouts out publicly the words we have…

And all the while, through all this… ritual… Do you know about the Feast of Tabernacles (Lv 23, Nu 29, Dt 16)? The feast lasted for seven days, during which the people made regular offerings (Num. 29:13–16) and lived in tabernacles, or tents – little wooden structures. On the last day, called the “Great Day,” the people gathered to make one last offering and practice solemn rest (Num. 29:35–38). By Jesus’ time, the Jews had developed additional rituals (go online to the Talmud), which included the dramatic incorporation of light and the singing of the great psalms (Pss. 113–118, 120–135), and this… Throughout the feast, once a day – the priest would fill a golden pitcher with water from the pool of Siloam. Accompanied by a solemn procession, he would return to the temple and amid the sounding of trumpets and the shouting of rejoicing multitudes he would pour it through a funnel which led to the base of the altar of burnt offering. It would sluice and splash and slosh… The feast concluded with a very elaborate version of the same: they would process around the altar seven times and conclude the water pouring ceremony. 

This was ritual writ-large; big jubilation time in Jerusalem. Actions meant to say something… Not only did this ceremony remind people of the blessings granted to the forefathers in the wilderness (the water from the rock), but it also pointed forward to the spiritual blessings the Messiah would bring. Their rituals were based on several prophetic passages about life-giving water (see Isa. 12:2–3; Ezek. 47:1–2; Zech. 14:16–19). And their minds, hearts, and voices were occupied with such passages as Is. 12:3, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (NIV84)

Now, I don’t know for certain, but could you imagine it happening immediately after that symbolic rite of water-pouring was done (really, anywhere in this time the people would have made the connection)… that the voice of Jesus rang out, loud and clear: ““Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.” It was as if he wanted to say, “Don’t you realize that this water points to me – the Living Water? And that all these reminders of the life of your fathers in the wilderness lose their significance apart from me? Come and see that I am the way God quenches your spiritual thirst!”

Thirst is probably one of the only bodily signals we as 21st century Americans feel often. Sure, there’s pain from shoveling mulch or soil on Memorial Day weekend – back hurts the next day; or we just get old. But I mean, we don’t really starve most of us – very blessed are we… But we’ve each had the “I hiked too long and now I’m very thirsty,” or “the track or football running has got me panting and dry-mouthed…” Then you know you need something… And there are lots of options: Pepsi, hot cocoa, a cocktail… Mmmmm, but some of these aren’t really great for thirst. They have their time and place. But when your body needs rejuvenation – it’s time for some water…

Jesus is saying that there’s a spiritual thirst for the one most important thing. And he’s calling out because it’s tempting to slake that thirst with other things – sinning itself, idolizing our own perspectives or wisdom, the sacred rituals we each make in our lives, living on the world’s measures for what’s wise… They’re the cocktails of sin – attempts to fill the void with things that deaden our spiritual senses and make us forget the wrong we’ve done or the mess that just is. They’re the saccharine-sweet things in life that feel great for the moment but really make us out of spiritual shape – unable to do what God demands and desires. And, like too much sugar or too much alcohol or no water – they’re all death in the end.

Instead, Jesus calls us to himself – to find satisfaction, to quench our thirst. A general call – for “anyone who is thirsty” – you are not left out, you are not “too bad”, you are exactly whom Jesus calls away from sin and to himself. “Come to find me in my Word,” he says. “Come to gather in worship where that Word is. Come to receive God’s free gifts.” He gives forgiveness of sins of thirsting after everything else, the flowing, unabated spring of living water that says – “I have conquered all the guilt of your sin by dying for you,” “I have provided what you need to live before God without fear by living perfectly for you,” “I offer you a quenching of thirst that won’t ever run out – the promise that I can give what the world cannot – a satisfaction in the love of God that lasts through this life and into the next…” 

Does it sound to you like Jesus has any intent on giving you less than exactly what you need? That’s why we’re tempted to look otherwhere, isn’t it? To fill what we need? But he says, “Thirsty? Come to me! And drink!” Implication: “I will fill your thirst…” That’s how the prophets talked too: Isaiah 58:11, “The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.” In fact, it sounds like Jesus is saying that you’ll have more than enough… Did you hear him? “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” Whoever you are – he doesn’t care! he cares so universally! – believing in Jesus, the Living Water – his living water gushes forth from you… And he’s right – the OT prophets talked that way. The end of Isaiah 58:11, “[After you’re strengthened] You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” Flowing streams and an oasis in the desert…that’s you.

But, as you heard John say it, “By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.” And that’s in prophetic language too, Isaiah 44:3, “I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” Peter referenced similar prophecy in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost – today’s festival. 

That was a time when God’s Holy Spirit was poured out like Niagra Falls so that those disciples were filled with power to preach and ability to speak in all kinds of languages and thousands and thousands of people were converted! God’s living water broke out in a torrent of sin-forgiving, life-giving proclamation and reception! And, as John said, in a way that God’s Spirit had “not been given” because Jesus’ work was not yet complete… But once it was – the floodgates opened… Amazing!

What a time that must have been… like no other. Don’t you ever wish you could have seen that? I do… We shouldn’t get too lost in far off fancy and wistful, “If only those good ol’ days…” sort of talk though.  You know what time this is? Well, actually, it’s that time still… It’s that time – right now! Jesus has been glorified. I mean sin is forgiven, salvation is won, Jesus reigns. That’s the stuff of your lives! It’s that time – right now! God’s Spirit has been / is being poured out in a way that believers in the thousands of years before Jesus Christ never saw, but you see… It’s that time – right here! God works through his Word and blesses you with gifts. And he fills you with his Spirit to use them. You may not speak in tongues – but you may have wisdom to speak God’s words – to understand deeply what God means and when and what to say. Maybe your gift is discernment to judge what’s right and wrong and teach it to your children and how to creatively, beautifully live God’s Words in your job or with your friends. Might be simply knowledge of where you need to go to quench that spiritual thirst and doing it for yourself on the regular or bringing someone else. Might just be knowing the promise – that if you and I fill up, drink deep, from the well of God’s love in Jesus Christ, he will not shrink back and so we don’t either – we double-down that this saving work of Christ is actually the sustenance we need, the center of our lives… and we come to him and bring others to him over and over again.

That’s perfect for a time like Pentecost. Praise God for that time: his abundant outpouring of the Spirit after Jesus’ work was gloriously done that brought about glorious results in their community. But know: it’s that time right now… Time for you to be Spirit-filled for discernment and wisdom and knowledge that others will see and come to – like an oasis in the desert – and from each of you, flowing out will be rivers of Jesus’ living water!

 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13. NIV)

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