Sermon: The thirst Jesus quenches – John 7:37-39

37 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. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” 39 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. 


Our Heavenly Father, 

1 As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? 

Lord God, it is only through your gospel that the longings of the human soul can be quenched. We praise you for the salvation which you promise through the Lord Jesus Christ. 

We thank you that we have a savior whom we can approach. 

Lord, we ask that you again bless our time as we study your word. Prepare our hearts as we approach your scriptures. May we do it in a spirit of humility and reverence. 

May we grow in deeper love for your goodness. 

Lord, none but you is worthy of our praise. 

We pray that we would be strengthened and edified as we study your sacred scriptures. 

In Jesus’ name, amen. 


Water. It helps regulate our body temperature.  It protects our joints and spinal cord. It helps brain function, energy levels, and circulation. It’s used in running the major systems of our bodies. It helps our bodies dispose of waste.

It’s essential to human life. Our bodies are mostly made up of water. A healthy person can only survive 3-4 days without it. 

One of the great blessings of modern, industrial societies is that we have easy access to drinking water. We just turn on the tap and there it is. 

It’s a blessing that I know I never seriously take time to consider and appreciate. It’s just there. 

In other parts of the world, water is in short supply due to draught and insufficient storage and purification facilities. 

In parts of Africa, millions of people – mostly women or children – do not have indoor plumbing and have to make daily trips to communal sources of water. 

And that’s more similar to the situation in Jesus’ day. 

Israel gets almost no rainfall from May to mid-October. 

And so when Jesus talks about people thirsting, it might have had a little more resonance to a first century audience than it would for us. 

But still, thirst is an incredibly powerful metaphor. Because even though we do have easy access to water, we’ve all been thirsty at some point. Maybe you’ve been outside all day. May it’s a really hot day. There is an instant relief that water brings us. 

And in those times, it’s a thirst that only water can quench. Maybe you’re a soda drinker, a soda isn’t refreshing when you’re truly thirsty. Maybe you’re a coffee drinker. A piping hot cup of coffee isn’t refreshing when you’re thirsty. Only water. 

In our section, Jesus stands up and proclaims:

If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ”

Are you thirsty? 

Over the last couple of weeks in chapter 7, we’ve seen Jesus at the Feast of Booths. 

In today’s section, our passage opens up by saying that it is the last day of the feast. So we’ve seen quite a bit of time dedicated to this one week Feast of Booths. 

And with that, we’ll jump right into our passage before making a few concluding observations about the passage.

Verses 37-38: 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. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ”

John says that Jesus cried out when he spoke. There is urgency to his proclamation. 

If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.

The first thing that we have to understand about this passage is that Jesus does not talk about thirst and drinking out of nowhere. 

What he’s saying fits in with the feast. 

And it’s important to understand what Jesus is saying in light of the Old Testament. 

One thing we have not talked about is that in Jesus’ day, as part of the observance of the Feast of Booths there was a water pouring ceremony where the high priest would take a golden pitcher of water. With an assembly of people following him, the high priest would go to the nearby Pool of Siloam and fill the pitcher. The priest would bring the water back to the temple courtyard as horns blasted in celebration. The people would recite Psalms of praise and chant three times “Give thanks to the Lord, give thanks to the Lord, give thanks to the Lord.” And the high priest would take the pitcher of water and pour it on the altar. 

In Jesus’ day, this ceremony had developed. 

Now, keep in mind that the Feast of Booths was, in part, meant to recall the time in which their Israelite forefathers were in the wilderness and awaiting the Promised Land. 

For 40 years, the Israelites dwelled in their own booths or tents and brought the tabernacle with them through the desert. 

In Exodus chapters 15, 16, and 17, the Israelites were still in the first few days and weeks into the desert wanderings. They’ve just seen God bring the plagues upon the Egyptians. They’ve just seen the Lord part the waters of the Red Sea and free them Egyptian rule. 

The Israelites quickly fall into grumbling. In Exodus 15, they grumble about not having water. As if the Lord God who had miraculously freed them would not provide. 

But before we judge the Israelites too harshly, we can often be as fickle and as quick to forget the Lord’s blessings in our own lives. 

Can we not? 

We can forget God’s blessings in our lives, God’s faithfulness in our lives, God’s provision in our lives. We’re not so different from the Israelites. 

In Exodus, God provides water. 

Exodus 16, the Israelites complain about not having enough food and go as far as accusing the Lord of having brought them into the desert for them all to die. 

God is gracious. He provides manna. It was miraculous. Something which the Lord used to sustain them for every day of their 40 year journey. 

Interestingly, in John 6, we see Jesus as something greater when he declares that he himself is the true bread of life after he had fed the multitudes. 

Exodus 17, the people again complain about water. 

Nevermind that God has already shown his ability to provide water. God has shown that he will provide food. But the Israelites again grumble and accuse the Lord of having brought them into the wilderness to kill them. 

Instead of reigning down righteous judgment, God does another miracle 

Exodus 17:4-6: So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 

God provides water from a rock. When the Israelites were in the desert and thirsty, God gave them water. 

And that was part of the background for the water ceremony at the Feast of Booths. 

Again, the Feast of Booths was largely meant to look back at the time of the Israelite wanderings. 

But there’s further significance to the water. 

Water is a symbol of blessing in the Old Testament.

And once again, to appreciate that, I think we have to keep in mind desert and semiarid climates where the Israelites lived in the Old Testament and in the time of Christ. 

The water ceremony specifically was related to Isaiah 12. It’s not specifically commanded in that passage, but the connection of water and life and praise for the Lord influenced the Jewish observance of the Feast of Tabernacles. 

Isaiah 12:3-4: 3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. 4 And you will say in that day: “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. 

Or again, we see the connection with water and divine blessing in Isaiah 55:1:

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk 

Zechariah 14:8 prophesied of a future time of God’s blessing. 

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’s interesting that even in Zechariah, he refers to living water. 

The prophets are looking forward to a future time of the Lord’s provision where it’s compared to living water. 

Water is important. 

And in the Old Testament, you also see the connection of ideas of water with the Holy Spirit. Most famously in Ezekiel 36. 

Verses 25-27 I consider this one of the three most significant passages in the Old Testament outside of Genesis: 

25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

In that passage, we see the specific connection between water and the Spirit and the impact that the Spirit has in the life of a believer. We’ve talked about the importance of water in the Feast of Booths in pointing back to God’s provision of water, in the importance of water for our survival. But the connection of water and the Holy Spirit is also important with their connection to the Feast of Booths because part of the celebration and hope in the Feast of Booths was that it looked forward to a future time when the Lord would pour out his Spirit on his people. 

And that is important to understanding our passage in John. 

Because Jesus says: If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ”

Ezekiel pointed to a time when people would be so filled with the Spirit that they would be enabled to live out the Law of God. Jesus says that whoever believes in him “out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” 

What I believe this is saying is that the one who comes to Jesus will be given the Spirit, as the scriptures have promised. 

And where it says Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water, it is referring to the transformed life of a believer through the work of the Holy Spirit. 

We don’t cause it to happen. We don’t cause our own Spiritual growth. It is a supernatural work of God in the heart and life of a believer as a result of regeneration. 

And so that drives home the significance of Jesus standing up on the last day of the feast and calling the thirsty to come to him and drink and his promise of living water. 

The fact that the living water is the Holy Spirit is not in dispute. You have the Old Testament background. But even more specifically, John tells us that’s what’s being referenced in vere 39. 

7:39: 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. 

And really, Jesus has talked a lot about the Holy Spirit to this point in John. 

He talks of it in reference to regeneration, being born again, when Nicodemus comes seeking Jesus. John 3:5:“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God

Jesus is referring to water and the Spirit in John 4 when he tells the woman at the well:

John 4:14: 

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 

The Holy Spirit and his coming into the hearts of believers and the necessity of that happening is really a significant theme in John. It will be a major focus towards the end of his ministry in chapters 14-17. 

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. 

Back in our main passage. 

You have a large assembly of Israelite all listening to Jesus preach about the living water he provides at the feast which pointed back to their ancestors’ time in the wilderness. It was in that time that God provided physical water from a rock. But it was meant to point to something greater. 

You have Jesus at the feast which looked forward to a future time when God would pour out his Spirit and here Jesus proclaims to the group that he is the one who has come to provide that Spirit. 

But as John ends the passage, the Spirit had not yet been given. John says that this is because Christ had not yet been glorified. 

Once again, his ministry has a singular focus that is always pointing forward to his death. There are people trying to kill him but unable, we’ve talked about his hour, referring to when he would die. Here again, the Spirit would not be given until after Jesus had died and rose from the dead and been glorified. 

Jesus provides the living water to the one who comes to him who thirsts.  

Are you thirsty? 

And this idea is carried into the Biblical depictions of heaven. 

Revelation 21:6, John’s vision of the new heaven and the new earth. 

And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 

Then again in Revelation 22:17, one of the last few verses of the entire Bible: 

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

Jesus has come for thirsty people. 

I spoke in the beginning about how much of the world struggles to get water. 

But it’s interesting. 

We have water, but we don’t drink it. At least not to the level that we should. 

Studies show that 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. 

That’s amazing. 

And I looked at some articles that suggest that there are other industrialized countries who do even worse. One article suggested 80% of Australians and others articles said upwards of 90% of British people don’t drink enough water.

So we have people in poor countries who don’t drink enough water because they can’t get it. But many people in places who have enough water don’t drink it. 

That is amazing when you think about it. And I consider the metaphor of thirst and living water from a Spiritual perspective. 

So many people don’t think that they need God. Don’t think that they need the salvation which Christ offers. Feel like they can do things their own way and be fine. 

The grace is offered but so many aren’t thirsty – or more accurately – so many people don’t know that they have the thirst for what Christ alone can quench. 

Jesus provides the living water and he is the only source of the true water. 

What well are you drinking from? 

The USS Indianapolis was a battle cruiser which was sunk by a Japanese torpedo in the Pacific Ocean in July of 1945. The ship was returning from a mission which had included delivering the enriched uranium needed for the first atomic bomb. 

The ship sunk in 12 minutes with 1,195 sailors aboard. Roughly 300 died in the initial sinking. 

For the 900 survivors, they spent a harrowing four days in the hot sun of the Pacific Ocean with very little food or water. Some died from injuries sustained in the sinking, some died from the elements and exposure. Some were killed in shark attacks. 

But a temptation the survivors faced in their state of extreme dehydration was the desire to drink the sea water. 

Only 316 of the nearly 900 who survived the sinking of the ship survived the four days at sea. 

The chief medical officer recounted his own harrowing experiences. 

There was nothing I could do, nothing I could do but give advice, bury the dead at sea, save the lifejackets, and try to keep the men from drinking the water. When the hot sun came out, and we were in this crystal clear ocean, we were so thirsty. You couldn’t believe it wasn’t good enough to drink. I had a hard time convincing the men they shouldn’t drink. The real young ones…you take away their hope, you take away their water and food, they would drink the salt water and they would go fast. I can remember striking the ones who were drinking the salt water to try to stop them. They would get dehydrated. 

There is living water that Jesus promises to those who come to him in thirst. 

Anything else we drink will lead to our own death and destruction. 

He invites us to know him. He invites us to drink. He invites us to life. 

Have you come to him as one who is thirsty? Do you believe that he is the Lord? That he is the savior of the world? That he gives living water? 

And at the last Supper, he invited us to his table.