#26: Let it Flow

John 7:37–39

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”’ Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Let anyone who is thirsty, come to me.
Let the one who believes in me, drink.

Water does three things. It cleans the body, quenches thirst and gives life in a dusty place. I think of these three things every time I carry out a baptism whether it is an adult or a small child. In fact, not only do I think of them, I talk about them. They represent three of life’s simplest, most basic and essential needs. We all need to be clean, to drink and to live. All organic life, plants and crops, birds and insects, animals and human beings, we all have these same three basic needs for water.

Jesus lived in a dry, dusty land. There is a rainy season but the water soon disappears, the streams dry up and the spring flowers wither. His was a land of hot stones, barren hillsides and brown wispy grass. He knew the importance of water. He knew its freshening, cleansing effect at the end of a hot day, it’s wonderful thirst quenching inner rush on a thirsty day, knew it’s life greening impact on a scorching fading away day.

He experienced all of this in his own watery baptism in the River Jordan. What he wants for his people is not just that they get into the river, but rather that the river gets into them.

John who baptised Jesus said ‘the one who sent me to baptise with water said to me ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptises with the Holy Spirit’.’ (John 1:33)

Here Jesus uses the imagery and the instant understanding in his listeners’ minds of the importance of water to talk about the Holy Spirit. The water is the Holy Spirit and the Spirit is Holy water – cleansing, refreshing, producing life in the desert.

God’s great plan is that after Jesus’ glorification (this is John’s way of talking about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus) the Spirit will come, it will be God’s gift, the rain, the flow, the river of life. In Luke’s gospel, chapter 24, verse 49, after his death and resurrection (his glorification) Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem ‘until they are clothed with power from on high’. It is another reference to the Holy Spirit, God’s water of life. The great tap was turned on at the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1) and the Spirit flowed.

The vital connection or inflow that enables the watery Holy Spirit to flood into us is here described by Jesus in two phrases.

Let anyone who is thirsty, come to me.
Let the one who believes in me, drink.

The key ideas are coming and drinking.

As a sixty six year old man, whose best years are behind him, struggling still to be a good husband and father, living in the middle of a sea of worldly unbelief and overcast every day by melancholia, I am a thirsty man. I am needing to drink of the Spirit of cleansing, refreshment and life. So for me, first coming to the river and then drinking in of the cool water are great pictures.

In fact, the more I look at other people, the more I get the impression that there are lots of us, and men in particular, who need to come and drink. Charles was a working class man, he worked long hours, never had much money but he provided for his wife and family. It was when he first met men at his local pub from the local church who were filled with the Spirit that he realised how thirsty he was. Norman was a bell-ringer, a long-time faithful member of the Church of England but he had never actually bobbed his head under the surface and drank the water. Nick had been a great Christian youth leader, he knew lots of Holy Spirit songs but he had not actually drunk for years. And then there are all the others who come to church, come to the edge of the river but who run a mile when it comes to opening up in worship, going deeper in prayer or joining a sharing group. How thirsty many of us men are.

The water in which I baptise splashes on the surface of the head and body. No matter how much I use, it is still on the surface and quickly dries up. Here Jesus is talking about a different water and a different baptism. This is Spirit water and Spirit baptism. This is water of the Spirit on the inside and Spirit water which never dries up.

Man or woman, how thirsty are you?

Lord Jesus,
Help me to come to the water,
Open me that I might drink of the water,
Baptise me in your Holy Spirit of life.