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.’” (John 7:37-38 ESV)
The apostle John speaks more of life than the other 3 gospels combined. It is one of the central themes he develops, that of true life being in and from Christ. Beginning in chapter 1, verse 3-4, John announces “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”
“In him was life”— 4 incredible words. Jesus, as creator and sovereign, both possesses life and gives life.
Then, in Christ’s dialogue with Nicodemus, he teaches the truth we all know by heart, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
But what is the nature of this eternal life? We get a hint of one facet in the next chapter as Jesus talks with a Samaritan woman:
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:10-14 ESV)
Jesus, as He was fond of doing, took something at hand and created a word picture that vividly portrayed spiritual reality. Jesus was offering her something, a “living water” that would become a spring, a fountain welling up to eternal life.
What exactly is this living water? First, it is important to know that in the Greek the word “living” is not an adjective but a verb. It is the difference between saying “hairy man” and “sweating man”— hairy being an adjective simply describes a static attribute of the man, while “sweating” being a verb describes something the man is doing. So this water is active, it is living, you might even say it is giving and producing life.
Much of what Jesus says tracks back to the Old Testament, and so do these words. In Jeremiah 2:13 God accuses Israel of having, “committed two evils: they have forsaked me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
What a rich verse! Israel (and all of us) forsake God, an inexhaustible source of freely flowing life (fountain), and instead we try through our own efforts to store up water for ourselves, even though our efforts our useless (broken cisterns).
Jesus is offering to this woman (and to us), “Look, your life is never going to work through your own efforts— you’ve tried and you’ve seen the results. Turn from that, and I will give you God the Spirit Himself, a fountain of living water, that will create within you eternal life.”
Later, in John 7:38, Jesus goes even further, saying that out of our hearts will flow rivers of living water, and John specifically explains that He is talking of the Holy Spirit. This too points back to the Prophets, particularly Isaiah 44:3, “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my bleesing on your descendants.”
What a marvelous blessing the Holy Spirit is, a river in our heart of living water, healing, flowing, constantly available, inexhaustible, powerful, the very Spirit of God present within us. And this living water is not just for our cistern, but we are blessed to be a blessing, this is a fountain, a river, meant for God’s glory as we are able to pour God’s love and wisdom into the lives of others and testify of Him.
Today, meditate on this glorious gift, the river of living water, God the Holy Spirit Himself, flowing out of your heart, both to satisfy your thirst and that of many thirsty souls that God will bring your way.