Description / Transcription
Our text this morning comes from John’s Gospel, chapter 7. You want to have your Bibles open to John chapter 7, beginning at verse 25 through 39, and especially so because we will be flipping back to the Old Testament to get some background throughout the sermon to understand what’s going on here, so it’s a very good sermon to have a Bible open on your lap, so we’re going to some Bible study together and understand what’s going here in John chapter 7.
Follow along as I read, beginning at verse 25.
“Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, ‘Is not this the man whom they seek to kill? And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ? But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.’ So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, ‘You know me, and you know where I come from. But I have not come of my own accord. He who sent me is true, and him you do not know. I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.’ So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. So many of the people believed in him. They said, ‘When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?’
“The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about him, and the chief priests and the Pharisees sent officers to arrest him. Jesus then said, ‘I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. You will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come.’ The Jews said to one another, ‘Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? What does he mean by saying, ‘You will seek me and you will not find me,’ and, ‘Where I am you cannot come’?”
“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, asthe Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” 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.”
Let’s pray. Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters and he who has no money come, buy, and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near. O Lord, give us hearts now to receive Your Word, and seek you with our whole hearts, that you may be found before it is too late. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Those of you who were around in the 90s, in particular if you were in high school like I was, will remember that craze that was the Magic Eye. You remember those books? Those 3-D books, the Magic Eye? You can still probably find them. There were these books that you would look at and you would have greens and blues and nondescript, indistinct pictures in front of you and you were supposed to stare at these Magic Eye images and after staring for a few minutes, then popping out of the page would be some 3-D picture and suddenly you see a face or a plane or a, or a car. These were all the rage when I was growing up, lo these many years ago, and I remember these things being passed around school, and “oh, did you look at this,” and I know the commandment says not to tell a lie, so it was a sin, but I faked many a Magic Eye. [laughter] I don’t know what it is with my eyes, I have, sort of, my, my right eye is a little, doesn’t does as much work as the left eye, I think it’s not really… So, I think with a little lazy eye it was hard to make this thing work, but I’d stare at this thing and all my friends would be “do you see it? Do you see it?” “Yeah, that’s amazing!” [laughter] “That’s so cool. You look at it.” “What was it?” “It was a..a clown, it was. Oh, man, that is so cool. That’s amazing.” And these things would be passed on and that’s what we did. That’s what we did before we had phones, kids, we passed around books [laughter] of pictures and we looked at them and we liked them. It was great.
You look at these things, and there’s a trick to it. You have to let your mind sort of relax, you know, you have to let your eyes sort of both focus in at the same time and then you see this picture hidden there pop up and then you can stare at it some more and see things that you hadn’t seen before, if you know how to use your eyes and you know what you’re looking for. Some people saw it, some people didn’t.
I’ve often thought what a perfect metaphor for studying the Bible. In particular, trying to understand the Old Testament and we see it in our own lives and we certainly see it in the Gospels. People staring at the same thing, staring at the same texts, stating at the same promises of the Messiah… Do you see it? Do you see it? Do you see it? I don’t see it. But then, as the Spirit gives us ability, it happens for us with the Scriptures as it would happen for some of them, and in particular with the Old Testament, suddenly you’re looking at squiggles and greens and blues and then popping out of that page, in 3-D, is Christ.
Some of you read through the Old Testament and you know the stories and you understand that there’s Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and then there’s some stuff with Moses and then there’s the battle of Jericho and there’s a Goliath somewhere and there’s a lion’s den… You’ve learned these stories since as long as you can remember. But has Christ popped for you? As you stare at those stories, even the tabernacle, even the feasts, even the sacrifices, and you look and you look and you look, and then what seemed to be an indistinct mass of stories for a point with some moral in there somewhere, maybe they connect, maybe vegetables will help us remember them, and then suddenly you see Christ.
Well, it’s like that with this particular story, which is why we need to have our Bibles open so we can see what perhaps they didn’t even see in Jesus’ day, because Jesus here is going to make an audacious claim, a claim rooted in Old Testament imagery, as He appropriates one of Israel’s most beloved feasts, and puts Himself right in the center of it. There is tension building in John’s Gospel as everyone struggles to make sense of Jesus, and so we have here, beginning in verse 25, the introduction of a new group. We’ve had the disciples leave Him, many of them, at the end of chapter 12. Then we have the Jews, which is probably shorthand for the Jewish leaders, and they want to kill Him. We’ve had the crowds, which still marvel, and here they will believe in Him, though it’s not probably a saving faith, it’s a superficial belief. These crowds are most likely the, the pilgrims who have traveled in for the feast.
And now we’re introduced to a new category: Some of the people of Jerusalem. These are the locals, not the pilgrims in for the feast, but those who live in Jerusalem, and they are utterly confused. Is He the Messiah or not?
So in verse 26, they say, “Uh, I thought people were trying to kill Him, but here He is, speaking openly. Maybe they know something we don’t know. Maybe He really is the Messiah, that’s why they haven’t come upon Him with swords.”
But then verse 27, some say “well, well, but no, listen, listen, we know that the Christ, that is, the Messiah, when He comes, it will be a mystery, but we know where this man comes from.”
It’s a bit hard to understand, verse 27. You need to realize they’re not talking about his birthplace. We’ll see later in verses 40 and following that they understand that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. They know that prophecy, that the Christ will be born in the house of David in Bethlehem. So it doesn’t mean we won’t know where He’s born. What it means is they had an understanding when the Messiah comes, He will just burst onto the scene when He’s ready to do His salvific work and throw off our enemies and usher in the new kingdom, and there He will appear. But they say that this can’t be the Christ because some of the folks here said they grew up with him, and they’ve known him since he was a little boy and they watched him learn his letters and get potty trained and we know his mom and dad and brothers and sisters. So they have this messianic expectation and it’s not particularly rooted in the Old Testament, but they have it, and so they say “no, no, no, this can’t be the Christ. We know where he’s from.”
So Jesus, in verse 28, teaches in the temple and says “yeah, you know where I’m from, that’s true, but you don’t really know where I’m from. I have not come on my own, but I was sent, and the One who sent me is true and you do not know the One who sent me. So, sure, you think you have Me figured out. That’s right, I come from Nazareth. You know where I’m from. I have brothers. I have a mom and a dad,” at least as they would understand him, Joseph as his father, “but you don’t really know where I come from.”
And so they try to arrest Him. But it’s not His time and so they’re unsuccessful, they will try again. We will read about that in the following verses.
And some, it says here, verse 31, believed in Him, saying when the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?
If you notice in this section, there are actually three, three understandings they about the Messiah. First, they understand He’ll just, poof, He’ll just appear out of nowhere. Two, they understand He’s going to do many signs and miracles. And then three, down in verse 42, which we didn’t read, they understand He will come from Bethlehem.
And so as far as they’re considering, first sign, nope, that’s not a check. Second sign, well, we do see a lot of miracles, maybe that’s a check. And then they’ll get down to the third sign, they don’t understand that He was actually born in Bethlehem because they know Him as coming from Nazareth.
Some put faith in Him, but it is as we’ve seen earlier in John’s Gospel, it’s a superficial faith. It’s a faith in the miracles, that He’s some sort of special person, but they don’t yet fully grasp what kind of Messiah He is.
And then in verse 32, more confusion spills over. The Pharisees and the Chief Priests, who normally would not get together but a common enemy makes for strange bedfellows, they together send for the Temple officers, “Come, arrest Jesus.”
And then He says in verse 33, “I will only be with you a little longer. I’m going away, and where I go, you cannot come,” and they’re confused again. He’s speaking of returning to the Father, and since they don’t believe in Him, they don’t know the Father, and so they will not go with Him to the Father, but they scratch their heads and say “is he going to leave Judea and go off to the Dispersion?” that is, to the parts of the Mediterranean world where the Jews had dispersed, “and he’s going to go, and is he going to teach the Greeks?” Probably they have in mind those Greeks who were proselytes to the Jewish religion. “Is he going to go off to the Gentiles and give a saving word to the Gentiles?”
And of course they say much more than they know, because it won’t be very long before Jesus, through the apostles in the book of Acts, will, in fact, go to Gentiles and bring this message of saving faith.
But at this point, they don’t understand any of that. They’re absolutely bewildered. Verse 36: What does he mean, saying you will seek me and you won’t find me?
Which brings us back to the feast. And this is where I want to focus this morning. Jesus does something absolutely remarkable. He claims to be the fulfillment of one of their most beloved holidays. Notice back at verse 2, “Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand.” That’s what verse 37 is referring to, “on the last day of the feast.” This was a seven day feast with an eighth day of wrap up and final celebration, so this last day of the feast, the great day, could be the eighth day, it’s probably the seventh day, the Feast of Booths.
So this activity in chapter 7 has been going on in the course of the week. Remember that He goes up in the middle of the feast, verse 14, and begins teaching in the temple. Now this is the end of the feast and He is going to teach again and He is going to put Himself in the very center of this holy day. And not only that, He is going to claim that to come to Him is the fulfillment of all that this holiday represents.
Now, many of us are so used to Jesus making audacious claims that we don’t even hear how audacious it is. It would be like me standing up at the end of your Thanksgiving meal, say “well, now before we finish and put the plates away, I just have something to announce… On this special day of Thanksgiving, if anyone would like to give thanks, let him only give thanks for me.” That would seem a bit odd. I reckon that if one of your kids did that, they would not see the outside of their room for the rest of Thanksgiving. “So glad you’re gathered here for Thanksgiving. Let’s just go around the table and perhaps you could share why you’re thankful for me. Um, that’s why we’re here, that’s why we’re gathered, that’s why the, uh, the nation has the day off. That’s why we’re eating turkey, for me, for my sake, so glad that you could gather here to give thanks to me and express your gratitude for all that I have meant in your life.”
You would think, well, that’s more than a bit odd, that’s offensive. This day is not about you.
And yet Jesus has the audacity to claim that this Feast of Booths is all about Him.
So we need to understand what’s happening in this holiday, so turn back in your Bibles to the book of Leviticus. Leviticus, chapter 23, details the various feasts in the life of Israel. There was a certain rhythm.
We have a rhythm of our own holidays. We’ll have Thanksgiving and then there’ll be Christmas and then there’ll be New Year’s and then, uh, depending on your church tradition, there might be Lent and then for most churches there’s Maundy Thursday or Good Friday and Easter, and then we have our own sort of secular holidays blend into that with Memorial Day and Labor Day being the bookends of summer, and Fourth of July in the middle, and it give a certain rhythm and routine to our life.
Well, the same thing happened on an even more profound level for the ancient Israelites. You can just see by the, the headings in your Bible the various feasts of the Lord, which are introduced in verses 1 and 2, and then you have in verse 3 the Sabbath. This was the foundational, the most important, the most frequent. And then you have the Passover. The Passover was one of three pilgrimage feasts. Here’s what we read in Deuteronomy 16:16: “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that He will choose,” so he’s speaking about where the Temple will be in Jerusalem later, “at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths.”
So these are the three pilgrimage festivals, and as we will see, the Feast of Unleavened Bread is tied in together with this Passover feast, where they remember that they rushed out of Egypt when they were set free from their bondage, they didn’t have time to cook their bread, it was unleavened bread, and they celebrate the Lord’s deliverance.
We then have the Firstfruits, which was a celebration of the incoming harvest. It was celebrated during March or April at the beginning of the barley harvest. Here’s the very first of our harvest come in and we trust that God is going to give us the rest.
Then we have the Feast of Weeks. In Greek, this was called Pentecost, for fiftieth. It was the second pilgrimage festival. They were to count fifty days, hence Pentecost, from Firstfruits, that is the day after the Sabbath when you bring the sheaf of the wave offering, and this took place then at the conclusion of the barley harvest. So the Firstfruits at the beginning, and then this festival of Weeks would take place at the end of it, in May or June.
There is then the Festival of Trumpets, which is simply to announce that the seventh month of the year is going to be a special month with extra feasts and sacrifices. You have the Day of Atonement, you can read about in Leviticus 16, it takes place on the tenth day of the seventh month, as the priest, the high priest, just once a year would enter the Holy of Holies, there would be the hand on the scapegoat who would go free into the wilderness, symbolizing the people’s freedom from sin and the devil and the sins being cast into the wilderness.
Which brings us then to the Feast of Booths. You see that there in verse 33. Follow along:
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel, saying, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month and for seven days is the Feast of Booths, ” or it could be translated Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot, which is the Hebrew word for tabernacles, or tents, or booths. “On the first day there shall be a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work. For seven days you shall present food offerings to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall hold a holy convocation and present a food offering to the Lord. It is a solemn assembly; you shall not do any ordinary work.”
And then go down to verse 39, some more instruction: “On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall declare the feast of the Lord seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest. And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. You shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
So this gives us a summary of what would happen in the seventh month for seven days, or eight days, the final convocation and rest at the end of the seven days. They’ve dwelt in their booths to symbolize their freedom and leaving Egypt. It’s the third pilgrimage festival. And over time, this became the most festive, and Josephus tells us the most popular, of the festivals. It was the end of their holy year cycle and so this wrapped up all of the holidays of the year.
You can see in Number 29 that more offerings were required for this festival than for any other holiday. All told, during the seven days, there were 70 bulls, 14 rams, 98 lambs, and on the eighth day would be another 7 lambs, 1 bull, 1 ram, 1 goat for a total of 10. All told, 192 animals sacrificed during this Feast of Booths.
So you have to picture the kind of party atmosphere as all the males, and often their whole family then, would have to go to Jerusalem, have all these animals sacrificed by day, living in tents. It’s a, it’s a, you know, Woodstock without all the bad stuff. Okay? There to celebrate, to remember. And they would take branches of willows and palms and wave them as a rejoicing and offering before the Lord.
By the time of the New Testament, there was another key element of the festival. The priest would bring water from the Pool of Siloam through the Water Gate to the Temple, where then the water would be poured out as a supplication to God. What we know about this festival in the first century is in large part, it’s the Old Testament, for sure, but it’s also a Jewish book called the Mishnah. I brought it in, show and tell, so you can see how big it is. It is a big book. This is a commentary. It is for, many Jews, part of their holy scriptures now. It is a commentary on the Torah. Then you have the Talmud, which is a commentary on the Mishnah. The Mishnah was put together by rabbis and scribes toward the end of the second century A.D., so it’s a 150 years after the time of Jesus, but it records rabbinical sayings and rabbinical traditions from the first and second century.
So can’t always be sure that what’s in here reflected how the Jews were living in the Gospels, but it gives us often a pretty good indication of what it might have been like. And there’s an entire book in here on Sukkot, on Booths, on this festival. There are five chapters in this book of the Feast of Booths. Chapter one and two is about the kind of sukkot you must dwell in, because you can imagine people are saying “okay, this is, we’re supposed to dwell in booths for a week. Um, does an RV count? I got a fifth wheel. You know, what counts as a tent?” And so there’s two chapters on this counts as a tent, no, this is too fancy for a tent, this doesn’t count.
Chapter three is instruction on the lulab. The lulab is the word for this palm/myrtle/willow combination that was waved during the singing, and we read in the Mishnah it was during the singing each day of the Hallel psalms. What are the Hallel psalms? Psalms 113 through 118. Why are they called the Hallel psalms? Because they begin with “Hallel, hallel jah, hallelujah” which means “praise to Jah, praise to Yahweh, praise to Jehovah.” During the singing of these Hallel psalms, they would all wave their lulab as a sign of the ingathering of the harvest and then in the other hand they would have to hold a piece of citrus fruit. So imagine all the men there, citrus fruit, waving their palm and myrtle and willow branches, they’re singing the Psalms.
Chapter 4 gives us more detail about this water ritual. Seven days. So each time, for each of these days, the priest would fill a golden flask with water, it says, from the Pool of Siloam and then he would bring it in through the Water Gate into the Temple precincts and there were two bowls, and one bowl would be for the ritual pouring out of wine, and the other bowl would be for this libation from the Pool of Siloam, which would be poured out.
And it was important to the people, this water ritual. We read here in the Mishnah on one occasion the crowd began to pour out to the high priest “lift it higher so we can see it!” Kind of like, you know, when the baptismal font gets stuck back here and the pulpit’s in the way. Whose idea was it for such a big pulpit anyway?
They want to see the thing, so they said “lift it up, we want to see the water, the water being poured into the bowl.” In another occasion the Mishnah says one priest accidently poured the water on his feet and they stoned him with citrus fruits. Better than stones, I suppose. It was an important part of the ritual.
Chapter 5 is the last chapter in the book which talks about the various sacrifices and the flute playing and the dancing during the festival.
So that’s what’s going on, and you need to understand that there is on each day of the feast this water ritual. So it’s a Feast of Booths, but it has become, over time, associated primarily with water.
Which is why it’s so significant what Jesus does and what He says in verse 37: “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up.” Now remember, for seven days they’ve seen as the climax of the celebration each day the high priest walk in with the golden flask, fill it with water, walk through the Water Gate, pour it into the bowl so they all could see, symbolizing the life and vitality, the water that’s necessary to live, the water for the crops, the water that celebrates reproduction and life and strength, poured out, and now Jesus, after seven days of seeing this ceremony, says “if anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink, and if you believe in Me, out of your hearts will come streams of living water.”
Water was a sign of life, of rainfall, of blessing. It was a pointer to the day of the Lord. Now we’ve had so much rain in the past few months that we’re ready for some sunshine, but you picture people, especially in an arid place, rain was such a blessing. It meant we’re going to eat. If you don’t get rain, you starve, because you need food. Rain meant life, water was vitality.
And here’s Jesus. As everyone knows this, they’ve, they’ve grown up with this for, for their whole lives. They’ve all seen it. This is, you know, as obvious to them, or at least it should be, as it would be to us if somebody came in with a red suit on and a white beard and talked about going down the chimney and talked about his reindeer and the North Pole. How many people would be going “Somebody Google that. What’s going on? What, who, what is going on here? I’ve never heard of this before.” We’d all understand the Santa imagery from our culture.
So Jesus says you want water? You want life? You want streams? Come to me.
But there’s even more to it than that.
So with your Bible, I want to take you to three Old Testament texts. So we’ve had sort of the mechanics of it, I want you to get the theological significance of these Feast of Booths so you can see what Jesus is saying and doing at the Feast. Three Old Testament texts.
First, turn back to Nehemiah. Nehemiah, chapter 8. After Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job… Nehemiah, chapter 8. In Nehemiah 8 is this famous passage where Ezra, in verse 5, stands up and he is going to speak to people the law, or rather as he sits and they sand. And then as we continue with the text, look at verse 13. You’ll see a heading, perhaps, in your Bible Feast of Booths Celebrated.
“So on the second day the heads of fathers’ houses of the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law. And they found it written in the Law…” So they had forgotten some parts here… “that the Lord had commanded by Moses that the people of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, and that they should proclaim it and publish it in all their towns and in Jerusalem.”
So they had forgotten it. Now they’re reading the law and they said “where was this feast? We’re supposed to do this. Here we are. We celebrate the Feast of Booths.”
Now some time later, chapter 9, the people confess their sin, later in that holy month.
So turn over to chapter 9 and you’ll see in verse 15, as they confess their sin, “you gave them bread from heaven for their hunger and brought water for them from the rock for their thirst, and you told them to go in to possess the land you had sworn to give them.”
And then over to verse 19: “You in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in way did not depart them from by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst.”
This is the only place in the Old Testament that connects all of these images in one verse. You have the Spirit, you have manna, you have water. And it’s in connection here with the Feast of Booths. So, when Jesus says at the feast, “As the Scriptures say whoever believes in Me will have streams of water flowing out of him,” He’s not referencing a particular verse. Sometimes people get all tied up in knots, well, what verse is that? Well, He didn’t mean to say a particular verse, but rather a constellation of themes and ideas, and this is chief among them, that in conjunction with the Feast of Booths, later in that month as they confess their sin, there is this recognition that the Spirit comes, the Spirit who gives manna, the Spirit who gives life, the Spirit who gives the water of life.
Here’s a second passage, and they build on each other until they’re more and more explicit.
Turn over to Ezekiel, chapter 47. Ezekiel is one of the strangest books in the Bible. It’s a prophecy, in some parts it’s an apocalyptic book, which meaning it’s revealing end times sort of events, but more than that it’s revealing the in-breaking of the kingdom. And it’s using language and imagery that would have been familiar to God’s people. And so here in chapter 47, the prophet is brought back to the door of the Temple and behold, look, “water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east. The water was flowing down from below the south… Then he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around to the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and behold, water was trickling out the south side.”
You can continue to read on in verse 6: “He said to me, ‘Son of man, have you seen this?’ and he led me back to the bank of the river and I went back and I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on one side and on the other.”
And he goes on through verse 12: “And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.”
Okay, now if you know your Bible and you know your New Testament, and you stare at this Magic Eye, some images should be popping out, some language. You have a river, and you have trees. Remind you of Revelation? And the new heavens and the new earth and the trees which leaves are for the healing of the nation. So this is an eschatological promise; that’s just a fancy word for meaning the end times, the last things. Where there will be this river, and it’s, it’s coming out all sides of the temple, flowing right from the very holy place in Israel’s life, and trees on either side. So this is a picture here from Ezekiel, of the kingdom so breaking in on this last day that the river of life is coming from the temple itself and trees are blossoming and blooming and the leaves are for the healing of the nations. Water, water, water flowing out.
Now keep that in mind, and one other text. Turn to Zechariah. Zechariah, chapter 14. Now this is even more explicitly tied to the Feast of Booths. The second to last book in the Old Testament, before Malachi, before you get to Matthew, we have Zechariah.
Verse 8 of chapter 14: “On that day living waters,” living water means flowing water, there’s still water and there’s living water, so moving water will “flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea, half to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter.”
Now skip down to verse 16. This is where the dots start connecting: “Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which the Lord afflicts the nations that do not do up to keep the Feast of Booths. This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths.”
What is going on here? Again, it’s an eschatological word, looking to that last day and it’s using the familiar imagery of Israelite worship to depict to them the centrality of God and His throne on that day. So you might expect here, well, wouldn’t it be something about Passover or the Day of Atonement? We don’t hear a lot about the Feast of Booths, but here it’s because of the association of the Feast of Booths and with water. As we saw in verse 8, there’s water flowing from the temple. It’s picking up on that imagery that we’ve already seen in Ezekiel.
And now we have this strange word, that on that last day you will face a plague if you don’t come up to the Feast of Booths. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Egypt or where you are, you must come up as God’s people and celebrate this great light and water festival lest you will be punished for not keeping the Feast of Booths.
So you put that whole constellation of passages together, and you begin to see just how absolutely audacious is Jesus on this last and great day of the feast.
Whoever believes in Me, He says, will have rivers of life flowing out of him. You want that water from the temple, that river flowing out of you? You want that life which you’ve been waiting for with the trees and the healing for the nations? Believe in Me. Come to Me.
And they know, you keep the Feast of Booths or you face a plague. No matter where you are, you better come and you better celebrate that. Now Jesus says, “You want to keep the Feast of Booths? You want to keep this Festival of Tabernacles? Here’s how you keep it: If you’re thirsty, come to Me and drink. You’ve seen for your whole life, and for the last seven days, the priests come with the golden flask and pour out the ceremonial water, that water of life, and now I’m telling you, I have better water, and I can give you better life, and as you come to Me, you will be filled not just with H2O, but with the Spirit,” the Spirit who has not been given as a gift in all of His fullness because Jesus has not yet gone back to the Father. “And when that Spirit indwells you, you will not only have life in yourself, but coming from you, you will have streams of living water.”
Jesus is putting Himself at the very center of their most beloved feast. Just like water from the rock and the river flowing from the temple, and water poured out at the Feast of Booths, Jesus says “My life will be poured into you and will flow through you if you believe in Me. That’s what I have for you. Not just a festival once a year, but life in you, now, ever, eternal life and that spiritual life now flowing out of you.”
What’s the water like in your life? Would people ever say about you “she had streams of living water”? Is anyone getting wet with the Spirit from your life? If nothing’s flowing out of us by way of the Spirit, might it be an indication that nothing is flowing into us by the Spirit?
Jesus wants us to see that He is the fulfillment of all that they were waiting for in this beloved feast. And not only that, but He is the fulfillment of all the feasts in Leviticus 23.
If you know your Bible and you stare at those feasts, you ought to have the Magic Eye pop…Jesus…because Christ is the fulfillment of all of their holy days. He is our sabbath rest. He is living water for the pilgrimage. He is our Passover lamb. He is our scapegoat. He is the giver the Spirit’s harvest. He is the trumpet blast of God’s presence. He is the firstfruits of a new body and a new world to come. And He is the fulfillment of Sukkot, the Feast of Booths.
Do you see Jesus in your Bible? Not in some clumsy way, but in the richest, deepest, most robustly theological way?
If someone said, “What’s the Bible about?” You’d say “Well, it’s about trying to be a good person,” or “The Bible’s about, um, taking care of the poor,” or “The Bible’s about marriage,” or “The Bible’s about social justice.” Well, all of, you know, you can find those themes in there, but don’t forget what you learned in Sunday school: The Bible is all about Jesus. Sometimes the Sunday school answers are the right answers. Remember the joke, the Sunday school teacher says “okay, class, what’s, what’s big and gray and has a long trunk and floppy ears?” and the student says “sounds like an elephant, but it’s Sunday school, so I’m going to say Jesus.” [laughter]
Well, sometimes Jesus is still the right answer. When Jesus walked with the disciples on the Emmaus road, He didn’t show them all that the Bible had to say about transforming the culture or becoming a better you. It says He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. When you read the Bible, the Old Testament, the New Testament, does it seem to you to be the story of Christ? Or is it the story, first of all, of you? Of me? We might want to check whether we have the story straight.
Every story, every law, every feast, is about Christ, and the more you read your Bible, the more Christ will begin to pop out of every page.
Let all who thirst come to Me, Jesus says.
Calvin writes “The invitation was not addressed to one or two persons only or in a low and gentle whisper, but this doctrine is proclaimed to all in such a manner that none may be ignorant of it.”
It’s not a low and gentle whisper, but it’s the booming voice of Christ. If you’re thirsty, come. If your life is not fully satisfied, come. If you have sins, come. If you think there must be something more to this life and the next life, then come. If your life isn’t the way you thought it would be, come. If you’re tired of all your sins, come.
Jesus has such wild boldness to stand up in the temple of all places, at the Feast of Booths, and say to them “where I am coming, you cannot go, and my time is almost done here.” In other words, “The clock is ticking for you to believe in Me, and where you are right now in your spiritual state, Pharisees, priests, you’re not going with Me to the Father. Because you haven’t come to Me, and you better come before it’s too late. For I’m not just a pointer, I am the point.”
He’s not only the temple, we already saw that in chapter 2, now He says He is the feast, and He is God’s greatest end-time gift.
So one more line from Calvin: “He therefore enjoins us to come directly to Himself, as if He had said that it is He alone who can fully satisfy the thirst of all, and that all who see even the smallest alleviation of their thirst anywhere else are mistaken and labor in vain.”
If you are seeking for your spiritual thirst to be alleviated anywhere else but Christ, you seek in vain. You labor in vain. Your kids cannot fill up the God-sized hole in your heart. Football is not going to do it. Getting your house redone and a new kitchen is not going to do it. The vacation your planning over the holidays, it’s not going to do it.
If anyone’s thirsty, let him come.
You cannot be indifferent about this man and His claims. No one was indifferent about this Jesus. For a man like that to stand up at a time like that in a place like that at a feast like that and say what He did, led half the people to say “arrest him, he’s a blasphemer, put him to death,” and some others to begin to wonder “might He be the One?”
So you cannot be indifferent to this Jesus and the things that He says in this text. That’s perhaps the worst thing you can do is to leave here and say “ho, hum, another Jesus sermon.” You either want Him killed or you want Him to be worshiped. You either say “arrest him” or you give thanks to Him above all else.
Let’s pray. Our gracious heavenly Father, we thank you for this word, for Your entire word, how all of the pages of Scripture speak of Jesus, how all of the promises are yes and amen in Christ and so we give thanks for this Jesus, and we pray that we would be found in Him on this day and on the last day, and that from us would flow streams of living water. In Jesus we pray. Amen.