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Sunday, November 25, 2018

Deep Feelings (John 11)


Sermon by: Robert Austell; November 25, 2018 - John 11:

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 



::: Music ::
Sing Praise to God
How Great is Our God/How Great Thou Art (Tomlin, Reeves, Cash)
OFFERTORY: I Will Rise (Tomlin)
There is a Balm in Gilead

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: This manuscript represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

If you’ve never memorized any verses of scripture, I want to offer you a gift today. It’s John 11, verse 35. I bet every one of you can memorize it before you leave today. I’m going to say it to you and see if you can repeat the whole thing back to me. Are you ready: Jesus wept.

Good job! I knew you could do it. But here’s the thing… it’s not just a cool thing that you now know the shortest verse in the Bible. It’s also one of the very, very significant verses of the Bible, and that’s what I want to talk about today. Have you ever thought about it: the significance that Jesus wept… that he had deep feelings. We often say that he is fully God and fully human, but I think it’s easy to gloss over what it means that he is fully human. He’s been where we are; he’s felt all the feels. And that’s really important.

Today I want to look with you at the extended story in John 11. There is much there we could look at; in fact one year I took 4-5 sermons to go through this chapter. But today we are going to look at the whole thing, focusing in on Jesus’ humanity and what that shortest of all verses can teach us. First I want to remind you of the overall story and the main characters in it. But then I want to spend most of our time talking about Jesus and what his deep feelings mean within the story as well as for us.

The Disciples

Let’s start with the disciples. As the chapter opens, Jesus is some distance away from Bethany, where Lazarus and his sisters lived. Bethany is also pretty close to Jerusalem. Jesus and the disciples have gone away to put some distance between them and Jerusalem, where Jesus got trouble healing and teaching near the Temple. (Remember previous weeks, healing the man at the pool on a Sabbath, comparing the Pharisees to robbers and thieves of God’s sheep?) Jesus gets word that Lazarus is sick, but then stays put for two more days before heading to Bethany. The disciples are at once concerned that he doesn’t rush back to heal Lazarus, but then concerned when he does decide to go because they will be facing risk in going near Jerusalem again. Jesus explains to them why he has delayed and why he is going. And that really provides the key to understanding all that will follow. It’s there in verse 4, spoken to the disciples: “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” As we move through the story, keep God’s glory in focus.

Martha

Martha is the responsible and duty-focused sister, the one in a different story who worked in the kitchen to prepare food when Jesus came to visit. She is the one who comes out to welcome and receive Jesus as he comes into town now. She is the “doer.” Here Martha seems to have her faith and theology right as well, even if we can’t quite peer into her soul. She asks where Jesus has been, but trusts in Lazarus’ resurrection on the last day. And even as the story unfolds she knows that Jesus can do anything. She acknowledges Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into the world.” (v. 27) And with that, she goes to get Mary, who is still in the house mourning.

Mary

Mary is the one who sat at Jesus’ feet… the relational one… the emotional one. In another story she extravagantly poured perfume on his feet and wiped them with her hair. Now she is holed up in the house, halfway through shivah, the Jewish period of mourning. It was customary for friends to sit with those grieving and come alongside them in their grief. Thus they were weeping loudly together (v. 33).

Martha had met Jesus outside of town and now goes to get Mary. In fact, there is no indication that Jesus went to the house at all. Perhaps this is again an indication of the risk in coming back near Jerusalem. Interestingly, Martha also speaks “secretly” to Mary, saying that “the Teacher” is asking for her. It is unclear whether Martha was just giving her privacy at this news or trying to not announce Jesus’ arrival in the presence of so many neighbors, but when Mary left the house in a rush, the group followed after her thinking she was going to grieve at the tomb. We will read later in chapter 12 that some of this crowd reported Jesus to the authorities (but also that some believed). So that risk for Jesus is ever-present.

But then Mary comes to Jesus and throws herself, weeping, at his feet. This is her own version of what Martha did, indicating that she recognizes him as the Christ and Son of God. It is at this point she speaks the exact same words that her sister, Martha, had spoken: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (v. 32) They are the same words, but somehow sound different from Mary’s lips.

I should note that I don't understand Mary or Martha to have been blaming or accusing Jesus. The timing indicates that Lazarus died very soon after the messenger was sent for Jesus. Rather, they are both grieving his absence and recognizing that he could have done something about sickness though death now seems a final reality.

Lazarus

We don’t really hear from Lazarus in today’s text because he is dead, but we might ponder what he was thinking as he grew increasingly sick to the point of death. Was he hoping Jesus would make it? Did he share his sisters’ faith in Jesus’ power? Was there a point when he realized Jesus wasn’t going to make it and how did that play out in his faith and emotions?

Between Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, we have a broad range of human response to suffering and death. Sometimes we call out to God out of faith, sometimes grief, sometimes life and death need. What was going on with Jesus during all this? Remember… keep your eye on the glory of God!

Jesus

When Jesus took all this in – Mary at his feet wailing in grief, the crowd of neighbors now gathered around and also wailing, and Mary’s statement – he snorted. Yes, I said ‘snorted.’ There’s a whole bunch of underlying vocabulary in this verse and it’s an interesting puzzle to piece it all together. What our text translates as “deeply moved in spirit” comes from words that literally mean “snort like a horse.” It is a phrase or figure of speech that is trying to describe that kind of emotional response that wells up from deep, deep within and takes you off-guard. And the particular emotion it is describing is one of anger or indignation. It’s not a calculated “harrumph!” but a sudden burst of anger. Adding to that, we read that Jesus was also “troubled.”

What caused this response? Well John tells us. It is “when Jesus saw Mary and the crowd wailing.” That’s his response. For most of my life I had in mind that this is where Jesus puts his arm around Mary and says, “There, there; it will be okay; I’m going to make everything better.” But that’s not his response at all. He, who IS truly the compassionate one, SNORTS in anger at the scene.
Another clue to his response is in what happens next. He snorts in anger and is troubled and then asks, “Where have you put Lazarus?” (v. 34) They – the crowd – answer, “Lord, come and see.” (v. 34)

And as they go to the tomb where Lazarus is buried, we get to our memory verse for today: “Jesus wept.” (v. 35) Now it seems out of place. Is he angry or sad? Maybe now he’s grieving along with Mary like we might have expected. Well, no, I don’t think that’s what is going on. For one, he’s on the move. And though you don’t see it in English, there is a different word used for his crying. In fact, that’s the difference. Mary and the neighbors were wailing, a public and almost ritual grieving. Jesus cried tears, a more private and personal emotional response. It is encouraging that Jesus, who is God in the flesh, can cry tears. But what is he crying about? It doesn’t seem to be a “there, there” moment with Mary. And, in fact, he is walking toward the tomb where he is about to raise Lazarus back to life, so it doesn’t even seem like it would be over the death of Lazarus. Let’s hold that question.

I hold it because Jesus snorts in anger one more time before getting to the tomb. Seeing his private tears as they walk, the crowd has two responses, commenting out loud. Some say, “See how he loved him!” (v.36) They are right that Jesus loved Lazarus, but I don’t think that’s why he is crying. Others say what Mary and Martha said, but with a little more doubt and accusation: “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?” (v. 37) Maybe he’s crying because he blew it and didn’t get here in time. And then, again, Jesus snorts in anger just as they all arrive at the tomb. (v. 38)

Jesus is angry, troubled, and tearful. I love that he is that emotional. It’s not something you expect from the God-man. You expect love and mercy, but those are a little more lofty or something. I don’t expect a Jesus that laughs or gets angry, much less one that giggles or snorts. And yet, here he is: angry, troubled, and tearful. So, we can get that much out of it; when we say Jesus was fully God and fully human, we shouldn’t short-change the fully human part. He has emotions and feels things deeply. But why, in this situation? Why was he so emotional?

Keep Your Eye on the Glory

This is where I go back to the glory. Keep your eye on the glory. All that is happening is for the glory of God and so that the Son of God will be glorified. He told us so. It is so God will shine and be shown to be the weightiest, most solid, THERE, powerful, eternal, reality of all. And Jesus as well.

This is not a self-contained story or miracle. All the miracles were about the glory of God and Jesus being glorified. There is a trajectory here and it doesn’t end with Lazarus being raised, but with Jesus being crucified and raised and being the Son of God. Jesus has been public for three years. He has taught about the Kingdom of God and he has done countless miraculous signs to point people to the Kingdom of God. He has faced increasing risk and knows with certainty where he is now headed. He knows that sin and death will not win, and he knows that God will have victory through his own obedient sacrifice. And he knows that raising Lazarus will give those watching one last great sign that it’s all true, that even the strongest thing they know – DEATH – is not stronger than the love of God.

But they haven’t seen it yet. Martha was close; she affirmed her belief in the future resurrection and the power of God in Jesus the Son of God. But Mary couldn’t see it. She was grieving, as Paul would later write in Thessalonians, as “do the rest who have no hope.” The neighbors were grieving as those who have no hope. At most, some thought that if he had just arrived sooner, he could have healed Lazarus of sickness. Sickness can be cured, but death is final.

I don’t think Jesus was angry AT Mary or the others. I think he was that whole mix of emotion – angry, troubled, tearful – because God's glory was SO close and all they could see was a cave with a stone lying against it. Death was a cave with a stone lying against it, with decaying flesh hidden behind it. It was only a few months at most until his own resurrection, and only moments until he would shout, “Roll away the stone!” but the time was not yet come and he had taken a long look at the hopelessness of humanity without God’s intervention.

It should have enraged him and made him weep. He was God’s champion sent to vanquish sin and death. I believe his emotion was stirred up by the immediacy of the battle he was about to fight and the stakes of that battle. These were indeed people he loved deeply; they and the whole world were at stake. And the deep emotion welled up within him.

And so, Jesus, the Son of God, the Light and Hope of the world, came to the tomb. "Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it." But then the power and glory of God was revealed, pointing to something greater yet to come.

What’s the Point?

I don’t know if you feel this way or not, but I think the Lazarus story can be one of the hardest stories to relate to in the Bible. It’s all well and good until Lazarus gets raised from the dead and then you are left wondering, “How come God’s never done this for me?” What are you supposed to take away from this? Is it that if you have strong enough faith, like Martha, then God will come through on the big miracle or answer to prayer? Or is it that if you are grief-stricken enough, like Mary, then God will have compassion and mercy and give you the big miracle or answer to prayer? There are some that think those are the lessons, but I think nothing could be further from the truth. God is not ours to manipulate or control through either faith or grief. Not only is that missing the point of this story, it’s not the way God works at all.

Instead, I believe these events were meant to point us to God’s glory. That’s the reason Jesus gave after all. At the Thanksgiving service last Tuesday I told people that God’s glory is a combination of who God is and what God has done. It’s His mighty deeds, but it’s also His character. That’s what’s on display here, not just raising a human being once from death, but anticipating the once and for all death and resurrection of Jesus for the world.

It’s a similar dynamic to worship music. It’s meant to point us to God and God’s glory, but it’s easy to take our eye off of that and focus on the music or the musician. Did I like it? Was Levi tearing it up on the drums? Weren’t those basses fantastic? Those things aren’t non-existent, but they are not why we do worship music. Or let me use another example from just a few weeks ago in the Gospel of John.

It’s the same dynamic as the Feeding of the 5,000. The crowd wants another miracle, wants to be fed magic bread. But Jesus is claiming more than that. He IS the Bread of Life. Mary and Martha (and presumably Lazarus) want to be well, want to live another day. But Jesus isn’t just bringing a resurrection; he IS THE Resurrection. He says that to Martha in verse 25: “I AM the resurrection and the life.” That’s the point… not what he did for Lazarus, but who He is.

We’ve been seeing all the ways Jesus spoke and lived out the invitation to “Come and See.” Here he not only does resurrection; he IS resurrection. What do you make of him? “I AM the resurrection and the life.” What do you see and hear in that and in his demonstration of God’s power with Lazarus? What difference will that make with you?

Amen.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Everything Sheepish (John 10)


Sermon by: Robert Austell; November 18, 2018 - John 10:1-15,27-30

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 



::: Music ::
Draw Me Nearer (Crosby, Sheets, arr. Austell)
Psalm 23 (Townend)
OFFERTORY: We Will Glorify (Paris) - piano, flute (Susan Slade)
Where He Leads Me (NORRIS)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: This manuscript represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

We pick back up today with the “Come and See” series, with a chapter in John that holds special bearing for our church. It is the passage in which Jesus names himself as “Good Shepherd.” And indeed, this chapter is full of sheep and shepherd imagery, with Jesus drawing comparisons to a number of aspects of working with sheep. Accordingly, I have named the sermon “Everything Sheepish.” What I hope this text will offer you today is several pictures of who Jesus is and how he shepherds us as God’s people.

Here’s one important background to this text. In general, we all can appreciate shepherd imagery to some extent. Even we who live in the U.S. in 2018 and have never seen a sheep, pasture, or shepherd, can grasp quite a bit of the metaphor. Even we love the 23rd Psalm with its statement, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” We can read the words and understand. Shepherds protect their sheep; they lead and guide their sheep. They provide for their sheep. We get it. But think how much more all that imagery would mean to someone who lived in an agrarian or nomadic setting where sheep and goats and such were part of everyday life. It would be an image and metaphor that really came to life.

Well one of the key biblical passages to understanding John 10 comes from the prophets to Israel. More than one spoke and wrote about the leaders of Israel as shepherds of Israel. And more than one bemoaned the poor leadership and poor shepherding some of those leaders offered God’s people. Ezekiel, in particular, wrote in Ezekiel 34 that God’s people were being deceived and betrayed, but one day God would come and rescue His people: “Behold, I myself will search for my sheep and seek them out.” (v.11) And God promised a Great Shepherd to care for them: “I will set over them one shepherd and he will feed them himself and be their shepherd.” (v.23) King David was such a shepherd and this became part of the understanding of who and what the Messiah would be and do. Just as David was a Shepherd-King, so the Messiah would be a Shepherd and a King, to rescue God’s people.

In John 10, Jesus is not just using random shepherd imagery, as positive as that might have been. He is CLAIMING something. He uses several “I AM” statements in which he makes claims to be that promised Good Shepherd, to be the Messiah of God. So, as we look at these teachings on everything sheepish, I’d like to divide the text up into four distinct sections. These will be an initial metaphor, two follow-up elaborations, and a final claim about being the Messiah of God.

METAPHOR: He Who Enters by the Door is a Shepherd of the Sheep (vv.1-5)

In verses 1-5 Jesus offers a metaphor to explain who he is, why he has come, and what the results of that ministry will be. Yet in verse six we read that “they did not understand.” So much like his conversation with Nicodemus about being born again, Jesus then revisits and elaborates on his initial metaphor to help them understand. Let’s first look at this first metaphor and then we’ll look at his elaborations.

He begins speaking in the 3rd person: the one who does not enter the sheepfold by the door is a thief and robber. This person is contrasted with the one who does enter by the door; that’s the shepherd. And his sheep know him. They know his voice and they follow him. They don’t do this with strangers; only with their shepherd. So there are two things to know about a shepherd. He is GOOD (not a thief or robber) and he is TRUSTED (sheep know and follow).

No we are not given specific time, place, or audience clues here. He may still be speaking before the Pharisees who had asked at the end of John 9 whether he was claiming they were spiritually blind when he taught about that topic. Or he may have moved on. But at the end of this teaching (after our reading today) we can see that a “division occurred among the Jews.” (v.19) So likely there were followers, seekers, and some of the religious leadership present. The latter may have felt especially on the hot seat since Ezekiel’s preaching on bad shepherds singled out leaders similar to them among God’s people in a previous generation.
And Jesus might have stopped here except that the people “did not understand.” (v.6). So as he did with Nicodemus and others, Jesus takes a more detailed pass through the same teaching, offering two additional elaborations.

ELABORATION #1: I AM the Door (vv.7-10)

Starting in verse 7, Jesus switches from 3rd person to 1st person. No longer is it “the one who enters by the gate is the shepherd.” Now it’s “Truly, truly, I say to you, I AM the Door of the Sheep.” (v.7) And in a bit, “I AM the Good Shepherd.” (v.11) He is claiming to be the Good and Trusted Shepherd. He is the type of leader Ezekiel promised God would send. He is one like David, the shepherd-king.

So in verses 7-10, Jesus claims, “I AM the Door of the sheep.” He actually claims a bit more here than being the GOOD (non-thieving) Shepherd; he is the Door itself. He is the way to get to Himself! And he doesn’t stay all the way in the metaphor: “I am the door; if anyone enters through me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” (v.9) He’s not just talking about food and safety, but being saved. He clarifies that unlike the thief who comes to steal and kill and destroy, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (v.10) We’re not talking about sheep any more, are we Jesus?

Elsewhere Jesus will claim to be the WAY to God. That’s a bit of what he means here by saying he is the Door. It is through him that we come to him and to God the father. Other claims to save you, whether false Messiahs, empty promises of life and health, or flimsy assurances of future happiness, are like thieves, stealing away our hope and well-being. But he’s the real deal. He’s the Door and he is GOOD.

ELABORATION #2: I AM the Good Shepherd (vv.11-15)

Then, in verses 11-15, Jesus elaborates on being the TRUSTED Shepherd. He still speaks of himself, saying that he will lay down his life for the sheep. Someone who is simply a hired hand will reach their limit and flee in the face of danger or death, but the Shepherd can be trusted to care for his sheep to the end. It was no stretch to say that a shepherd risked his life to protect his flock. A shepherd would face down a lion or other wild beast to protect the flock. And Jesus makes it clear (out of the metaphor) that he is willing to put his life on the line for those who trust and follow him.

A little later in the chapter (v. 27) he will return to his opening statements about the sheep knowing and following their shepherd’s voice. But he’s clearly no longer just talking about earthly sheep and shepherds. There is more on the line; this is reality. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (vv.27-28) He claims this to be true because God the Father has given them into his care and no one can snatch them out of God’s hand. (v.29)

MESSIANIC CLAIM: I and the Father are One (v.30)

These are huge claims. Jesus is not just claiming to be a Rabbi-teacher, but is identifying himself as one of the good shepherds the prophets spoke about. He is identifying himself as the Messiah and Shepherd that God promised to send to his people… one like David the shepherd-king.

But then he comes to what is, perhaps, the greatest claim of all: “I and the Father are one.” (v.30)  The very next verse, which we didn’t read, will give you some indication of the response. Verse 31 reads, “The Jews picked up stones to stone him.” Blasphemy! Unless, of course, it’s true!

Jesus really went beyond the Messianic claim. He was and is more than one like David, the shepherd-king. He is (or claims to be) one with God. That’s not a good translation: better “the Father and I are one… a single unit… one person.”

When I invite you to come and see Jesus, or when Jesus invites people to come and see… you may or may not believe, but do see and hear clearly his own self-understanding. He did not think of himself as simply a Rabbi. He did not simply point people toward God. He claimed to be the way to see and know God… the way TO God. And he did not claim to be a prophet or spokesperson for God, but claimed to BE God. “I and the Father are one.” What do you do with that? I hope you believe and follow! He is the Shepherd – the GOOD and TRUSTWORTHY Shepherd. Come and see; come and hear; come and follow. His sheep know his voice! Amen.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Stewardship, a Way of Life (Genesis 1, 2 Corinthians 9.6-11)

Sermon by: Jim Hinton; November 11, 2018 - Genesis 1:1,26-28; 2 Corinthians 9:6-11)

:: Moment for Ministry (link) :: Youth and Children's Ministry, Zach Drummond






:: Moment for Ministry (link) :: Stewardship, Mark Katibah







:: Sermon Audio (link) :: "Stewardship, a Way of Life" - Jim Hinton




Sunday, November 4, 2018

Water and Dirt (John 7.37-43, 8.1-11)


Sermon by: Robert Austell; November 4, 2018 - John 7:37-43; 8:1-11

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 



::: Music ::
Wonderful, Merciful Savior (Rodgers and Wyse)
His Mercy is More (Boswell, Papa)
CHOIR: Like a River in My Soul (arr. Osiek)
Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: This manuscript represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Today we are continuing with our “Come and See” series, responding to Jesus’ own invitation to come and see what he is all about through his teaching, his miracles, and his actions recorded in the Gospel of John. Today we will look at one story, but dig back a bit into all the events that led up to and had bearing on a pivotal moment of experiencing forgiveness and grace.

September 18, AD 32 – the day after the Feast of Booths (John 8:1-11)

It was the day after the Feast of Booths. It was AD 32 as we would count it. It was mid-September and early that morning Jesus had come into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives just outside the city in order to teach in the Temple. As he sat down to teach those gathered around, the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman before him. It was a trap… they said she had been caught in the act of adultery, caught with a man who was not her husband. In the Law, they said, “Moses commanded us to stone such women; what do you say?” (v.5)

So many questions… How did they know to ‘catch’ her? Where was the man? Why so intent on trapping Jesus?

You may know the story. You may even know that it is one of a very few stories that we are not sure are part of the original Gospel of John (if you look in your Bible there is probably a footnote about that). But nothing in the story contradicts Jesus’ teaching or expected actions. In fact, it captures them quite well.

John the disciple, the narrator, tells us why they are doing this. They are testing Jesus so that they might have grounds for accusing him (v.6)… of breaking the religious Law, of inciting a riot, of any number of things. But Jesus doesn’t answer right away. He stoops down and writes something in the dirt. They persist in asking him what he thinks they should do. He stands up and says, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (v.7) And he stoops down and writes some more in the dirt.

And one by one, the older ones first, then they younger, leave and he is eventually left alone with the woman in the center of the Temple court. (v.9) Was it what he said? Was it what he wrote in the dirt? Was it something else? Clearly something he said or did connected with them and changed their hearts and minds. Let’s look back to two days earlier…

Two Days Earlier: the last great day of the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:37-39)

John 7 records that Jesus went to the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths). It is not explicitly named in John, but we know that it is because of the details provided. It is a seven day feast and one of three involving pilgrimage to Jerusalem. And the events of the last day of the feast are well-known and recorded since ancient times and they correspond with what happened. Much of this is spelled out in the Talmud, which is the ancient Rabbinic commentary on the Hebrew scriptures. There is a whole book in the Talmud describing and commenting on Sukkoth, the Feast of Tabernacles. Specifically of the seventh-day water-drawing, the Rabbi’s write: “He who has not seen the joy of the water-drawing has not seen joy in his whole lifetime.” (Sukkoth 5:1) Here’s what that last great day involved…
At the break of day priests proceeded from the temple to the pool of Siloam. There they filled a golden pitcher with water and bore it back to the temple. On approaching the watergate on the south side of the inner court the shophar (trumpet) was sounded three times—joyous blasts which were explicitly related to Isa 12:3, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” The priests bearing the water then processed around the altar, watched by the pilgrims, while the temple choir sang the Hallel (i.e., Psalms 113–18). When the opening words of Psalm 118 were reached, “Give thanks to the Lord,” every man and boy shook the lulab (a bunch of willow and myrtle tied with palm) with his right hand and held aloft citrus fruit in his left hand (a sign of the harvest gathered in), and the cry “Give thanks to the Lord” was repeated three times. The same thing happened at the cry “O Lord save us!” of Ps 118:25. Since all this took place at the time of the daily offering, the water was offered to God in connection with the daily drink-offering (of wine). A chosen priest mounted the altar on which stood two silver bowls, one for the reception of the drink-offering and the other for the water. When the priest had poured the wine and the water into their respective bowls, they were then poured out as offerings to God. The crowd then called out, “life up your hand!” The demand was made as a sign that the rite was properly fulfilled… and the priest [raised] his hand aloft to show that he had faithfully discharged his duty.
It was during this annual feast day, on the last great day of the feast, most likely after the cry of “Lord, save us” (Hosanna!) and as the water was poured that Jesus stood up and spoke out and said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” (John 7:37) He goes on to say, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” (v.38)

This is not the first time Jesus has spoken of living water, though perhaps it is the first time he has done so publicly in Jerusalem. Think back several weeks for us, some 18 months earlier for the events in John.

18 Months Earlier: the Samaritan Woman at the Well (John 4:10)

Back in John 4, which we looked at three weeks ago, Jesus was traveling through Samaria and talked with a Samaritan woman at a well at noontime. I won’t go back through all that made that encounter so unusual, but in that conversation he offered the woman “living water.” He says, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10) He goes on to say, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (v.14) And after some more back and forth, Jesus admits to being the Messiah.

So, clearly he has already been thinking about living water and his identity and what he offers people related to life and eternal life. And he is not making this up on the spot, he is pulling from ancient promises and teachings in Hebrew scripture. For example, 600-750 years earlier, prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah had written of this water.

600-700 Years Earlier: the Prophets (Isaiah 12:3; Jeremiah 17:13)

In the writings of the great prophet-preachers of Hebrew scripture, water is a powerful image of salvation and hope. Not only does water wash clean, but it gives life, particularly depicted in ‘springs of water.’ When Jesus speaks of water, living water, and fountains of living water, he draws upon this prophetic imagery and familiar scriptures to God’s people. He is invoking promises of God’s Messiah and God’s salvation for His thirsty and needy people of every time and place. Listen to these two prophets:

Isaiah writes: “Behold, God is my salvation (yeshua). I will trust and not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and song. And He has become my salvation. Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation.” (12:2-3)

Jeremiah – “O Lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away on earth will be written down, because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the Lord.” (17:13)

And did you hear that last part? Those who forsake the fountain of living water that God provides will have their names written down. Could that be what Jesus was writing in the dirt that day? Was he writing the words from Jeremiah? Or was he writing down names of those present? Before we return to the present of the story in John 8, let’s take one more time-jump further back, 500 or more years earlier.

500 Years Before That: Moses and the Law (Leviticus 23)

The first five books of our Bible and of the Hebrew scriptures are known as the Pentateuch (five books) or the Torah (Law) and record, among other things, the Laws God gave to Moses to govern the life and health of God’s people. It is there that God established the great feasts, including the Feast of Tabernacles. The details are recorded in Leviticus 23 and the intent of the Feast is to recall to God’s people the time of wandering in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land. It was a time when the housing and shelter was temporary and the tabernacles or booths were meant to re-enact that experience and call forth the hope of God’s faithfulness in providing, leading, and keeping the Covenant. It also corresponded with the fall harvest, as the hope of planting was fulfilled in harvesting crops. The water-drawing festival developed in Jewish practice as a symbol of that hope and God’s faithfulness.

1500 years after Moses, in Jesus’ day, the Jewish people were still observing the Feast of Tabernacles and the water-drawing festival, and still expressing hope that God would lead them through deserts to a promised future of hope, salvation, and blessing. And it was into that very moment of hope that Jesus stood up and spoke.

Forgiveness and New Start (John 8:10-11)

“Where are they? Did no one condemn you? I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” (vv.10-11)

This is such a powerful story, especially if you read it as one who recognizes their own sinfulness and need for forgiveness and a new start. But it is more than a point in time story about Jesus and one woman. It captures up the whole of biblical history, the whole of God’s sweep of redemption and salvation, the whole of God’s promise that there is more on the other side of wandering, wilderness, desert, and thirst. God gave His Law not as an end in itself, but as a teacher to show us what His faithful love looks like. God’s preachers and prophets spoke of these powerful images not to earn a name for themselves, but to draw people to faith and hope in the God who provides and the God who saves. Like Jason shared last week about the Operation Christmas Child boxes, even the great Feast of Tabernacles wasn’t a self-contained end in itself, but a “GO Box” – a Gospel or Good News opportunity to believe in something beyond the present drought and suffering. Jesus stood up and claimed it and then offered a personal experience of that living water and new life to one woman whose shame and guilt were exposed. And he did not condemn, but offered a new start.

That’s the Good Word in all of this today, especially if you are experiencing drought or suffering, wilderness or wandering, or just need a glimpse of a hopeful future. Jesus not only has living water; he IS living water. He does not condemn, he washes us clean and gives us new life.  For those with ears to hear, come and see, come and believe, come and drink from the fountain of living water. Amen.