Summary: God is speaking. Listen carefully to what He is saying.
Out of the Belly of the Rock
We can see from what we studied last week in the sermon “What Did Jesus Say (WWJS)?” that the word of God causes controversy in the marketplace. It always has and always will. Today, we will see that this same dispute will break out again in reaction to the words of Jesus. The opponents of Jesus wanted to arrest Him and had sent police from the Temple to do so. However, the Father protected the Son from arrest because it was not His time. Let us listen carefully to what God says in His word this morning.
Exposition of the Text
In verse 37, we learn that the events that were about to take place took place on the last day of the week long Feast of Tabernacles in which the Jews remembered the forty years their forefathers spent in the wilderness. This served as a sort of what we in America would call a “Camp Meeting” in which we left the regular lives for a period of spiritual renewal. The people of Israel in like manner were to leave their houses and camp for the week in tents. By the time of Jesus, the Jewish people from all over the Roman and even Parthian Empires made difficult and dangerous voyages to come and camp out at Jerusalem for the week. There were ceremonies which happened at the Temple such as remembering the pillar of fire by night and the cloud which led them by day which had served as the feet of God which Israel was to follow into the Promised Land.
The particular remembrance for the last day of the feast was the water which poured forth from the belly of the rock which Moses struck by which God gave lifesaving water to the thirsty Israelites. When we understand this, it makes Jesus’ following statement more clear.
On that last great day of the feast, Jesus arose and cried out to the people. As we noted earlier in the chapter, there is probably more here than just raising one’s voice to be heard in the large crowd. This terminology is used in the Old Testament for the voice of God. Whether this is the case here or not, I don’t know, but it was the voice of God crying out nevertheless. When God speaks, we are summoned to listen carefully to what He says. Jesus did everything in His power to make the voice of God clear and plain to His people. He did not speak these words in the hidden recesses of an ivory tower to some initiated people. He instead made a public proclamation. This is to be the model for our preaching, teaching, and proclaiming the Gospel. It is true that many will refuse to listed and twist or obscure the plain teaching of Jesus or try to suppress the voice. For them they would turn the Word of God into riddles without answers. Nonetheless, we proclaim the good news to all without distinction and without fear of adverse reaction.
What then did Jesus cry? The punctuation that one puts into a Greek text which was written without punctuation marks or even spaces between the words makes for two possibilities. The one that most translations say “If anyone is thirsty, let Him come to me and drink.” For the Scripture says out of his belly shall come rivers of living water. This punctuation then would teach that the Holy Spirit flows out from the believer; however, one would be hard pressed to find a Scripture in the Old Testament to support this. Yet Jesus cites Scripture as proof.
The other possible way to translate the statement of Jesus is: “If anyone is thirsty let him come. And let him drink who believes in me. For the Scripture says: ‘Out of its belly (that is the belly of the rock) shall come rivers of living water.” This way of punctuating the verse makes Jesus the source through whom the Holy Spirit comes. This punctuation preserves a parallelism, a literary device often used in Hebrew. “Let him drink who believes in me” is an extension of the first thought which invites the thirsty to come and helps explain how this thirst can be satisfied. This also makes sense of the Scripture Jesus quotes. After all, this was the event the Jews were commemorating that day. Jesus tells them that He is that rock from which the thirsty need to come for living water. This agrees with the invitation Jesus gave to the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus in John 6 invited those who heard to eat and drink Him. So it makes perfect sense to understand the verse if one uses the second punctuation.
In verse 39, John gives us the explanation of Jesus’ statement. God wants the believer to understand His Word. It is the enemy which tries to obscure it and say “Did God really say that?” Jesus way preparing the way for Pentecost when the Holy Spirit will be poured out on the believer. In John 14-17, He will elaborate the person and work of the Holy Spirit more fully in His final words to the eleven before His crucifixion. At this point in the Gospel, those who were not already in the community of faith and were reading this gospel for the first time, they would not have known what Jesus was talking about. Perhaps they had encountered believer’s full of the Holy Spirit and were puzzled. As the stated purpose of this gospel was to being people for faith in Jesus the Christ and have everlasting life by believing on Him it is only appropriate here to inform the reader of what Jesus meant. John by sharing this gloss prepares the reader for the doctrine and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is too important to wait until later for explanation.