Summary: Christ made extensive use of the Old Testment’s Rituals, Festivals, Sacrifices, and Symbolism to teach who He was and what He came to be. He alone satisfies. His gift of the Spirit in us is meant to be a blessing to others.

The World Did Think Him Mad

A Sermon on John 7:37-39

The Spirit in our Lives

Our Gospel reading this morning is a selection from John’s Gospel that speaks to the reality of the Spirit in our lives, and what the presence of the Spirit within us entails. It is found in the seventh chapter of John’s Gospel, verses thirty seven through thirty nine.

The Festival of Booths

As we jump into the seventh chapter of John’s Gospel - Jesus is attending a very large religious holiday in Jerusalem. [1] In fact it is one of the largest festivals in Judaism. [2] In Hebrew it is called Sukkot. In English it is called the ‘Festival of Booths’ or the ‘Festival of Tabernacles’. In Israel it is a big agricultural festival that takes place right after the harvest comes in. [3] It is kind of a cross between our Thanksgiving and the State Fair. That is, it is a ‘thank you’ to God for the harvest that takes place over a week instead of on one day. [4] The festival is called the ‘Feast of Booths’ or ‘Feast of Tabernacles’ because at part of the festivities the Israelites would build these little temporary huts every year out of branches. [5] And that was to symbolize the time back when the Israelites lived in tents in the wilderness. [6]

Working at The Temple

The festival is still big in Judaism. When I was a kid, there was a huge Synagogue a few blocks from my house. It had two thousand families. And I worked there one summer part time on the janitorial staff when I was a teenager. And at the Temple, during Sunday School, the Jewish kids would build a hut out of corn stocks in a room of the Synagogue around Thanksgiving time as part of their celebration. And they could play in the hut. And do these ‘celebrate the harvest’ type of things.

The Festival in Christ’s day

Now back in Jesus’ day, the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem was a weeklong event. After working all summer on their farms, Israelites from all over the country would journey to Jerusalem every fall for a weeklong celebration. And the highlight of the celebration each day was a parade. There would be sort of a marching band. And in a ritual procession the Temple Priests would parade to the Pool of Siloam each day with golden pictures, and draw some water. Then they would march back to the Temple and pour the water out next to the altar as they cried out, ‘With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation!’ [7] And the people would follow along in the parade, waving branches and carrying these little citrus fruits.

Symbolism in the ritual, water and wine

Now everything was all very symbolic. The pouring out of the water at the altar symbolized that story back in the Book of Exodus [8] when the Lord gave His people water in the desert by making the water miraculously flow out of a rock. There cry was a quote from the twelfth chapter of the Book of Isaiah. And as part of the ritual the priests would also pour out some wine next to the altar. Wine of course is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. And the priests did this because Ancient Israel understood to some degree that the Holy Spirit was poured out in salvation. They did this every day for seven days during the festival. They paraded to the pool of Siloam, drew some water, and made a big show of pouring out the water and wine next to the altar while they shouted, ‘With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation!’ And on the final day of the Festival of Tabernacles they repeated the ritual seven times.

Today’s Text

And this the background of what is going on as we jump into today’s text. Where we read that, at verse thirty seven, ‘On the last day of the festival, the great day, Jesus stood and cried out, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink!”’ [9]

Jesus cries out

Now when Jesus did that, stood up in the crowd ‘and cried out, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink!”’, you can imagine how that must have bewildered a lot of people. The Temple Priests are in the midst of performing their big public ritual. They are pouring out water and wine and crying out, ‘With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation’. And here this guy stands up in the back of the crowd and yells, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink!’ [10] Now you can imagine how that would have bewildered a lot of people.

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