The Twenty-Eighth in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
Jesus stood up during the water pouring ritual on the “Great Day” of the Feast of Booths 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.’” Throughout the entire time Jesus had been in Jerusalem during the week-long celebration of the Feast, people were debating his identity. The Jews (those loyal to the Sanhedrin) felt that Jesus was a dangerous threat to the nation, and must be stopped. Yet many of the people who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast, believed that if Jesus was not the Christ, then at the very least he was the great prophet foretold by Moses. But no one could remain neutral about Jesus. Jesus spoke with the authority of YHWH. He had a mastery of Scripture which no one had ever seen. And then there were the miracles. Jesus healed people and cast out demons with a single command. The religious leaders hated him because he exposed their self-righteousness. They were already plotting his death, while many, John says, believed in him. Who is this man? How can he say the things that he does? What is the nature of his ministry? What is he seeking to accomplish?
As we continue our series on the Gospel of John, we resume where we left off last time (John 7:52), with whole city of Jerusalem, it seems, debating the identity of Jesus and trying to figure out the nature of his messianic mission. From the time Jesus arrived mid-Feast, until his declaration during the final water ritual that he is the “living water,” Jesus was engaged in continual controversy with the religious leaders of Israel–who, as we have seen, were already looking for a way to arrest Jesus and then put him to death. This is why chapters 7-10 of John’s Gospel are said to describe the “conflict phase” of Jesus’ messianic mission. Jesus’ mission has brought him to Jerusalem, and although his hour has not yet come, Jesus is preparing his disciples for that time when he will go away to that place where they cannot come (his ascension). And, he must fulfill all righteousness through his perfect obedience to the law of Moses.
Those who were in Jerusalem as pilgrims attending the feast, as well as the city’s inhabitants, were also greatly divided over the question of Jesus’ identity. Some believed in Jesus. Others were not sure who, exactly, he was. Is he the Christ, the prophet, or some sort of zealot? Those loyal to the Sanhedrin were so angered by Jesus’ messianic claims that they sought to seize him and turn him over to the Pharisees. The controversy surrounding Jesus in John 7:40 ff., leads to a direct encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees (beginning in John 8:12)–an encounter which, very likely, took place shortly after Jesus stood up and claimed to be the living water during that portion of the ritual in which water was poured out on the ground as symbolic of God’s provision of life-giving water to Israel in the wilderness and believed by the Jews to foretell of the messianic age, when God will give pure water to the whole world from a great rock (like that in the wilderness). Jesus’ claim to give living water during this moment in the Feast was clearly a messianic claim. Jesus’ comments did not go unnoticed by the Pharisees, who were just waiting for Jesus to say or do the wrong thing.
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