The promise…

Of the Spirit (part 6) 

When Jesus stood up in the Temple courts before thousands of people in John 7:37, yelling out “If anyone’s thirsty, come to me and drink” – HOW, exactly, did he want them to “come to him and drink”? Did he mean come over to where he was standing, because he’d set up a table for handing out free cups of water? 

But then he said, “Whoever believes in me” in verse 38. That little word “in” hit a different note, because he meant belief in him as a person. The Greek word for “believe” in that verse meant “placing one’s total confidence in.” So that’s what he was shouting for them to do – to put their total confidence in him.  

And Jesus shouted that out with great emotion in his voice, because as a nation, up to that point, they had never totally put their confidence in him. Or when they’d said they’d obey him (as they did in Exodus 19:7-8), they’d never backed it up with trust when the chips were down (Hebrews 3:7-11). Or if they did trust him, it didn’t last. They’d soon be looking to other gods and human means to get them out of a scrape.  

And Jesus had put up with this for centuries for he was “the spiritual rock that had accompanied them” on their travels, 1 Corinthians 10:4. Despite them never placing their confidence in him, however, he never gave up on them, for from the time “When Israel was only a child, I loved him. I called out, ‘My son!’ – called him out of Egypt. But when others called to him, he ran off and left me,” Hosea 11:1-2.

But here he was at the Temple still loving them, still wanting to rescue them, and still holding out the promise, as he did constantly through the prophets in the Old Testament, that if they came to him, trusted him, believed in his love for them, he would, in the terms so often spoken in their Scriptures, be their guide through life, their strength, their comfort, their safety net, their wisdom, their peace bringer, their ready listener, their restorer of life as he intended it to be – or in a word their “Rock” (Psalm 18:2), who, just like the rock that gushed water in the desert (Exodus 17), would provide a constant flow of all those things they knew and read about, and longed for, in their Scriptures.

Which is why he cried out in John 7:38, “Whoever believes in me, streams of living water will flow from within him.” But HOW would it happen, and how would they know?…(more on this tomorrow) 

The promise…

Of the Spirit (part 5) 

When Jesus cried out, “Come to me and drink,” the Greek words in that verse tell of great emotion. It was like a logjam suddenly being broken and the logs rushing freely down the river, because Jesus had gone through a great deal with these people. He had quite a history with them. But now was the time a new chapter in their history was about to open. 

And there was a clue what that new chapter would be, because Jesus took them back into their history to the actual event they’d been celebrating during the last seven days of their autumn festival. It was the time in Exodus 17:1 when “The whole Israelite community camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.” Millions of them in a desert with no water; a desperate situation.

And they voiced their desperation to Moses too, angrily demanding him to produce water, and even blaming him for deliberately “making us and our children and livestock die of thirst,” verse 3. But what on earth did they expect Moses to do? Suddenly produce water from bare rock?    

Exasperated, Moses “cried out to the Lord, ‘What am I to do with these people? They’re about ready to stone me,’” verse 4, stones being in plentiful supply too. 

He got an immediate answer from the Lord too – for him to walk ahead with some of the elders of Israel, taking the staff he’d previously struck the river Nile with, “and by the rock at Horeb, strike the rock and water will come out of it for the people to drink,” verses 5-6. Which he did.

Afterwards, Moses wanted that spot memorialized by naming it “The Testing and Quarrelling Place,” because of the Israelites’ quarrelsome, testing attitude of “Is the Lord among us or not?” verse 7.  

It was with that background, then, that Jesus stood up before the descendants of those people at the Temple and said in essence, “The Lord is among you, all right, because here I am, the same Lord too, only this time if you come to me, rivers of water will gush out to satisfy your thirst.” Same Lord, same purpose, but a new chapter, in which an amazing new power within them would emerge…(more on this tomorrow)  

The promise…

Of the Spirit (part 4) 

The Father sent his Son so we’d come to see and understand the depth of love his Son has for us. So in the things he inspired his Son to say and do while he was here with us as a human being, they were all meant to demonstrate his Son’s love. 

Like the time Jesus stood up in front of hundreds and even thousands of people at the Temple on the final great day of their autumn festival celebration and he shouted out to them, “If you’re thirsty, come to me and drink” in John 7:37.  

Because imagine what it took for him to do that. His timing, for instance, had to be perfect. It wouldn’t be showing love, for example, if he disturbed a formal ritual going on at the time. He also had to choose the right spot where people could see him and hear him above the murmurings and shuffling of the crowd. And a place where the crowd wasn’t pressing in on him too. 

And then to stand up and start shouting – and the Greek for “speaking in a loud voice” in John 7:37 really does mean “shout” – well, who likes speaking in front of a crowd at any time, let alone suddenly start shouting in a crowd at the top of your voice, “Come to me,” too? 

But that’s what he did. With time and place sorted out, therefore, up he stood and yelled, “If any of you are thirsty, come to me.” It was the ultimate soap box sales pitch: “Hey, everyone, roll on up, I’ve got what you need to satisfy your deepest longings.” But he went much, much further than that, into territory where no salesman would dare go, by shouting, “It’s me, folks – I’m what you need.”

And it was love that compelled him to do that, because what he saw when looking out at the crowd was people his Father had designed to need him. His Father had given them a thirst that could only be satisfied by coming to him. Because in coming to him that’s when all those rituals and symbols and singing the predictions in Scripture of fountains of refreshing water pouring out from God that they’d all been celebrating during their festival – would become a reality. But not a physical reality in their nation. It would be a river of deeply refreshing water bubbling away inside them…(more on this tomorrow)

The promise…

Of the Spirit (part 3) 

When Jesus looked out at that crowd gathered in the Temple courts on the last great day of their autumn festival, what he saw was thirsty people. Not for physical water but for a far deeper and more desperate thirst for the rivers of living water promised in the Old Testament that would flow freely when the Messiah came. That’s what those desperately thirsty people were hoping for. It was why they were gathered in the Temple courts in the first place, to celebrate and imagine what massive changes in their parched and dried up lives the Messiah would make. 

So when Jesus shouted out, “If anyone is thirsty,” he was talking to a captive audience who were there because they were thirsty. But then he makes the shocking statement, “come to me and drink.” He might just as well have said, “You’re all thirsty for the Messiah’s coming, right? Well, folks, here I am.”  

Whatever they were looking and hoping for in the Messiah, here was a man saying he could provide it. Which is what the Christian message is today too. It’s a repeat of Jesus standing there boldly calling people to believe in him because he’s the one who can satisfy the deepest longings and demands that are crying out inside us. 

And they are demands too. Like thirst. Thirst is a demand the Father designed into our bodies that has to be met. We can’t ignore it. Other pressing needs our bodies demand can be subdued, but not thirst. And the Father designed it that way on purpose. Why? Because, as Jesus pointed out, we have another thirst inside us – that the Father also built into us – that cannot be ignored either.  

Think of the things we thirst for most as humans – and cannot stop thirsting for too – things that constantly crop up in our thoughts, a sort of “wish list,” like “I wish I could have some peace and normality,” or “I wish I had more joy,” or “I wish I could feel really loved,” or “I wish my life had significance and purpose,” or “I wish I was the kind of person people like to be around.” They’re all selfish, demanding and needy just like our thirst for water, because our Father built all those demands into us too, and just as much on purpose. 

Why? So, he could send his Son to meet those needs for us, because that way we’d come to see his beloved Son for who he is…(more on this tomorrow)  

The promise…

Of the Spirit (part 2) 

Jesus made an amazing promise in John 7:37-38, when he shouted out to those gathered in the temple courts on the last day of the eight day autumn festival: “If anyone is thirsty, come to me and drink, because – like Scripture said – anyone believing in me will have rivers of living water flowing from within them.” 

John later adds to that in verse 39, “By that he meant the Spirit, that all those who believed in him would receive,” but at the time Jesus did not explain that. There was enough in what he said, however, to really catch their attention.  

Like the first sentence, “If anyone is thirsty” – because in their climate, thirst was ever present. As one author wrote: “Water is always an attractive word in the East. But at the time when Jesus uttered this saying it would have an effect that was almost magical. It was in the autumn weather, when the sun had been shining in fierceness for months, and the barren ground was crying out for rain…” 

It was Jesus’ timing too, because the autumn festival was their annual reminder of the water that flowed from the rock in their wilderness wanderings, picturing their long-awaited, promised Messiah who would provide streams in the desert and an outpouring of his Holy Spirit on all who would believe. And here on this very occasion picturing all that, Jesus was saying, “If anyone is thirsty, come to me and drink,” a clear claim that he was that Rock that those in the wilderness drank from, which Paul later spoke of in 1 Corinthians 10:4, that “They all drank of the Spiritual Rock which followed them, and that Rock was Christ.”  

So imagine being there as the chief priests led a procession to the pool of Siloam, where a golden pitcher from the Temple was filled with water and carried back to the Temple altar where the water was poured out as a thank offering and a choir sang the Scriptures Jesus was referring to, like Isaiah 12:2-3, “Surely God is my salvation…With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation,” and Joel 3:18, “A fountain will flow out of the Lord’s house,” plus Ezekiel 47:1-12 and Zechariah 14:6-9 too, all of which spoke of the living waters that would flow with the arrival of the Messiah to satisfy the deepest and most pressing thirst that all we humans have…(more on this tomorrow)

The promise…

Of the Spirit 

In one sense it must have been frustrating for Jesus to have to quit his earthly ministry just when his disciples were beginning to grasp what he was all about (John 16:29-30). 

But his ministry was about to “up” to a whole new level, when he told his disciples in John 14:16, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.” 

Jesus’ ministry, therefore, would be continuing through another living Being he calls the Paraclete, which John later translates as Advocate. It can also mean Comforter, Strengthener, and Helper, because Jesus wants his disciples to know that “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you,” verse 18. But not come to them in his own person; instead it would be “the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, who will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you,” verse 26. It would still be Jesus’ teachings, but taught to them now by the Spirit.

The Spirit, then, would take over the work that Jesus had been doing with his disciples. And the Spirit would be desperately needed too, because the disciples were fine when Jesus was with them, but when he was gone they fell apart. So Jesus wants them to know that this Spirit will be “another” (verse 16) – the Greek meaning “another of the same kind” – just like himself. The Spirit, therefore, would do for them what Jesus had done for them, only much, much better, because the Spirit will be “with you forever,” always present in their lives, “for he lives with you and will be in you,” verse 17.

It would be like having Jesus with them for the rest of their lives, continuing to teach them as he always had, so they’d come to know more and more about him (16:14-15) and sense more and more his immense love for them too (14:21). Which, of course, is what we can expect too, because as Jesus said to his disciples back in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will obey what I command,” and straight after that he tells them about the Spirit they will receive. So anyone taking Jesus’ teachings seriously are promised the same Spirit for the rest of their lives too…(more about this tomorrow…)

The promise…

To us (part 6)

Because of Christ’s death God has flung the doors open to a new relationship with him – which, Romans 5:1-2, promises three things: first of all, peace with God. Secondly, absolute confidence in approaching him. And thirdly, using the Phillips translation, “happy certainty of the glorious things he has for us in the future.” So the three things promised are peace, confidence and certainty.  

Peace and confidence have been covered previously, but what about this “certainty” bit? Can we really know for certain what God “has for us in the future”? But didn’t Jesus also say in John 16:13, that “when the Spirit of truth comes….he will tell you what is yet to come”?  

According to Jesus, then, we are now part of a new world where the future is known, and we can know it too. But what does the future “yet to come” revolve around? Jesus made that clear in verse 14, that the Spirit of truth “will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.”  

This certainty about the future and what is to come, therefore, revolves around coming to know what Jesus is all about. Because, quoting one writer, “No man has ever grasped all that Jesus came to say. No man has fully worked out all the significance of his teaching for life and for belief, for the individual and for the world, for society and for the nation.” 

The Holy Spirit’s job, therefore, is to constantly open up and expand the truth about Jesus. Because that is the future “yet to come” for all of us: it’s coming to know Jesus for real, so that we’re left in no doubt what he’s up to, what his motives are, what his end goal is, what he thinks of us, what he’s head of the Church for, what his teachings mean, what glorious things he has in mind for us when he returns, and how it all fits in exactly with his Father’s plan and purpose through and for him.  

And it’s the Spirit’s job to make all this come to life for us. So that’s what we can expect to happen in the future for the rest of our lives, then. It means a constant revelation by the Spirit of things just waiting to be discovered about “the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” 2 Peter 3:18. No wonder Paul wrote back in Romans 5:2 that we “rejoice,” because here we are now, already experiencing our future…(more on this tomorrow)

The promise…

To us (part 5)

“Since it’s by faith that we are justified, let us grasp the fact that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have confidently entered into this new relationship of grace, and here we take our stand, in happy certainty of the glorious things he has for us in the future,“ Romans 5:1-2 (Phillips).

This is the new life that has opened up to us because we’re justified and our relationship with God has been restored. But don’t just believe it, Paul is saying, “confidently enter it” too. We have now “gained access” (as the NIV phrases it in verse 2) into this new relationship with God. The doors have been flung open, so in we can go.  

And we can enter this new relationship with confidence, because it doesn’t depend on anything we do or don’t do. Paul calls it “the gift of God” (verses 15 and 16). Even our belief was given to us by God. So God made absolutely sure our relationship being restored with him is all his doing. And his reason for making sure it’s all his doing was (and is) to “demonstrate his love for us,” verse 8. And what better way of demonstrating his love for us than “Christ dying for us while we were yet sinners” (verse 8)? 

Peter says the same thing in 1 Peter 3:18 – “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” And it’s on that statement that “we take our stand,” as Phillips phrased it in Romans 5:2. It’s because of the death of his Son that we can state with absolute confidence that God loves us, and our relationship with him has been totally restored. 

It’s this same confidence that Paul talks about in Ephesians 3:11, that God’s “eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” was (and is), verse 12, to enable us to “approach him with freedom and confidence.” 

And with that same stand in mind the author of Hebrews writes in Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with fullest confidence, that we may receive mercy for our failures and grace to help us in our hour of need.” Because we can do that now, and in total confidence, because of this new relationship that God has gifted us with…(more on this tomorrow) 

The promise…

To us (part 4)

So, what is this new life that opens up to us because we’re justified? Paul answers that in the very next verse after Romans 4:25

Romans 4 ends with that verse, but Paul carries right on into Romans 5 as if there are no chapter breaks between chapters 4 and 5, because he opens verse 1 with “Therefore…”

And it ties right in with the previous verse, which Paul makes clear right off the bat by writing, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith” – or since we understood and believed our relationship with God has been restored and set to rights – “we (now) have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom,” verse 2, “we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” 

So, first of all, this new life we enter is about “peace with God.” Peace because, for no works or efforts or good deeds on our part, or by trying to make up for our lousy lives in any way, God totally restored our relationship with him for us simply believing Jesus did all the works and good deeds and making up for our lousy lives in himself. 

It was “While we were yet sinners, that Christ died for us,” verse 8. Christ didn’t wait to see if we were repentant or making some sort of effort to be good. He died for us at our worst. We were already “justified by his blood,” verse 9, while we lived our rotten lives. With that knowledge in mind, then, Paul adds in verse 9, “Well, since we’ve been justified by his blood, that means we’ve been saved from God’s wrath through him too.” 

So, never again do we have to wonder if God is angry at us. Because he isn’t. And no more wondering if God can love such a walking ruin like us. Because he does. And no more wondering if God accepts us after the way we lived for so many years, because, verse 10, “when we were God’s enemies we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” – reconciled meaning “relationship restored.” 

And the reason God did that for us was verse 11, that we’d “rejoice in him through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation”…(more on this tomorrow) 

The promise…

To us (part 3)

Paul makes it clear in Ephesians 2 that we would never have come to belief in God’s promise of justification on our own. And what a pity if God had allowed that to continue, because we would never have experienced the goal of justification, which is finding ourselves, just as Abram did, revelling in God’s greatness – and not out of obligation either, but because we can’t help it. 

And why can’t we help it? It’s because “God, in his great love for us and in the riches of his mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions,” verses 4-5. We were totally dead, as “dead” as Sarai, Abram’s wife, who’d never been able to have children. But God brought Sarai’s reproductive capacity to life, so the two of them could experience for themselves what happens when God promises the impossible. 

Because that’s how God worked to make his greatness real to Abram. He brought the dead to life. And Abram was the first to experience that, making him “our father in the sight of God” – the father, that is, of all those who also experience “God giving life to the dead and calling things that are not as though they were,” Romans 4:17.  

Because that’s how God works with us to make his greatness real to us too: he produces a new life in us that we could never create ourselves, just like Sarai’s body couldn’t produce new life either. But in God’s mind he was calling her what she wasn’t yet – a mother – as though she was one already, because of his promise to her, in the same way that he calls us “justified” – the very thing we had no right to be called either – as though we are, and all because of what he promised us in his Son. 

And now we get to experience that promise coming alive, just like Abram and Sarai experienced God’s promise of a child coming alive for them. Bringing impossible promises to life is how God works, which in our case is the promise of justification, bringing a life dead to God to being alive with Christ. 

Justification is the birth of a new life in us, just like the birth of new life in Sarai, so that we find our selves revelling in God’s greatness, just like Abram did…(more on this tomorrow)