One of the highlights for me, each time I’ve been to Israel, is the time I’ve spent in Jerusalem at the Temple Mount. The first Temple was built by Solomon about 970 B.C. David had wanted to build the Temple, but God wouldn’t allow him because David was a warrior who had shed much blood (1 Chronicles 22:8). David was intimately involved in the preparations for the building of the Temple, but it was Solomon who spearheaded the effort. The Temple stood for almost 400 hundred years until it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.
Seventy year later, Cyrus and the Persians became the dominant world power, replacing the Babylonians, and Cyrus freed the Jews to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. The Temple was rebuilt by Zerubbabel over a number of years, but it lacked the glory and splendor of Solomon’s Temple.
Then, in 19 B.C. King Herod the Great decided that Zerubbabel’s Temple was not to the dimensions of Solomon’s Temple and he set out to reconstruct it in all of its splendor. According to Josephus, the most important Jewish historian, Herod had 10,000 skilled workers who rebuilt the Temple. He had 1000 carts designed to carry large stones that weighed between 2-5 tons to the building site. There are stones in the Western Wall that weigh more than 50 tons, no crane exists today that could lift them, and yet the wall around the Temple was 100 feet high. Herod expanded the Temple Mount platform and once it was finished it would hold 20 football fields. The main part of Herod’s rebuilding effort was completed before his death in 4 B.C., but the work on the Temple complex continued for another 60 years. The Babylonian Talmud tells us,
He who has not seen the Temple of Herod in its full construction has never seen a beautiful building in his life. (Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Baba Bathra)
Jesus visited the Temple many times during His life. Some of his greatest lessons for us were delivered at the Temple. While we were in Jerusalem we visited the place where the beautiful Temple once stood and sat on the Southern Steps, which was the main entrance for everyone to enter the Temple complex. During Jesus’ last week, the time between Palm Sunday and His crucifixion, we read that Jesus taught every day at the Temple. Jesus’ teaching was so powerful that people gathered early every morning just to hear Him speak. Luke tells us,
37 Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, 38 and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple. (Luke 21:37-38 NIVO)
Jesus left the Galilee and went to Jerusalem several times during the three years that He traveled and taught with His disciples. Jews were required to travel from all over to Jerusalem three times a year for the great feasts. Mary and Joseph took Jesus, when He was just a small child, to Jerusalem to observe the great feasts each year. We read in Luke 2:41,
41 Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. (Luke 2:41 NIVO)
I want us to focus our study on the last of the great feasts, the Feast of Tabernacles, or as the Jews call it, Sukkoth. It is one of my favorite stories of Jesus and I believe it will be one of yours also once you understand the meaning and purpose of the feast. I have absolute confidence that our Scripture for this morning, found in John 7:37-39, will come to life right before our eyes when we understand the events that were taking place at the time Jesus stood up and issued His invitation. Let’s read our Scripture and we’ll get started.
37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:37-39 NIV)
Jesus’ brothers wanted Him to go to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles and make the most of the opportunity since all of Israel would be there. Jesus said He wasn’t going, but they should go ahead. Then, in John 7:10, we learn that Jesus went to Jerusalem when the feast was halfway over. When Jesus arrived there was a buzz in the crowd. The religious leaders were looking for Him, the people were talking about Him, and the controversy about who Jesus was continued to grow.
In our Scripture for today we learn that it was “the last and greatest day of the festival…” As American followers of Jesus, most of us don’t know anything about the Feast of Tabernacles so Jesus’ words really have little impact on us. This morning I want to share some details about the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles because it will greatly enhance your understanding and cause you to fall to knees in awe at Jesus’ words.
In Leviticus 23 we learn about seven great feasts that God set for His people to observe each year. In the spring there were three feasts to be celebrated: Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits. The purpose of the three was to observe Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, God’s gift of the Promised Land, and the spring harvest. Shavuot, or Pentecost as we call it, was celebrated fifty days after Passover and it commemorated the end of the grain harvest and the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. In the fall, the Jews observed Rosh Hashanah, or the Feast of Trumpets, and the Day of Atonement when all Israel went before the Lord to receive redemption by the blood of the lamb which was offered for the sins of the people. The final celebration was the most joyous of all of the feasts God instituted for His people—the Feast of Tabernacles. It is the only feast day where God commanded His people to “rejoice before the Lord.” We read in Leviticus 23:40.
40 On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees– from palms, willows and other leafy trees– and rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. (Leviticus 23:40 NIV)
The Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot is celebrated in October of each year and the celebration lasts for one week. After the fall harvest of figs, pomegranates, dates, and grapes the people would build their huts made out of palm, olive, or myrtle branches. One of the customs of the people was to tie branches of the three trees together in what they called, “lulav.” They would hold the branches together in one hand, along with a citron fruit in the other, and process to the temple on each of the seven days. The oldest as well as the youngest would wave their “lulav” and citron fruit while they danced, sang, and chanted the Hallel, which is Psalms 113-118.
There’s a great illustration of the joy experienced by God’s people at the Feast of Tabernacles found in Nehemiah 8:13-18. We have to remember that Solomon’s Temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians and God’s people were taken into exile for 70 years. When the Babylonians lost power, Cyrus, King of Persia, allowed some of the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. I want to turn to Nehemiah 8:13-18 so you and I can experience their unbridled joy in celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles.
13 On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the teacher to give attention to the words of the Law. 14 They found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in temporary shelters during the festival of the seventh month 15 and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: “Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make temporary shelters”– as it is written. 16 So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves temporary shelters on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim. 17 The whole company that had returned from exile built temporary shelters and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great. 18 Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. They celebrated the festival for seven days, and on the eighth day, in accordance with the regulation, there was an assembly. (Nehemiah 8:13-18 NIV)
At the end of Nehemiah 8:17 we read, “And their joy was very great.” In Hebrew, “????????? ??????????” (simchah gadowl), which vividly describes the magnitude of the celebration that took place. The Hebrew word, “???????” (gadowl) means “great, large in magnitude and extent, or loud.” The Hebrew word translated, “joy,” is “????????” (simchah) and it means, “joy, mirth, gladness, or pleasure.” From that day until this the joy of the Jews in their celebration of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles, will rival any celebration held in any place around the world.
I was reading about the Feast of Tabernacles this week when I came upon another custom that was practiced, but not prescribed by God’s Word. Let me read to you from the Mishnah where the Rabbi writes,
Whoever has not seen the celebration of the water libation has never experienced the feeling of true joy – great lamps of gold were hoisted, with four golden bowls at the top of each lamp. Four young priests-in-training would climb to the top, carrying immense oil jugs with which they would fill the bowls. Once lighted, there was not a courtyard in all of Jerusalem that did not glow with the light that emanated from the celebration in the Temple courtyard. As the people sang, the righteous and pious men would dance before them while juggling flaming torches. The levites, standing on the fifteen steps that descend from the Court of Israel to the Women’s Court, played on lyres, harps, trumpets and many other instruments. Two priests who blew silver trumpets stood at the top of the stairs on either side of the entrance to the great gate of the Court. All this was done to honor the commandment of the water libation. (Mishna, Tractate Sukkah, Chapter 5)
I knew from Leviticus about the branches, fruit, and great rejoicing, but I’d not read about any “water libation.” The water ceremony, which became an important part of the feast, was an appeal to God for rain, a reminder of God’s provision in the past, and an expected hope of a future day when a stream would pour forth from the sacred rock. The Feast of Tabernacles took place at the end of the dry season. The people needed the rains to ensure the harvest for the following year.
Each day during the feast there was a procession of priests who made their way down to the pool of Siloam to fill a water jar to be poured out as an offering to God. As the priests made their way back to the temple they approached the Water Gate, on the south side of the inner court, and three blasts from the shofar were sounded. While the people watched, the priests processed around the altar with the water, and the temple choir sang the Hallel from Psalms 113-118. When the choir came to Psalm 118, every male in the crowd took a lulav in his right hand and a citron fruit in his left, and cried out at the top of his lungs, “Give thanks to the Lord!” three times. Isaiah 12:3 was also recited: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” The High Priest would then pour the water at the time of morning sacrifice. On the last day of the celebration the priests would circle the altar seven times before pouring out the water as an offering to God. (Information about the Feast of Tabernacles is taken from the article, “The Joy of Living Water: Jesus and the Feast of Sukkot.” Commentaries by D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John. pg. 322. and MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: John. pg. 312)
The ceremony was symbolic, a powerful reminder to all of the people of God’s provision of water to those who made their way across the desert and a reminder of God’s promise to pour out His Spirit in the last days when Messiah would come. After seven days of the great water celebration filled with exuberance and expectation, Jesus stepped forward, and in a loud voice, said,
37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. (John 7:37 NIV)
Those who remembered God’s provision of water from the rock to those thirsty sojourners in the wilderness were told, “If you are thirsty come to me and drink.” Those who were praying for God to send His rain to nourish the parched ground heard, “If you are thirsty come to me and drink.” Those who were longing for the day when Messiah would come, those who were remembering the words of the prophet Isaiah,
3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. 4 They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams. (Isaiah 44:3-4 NIV)
They longed for God to pour out His living water on the dry and thirsty land, but they yearned for Him to pour out the blessing of His Spirit on all of His people even more. They remembered the words of the prophet Joel,
18 “In that day the mountains will drip new wine, and the hills will flow with milk; all the ravines of Judah will run with water. A fountain will flow out of the LORD’s house and will water the valley of acacias. (Joel 3:18 NIV)
They chanted the Hallel, with loud voices, crying out, “LORD save us! LORD grant us success!” as they looked for the coming of God’s Anointed One, the Messiah, and remembered the words of Zechariah.
6 On that day there will be neither sunlight nor cold, frosty darkness. 7 It will be a unique day– a day known only to the LORD– with no distinction between day and night. When evening comes, there will be light. 8 On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter. 9 The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name. (Zechariah 14:6-9 NIV)
And Jesus stepped forward, in the midst of the thirsty crowd, full of expectation and longing for God to act. Jesus said,
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37-38 NIV)
He still raises His voice today. “If you are thirsty come to me and drink.” Are you thirsty this morning? I’m not referring to a physical thirst. I’m thinking more along with lines of the woman at the well. She knew where to go to find water, but she had a deep, deep thirst in her soul which could not be quenched. She thought relationships could quench her thirst, but she could never find the right guy to satisfy that craving for something meaningful, something satisfying, something lasting and true. While she was drawing water from the well of Jacob and talking to Jesus, He said,
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14 NIV)
Her eyes were opened to the One who is the Living Water. She dropped her bucket and ran back to her town to tell everyone about the One who told her everything she had ever done.
I don’t know what it is that you have tried to quench the thirst of your soul, but I know this: we are all thirsty. I also know that we have tried everything under the sun; experiences, relationships, escapes, substances, and pseudo solutions to quench our thirst. They don’t work do they? Come to the Living Water and allow Him to fill you to overflowing. Not only will He quench your thirst for satisfaction and meaning, but He will cause streams of living water to flow from within you.
It’s interesting that Jesus used that phrase twice in John 4 and John 7. There’s been a lot of discussion about what the phrase means. I don’t think it is that difficult to understand if we will take another look at the woman at the well. Did you notice that once Jesus changed her life, once she drank of the Living Water, she went home to those in her town and she shared what Jesus had done in her life with others?
The Lord has no desire to draw you to Himself, save you, and fill you with His love, mercy, and grace just so you can benefit from His saving work in your life. We are blessed in order to be a blessing. He pours Himself into us so that His wonderous blessings will flow through us into the lives of others.
The “streams of living water” and “rivers of living water” are not just good things, acts of kindness that we do for others, but it is the Holy Spirit equipping us, directing us, and using us to impart God’s blessings to others. Right after Jesus said, “rivers of living waters will flow from within them.” He said,
39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:39 NIV)
Those who heard Jesus’ invitation and acknowledged their thirst would find salvation in Jesus, but it would not be until Pentecost that they would receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would not be given to Jesus’ followers until He was crucified, resurrected, and ascended to the right hand of the Father. You and I live in the greatest day. When we receive Jesus as Lord of our life, He gives us His Holy Spirit to convict us of sin, teach us, and guide us through this life. The Spirit of God at work in you will direct you to surrender your life in service to others so that the Lord might be glorified.
The Holy Spirit will guide and direct you and me in all matters of life if we will have ears to hear and a heart that is yielded to God’s will. When Paul wrote to the folks in Galatia he described the two ways that we can live our life: we can live by the flesh or by the Spirit. Listen to this.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16-25 NIV)
When we receive Jesus, He gives us His Holy Spirit to lead us, guide us, and produce in us that river of living water flowing from us into the lives of others. Isn’t God good!? Look what the Lord has done on our behalf.
You and I are like those who gathered at the temple on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. We are thirsty and longing for more. Just as Jesus lifted His voice in His day, He is speaking to you and me this very morning. “If you are thirsty come to me and drink.” Won’t you come?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
January 29, 2017