Monday, March 24, 2014

If anyone is thirsty, Part I

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. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”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.
On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”
Others said, “He is the Messiah.”
Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”
“No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.
“You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”
Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”
They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”  Then they all went home.  (John 7:37-53)

The seventh chapter of John's gospel, as we have seen, is an excellent example of the conflict that comes when people don't agree on Who Jesus is. There are verses that we are not going to focus on, that speak to the "is He real?" and "is He possessed?" questions that we have discussed before. We can see that while some believed on Him and He transformed their lives, others were not ready for that sweeping transformation. But we will see as we study that all of this did not change His mission, nor His invitation. 

Let's dig in!

The first phrase of this passage is really vital to understanding what Jesus is saying and offering. "On the last and greatest day of the festival" . . .
I know that we looked briefly at the festival before -- today let's look at the final day of the ceremonies.
The Feast of Tabernacles was a week-long festival which focused on the faithfulness of God in bringing the children of Israel out of bondage, and asked for His blessings, both of rain, and of bountiful harvests. There is an entire chapter in the Talmud (the assembled traditions of the Rabbis) that gives instructions for the festival, even going into the detail of dimensions for the booths that they were to erect and live in!

On this, the "greatest" day of the festival, the worshipers would be up at dawn to prepare. They would dress in their most festive attire (we'd say we wore our "Sunday-go-to-meetin' clothes!) and they would carry special worship items. In everyone's right hand you would see the "Lulabh" which is a palm branch. More accurately, the commentaries say it is a myrtle branch and a willow branch tied together, with the palm branch in between. If you look in their left hands, you will see a citrus fruit, called "ethrog" in the Jewish texts. They will have chosen a beautiful, unblemished fruit, yellow in color.

The worshipers will divide into three groups. One group will remain at the temple, and another will trek in procession, singing as they go, to Maza, to gather willow branches: the altar must be adorned with a leafy canopy.
The third group will also have music, and they will follow one of the priests in a procession from the temple to the valley, to the Pool of Siloam. The priest will fill a golden pitcher from the waters of the Pool. They they will go back to the Temple; they will try to time their arrival so that they reach the Temple just as the morning sacrifice is laid on the Brazen Altar. There will be a trumpet fanfare as the priest enters and ascends toward the altar. 
Are you picturing all of this? It is beautiful pageantry, and must have inspired the worshipers!
The priest bearing the pitcher of water is joined by another priest who is carrying the wine for the drink offering. They come to two silver funnels, leading down to the base of the altar. The two pour their pitchers simultaneously -- the wine into the eastern funnel, and the water into the western funnel. Remember that both wine and water represent the Holy Spirit in scriptures.
As the priests pour, the people are shouting, and then a Psalm is chanted, while musical instruments are played. (The commentaries that I read mentioned the Psalms 113 through 118; you might like to pause and read those, to truly see what the worshipers were experiencing.)
"O, give thanks unto the Lord!"
As they repeated those lines, they shake the branches in their hands toward the altar, as a praise for past blessings and also to remind God of His promises.

Then there is a silence.
It's the climax of the celebration.

And one voice rises in the crowd:
“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”
This ceremony is a celebration of God's goodness, and a prayer for His provision. And here is the ultimate cause for us to celebrate; here is the ultimate, be-all-end-all provision of God for all of us -- the Messiah is standing in their midst.

Let's ponder this and continue in our next study......



Belinda said...

Wow! Sounds like this celebration was very moving. And to think Christ the Lord was standing there as it happened...just wow!!

Catherine Shepherd said...

What strikes me about this is all those ceremonies, all those sacrifices, all leading towards the altar with the sacrifice, all pointing towards the Messiah standing in their midst, who would shortly make any more of those animal sacrifices unnecessary by giving Himself as the final sacrifice.And it seems as if most of the people, especially the Pharisees were so caught up in the doing, that they didn't see the why of what they were doing. And yet, how many times do I find myself "doing", without thinking too.