May 31, 2020
(preached only for Christ for us)
“Streams of Living Water”
"On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, '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.' By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
These is a well-known prayer of St. Augustine. He had sought peace in the depths of pleasure and in the heights of philosophy. He did not find what he was looking for. Not for a long time, anyway. But our gracious God heard the fervent prayers of his mother, Monica, who prayed for him for seventeen years. Augustine found his rest in Christ. He thirsted. He drank. He received the Holy Spirit and new eternal life.
St. Augustine is one of the most prominent religious searchers who, by God's grace alone, finally came to Jesus, drank that living water, and found eternal peace. The streams of living water that Jesus promised have always flowed from within the church, which is Christ's body.
Twelve hundred years after Augustine, another famous searcher after God, who had tried to justify himself and had failed miserably, found that living water and was born again. His name was Martin Luther. God raised him up to bring the church back to the pure fountain from which she was born.
Three hundred years after Luther, an earnest young man who had looked within himself for assurance of a good relationship with God and found only self-doubt bordering on despair, was led to drink of the living water. After immigrating to America, he became the greatest American Lutheran theologian of the 19th century and the father of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. The man's name was Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther.
"If anyone is thirsty, let me come to me and drink!" These weren't secret words shared only with a select group of his most trusted disciples. Jesus stood up and preached this openly, to a large crowd, inviting anyone and everyone who needed his spiritual thirst quenched. He promised the gift of Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of new and everlasting life that the Lord and Giver of life freely gives to those who cannot pay.
Living water is flowing water. It is pure, clean, refreshing water. It isn't stagnant, polluted, brackish, or salty. It is fresh, clean, and pure. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth. He provides pure water, water that brings life.
The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son from eternity to eternity. At a specific point in time, the Son, who had come from the Father and returned to the Father, sent the Holy Spirit. He promised he would do so. He told his apostles to wait for the appearance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit came upon them on the Old Testament festival day of Pentecost. All of the Old Testament festivals were abolished when Christ died and rose from the dead, but we Christians still celebrate Pentecost because this is the day when the church was born.
The church has been in this world from the beginning of time. Adam and Eve were Christians as were Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and all the prophets. They believed in Christ the Savior many years before he was born of the Virgin Mary. The Holy Spirit has always accompanied the preaching of the gospel. It was the Holy Spirit who called the Old Testament Christians to faith.
For the birth of the New Testament Church we look to Pentecost. The fullness of the Holy Spirit’s gifts was showered upon God’s people. As St. John writes in our text:
It was only after Jesus had accomplished our salvation that he sent the Holy Spirit. He sent the Holy Spirit to satisfy the spiritual thirst of sinners seeking God.
Ah, but that’s the problem. Sinners don’t seek God. They seek substitutes for God. They say they are spiritual. They speak of their spirituality but it’s a sham. They don’t have the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. He is the Spirit of truth who led the apostles into all truth. They wrote down this truth in the Bible. The Bible testifies to Christ. The Bible is the Holy Spirit’s voice. The message of the Bible is the message of Jesus, the Savior of sinners.
Those who claim spirituality apart from the illumination of the Holy Spirit don’t have what they claim to have. Their hearts have not found rest in Christ. In our day, the widespread abandonment of God’s moral law is obvious. America has fallen into a cesspool of vice. Christians are lured into exchanging the water of life for what provides only temporary pleasure. As they see this threat against all that is good and decent they may be tempted to place moral decency as a greater good than genuine spiritual life.
America’s cultural and moral decline provides fertile soil for the religion of works. This religion exists under many different names and forms. It is opposed to our holy Christian faith. The religion of works teaches sinners to find peace with God, forgiveness of sins, and eternal life by what they do.
We are distracted by the disgusting filth that the cultural elites defend and promote. Any voice of decency and morality is welcome, don’t you think? Whether we like it or not, there is a culture war going on in America today. On the one side are those who believe that the state should protect the lives of the unborn, that marriage is the lifelong union of one man with one woman, that the traditional family is the bedrock of society, and that the Ten Commandments are good for us. On the other side are those who would replace God with the state, who are hostile to traditional morality, who promote every king of sexual perversion as positive goods, and who make every effort to diminish the influence of the Christian church on our nation. Our allies in this culture war are not our allies in the faith. Spirituality and morality are not the same. Opposing abortion, fornication, homosexuality, transgenderism, or whatever the perversion of the day happens to be does not make you a Christian. The living water that flows through the Christian is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s power comes from Christ’s crucifixion.
God’s law is not the living water. It does not quench true spiritual thirst. God’s law must be taught. It serves as a curb against crime in this world. It serves as a mirror to show us our sins. It serves as a guide for us Christians who need to know which works are pleasing to God. But the law of God cannot quench the thirst of sinners. It provides moral certainty. It brings stability to a life that has been tossed this way and that by reckless and irresponsible actions. But we need more than moral certainty. We need more than stability. God’s law is not the living water.
God’s gospel is the living water. What the sinner needs most is what most religious conservatives despise. The sinner needs salvation by grace alone without any contribution of his own. He needs the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit’s power. He needs to turn away from trust in his moral commitment, his willing submission, or his so called faith decision, as the basis of his religious certainty.
The sinner needs the forgiveness of sins. He needs the washing of holy baptism that renders him holy before the just and holy God, that sanctifies him and makes him a saint. The sinner needs to eat and to drink the body and the blood of the God-man for the forgiveness of his sins and assurance of eternal life. The sinner will not find true rest and peace unless the deepest and most pressing human need is met. Everyone needs the forgiveness of sins. Everyone needs Jesus. Everyone needs the righteousness of Christ that he gained for us by his obedience and suffering. Everyone needs the Spirit of truth who faithfully gives us this Christ in the words of the gospel.
We thirst to be good and we are not. We thirst for Jesus for he is good and his goodness is given to us. This is not a onetime thing. Jesus said, “Streams of living water will flow from within him.” This is lifelong. We thirst to be good. We come to Jesus. He gives us his Spirit. His Spirit gives us Christ’s forgiveness and dwells in us and directs us in the paths of holy living. We follow. Then we fall. We fail. We shut out the Spirit’s voice, ignore his prompting, and by our sin deny what he has called us to be.
He calls us back to the waters. We come back again and again. We return every day. We come for the forgiveness of sins that only the Holy Spirit can give us, in the gospel, in our baptism, in the Supper. We come as we are: parched and dry and so very thirsty. We come to drink. We find that the pure doctrine, the pure and wholesome gospel is not irrelevant theological hairsplitting. It is pure, soothing water for our parched souls. It is healing. It is joy. It is the life of faith – not some generic faith in an abstract deity – but the life of faith in the forgiveness of sins that comes from the shedding of Christ’s blood. This is the source of all lasting pleasure. The abundant life is the life lived under grace. It is a life of living water flowing through us. This is the life that the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, gives to us.
That fount of life is the full gospel truth that our gracious God has entrusted to us. Is this what we still want? Is this that for which our souls thirst? Pray God that he keep giving us the desire for the one thing needful. Pray God that his living water will continue to flow among us, in us, and through us. Pray God that he save us from pride, from folly, and from the siren song of religious respectability, for Jesus sake,
Rolf D. Preus