Opposition to Jesus is growing. Sending the temple guards to arrest him, the chief priests and the Pharisees combine in their determination to get rid of him. In contrast to their implacable hatred Nicodemus hesitatingly questions their failure to investigate what Jesus is saying and doing (7.50-52). As was true also of the crowds (7.41), they didn’t even know that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem in Judea, not in Galilee as they supposed. How very much to the point Nicodemus’ criticism was!
In John 3 Nicodemus had come to Jesus secretly at night with his questions. Now he is slightly more open about his interest in Jesus, but definite faith and commitment still eludes him. He is just beginning to stand out against the violent unbelief of his Pharisee peers. Later (John 19.39) he would openly declare his love for Jesus in sharing with Joseph of Arimathea in the burial of Jesus. Unlike Paul’s usual approach which, following his own conversion experience, stresses the critical event of our once-for-all redemption and justification, John emphasizes a more gradual process of movement towards faith in Jesus. So John’s description of Nicodemus’ coming into faith fits his overall teaching in his Gospel. In today’s world too most people come to faith gradually, one step at a time.
While the Jewish leaders joined together in fierce opposition to Jesus, the crowds were divided. Many believed in him (7.31), but others doubted with questions about whether he was indeed the long-expected Messiah. They failed to understand what he meant when he declared that he would return to the Father and they would not be able to come where he was going (7.33-36). In describing the crowds’ debates about Jesus John again uses the word ‘grumble/complain’ (6.41 and 43; 7.12) like Israel in the wilderness. Their debates were critical and unhappy!
In this passage John also refers to various other things which we have noted in previous blogs. Again we observe that Jesus comes with boldness (7.26) and through his Spirit we have life. True, truth and truly strike us again in our post-truth society, for in Jesus and the life of discipleship truth is foundational.
The Spirit (7.37-39)
As with his teaching in the temple (7.28), so also in his words about the Spirit Jesus “cried out” boldly (7.37), “If anyone is thirsty, let them come to (literally ‘towards’) me and drink”. Deep within us all lies the heart-felt cry that ‘there must be more to life than what we’ve got’. Desire for more negates any hope of absolute contentment. Non-Christians may long for a totally new form of life, while Christians may feel their need to know Jesus better and thus have a deeper relationship with the Father. As Christians we become aware of our sin, our failure to live out the love and holiness of the Lord. In our thirst for the fullness of life Jesus exhorts us to come to him. In Jesus we can find perfect life. As we come to him and drink in the glory of his grace, we can know the beauty of his Spirit coming into us and filling us. “Rivers of living water” – not just ‘streams’! What an amazing description of the reality of the Spirit in us! In John 10 Jesus will promise us life abundant; it comes to us by the Spirit within us. In verse 38 the Greek original underlines “rivers” and so gives us the feeling of limitless abundance. The Spirit does not come into us in moderation, but in mighty rivers. Likewise the Greek stresses the “living water”. The Spirit satisfies our longing for ‘more to life’ with his gracious gift of super-abundant life, filling all the emptiness and inadequacies which have dogged us. Hallelujah! Let us rejoice!
John notes two conditions for the coming of the Spirit to fill us and flow out of us in service to the world. Firstly, the Spirit can only come to us when Jesus has been glorified. Of course, John is thinking specifically of Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. But surely this remains true also for us. It is only when we have come to accept for ourselves Jesus’ sacrificial death for us, his resurrection unto new life and his ascension to glory with the Father that we can experience his Spirit within us. We are called to exalt Jesus and glorify him in our lives. Then we can know the rivers of living water flowing from us.
We may link this with the second condition. Receiving the Spirit comes to those who have believed in Jesus (7.39). Entrusting our lives to Jesus is inseparably linked to the wonder of us receiving Jesus’ gift of his Spirit.
We should note carefully that we do not receive the Spirit just for our own benefit and satisfaction. Of course he will work in us to give us the fullness of life, love, grace, holiness and power for which we thirst, but his aim is always that the life of the Spirit should flow out of us and bring true life to others.