John 7:37-39 (ESV)
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
The Feast of Tabernacles lasted eight days. All through the first seven days water from the Pool of Siloam was carried in a golden pitcher and poured out at the altar to remind everyone of the water God miraculously provided for a thirsty Israel in the wilderness. It seems that on the eighth day there was no pouring of water – only prayers for water – to remind them that they came into the Promised Land. It was a solemn occasion, not only because it marked the end of that particular feast, but of all the Jewish feasts in the year.
The altar was located just outside the actual temple and held tremendous importance for religious Jews. It was a place pregnant with meaning and Jesus’ decision to speak up loudly at that place and on that day was not lost on the crowd. In the American context, it would be like standing on the back steps of Congress or perhaps on the front lawn of the White House with a loudspeaker on the 4th of July with the nation’s leaders present. As soon as He cried out, it would have garnered the attention of everyone in attendance.
The invitation Jesus gave that first century crowd is the same one he offers all humanity today. It was no mere invitation to come and have a drink of water…but the Great Invitation to come to him in order to have the Spirit dwell within you and your name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. “The invitation was broad because it said, if anyone. Intelligence, race, class, nationality, or political party don’t limit it. The invitation was narrow because it said, if anyone thirsts. One must see their need. Thirst is not anything in itself; it is a lack of something. It is an emptiness, a crying need” (Enduring Word commentary).
Jesus gave the invitation to everyone because everyone was in need. One of the main problems for unbelievers is that they have yet to realize their deep need for reconciliation to God. They don’t want to acknowledge their “thirst” because it serves to acknowledge their problem—they are condemned by their sin in the presence of a holy God. That is a challenge we can’t overcome as Jesus’ followers, but one that we must pray for, wait for, and trust God with. Like Jesus, we must be bold to “cry out” with the truth of the Gospel. Like Jesus, we must love people enough to offer them the Great Invitation.