The great Feast of Tabernacles had begun in Jerusalem. Everyone wondering when Jesus was going to come. Rumors were swirling around that the Jewish leadership was planning to have Him killed. Yet many of the people who had travelled many miles to the Feast had also travelled miles to listen to Jesus preach. They saw His miracles and heard His Words of Truth that were unlike anything they’d heard before. The lines had been drawn in the sand: either the religious leaders were on the side of God, or Jesus was exposing them to be frauds.
When Jesus finally came to the Feast, He spoke to the crowds with boldness and clarity. Everyone in the nation had heard rumors about this Man from Nazareth who was travelling around the Sea of Galilee. Now they had a chance to hear Him for themselves. The tensions in the city over this radical young preacher were growing and growing.
The last day of the Feast arrived. It was the high point of the celebration.
One of the traditions of the Feast was for the people to pour out an offering of water. It was in memory of the time when God provided the nation of Israel with miraculous water as they journeyed through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. The Israelites had gone without water for days, and they cried out to Moses. The Lord made an abundant flow of water pour out of a great rock. It was a mighty miracle, enough to quench the thirst of over two million people and all their cattle and sheep and goats!
It is hard for us to imagine how deeply significant those memories were for the Jewish people. When they thought of their own worth or value, they did not think of themselves as individuals. They thought of themselves as a part of a family. Their first family was the one they were born into, and each person had an important role. But they were also a part of a greater family. They were Abraham’s children, the nation of Israel. They were a part of the people of God.
The Lord had brought salvation to their own ancestors by rescuing them from the cruel hands of Pharaoh. It was the Lord who gave them their high and sacred Laws at Mount Sinai, and that Law was part of their sacred contract with the Most High God. He was preparing them to be a holy nation. As they celebrated in Jerusalem, they were celebrating that God continued to take His people under His wing and watch over them. They were all a part of that magnificent blessing and calling together, standing apart from all the other nations of the world. Their hope for the Messiah was deeply tied into these Old Testament promises for the nation as a whole. Were they ready to listen when the Messiah stood in the Temple courts to reveal the next stage in God’s unfolding plan?
On the last day of the Feast, Jesus stood before the people and cried out to them, calling to the nation of God’s covenant people. “‘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.’”
The Feast had a tradition of pouring clear water as an offering, but the Lord Jesus was talking about the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. He is the true Living Water. The water that poured out of the rock for the Israelites was a beautiful image of what God was preparing to do, only this time the benefits would be far more powerful. Once Jesus died and rose again and ascended into Heaven, He was going to send His Spirit in power to fill up all those who put their faith in Him. Jesus still had to die and pay the price for our sins in order for the Spirit to come. But He offered this lavish promise to anyone in Israel who would listen with ears of faith.
As the people listened, some said, “‘He is the Christ.’” Others thought He must be a prophet. Still more said that He could not be the Messiah because there was no place in the Old Testament that said the Christ would come from Galilee. They knew that the Messiah was supposed to come from Bethlehem. They didn’t know the story of Jesus’ birth as well as they should have!
The crowds were divided about who they thought Jesus was. Some were furious that He would preach falsely and wanted to seize Him and silence Him once and for all. They’d had enough of the tensions and confusion. But it as not His time, so no one was able to touch Him.
Imagine the different faces in the crowd…some filled with wonder, some grateful for healing, others yearning for truth. Imagine the scowling faces of angry men wishing to shut Jesus down…the murmurs of the confused crowd whose religious leaders refused to point them to their Savior. Picture the religious leaders standing in watch, tense with fury that this heretic could come and preach in the courts of their Temple. It must have been maddening.
The Temple guards were finally sent to take Jesus, but they ended up going back to the Pharisees and the chief priests. When the religious leaders asked the guards why they didn’t bring the Lord in, they said, “‘No one ever spoke the way this man does.’”
“‘You mean He has deceived you also?’” the Pharisees shot back. Imagine their rage that they couldn’t even get their own guards to obey them against Jesus. That was the power and magnetism of His preaching! Then the Pharisees pointed out that none of the Jewish rulers or the Pharisees believed in Jesus. Only the ignorant mob was foolish enough to believe the words of this travelling preacher! They declared that the crowds were infected by a curse.
But Nicodemus was there among the Pharisees, and he had come to faith in Christ. He saw that the religious leadership was so enraged by Christ that they were willing to do whatever it took to silence Him. As they ranted and raved against Jesus, Nicodemus said, “‘Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing Him to find out what He is doing?’”
For you see, their plans to destroy Jesus violated the very Law they were so proud of. If these men were truly desiring the will of God, their hearts would have been struck by what Nicodemus said. They would have repented of their plans. Instead, they grew even more angry and they turned on him with ridicule. “‘Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.’” This was the argument they were using to prove that Jesus was false. You can see how they had spread this deception so that many in the crowds were saying it, too.
On the great Feast when the Messiah had come to preach in the courts of the Temple, the children of God were divided. The religious leaders that were meant to welcome the Christ were driving the people into silence. They had been given the greatest gift, and they were rejecting Him. The judgment of God was marching down upon them.