One of my favorite inspiring quotes comes from the movie, “The American President,” played by Michael Douglas as President Andrew Shepherd and Michael J. Fox as the Assistant to the President, Lewis Rothschild.
It was time to run for his second term, but President Shepherd was too busy to campaign. The polls showed the opposition candidate was gaining ground. Lewis was concerned and had an intense verbal dispute with the President, saying,
“People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it that they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.” (Movie: The American President).
This concern is universal, not just specific to the movie. When we look at the world today, we wonder if we are not in an epidemic of thirst—thirst for leadership, meaning, money, knowledge, purpose, possessions, prestige, power, and you name it.
According to Jesus, our real thirst is not for those things. If we search deep inside, our real thirst is for living water to quench our thirsty hearts. Once we drink it, we will never be thirsty again. In the movie, Lewis was talking about leadership, but I see it as a good metaphor for the living water.
This metaphor warns us that people would drink sand when they don’t have water. Based on this quote, we can ask a few questions: Am I thirsty? Have I found the water? Am I drinking sand because there’s no water? If I already have the living water, am I sharing it so that others don’t have to drink sand?
Those who have living water have the responsibility to distribute it. However, Presiden Shepherd’s reply triggers another layer of thought. He said,
“Lewis, we’ve had presidents who were beloved, who couldn’t find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty. They drink the sand because they don’t know the difference.” (Movie: The American President).
As we enter another cycle of presidential elections, this reply makes us question our ability to choose the right president. If a good candidate doesn’t know how to campaign effectively, people will choose a lesser candidate who is good at campaigning. However, our focus is not on the presidential election but on this human reality: people drink sand because they don’t know the difference between water and sand.
That’s a good metaphor for a profound spiritual reality. It illustrates John Calvin’s concept of “Total Depravity,” indicating we are too blinded by sin to differentiate the truth from the half-truth. It also explains why Jesus had compassion for us:
“When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36).
The good news is that Jesus came to provide the leadership we long for, like a good Shepherd, and quench our thirst with living water so we don’t end up drinking sand. What’s more impressive is that not only does he quench our thirst, but he also makes the living water flow like rivers in our hearts.
What does it mean? Let’s say living water represents the true happiness we seek. Instead of looking for happiness from the outside, it flows within our hearts. That is significant because it’s like, instead of looking for another president, partner, or people to quench our thirst, we can satisfy our own thirst if we have the living water Jesus provides.
Jesus made this happen on the Day of Pentecost 2000 years ago. As we celebrate Pentecost today, we will explore how Jesus quenches our thirst with living water and how he makes this living water flow inside our hearts based on what Jesus taught us in today’s scriptures lesson. So, let’s begin!
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you and you are satisfied in God.]
The Scripture lesson for today, the Day of Pentecost, is from the Gospel According to John 7:37-39. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ ” 39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37–39).
[Blessed are those who delight in God’s word. Thanks be to God!]
The context is that Jesus was at the festival of Tabernacles, one of the most important Jewish festivals every Jewish man must attend. It lasts for eight days and involves a daily water ceremony. It’s associated with the eschatological hope that God’s life-giving presence will flow like a river from the temple.
It’s a festival expressing the thirst for God’s presence, leadership, guidance, and blessings. It symbolizes the universal human desire for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. People migrate from one place to another, searching for it. As Americans, we hope our next president will satisfy our thirst. Some people pursue wealth, fame, and power to quench their thirst.
However, all these are like drinking sand. It will make you more thirsty. What do you thirst for today? The truth is, nothing can fulfill this thirst until we drink the living water. Jesus revealed that he is the life-giving water this festival prophesized.
“On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.” (John 7:37-38a).
Some people did believe and drink. Unfortunately, the majority, especially those who wield power, crucified him because they didn’t know the difference between living water and sand. When Jesus was on the cross, he asked God to forgive their ignorance.
They drank the sand and dumped the living water. But the good news is that living water becomes rivers inside our hearts because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesu said,
“As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ ” (John 7:38b).
That is the most significant gift of Jesus Christ. If you have living water flowing in your heart like rivers, you don’t need to quench your thirst anywhere else. That is the gift of the Pentecost. John explained that the living water is the Holy Spirit.
Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:39).
It might sound strange for John to mention that there was no Spirit. We know that the Holy Spirit has existed since the beginning. But John meant the unique indwelling of the Holy Spirit like never before, just like the way the Holy Spirit indwelled in Jesus.
To have the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we must be sinless because the Holy Spirit cannot dwell in unholy hearts. So we receive the Holy Spirit only after Jesus’ blood cleanses our sins. That is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. The Lord said through Prophet Ezekiel,
I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19–20).
God says He will give us one heart, the heart of unity and harmony, and a new spirit reborn of the Holy Spirit. God will remove the heart of stone and give us the heart of flesh. The purpose is that we will be able to obey God’s ordinances, most of them written in the Old Testament. The Lord also announced through Prophet Jeremiah,
“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33).
This verse doesn’t mention the Holy Spirit but means the same. God writes God’s law in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. The next verse is even more thought-provoking.
No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:34).
If you have the Holy Spirit within you, I no longer have my job! My greatest desire is that every one of you has the Holy Spirit so that we will all become ministers and serve the world together. When we all have living water inside our hearts, our primary job is distributing it to those who are still thirsty.
Jesus made a similar statement to the Samaritan Woman at the Well:
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:13–14).
I am sure you remember the story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well. When she asked Jesus to give her living water, Jesus asked her to bring her husband here, but she said she had no husband. In fact, Jesus knew she had five husbands, and the one she was living with was not her husband.
It means she was trying to quench her thirst by seeking the right man but was sick and tired of her repeated marital failures. Her life changed as soon as she recognized Jesus as the source of living water.
Pentecost is the most important day of the church year because that’s Jesus’ entire purpose of coming on earth. If we don’t receive the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ death and resurrection become in vain because Holy Spirit is the sign and seal of eternal life.
We celebrate Christmas joyously to welcome Jesus on earth. Then we celebrate Easter for Jesus’ victory over death and forgiveness of our sins. But if we hadn’t received the Holy Spirit, we would still be sinners because we would still be thirsty and needy. We would still be caterpillars instead of butterflies.
Easter is not the end of the story for now, but Pentecost is. We are living in the days of Pentecost between Easter and the Second Coming.
Now, the question is how do we receive the Holy Spirit. With every promise, there is a premise. What is the premise of the promise of the Holy Spirit? Jesus said,
‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ (John 7:38b).
The premise here is simple, “believe.” What does it mean to believe him? Jesus explains this extensively in the Gospel of John, chapters 14 to 17. Jesus is not expecting a casual belief but to love him deeply. He said,
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” (John 14:15–17).
If you love him, you will keep his commandments. What are his commandments? Some people dug into the entire teaching of Jesus to make a list of his commandments, but that’s unnecessary because Jesus has summarized it into one commandment. He said,
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn 15:12).
Jesus emphasized this in his teachings over and over again. It’s hypocritical to say, “I love God,” without loving fellow human beings. John explained this in his first letter,
Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. (1 John 4:20–21).
I know his premise is simple, but not easy because we live in a fallen world and have to deal with fallen people. How can we love fallen people? Jesus gave us the secret,
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn 15:12).
How has he loved us? He went to the cross for the love of us. He forgave us from the cross despite the excruciating pain and outrageous insult. I know I can’t do it to his extent, but I can always pray, “God help me.” I want to fulfill this premise to receive his promise of the Holy Spirit and never be thirsty again.
The Holy Spirit quenches our thirst and enables us to deliver living water to the thirsty world. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit in this context,
“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12).
Whenever Jesus begins his statement with “Very truly, I tell you,” he wants us to pay serious attention. He expects us to do greater works than he did, not by our ability but by the power of the Holy Spirit. As the Lord said through Prophet Zechariah:
“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6).
We have greatness thrust upon us, but God does not expect us to do it ourselves. He equipped us with the power of the Holy Spirit to make greatness happen.
As you see, the world is thirsty, and I hope you have compassion for them, seeing them drinking sand. I am sure you want to quench their thirst. Quench your own thirst first and let the living water flow like rivers in your heart. Then make your life meaningful by distributing living water to the thirsty world.
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound freedom, purpose, and happiness.