************ Sermon on Leviticus 23:33-43 & John 7:37-38 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 31, 2002
"The Feast of Tabernacles: The Ceremony of Water"
The last time I looked at the Feast of Tabernacles I mentioned that it involved two ceremonies: the Ceremony of Lights that we looked at for the candle light service; and, the Ceremony of Water that we are looking at this time.
I In the Old Testament
First of all, a quick review of what the Old Testament tells us about the Feast of Tabernacles. [For a fuller description look at: http://www.trinityurcvisalia.com/sermons/jn08v12b.html.] The Feast of Tabernacles is known by at least two names. The Hebrew word is "Sukkot" meaning "Tabernacles." But it is also known as the Feast of Booths or Huts. It acquired this name from the requirement for all Israelites to dwell in booths or temporary shelters during the 7 days of this autumn holiday – booths made of branches. It was to be an annual reminder of how they lived in booths while traveling through the wilderness from Egypt to the Promised Land. It was also to be annual reminder of how God provided for their needs on this journey by giving them water from the rock, manna from the heavens, and quail from the seas. It was further to be an annual reminder of how God was with them in a pillar of fire at night and a pillar of cloud by day.
The feast was celebrated with great joy. The people rejoiced in God, His presence, His provision, and His protecting care. On this last night of the year, we too rejoice in God, His presence, His provision, and His protecting care.
The Feast of Tabernacles was one of the three pilgrim feasts. It was known as a pilgrim feast because of the required pilgrimage to Jerusalem in order to celebrate it in the Temple.
Every morning during the Feast of Tabernacles the people would hear the blast of the ram's horn from the Temple. It summoned the people of God to worship. And they did this for 7 days. They would take additional branches that they had gathered on their way to Jerusalem. And they would go to the Temple and would wave their branches – and they waved them until the leaves fell off the branches. They did this because were celebrating and rejoicing in the Lord, His presence, and His care.
Our Scripture reading also tells us they had to go to the Lord with an offering made by fire. So, in the course of one week they sacrificed 70 bulls, 14 rams, 98 lambs, and 336 tenths of an ephah of fine flour. What happened to all these offerings? Only some of them were burned. A lot of them were eaten. They were distributed among the people and the people feasted and had a party for an entire week. They celebrated the goodness and the richness of life with God. That was the Feast of Tabernacles in the Old Testament. We, too, have reason on this last night of the year to celebrate the goodness and richness of life with God.
II At the Time of Jesus
A By the time of Jesus the Feast of Tabernacles still included the huts or booths but it also had evolved a couple of different ceremonies. One of these was the Ceremony of Water.
Early each morning of the Feast of Tabernacles the high priest took a special gold pitcher capable of holding a little more than a quart of water. He left the Temple area and he led a joyful procession of music and worshipers down to the Pool of Siloam. He would dip the pitcher into the pool and bring it back to the Temple Mount.
At the same time, another procession went down to a nearby location south of Jerusalem where willows grew in great abundance. There they gathered the long, thin willows and brought them back to the Temple. At the Temple, the willows were placed on the sides of the altar so that their tops formed a canopy or booth of drooping branches over the altar.
Meanwhile, the high priest with the pitcher of water from the Pool of Siloam reached the southern gate of the Temple; it was known as the Water Gate because of this ceremony. As he entered, three blasts of the silver trumpets sounded from the Temple, and the priests with one voice repeated the words of Isaiah, "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation" (Is 12:3).
The high priest would proceed slowly to the great stone altar in the Inner Court of the Temple. At the peak of the altar were two silver basins or funnels which drained to the base of the altar. One was reserved for drink offerings like wine and the other was used for water offerings.
As the high priest raised the golden pitcher to pour out the water offering, the people shouted, "Raise your hand!" In response the high priest lifted his hand higher and poured, allowing all the people to see and verify that the water was actually being poured into the altar.
As the high priest poured out the water before the Lord, a drink offering of wine was simultaneously poured into the other basin. Three blasts of the silver trumpets immediately followed the pouring and signaled the start of the Temple music. The people listened as a choir of Levites sang the praise psalms (Psalms 113 -118).
At the proper time, the congregation waved their branches toward the altar and joined in singing. At the same time the priests, with branches in hand, marched once around the altar.
B Why this water ceremony? Water, of course, is a symbol of life. Whoever has water has life and crops and abundance. Living in the San Joaquin Valley, we all know how important water is. Without water, all that we would have here in the middle of California is wilderness or desert.
The ultimate purpose of the water ceremony was to remind Israel that it is God Who gives life to His people, that it is God Who gives showers of blessings to His people, that it is God Who refreshes His people – just like He did when He led Israel through the desert from Egypt to the Promised Land and gave them water from the rock. Here is a reminder to us that life – during the past year and in the coming year – is in God's hands and requires His presence and blessing.
C I think we all realize that the world is full of thirsty people. They thirst for many things. People thirst to love and be loved. They thirst for direction and meaning in their life. They thirst for fulfilment. They thirst for fellowship and friendship.
To satisfy their thirst, some go to bars. You can always find a drinking companion and a listening ear in the bar; everyone is accepted and no one is rejected. To satisfy their thirst, some turn to drugs. They get a chemically-induced high and start feeling good about themselves and their place in the world. To satisfy their thirst, some turn to sports or to recreation. The camaraderie they get on the golf course or on the fishing boat fills a void in their life. To satisfy their thirst, some turn to work. They lose themselves in their work and become workaholics. To satisfy their thirst, some turn to money and things and possessions and wealth. To satisfy their thirst, some turn to false gods and false religions.
All of these people are thirsty. And, whether they realize it or not, they are all searching for the God of Israel – the God Who led Israel through the wilderness and gave them water from the rock. They are all thirsting for God, His presence, and His blessing.
The Ceremony of Water is a reminder that it is God Who quenches our thirst and gives us life and blessing. You are thirsty? You are looking for love, direction, meaning, fulfilment, fellowship, friendship? Then come to God. It is He Who satisfies your thirst! It is He Who provides even as He provided water from a rock during the wilderness journey.
III Fulfilment in Christ
A Do you know something? The water ceremony points to Christ.
In this light consider what John writes in chapter 7 of his Gospel. The context makes clear to us that John is talking about the Feast of Tabernacles. He starts off this section with, "On the last and greatest day of the Feast" (Jn 7:37). You know what day this is. That is the day when the ram's horn blows and the high priest takes the golden pitcher and leads a procession to the Pool of Siloam and fills the pitcher and leads the procession back to the Temple and pours the water into the altar as a drink offering to the Lord.
But this was the last day of the Feast. On the other six days of the Feast the silver trumpets gave three blasts. On the last day, the trumpets gave three sets of seven blasts. On the other six days of the feast, the priests made one circuit around the altar. On this day, the priests made seven circuits. As they marched around the altar, they sang the Hosannas and the people waved their branches.
B Let's go back to what John says about the last and greatest day of the feast. As the people intently watched the priests conduct the service, a loud voice rang out from the crowd. The priests glared in consternation, and the people whipped around in great surprise to see who dared interrupt the service. It was Jesus. His voice boomed,
(Jn 7:37-38) "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. (38) Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him."Do you understand what Jesus is saying here? He is saying, "I am the one this water-pouring ceremony has been pointing to all these years. If you want life, you get it from me. If you want to live, you need to come to me. I am the one Who gives you the bubbling streams of life. I am the one who satisfies your thirst." On the last and greatest day of the feast Jesus stood up and said, "Are you thirsty? Then come to me."
C The religious leaders of Israel were furious. Who did Jesus think He was to interrupt the Temple service? How dare He claim to be the Messiah without their sanction?! They viewed Jesus' words as a serious challenge to their religious authority. John says, "Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him" (Jn 7:44).
A great debate broke out among the people. Some thought He was claiming to be "the Prophet" (Jn 7:40) that Moses had predicted would appear in Israel. Some believed He was claiming to be the Messiah (Jn 7:41). Others, however, denied He was claiming to be the Christ because everyone knows Jesus comes from Galilee whereas the Christ comes from David's family and from Bethlehem (Jn 7:42). So John recorded, "Thus the people were divided because of Jesus" (Jn 7:43).
In the wake of these disturbing events, the religious leadership called an emergency meeting of the Sanhedrin. At this meeting were the chief priests, those 24 priests who were head over the 24 divisions of the priesthood (1 Chron 24:1-19); these were the men who controlled Temple worship. Also present were the Pharisees, the ones who perpetuated the oral, extrabiblical traditions within Israel; these were the men who controlled the synagogue worship. These two groups, usually at great odds over theology and practice, usually fighting for control, were united in their hatred for Jesus.
They summoned the officers to explain why they had not arrested Jesus. The officers were Levites who patrolled the Temple compound and enforced Temple law. They were the security force, the Temple guard, whose responsibility it was to arrest Jesus for interrupting the service. A few days earlier, these officers had been commanded to arrest Jesus (Jn 7:25-31) but now they had missed the perfect time and place to do so. The officers explained that had been stunned by Jesus words. "No one ever spoke the way this man does," they said (Jn 7:46).
D Did you catch what Jesus said at the Feast of Tabernacles? Jesus promised "living water" to those who believe in Him.
(Jn 7:37-38) "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. (38) Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him."What is this living water?
You need to understand there are three types of water sources in the land of Israel. First, huge, rock-hewn collection tanks, known as cisterns, are used to collect rainwater during the rainy months. Massive cisterns, capable of holding millions of gallons of water, still exist today at the Masada stronghold. However, cisterns are the least desirable and least valuable water source in Israel – they can easily become contaminated or stagnant and the water cannot be replenished until the next rainy season.
Second, wells are a more valuable water source. They provide fresh, replenished water, but wells can dry up during a drought.
Third, the most valued water source in Israel are brooks and streams which are fed by springs. These were known in the Bible as "living waters" because they were waters with movement.
Jesus says that those who believe in Him will have streams of living water flowing from within. This was the purest water, the most valued water, water that would never dry up. Jesus was talking, of course, about the Holy Spirit and its work in the lives of those who believe. Those who come to Jesus drink living water and have life and joy and blessing that never dries up. As for those who don't come to the Lord, they will be forever thirsty.
E In the Old Testament, of course, the Feast of Tabernacles was looking forward to Jesus. Today, we can say that the Feast of Tabernacles continues to look forward to Jesus. Not only does Jesus satisfy our thirst now but He will also satisfy our thirst in the future. I just love John's picture of this at the end of his Revelation. Let me read it:
(Rev 22:1-5) Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb (2) down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (3) No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.Now, don't forget, John is being given a vision of the future Jerusalem – a Jerusalem that is in the middle of the desert at the time he wrote this. This Jerusalem is going to have a river. And life along the river is going to be so rich and so magnificent that the trees growing along it will bear fruit every month. When that river flows, never again will anyone be thirsty!
Did you notice the source of the river? It flows "from the throne of God and of the Lamb." It is living water. That's why the river fully satisfies, that's why the river never dries out, that's why life along the river is so rich and magnificent.
That's what the Feast of Tabernacles looks forward to. It tells us about life with God and in Christ. It looks forward to a time when Christ fully satisfies the thirst of God's people.
We all should know that the Lord Jesus invites us to come to Him. He wants us to come to Him and to drink deeply from the well of living water. He says,
(Rev 21:6) It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.
(Rev 22:17) The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.
And those who do come to the Lord, they never have to thirst again. For the Lord satisfies them and fills them to the brim. I again think of how John describes this in his Revelation:
(Rev 7:16-17) Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. (17) For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
Now, I need to ask you: during the past year did you find life in Christ; and in the coming year, will you find life in Christ? When you thirst, do you go to Christ or do you satisfy your longings from some other source? Do you drink deeply from the spring of living water, or do you drink from the stagnant cistern offered by the world or from the dried up streams of other faiths and religions? Have you heard and answered Jesus' call to drink? Do you drink from the water of life?
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