Post Title: Beware of a Container Mentality
In our study of John 7, Yeshua makes a startling statement at a pivotal moment during the Feast of Tabernacles in the Jerusalem Temple. 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."
Living water in Hebrew is mayim hayim, a phrase familiar to his Jewish audience. Yet here, Jesus fills it with profound messianic meaning. It was a term used in the context of ritual immersion, what we call baptism. The waters used for ritual baptism had various grades of sanctity or purity. The highest and most desirable grade of water to be immersed in was living water, mayim hayim.
Living water was flowing water, water in a stream or in a river, as opposed to the lower-grade stagnant waters in a pool or cistern. Jesus immersed himself, with John as his witness, in the living waters of the Jordan River.
Even a ritual immersion pool of the time (mikveh) was too important to be filled with hand-carried water. For instance, there was a complex of ritual immersion pools (mikva'ot) at the southern end of the Temple, large enough to baptize 3000 people on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2: 41). An enormous conduit system ran from Solomon's pools up near Bethlehem all the way down to the Temple Mount, where they would naturally run into these baptismal pools carrying a vestige of living waters.
John makes it very clear that when Yeshua speaks of mayim hayim, he is speaking of the Holy Spirit.
There is a correlation to this temple ceremony in Jewish tradition (Jerusalem Talmud, Succa 5:1). Why, the sages asked, is the name of the ceremony called the drawing out of water? Because the LORD God is a spring of living waters (Jer 2:13), and with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation (Is 12:3).
When Jesus stands and speaks during the water drawing ceremony, he makes connections known to the Jewish ear. Namely, the water outpouring by the priest upon the altar was symbolic of the Spirit outpouring prophesied by Joel; I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh (2:28). What Jesus is saying to the Samaritan woman and again at the temple is that when you come into a relationship with him, he will give you the Holy Spirit.
Here is an important point. These living waters are more than just something for you to contain. They are something residing in and flowing out of you.
The church needs to hear this teaching because too many of us have developed a container mentality. Have you ever heard this old Pentecostal adage? You come to church on Sunday, get filled with the Holy Spirit, and then leak all week. You have to come back on Wednesday night and be refilled, then come back on Sunday morning and get filled once again.
"That is not the way it works," says Jesus. "To receive what I am going to give by virtue of what I am going to do is for the Spirit to well up within you." Well up is how the NIV renders it, but the translation is not strong enough. The same word is used when Peter and John are on their way to the temple and encounter a lame man by the gate called Beautiful. He asks for alms. Peter answers,
I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk! And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God (Acts 3:6-8).
Leaped is the same Greek word as welling up in John 4:14. The gift of God's Spirit is like a spring in you that cannot be capped, it leaps up!
You need to stop thinking of coming to church to be filled. You need to start thinking of yourself as a vessel in which the flow of the Spirit rises up through you into the lives of others. Where the Spirit of the living God is, there is life. Life begets life. Jesus says the Spirit is something that is poured out upon you and springs up within you—literally from your belly or your innermost being.
The critical moment in my relationship with God came when I had to move beyond my intellect, beyond my doubts, and even beyond my desires for particular kinds of experiences. I went to the altar and prayed, and people prayed for me to be baptized in the Holy Spirit just like one would be immersed in water. But instead of getting wet, I got dryer and dryer. I wanted to put qualifications on what God had for me. I wanted him to do it my way, to meet my needs.
The breaking point came when in utter desperation and yet so thirsty for God, I submitted to water baptism. It was something I was reluctant to do. But I needed to be obedient to Jesus' instruction. I went into the waters, baptized into Christ under his authority and in relationship with his Father, who then poured his Spirit into me.
The experience was literally like a rocket had launched. I came shooting up out of the waters. I lept up because the Spirit was leaping up within me like a stream of living water. I stood in that baptistery, looking up at the vaults of the church's ceiling. For a moment, I felt I was going to fly out of the water because there was such an expansion going on inside me.
Something had been poured out, and something was welling up. I could not contain it any longer, so I started to shout. And when I shouted, it came out in what we call unknown tongues. They were simply words of praise and adoration. A stream began to flow. The very well of mayim hayim that Jesus talks about flowed and flowed. Praise his name!
My dear friends. I am not exalting my experience. I am humbly bearing witness to the Scriptures for your encouragement.
This is what the Feast of Tabernacles is all about. 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 (John 7:39).
Want to go deeper? Click here to explore audio seminars by Dwight A. Pryor.
Interested in taking one of our dynamic online courses? Click here.
This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.