Sermon: When You Thirst – Drink!
Scripture: John 19: 28-30
As I talked about when I began this series, there is something very compelling about people’s final words. Max Lucado writes this about the death of his father of Lou Gehrig’s disease.
There was nothing impressive at all about the stationary. Just a sheet of legal pad torn hastily off the tablet. You wouldn’t be impressed with the handwriting. But it was the best my father could do. It was the final letter he ever wrote. If you could imagine holding a pen with all of your fingers wrapped around it, trying to write, you would begin to understand the battle that he had trying to write with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
My wife and I had been called up from Brazil because the winter had taken a toll on him and we didn’t think he was going to survive. So we spent a month at the hospital. It turned out that he did rebound and lived for several months after that. And this was the letter that was awaiting us when we returned to Brazil.
Dear Max and Denalyn,
We were glad that you all made it home okay. Now settle down and go to work. We enjoyed your trip to no end, even your spending nights with me (in the hospital.) Always stick together whatever happens. Well, there is no need of me scribbling. I think you know how much I love you both. You all just live good Christian lives. Fear God. I hope to see you again, If not, I will in heaven. Lots of love, Dad.
Dated January 19th, 1984.
I have tried to envision my father writing those words, propped up in a hospital bed, pad on lap, pen in hand. Thinking this would be his final message, do you think he was careful in selecting those words. I do. Do you think I’ll ever forget these words. I don’t think so.
Sometimes our final words live long beyond our earthly lifespan, and so if we have the chance we will choose them carefully, deliberately, lovingly. The Bible is full of such words. Moses farewell speech. Stephen’s confession. Paul’s beautiful letters to his young friend Timothy. Words carefully and beautifully chosen. Sometimes so eloquent in their simplicity. So lasting.
And Jesus’s words on the cross were those kinds of words. They were words that will last an eternity. The savior, the Messiah, God made flesh, dying on the cross. In a sense His whole life lived for this moment. His words were not just random thoughts. They were carefully chosen. Eloquent in their simplicity. Profound in their brevity. But words for the ages. Words we must never forget. Carefully selected. .. for us.
Read John 19:28-30
John sets the scene for us. These were the final moments. There would be no miraculous rescue. No angel army coming to save the Son of God. “Knowing that all things were now accomplished,” Jesus said, “I thirst.” It is so simple. If we are not careful we will miss the profound message found there. But with those words and using a sponge, a jar of sour wine, and the branch of the hyssop tree, Jesus offers a message for those who gathered at the foot of the cross, as well as a message for you and I. “I thirst.”
So what is the message that these words offer to us, all these years later, especially as we prepare to receive this Sacrament. Well I think it is first a message for those who struggle with life and with faith. Think back on the last time that Jesus had been able to quench His thirst. It was hours before in the Upper Room, gathered there with the disciples. He offered them the wine of His new covenant. They drank together and then Jesus had said something most peculiar. “I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until God’s Kingdom comes.”“I thirst.” The God who had exercised control over water, parting the sea, making it flow from a rock in the middle of the desert, turning it to wine, calming the storm, walking on its surface, could now find not even a drop to place on his parched lips. Through trial and humiliation. Through beating and bearing the cross, nothing had touched his lips except his own blood and sweat and tears. On the way to Calvary He was offered wine that was laced with Myrrh which was an anesthetic, meant to deaden the pain. Remember one of the gifts of the Wise Men at the manger was the gift of Myrrh. Mary must have thought then what an odd gift that it is to offer for a baby, but now on the way to the Cross it began to make sense. Jesus was offered the gift of Myrrh. It’s probably too great a stretch to think that Mary had kept that Myrrh all of those years for just such an occasion. But even though his lips were parched and bleeding, Jesus did not drink. Why did Jesus thirst? There are other “whys” that are rooted in the humanity of Jesus, aren’t there? Why did Jesus tire and need to rest? Why did his anger explode in the Temple? Why did He get hungry in the wilderness? Why did he grieve over Lazarus? Why did He feel pain? Why did He thirst on the cross? Because He wanted to feel the full force of our pain and suffering, to fully understand our struggles. He wanted to know how illness felt and so he surrounded himself with the sick and the lame. He wanted to know how it felt to have a friend die. To be hungry in body and spirit. To be thirsty. Why? Because He knew there would be times when we would be sick in body and soul, when we would grieve, when we would hunger, when we would thirst. He suffered because He knew we would suffer. He knows how you feel. And as that sponge was plunged into the wine, all our suffering, our pain, our struggles, were soaked up, and they were offered to Jesus. His thirst was for a relationship with you and me, so that when we thirst, He can give to us living water. The river of life that will wash over us when we struggle. Remember the woman who came to the well seeking water. Jesus said to her that if you drink from my water, you will never thirst again. Some of us came this morning thirsty. We carry burdens that we were never intended to carry. Worries that were never meant to be ours. We are thirsty for new life, a new attitude, a new heart. Jesus thirsted for all of that, and with His last words from the Cross, He was thinking of you and of me because, in his thirst, He knew there would be times when all of us would struggle. Come to me. Bring your thirsty souls to me. I thirst.
But I think there’s more to it than that. When Jesus looked down from the cross, who did He see. Not disciples primarily. Most of them had fled in fear. A few Romans. Representatives of the Sanhedrin, there to make sure the sentence was carried out. But they were just a small part of the crowd. Most of the faces that he saw as he looked down were the faces of the Jewish people. Many of them had lined the road into Jerusalem and laid palms and cloaks in front of Him as he approached Jerusalem just a few days before. Such hope then. Such hopelessness now. Some were no doubt disillusioned. Some were in shock. Some were ashamed that they had been caught up in the crowd, maybe had even shouted for His crucifixion. All of them were confused. How could their Messiah who had rode into Jerusalem triumphantly now be placed on the Cross? They didn’t understand all of the political maneuverings. They just knew that this man healed the sick and made the blind to see and the lame to walk and brought Lazarus back from the dead. And now they had Him on the Cross. Confusion and it’s close cousin doubt etched on their faces. “I thirst.” he said to their doubt. But not just their doubt, but ours, too. I confess that I am a doubter. Sometimes I long to be one who can just accept things with my heart. But most of the time my heart must follow my mind. I have to be convinced before I can believe. And to doubters like me, Jesus said, “I thirst.” How are those words addressed to our doubts? Look what John tells us before Jesus speaks. He writes: that the scripture might be fulfilled. Jesus spoke these words as the prophets had said the Messiah would centuries before. In fact, the entire passion of Jesus unfolds as the fulfillment of the scripture. Elsewhere John tells us that the betrayal of Judas, the gambling for His clothing at the foot of the cross, the fact that His legs were not broken on the cross which was a common practice to hasten death, the piercing of his side by the Roman spear, the empty tomb, the resurrection, all foretold in the scriptures. Why? Because He knew that standing at the foot of the cross, and coming 2000 years later were people like me. Doubters. Prove it. Show me the evidence before I will believe. Max Lucado writes: He did not want the logic of our head, to keep His love from our heart. And so He offers proof for His claims with His dying words. “I thirst.” According to scholars there are 332 prophecies in the Old Testament that were fulfilled by Jesus. Many of them centuries old. A mathematician figured out the odds of one man fulfilling all of those prophecies and discovered it to be I in I (followed by 97 zeros.) I don’t even know what that number is, but even a doubter and a skeptic like me is impressed with that kind of evidence. And from the cross, this loving God, this Savior, says to even me, here is the proof of who I am, “I thirst.” Just like the prophets said I would.
To those struggling with life, He says, “I know how you feel. Bring your thirsty soul to me.
And to the doubter, He says. I understand your doubts, but there is proof. Bring your thirsty mind to me.
“I thirst.” But there’s even more. His words are also a message for the sinner. Those of us who bow in shame at the sight of the cross. I am not worthy. My spirit thirsts for righteousness, for forgiveness. Look what the scripture tells us. When Jesus said “I thirst” some unidentified “they” took a sponge and placed it on the branch of a hyssop plant, soaked the sponge in sour wine and lifted it to his lips. Do you understand the significance of the hyssop branch here? The hyssop appears often in scripture. On the night of the passover, when the Jewish children were spared death but not the Egyptian children, God instructed the people to dip the branch of a hyssop in the lambs blood and smear it on the doorpost so that the Angel of death would know to pass by. In essence, God was saying this is MY child. He or she will be spared. When David committed sin with Bathsheba, in His words of lament and plea for forgiveness, he wrote in the 51st Psalm, “purge me with Hyssop, and I will be clean”, a part of the ritual of the Temple worship was the cleansing of the people and the Temple through the sprinkling of the sacrificial blood, and it is the hyssop branch that is dipped into the blood and then sprinkled on the people and the temple, when Lepers were healed, the hyssop branch was used to sprinkle the cleansing waters on them. When a prostitute is brought to Jesus to be stoned, Jesus kneels down and writes in the sand. I’ve always wondered if what Jesus was writing there was a list of sins of the woman and those who would stone her, and when the accusers disappear, Jesus would have taken a branch, a hyssop branch, and wiped the ground clean. And so when we read this the fact that it was a hyssop branch that was used might not mean much to us, but for the Jews who heard it told, the hyssop branch was inseparable from the mercy and forgiveness that was bought with the blood of the Iamb. And so when the hyssop branch was extended to Jesus, the final sacrifice was complete, the blood of the lamb was scattered on the sinners, sinners like you and me, God’s kingdom had come for you and me. In essence Jesus initiated another passover on the cross where God says about all of those who are stained by the blood of the lamb, “this is my son” “this is my daughter.” Judgment and condemnation pass them by.They are mine. Pass us by because Jesus thirsted on the cross so that we would not need thirst again. Our souls thirst. Our spirits thirst. But we need thirst no more, because our thirst has been quenched by the blood of the lamb and by the river of life that flows from the very heart of God. And when we gather and take this Holy Communion we remember. Come and quench your thirst. Drink deeply and know that when we are in Jesus we need never thirst again.