As we have been listening to these final words of Jesus from the cross, we have been amazed and overwhelmed at the power of what we have heard. For example, the first word of Jesus was a prayer to God not for himself but for us when he prayed, Father, forgive them. The second word was to a sinner condemned to die with Jesus for his crimes and to him he said, today you will be with me in paradise. The third word was to those Jesus loved the most, his mother and the disciple John. In his word to them (behold your mother, behold your son) he created a new family telling them to care for each other as a mother and son. The fourth word we heard last week was the cry of Jesus soul when he felt forsaken and alone and yet because it was a quotation for the psalms we were assured that God had not forsaken him and that God will not forsake us. Today’s we hear perhaps the most human word of Jesus from the cross. It’s a word that reminds us that part of what we see happening on the cross is just a man dying.
This past week, one of our older members passed away. Helen Andrews was 91 when she died on Tuesday. She hadn’t been able to talk and nurses said she hadn’t been able to swallow anything for a few days. When I stepped into the room, Helen’s mouth was open and like so many others I had seen in this stage of life, her lips were dry. When people get to this point, their mouths get so dry and if they can talk what they often ask for is something to drink. If they can’t swallow then we will take swab and just wet their lips and mouth to alleviate the thirst. For Jesus it was just the same. He hadn’t had anything to eat or drink for hours, he had lost a lot of fluid from blood and sweat so he was most likely dehydrated before they crucified him and after hanging in the sun for hours on the cross during the heat of the day we hear this very human cry for help, I thirst. Literally, Jesus was thirsty and John shares this detail if for no other reason than to remind us that Jesus was fully human.
This was an important point for John because there were many people during John’s life that didn’t think Jesus was fully human. When they heard about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection they couldn’t believe that he was real man, they thought he was just the spirit of God that appeared to them like a man. These people were known as docetists, which comes from the Greek word dokeo which means “to seem” or appear. Some of these people even thought that it was Simon of Cyrene who not only carried the cross for Jesus but die in his place. So as John is sharing his life’s story and the good news of Jesus he hears people saying, well, it wasn’t a man on the cross, it just seemed like a man, it was really just a spirit. When John hears this, you can almost imagine him saying, no. Jesus was real, he was a real man. He was a fully human being who died on the cross, in fact, I even heard him say, I thirst and I saw a sponge filled with wine pressed to his lips – it was real. John makes it clear that Jesus was fully human by sharing with us these very human words and he shows us that on the cross was a very real human being who died like anyone else would, in pain and longing for something to drink. So this word from the cross is a very human word and it reminds us that Jesus was fully human, but this entire scenario also tells us that Jesus was very humble.
To see the real humility of Jesus we need to step back and look at the larger scene of Jesus being offered something to drink when he was crucified. All four of the gospels record that this happened, but each one records it in a slightly different way. Now these differences make sense to me because there was a lot of confusion and noise that day and the people watching this unfold are in such grief and pain that it was difficult to understand all that was going on. Matthew and Mark record the scene in almost identical fashion. Let’s look at Matthew 27:33-35 and Mark 15:22-24. All we are told is that Jesus was offered a wine mixed with either gall or myrrh, which means some kind of spice or drug and that Jesus did not take it.
There are two ideas about what Jesus was offered here. The first is that the Roman soldiers offered Jesus something that would induce vomiting which would have made his crucifixion even more traumatic and painful but it would also have brought death along more quickly. The problem with this idea is that if the Romans really wanted to inflict more pain on Jesus, they would have simply forced him to drink it or poured it into his mouth, but they didn’t.
The second idea, which makes more sense, is that the mixture of wine with either myrrh or gall was a drug that would have eased Jesus pain and slowed his breathing and heart rate. It would have made Jesus more comfortable during his crucifixion and brought death on that much quicker. That Jesus refuses to drink it shows us that Jesus didn’t want to deaden the pain. Jesus didn’t want to take the easy road, he wanted to feel the fullness of what was coming. Instead of being drugged up, Jesus wanted a clear head to feel the pain and experience the loneliness and isolation that was to come. This makes sense when we look at the fullness of Jesus life because Jesus never avoided the pain and suffering that others experienced.
As we look back over the life of Jesus we see that he never took the easy road. While Jesus could have gained wealth and power and glory in this world – he chose to give that up to be obedient to God. Jesus had no place to call home. Jesus had no wealth, no livestock, fields, vineyards, family or anything else that the world considered wealth. He was poor and lived the life of a simple travelling preacher and teacher. While other religious leaders enjoyed the privileges and trappings of status and position, Jesus refused it all. He never took the easy way and he called all those who followed him to also deny themselves the wealth and power of this world. Jesus said that if anyone wanted to follow him they had to deny themselves, and part of that self denial meant not taking the easy road.
Today we are all looking for the easy road in life, that’s why things like the lottery, gambling and sweepstakes are so big right now, and they are the easy road to luxury and comfort. These things are very seductive and lure us all in. On Jan 1 my family and I were watching the Rose Parade on HGTV and heard about their dream home sweepstakes. You could win a dream home, a new car and $50,000 to probably pay for the taxes on this beautiful home in SC. My sister entered me and said that I needed to register twice every day online and that if I won, I owed them the $50k. So for the next 6 weeks I registered twice every day and I have to tell you that I started thinking about how nice it would be to win a vacation home on the coast of South Carolina, and how nice it would be to live in this beautiful home surrounded by all the luxuries of the world. Most of us would love that, most of us want the easy way and the easy road, but that is not the way of Jesus. When Jesus was offered all the wealth and power and comfort and glory of this world – he turned it down and made his home among the poor and outcast.
This is where the way of Jesus is so counter cultural. While the world says, take the road of comfort and ease, Jesus says, deny yourself. When the world says, live for yourself, Jesus says, live and sacrifice for others. A colleague of mine was sharing a few years ago about taking a mission trip with some students. When they arrived at the work site, however, she said the accommodations they were given were terrible. They were dirty and primitive and in her mind unacceptable. As she talked I couldn’t help but think that they were going to serve people who had nothing. They were going to serve people who may have been happy to be able to call their accommodations home and I thought, wait, you were on a mission trip, why not pitch and clean up the place where you were staying instead of finding a better place to stay. The way of Jesus doesn’t look for the easy way out. That’s what we see in the cross. The cross is not the easy way out and even when Jesus was offered something to ease the pain, he says no.
Now Luke’s version gives us a similar kind of message. Look at Luke 23:36-37. The thought here is that the soliders are taunting Jesus by offering him this wine mixture to ease his pain, but then they pull it away and tell Jesus to help himself – save himself. To be clear, from a distance, a branch with a sponge filled with wine being offered to Jesus and then taken away could look like what we read in any of the four gospels and because of the chaos and confusion of the moment people are seeing it in different ways, but even in Luke’s version we see Jesus rejecting the easy way because he could have come off the cross and saved himself. Jesus could have chosen a different path even at this moment, but he didn’t. Jesus chose to experience the fullness of pain and loss just like we do. Jesus chose in this moment to not only be fully human but to be fully humble.
So now let’s go back to John’s account for in it we are given a little more insight into what is going on. John not only wants us to see that Jesus chose to be fully human in this moment, but his attention to detail in the telling of the story tells us something more. Look at how John describes the scene. He is the only gospel writer who tells us that the branch they used to lift the sponge to Jesus mouth was a hyssop branch. Now this in itself would be unusual. A hyssop was a busy kind of shrub which had branches that would have been difficult to attach a sponge to, but because it was this kind of branch tells us something.
If we go back into the Old Testament we find that it was the hyssop branch that the people of Israel used to sprinkle the blood of the sacrificial lambs over the door posts on the night of the Passover. In the last of the plagues God sent on the people of Egypt, God told His people to sprinkle blood over their doors so that when the angel of death moved through the land, it would pass over those homes. The blood was to be applied with a hyssop branch and now it was a hyssop branch being used to lift wine to Jesus mouth. John is helping us connect Jesus with the lamb of God. John wants us to see that it is now the blood of Jesus, the sacrificial lamb that will save us. In fact, John is the only gospel who calls Jesus the Lamb of God. John wants us to see that Jesus is the sacrificial lamb whose blood shed on the cross takes away our sin and gives us life just as the Passover lamb whose blood was sprinkled on the doorposts of the house gave the people of Israel life.
Hyssop was also the branch used in the ceremonial washing of the priests. It was used to purify people so they could enter into the presence of God and so again John wants us to see that it is through the death of Jesus that we are purified and our sins are washed away. What John wants us to see here is what he makes clear to people in his letter to the church. Look at 1 John 1:7b The blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin.
So the detail of the hyssop is important, it helps us see that what is taking place on the cross is not just the human being Jesus dying, but it is the lamb of God dying to take away the sin of the world. John also makes clear to us that this is all according to God’s plan. Go back and look at John 19:28, it says that all this took place so that the scriptures might be fulfilled. The scripture we believe this refers to is Psalm 69. Look at Psalm 69:21. But it is not just this verse that John wants us to see, he wants us to see the entire psalm.
Look at Psalm 69:19-21. Isn’t this what Jesus has been experiencing? Isn’t this what Jesus is living out at this very moment? And look at Psalm 69:13-18. Isn’t this the prayer of Jesus we heard last week? God don’t turn your face away. But the psalm doesn’t just point to what Jesus is going in this moment, it looks forward to the final outcome, look at Psalm 69:34-36. John wants us to see that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away our sin and purifies us from sin and delivers us from death and brings us into God’s kingdom, God’s land where we live forever.
But there is one last thing we need to take from this final word. When we look at John’s telling of this story we find that there is one major detail missing. John never tells us who offers Jesus the wine. It could be that it was John himself, or it could have been Mary his mother, Mary his aunt or Mary Magdalene who are all at the foot of the cross, or it could have been someone else, we really don’t know, but have you ever asked yourself, would I have been willing to step forward and give Jesus something to drink?
Whoever offered Jesus the wine had to have the courage to help a condemned man in the face of the Roman soldiers. It would have been risky to do this. This person could have been beaten or even crucified along with Jesus, but they were willing to risk it all, to deny themselves to meet Jesus need. Would we have been willing to do that? Since we weren’t there, we can’t answer that question, so let me ask this one, are we willing to offer Jesus a drink today? You see Jesus said that every time we offer water to someone in need we are offering it to Jesus, so are we willing to risk everything in order to offer a drink to those who are crying out today, I thirst.
There are close to a billion people who today need clean water and the gift of water is the gift of life.
I want to invite all of us to give water to Jesus. For the next 2 weeks I want you to think about how much money you spend on things you drink. That would include milk, juice, soda, water, sports drinks, coffee, iced coffee, milkshakes – you name it. Would you be willing to donate the same amount of money you spend on yourself over the next two weeks to help drill a well in a community that needs water? Can we hear those who are crying out, I thirst, and can we deny ourselves and give them something to drink? I want to invite you to do this for just two weeks, from now until Easter and then on Easter Sunday we will have a separate collection that will go to provide life giving water to those in need.
It’s not often that we get to put ourselves into this story of Jesus of Jesus in a positive way. We often read this story and think about how we would have been like Peter and the rest of the disciples who fled when Jesus needed them the most, but today we can be the one follower, the one person who not only stayed but was willing to deny ourselves and reach out to Jesus. Let’s deny ourselves and reach out to Jesus as we hear him say, I thirst.
Final Words from the Cross ~ I Thirst
1. Take time to reflect on Psalm 69. Notice all the ways Jesus lived out this psalm during his crucifixion and claim the future this psalm promises.
2. Identify the “easy roads” you are tempted to take in life. Do these compromise your integrity at work or at home? Do they lead you away from greater trust in Jesus?
3. There is one other time in John’s gospel when Jesus asks for water. Read John 4:1-42. What does it mean that Jesus is the “living water”? How is Jesus living water for you? How can you be living water for someone else?
4. Calculate how much money you spend on drinks over the course of 2 weeks. Include not only water but milk, soda, coffee, tea, iced coffee, juice and sports drinks. What percentage of this would you be willing to donate to those who are thirsty around the world? Consider making this a special gift to Jesus on Easter Sunday.