Monday, March 26, 2012

I Am Thirsty (John 19:28-29)

As we have looked at the Sayings of Christ on the Cross, we have seen the range of emotions and attributes of Jesus on display. In the first saying, when He prayed for His Father to forgive His murderers, we saw His infinite mercy. In the second, when He promised paradise to the repentant criminal, we saw His abundant grace. In the third, when He entrusted the care of His mother to the Apostle John, we saw His tender compassion. In the fourth saying, after the sky was darkened and as He bore the sins of humanity under the flood of God’s judgment, He cried out “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” In that expression, we see His intense agony. Now we come to the fifth saying. He says simply, “I am thirsty.” These words seem rather pedestrian and unimportant to us perhaps. What could be significant about the fact that dying Savior is thirsty? The words He has spoken to this point are words that no one else could utter under those circumstances. Surely every person who died upon the cruel crosses of Rome experienced thirst as their lifeblood drained from their wounds. We may be tempted to think that this expression is relatively unimportant. But be sure of this, the words are of tremendous importance. If for no other reason, they are important because it is Jesus who spoke them, and no word that ever crossed His holy lips is unimportant. This statement is also important because the Holy Spirit inspired the inclusion of this statement in the Word of God. For some reason, God the Holy Spirit deemed it necessary for all generations to know that the Lord Jesus declared that He thirsted upon the cross. His thirst is significant for us. But why? What importance or significance can be found in these words? I don’t think we can exhaustively answer the question in the time that we have here, but we can at least begin to make an attempt at an answer. And in so doing, I want to point out four aspects of His thirst on the cross that are of the utmost importance for the world to know.

I. The Human Thirst of Jesus

Recently, I took my family down to Charlotte to visit the amazing exhibit of mummies from around the world that is temporarily on display at Discovery Place. They have some really amazing specimens in the exhibit, and it fascinating on so many levels. But one thing that really impressed me was a short video that is shown prior to entering the exhibit. In that video, the visitors are reminded that the mummies they are about to see are real people who lived real lives and died real deaths, and as such, they deserve dignity and respect. It would be easy to view them as merely historical artifacts or even to some degree objects of ancient art, and forget that they were real human beings. We can sometimes run into a similar dilemma regarding the humanity of Jesus.

Ever since the first century, people have customarily made three errors regarding Jesus. Some have considered Jesus to be fully God, and not at all human. This was the error of some Gnostics groups like the Docetics, for example, who believed that if you were to strike Jesus, your fist would pass right through Him, and that He didn’t leave footprints in the sand when He walked. In their thinking, if Jesus was fully God, He would have tarnished His deity by uniting it to human flesh. Others have made the opposite error, considering Jesus to be fully human, and not divine at all. I would suspect that this has been the most common misunderstand about Jesus throughout history. Certainly there are many people you know, and possibly some here today, who would consider Jesus to be a good man, maybe even the greatest man, who ever lived—but merely a man, and nothing more. The third error that people have made about Jesus is to see Him as something of a half-and-half being, a demigod perhaps, greater than a man, but not quite God. In the days of Constantine in the Fourth Century, the entire Roman Empire was in upheaval because of the teachings of a man named Arius who taught that Jesus had a nature that was greater than humanity, but not quite fully divine. Some have characterized his teaching by saying that Arius believed that at the birth of Jesus, that which was not God became that which was not man.

Well, if all of these are incorrect, what is the correct view of Jesus? The only proper way to understand who Jesus is would be to recognize Him as fully man AND fully God. He is not half-and-half, but all-and-all. In that sense, He is truly unique and nothing in the universe can ever compare to Him. We see His full deity in His virgin birth, His miracles, His limitless knowledge, and most vividly in His resurrection from the dead. Certainly, it is wrong to miss the fact that He is fully divine. But we must be careful to remember that Jesus was completely human in addition to being fully God, the two natures perfectly conjoined in one Being. We see His humanity on display as He grows from infancy to adulthood, and matures physically and grows in obedience to His earthly parents. We see Jesus being tired and sleeping; we see Him hungry; we see Him weeping. Have you ever considered the thought that Jesus had all the same bodily functions as you do? And on the cross, He demonstrated several very human experiences. He hurt. He suffered. He bled. He died. But before He died, He tells us that He thirsted as well. He was fully God, yes, but never forget, also fully human. And thank God He was. We need Him to be fully human.

If Jesus is going to redeem humanity from sin, He has to be human to make the sacrifice.  If He is going to bear our sins, He has to identify completely with us. If He is going to be our eternal High Priest, then He must be one who can sympathize completely with our human experience. And Hebrews 4:15 assures us that “we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” If He were not fully human, it would make no difference that He was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. If He were only God without a human nature, those temptations would have no effect upon Him, and His victory over them would not be significant. But because He was fully human, He could be our righteous and sinless substitute, because as a man, He fulfilled every command of God’s Law and withstood every temptation that humans can experience. Thus, He is able to be our sin bearer and to die as our substitute because, in addition to being fully God, He is fully human. The 21st Question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “Who is the redeemer of God’s elect?” And the answer is, “The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continueth to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, forever.” The Apostle Paul put it this way: “There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5).

It would be easy for you to think that God cannot relate to your hardships in life. But that would be a mistake. Remember that Jesus, in the flesh as a human being, was tempted in all things as we are. Have you been betrayed? So has He. Have you been mistreated? So has He. Have you known sorrow? So has He. Have you ever been thirsty? Yes, so has He! And because we have such a great high priest who can sympathize with our every human experience, Hebrews 4:16 tells us that we can “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” We must never fail to worship Christ as our God, our fully divine Lord and King. But in so doing, we will be greatly helped in our daily Christian lives to remember that He was fully human also. He lived this life that we live. And as if to remind us never to forget, He says as He dies, “I am thirsty.” It is a very human experience—a very human thirst.

II. The Prophetic Thirst of Jesus

“I thirst.” It helps us understand and remember that Jesus was fully human in addition to being fully divine. That is the effect of the statement. But the effect of a thing is often different from the purpose of it. Did Jesus say these words for the purpose of telling us that He possessed a human nature? How could we ever know why He said this? Well, it would help if the Bible told us. And what do you know? It does! Look at verse 28, and let’s read it together slowly.

  • “After this” – After what? What precedes this in John’s Gospel is the third saying, when Jesus entrusted Mary into the care of John. But we know from comparing the accounts of the four Gospels that darkness had covered the land and from the depths of that darkness, Jesus had cried out “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” as He bore in His body and soul the wrath that the sins of the whole human race deserved. So, it was after this.
  • “Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished” – That is, He knew that the ransom had been paid, the debt had been settled, the penalty of sin had been satisfied and that death was rapidly approaching.
  • “To fulfill Scripture, [He] said, “I am thirsty.” – Ah! So here is the reason then plainly stated! Why did Jesus say, “I am thirsty?” He said it to fulfill Scripture.

Every prophecy that had ever been written about the coming, the ministry, and the suffering of the Messiah had nearly been fulfilled. Just a small number of things remained, and they would be completed momentarily. But there was one specific aspect of the suffering of the Messiah that needed to be acknowledged before His death: His thirst. In Psalm 22, David spoke of His own suffering, but what he wrote exceeded his own experiences. He wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of a far off day in which the Messiah, the royal offspring of David, would suffer a torture that no one in David’s day ever experienced or witnessed. The 22nd Psalm speaks of the forsaking by God that Jesus endured, and the betrayal and despising He experienced at the hands of men. It speaks of His bones being out of joint, the rupturing of His heart, the piercing of His hands and feet, the dividing of His garments. And in the midst of all this prophetic imagery of the cross, it says, “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws” (Psalms 22:15). It was prophesied that the Messiah would thirst in His suffering.

Not only this, but in the 69th Psalm, we read that the very drink that Jesus was offered was prophesied in Scripture as well. David is again writing of his own suffering as a foreshadowing of the suffering of the Messiah. And in the midst of the description we read in Psalm 69, we read, “They also gave me gall for my food and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (Psalms 69:21). And all of this was fulfilled with precision at the Cross. When He arrived at Golgotha, Matthew 27:34 says that they offered Jesus wine mixed with gall to drink. The word gall can have many meanings, but in this context it refers to a bitter-tasting poisonous herb that was mixed with sweet wine to make it palatable, and which was used as a narcotic, a rudimentary anesthesia, to kill pain. It was prophesied that Jesus would be given gall for His food. But it was not promised that He would take it. And He didn’t. Matthew and Mark both tell us that Jesus refused this concoction when it was offered to Him. He would not deaden the pain or soften the suffering of His ordeal, nor would He dull His senses or His faculties as He bore the sins of the world. But it was also promised that they would give Him vinegar to drink. And when He said, “I am thirsty,” there just happened to be a jar of “sour wine” standing nearby, and it was offered to Him and He received it. It was a cheap wine vinegar that soldiers often used to slake their thirst. It could not have been water. It could not have been freshly made wine. It had to be the wine-vinegar that the NASB translates “sour wine,” because that is what had been prophesied. Had they offered Him anything else, we would have an unfulfilled prophecy of the Messiah’s suffering.

The Scriptures are very specific about the Messiah: who He would be, how He would come, what He would do, how He would suffer. And every jot and tittle of those prophecies had to be fulfilled with precision, and they were. Jesus had to announce His thirst so that the world would know that He was thirsty, and so that someone would raise the vinegar to Him. Thus, His thirst, and even the beverage He was offered, are testimonies that confirm that He alone is the promised Messiah and redeemer of Israel and the world. He said what He said so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

III. The Enduring Thirst of Jesus

I want you to imagine, to pretend, for a moment with me that you were at the cross witnessing the death of Jesus. Pretend that you were there, and that you were standing nearby. Maybe you are one of the soldiers there. You are close enough to hear Jesus speak with labored breath these sayings, and you hear Him say with a groaning whisper, “I am thirsty.” Looking around you, you see the jar of wine vinegar. You see a sponge laying there, and a stalk of a hyssop bush that you can use to raise the vinegar-soaked sponge to His parched lips. Are you there in your mind? Now, let me ask you, do you do it? Do you offer Him drink to satisfy His thirst? Some of us perhaps are thinking through this carefully. If I do this, what will the consequences be for me? Will I be punished for doing this? Is it appropriate? Is it permissible? Others perhaps would give no thought to those concerns and fears. You would say immediately, “Of course! Here is a thirsty man! Here is drink! Why should I not give Him drink? Yes! I would do it! I would give the thirsty Jesus a drink!”

Even the youngest children know that it is fun and easy to play pretend. You can pretend to be anything or do anything you can imagine. And in some of our daydreams and fantasies we always do better than we do in real life. So, the next time you see Jesus thirsty, what are you going to do? Are you going to give Him a drink? Now you say, “Pastor, I think you’ve been drinking sour wine! When are we ever going to see Jesus thirsty?” But no, I’m not crazy – well, I might be, but not about this. You see, Jesus Himself said that we will find Him thirsty, and we will have the opportunity to satisfy His thirst.

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us what it will be like in the day of judgment, and He says that the angels will gather the nations before Him. He will separate the entire human race as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. The sheep will be on His right and the goats on His left. And to the sheep He will say, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me” (Matt 25:34-36). And these who are His righteous sheep will say to Him, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” And Jesus says that He will say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me” (Matt 25:37-40). Now, who are these brothers of Jesus? Elsewhere, Jesus speaks of His brothers being His disciples (Matt 12:48-49; 28:10). This corresponds to the experience of the Saul on the road to Damascus, when the risen Jesus appeared to him and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). Saul was unaware that he had been persecuting Jesus; in his mind He was only persecuting Christians. But Jesus seems to indicate that how we treat His followers is in effect how we are treating Him. What we do to them, we do to Him. But there is another sense in which the Christian is compelled to act in a charitable way to any person, regardless of whether or not they are believers in Christ. That seems to be the point of the parable of the Good Samaritan. My neighbor, whom I am to love as myself, is anyone who has a need that I can meet. So, it seems that when Jesus says that whenever we have given drink to the least of His brethren, we’ve given it unto Him, that He intends to say that we should help anyone who has a need, giving particular attention to those of the family of faith. That, after all, is what the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 6:10 – “ So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” Perhaps he learned this lesson on the Damascus Road.

So, would you give Jesus a drink to satisfy His thirst? Know that around you today may be sitting a thirsty follower of Jesus, a brother or sister in the family of God who has a need that you have the means to meet. Will you serve them and meet that need? Jesus says that if you would, then what you are doing to them, you are actually doing for Him. And you are doing the same as you aid even the total stranger who may not even know Jesus. But your cup of cold water for the thirsty stranger may be the beginning of his or her journey to Jesus as they see Him in you through your act of lovingkindness. Jesus was thirsty on the cross, and His thirst endures. Will you offer Him drink?

IV. The Vicarious Thirst of Jesus

In the study of Christian doctrine, we sometimes encounter unfamiliar words that are difficult to understand. The recent trend has been to avoid those words in preaching and teaching so that we don’t confuse anyone. But I can’t help thinking that one of the purposes of preaching and teaching is to explain these words and concepts, rather than avoiding them. So, I don’t apologize for using hard words, but it is my goal to always explain them carefully when I use them. One of these hard words that we encounter, which is very important for us to understand, is the word vicarious. We use this word to refer to Jesus as our substitute. In His death on the cross, He became for us a vicarious atonement for our sins. He died in our place to atone for our sins so that they can be forgiven and we can be reconciled to God. So, we understand that a vicar is someone who stands in for another. Christ’s suffering and death is vicarious in that He is our substitute and our sacrifice as He takes our place under the judgment of God.

Now, there is a sense in which we can point to the thirst of Christ even as a vicarious act. He thirsted for us. His thirst reflects the physical reality that He was dying a slow death of dehydration as His blood and sweat poured from His body. And He did this for us. His thirst was not only physical but spiritual as well. As the Psalmist said, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You O God” (Psalm 42:1). Jesus, having been forsaken by His Father under the penalty of sin, thirsts for the presence of His Father once again. And He endured this for us. And in that forsaking, as He bore the penalty of our sin, it is as if He endured all of the fury and fire of hell on our behalf. We might recall that story that Jesus tells in Luke 16 of the rich man and Lazarus. Both men died, and Lazarus found himself transported to paradise with Abraham while the rich man went to Hades, the place of separation from God where the unrighteous await their eternal destination in hell. And Jesus says that the rich man could see across the great gulf that separated those two locations, and he cried out to Abraham asking him to send Lazarus to bring him aid. Do you remember what he said? In Luke 16:24, the rich man says, “send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.” The agony and unquenchable thirst that this rich man experienced in the torment of the flames of wrath were the same that Jesus experienced. And He experienced it for us. It was a vicarious thirst. He bore the penalty and the wrath of judgment that we deserve for our sins. There has never been a human being to live who did not deserve this. But in His loving grace and mercy, Jesus thirsted in the agony of judgment vicariously. He did it for us.

This was not the first time in Scripture that Jesus was thirsty and asked for drink. You may be familiar with that story in John 4 when Jesus came to Jacob’s well and asked the Samaritan woman for a drink. As they begin to dialogue about the well and the water there, Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again. But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). You see Jesus was thirsty, and this woman had water that could satisfy His thirst, but it wouldn’t last forever. But Jesus wanted this woman to know that she also had a thirst in her life. And Jesus had water that she knew not of – living water that would spring up within her to eternal life. He said, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (4:10). He said something similar in John 7 – “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38).

You see, everyone of us was born with a thirst for something that nothing in this world will satisfy. People try to satisfy it with money and possessions, with knowledge and power, with relationships and sex, with drugs and alcohol, with therapy and medication. But the emptiness is still there and the thirst is unquenched. We are like people adrift in a salt-water sea, dying of thirst. We are surrounded, in the words of Coleridge, by “water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.” If we drink from the salt-water, it only adds to our thirst. You see, over-top of every fountain in this world that you are tempted to think will satisfy you, you need to envision the emblazoned words of Jesus: “Everyone who drinks this water will thirst again.” C. S. Lewis put it this way in the most brilliant sermon he ever preached: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased.”[1] But that is the thing, you see, we are NOT pleased. We try to tell ourselves that we are, but soon enough we thirst again. Augustine said it this way: “You made us for Yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in You.”[2] But we are cut off from that rest and from the only living water that can eternally satisfy our thirst. Our sins have fixed a great gulf between us and our God and King who alone can satisfy our deepest longings. But thanks be to God, He has bridged the gap! In the person of Jesus Christ, He has borne our sins and their penalty. He has died our death! He has taken vicariously upon Himself our unquenchable thirst so that our thirst can be quenched eternally!

It is because Jesus thirsted for us that we find this description of heaven in Revelation 7:16-17 – “They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” And it is for this reason that the Bible concludes with a glorious invitation: “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” (Rev 22:17). The living water that satisfies eternally is freely offered to us by the grace of Him who thirsted in our place! Every longing that you have is pointing you to Him like thirst drives you to water. And nothing outside of Him will ever satisfy that thirst. Come and drink deeply from Christ. He thirsted for you so that you will never thirst again!

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 26.
[2] Augustine, Confessions (Penguin Classics edition; translated by R. S. Pine-Coffin; New York: Penguin Putnam, 1961), 21. 

1 comment:

Kelline said...

Glory to God for this saying, brother! Your blog is the first blog in a year that I actually was able to follow and understand with clarity. It was extremely well-written, precise, and most importantly it was written with a love. My blog is called "LOVE FOR ALL" and it's devoted to Christ the best I can. The most important aspect of our service in the Kingdom is love. Without love we are a tinkling cymbal and a sounding brass. I appreciate the time you put into this post. I believe I'll sign on as a member. Only a fool refuses good doctrine and Biblical truth, amen? God bless you richly brother.