I Thirst

Sermon by David Strain on May 19

John 19:28-30

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Thank you, student choir, for ministering to us so wonderfully. This is, I think, the last time in the year that the choir is singing to us in the evening. They are about to leave for their choir trip to New York at the end of the week, so I suppose you should pray for Bill Wymond and for all of them, but particularly for Bill! But if you see them after the service, will you please thank them for their faithful ministry to us? What a blessing, what a blessing you all have been. Thank you for faithfully serving us.

Now if you would take a Bible and turn with me to John's gospel, chapter 19; John chapter 19. You can find it on page 905 of the church Bibles. As we prepare to come to the Lord's Table this evening I thought it might be helpful to linger over the sufferings of Christ, of which the Supper is the great sign and memorial. And in particular, I want to meditate with you on what's sometimes called the fifth of the seven words of Christ from the cross, which you can see if you look at chapter 19 verse 28. Seven times Jesus spoke from the cross. He prayed for the forgiveness of His tormentors. He promised salvation to the penitent thief dying beside Him. He spoke with love for His mother, Mary, committing her, commending her to the care of John the beloved disciple. Then there's the famous cry of dereliction, again praying, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" Then there's the fifth word, the word we'll be considering tonight, that speaks of His sufferings. John 19:28, Jesus said, "I thirst." After this, He spoke twice more. The sixth time was a word, a loud cry of victory as you'll see in verse 30 of our chapter - "It is finished." And then the seventh and final word where He commended His Spirit into the hands of His Father. And so as I said tonight, our focus is on the fifth of those seven words, the word that speaks of His sufferings.

Before we read the passage together, we’re going to pause first and pray and ask for the blessing and help of Almighty God. Let us pray together.

O Lord, we now pray for the ministry of Christ that by His work among us we may be led back again to Calvary, to Golgotha, there to behold in the wounds of our Savior the wonder of Your love and the great price of our redemption. Minister to our hearts that they may melt in wonder, love, and praise to the glory of the name of Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

John chapter 19. Let’s begin halfway through the sixteenth verse. Page 905 in the church Bibles. John 19 in the middle of verse 16. This is the Word of Almighty God:

"So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.' Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,' but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.'' Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.'

 

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.’ This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,

 

‘They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.’

 

So the soldiers did these things, but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

 

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’ A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

Amen, and we praise God for His holy Word.

R. A. Finlayson, in his magnificent little book, The Cross in the Experience of Our Lord, which you should try to get ahold of if you’re looking for something edifying and helpful to read, The Cross in the Experience of Our Lord, by R. A. Finlayson, he recounts a saying that he had heard of among the Scottish people. He said this, “There’s a strange idea among the Scottish people that when you find a loch nestling at the foot of the high hills, that the loch is as deep as the hill at whose feet it nestles is high.” That if you scale the mountain and plumb the depths of the loch, they measure the same. He says, “That’s probably a fancy, but I do know that this is a reality - the mountains of God’s grace rise sheer from the ocean of Immanuel’s suffering and sorrow and they measure the same.” Isn’t that beautiful? “The mountain of God’s grace rises sheer from the ocean of Immanuel’s suffering and sorrow and they measure the same.” The grace of God toward us rises as high as the sufferings of Christ are deep. The one is the measure of the other. As we descend into the mysteries of Christ’s crucified agony, we simultaneously ascend the heights of God’s amazing grace.

And that's our great business tonight as we consider these two English words - just one word in Greek - "I thirst," spoken by our Savior in the midst of His sufferings. We're climbing the mountain of God's love by descending into the depths of Calvary's wounds. So Jesus said, "I thirst," and how easy it would be for us just simply to brush past this fifth word from the cross. Well, of course, He was thirsty. It's hardly surprising, really, that a man hung on a Roman cross should thirst. We read it as a notation signifying little more than the physiological necessity, at best a reminder of the dark but solid historical fact of Christ's bodily pains as He suffered in our nature. And then we move right along. He thirst, He was a man, He had a body, there's a physiology at work here and so on the cross, He was thirsty.

But John, I think, intends for us to find more here than bare reportage of the dehydration experienced by the victims of Roman crucifixion. There are depths to all that this word conveys that we need to do all that we can to fathom. So we’re going to consider it tonight under three headings. First, this is a word of obedience. It’s a word of obedience when Jesus said, “I thirst.” Secondly, it is a word of suffering, both physical and spiritual suffering. It’s a window into His sufferings. And thirdly, when He said, “I thirst,” it is a word of longing. He thirsts for more than something to quench His physical thirst. There’s a longing for the fulfillment of God’s saving design.

A Word of Obedience

So first, when Jesus said, "I thirst," He is speaking a word of obedience. Look at the text. John says, "Knowing that all was now finished, Jesus said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.'" The apostle here does something he rarely ever does in the Gospel narrative. He tells us what was in Jesus' mind. He tells us what He knew in these moments. He knew that all was now finished, that the work given to Him was complete. That's what the word "finished" there means - "complete, accomplished." John 17:4, on the night of His betrayal when the Supper we are to celebrate shortly was first instituted, when He was gathered with His disciples, He prayed, "Father, I glorified You on earth having accomplished, having finished, having completed the word You gave Me to do." He has finished the mission He knows. His sufferings are almost now at an end. He can see the tape stretched across the finish line of His race. And so knowing that all was now finished He said, "I thirst."

But if that is the case, why did He not say immediately at that moment, knowing that all was now finished, why did He not say what He goes on to say in the thirtieth verse, “It is finished”? If He knew all was finished, why not proclaim it straight away? Here I think we get to see something of the commitment of Christ to the obedience required of Him by the Father. He waits to declare the final accomplishment of the work of redemption that He was dying to secure until the last moments of suffering have been endured. He would not leave a single drop undrunk in the cup of suffering that the Father required Him to drink. He would not declare the work done until it was completely done, however near to the end He was. Close is not close enough for Him. He would endure everything, all of it. He would drink the cup of suffering down and drain the dregs of every last second of agony that He might make a complete and perfect satisfaction for sin. And so He waits, knowing there is now one last act, one last sacrifice of obedience still to be made, before He can rest.

The text says, “Jesus said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’” Throughout His ordeal at every point, His obedience to the Father has followed the path laid out for Him in the holy Scriptures. He was betrayed by an intimate friend, Psalm 49 verse 9. The disciples all forsook Him, Psalm 31 verse 11. He was falsely accused, Psalm 35 verse 11. He was silent before His judges, Isaiah 53 verse 7. He was numbered with the transgressors, Isaiah 53:12. He was crucified, Psalm 22:16. The spectators around the cross mocked Him, Psalm 22:7-8. The soldiers cast lots for His clothing, Psalm 22:18. And yet He prayed for His enemies, Isaiah 53:12. He was forsaken by the Father, Psalm 22:1. And He committed His Spirit into the Father’s hand with His dying breath, Psalm 31:5. And here also, so close to the conclusion of His ordeal as He cried out, “I thirst,” He did so in order to fulfill the Scripture, in obedience to the plan laid out in the Scriptures, Psalm 69:21 - “For my thirst, they gave me sour wine to drink.”

Sometimes theologians will make a distinction. They'll talk about the active and the passive obedience of Christ. Have you heard that expression, the active and passive obedience of Christ? It's a helpful distinction. I'll explain what it means in just a moment but it's not uncommon to hear it oversimplified. People will say something like, "The active obedience of Christ is His life of law-keeping and the passive obedience of Christ really refers to the cross." That's a mistake. The passive obedience of Christ - humbly bearing sin and guilt and all the miseries and judgment of God - the passive obedience and the active obedience of Christ - purposefully fulfilling the Scriptures, resisting temptation, accomplishing His mission - both passive and active obedience describe the whole course of Jesus' earthly life and ministry. He was always bearing sin, passively submitting as it were, and always obeying, actively pursuing the will of the Father. And we see both of these here very clearly, don't we, when He said, "I thirst." Is this active obedience or passive obedience? This thirst was real. He endures it. He submits to it as a part of His sin-bearing sufferings. And yet He said, "I thirst" intentionally, purposefully, to bring the Scripture to fulfillment.

You see the point. We can’t dissect the obedience of Christ quite so neatly sometimes. Christ’s obedience is always active and passive. All the time it is complete obedience, perfect obedience, full comprehensive obedience. Now sometimes you’ll also hear people insist we are not saved by works but by grace alone. And that’s absolutely correct. We contribute nothing of our own - no obedience, no goodness, no nothing. Our salvation is all gift, all grace, received by the empty hand of mere faith alone. But I want you to see there’s another sense in which salvation is entirely by works, dependent wholly on obedience, wholly on goodness, just not our works. It’s not our obedience, not our goodness, but Christ’s. He has obeyed with perfect, specific, comprehensive full obedience to every last detail required of Him. He has fulfilled the Father’s plan, made in eternity, specifying that this dark agony at Calvary be the root of our redemption.

And at no point did Jesus ever waver from the course set before Him. He has obeyed the Law of Moses in all its exacting stipulations and commands, coming He said, “Not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.” He has followed with perfect precision the course of Messiah’s life laid out in all the predictions and prophecies and types and shadows of Scripture. And He has done all of it that “by one man’s obedience,” as Paul will put it in Romans chapter 5, “the many may be constituted righteous.” Your whole salvation rests not in anything you have done or ever could do, to be sure. That is gloriously precious and true. But it does rest in the perfect, complete obedience of Jesus Christ in your place from beginning to end. And that means that here in the obedience of Jesus is rest and relief and deliverance from dead works. Here is peace for troubled consciences. Here is the way to be right with God.

You’re here tonight, perhaps, deeply aware of sin and guilt in your life. You’d like nothing so much as to be rid of it. And you suppose, perhaps, the reason you have not yet shaken off the burden that you carry is because you are yet to discover just what it is that God requires of you, what ritual it is that you have to perform, what words it is you have to say, what penance you have to do in order to secure relief. But do you see now in our text that Jesus’ word here in John 19:28 teaches us none of that, none of that is necessary. None of it. The path to pardon and peace is wide open. All and every obstacle to your acceptance with God, they’ve all been removed. All that’s needed for your salvation has been accomplished. Jesus has done what you never could, what I never could, so that all we must do is rest, is just rest on Him. That’s it! Go to Him, talk to Him in your heart, right now if you must, and say to Him, “I’m bankrupt. I see it! I’m bankrupt. I’m spiritually destitute. I’ve tried and I’ve failed. Nothing can lift the guilt and sin of my heart. I know,” as Bonar puts it, “not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul. Not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole. Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God. Not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load. Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin. Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within. Thy love to me, O God, not mine, O Lord to Thee, can rid me of this dark unrest and set my spirit free.” Go to Christ who obeyed and died and rose for sinners like me and like you and ask Him to be your Rescuer. Do it now. His obedience, His obedience not yours, His obedience is the only ground of hope for any of us and we must come to rest on Him. Come and rest on Him.

A Word of Suffering

So when Jesus said, "I thirst," it was a word of obedience. Secondly, it was a word of suffering. That's clear on the surface of things, isn't it? Certainly, it's a word of physical suffering. It's helpful to remember some of what He endured - betrayal by Judas, denial by Peter, abandonment by the disciples, rejection by the crowds, beating by the soldiers. He was forced with lacerated flesh to carry the cross. He was mocked by the priests, nailed to the tree. He hung there for hours, six hours - three in bright sunlight, three in the great darkness that covered the earth - and now here He is, racked with pain and sorrow as the conclusion of His sufferings approaches. And He's overcome with thirst. Psalm 22:15 gives us some insight into this moment where, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, David speaks about the sufferings experienced by the Messiah and He has him say, "My strength is dried up like the potsherd and my tongue sticks to my jaws. You lay me in the dust of death." His mouth is dry. His tongue is swollen. And He's overtaken by this all-consuming bodily need - a demand for water, for relief, "I thirst." Physical suffering.

But there's more here than physical suffering. There is a spiritual agony at the heart of the cross that's well-described by this word, "I thirst." You will remember how in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus anticipated the trials that He would shortly have to endure and He prayed to His Father, Mark 14:26, "Abba Father, all things are possible for You. Remove this cup from Me, yet not what I will, but Your will be done." And here He is now drinking that cup, having taken it from the Father's hand, what a strange cup it is. It does not quench His thirst. Drinking it exacerbates His thirst. Drinking it plunges Him into an agony of unquenchable thirst. He's using in Gethsemane when He talks about the cup, He's using language from the Old Testament prophets to speak about the wrath of God. Jeremiah 25:1, "Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you to drink." Isaiah calls it, "the cup of wrath, the cup of staggering." That's the cup He's now given to drink by the Father.

And as He faces the enormity of it all in the Garden, looking forward as it were in His mind's eye to the cross that was still to come, His human nature, His flesh shrinks back from the pain of it, the horror of it, and yet apparently He seems to have some remembrance of the Father's purpose, designed in eternity, that this cup is the cup the Son must drink if He is to secure salvation for God's people. And so meekly He says, "Your will be done." He takes the cup from the Father's hand and now at the cross, He drinks it down. It is the cup of the fury of the wrath of the Father. The divine anathema, judgment. The cup I deserve and the cup you deserve to drink. And He drinks it.

What does the cup contain? We’ve seen some of the ingredients. There was physical, psychological suffering. But now we see included in the cup was more than the wrath of a Roman despot, more than the wrath of defensive Jewish leaders. No, included in the cup is the wrath of Almighty God burning white hot with righteous fury against my sin. And He takes it and He drinks it. This unfathomable horror, He drinks it, for me, for you, so that we might never need even begin to learn firsthand all that is contained in that cup.

Jesus Himself actually pictures in one of His parables the terrifying reality of hell, the judgment of God, in terms of unquenchable thirst. You may remember the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke chapter 16 where Jesus says, “The rich man died and was buried and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame!’” And that is something at least of the thirst that now etches itself into Jesus’ soul, into His consciousness at the cross. He’s drinking a cup that makes Him thirst. It is the tormenting thirst of the wrath of God, the divine curse. Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. For it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” That’s what’s happening here. He’s made a curse for us. That’s what the cup contains - it’s the curse. He takes the curse and He swallows it, all its bitter poison, for you, for you. And now there’s nothing left in the cup for you. The reality of wrath, believer in Jesus, the reality of wrath is gone now for you. “There is, therefore, now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” No condemnation because Jesus drank the cup of wrath. There’s no wrath left for you to drink. Praise God for the Gospel.

A Word of Longing

So when Jesus said, "I thirst," He spoke a word of obedience. He spoke a word of suffering - physical suffering, spiritual suffering. And finally and briefly, He also spoke a word of longing. A word of longing. This word, "I thirst," should remind us we live in the strange overlap of the already and the not yet. You will remember that at the institution of the Lord's Supper Jesus was celebrating with His disciples the very last Passover meal that He would enjoy, and at Passover, you may know that there are four cups on the table. The fourth cup called the cup of joy, eventually came also to be known as the cup of the Messiah. And the Jews did not drink from it. They passed it around the table but they didn't drink from it. It was reserved for that celebration that would come when Messiah, at last, has arrived and that is the cup on the night in which Jesus was betrayed, that Jesus took and told His disciples, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Drink from it, all of you." What was He saying to them? He's saying, "The day you've been waiting for is here! The age of Messiah has dawned and now we drink of the cup of joy, of the cup of Messiah!"

But before they drank He said this to them, Matthew 26:27, “I tell you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until I drink it anew with you in My Father’s house.” He’s looking forward to the final outcome of His sufferings in the salvation of the global church in the consummated kingdom of God in a new heavens and a new earth. At the end of the age, John himself will call it “the wedding supper of the Lamb” in Revelation 21. Is it too much to say that just as Jesus was mindful of the fulfillment of the ancient Scriptural obligations that waited for Him to accomplish as He hung upon the cross, so also He was mindful of future blessing promised that for the joy set before Him He endured the cross. He knew what His Father had promised at the other side of the cross, and so keeping it firmly in mind He said, “I thirst.” Is the thirst here merely physical? Is it merely the thirst of agony of soul? Isn’t it also the thirst of longing for the new day to come, for a new Jerusalem, a new creation, when because of His sufferings, all human suffering will end, when because of His atoning death all sin will go and be undone? He’s longing for the world to come. He thirst, He longs for that day of final deliverance.

That’s why when we eat and drink at the Lord’s Table as we’re about to do, we are proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes. We are longing for that day too. Already, right now, we enjoy the fruits of Christ’s self-giving love. I think it was Richard Cecil who somewhere said that “Christ drank to the dregs the cup of wrath without mercy that we might drink the cup of mercy without wrath.” Jesus said, “I thirst,” so that John 4:14, “Whoever drinks the water that I will give him will never thirst again” - that’s available to us right now as we come and trust in Jesus, as we gather at the Table together, we are drinking in the fountain of living water. We are eating and drinking Christ by faith - His body and blood, His grace, His life-giving, soul-nourishing life already.

But there’s still a not yet. Jesus has not yet returned. While we remain in this earthly tent, we groan longing for the day of cosmic deliverance and the renewal of all things. Sin still troubles us, faith is not yet sight, not all the ransomed church of God are saved to sin no more; not yet. And so we too thirst. Like David in Psalm 42, we can say “our souls thirst for God, for the living God, like a deer panting for streams of water in the desert.” The life of the world to come, Revelation 7:16 says, “In the life of the world to come, we shall neither hunger nor thirst anymore. The sun shall not strike them nor any scorching heat, for the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be our Shepherd and He will guide us to springs of living water and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.” But that day is still not yet.

And so we too say, as we gather at the Table, “I thirst.” When you sit at the Table, that’s what you’re saying. You’re eating and drinking Christ Himself by faith. You are nourished by His life by faith. You drink living water through the ministry of the Holy Spirit by faith. All of that is wonderfully true. But this meal is nothing, nothing compared to the feast that is to come. We eat the bread and we drink the cup and when we’re done, we’re supposed to say, “I’m still hungry. I’m still thirsty.” Like Jesus in our text, we too should want and long for, thirst for the wedding supper that is promised to us. We too want to drink of the fruit of the vine anew with our Savior in the kingdom of God. When we come to the Table like that, the ties that hold us here to this world, this world’s values and priorities, they begin to be loosened. We remember this isn’t our home. We are pilgrims passing through. We are thirsting, longing for another world, purchased by the blood of our Redeemer. That’s home. That’s where we’re headed. May that day dawn soon.

And so we come here to receive again the benefits of Christ's redemption. But having eaten and drunk we still way, "I thirst," and we should pray with the apostle John, with longing hearts, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus! Come and bring this veil of tears to its end and grant that a new day may dawn in a new heaven and a new earth at last!" Jesus said, "I thirst." Let's pray together.

O Lord, we bow before You confessing the truth that so often we have quenched our spiritual hunger and thirst in the fast food, the junk food of worldly pleasures so that when we come to Your Word, when we come to Your Table we don't thirst, we're not hungry, and so we're not filled. We bow now before You in repentance pleading for Your mercy. O Lord, awaken anew within us an appetite for Christ Himself who is promised to us in the bread and in the cup as we eat and drink believing. Grant as we come to the Table we may eat to the nourishment and satisfaction of our souls. And may it awaken in us a still greater thirst, a still deeper hunger, that drives us to look beyond the junk food of this world to the supper, to the great banquet table spread for us at the end of the age. That's where we're going. That's the finish line. Give to us persevering grace to press on till that day dawns at last. And we pray for anyone here, O Lord, that does not know what it is to receive the redeeming grace of God in Jesus. As they hear of His agonies and sufferings, awaken in them a longing to know deliverance, peace of conscience, freedom from the guilt of sin and the wrath of God, and bring them empty-handed begging, destitute of self-confidence, casting themselves upon Christ who endured all that they might live. Do that, O Lord, among us for Your glory, for Jesus' sake, amen.

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