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I Thirst

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"I Thirst"

June 7, 2009Download:

John 19: 28-29


Once again we come to the foot of the cross. Last week we reflected on Jesus’ words to His mother thru His suffering. Today we’ll ponder what He said next. While you’re turning to our key passage in John 19, verses 28 and 29, I will read some thought provoking comments by Henry Blackaby.

Romans 8:32 tells us that He did not even spare His own Son,but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything?

In Experiencing God Day-by-Day, Henry Blackaby tells us that if you ever feel that you are so insignificant that God does not care about you or that He does not want to listen to your prayers, you will be encouraged by Romans 8:32. There, you are assured that your heavenly Father loves you unconditionally. He did not even spare His own Son,but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything?

There was nothing so precious to Him that He would not give it up in order to provide for your salvation. When the Father gave His precious Son to save you, He proved once for all that His love is boundless.

The apostle Paul concluded that if God would not spare His own Son in order to provide for our salvation, how would He not willingly give anything else at His disposal in order to care for us? He sacrificed so much to give us eternal life that we can rest secure in the knowledge that He also wants to give us abundant life (John 10:10).

In light of what God did for us at the cross, should we not approach the throne of grace with confidence? God's response to our prayers is not based upon our worthiness but upon His love and grace. Our confidence in prayer comes not from who we are but from who He is. Nothing we could ask of Him could ever compare with the price He paid for us at the cross.

How wonderful to know that God loves us so much! We can live with confidence and anticipation knowing that almighty God is willing not only to give us eternal life, but also to help us experience it fully!

Now, let’s look at our key verses this morning – John 19:28-29. After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the scripture), "I thirst." A bowl full of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth. Everything that happened to Jesus that day was either foretold by Jesus or by Scripture. We’ll be looking today at a few of them. If you have your Bible with you, I want you to follow me as we look at a few of those prophetic Scriptures. Let’s start in John 10. Turn there with me now.

In John 10:18 Jesus said, "No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again." Those very significant words of Jesus mean that everything that happened to him on that first Good Friday—all of the physical pain of the whippings, the beatings, the crown of thorns thrust into his head, the nails driven into his hands and his feet; all of the emotional pain of being mocked and spat upon; all of the spiritual pain that Jesus endured when his Father turned his face away from him as he took upon himself the sins of the world—all of it was voluntarily accepted and voluntarily endured by Jesus Christ for the glory of his heavenly Father and for the eternal well-being of his people. Nothing that happened to Jesus that day caught him by surprise. None of it was unforeseen. Jesus had told the crowds He would voluntarily die for their sins, that no individual group or government had the power to kill the Messiah, the Christ. All of it was anticipated and taken into account by Jesus when he made that fateful prayer in Gethsemane, "Not my will but yours be done" (Luke 22:42). The picture we see of Jesus in the gospel accounts of his passion is not one of a person who valiantly yet somewhat bewilderedly is confronting unforeseen circumstances that are beyond his control. No, the picture is one of complete control. Jesus is in total command of every aspect of the situation. That is true throughout the entirety of Jesus' passion—during his arrest, his appearance for "questioning" before the Jewish authorities and before Pilate, during the brutal treatment he received from the soldiers, while he hung on the cross in agony. Jesus Christ was not a helpless victim; no, he was the almighty, sovereign Son of God voluntarily submitting himself to humiliation and suffering, laying down his life of his own accord. That's the picture of Jesus we see in the gospels, and that's the picture of Jesus we see in these words from John 19 constituting Jesus fifth word from the cross.

"After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the scripture), 'I thirst.'" The picture again is one of Jesus in complete command, consciously fulfilling the program, the agenda that the Father had set out for him. John's reference to the fact that Jesus knew that all was now completed recalls his prayer in John 17:4, "I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do." The work has been completed, his suffering was coming to an end, and so to fulfill Scripture Jesus said, "I thirst." The whole scene is one of total devotion and commitment to the Father's program for his life and total command of the situation. Have you ever felt such thirst? Listen to this description.

Driving up from Beersheba, a combined force of British, Australians and New Zealanders were pressing on the rear of the Turkish retreat over arid desert. The attack outdistanced its water carrying camel train. Water bottles were empty. The sun blazed pitilessly out of a sky where the vultures wheeled expectantly.  "Our heads ached," writes Gilbert, "and our eyes became bloodshot and dim in the blinding glare...Our tongues began to swell...Our lips turned a purplish black and burst."  Those who dropped out of the column were never seen again, but the desperate force battled on to Sheria. There were wells at Sheria, and had they been unable to take the place by nightfall, thousands were doomed to die of thirst. 

"We fought that day," writes Gilbert, "as men fight for their lives... We entered Sheria station on the heels of the reteating Turks. The first objects which met our view were the great stone cisterns full of cold, clear, drinking water. In the still night air the sound of water running into the tanks could be distinctly heard, maddening in its nearness; yet not a man murmured when orders were given for the battalions to fall in, two deep, facing the cisterns" He then describes the stern priorities: the wounded, those on guard duty, then company by company. It took four hours before the last man had his drink of water, and in all that time they had been standing twenty feet from a low stone wall on the other side of which were thousands of gallons of water. That’s a vivid picture of thirst. I’m sure that each of you can relate.

But there is another picture as well—one of very intense physical suffering and agony. It is approaching the ninth hour (3:00 PM). Jesus has been hanging on the cross for six hours (cf. Mark 15:25, 34). The combination of Jesus' loss of blood, his exhaustion, his nervous tension, and his exposure to the weather has generated a raging thirst. Jesus' cry, "I thirst," was not a polite and quiet request for a glass of water. No, it was a cry of agony. Jesus' thirst while hanging on the cross in our place showed the reality and intensity of his physical suffering. His thirst consummated his physical suffering and thus enabled Jesus to know that all was now completed. And so, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, he cried out, "I thirst," asking for and then receiving a drink of wine vinegar from a sponge held up to his mouth on a stalk of hyssop.

Now this is clearly a different situation from what is recorded in Matthew 27:34 and Mark 15:23, where at the beginning of his crucifixion Jesus was offered a drink of wine mixed with myrrh, a drug offered to help dull the pain. At that point Jesus refused the drink, desiring to face his hour of suffering and death with a clear head. Now approaching the moment of his death Jesus accepts this drink of wine vinegar to meet his own physical needs, to moisten his mouth so that he might offer clearly and loudly his next words, the triumphant "It is finished" (John 19:30), and as our text indicates so that the Scripture might be fulfilled.

The particular text that Jesus had in mind is not mentioned. Some have thought that it refers to the prophetic picture of thirst during the death of the Messiah given in Psalm 22. Turn to it now with me. This is a Psalm of David – a lament. Davdi expresses His trust in God in spite of rejection. This rejection was ultimately experience by Christ on the cross. This Psalm is typical of the suffering of the Messiah and is one of the most quoted Psalms in the New Testament. Its description of thirst is particularly vivid. Look at verse 15:  "My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth." Take time on your own to read Psalm 22 and reflect on the crucifixion. Now turn to Psalm 69. Here is another lament of David on persecution and punishment. Verse 21 is particularly prophetic of the suffering Christ felt, "They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst." Whichever text from Psalm 22 or 69 Jesus had in mind, the picture is one of Jesus, even in the midst of the most intense physical agony, very much aware of the word of his Father in Scripture and very much committed to order all of his life, even these last few moments, by it Scripture. This scene speaks volumes about Jesus' commitment to Scripture and should speak very loudly and very clearly to us about our need to order our lives by Scripture, especially in our moments of deepest suffering.

In spite of the reality and intensity and significance of Jesus' physical thirst, I am convinced that something deeper is being expressed by this fifth word from the cross. Underlying his physical thirst is another kind of thirst that Jesus experienced in a deeper, more profound way — spiritual thirst. The evidence that leads me to this conviction comes from the use of the verb "thirst." The verb "thirst" or "be thirsty" is found five times in the gospel of John in addition to our text here in John 19. All five are in contexts referring to spiritual thirst. Three of these usages occur in John 4:13–15 in the course of Jesus' discussion with the woman at the well. Please turn to it now. Jesus offers himself to her as the one who can give her living water to drink. And he says that "who ever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (v. 14). In John 6:35 Jesus says, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty." And in John 7:37–38 Jesus declared, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from him." And John helps us understand what Jesus meant by adding in the next verse, "By this he (Jesus) meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive." Putting all this evidence together, we can see that this thirst that Jesus was speaking about is a spiritual craving for God, a longing that operates deep within the heart of every human being created in the image of God, a thirst that Jesus and Jesus alone can satisfy for all eternity. According to John's gospel this universal spiritual thirst can be quenched and satisfied only by the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised to give to all who will believe in him, and who will give to the believer eternal life. And it is this kind of thirst, this spiritual thirst, that Jesus experienced on the cross. And, what was it that Jesus experienced on the cross? All this the Bible records with the simple words, "And they crucified Him." (Mark 15:24). What is crucifixion? A medical doctor provides a physical description: The cross is placed on the ground and the exhausted man is quickly thrown backwards with his shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drives a heavy, square wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flex and movement. The cross is then lifted into place.

The left foot is pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees flexed. The victim is now crucified. As he slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain--the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves. As he pushes himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, he places the full weight on the nail through his feet. Again he feels the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the bones of his feet. As the arms fatigue, cramps sweep through the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push himself upward to breathe. Air can be drawn into the lungs but not exhaled. He fights to raise himself in order to get even one small breath. Finally carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream, and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically he is able to push himself upward to exhale and bring in life-giving oxygen.

Hours of this limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from his lacerated back as he moves up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins: a deep, crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with fluid,  and begins to compress the heart. It is now almost over--the loss of tissue fluids has reached a critical level--the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues--the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air. He can feel the chill of death creeping through is tissues. Finally he can allow his body to die.

We must be very clear as to what was really going on upon that cross. The man who hung there was no ordinary Galilean rabbi. No, he was the eternal Son of God. Jesus of Nazareth was the Word of God who became flesh. He had existed from all eternity in the closest, most intimate fellowship imaginable with the Father. Even when he voluntarily left heaven's glory and emptied himself of all divine dignity and authority to become a man, he still maintained throughout his life sweet communion and deep intimacy with his heavenly Father. He still thirsted for His Father’s company. Until, that is, he hung on the cross. There, as he took upon himself the sins of all his people, Jesus Christ experienced, for the first time in all eternity, the horror of separation from God. The Father turned his back on the Son while he hung there on the cross, in our place, inflicting upon him the full fury of his wrath for our sins. We hear of the horrifying reality of this separation from Jesus' own lips, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34). Jesus had known the joy of intimate fellowship with his Father, and now during this time of separation, Jesus wanted it back; he longed for it; he thirsted after God. On the cross Jesus was the supreme fulfillment of Psalm 63:1, "O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water."

This, then, at the deepest level, is the thirst Jesus experienced on the cross. He was physically thirsty to be sure. His physical thirst consummated his physical suffering. But his physical thirst was only the tip of the iceberg. Jesus' deepest, most profound thirst was spiritual, thirsting after his Father, from who he was separated as he hung on the cross paying the penalty for our sins. And so in conclusion let me stress the significance of this spiritual thirst of Jesus for our lives.

The truth is a simple one, but one that is very, very profound. It is the truth of substitution. The substitutionary nature of Jesus' death on the cross is expressed very clearly by this fifth word, "I thirst." Some of the most precious of all the promises Jesus gives us are those we have referred to from the earlier chapters of John about how Jesus promises to satisfy us and quench our thirst forever. Here in John 19 we see the source of those promises. It is Jesus own thirst on the cross. The glorious truth of the fifth word on the cross is that we don't need to be thirsty; our thirst for God can be quenched because Jesus was thirsty for us.

John gives us another clear example of this substitutionary character of the death of Jesus in his gospel. In John 12:27, following the triumphal entry Jesus said, "Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father save me from this hour?' No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!" That word "troubled" is a very strong one denoting the turmoil, the distress, the agony of soul Jesus experienced as he contemplated his death. And that word calls to mind other words of Jesus, this time to his disciples, which he utters two chapters later in John 14:1, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me." The point is clear, is it not? Our hearts cannot be troubled, precisely because Jesus' heart was troubled for us. So in the same way, our thirst can be quenched, we don't need be thirsty forever, precisely because Jesus was thirsty for us. That's the message of the fifth word for us today. That's the reason for great faith among us as we embrace this thirsty Jesus, and for great joy as we receive from him living water to quench our thirst for all eternity.

Let’s pray.

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