Thirst (March 21, 2021)
John 19: 28-29
We continue today our sermon series on the last words of Jesus; the seven phrases that Jesus says from the cross. And today we have a very small, simple phrase: “I thirst.” And as was read today, in response to that a person standing next to the cross takes a hyssop branch, and puts a sponge on the branch with a little bit of wine in the sponge, and lifts it up to Jesus mouth. And he sips the wine offered by the sponge to relieve his thirst. At least, that’s what happens in John.
It’s interesting to me how little the gospels all agree upon what is important enough to record about the cross. Yet one of the few things that they all agree upon is that Jesus was offered wine. They disagree on when and how, but they all record that at some point in the crucifixion Jesus was offered wine. I’m gonna get later in the sermon into why I think they may have recorded this, why each one wanted to make sure that at some point they mentioned it, but I want to first go through the three places that Jesus is offered wine in the Gospels.
The first is actually prior to going on the cross. IN Matthew and Mark, Jesus was offered wine right before he is nailed to the cross, and it is mixed with either gall or myrrh. Myrrh, of course, is one of the gifts offered to Jesus by the Wisemen. It was primarily used as something that was placed upon a corpse to help with the burial and decomposition process, but it also served as a poison. Sometimes what happened in the ancient world is that people would have compassion upon someone who had been condemned to death, and would offer wine mixed with this stuff in order to make sure that they died as quickly as possible, or at least to ease as much as possible the pain of the crucifixion. Matthew and Mark record that someone at the foot of the cross offered Jesus this tonic.
But Jesus takes the wine, and he takes a sip of the wine, and recognizes the bitterness of the poison, and he rejects it. For whatever it means, and it means a lot of different things for different people, Jesus made sure that he experienced the full suffering of the crucifixion. He experienced the worst humanity could throw at anyone, and he didn’t lessen the pain.
Luke does not record that. Instead Luke records that someone, most likely the soldiers, picked up some cheap wine and offered this wine to Jesus while he was on the cross. However, it was kept out of Jesus‘s reach, offered while chiding him to save himself. This was likely another bit of torment, another bit of teasing and making fun of Jesus, similar to the crown of thorns and the mock worship of Jesus after he was sentenced to death. That is Luke’s recording of Jesus being offered wine.
And then we finally get to this moment, toward the end of the crucifixion, that is actually recorded in three of the Gospels: in Matthew, and Mark, and in John. We actually read this last week. But Matthew and Mark don’t have the line “I thirst,” rather they have the line that was read last week “my God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Which in Aramaic is recorded as “Eli, Eli lema sabachthani.” And because the word Jesus said was “Eli,” those around the cross believed that Jesus may have been calling for Elijah, who was supposed to come to announce the age of the Messiah was upon them. So these people who are crucifying a person who claimed to be the Messiah think that this person is calling out for Elijah to come, so they get wine to give to him, to give him strength in the hopes that Elijah will come, and the age of the Messiah will begin.
John does not record that line. Instead, John shows Jesus say “I thirst,” and someone standing at the foot of the cross has compassion upon him. Kind of like a person tending to a patient at a hospital bed, taking a little straw and filling it with water with your thumb on the end, and gently placing some water inside the mouth; someone takes a sponge, and dips it in the wine that is there, and offers it to him to quench the thirst as he dies.
Now, I mentioned that I believe there was a reason that all four Gospels include Jesus being offered wine. This would have been the one that was around, the cheap wine of the soldiers. It was said to taste more like vinegar then actual wine. And that is important because I believe that John was not the only one to record this offering of wine in order to point out that the Scriptures were being fulfilled. John explicitly states that as why it’s in there. Matthew states there are some other things that are happening specifically so that the Scriptures are fulfilled as well, but I assume that most would have known the scripture that we believe John is referring to: Psalm 69:21 “they gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” And of course, this is what Jesus is being offered: wine mixed with poison and vinegar, cheap wine.
And as I said, particularly in Matthew, time and time again we get recorded that something happened to fulfill the Scriptures. I think particularly Matthew records that Judas was offered 30 pieces of silver, an allusion to a prophecy that “they sold me out for 30 pieces of silver, for the price of the Potter’s field.” Jesus is silent before Pilate, alluding back to the suffering servant of Isaiah who is silent in the face of his accusers. And of course last week we talked about Psalm 22 and the similarities between what was being said in Psalm 22 and was happening on the cross, things like “they pierced my hands and feet,” “they cast slots for for my clothing.” There are many moments in the Gospels where it is stated this is fulfilling scripture. For instance, Matthew 26:31 “then Jesus said to them, ‘you will all become deserters because of me this night, for it is written ‘I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’’”
And I believe that all the Gospel writers are at least a little bit cognizant of some of the things that are predicted. Particularly, I think they were aware of things like the prediction that Elijah would precede the Messiah. And so they include John the Baptist, as a prophet in the spirit of Elijah preaching the coming of the Messiah. There are many things like ths.
And what they’re doing, I think, is trying to convince these people that this is God’s action for the salvation of the world. And they need to convince the people of that because what Jesus does is not what they expected. It’s not what they thought God‘s will would be, God‘s plan would be, and yet it was what happened. In part, what the gospels are trying to do is to convince the readers, both then and now, that dying himself was part of God‘s plan, or at least part of God‘s action.
I think this is an important thing to think about as we think about the cross, and as we think about the crucifixion. Like Paul says, the crucified Christ is a stumbling block and foolishness. Yet it is what we believe was God’s action.
And the reality is that oftentimes we cannot understand the actions of God, but it doesn’t make them any less of God; or at the very least that doesn’t make them any less capable of being used by God. We often talk about the idea that God has a plan for our life, and I believe that God has a plan for each and everyone of us, that God has a plan for the church, that God has a plan for the state, and the country, and the world. Does that mean that God controls everything and every movement? Or is it just that God wants good things for me, and is going to try to lead me in ways where my soul receives a blessing? How much free will does humanity have? How much does the world have? These things are undecided, but I lean toward God using what happens in the world, mostly by our own free will and hopefully following God in that, to take the next step toward where He wants to take us.
When I was almost 6, my father passed away of a heart attack very suddenly. Was that God‘s plan? I don’t know, but I’d like to think not. I’d like to think it just happened, or maybe my father chose to keep smoking and things happened. Free will. But what I do know is that by the time I got to fifth grade, we had a moment in my elementary school where several families suddenly lost someone important who lived in the home; a mother, a father, a grandparent that lived within the house; someone really important died. All in the same couple of weeks. And our counselor in the school decided that she would gather all four or five of these kids together, and then she pulled a couple of us who had been through this including me. She created a support group where me and my experience of having gone through the loss of my father was able to reach out and help these other four kids who are going through the loss of their beloved family members as well. Was it God’s plan for my dad to die? Personally I don’t think so, but I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that God was able to work through the counselor and threw me to help another kid. God was able to use what happened with my father to bless somebody else who was going through a rough time. That I know. No matter what happens in the world, God is capable of using it for good. And it helps if we listen for the nudging of the Spirit and follow those instructions.
And I believe that God has a plan for you, for me, for this church. As you know, last week we had a meeting with the DS for those who are unable to stay. In that meeting our leadership council presented the stark financial realities that this church is unable to continue to support a full-time pastor, or at least to support all of the cost of a full-time pastor. And I reported to that meeting that I was unable to take a pay cut. The DS laid it out explicitly that that means my name is before the cabinet to move. I can now tell you that I have an appointment beginning July 1 at Falls City First United Methodist Church in Falls City, Nebraska and Trinity United Methodist Church in Rulo, Nebraska. You all will be appointed a new pastor. I will be with you until the end of June.
Is that God‘s will? Again, I don’t know, but it’s reality. But I do know that if you and I will listen to the voice of God, then God will use what is happening to bless you and bless the souls out here that are lost. And if I listen God will use me in Falls City and in Rulo, and that will bless the Conference which will in turn bless you as well. That doesn’t mean it’s not painful, that doesn’t mean I’m not sad to leave and that you can’t be sad for me to leave. What it means is that God is at work. And our job is to join him.
And I hope that for the last four years of sermons I have convinced you that God is at work, even when it doesn’t look like it. God is still at work. And the salvation of the world may well be happening. As we close out Lent, next week is Palm Sunday, so as we close out this season of preparation, remember that what we’re preparing for is the very work of God. And that work includes your service to God. May God bless you. May God bless us these last few months ,and bless you and I going forward beyond that. And I know that no matter what it looks like, no matter what happens, God indeed will bless us. Amen.