“I Thirst” — Sermon by Pastor Rolf Preus

Wednesday Vespers
March 9, 2016
“I Thirst”
John 19:28-29

After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. (John 19:28-29)

There was nothing accidental about Christ’s death. He was not the victim of a cruel fate. He went to the cross of his own free will. Nobody forced him. When he prayed, “Not My will, but Yours, be done,” (Luke 22:42) he was joining himself to his Father’s will and choosing to make it his own. Jesus said,

Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father. (John 10:17-18)

Christ laid down his life when he willingly endured crucifixion and death. He took it back again when he raised himself from the dead. Nothing he did or suffered was against his will. Everything he did and suffered he did by the command of his Father. As we sing:

“Yes, Father, yes, most willingly
I’ll bear what you command me.
My will conforms to your decree,
I’ll do what you have asked me.
O wondrous Love, what have you done!
The Father offers up his Son;
Desiring our salvation.
O Love, how strong you are to save!
You lay the One into the gave
Who built the earth’s foundation.

Christ submitted to his Father in humble obedience. When heobeyed his Father, he obeyed him in everything. Children often have a creative imagination when it comes to their obedience to their parents. Mom gives specific instructions that are easy to understand. The child doesn’t pay attention. Or he forgets. Or he decides he knows better how to do it than Mom does. There are all sorts of things standing in the way of what Mom says to do and what actually gets done. What it often boils down to is that the child is more interested in doing something else than in doing what Mom wants him to do. It’s a matter of the will. The will of children does not perfectly conform to the will of their parents.

But Jesus’ will conforms to the will of his Father. He carries out his instructions to the letter. The Old Testament Scriptures described what God’s Suffering Servant would do. The Psalms and the Book of Isaiah especially describe the suffering of Christ. God’s words were written down. They revealed his will for the behavior of his Son who by obeying these words would become the Savior of those who disobeyed God. Those whose willful defiance of God required divine punishment needed as their Savior One whose will conformed perfectly to God’s will.

Psalm 69 is a messianic psalm. It describes what the promised Messiah or Christ would do and suffer. When Christ was hanging on the cross, bearing in his own body the sin of the world and thus paying the debt all of us sinners owed to God, he was careful to fulfill every word recorded of him in the Old Testament. Jesus suffered. He did not resist the abuse and he didn’t respond to the taunts and he meekly bowed his head before the slanders screamed in his holy face. While passively enduring it all, he actively fulfilled what the Bible said of the Christ’s suffering. St. John writes in our text, “After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, ‘I thirst! ’” The Scriptures had to be fulfilled because the Scriptures are God’s word. The written word of God had to be fulfilled by the Word made flesh. In Psalm 69 we read of him:

Hear me, O LORD, for Your lovingkindness is good;
Turn to me according to the multitude of Your tender mercies.
And do not hide Your face from Your servant,
For I am in trouble;
Hear me speedily.
Draw near to my soul, and redeem it;
Deliver me because of my enemies.
You know my reproach, my shame, and my dishonor;
My adversaries are all before You.
Reproach has broken my heart,
And I am full of heaviness;
I looked for someone to take pity, but there was none;
And for comforters, but I found none.
They also gave me gall for my food,
And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
(Psalm 69: 16-21)

“I thirst!” But what they gave him gave him no relief. In his reproach, shame, and dishonor he could find no pity. Full of heaviness and lacking any comfort from anybody he cried out in thirst, knowing that by this request he would receive no soothing Water but rather sour vinegar for this was the will of his Father.

It was cut with hyssop. In Psalm 51:7, in the midst of David’s most deeply penitential psalm, we hear his plea: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” Hyssop was an herb used in Old Testament times for ceremonial purification and healing. Christ himself is our purity. Christ himself is our health and healing. He takes the vinegar for the quenching of our thirst, not his own. He takes the hyssop because by his wounds we are healed. In him we are forgiven, restored to God, and healed in body and soul.

The church has always been plagued by heresy. A heresy is a teaching that divides people away from Christ and his church. It is sent by the devil, the father of lies, but the devil speaks through men. One of the earliest heresies to afflict the church was known as Gnosticism. Gnosticism comes from the Greek word for knowledge. The Gnostics believed in a radical separation of the divine and spiritual from the human and material. They denied that God became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. They said that Jesus was not really a flesh and blood man, but rather a spirit-like being who came from God with a secret knowledge that he shared with his apostles. St. John Wrote his Gospel and Epistles after the Gnostic heresy began to infiltrate the church. He emphasizes the fact that Jesus was truly God and man. The Gnostics taught that the material world was bad and the spiritual world was good. But that is not true. The material World is corrupted by sin. That is true. But God made it without sin. And when God the Son joined his creation as a man he did so as a sinless man.

He was a man. He was no phantom or ghost as the heretics taught. He was a real, flesh and blood man. He still is. While he remained the almighty God, he became weak and humbled himself. His greatest thirst in his humiliation was not his thirst for water that was denied him. It was to obey his Father. It was that through his obedience you and I would be delivered from our sins. He thirsted for our forgiveness, for our very lives. And he was satisfied.

He who understands all human weakness and hunger and thirst surely understands whatever it is that you lack but need. He who cried out in thirst and was given sour vinegar instead of water surely understands our thirsts. When we thirst for sin, he understands because he bore our sins. He understands sin better than we do. When we thirst for righteousness, he understands, because he hungered and thirsted for righteousness throughout his vicarious obedience all the Way to his death on the cross. The simple plea, “I thirst,” is all the evidence we need that our Lord Jesus understands our every human frailty and weakness.

And he is our God. He is more than our brother who has borne the burden of our sins. He is our God who forgives us our sins. He thirsted for water as a dying man. He is no longer dying, but eternally living to give to us the life he won for us on the cross. He received what he thirsted for the most. He gives it to us. It is the Water of life, satisfying our every thirst and springing up in us to everlasting life. Amen

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