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Lenten Series - The Seven Last Words

I Thirst

John 19:28

For students taking notes, the title of the sermon for tonight is “I Thirst.” It is the shortest of the seven last words. In English, it is two words long. In the Greek language, it is only one word. Subtitle: From the foot of the cross.

The text for tonight is John 19:28.

Point one (for students taking notes.) In the Bible, the number seven is a good number. Please write that day: the number seven is a good number. Some people would say the number seven is a lucky number. There are other favored numbers in the Bible e.g. twelve for the twelve tribes in the Old Testament and the twelve disciples in the New Testament. Ten is a good number e.g. for the Ten Commandments  or for the ten percent tithe we are to give to the Lord. Three is a good number because Jonah was in the belly of a whale for three days and nights; and Jesus was in the belly of the earth or grave for three days and nights.

But seven is also a favored number in the Bible. We hear that God made the world in seven days, the Jews marched around the walls of Jericho seven times before the walls fell, and in the Book of Revelation there are seven spirits and seven stars.

The number seven represents fullness. How often are we to forgive? Seventy times seven. Infinity. Seventy times seven represents the fullness of God’s forgiveness. God created the world in seven days, and what do the seven days represent? The fullness of time. In the book of Revelation, there are seven spirits, and what do the seven spirits represent? The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the fullness of God’s Spirit. In the book of Revelation, how many stars are there? Seven stars, representing the fullness of beauty of God. In the Bible, the number seven is a good number, a blessed number, a favored number, a number that symbolizes  fullness, completeness and wholeness.

There are seven last words from the cross. Why seven? Seven represents the fullness of God’s love, the fullness of God’s truth. As Jesus is dying on the cross, we think of the words, “No greater love is this than a man lay down his life for his friends.” Why is the cross the primary symbol of the Christian faith? Because it symbolizes the fullness of the love of God for us.

Not a bone of Jesus body was broken on the cross and not a word from Jesus on the cross was lost. We have all of Jesus’ seven words from the cross and his seven words represent the fullness of his love and the fullness of his truth.

His seven teachings from the cross are consistent with his life before the cross. For example, his first word, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” These words were consistent with his life. How many times are we to forgive? Seventy times seven. “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”  On the cross, he was consistent with what he said over and over again during his lifetime. I have come that you may have life and have life abundantly and eternally. “Woman, here is your son. Here is your mother.” Again, this word from the cross was totally consistent with his teachings while on earth. Our true family are not our biological brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers but those who do my will of love and righteousness. “Eloi, Eloi. Lama sabachtani. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  In those words, Jesus shared his intense emotional pain with us such as when his good friend Lazarus died and his heart felt such grief. The word for tonight is  “I thirst,” and Jesus shares with us his intense physical pain like any human being would. Jesus taught about thirst: “When I was hungry, you gave me food. When I was thirsty, you gave me drink.” So we see that all the words of Jesus from the cross were consistent with Jesus during his life. There is a consistency of Jesus between what Jesus said before the time of the cross and when he was on the cross.

Point number two: the situation or setting. The place? Golgotha, the place of the skull, immediately outside the walls of Jerusalem. A piece of flat ground with a high, sixty foot, clay cliff, and carved out of that clay cliff were deep indentations that looked like two eyes and a mouth. It was called the place of the skull. You could see the image of a skull in the cliff; you could see skulls around on the ground.

The day? It was Friday, the day after Holy Thursday.

The time? Jesus was on the cross for three hours, from twelve to three o’clock. It was now about three o’clock and Jesus was about to die and he knew it. In fact, the gospel of John gets very specific. It was about 2:55 in the afternoon; these words occurred just moments before he died.

For those taking notes, please write down: the details are very specific.  The details of Jesus’ last moments on the cross are very specific. These words were written by the Apostle John and he is the only eyewitness in the Bible who was a Biblical author. Matthew did not walk with Jesus. Mark did not walk with Jesus. Luke did not walk with Jesus. Paul did not walk with Jesus. John did walk with Jesus. John not only walked with Jesus but was at the foot of the cross and he saw up close the death of Jesus. John was close to the cross and was also Jesus’ closest friend. And therefore, he gets very specific about what he saw.

Ten details from the foot of the cross. Please write that down, students.

Detail 1: “Jesus knew that it was all finished.” John knew that Jesus knew it was all over. Jesus was on his last breath and he knew he was going to die any minute now. That is the way it is with some people: they know that this is their moment, their moment of truth, their moment of death, their last moment. And so with Jesus. He was minutes from the end of his earthly life and he knew it. And John, at the foot of the cross, knew he knew it.

Detail 2. “To fulfill the Scriptures.” Throughout the whole New Testament, Jesus says and does everything to fulfill the Scriptures. Many things that he did during his life were to fulfill Scriptures and this was another one. Jesus then quotes a psalm.

Detail 3: “I thirst.” Jesus gave them a quotation from Psalm 69:31. “I thirst and they gave me vinegar to drink.”   Jesus chose the exact words from Psalm 69, an obscure passage. But John the Apostle, from the foot of he cross, heard the detail, and saw it and recorded it.

Detail 4: “a bowl…. full… of vinegar … stood there.” A detail with four parts. Bowl, full, vinegar. Why? A bowl? More than a cup?  Why a bowl? Why was there a bowl full of vinegar? Why was the bowl full? Could it been half full or quarter full or a spool fool of vinegar in the bowl? Why not just a little vinegar? Why vinegar? Why sour wine? Was the bowl standing on a table, on the ground?  In this account,  we are informed of  specific details. There was a bowl…full… of vinegar…standing there. John, the apostle, at the foot of the cross, saw it with his own eyes.

Detail 5: “They… put a sponge… full of vinegar… onto hyssop.” A detail with four parts. They, sponge, full of vinegar, hyssop. Who were the “they?” Who did this cruelty? Most likely the soldiers. A group. More than one? … A sponge? Why a sponge? Who brought the sponge? How about a rag? An old shirt?  …Full of vinegar? Dripping with vinegar? Why not just a little vinegar or sour wine? …  How would they get that sponge full of vinegar up to him on the cross? On a branch of a bush. A branch of hyssop, a common vine at that time. It was not only a branch but the kind of bush or branch is named: hyssop. You can actually see the details as recorded  by John. You can see a sponge, a sponge dripping with vinegar, a sponge being lifted up to the lips of Jesus by the soldiers, all witnessed by a man standing at the foot of the cross.

Detail 6: “They held it to his mouth.” Again, without any painting, without any movies, without any visual effects, you can see them sticking that sponge of vinegar into Jesus’ passive lips. You can see them holding the sponge up to Jesus’ lips. Another detail that John say from the foot of the cross. He was carefully watching it all.

Detail 7: “And when Jesus had received the vinegar.” Again, Jesus must have sipped the vinegar, tasted it, smelled it, took a whiff of it, took some of the bitterness of the vinegar on the taste buds of his parched lips and tongue. John, seeing it up close from the foot of the cross, tells us that Jesus received the vinegar; he took it into himself.

Detail 8: Jesus said, “It is finished.” “It is finished” is the last word in John’s Gospel

Detail 9: “He bowed his head.” You can see Jesus dropping his head. His neck and head slump down in lifelessness.

Detail 10: Died, gave us his spirit. Have you even been in a room when someone slipped away and it became even quieter?

Ten details from the foot of the cross.  The details are plentiful and descriptive. From the Bible and from the Apostle John, who was there at the foot of the cross, who took Jesus’ mother, who wrote the Gospel of John, who was Jesus’ best friend, the disciple whom Jesus loved: this man gives us all the details of Jesus’ last moment on earth.

So what does all this mean for us and for our lives?

First, it means that Jesus/God knew physical pain. His physical pain was not make believe or pretend but was real. Last week’s sermon focused on the intense emotional pain of Jesus; this week focuses on the intense physical pain of Jesus.

Jesus experienced the enormity of human pain There were 39 lashes across his back. There was a crown of thorns stuck into his head. There were the ten inch spikes through his wrists. There was his hanging for three hours. Jesus experienced the enormity of human pain, and thereby, so did God. God’s heart knows the enormity of human pain because God became human flesh and suffered on the cross.

The Son of God, the Mind of God, the Heart of God, was fully human just like we are. Jesus was a true incarnation of God. Jesus was fully God but also fully flesh or fully human. He suffered intense emotional pain. He suffered intense physical pain.

That means that God knows and truly understands are physical and emotional pain.

This story is not about spiritual thirst such as thirsting after God and thirsting after righteousness or peace. It is not about thirsting after the living water like the woman at the well. No, this passage is about when a person was thirsty with parched lips and a throat that was dry.

There are times in life when we feel physically awful. The pain is excruciating and so the medical experts dope us up with morphine and other drugs to mask the pain we are feeling. Two years ago tonight, according to my calendar, I was as sick as I had ever been. I was feeling just awful. I thought I had walking pneumonia but it was endocarditis, an infection of the heart valve. I was sick, physically sick, really sick. My sickness was not imaginary. And God knew my physical pain, only worse. There are some days when you become so physically sick that you want to die and Jesus knew that kind of day, as many of you have.

And God knows your physical pain when you are at the sickest point in your life. That is what this story means. God became a real human being and felt physical pain and thereby also feels our physical pain.

Physically, Jesus was fully humiliated, and so are we. Jesus was humiliated; he could not control his bodily functions during this pain. Many of us feel the same way about our own bodies as we lie in the hospital. Our bodies become so incredibly weak. We often feel humiliated, lying there so helplessly in a hospital bed. God knows our feelings of humiliation because Jesus experienced humiliation on the cross.

Second: When we give water, (food, clothing) to those in need, it is like we are giving water to Christ on the cross.

Jesus said, Whoever gives a cup of cold water to someone in need will receive a reward.

Jesus told a parable about giving water. Jesus said in his famous parable in Matthew 25, “When I was hungry, you gave me food.  When I was thirsty, you gave me drink. When I was in rags, you gave me clothing and shelter.” Jesus clearly told us that when we give food, water, clothing and shelter to those who need it, it is like giving to Jesus himself.

Many of you give cups of cold water to those in need. Right now, I am thinking of the water pump projects here at Grace Lutheran Church. I am thinking of all the wells and water pumps that my wife and I saw first hand in our recent trip to East Africa. So many new wells. So many new pumps. So many people who now have clean water to give them life. So many of you are involved with helping people get clean water which is necessary for life, for crops, for food. Giving water is giving life.

Mother Theresa, the greatest saint of our century, who feeds the hungry of the world, has a sign above the entrance to the chapel in all her missions around the word, “I thirst, I quench.” When we give water to those in need, we are giving water to Jesus on the cross. We are quenching his thirst.

Third, We are cruel to Jesus today when we withhold water from him. Students, please write that day. 

“They” were cruel to Jesus at the end. Who were the “they?” I don’t know but perhaps it was the soldiers. They were enormously cruel to Jesus at that moment on the cross. He was experiencing all that pain and a simple act of kindness would have given him a taste of water. Instead they gave him vinegar which worsened his pain.

“They” stands for the human race today. Many people are still cruel to Jesus. People are forever swearing and using God’s name and Jesus’ name in vain. People forever use foul language and are cursing of Jesus and God today. People are still cruel towards Jesus today  as the soldiers were at the closing moments of his life.

Knowing that swearing and the abuse of Jesus’ name and God’s name is terrible, I think it is worse to withhold a cup of cold water to Jesus today. The primary way that you and the world are cruel to Jesus today is to withhold water from Jesus as Jesus lives behind the faces and eyes and bodies of the hungry and needy of the world.

This is our last Wednesday together. We invite you to next Thursday, Maundy Thursday when we hear the last word from the Gospel of John, “It is finished.” On Friday, we hear the last word from the Gospel of Luke, “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.”


Biblical Responsive Reading

Litany (read responsively)

L:  "Sir," the woman said, "you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?  Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?"  Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever 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." John 4:11-14

C:  Then Jesus declared, "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. John 6:35

L:  On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "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 within him."  By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.  John 7:37-39

C:  Therefore, "they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.  Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." Rev 7:14-17

L:  He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."  He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.  Rev 21:5-6

C:  You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed; all my enemies are before you.  Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none.  They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.  Psalm 69:19-21

L:  Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I am thirsty."  A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips.  When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. 

John 19:28-30