As we move ever so closer to Good Friday we are positioned to look at, truly, the final words that Jesus said from the cross. For what now dominates our attention are the most immediate words that were on Jesus’ lips in the moment before his death. Two of those words will come from John with an emotional word, which we will look at next week, coming from Luke.
None of these truly final words seem as simplistic as the one that is before us today. Three words that, on face value, do not seem to have much significance. The normalcy of these words might keep us from seeing the depth of its meaning for us. This is a typical writing tactic that John uses in his gospel. What might seem to us like a toss away passage or a word with little to draw upon is often rich with significance that teaches us about the life of Christ and what this life means for us today.
This word from John 19:28-29 is one of those seemingly quaint little passages that provide so much more than what we may initially believe. As we hear this word read, this morning, try to sense what is going on in this moment. Jesus has been on the cross, as we said last week, for about six hours. He is nearing his death. His body is weak. He is in pain. He is exhausted. Picture what this might look and feel like as we come to these words, especially the ones from John 19:28.
Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture he said, “I am thirsty.”
Now, at its most basic level this statement from Jesus reflects his personal pain and condition. It lets us in on the physical pain that he is feeling, much like how last week’s passage of abandonment allowed us to experience Jesus’ emotional pain. Like any other human nearing death, Jesus’ body is weak is in need of thirst.
It is when we unpack the story a little bit, much like we have done throughout the series, we see that there is more to this story than just a request for something to drink. First, you notice that there is a reference to Jesus’ speaking a word to fulfill Scripture. Much of what Jesus says on the cross is aimed at fulfilling elements of Scripture and the promises of the Old Testament. There is a strong likelihood that it connects to Psalm 69:21. In those words, the Psalmist writes about being offered a vinegar beverage to drink by the host. Jesus may be thinking about these words within the request to seek something to drink.
Another important fact is that this is the third opportunity for Jesus to receive something to drink during the process of crucifixion. Jesus denied the first two offers. One was an attempt to provide an elixir of sorts to ease his pain or to quicken death, perhaps out of sympathy for him. The other was a drink offered by the Roman soldiers in mockery.
This time, though, Jesus will receive the drink that is offered to him. Most likely, the drink was a concoction that was common to the poor and the Roman soldier. It was likely a vinegar-based wine that would not have been pleasing to the taste.
Getting the drink to Jesus was not as simple as giving him a cup and a straw to drink from. The Roman soldiers likely placed a sponge on a stick to reach Jesus with the drink. The sponge would be dabbed against his lips to give Jesus some moisture. Now the stick the sponge was placed on was likely a hyssop branch. Remember, I told you that the simple words in John often lead us to a deeper understanding of Jesus and what his life means to us. It is this element of description that John provides that offers us the biggest detail into what this word means for Jesus and us today.
The description about the hyssop branch was not accidental nor would it be missed by the ones reading John’s gospel narrative originally. A hyssop branch connects us to the events that surrounded the first Passover and the Passover celebration that was taking place in Jerusalem while Jesus hung on the cross.
Exodus 12 tells us that Mosses and the Israelites used a hyssop branch to paint the doorposts of their homes in Egypt with the blood of the lamb on the night before the Passover. The blood would serve as an identification marker during the final plague when the firstborn throughout Egypt were killed. The Israelites were protected from death because of this blood.
Flash forward to the time of Jesus and the people in Jerusalem were preparing for the Passover celebration. John’s descriptions of the events tell us that Jesus’ death occurred on the day when the Passover lamb would be slaughtered. The lamb would be slaughtered to remember the initial Passover and as a sign of God’s passing over the people. John does this to signify the work Jesus came to do to be the true Passover lamb. Jesus came to offer himself, his body, as a sacrifice to protect the people from God’s wrath for their sin.
The drink provided on the hyssop branch was to quench the human thirst for Jesus, yet Jesus’ deepest thirst was to do the Father’s will. Jesus would reference this thirst through the imagery of the cup of suffering. He would often tell his followers that he was willing to drink from the cup of suffering that awaited him. That is because Jesus’ deepest thirst was to follow the Father’s desire, even to the point of giving his life for the sins of others.
This desire sustained and quenched him throughout his earthly ministry. Jesus’ mission to offer himself for others kept him going. When he faced the obstacles from his hometown friends and neighbors in Nazareth who wanted to throw him off a cliff, it was drinking from this cup of his identity and mission to be the One who would save that kept him going. When he was challenged by the religious leaders, what gave him strength, what quenched his very thirst, was doing the Father’s will in reconciling all people through the cross. Jesus drew from his deep well of the knowledge of his identity and purpose and it carried him forward, even to this moment on the cross.
Jesus’ drunk from this mission and his very identity until there was nothing left. John tells us that at this point Jesus knew that the work was finished. The cup was empty. There was nothing left to do. Jesus has given his entire life for the sins of all. He has now become the true Passover lamb who would stand in the place of others before God.
Through all of this we see a connection to another Psalm in Jesus’ words on the cross. Psalm 42:1-2 talks about the desire to thirst for God. Everything about Jesus was a pursuit of seeking after God and doing his will. That basic thirst guided him. As Jesus thirsted for God throughout his ministry and even in this moment on the cross Isaiah 41:17 supports the words of Psalm 42:1-2 by telling us that God will answer our deepest thirst. This echoes something we touched on last week when we looked at the forsaken passage. Jesus was never without the support of the Father. His basic need was quenched by the Father’s presence.
On the cross, a human need allows us to see that Jesus’ entire ministry and life was sustained by doing the Father’s will. Nothing would take him off that course. Nothing else could supplant that basic desire to be known by the Lord and to do the Father’s will. This simple verse, now, becomes a powerful expression of the very identity of who Jesus is. Jesus is moved by the Father’s presence and has his very substance fulfilled by doing the Father’s will.
How, then, does this verse impact us and touch our lives? By asking ourselves this very simple question. What is quenching our basic thirsts today?
Each of us have a thirst for something in our lives. It could be a thirst for happiness. It could be a thirst for health. It could be a thirst for acceptance. It could even be a thirst for success. We all have within us basic desires and things that we want out of our lives. These basic thirsts or desires come out of our wants and hopes for this life. They are the markers and identifiers that we want to be part of us.
But how do we go about seeking to have these basic thirsts quenched? In many ways, we go after the good things around us in order to sustain us and to quench our basic desires. We look to our jobs and careers to provide us happiness and success. We want our friends and families to accept us for who we are. We ask our sports teams to give us a sense of accomplishment and pleasure. All these things can do that, but they can only do it for a moment.
None of these things are bad or wrong, but none of them will truly quench our basic desires and thirsts. Our jobs will disappoint us. Our families and friends, sadly, will hurt us. Our sports teams will fail to make the last-second shot that we needed them to make. If we seek only after these things to find true fulfillment in our life then we will find ourselves constantly thirsty and never have our basic desires truly quenched.
The only thing that can quench our basic desire for acceptance and love is our relationship with the Lord. It is God who quenches our basic desires. It is God who gives us unconditional acceptance and love. It is God who shares his complete happiness with us. It is God who encourages us and sustains us through life. God never lets us down.
What will truly satisfy and fulfil the basic desires of our heart is to seek after God in all things. Just like Jesus, we are called to approach our relationship with God in such a way that everything about us is defined by our basic longing and desire for God to be in our lives and near us at all times. When this becomes our mode of operation, our basic needs will be fulfilled in ways that never could be fulfilled by momentary pleasures.
This morning, as we approach the week to come, what are you seeking to quench your basic thirsts and desires? What are you searching for in life? Are you seeking to find the things of the world to fulfill your basic desires? Or are you wanting to be completely defined and shaped by a loving, accepting, and caring relationship with the Lord?