The Suffering Word
A sermon based on John 19:28-29
Sunday, February 18, 2018 – Lent 5B
Okay, we're going to start this morning with a pop quiz: You know that in the Gospel of John, Jesus repeated says, "I am," followed by a title that describes who he is and what he's come to do. They are popularly called the "7 I Am Statements" (much like the 7 Words of the Cross). So here's the quiz. Work together as a team and see how many of the 7 you can get. Shout it out when you've got one. I'll check it off here when you get it. Go…
1. I am the Bread of Life / the Bread that came down from Heaven (John 6:35,48,51)
2. I am the Light of the World (John 8:12, 9:5)
3. I am the Gate (for the Sheep) (John 10:7,9)
4. I am the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14)
5. I am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25)
6. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6) (And that only counts as 1 statement.) J
7. I am the Vine / the True Vine (John 15:1,5)
Those are the "7 I Am Statements of Jesus." (And if you didn't catch them all, no worries. You can look at this sermon again when I email it out later this week or catch it on Facebook. Review again those seven statements and ponder the message Jesus conveys in each.)
But of course, there are lots of other times Jesus says, "I am," in the Gospel of John. To the woman at the well he said, "I am he" that is, the Messiah. (John 4:26). When he walked on the water spooking his disciples, his words of comfort are literally, "I am; fear not." (John 6:20) And I believe the culmination of John's theme is found in John 18 when Jesus asked his captors who they were there to arrest. They said "Jesus of Nazareth," to which Jesus replied, "I AM." And as soon as he said, "I AM," they were all knocked to the ground by some unseen force.
In all of the "I am statements" Jesus powerfully declares who he is and what he came to do. But today we get another "I am" statement (at least in the English translation it's "I am…"), that is so different from all the rest. It's not a bold proclamation of what Jesus came to do, but it's a word of suffering spoken in the midst of agony and pain. Nevertheless, it is an important "I am," that does proclaim who Jesus is and what he came to do: to fulfill all of the prophecies about him and to bear our burden on the cross. The fifth word or phrase that Jesus spoke from the cross is found in John 19:28-29…
28 Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I am thirsty." 29 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.
How ironic, isn't it, that the One who is the Living Water was himself thirsty? How ironic that the one who made water come out of a rock in the wilderness, was now dehydrated. How ironic that he who said, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink…" (John 7:37) now relies on pagan soldiers to offer him a drink. How ironic that he who turned water into the best wine to refresh some thirsty wedding guests, now got soured wine to quench his thirst. How ironic that he who created the streams and rivers and lakes and oceans and seas by the power of his Word, now speaks this word: "I am thirsty."
Why? Why did he who made the waters of the earth become thirsty? Why was his mouth dried up like an old broken piece of pottery? Why did his tongue stick to the roof of his mouth? (cf. Psalm 22:15) Well, we confess it so often and we'll say it again in a few minutes: "For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and became fully human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate. He suffered death and was buried." (Nicene Creed, 2nd Article)
He became man—so very human that he was thirsty—in order to rescue us from our thirst. "What thirst?" you ask. The thirst to be right with God. All of us are born with a conscience that clearly testifies to each of us that we have sinned against our Maker. We all inherently know that we deserve punishment from him. We know we deserve to be laid in the dust of death and that we deserve to be eternally parched in the dusty, dry torment of hell.
This thirst for righteousness is in every person's soul. It's the guilt that gnaws at us for what we've done. It's the shame that keeps us awake at night. It's the cause of the terror people have at the thought of death.
Now, there are only one of two ways we can deal with that thirst. We can try to suppress it and pretend that it's not there, ironically, using drink (or drug or hobby or TV or work—anything that will distract and numb the pain and suppress the terror) to try to quiet the conscience and silence the guilt.
That's why, I suspect, the soldiers had the sour wine with them. They didn't have anything top shelf. They weren't sipping to savor the flavor. They just wanted something strong to dull the pain—the pain of humanity that required executions, the pain of torturing another human to death, perhaps even the pain of a guilty conscience in torturing an innocent man to death.
Of course, it doesn't work. It never does. It can't. No drink or drug or any other distraction can silence the haunting conscience. It can't silence the innate knowledge that we deserve hell. So, we'd better try the other way of dealing with that thirst: Let's admit it. Let's openly confess that we are all, "by nature sinful, and that [we] have disobeyed [God] in [our] thoughts, words, and actions. [We] have done what is evil and failed to do what is good." Let's honestly admit that, "For this [we] deserve [God's] punishment both now and in eternity."
But let's not stop there. Let's also admit that "[We are] truly sorry for [our] sins," and turn to God for help: "Trusting in [our] Savior Jesus Christ, [Let's] pray: Lord, have mercy on [us], [poor] sinner[s]."
And that's exactly why the Living Water was thirsty: to have mercy on us, poor sinners. For us the one who made water come out of a rock in the wilderness, was now dehydrated. For us he who said, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink…" (John 7:37) relied on pagan soldiers to offer him a drink. For us he who turned water into the best wine to refresh some thirsty wedding guests, now got soured wine to quench his thirst. For us he who created the streams and rivers and lakes and oceans and seas by the power of his Word, said, "I am thirsty." And for us Jesus drank the cup of suffering that his Father gave him to drink. (cf. Luke 22:42)
For us he lived a perfect life. For us he suffered the shame of the cross. For us he endured the agony of hell. And for us his life was poured out as a drink offering. (Cf. Philippians 2:7)
And the result? Our thirst is quenched just as Jesus promised, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." (Matthew 5:6) "Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:14) And our thirst will be eternally quenched as he promised through John: "Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on 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." (Revelation 7:16-17)
And our response to the Living Water? We will gladly give a cup of cold water to a thirsty believer to show our thanks to him. (Cf. Matthew 10:42) We will gladly give a thirsty enemy something to drink, regardless of how they respond, just to show our Savior's love. (Cf. Romans 12:20) We will gladly set the table, even if it's not "my turn," we'll pour the milk and clear the dishes too. We'll gladly serve our family and take our spouse a cup of coffee in the morning. We'll serve our neighbor, refreshing them with a literal cup of water or with a smile and a kind word. And we'll look for every opportunity to refresh them with the Living Water. Invite your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers to worship with us this Easter. Let them be refreshed by the Living Water who thirsted for them and promised that they who drink of him will thirst no more.
And one day soon the King will say to you and to me: "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For… I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink… I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Matthew 25:34-35,40) In his name, dear friends, amen.