Sunday, April 1, 2018

He Thirsts for You: A Good Friday Sermon

Knowing that everything had now been accomplished, and to fulfill the scripture, Jesus said, “I thirst.” (John 19:28)

If we use our powers of imagination briefly, perhaps we can begin to have some small appreciation of the vast thirst that came upon our Lord us he hung dying. Dehydration has set in and he is burning with fever.  He has lost a tremendous amount of blood from the vicious flogging he received, from the nails driven through his hands and feet, and from the thorns pressed down upon his scalp and brow in cruel mockery. He has now hung upon the cross for about six hours, suspended in the blazing sun during the heat of the day. The sweat and blood run mingled down his tortured frame. Flies buzz around his head. His eyes are dry in their sockets. His tongue is swollen stuck to the roof of his mouth. His jaw hangs slack as he gasps for air.   

His thirst is one aspect of his immense physical suffering, but as with every utterance recorded of our Lord during his passion, there are layers of meaning to this one.  Saint John sees in Jesus’ words an intention to fulfill Holy Scripture.
He evokes a Psalm 22:
“my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.”

A sponge soaked in sour wine was lifted to his lips on a long branch of hyssop. This jar of sour wine was supplied for the soldiers attending him, vinegar being part of the allowance of Roman soldiers, diluted with water and wine, and used as a drink they called, “Posca.” Again, this happened to fulfill scripture. Psalm 69 reads:

“They also gave me gall for my food and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”

His thirst is deeper than the physical. This great thirst penetrates to the depths of his soul. All his life, Jesus the eternal son of God, has enjoyed the immediate spiritual presence of his heavenly father. He has walked faithfully in his slight never once turning from his righteous law, and yet now he finds himself alone in the dark. His father’s face is hidden from him. He experiences the estrangement and isolation from God that is the lot of sinful humanity. He longs—heart and soul—to restore that broken communion. In the words of Psalm 42:

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.”

As Christ hung dying upon the cross, his great desire—his consuming thirst—was to reconcile humanity to God, to overcome the terrible breach. He has known the unbroken fellowship of the Father. He has lived the perfect human life. Now he experiences the depth of human depravity. Now he knows himself the terrible cost of sin. As both the divine Son of God and the fully human son of man, only he can be the mediator. Only he can reconcile the two.

From the place of his humanity, it is the living God that he thirsts for, but from the place of his divinity it is us. As we in our tortured anguish cry out for God—even if we are ignorant that it is he that we truly long for—God pines—even more—for us.

It is not just the righteous that God longs for either, not only those who return his love, but even those who spurn and reject him, even the very ones who crucified him. God is wholly indiscriminate in his love.
The scriptures say: 

“Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

And God is not like the misanthropic philanthropist of whom it was said, “he wants to save humanity, but its people that he can’t stand!” No! It is not humanity in the abstract but each individual soul in particular that is the object of his love and longing.

Know this brothers and sisters, as our Lord hung upon the cross it was you that he panted for. It was for your love that he suffered such pains. It was a desire to be united with you that consumed him for such longing. 

You are the object of God’s great thirst.  It is you—just as you are—even in your sin, even with your indifference, even in your lack of faithfulness—you. 

Mark now the next and final words of Jesus upon the cross:
 “When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

It was for this great purpose, to reconcile humanity to God, to overcome the power of sin that estranged us from God, to accomplish your salvation, that Christ hung upon the cross. It is finished he says! The great breach is overcome.  He has drained the cup his Father gave him to the dregs. There is now nothing that separates you from God. He has accomplished our peace.

Rebel, will you now come out from behind your barricade? Will you lay down your arms? He knocks at the door of your heart. Will you open to him that he might enter in and dine with you? He thirsts for you. Will you give him vinegar to drink?

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