Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek
If you have been with us for the last few weeks, you know that we taking a journey through the last words of Jesus Christ as spoken from the cross. And if you’ve been here, then you know we’ve been saying that there are seven of them—seven words or sayings spoken during the last moments of Jesus’ life.
While it’s true that the gospels record seven of them, there is a sense in which we can say with absolute certainty there were more sayings spoken than seven. I do not say there was more said because the accounts we have in the gospels are inaccurate—they are accurate accounts. They are. Rather, we can say that there was more said than this because Jesus was fully human, and any human undergoing tremendous pain and agony would have spoken, or better shouted, more than these mere 54 total words from the cross. Now, perhaps these other words were unintelligible words as Jesus shouted them in the universal language of pain. Matthew’s account of the crucifixion, which we read last week, in fact, tells us, “Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit” (27:50). Crying out again with a loud voice.
No man has nails driven through his wrists without crying out. I think when Jesus hung on the cross he screamed and strained his vocal chords until his voice was raw—and until he was thirsty.
Which bring us to the fifth word from the cross found in John chapter 19:28, just two words in the English Standard Version: short but perhaps not so sweet, “I thirst.”
If you have a Bible, please follow along with me as I read John 19:28–30 (page 1034).
28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
As I mentioned last week, when it comes to the gospel there is such a thing as “good familiarity” and a “bad familiarity.” If familiarity with the gospel means you love the gospel and you cherish the gospel and you are in awe of the gospel, that’s good familiarity. But if familiar with the gospel means we’ve lost our wonder and awe, that’s a bad thing.
And not only the gospel specifically, but we can have the bad kind of familiarity with Christianity and church when we can lose our sense of wonder at what we are doing. We come to church, we sing, we listen, perhaps we connect with a few people we haven’t seen in a week or two, and then we leave. That’s what we do at church.
But consider afresh what we are doing, even doing particularly at this point. We are taking a journey through the last words of Jesus. Jesus? . . . Jesus was a Middle Eastern Jewish man who worked a blue collar job in a backwater town. He swung a hammer for a living; he’s a carpenter. He lived a long time ago in a faraway place. He wasn’t a king or a ruler or a great military conqueror per se. Neither was he a philosopher nor one who wrote books. He was a man with siblings who didn’t understand or believe in him—at least at first. And in Jesus’ most significant days moments, his most trusted followers abandon him, and by another follower he was betrayed.
There are some people who would say, or at least think, “You Christians sit around listening to the dying words of this man called Jesus as though you were drinking in the very words of life? Dying words, as the words of life? He was just a carpenter. What a waste of time.”
Maybe these sentiments don’t just belong “out there,” but among us too; you have these questions from time to time. Maybe you have friends and family who feel this way. I remember the time an extended family member made fun of me because I was pastor—that was fun. And this week I was reading a book that had nothing to do with anything religious, but I could tell from the offhand comments the author made that he thought Christianity was stupid. In one paragraph he expressed thanks that he grew up in a “benign” form of Christianity, implying that some forms are malignant (by which he meant the kind I’m a part of). And he later added that houses of worship encourage “imagination,” not meaning the good kind of imagination—as though we tried to imagine what it was like to hear Jesus as he speaks from the cross—but the kind of imagination that chooses to believe things that are fictitious.
I’ll say this too. My sensitivity to the astounding nature of what we are doing when we preach about Jesus was especially pressed upon me as I studied the specific last words of Jesus we have in view this week, or I should say last word.
One of the things I do when I prepare a sermon, in fact, the first thing I do, is translate the passage from the original language (at least usually). When I did this, it didn’t take too long. In the Greek, the fifth word from the cross is actually just that, one word from the cross. And that word is, Dips’so. Just one word.
Then, typically, my next step is to look at the various English translations, which is something all of you can do and typically proves to be very fruitful. So I did that. And I learned, you pretty much have two main translations: “I thirst” or “I am thirsty.”
So far in our journey through the last words we have seen, “Father forgive them . . .” and “Today you will be with me in paradise,” and “Women, behold your son,” and last week we saw, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.” Next week we’ll teach about the saying, “It is finished,” and the week after that, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” Wow, those are some last words!
This week, dips’so? I’m thirsty?
Some might say, “Gee, Benjamin, sounds like you drew the short straw.”
Which brings us back to the question I’ve been building to: are we justified in what we do? In the person of Jesus Christ do we indeed have the treasure of all treasures? Do we have a person, a Savior, worthy of reflection and respect and worthy of absolute obedience even to the most minor details of our lives? Or are we wasting our time? “I’m thirsty.”
As Jason pointed out a few weeks ago, no words of in the Bible are wasted. We are not wasting our time life drinking in Jesus’ words of life. I did not draw the short straw. Every word from the cross has significance and weight and meaning and blessing.
In this short verse in particular I see two places that indicate the importance of Jesus’ words. First, the work of Christ fulfills Scripture. That’s a big deal. And second, the word of Christ we are focusing on this morning displays the beauty of our savior’s humanity. Let’s talk about both of these.
1. The work of Christ fulfills Scripture
When we talk about Christ fulfilling Scripture, specifically in his death, I believe many of the things I’m going to say will be familiar to many of you. But that’s okay. Sometimes preaching is simply about blowing the dust off to appreciate the treasure that we’ve left alone for a while.
Let me read a few verses again to get into this. Let’s read vv. 23–24, 28, and 36–37
23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,
“They divided my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”
28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”
36 For these things took place [i.e., not breaking his legs] that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”
Here we have the mention of four specific references to Old Testament Scripture being fulfilled in the work of Jesus dying on the cross.
First, there is the dividing of his garments by lots, which was sort of like rolling dice. This comes from Psalm 22:18. Second, there is the statement about being thirsty, this is our specific saying this morning. It seems that this comes from another Psalm, namely Psalm 69:21, which like Psalm 22 focuses on a faithful person who is suffering greatly. In that verse particularly we read says,
They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink. (Psalm 69:21)
Third, we read about Jesus’ legs not being broken. This comes from Psalm 34:20; as well, not-breaking-legs was also part of the story of Exodus and Passover stories. When the first Passover took place, and subsequent Passover celebrations thereafter, the instructions were very specific about not breaking the bones of the lamb (Exodus 12:26). Early on in the gospel of John, when John the Baptist first saw Jesus he shouted out, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
(1:29). The idea of fulfillment is that Jesus was the Passover Lamb, and as such, his legs are not broken, just like in the celebration that Jewish people had been celebrating for some 1,500 years. The fourth fulfillment is about those attending to the death of Jesus looking on the one they have pierced, which fulfills something an Old Testament prophet said (Zachariah 12:10).
And later, although not explicitly flagged by John as a fulfillment, the fact that Jesus was buried in the tomb of a rich man fulfills Isaiah 53:9. And speaking of Isaiah 53, there are so many details in that passage that are fulfilled in the death of Jesus.
And then, if we go outside of these two Psalms and outside of Isaiah 53 there are many, many more on his death (Zechariah 11:12–13; 13:7; Micah 5:1); and also these ones about the Messiah’s life (Isaiah 7:14; 9:1–2; 16:5; 29:18; 35:5–6a; 37:31; 42:1–4, 6; 49:6; 61:1–2; Micah 5:2).
The challenge in preparing a list of passages that Jesus fulfills is not in finding enough to mention but in being selective as to which ones to mention.
Now, I acknowledge that there are issues worth talking through about each of them, and while I don’t want to smooth off the corners as though all of the fulfillment passages work the same way, as we stand back to look at the whole picture, it is clear that something very astounding has taken place in the life of this man, something that could not have been contrived by mere human efforts. And that’s one reason I find dip’so compelling and worthy of our time.
2. The word of Christ that displays his humanity
The second thing that makes what we are doing in focusing our attention on Jesus worthwhile is that this word from Christ displays the humanity of Jesus. Or to say it another way, I am persuaded that when we have a Savior we can relate to, and a Savior who can relate to us, we have something very special indeed.
The point I am trying to communicate is this: In the same way when Jesus said, “I thirst,” and that becomes the tip of the iceberg with respect to all of the astounding fulfilling of Scripture that Jesus did, so also, “I thirst” is the tip of the iceberg with respect to his true humanity. While Jesus was more than a carpenter, he was not less.
Jesus was fully human, the most human person that ever lived. Yes, he was surely more than a human—he is what we call the God-man—but he is not less! To you this may feel like a small thing—to say that Jesus was human—but many of the major controversies throughout church history from the early days until now involve this very point. It’s not a small thing to accurately reflect and describe the humanity of Jesus.
Personally, my default when thinking about Jesus is not so dwell so much on his humanity. I remember in seminary one of my professors when we were studying various doctrines related to Jesus, when speaking of Jesus humanity and our typically perception of it, one of my professors said, “Sometimes we tend to think of the crying baby Jesus as a ruse whereby Jesus was only appearing to be human and baby-like, but reality while baby Jesus was crying he was actually doing calculus in his head with
Martians.” It sounds like he’s saying “Waaannhhh-waaaannnhhhh-waaaanhhhh,” but really in this mind he’s thinking “the derivative of x2 is 2x, the integral of xdx is x2/2 + C.”
Well, it didn’t work that way. It is mysterious, yes, but when Jesus was crying, he was crying. And when he was hurting, he was actually hurting. When he was thirsty, he was thirsty. There was no ruse, no hoax, no pretending.
One commentator noted, “A man scourged, bleeding, and hanging on a cross under the Near-Eastern sun would be so desperately dehydrated that thirst would be part of the torture” [not a byproduct of it] (D.A. Carson, John, p. 619). Jesus actually felt that torture.
But feeling that torture, and putting it into words, intelligible words, are two different things. A few years ago I read a book about a certain endurance cycling race called RAAM (Race Across America), and the author had some perceptive comments about pain. She wrote,
To the individual experiencing pain, the feeling [of pain] is overwhelmingly present, yet the sufferer has difficulty conveying his experience of it. Pain is the most difficult of all human states to explain, in part because of its resistance to language. (Amy Snyder, Hell on Two Wheels, 5, emphasis added).
That is to say, within pain itself there is a resistance to putting pain into words, a resistance to being described. This is why hospitals often use a number system to try to quantify and describe pain (cf. comedian Brian Regan’s famous skit about this). When we hurt, our pain is intensified by our inability to describe it adequately to others. We try often, but even to describe the pain to someone else, especially someone else who can’t relate to the specific pain, we just feel empty, like they don’t get it, they don’t really understand.
Ahh, but consider what the author of Hebrews says concerning the beauty of the humanness of Jesus. Hebrews 2:17–18,
17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
What leaps out to me in this passage is that in becoming human, Jesus became a “merciful high priest . . . [who] is able to help.” It would be one thing if Jesus came to earth, never sinned, lived perfectly, and died and rose again, went to heaven and sits at God the Father’s right hand and says to God the Father, “It’s not so tuff. It’s not so hard. I did it just fine.”
But that’s not how it went. Jesus “had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful . . . high priest in the service of God . . . to help those who are being tempted.”
Now when the passage uses the term “in every respect,” I don’t think that can mean that Jesus experienced all of the various human experiences that could possibly be experienced. It can’t mean that. Jesus didn’t experience what it was like to drive a car and be tempted to break the speed limit. He didn’t experience what it is like to be widowed because he was never married. He never heard a doctor tell him he had cancer.
Yet, what I do think this means is that in the life and death of Jesus, he was experiencing enough of a cross section of life—the joy, the pain, the sorrow, the loss, the frustration, the anger, the temptation, the delight—that his cross section of life enables him to sufficiently relate to us as we experience all the joy, the pain, the sorrow, the loss, the frustration, the anger, the temptation, the delight that life has to offer. And throughout it all, he was faithful and never sinned.
While Jesus may not have been tempted to speed while driving a car and so disobey the governmental laws, there were temptations not to pay taxes and even pressure upon him not to do so, but he resisted. He obeyed the laws. And while Jesus may have never been widowed, surely he knows deeply the feeling of loss and abandonment, does he not?
In the gospels, Jesus was born and wrapped in swaddling clothes (Luke 2:7); he increased in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52); as a boy we find him asking questions (Luke 2:46); as a man wearied in body (John 4:6); he was hungry (Matthew 4:2); he took naps when tired (Mark 4:38); he marveled (Mark 6:6); he wept and groaned when his friend died (John 11:33, 35), and in John 19:28 he said, “Dip’so.” Jesus got thirsty.
Friends, your pain and frustrations and loneliness and anxiety and temptations and angry and sorrow can be very hard to put into words to another person, maybe even hard to describe to your dearest friend or even a pastor. But know this, Jesus understands. He will deal mercifully with you, he’ll deal tenderly with you, if you’ll let him.
Before moving to Harrisburg, my family and I lived for several years in Tucson, Arizona. I’ve brought that up a few times but I’ll do it again here as we close. When we first moved to Tucson, it was the beginning of the summer. I remember on an off day I had during that summer, deciding to go for a bike ride. It was around lunchtime. When I looked at the weather app on my phone, it said the temperature was 98 degrees. I thought, “No biggie.”
And it wasn’t . . . for the first 17 miles. For the first 17 miles, it was most mostly downhill and, though I didn’t realize it, I the wind was at my back. During the final 12 miles, however, it was uphill, into a headwind, and oh by the way I was out of water.
What should have taken only 35 minutes or so to get home, took well over an hour. One mile from our house, I pulled into a gas station because I didn’t think I would make it home. Their little gas-station-fountain-drink thing didn’t have a water button, so I asked someone working there. They told me they didn’t have any water for me. When they told me that, I wanted to cry out in a loud voice, dip’so! A friend later told me there are laws against not giving water in Arizona to someone who asks for it.
Regardless, I had to ride home. When I made it, I went straight to the fridge, found an ice cold, classic lemon-lime Gatorade. I opened it up and drank the entire thing. Like the ripples in a lake when your throw a rock into it, I could feel the strength coming back to my whole body.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that thirst is one of the major metaphors used in the Bible to describe for our spiritual needs. In this world, every drink we take doesn’t fully satisfy. It’s like we are drinking water mixed with sand, it’s gritty and lukewarm and leaves us unsatisfied at best and gagging at worst. Think about what Jesus said about thirst elsewhere in the gospel of John:
13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” (John 4:13–15)
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)
37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. (John 7:37)
17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. (Revelation 22:17)
Our souls are parched, and the gospel is true drink and true food. I don’t think we are wasting our time when we study dip’so. It shows us that what could never happy under merely human constraints, God does. He fulfills Scripture in a way that could never be manipulated. And on top of this, because Jesus was fully human, he can relate to you and me. And that’s a very good thing.