SENSE-ING THE CROSS – JESUS TASTES!
March 18, 2018 …. 5th Sunday in Lent
Can you recall the last time you were really, really thirsty? I mean, when your mouth was dry as cotton and your lips were parched and your throat felt scratchy as a porcupine?
Perhaps it was on a hot summer day after a long hike on a mountain trail. Or after spending two hours mowing the lawn. Or sitting in the outfield bleachers screaming at a baseball game. Or after taking a dose of antibiotics for a sinus infection.
Thirst is the most basic, the most extreme of human cravings. We long to taste a drink of something cool and refreshing.
From time-to-time kids have asked me why I keep water underneath the pulpit here. It’s a habit, a security blanket. Let me explain:
Many, many years ago, while Valerie and I were engaged, my in-laws, Bob and Ellen Good, introduced me to a unique custom and delicacy of the Shenandoah Valley—salted fish for breakfast on Sunday morning. I could only manage to get down four or five bites of the bony, briny herrings. I excused myself, grabbed a pop-tart, and headed off to preach.
The damage had been done, though. My mouth was bone-dry, my lips were cracked, my tongue felt like a piece of shoe leather. As I stood in the pulpit that morning, I could not enunciate my words. Church members were looking at me funny. It was embarrassing.
At the close of the service, I ran to the back of the social hall and sucked down about 10 gallons of water from the water fountain. It scarred me for life. To this day, I never enter a pulpit on Sunday morning without a 2-3 bottles water. I may forget my Bible, but I won’t forget my H2O!
Thirst is the most basic, the most extreme of human cravings.
Over these Sundays of Lent, we are seeking to grasp a deeper, transformative understanding of what the passion of Jesus is all about – what Jesus in his humanity senses on his journey to and on the Cross – what he feels, what he smells, what he hears, what he sees and, yes, today, what he longs to taste.
Hear John’s account from the scene at Golgotha:
28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now completed, Jesus said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I thirst.”
Yes, our Lord thirsts….
SEEKING TO QUENCH CRAVING FOR HIS HYDRATION
This cry of humanity comes from the lips of Jesus about 3:00 pm in the afternoon.
It is interesting to note that Christ was offered two drinks of relief that day. We read in Matthew’s gospel that, around 9:00 am that morning, Roman soldiers first offered Jesus sweet wine mixed with gall. “Gall” was poisonous liver bile. It was mixed with sweet wine and given to deaden the pain of dying.
When they offered it to Jesus, He refused it. He was unwilling to dull the pain with narcotics or poison. He would faithfully and fully endure the excruciating affliction and anguish that was before him. He would take upon himself the sins of the world.
It has always been a great mystery to me—how Jesus is both human and divine, both Son of God and Son of Man. It was necessary for the fully divine to become fully human. He had to become what we are in order to make us what he is, to restore us to a right relationship with God. And so, he suffered beyond comprehension for our sake.
But by mid-afternoon, Jesus has completed the work of redemption his Father had given him. He has left nothing undone. Every detail of his ministry has been the fulfillment of scripture.
Perhaps the words of Psalm 22 are still coursing through Jesus’ tortured mind…that psalm that begins with the searing line Jesus cried out from the cross earlier: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus is living, he is fulfilling, the words of this psalm, which continues, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death” (Psalm 22:14-15).
In his ultimate, exhausted, tortured, dehydrated humanity, from that cross on that hill far away on a Friday that is anything but good, Jesus cries out, “I thirst!”
We read further…
29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of sour wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.
Yes, Jesus is craving hydration. Something simply wet for his cracked, parched lips, his gritty mouth, his split, swollen tongue. It seems like such a minor thing to us as we behold his wounded, lashed, pain-wracked body hanging heavily on that torturous cross.
The Roman soldiers who came from Italy to Israel’s hot climate realized how sick they could get drinking the water. Jerusalem’s water contained bacteria that could make them violently ill, so the soldiers mixed sour wine with local well water.
“Sour wine” was wine that had passed its time and had turned into vinegar. The soldiers put it in the water hoping to kill the bacteria. This water and vinegar-wine mixture was a sort of first century Gatorade.
The soldiers on duty that Friday have taken along this drink for themselves because they expect to sit in the hot sun at Golgotha until their execution duty was complete.
That afternoon, when Jesus cries out, a soldier saturates a sponge with sour vinegar wine mixed with water, puts it on a two-foot-long hyssop reed, and holds it to Jesus’ parched lips.
Can you smell it? Can you taste it? The pungent vinegar? Jesus recoils as the sponge touches his lips. The sharp scent, the tanging taste, stings his senses at first. But then he laps the moisture, inhaling and imbibing the coolness of it.
This soldier has done a very kind thing in alleviating our Lord’s thirst. It is a small glimmer of kindness in a day filled with evil’s darkness. The soldier looks up at the blood-stained, grime-soaked face of Jesus. In his weakened state, Jesus offers a faint nod of appreciation.
Yes, in Jesus, our God is experiencing the panorama of human pain. Without a doubt, thirst is the most basic, the most extreme of human cravings. It is a unique sort of suffering.
Jesus thirsts, seeking to quench craving for his hydration.
And yes, Jesus thirsts….
SEEKING TO QUENCH CRAVING FOR OUR SALVATION
Jesus thirsts for you and me.
How do we somehow get a handle on what the cross of Christ means to our salvation? Permit me to share some random thoughts:
Remember studying the Underground Railroad in your American history class? It was the secret escape route for thousands of slaves around the time of the Civil War, helping them find their way to freedom from the Deep South to northern states, territories and even to Canada.
Along the way on their harrowing journeys, the slaves were guided by “conductors” through dangerous miles to freedom, hiding them by day and leading them by night. The most famous of these conductors was Harriet Tubman.
Tubman was an escaped slave herself. She was often referred to as Moses for her chain-breaking efforts. She was responsible for leading over a thousand people to freedom, even while being pursued relentlessly with a bounty on her head.
Once slaves came into her custody, she never let them return to their chains, no matter how fearful or demoralized they might become. She would say to them with all the resolve her tiny, 5 ft. frame could muster, “You will be free…or you will die.”
Freedom is a constant term in the New Testament, for slavery is as common in the 1st century as in the 19th. But a slave could be freed by means of a “ransom.” Ransom is a term straight from the slave trader’s auction block. It means, “To remove from the marketplace.”
We hear Jesus speaking of offering his life as a “ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28). His death on the cross saves us…pays the price for us….frees us….rescues us…from slavery. He ransoms us from spiritual slavery, emotional slavery, psychological slavery, physical slavery, eternal slavery. We can be truly free, unchained from a fettered, sin-filled, sin-destroying life. We can be whole, as God intended us to be. We can traverse that railroad to life, and life abundantly!
Yes, Jesus’ unrelenting longing is to fulfill the will of God in making God’s sacrificial, saving love known to the world, and to you and me. This is what he thirsts for more than anything else as he hangs upon that cross on a hill far away on a Friday that is anything but good.
Permit me to also digress a bit in talking about some of the sublime ironies John notes in his gospel:
Jesus’ ministry begins with the miraculous creation of wine at a joyful marriage celebration for a poor newlywed couple in Cana. Large canisters of the finest vintage wine, fashioned from water, is served to the surprised guests at the wedding reception, as Jesus gives of himself. The wine of life.
Jesus’ ministry ends with the desperate tasting of wine in a much more cruel and dark setting. It is cheap, sour wine…wine that has become vinegar…mixed with the putrid water, dribbled upon his parched lips from a sponge, as he hangs upon the cross, giving of himself. The wine of death.
Each time we share in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion, we remember Christ’s life and death in the sipping of the wine of the Eucharist, giving thanks for his sacrificial, self-giving for each of us. This is the wine of love, paired with the bread representing his broken body for us.
Another interesting and hidden irony John offers us is this:
He records that it was a hyssop reed that the soldier uses to lift the saturated sponge of sour wine to Jesus. What is the significance of this?
Well, when we go back centuries to the first Passover—when the children of Israel left their slavery in Egypt, we remember how the angel of death was to walk abroad that night and slay every firstborn son of the Egyptians. We remember how the Israelites were to kill the Passover lamb and smear the doorposts of their houses with its blood so the avenging angel of death would pass over their homes. And the ancient instruction from Exodus 12:22 was, “Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and sprinkle it upon the lintel and two doorposts of the house.”
It was the blood of the Passover lamb which saved the ancient Israelites. It was the blood of Jesus poured out on the cross which saved the world from sin.
By sharing with us that small detail of the soldier using a hyssop reed to lift the sponge of sour wine to Christ’s lips, John reminds us that Jesus is the Passover Lamb of God.
His sacrifice affords us the opportunity to be saved from our sin and become new personsm made whole again by God’s love.
One final note from John’s gospel: Jesus cries “tetelestai – It is finished!” This is the cry of a victor, not a victim. The thirst for our salvation has been satisfied, the craving fulfilled. Nothing has been held back. God’s plan for our salvation is complete. His redeeming, ransoming love for us has been fully revealed.
What is your response? Do you thirst for this offer of grace? Do you desire to grasp in faith what Christ has done for you, repent and be forgiven of your sin, and lead a new life? Or do you simply ignore it and walk away untouched by what happened on that hill far away on that Friday that was anything but good?
Perhaps we sometime we get so distracted and exhausted by life that we do not even realize how thirsty we are.
I can remember taking my son Tyler to Gypsy Hill Park when he was a toddler. He’d run with break-neck speed from one piece of playground equipment to the next- swinging, crawling, sliding. He would investigate every plant, leaf, rock and twig he could find. Constant motion. I would have to force him to stop and take a break. I’d give him a juice box, and he’d grab it and swill from it nonstop, gasping for breath in between gulps. And then he’d beg for more. He clearly had not realized how thirsty he really was.
Spiritually, we often are no different. We become so involved in the mad, mindless minutia of daily living that we don’t realize how parched our soul really is — until God’s Spirit grabs hold of us in some surprising way and offers the cleansing, cooling, renewing taste of the holy and living water of God’s presence in Jesus Christ!
These are the words of John the Revelator:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said …”It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.
Come, and taste the Living Water of Jesus, and thirst no more!