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Cries From The Cross

A Cry Of Suffering

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | April 1, 2001

Selected highlights from this sermon

“I thirst.”

These two little words spoken by the Creator of the universe give us a picture of God that we seldom think about. Of course, at the crucifixion, Jesus had been beaten so badly and lost so much blood, it would be natural for Him to be thirsty. But He also had a spiritual thirst because His fellowship with His Father, for the first time in all of eternity, had been cut off.

As Pastor Lutzer expounds on these two words, we find that even they were about the fulfillment of Scripture and the will of God.

Does doing God’s will mean as much to us as it did to Jesus?

Imagine, if you can, the Creator of the oceans and rivers thirsty.

Imagine the One who brought water out of the rock thirsty. Imagine the One who said, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink,” and He Himself is thirsty. Imagine, if you can, omnipotence with parched lips.

As you know, this is a series of messages on the “Cries from the Cross.” The first three cries had to do with others. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And to the thief, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” And “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.”

The middle cry about which we spoke last time, the dramatic cry, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” had to do with the Father, and His relationship to the Son. But the last three cries from the cross have to do with Christ Himself. Today we come to the words, “I am thirsty.”

This message is calculated, I think, if we listen correctly and if our hearts are open to the Holy Spirit, to change our perspective of suffering. And if you are suffering, please listen. But there’s more to it than that. It is going to give us a spirit of refreshment as we begin to understand what Christ accomplished for us. And for those of you who are confused, it will give you hope. There is a way out of the dilemma that confronts you. Jesus, in these marvelous cries from the cross, is teaching us not only how to live, but He is teaching us how to die. And today we are also going to learn how to die.

The text is found in the 19th chapter of John’s Gospel, and I’m picking it up at verse 28: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’ 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.  When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’” which is cry number six that we will speak about next time. An awesome, awesome comment: “It is finished.” 

What is it that this cry, “I thirst,” teaches us about Jesus? I’d like to suggest it teaches us three characteristics that He was experiencing here on the cross and in His life.

The first, of course, is it explains to us and helps us to grasp His suffering, the suffering of Jesus. Now I have to tell you that most people struggle with the deity of Christ. They say, “I can’t believe that Christ is God.” We, as evangelicals, have an opposite problem. It’s hard for us to accept fully the humanity of Jesus Christ. There is something scandalous about the idea that He would be weary, that He would sleep, and that He would eat, and He would drink, and He would say, “I thirst.” But remember the prophecies of the Old Testament, they predicted that there would be a Savior who would come who would be fully man and fully God. Isaiah said, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.” There is the humanity, but then what does he say? “His name shall be called wonderful counselor, the mighty God.”

Read the Old Testament and Jesus is spoken of as the seed of the woman, but He’s also spoken of as the one whose going forth have been from of old and from everlasting—deity and humanity in one person, two natures united in that one person. And so Jesus Christ, when He said on the cross, “I am thirsty,” what thirst He must have endured.

Oh, I want us to try to grasp it a little bit. The words are so inadequate. You remember that Jesus Christ was arrested, and when He was there in the garden, the Bible says He sweat, as it were, drops of blood. His body was constantly losing fluid. He spends His night in a dungeon. He’s taken to various trials. His back is lacerated. He loses blood. He is asked to carry His cross. When He gets to Calvary, He hangs there, as we have learned, for three hours in the sunlight, from nine in the morning till noon.

Then there are three hours of darkness. Crucifixion was known as a slow process of dehydration. His body has been losing all of these fluids, and there has been no refreshment. There has been no drink that He has received, and now He says, “I thirst.” Can we even grasp it?

Not only was it the thirst physically, but there was a thirst spiritually, because there is an ambience. There is the sympathy between the body and the soul. And Jesus Christ, in His great distress, as we noticed last time as He said, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me,” in the midst of all that, His distress and His thirst increased, for the Scripture says, “A broken spirit drieth the bones.” David says, “When I was in spiritual conviction, it was as if my body dried up.” And Jesus Christ’s body is drying up.

Listen to this description of Psalm 22 of what he was going through. He says (and this is, of course, a prophecy): “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 strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws.”

I don’t know whether it’s true or not (those of you who are Swedish, would you come up later and either affirm or deny this?), but I read last night that the Swedish word for thirst is actually, at root, the same word for fire, because I think that there is a thirst that is a fire. And Jesus here, when He said, “I thirst,” was enduring the fire of God’s wrath. He was enduring the fire of hell, and His body was being lacerated and in grief, and He says, “I thirst.”

God, the Father, does not thirst. Angels do not thirst. These are the words of a dying man. The humanity of Jesus! “I thirst.” Are you going through pain today? Are you going through a time of difficulty physically? Are there desires within you that are not being met? Jesus was there. He thirsted.

We see the suffering of Jesus, but that’s not all that we see here in this marvelous remark. We also see the submission of Jesus. Now, I have to ask you a question. Why did Jesus not come down from the cross when He was taunted? He could have. We’re talking about omnipotence. Why did Jesus not create water within His mouth? He could have created a stream of water that would have refreshed Him. All of that was within His ability, but He did not do that. Why?

As a matter of fact, you know, Jesus never really did anything (any miracle) to in some way promote Himself. You remember, He did not turn stones into bread, and He did not create water within His mouth as He certainly could have. Why? I read it in the text. Maybe you missed it because we read the Scriptures so often that sometimes we forget the context. You’ll notice it says this. Verse 28: “Later, knowing that all was completed (and underline this now) so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I thirst.’”

It’s the fulfillment of Scripture. Everything that Jesus did was a fulfillment of Scripture, wasn’t it? You notice, for example, “He came to die,” and “He was born in Bethlehem according to the fulfillment of Scripture.” How was the birth going to take place? The Scripture said, “A virgin shall conceive.” Where is He going to be born? The Scripture says, “Bethlehem is the town.” And then after Jesus Christ is born they go into Egypt. Why? That the Scripture might be fulfilled.

Read the book of Matthew and you see over and over again, “This happened and that happened that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” All that Jesus Christ was concerned about was the fulfillment of the will of God and the Scripture. “In the volume of the book it is written to do thy will, oh God.” In eternity past, the Father and the Son agreed on the agenda that Jesus Christ would live here on Earth, and therefore, the prophecies were given. All of the details were worked out, and now He is thirsty that the Scripture might be fulfilled. What Scripture is He talking about? He’s speaking about Psalm 69. It says, “Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless. I looked for sympathy but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none. They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.” That’s Psalm 69, verse 20 and following.

You see, it’s not only true that Jesus Christ went through this that the Scripture might be fulfilled, but that the details of the Scripture might be fulfilled. This was exactly what they had tried to give Him, as we shall see in a moment, the gall and the vinegar, and to the detail, the very content of the drink was predicted. And so Jesus was willing to suffer. Why? That the Scriptures would be fulfilled.

Elsewhere when they are coming to Him in the Garden, and Peter wants to try to intervene with the sword, you remember, and cuts off the ear of the servant of the high priest, I can assure you that Peter was not aiming for the ear—it’s just that he was not that good with the sword. Do you remember what Jesus said? He said, “Peter, put the sword into its sheath, for thus it must be.” The Scriptures must be fulfilled, and that’s why Jesus continued to hang on the cross.

Let me ask you a question today. Is doing the will of God for you and me as important as it was for Jesus? I’m speaking to those of you who are suffering now. You are going through a time of great difficulty. What if, in eternity past, God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Spirit agreed that that would be the course that was to be marked out for you, and that that was part of the perfection of God, and the perfecting of us, and the work of God? Are you content? Can you say, “Yes, if thus it must be, I will endure this for the glory of God?” I wish that we were as devoted as Jesus was to the will of the Father.

You’ll notice that this cry, “I thirst,” refers to the sufferings of Jesus, the submission of Jesus, but also the sympathy of Jesus. We all know that God knows about our needs, don’t we? We all know that God knows about our pains. We know that God knows in terrifying detail everything about us. He knows what is being done to us. He understands our bodies. He knows the details of what it is that we are going through. That’s good evangelical theology, but that’s not really our problem. We know that God knows, but we have a different question in our minds. He knows but the question is: Does He feel what we are going through? Can He understand us on the level of experience not just the level of omniscience, but can He actually understand our pain? And the answer is yes, because as we have learned in this series of messages, it is not just Jesus who suffered. It is the Father also who was going through the agony of separating Himself, as far as fellowship is concerned, from the Son. The whole Trinity was involved in this experience so that we can say with integrity, “God knows, God cares, and God feels.” That’s why the Bible says that Jesus is a high priest that can be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, for He was in all points tempted as we are. Yes, my dear friend, He not only knows but He feels what you are going through.

So I speak to those of you today who have physical pain. You say, “Does Jesus know? Does He feel?” The answer is yes. You remember He said to Saul, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? You touch the church, you touch my body, and you are touching me.” Yes, Jesus understands that pain and He feels that pain.

Do you feel violated? Do you feel as if people have taken advantage of you? Do you feel humiliated because of what you have experienced? Look at Jesus Christ on the cross (so far as we know, crucified naked). He did not have an opportunity to die with dignity. Do you sometimes feel as if people have forsaken you, friends have let you down? Remember that Jesus Christ’s disciples forsook Him and fled, though John later returned to the cross. Jesus understands and Jesus feels.

I thirst! The suffering of Jesus! Yes, I thirst! We can see here the submission of Jesus, and we can see the sympathy of Jesus. How do we wrap all this together so that our lives are changed by its central message? Those of you who come regularly know that I always have a bottom line, and usually I have three bottom lines, and one bottom line follows another as we get to the end of the message. And today also you are going to get three life-changing facts. Here they are.

Number one, all of us have thirst. A little baby is born into the world thirsty. That’s the physical side, but we are also born with a spiritual thirst. Henry Sugal, I believe it is, in the sixteenth century said that man is born with an inextinguishable (catch this now) raging thirst. It’s a thirst for God. It’s inbuilt in us. Our problem is that we are tempted to fill that thirst with all the wrong things. Because we are fallen creatures we go our own way. We don’t want to come to God. We do not want God to fill us, and so we turn to drink and to sex and to money and to prestige and to self-will and our own choices, and we’re determined that we’re going to find somewhere to drink. And as a result of that determination, we finally discover at the end (some don’t discover it until the end of their lives) that all the wells of the world are dry. There is no refreshment out there. All these promises, but there’s no refreshment.

You see, it was God’s intention that we be filled with God Himself. And that’s why Pascal said, “There is within us the infinite void that can only be filled by an infinite object,” that is to say with God Himself. And Augustine said on the first page of his Confessions, “Oh Lord, Thou has made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their all in Thee.”

Do you know why you and I turn to sin? We turn to sin because down deep we feel that God is not meeting all of our needs, and sin seems more promising. It seems to be more fulfilling. It seems to be the thing that will really satisfy us, and to give us what we need to make it through life. It is sin that is going to give us those pleasures that are so stimulating and so wonderful. And in a sense we are slapping God’s face because we are saying, “Your will, Your purpose, You have not filled me, therefore, I must fill myself.”

No matter how much we say about the need to turn away from sin, at the end of the day, it comes down to this—that you and I must develop a passion for Christ and God that is greater than our passion to sin. God does fill us. Jesus said, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.” And I want you to know that at the foot of the cross where you see Jesus saying, “I thirst,” He’s the one who gives us the refreshment.

So the first lesson is that all of us are thirsty. The second lesson is that the issue really isn’t whether we thirst, but how long we’re going to thirst. Now, I have to explain that a little bit. It isn’t whether or not we thirst, but how long we are going to thirst.

Let me ask you a question. Let’s get into it this way. What do you think the people in hell are saying? What do you think that they are going to say throughout all of eternity? Jesus told an interesting story once. He said that there was a rich man and there was a poor man, and the poor man (the beggar) knew God and the rich man didn’t. And both of them died and their fortunes were reversed in the afterlife. And the story is that the rich man had no time for Lazarus (That was the name of the man, not to be confused with the Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead. This was a different one.) at all in this life. But in the next life, they were able to talk to each other because at that time there was a huge gulf between them, but there was some verbal communication, though one could not pass from one side of the gulf to the other.

What is the rich man doing in Hades? “Abraham, send Lazarus that he might dip his finger in water and put it on my tongue for I am tormented in this flame. I am thirsty.”

Let me ask you something today. What is hell? Hell is outer darkness. Jesus endured that on the cross, didn’t He? What is hell but loneliness? Jesus endured that on the cross. “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” Hell is pain and hell is thirst. Hell is heightened desires of the body but no fulfillment, so that the alcoholic longs for a drop of alcohol, but there is none. There is none for all of eternity. The sex addict wants sexual fulfillment but there is none throughout all of eternity. There are these ravenous desires that are constantly burning, constantly unfulfilled. There is an eternal hellish thirst. “I thirst,” and that man in the story that Jesus told is still thirsting.

What is heaven? Well, heaven is a lot of things, but let me give you this description. This is what the Scriptures tell us heaven is going to be like: “Never again will they hunger. Never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down upon then, 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 shall wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

My dear friend, you drink from the watering holes of the world in this life, and you thirst here and forever. You come to Jesus who offers us the living water. As He said to the woman at the well, “If thou would have asked of him he could have given thee living water which will bubble up, which will be an artesian well to bubble up into everlasting life.” We take what God has implanted within us, in a sense, all the way to heaven. And we enjoy refreshment now and we enjoy refreshment forever. And the issue is not whether or not we thirst. All of us thirst in this life. The issue is how long will that thirst last? And for those of you who do not know Christ, forever.

Well, there’s a final lesson, and it gets to the heart of it, as you’ve already guessed it. Jesus thirsted that we might never be thirsty again. Now if you were to study the Gospel of John along with Matthew and Mark (Because each of them have different information. Some of it overlaps. Some of it does not. Some of it is new material.), what you discover in Matthew and Mark is that when Jesus arrived at Golgotha, right at that moment before the crucifixion started, He was offered a drink of gall and wine. We don’t know exactly what that gall was. Some people say myrrh. Some people believe it was a kind of opium because the intention was it was a sedative. It was given to people to lessen the pain. But it’s very clear in the Scripture that Jesus refused that cup and said, “No, I’m not going to drink it.”

Now I have to ask you today, “Why did He refuse that? Why didn’t He take the sedative?” I think that we know the reason. In John 18:11 you remember the words that He spoke to Peter, “Put the sword up into its sheath,” and then He   said these words: “The cup which my heavenly Father has given me, shall I not drink it?” What is that cup? It’s the cup of God’s wrath. And what Jesus was saying was this: “I have to drink the cup of God’s wrath, and this cup has been given to Me and I shall drink it without any sedatives, without any way of diminishing its impact.” And as Jesus hung there on the cross, He could experience a pure sense of hell without any way that it might be mitigated through medication, so He refused it, the Bible says.

What they offer Him here in John 19 is a different offer now because He is about to die. This is some cheap wine. It says a jar of wine vinegar. This was the kind that the soldiers would drink so they soaked a sponge in it and put the sponge on a stalk of hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. And when it touched His lips, He said what we will look at in our next message. He said, “It is finished,” so this is near the end of His life.

So Pastor Wiersbe has pointed out that there are actually three cups here at the cross. The first, he says, is a cup of charity. It was a genuine desire to help Him in His circumstances, but He refused it. The second is kind of a cup of mockery. This is the cheap wine of the soldiers. Oh, He says, “I thirst,” so they take a jar of vinegar. They put it on a sponge. They put a sponge into it, and they put it to His lips. These were the mockers that were doing that.

There’s the cup of charity and there’s the cup of mockery, but there’s also the cup of iniquity, and that’s the one that Jesus Christ drank for you and for me. And Jesus said, “I will drink this cup that you might never be thirsty again.” How could He possibly say to the woman at the well, “If you come to Me, I will give you living water that will spring up into eternal life.” It’s because Jesus knew that on the cross He would bear her thirst, and because He would take the cup of wrath and drink it, you and I have the refreshing fountains of His love from which we can enjoy life eternal, and the artesian well bubbles up in everlasting life.

See, that’s why the poet said:

Death and the curse were in our cup.
Oh, Christ was full for thee,
But Thou has drained the last dark drop,
‘Tis empty now for me.

My dear friend, have you drunk of the Living Water? I’m talking to those of you who still have never believed in Christ savingly. Oh, you are good people. I’m not arguing that point. You’re religious or you wouldn’t be listening to this message. You’ve maybe even made some kind of a (quote) decision or commitment, because we live in a day of decisional regeneration where all that you have to do is put up your hand or pray a prayer, and you think that you are in. I want to ask you a question today. Have you drunk from the Living Water? If you [haven’t], you’ll be thirsty forever.

Is it any wonder that the last invitation of the Bible… These are the words of Jesus to John, and four verses later the New Testament ends, so this is the last invitation. Jesus said, “The Spirit and the bride say come. And let him that heareth say come. And let him who is athirst come. Let him drink of the water of life freely.”

I urge you today to come to the cross, to the Savior who said, “I thirst,” that you and I might be able to enjoy refreshing water now and forever.

Let’s pray.

Our Father, how we do thank you for your grace and your love. How we thank you, Father, that Jesus did not take the gall and the vinegar. Thank you that He refused it, that He could say, “I’m going to experience suffering in all of its intensity.” We thank you today, Father, that He did not shrink from the cup that you, oh Father, asked Him to drink. And because of it He can say, “If any man thirsts let him come to Me and drink.”

Oh Father, we have drunk so many times, and we keep drinking and drinking, day after day, as we enjoy your presence, and to think that forever we will have refreshment.

Now, I want you to talk to God. What is it that you need to say to Him? If you are a Christian, are you enjoying fellowship with Christ? Is He refreshing your spirit, or have you turned to sin to do what only He can do? That’s my question. If you have never received Christ as Savior and you have doubts, perhaps very legitimate doubts, would you say, “Jesus, at this moment I accept You as my life-giver. I accept the penalty that you paid on the cross for me that I might be yours.” You talk to Him.

Father, who are we to speak such words? Who are we to try to enter into the depths of Jesus Christ’s suffering? Take the frail words that have been spoken so inadequately and somehow do something with them, and let us never forget the words of our Savior, “I thirst.” In His name we pray, Amen.

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