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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:The Word of Suffering: I thirst
Text:John 19:28 (View)
Occasion:Easter (Good Friday)
Topic:Christ's Suffering

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 23:1-3

Psalm 25:3 (after the law)

Psalm 69:1,7

Hymn 26

Hymn 27

Scripture reading:  John 19:1-30

Text:  John 19:28

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Saviour Jesus,

Have you ever been thirsty?  I don’t mean a little bit thirsty, but the type of thirsty where you haven’t had a drop in days and death is at your doorstep.  Louis Zamperini understood that type of thirst.  His B-24 bomber crashed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in May of 1943.  He and two crewmates survived the crash, only to find themselves in a small life raft thousands of kilometers away from the nearest land.  The water in their survival kits was soon gone – of course, they couldn’t drink the salty sea water, that would kill them.  Their food was soon gone too.  They were being slowly baked by the equatorial sun.  Louis, Phil, and Mac became desperately thirsty.  Laura Hillenbrand wrote about this in her book Unbroken.  She wrote how the tropical sun beat on them, “scalding their skin.  Their upper lips burned and cracked, ballooning so dramatically that they obstructed their nostrils, while their lower lips bulged against their chins.”  The men prayed for water and God did bring some rain their way, but it was barely enough.  For one of them, it wasn’t enough.  Mac succumbed to his hunger and thirst.  Louis and Phil managed to survive 46 days and were picked up by the Japanese in the Marshall Islands.  These men had known profound suffering, including thirst like few others have ever experienced.

In our text for this Good Friday, we encounter Someone else who experienced thirst.  As our Lord Jesus hung on the cross, he cried out, “I thirst.”  But our Saviour’s thirst was quite unlike that of Louis Zamperini and his crewmates.  Yes, it was the same sun that beat down and dehydrated them.  Yes, they may have experienced the same parched lips and the same dry mouth, some of the same symptoms.  But that’s really where the similarities end.  If you’ve ever been so thirsty that you were at death’s door, comparing your thirst to that of Christ can only go so far too.  Because he was the Saviour, his thirst was unparalleled in the history of the world.

This morning we’ll look more closely at what Christ said from the cross in John 19:28.  We’ll look particularly at the thirst he experienced and the way this was part of his suffering in our place.  We’ll look at what that thirst meant and how it brings good news to us today.

Verse 28 first turns our attention backwards.  We need to first look at what happened leading up to verse 28.  It says, “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished…”  What was all this that was now finished?  That’s referring to his suffering.  He knew that his suffering was at an end.  He had been hanging on the cross for several hours.  During all that time, our Saviour suffered in body and soul.  Jesus had been rejected, mocked, and despised by other people.  But they had gone further.  They had also scourged him.  Do you know what scourging is?  This is what the Romans did to people who were about to be crucified.  It involved forcing the victim to bend over with his back exposed.  They would then take a special whip called a cat ‘o nine tails and beat the person with it.  The whip usually had little chunks of lead or bone at the end of the leather straps.  These would tear away the flesh during the scourging.  Many people didn’t even make it to crucifixion – a lot of people died just from the scourging.  They would be seriously injured and suffer an enormous amount of blood loss.  That’s part of what our Saviour went through before he was nailed to the cross.  He was scourged and beaten by the Roman soldiers.  He’d had a crown of thorns roughly pressed into his head, drawing yet more blood from our Saviour.

According to verse 17, he was then forced to bear his cross up to Golgotha.  We know from Matthew that he wasn’t able to make it the whole way.  Eventually he just couldn’t do it and they forced a bystander named Simon to help out.  Then either before or at Golgotha he would have been stripped completely naked.  You sometimes see pictures of the crucifixion and they’re usually trying to be modest about this.  They usually put some kind of covering over our Saviour.  But that’s not the reality.  The reality is that he was crucified completely naked – that’s why the soldiers gambled over his clothes.  He wasn’t wearing them.  That was normal for Roman crucifixion.  The Romans made sure that when you were crucified you were completely shamed and humiliated.  Our Saviour was no exception. 

How did they put him on the cross?  The cross would have been lying flat on the ground and he would have been nailed to it in the flat, horizontal position.  The Roman soldiers would have had a hole in the ground dug for the cross and they would have lifted it up and tilted it in.  You can imagine the trauma to the body of someone being crucified from feeling the full weight of your body dropping on the nails.

We need to recognize that crucifixion was ugly.  It was a horrific way to die and that was all by design.  The Romans used it to intimidate people.  Every crucifixion announced:  don’t mess with Rome, or else.  Our Saviour experienced all of the bodily suffering that went along with crucifixion.  But that was not the worst part of it.  The bodily suffering inflicted by people was merely a faint picture of what he was really experiencing in body and soul. 

What he was really experiencing was God’s wrath.  In his love for us, God had provided his Son to bear the curse we earned.  As part of that, Jesus was forsaken by God.  Since we’ve never been forsaken like that ourselves and since we’ve never seen it, it’s hard to understand the true depths of what Jesus suffered.  What does it mean that Jesus was forsaken by God?  Some say that it was a matter of God abandoning Jesus on the cross.  Listen carefully here.  Loved ones, you have to understand that God’s forsaking Jesus is not mere abandonment, as if God just completely disappeared and wasn’t present there at all in any way.  When Jesus cries out about being forsaken by God in Matthew 27:46, it means that God is no longer there to bless him.  Psalm 139 tells us that God is even present in hell.  God is present there in his wrath.  God is present in hell to attack and punish sinners eternally with his just judgment.  God was present at Golgotha to pour out his wrath on Jesus, the one he sent to hang on the cross in our place.  As 2 Corinthians 5:21 reminds us, Jesus became sin on the cross.  He became what God hates.  He was counted as a sinner and consequently received the sinner’s due.  He descended into the darkness of hell and experienced God’s fury.  Out of love, he did that for us.  He did that in our place.  He took what we deserved as sinners.                       

In verse 28, all of that is coming to a close.  Christ was aware of it.  He knew that he was at the point of having drunk the full cup of God’s wrath against our sins.  It was at that moment that he chose to cry out, “I thirst.”  That cry is telling. 

It tells us first of the humanity of the one who suffered on the cross.  Your Saviour suffered as a human being, as one of us.  In his earthly ministry, we see him going through the things that ordinary human beings experience.  When a loved one died, he wept.  When he was over-worked, he became tired and needed a break.  In John 4, he encounters the Samaritan woman at the well and he asks for a drink.  Why?  Because he was thirsty.  He was a human being then and he was a human being here in our text too.  Why is that important?  Because we need a Saviour who is both true God and true man.  He needed to be true God so that he could bear the wrath of God against our sin, so he could take our hell.  He needed to be true man so that he could suffer as a human being in the place of other human beings.  God was not going to punish some other creature for the sins of human beings.  Jesus had to be one of us, and “I thirst” reminds us that he was and is one of us. 

That brings us comfort as we look back to Golgotha.  It gives us assurance that his work on the cross was not in vain.  Because he was true man, he accomplished what he set out to do, which was to save us from God’s wrath against our sins.  Because this true man suffered on the cross, we will never experience the eternal thirst found in hell.  You could say he bore our thirst for us.

That also brings us comfort as we look to him today and what he does now.  Scripture tells us in passages like Hebrews 4 that he is now a sympathetic high priest in heaven.  And he’s still a human being like us.  Yes, he’s glorified, but he’s still human.  That’s a comforting thought, because as a true human being who’s lived on this earth and experienced our griefs and sorrows, he can and does sympathize with us.  He understands us and what we go through.  “I thirst” reminds you that your Saviour relates to you and your troubles.  You can go to him and he will be compassionate.  He will hear and he will help. 

So his humanity is in view here.  But there’s more.  When John tells us that Jesus said, “I thirst,” he adds that this was “to fulfill the Scripture.”  It’s rather curious that John doesn’t tell us what Scripture passage is being fulfilled here.  It’s as if readers are expected to automatically clue in.  There are a couple of psalms that Bible-savvy readers would think of.  We sang from Psalm 69 before the sermon.  That psalm speaks prophetically about the suffering king’s thirst being quenched by vinegar.  Psalm 69 would seem to definitely fit.  But so does Psalm 22.  Christ quoted from that Psalm earlier on the cross.  He quotes the words from the beginning of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Later that psalm speaks about thirsting in the midst of horrible suffering.  When Jesus “fulfills the Scripture” here in John 19:28, he seems to be bringing these passages to pass, he’s doing what these passages said the Messiah would do.

That tells us something about Jesus and his consciousness of what the Bible said about him, and his desire to honour what the Bible said about him.  Even at his lowest point, the Bible is still on his heart.  Isn’t that remarkable?  If you think about us, sometimes we hit low points and the Bible is not first and foremost on our minds.  But here’s Christ at the rock bottom of his suffering and he thinks about what Scripture says – and acts on it.  He is the truly spiritual man from beginning to end.  What Scripture prophesied about him, he was conscientious to fulfill.

What I want you to see right now is that this is part of his obedience to God.  We are to honour God by honouring his Word, by showing reverence for the Scriptures, by giving careful attention to God’s revealed will for our lives.  This is taught us by the First Commandment.  Having God as your only God means that you also entirely honour his Word as the plumb-line for your life.  Here in John 19:28, we see Jesus Christ doing exactly that.  As he did throughout his life, in his last moments he again seeks to honour God’s Word.

We’re supposed to do that.  We’re all called to honour God by honouring his Word.  But we so often fail, not only we’re at low points in our lives, but at other times too.  Perhaps we fail to honour his Word even more when everything is going well.  In yourself, you don’t have the perfect obedience you need to stand before a holy God.  This is why you need Christ’s obedience to be credited to you.  You need forgiveness – you have it through his shed blood and suffering.  You need obedience too – you have it through his deliberate efforts to always honour God’s Word in every aspect of his life.  Do you get that? 

I’m speaking about what the Belgic Confession says in article 23, that Christ’s obedience is ours when we believe in him.  Maybe you haven’t understood that yet.  Let me try and use an illustration that will hopefully make it clear.  I’m borrowing it from Starr Meade, the author of a great book of devotionals on the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  In Training Hearts, Teaching Minds, she writes:

Imagine that you need a great deal of money for something important.  However, not only do you not have a great deal of money; you are deeply in debt.  Along comes your friend who has worked hard for years to build a big savings account in the bank.  He feels sorry for you and offers to pay your bills.  Now you are no longer in debt.  This is something like Jesus paying for our sin by his death on the cross.  Now we no longer owe God anything for all our sins against him.

However, just because your friend paid your debt does not mean that you have solved your problem.  You still need a great deal of money and you have absolutely none.  So now your friend does something else for you.  He has your name added to his bank account so that now you can use all his money.  This is something like Jesus living a life of perfect obedience to God in our place.  He is the one who is righteous.  He is the one who did the obeying, but all his righteousness is credited to us.  God counts the righteousness of Christ as ours.

You see, this is part of what makes the gospel such good news!  We have everything we need in Christ, including obedience before God.  We don’t have to strive to measure up for him.  In Christ, we are all measured up, we are accepted, we are adopted, we are dearly loved children of God.  That’s also because of what Christ did in our text by honouring the Scriptures, doing in our place what we should do.  “To fulfill the Scripture” – those words too contain gospel encouragement. 

There’s one last telling thing about these words, “I thirst.”  Jesus says them at just the right moment.  He says them at the moment when his suffering is over and he’s about to die.  This is something he had to do and he had to do it right.  His lungs had to stop expanding and contracting, his heart had to stop beating, the neurons in his brain had to stop firing.  He not only had to suffer for our sins, he also had to die for them in our place.  After all, it was death which was the curse God brought on us at the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden.  He had to die.

And our Lord Jesus knew that he had to die in a special way.  He couldn’t passively allow himself to die from a heart attack.  He couldn’t let himself die from cancer.  No, he had to actively give himself to death on the cross.  This too was him fulfilling the Scriptures.  In Isaiah 53:12, the suffering Servant pours out his soul to death.  He actively gives himself.  Jesus understood this.  He said in John 10:18, “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.  This charge I have received from my Father.”

But, in order to do that, to actively die, he needed one more boost of strength – just enough energy to allow him to actively give his life.  He needed something to drink so that he could complete his work on the cross – and that’s really the crowning reason why he says, “I thirst.”  He says it so that he can finish the work of our salvation on Golgotha.  And after he receives the sour wine in verse 29, he does exactly that.  The Holy Spirit tells us in verse 30 that he “gave up his Spirit.”  He actively gave his life for yours. 

So we’ve seen three things from this saying of our Saviour:  we saw his humanity, his honouring of God’s Word, and his preparing himself for his death on our behalf.  What do you take away from all this?  Loved ones, this is the kind of text where you’re not called to do anything except stand before the cross with faith and devotion.  You’re called to see the Saviour and say, “This is my Saviour.  He was true man to live and die for me.  He took the hell I deserve.  He became thirsty on Golgotha, so that I would never experience eternal thirst.  This is my Saviour.  He was perfectly obedient to God’s Word in my place.  I so often fail, but he never did and that’s for me.   When he died, he did it the right way and he did that for me too – he did it willingly, out of love for me.” 

Brothers and sisters, I’ve proclaimed a number of comforting gospel truths to you this morning.  But I’ve left the best one for last.  When you look at the cross in faith and you see your Saviour suffering and dying, you have to remember that you were there with him.  No, you weren’t born yet, I know.  But yet, you were there – on his heart.  He didn’t suffer and die for a nameless mass of people who might possibly become Christians – or not.  No, when he suffered and died, he did that with the names of the elect on his heart, in conscious, active love for them.  You know, if you’re looking to Christ in faith, you can be confident that when he said, “I thirst” – he said it with you, you personally, in mind.  When he said it is finished, he meant “It is finished for you personally – for you brother over there, for you sister over there.  For every single person who truly believes.”  That’s love – that’s why we call it Good Friday. 

Many people in the history of the world have experienced thirst.  Countless numbers of people were crucified by the Romans and experienced thirst on a cross.  But only One thirsted to bring salvation to sinners.  Only One thirsted to reconcile sinners to God.  Only One thirsted so that we might never thirst in the hereafter.  Loved ones, continue resting and trusting in that One, only in our Lord Jesus Christ.  AMEN.


Our blessed Saviour Jesus,

We feel so much thankfulness to you for what you did in our place.  You bore the wrath of God against our sins.  You were perfectly obedient in our place, even on the cross.  Lord, you became one of us so that you could do all of this and bring us to eternal life.  Saviour, when you suffered and died, you did that with us on your heart.  You have loved us to death.  We praise you for that, we love you for that.  We know that it was our sin which made all that necessary.  Our sin made you thirst.  Our sin led you to death.  How we hate our sin for what it did to you, dear Saviour.  Please help us with your Spirit to hate our sin even more than we do right now.  Help us too to trust you and to love you more.  Please help us with your Spirit so that we would always lean on you and depend on you as our faithful Saviour, both in life and in death. 

LORD God, please continue to bless us today as we enjoy a day off.  Please keep us safe if we travel.  Please give us good times with family or friends.  Help us to always remember who we are and to honour you in everything we say, think, and do.  We pray in Christ the crucified, AMEN.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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