The 5th of the 7 Last Words from the Cross isn't even 2 Greek words. Just one dipso. In Shakespeare's Richard II the dying Duke of Lancaster says, "They say the tongues of dying men enforce attention like deep harmony. Where words are scarce they are seldom spent in vain, for they breathe their words in pain." Would your life be poorer, your salvation less if Jesus hadn't spoken this one word? No, then was it spent in vain?' Let's see.
"I Thirst" is a personal word. This is the only time that Jesus refers to His physical suffering as He is damned, tortured, put to death for the sins of the world. In Gethsemane He says that His soul is overwhelmed to the point of death. And we're told He was in agony as He prayed for the cup to pass Him by and that He sweat blood. We see Him collapse on the way to Golgotha. Here however is the only time Jesus refers to the physical effects of the wrath of God in the hands of sinners. And all He says is, dipso.
We know 2 things about this eternal, bodily suffering Jesus was going through. He wanted to feel it all and it was for sin. Mt. 27:34 tells us Jesus wanted to feel it all because He refused the wine mixed with gall that was given to the crucified to numb the pain. And the Psalms tell us that Jesus is punished because He has sins. Ps. 40:12, "My iniquities overtake Me." Ps. 41:4, "O Lord, be gracious to Me, heal Me, for I have sinned a against Thee!" and Ps. 69:5, "O God you know My folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from Thee." Luther says, "In these Psalms the Holy Spirit is speaking in the Person of Christ and testifying in clear words that He has sinned or has sins" (LW, 26, 279). Some people live in great fear that their sins will find them out; your sins found Jesus out and Good Friday is what God did about them.
Next year we'll treat the 6th Word, the familiar, "It is finished." But our word prepares for that. Two times the Spirit uses the same basic Greek word for finished to introduce I thirst.' "Later knowing that all was now completed." This Greek word denotes the last brush stroke on a painting. This word refers only to that last brush stroke (Lenski, 1303). There's not one more drop of wrath left to drink in God's cup against your sin or any other's and Jesus knew that.
But "I thirst" is also introduced by a second form of the word finished.' "Later knowing all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I am thirsty." This word means to bring to a goal, to reach the mark that was set. This word includes the last brush stroke. This is looking at a long, great work completely done (Ibid.). But not quite. The Spirit says one more thing is needed. What could it be?
In Psalm 69 Jesus says they would give Him vinegar to drink as part of their lack of sympathy. And it's true; some mocked Jesus for His request. Some didn't want to fulfill it. But the drink itself was the common drink of the day. And Jesus wants it so He can proclaim the end. The last brush stroke on God's great work of art is done; the plan God had to redeem the sinful world is completed, and Jesus wants to proclaim it. Because in a great battle where you're enemies have mocked you, humiliated you, and danced in triumph around you, but it's you who really have the upper hand, what do you say? "It ain't over till I say it's over." This Man who is God whose face according to Scripture has been beaten and bruised beyond human likeness wants to show they're not ending it. He is. They're not in control; He is.
Dipso is personal word, but it's also a dying word. Death isn't just that moment of separation of soul from body. It's the process of splitting the soul from the body. We mistakenly think death is digital, a moment in time, but in truth it's analog. There are peeks and valleys to the moving wave of dying that began when we were conceived in the womb as sinners. But Death is like that blaring alarm clock that we don't wake up to we even incorporate the tolling bell of our death into the dream that we're never going to die until age, disease, tragedy preaches to us that Death isn't an if' at all. It's a when,' an inevitable analog wave set in motion at sinful conception.
Christian cartoonist Johnny Hart regularly had a cartoon for Good Friday. One year it was a 4 panel strip with no words or people. Each panel got darker until there was nothing but black. Jesus' soul was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of dying in Gethsemane He said, but don't think that was His first presentiment of death, the first time the panel darkened. As an infant Simeon had prophesied a sword would pass through Him. You may recall the first time you had yours. We explain that sudden, cold shiver when your death moves from if' to when' with an 18th century expression, "A ghost walked over my grave" meaning someone has just walked over the place you're to be buried when you die.
Christ feels His soul slipping away and it's not like the sensation of sleep or being put under anesthesia. Something is being separated that God never intended to be your soul from your body. The Psalms too report Jesus words, "The cords of death entangled Me, the anguish of the grave came over Me" (116:3). An in another Psalm He says, "The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me" (18:4-5). As Jesus feels His life force ebbing away, He still has something to say to us sinners who face this some putting asunder of what God has joined. So "I thirst" is not just a personal Word, not just a dying Word, but a living Word.
God's Words aren't like ours. We speak in a moment of time, and we have the illusion that they live forever. But before the age of recording devices, we aren't sure what people actually said. Look at the debates that surround what was said at Gettysburg or when Luther stood before Charles the V. The words of men aren't living words. They aren't powerful and active. God's Words are both, and if the words of a dying man are sometimes admitted as evidence in court and not rejected as hearsay, how much more the words of a dying Man who is God in flesh and blood?
And He says, Dipso. "I thirst," present tense. For what today does Jesus thirst? For what every day does Jesus "stay thirsty?" Not for more life because He is Life itself. Not for food, drink, glory, or praise for all things in heaven and on earth belong to Him as a Man ever since He ascended into heaven. Jesus ever remains thirsty for your salvation, for the satisfying of your thirst for forgiveness, for the slaking of your thirst for relief from guilt, worry, fear, and Death.
Jesus is thirsty for sinners who can't satisfy their thirst for forgiveness by telling themselves that what they're feeling guilty for isn't really a sin. He is thirsty for sinners who can't satisfy their thirst for life by telling themselves they have good genes, good numbers, good health. He is thirsty for sinners who are dying of thirst and know it. He isn't thirsty only for a certain degree of sinner or type of sinner, but all sinners. He is even thirsty for sinners who don't think they're sinners and don't believe they're really dying. He is thirsty for them but people who aren't thirsty don't look for or want anything to drink. In fact, these people can be like someone infected with rabbis who can develop an irrational fear of water because of their difficulty swallowing (www.mayoclinc.org).
The person infected with rabies is dehydrated and desperately needs water, but has a fear of it. The person infected by sin and therefore with death is dying of thirst. But as long as he isn't thirsty for forgiveness or life because he sees no sins dehydrating him or thinks his promises to do better next time somehow rehydrate him, he fears Jesus' means of quenching. He becomes agitated if you try to give Him the water of forgiveness and life. For his sinful nature whispers: you drink that and you die. The truth is: he drinks that and the walking dead sinful nature dies, and it knows that.
But that's not any of you! You're here confessing your sins, admitting you're dying of thirst for forgiveness and thirsting for the Water of Life that only God has; that Jesus won for sinners, and only the Holy Spirit can give. And you heard again tonight where this Water originates. It comes from a spear shoved into the Man who is God. From out of His lifeless body came a sudden flow of Water and Blood.
Look at the cover of the Lenten Devotions. See an angel depicted holding a chalice to catch the Blood and Water flowing from our God who is Dead yet spouts living Water to slake the thirst of sinners for forgiveness and real life. Or see the 16th century artist who paints himself at the crucifixion. Make this your last brushstroke to finish this Good Friday painting. The artist is standing at the cross and the blood and water spurting out of Jesus' spear-stabbed side is splashing right on top of his head.
I think it would have been better to have it both spurting into his mouth and on to his head. This is Baptism where the Holy Spirit through the Word takes the Water that flowed from Jesus' and puts it on your head rescuing you forever from not only sin and death but from thirst too. This is Communion where the Holy Spirit takes the Blood that flows from Jesus' side and by the Word joins it to the Wine that you drink satisfying your thirst not only for forgiveness but for life and salvation too.
Chaucer calls Jesus "'the treacle for every harm." Treacle was originally a medicinal syrup specifically for poisonous bites. The interesting thing is that treacle comes from the Greek word for wild or venomous beast (Browsers Dict. 391). So the medicine for poison came from something poisonous. Here the medicine for forgiveness and life flows from a dead Jesus who died guilty. And the everlasting quenching of all our thirsts comes from One who said in His last moments: I thirst. He ever thirsts to quench our thirsts. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Good Friday (20160325); John 19: 28-29