You are familiar with the 7 last words from the cross. You have doubtless heard sermons on them. The 5th word is, "I thirst." Did Jesus say this just to let us know that since He had been without drink since the night before He is now very thirsty? What are we too make of these two words? Actually, they have a lot to do with the words that come out of our mouths.
Thirst plays a big role in the Bible. Hagar and Ishmael having been cast out of Abraham's house almost die of thirst before the Angel of the Lord comes and shows them a well. Thirst leads to Isaac getting a wife and Jacob getting two wives. The Israelites accuse Moses and God of wanting to kill them with thirst in the desert. During the period of the Judges Samson accuses God of trying to kill him with thirst, and God miraculously provides him with water. When David is in the midst of battling the Philistines, he longs for a drink from the well of Bethlehem. Three of his mighty men break through the enemy's ranks and bring him a drink from that well.
One thing that sticks out in all of the accounts about thirst is that sinners are thirsty. In fact, this is the mark of the damned in hell according to Luke 16. What does the rich man roasting there say? "Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue." The damned in hell are so very thirsty that a single drop of water dripping from a wet finger would help. Contrast this with what the Bible says about those in heaven. Not only don't they hunger, not only don't the sun or the heat strike them, but they don't thirst anymore because the shepherd leads them to a living fountain of water.
You see sinners thirsting throughout Scripture. But look who's thirsty in tonight's Passion Reading, and this is no ordinary thirst. This is hellish. This is the thirst of the rich man in hell, and Jesus doesn't even get a finger drop of water but vinegar. Listen to how Jesus Himself describes His thirst in Psalm 22: He is being poured out like water; picture beads of sweat covering His holy body. He says that His strength is dried up like pieces of broken pottery and His tongue sticks to the roof of His mouth. He is slowly, drip by drip, being laid down into the drier than dry dust of death. The very dust from which we chant our solemn litany!
Yes, yes, the thirst which seizes Jesus comes upon Him because of our sins of the tongue. Scripture says that His lips dripped honey, that there was no guile found in His mouth. When He was reviled on the cross and elsewhere, He did not revile in return. When He suffered, no threats crossed His mind let alone His lips. Why then is He suffering the thirst of the depths of hell on the cross? Because, says 1 Peter says, He "Himself bore our sins in His own body on that tree."
Our sins of the tongue dried up His. Our tongues are the only part of our body that Scripture says is set on fire by hell. No wonder we thirst. James 3 says, The tongue "is a world of evil among the parts of our bodies, and it completely contaminates our bodies. The tongue sets our lives on fire, and is itself set on fire from hell. People have tamed all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and sea creatures. Yet no one, can tame the tongue. It is an uncontrollable evil filled with deadly poison." Yes our tongues are on fire, but Jesus gets burned. They are deadly poison but Jesus is made to drink it.
The gossip we all claim we do not like to do, but relish doing, Jesus is held accountable for. The lies we claim to be only little white ones blacken Jesus' eyes with blows and swell His tongue with thirst. Our deceitful tongues according to Proverbs 15:4 broke His spirit. Our devious tongue according to Proverbs 17:20 repeatedly got Jesus into trouble. Psalm 12:3 says the Lord cuts off flattering lips and bragging tongues. Ours aren't cut off. Jesus' was when the dust of death choked Him. Psalm 120:3 says the Lord will give the deceitful tongue the sharp arrows of the warrior and red hot coals. See Jesus pierced on the cross. See Jesus smoldering there.
But see that He so suffers not just for our obvious gossip and blatant lies. See that He suffers because the 8th Commandment is foolish to us. Isn't it? O it makes sense not to lie, betray, slander, or hurt our neighbor with our tongues. But it makes no sense at all to defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way. To defend our neighbor means we should call him "friend" as Jesus did Judas when he came to betray Him. To speak well of him means we should say he doesn't know what he's doing as Jesus said of those who crucified Him even when we know he does. To explain everything in the kindest way possible means to believe the best about someone not the worse as Jesus did of Pilate when He said Pilate's' sin was not as bad as those who handed Him over.
But we do none of these things. It seems foolish to defend someone like President Clinton when most willingly accuse him. It seems foolish to speak well of the boss whom everybody speaks poorly of. It seems foolishly naive to explain away someone's apparent guilt. Someone in handcuffs must be guilty. Accusations are enough for us to report the guilt to others. Here we see the depths of our sins: We not only do bad things to others; we cannot stand to hear good things about them, and we feel compelled to say bad things.
What should be done to sinners such as us? You see what on the cross. We should be left without water till our lips become encrusted and our tongues split. Can't you feel your thirst right now? We will die of this thirst unless we come to the waters. The Scriptures that deal so much with thirst are always calling sinners to water. "Everyone who thirsts come to the waters...Come buy wine and milk. You don't have to pay it's free," says Isaiah 55.
The Gospel of John, the one which records the thirst of Jesus is about thirst being quenched. In John 4, Jesus promises that He can give the woman at the well a drink so that she will never be thirsty again. In John 7, on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles when a pitcher of water and wine were poured out on the sacrificial altar to commemorate water gushing from the rock in the wilderness. Jesus stood up and shouted loudly: Whoever is thirsty must come to Me to drink." He identifies Himself as that rock. Paul does the same thing telling us in 1 Corinthians that the rock that followed Israel in the wilderness was none other than Christ. St. John alone records that water actually came from Jesus. Do you know when? After Jesus is dead on the cross, a soldier jabs a spear into His side, and St. John reports, "And blood and water immediately came out."
Are your tongues parched from your sins? Are your lips dry because they have not dripped honey but gall on your neighbor? Can you taste the dust of death that your sins against the 8th Commandment stir up? Then come to the water that flows from the pierced side of Christ. This is the only thing that can really quench your thirst.
Trying to excuse your sins against the 8th Commandment will never satisfy God or you. Yes, the Bible admits that it is impossible to tame the tongue. Yet still the Bible requires you to do it. But no God does not want to illicit from you all sorts of promises about doing better. Peter made this mistake, didn't he? When Jesus preached Law to him on the night He was betrayed, Peter kept on promising he would do better. Though others might leave Jesus, Peter would not. When Jesus intensified the preaching of the Law by telling Peter not only would he leave Him but he would deny Him three times, Peter only intensified his promises to do better saying that he would even die for Jesus.
Jesus doesn't want your promises to do better at controlling your tongue. What Jesus wants is for you to give Him your sins of the tongue. Jesus wants you to admit that when you open your mouth all that can come out is dust, flames, or poison. And Jesus wants you to come to the waters. He is the Good Shepherd, remember? And where does the Good Shepherd lead? Beside still waters. Jesus is the fountain of life; a never ceasing flood of forgiveness, life and salvation come from Him. That's what the Book of Revelation tells us. In heaven there is "a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb."
So do you have to wait till you get there to drink of it? No, not at all. It's as we sing in a Lenten hymn; the fountain is at the cross: "Come to Calvary's holy mountain/ Sinners ruined by the Fall:/ Here a pure and healing fountain/ Flows to you, to me, to all,/ In a full perpetual tide,/ Opened when our Savior died." In Medieval paintings of Jesus on the Cross, from His wounded side water and blood gush forth. Where do the painters often show them flowing to? The Water goes into the Baptismal font; the Blood goes into the Chalice. You see you do not have to wait till heaven to drink from the fountain of life that was opened when Jesus died. It flows for you, for me, for all today in the Waters of Baptism in the Blood of Holy Communion.
Here, in these things, is your connecting point with the Water and Blood of Jesus that can quench your thirst. To often, we find our connection point in faith. Yes, yes, we confess that Baptism "Works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil and gives eternal salvation TO ALL WHO BELIEVE THIS." And we say of Holy Communion that "not just eating and drinking do these things, but the words written here: "Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins...Whoever BELIEVES THESE WORDS has exactly what they say: forgiveness of sins." Yes, yes we do not teach that the Sacraments work without faith. But please understand, neither do we teach that faith is the power of the Sacraments.
The Bible always talks about "faith" in the context of works. We are saved by faith not by works. But in Scripture faith is never set over against the Sacraments as some Christian churches do. Some churches teach that it is blasphemous and idolatrous to seek your salvation, to seek the water of life in Baptism and Holy Communion. No, faith must ascend to heaven and get these benefits from Jesus there. Faith may be pointed in the right direction by the mere signs of Baptism and Holy Communion, but it never rests in them, never hangs on to them. But you know what happens? Faith becomes grounded in faith. I believe I have the water of life because I believe.
That's just not enough certainty for me. You don't know how many and great my sins are. If I have to go all the way to heaven by faith so I can drink from the fountain of life, I'll never make it. My faith isn't that strong. If my certainty is in my believing, I'll never be certain enough. But if my certainty is in what Jesus does: He baptizes me with the Water that gushed from His pierced side: He gives me in the Communion cup the Blood that poured from Him, then I'm forgiven as sure as I've been baptized. Then my thirst for holiness is quenched as sure as I've drank His Blood. The Water of Christ and the Blood of Christ are what quench my thirst. Faith doesn't; faith only receives what Jesus first gives. And I need the Water and Blood of Christ on earth not in heaven because this is where me and my sins are. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Midweek VI (4-12-00) 8th Commandment