No matter whether you are eight years old right now or eighteen years old or thirty-eight or sixty-eight or eighty-eight, is there one more thing that you would just love to make sure you get chance to do before you die? I am sure there would be all kinds of ideas coming from many of us, but for any of us would that “one more thing to do before I die” involve a request for a drink of vinegar? From John 19 – the fifth word of Jesus on the cross: “Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said. ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.”
Jesus had one more thing to do before he died, and that one more thing to do was to tell the soldiers he was thirsty. Why was it so important for Jesus to ask for something to drink when he was carrying out the work of salvation for the entire world? Before we think about that, let’s think about what led up to it. From these words we can tell that Jesus could ask for something to drink since everything else was in order. The apostle John tells us in these words, “Later, knowing that all was now completed…”
What had just been completed? What had just been done that showed everything else was in order? If you or I want to get things in order before doing something important that we want to do, we do things like make sure we have enough money for the trip or to make sure that other people we may want to join us have been able to clear their schedules or to make sure that whatever it is we want to do is actually open or available on the day we want to do it. And the same kind of thing is true to a more urgent degree, of course, if it involves getting our affairs in order if we really are thinking of what needs to be accomplished before we die to make things a little bit easier for those we leave behind.
What had just been completed that would without question make it a whole lot easier for those Jesus would leave behind? That first word of our lesson “Later” takes us back to the previous three hours – the three hours in which darkness covered the earth – the three hours which led Jesus to cry out the word he had spoken before this word, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – the three hours which showed that Jesus had completed every single thing that needed to be done for the sins of the world to be paid for. He had experienced the unfathomable – being left alone to bear the curse of hell as the payment price demanded of One so that the curse of hell would need to be experienced by no others. Everything was in order. Everything was in perfect order.
And that has to make us say, “Dear Jesus, how could you be so good to me? So much of my everyday life is not in order, and I am certainly not in order at all in my spiritual life when it comes to following your orders for me. I should be hanging on the cross next to you, Jesus. I should be hanging on that cross with you, Jesus. I should be hanging on that cross instead of you, Jesus.” We just sang it: “He sighs, he dies. He takes my sin and wretchedness. He lives, forgives. He gives me his own righteousness. Worthy is the Lamb whose death makes me his own. The Lamb is reigning on his throne.”
And on that cross he was reigning above all; he was ruling over all; he was controlling all even while forsaken by all, even his own Father – a control which is demonstrated by the reason behind his request for something to drink. Jesus could say there was one more thing to do before he died since everything else was in order so something else would be fulfilled. “Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’”
If you are familiar with the life of Jesus recorded for us in the Bible, you know very well that the phrase “so that the Scripture would be fulfilled” is a very common one. Numerous times the writers of the New Testament explain that such and such had to happen because whatever it was that Jesus was doing was fulfilling something that the Old Testament prophets specifically had stated would happen in the life of the coming Messiah. That is one of the many reasons we know Jesus truly is the Son of God. He is the fulfillment of prophecy.
In this verse that expression is even more dramatic and intense. The word used here for “fulfilled” is not the same word used in any other instance in the Bible. This word adds the thought that the goal has been reached. It’s not just a specific prophecy that is being fulfilled; it’s the whole thing. Everything the Bible has said about God sending his Son to save the world has reached its goal, because, like we said, everything was in order – and all that has to now be done is to cross the finish line. This is the apex, the climax, the grand conclusion of God’s promise to pay for the sin of the world. What is left is for Jesus to say, as he would say just moments later – and as we will reflect on next week and the week beyond – “It is finished,” and “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Does that give you any hint why Jesus asked for something to drink as the one last thing he wanted to do before he died? If you remember, Jesus had earlier refused a drink that was meant to deaden the pain; he wanted and needed to experience it all for us. Now, hours later, he wanted to make clear what had been true all along, no matter how it looked. He was in control. As a human being he needed some physical strength to be able to say in a loud voice his final two words, proclaiming his victory.
What a combination of the two natures of Jesus we see in these last moments – his human nature as a man and his divine nature as God. Since the previous night, Jesus had gone through at least fifteen hours of arrest, persecution, mockery, torture and now some six hours experiencing one of the most heinous types of capital punishment the world has known. Horrible, unquenchable thirst was one of the most common and cruel results, often due to fever and dehydration and complete bodily exhaustion. This request for something to drink is another reminder of the real physical suffering that the real body of Jesus went through. But it also shows the divinity of Jesus, because as the Son of God what he was doing and saying was accomplishing everything the Bible had said about the salvation of the world – and he was going to do it his way, because it was God’s way – loud and unmistakably clear. So in his physical weakness he asked for something to drink because in his majestic greatness he needed to cross the finish line as the grand champion that he is and ever shall be.
And so one of the soldiers, we assume, went to get the wine vinegar which we are told was very cheap wine that was often part of the soldiers’ rations. He soaked a sponge it, and he attached the sponge of vinegar to the stalk of a hyssop plant – normally about eighteen inches long – and then he reached it up to Jesus’ lips so Jesus’ final words could so wonderfully be spoken.
One thing to do before I die. God-willing there will be many things you and I will get to do before that day, but even if we don’t ever get to do the one thing we really would love to do, the one thing that all of God’s people yearn to do after they die – cross the finish line and there get to see God – that will be accomplished by all of us because the One who came as one of us has put everything in order through his saving work – exhausting work that made the Savior of the World thirsty – joy-creating, purpose-giving work that makes every single one of us want to do one more thing and one more thing more thing and one more thing to thank him while we are still alive. Amen.