Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ Faith Presbyterian Church of Sacramento
So they took Jesus; 17 and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” 23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24 So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says,
“They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
25 And that is what the soldiers did.
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:16b-30, NRSV)
I came across this cartoon the other day (cartoon ).
Does everybody here know what a bucket list is? A bucket list is a list of things you want to experience or accomplish in your life before you “kick the bucket.” Now, most people don’t include Kentucky Fried Chicken on their bucket list. (In fact, eat too much Kentucky Fried Chicken and you won’t have much more time left to complete your bucket list!) Instead, people list things which, when accomplished, they believe will help them to reach the end of their life fully satisfied.
I found a website this week called “281 Awesome Bucket List Items You Should Add to Your List.” Just for fun I read through the list and was delighted to see that I’d actually done quite a few of the things listed there. I’ve showered in a waterfall. I’ve spent the night in place thought to be haunted. I’ve walked through a concentration camp. I’ve climbed to the top of Chichen Itza and hiked through Machu Picchu. I’ve adopted a child. (I did that one twice, actually!)
There were also, of course, many items on the list I have yet to experience or accomplish. Some of them don’t do anything for me. I have no desire to ride a bull, or own a monkey, or dance with Miss America. There were other items on this list which I actually would like to add to my list. For example:
#36 Have 6-pack abs. The problem here is that I think this actually involves sit-ups and I hate doing sit-ups.
#39 Spoil my grandchildren. Granted, I’m going to need some help with this one (but not for many years, thank you!)
#102 Go to all 50 states. I’m close, actually, if I can just book a ticket on a tour that makes stops in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Vermont, Montana and North Dakota.
#138 Have an extended conversation in a foreign language. “Donde esta el bano?” does not count as a conversation.
#222 Witness a grizzly bear catching a salmon in the wild. I would actually very much like to do this one someday.
Now, nothing wrong with making up a bucket list. Some of you probably have, at least in your mind. But here’s the thing. It is quite possible to accomplish all 281 things on the Awesome Bucket List and still get to the end of your life and find that you are dissatisfied. How do I know? Because it happens every day. Countless people spend their lives doing things I will never dream of doing and seeing things I have no chance of seeing and, after all is said and done, their lives still feel distressingly empty. Some of the most accomplished people in history have, in fact, died miserable and discontent.
Regardless of how well we do checking off items on our bucket lists, I would suggest to you that there is, in fact, a deep dissatisfaction that runs beneath the surface in many of us. Even when all of our physical and sensual desires are fulfilled, there are deeper desires in us all that too often go unfulfilled. We may have all the toys we want and still wonder why our relationships seem to be so lacking. We may live in a nice house in nice city and still not feel as if we truly belong to a community. We may fill our days with activity and then lay awake at night wondering about our purpose. We may know pleasure but not joy. We may take vacations without ever finding rest.
These deep desires in us for belonging and purpose, for joy and rest, are not there by accident. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. A man feels sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Christians have long understood that beneath all our desires is one desire which rules them all, the desire for God. When Albert Schweitzer went to Equatorial Africa and began speaking to people about the presence and existence of God, one of the tribal chiefs told him, “We knew someone passes on the edge of the forest, but we never knew his name.” The great reformer John Calvin claimed that the very image of God, branded on our souls at creation, has been faded and corrupted by sin. However, there is still enough of that image which remains on our souls, and in the silent moments we realize there is a longing deep within us to know, and to be known by, the One in whose image we were made.
Think about your life as a bucket. It appears whole on the outside but there is a great emptiness within, an emptiness which was meant to be filled by the one who made the bucket. The problem is we’ve got our bucket lists all wrong. We know we are thirsty but we think that there are a thousand ways to satisfy that thirst and so we go around dipping our bucket in all sorts of wells. At the same time, we refuse to plunge our bucket into the well of God which, in the end, is the only well which will ever quench the most innate and overriding thirst every single one of us carries around inside.
Richard Ford is a postmodern novelist who has come to understand the dissatisfaction that runs beneath the surface of most people’s lives. He writes, “It’s exactly like when you were young and dreaming of your family’s vacation; only when the trip was over, you were left with the empty husks of your dreams and the fear that that’s mostly what life will be – the husks of your dreams lying around you. I suppose I will always fear that whatever this is, is it.” I don’t think he’s alone. Even among people who seem to be having great success checking things off their bucket lists, I think lots and lots of us are left fearing in the end, “Is this it?” The thirst is not there by accident. How desperate we become, therefore, when we never seem to be able to quench it.
All through scripture the biblical writers use the metaphor of thirst to describe a deep spiritual emptiness that is so chronic and widespread among human beings. In Jeremiah 2:13 the Lord grieves, “My people have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.” The psalmist writes in Psalm 42:1, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.”
The metaphor makes sense. Physical thirst is a craving in your body which you must not ignore because your body needs water to sustain life. Spiritual thirst is a craving in your soul which you ignore at your own peril because the soul needs God to sustain life. St. Augustine once prayed to God, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they can find rest in you.” We might also pray “Our souls are thirsty, Lord, until they quench their thirst in you.”
Remember the day that Jesus was traveling through Samaria and he came to the town of Sychar? It’s mid-day and Jesus is tired and hot and so he goes to the town well while his disciples go into town to buy food. As he’s sitting there a woman comes to draw water, which was strange because women usually came together in the mornings and evenings when it was cool to fill up their buckets and enjoy the company of one another. This woman comes alone in the heat of the day, and for good reason.
If you know the story, you remember that the woman was not only looking for water to fill her bucket. She was also looking for living water to fill her soul. On many levels she is a very thirsty woman and Jesus knows it. She’s had five husbands and the man she is living with now is not her husband. She’s constantly dipped the bucket of her soul down into the well of romance and it has failed to satisfy her thirst. And so Jesus tells her, speaking metaphorically, “Whoever drinks this water again will be thirsty again. But those who give the water I give them will never be thirsty again. The water I give them will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” And the woman says in response to Jesus, “Sir, give me this water.”
Now, be careful here. It’s very easy to read this story and say to yourself, “Well, I haven’t been married five times. I’ve been married to the same person for many years and we’ve got a happy marriage which has been deeply satisfying.” And that’s wonderful because healthy marriages can be deeply satisfying. Nonetheless, I still believe Jesus would say to the person in the healthiest of marriages that not even the most loving human relationships, as wonderful as they can be, will ultimately satisfy the deepest thirst of your soul because at the core of you who are you were made to be in a loving, trusting, lasting fellowship with the One you made you in the first place.
You may not have gone through five spouses, but take a look at your life. Maybe you’ve gone through five career changes, or five romances, or five diet and exercise plans, or five books on self-improvement, or five churches, or five (you fill in the blank). You keep dipping the bucket of your soul down this well or that well, and maybe it quenches the thirst for a while but eventually, as Jesus promised that it would, the thirst always returns. But we don’t learn. We try another well, and another, and another, and another. And as we seek to satisfy the thirst of our souls in wells other than God we’re like the man dying of thirst who kept giving into his insatiable craving for salt. And we become thirstier and thirstier and thirstier.
One of the greatest gifts you can ever give yourself is to be honest enough to identify the well in which you are trying in vain to fill your bucket. Some people never recognize this and so one definition of hell is eternally dipping the bucket of your soul in a well which will never satisfy your thirst. Remember Jesus’ parable of the rich man who spent his life trying to be satisfied by his wealth and, in doing so, neglected the poor beggar Lazarus at his doorstep? The man ends up in hell where, in agony, he cries out to Abraham who he sees in the distance. Do you remember what he cries out? He cries, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.” Could it be that the fires of hell are simply what it feels like when a soul eternally refuses to put its bucket deep into the well of God?
All of this leads me to the main thing I want to say to you today. In the passage we just read from John’s description of the last moments of Jesus’ life there is a small but significant detail I want you to notice. Jesus knew that he was about to die. He knew that in his death he was about to fulfill the mission his father had sent him to fulfill. In that moment Jesus uses some of his final words to make this simple statement, “I am thirsty.”
Now, on the surface, there’s nothing so unusual about this. After all Jesus had gone through over the last 24 hours, it’s quite natural that he was thirsty. And yet, Jesus must also have cried out when they shoved the crown of thorns down onto his head or when they drove the nails into his hands and feet. Why then doesn’t John record Jesus crying, “My head! My hands!” Furthermore, if Jesus knew this was the moment of his death, why would he be concerned with quenching his physical thirst? What would be the point?
There was no point. But even though Jesus’ physical thirst may have been inconsequential at that point, John records his cry anyway because his words were intended to point us to a deeper spiritual thirst which, again, the Bible always relates to emptiness in the human soul, left there when God is absent. But how can that be? This is Jesus, the eternal and beloved Son of God! He is one with the Father. If any human being in history had dipped the bucket of his soul deeply and fully into the well of God it was Jesus who was, after all, God himself. So how in the world can the soul of the Son of God experience spiritual thirst?
John tells us that Jesus’ cry of thirst fulfilled the scriptures. Many biblical scholars believe that one of the scriptures his cry fulfilled was Psalm 22:15, which reads, “My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of the earth.” Psalm 22 is a prayer for deliverance from suffering. It’s an anguished cry from one who feels abandoned by God at the greatest hour of need. Scholars think this was the Psalm Jesus had in mind in that moment of his cry of thirst because, as some of you may remember, it is the first verse of Psalm 22 that Jesus quotes when he cries out earlier from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Listen to me. What do we have here? What we have here is Jesus, the eternal and beloved Son of God, willfully choosing to step into the place that every human being knows all too well, the place of unquenchable thirst that parches the soul which has been forsaken by God, the place that has led you to dip the bucket of your soul into well after well after well never finding the deep satisfaction you somehow know you were meant to experience in life.
Listen to me. On the cross Jesus, the Son of God, experienced our profound cosmic thirst so that in the end we could drink of the eternal life of God. Christ took our thirst into his very soul. We are forsaken by heaven because of our stubborn refusal to dip the bucket of our soul in the well of God, but Christ took upon himself that forsaken-ness, that thirst, so that we, in turn, could drink of the living water which alone satisfies.
Every single time we gather in this place, every single time we gather around this table, I want you to understand that your Creator is extending to you the most gracious invitation which will ever be extended you. Jesus put it this way in John 7:37, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.”
I know that every single one of you is thirsty. Some of you have told me so yourself, in not so many words. I assume it’s true of the rest of you, just like it’s true of me. In one way or another you are taking the bucket of your soul and throwing it down some well or another that never has and never will produce water that will ultimately satisfy. As I said before, one of the greatest gifts you can ever give yourself is to identify that well and admit that though it may be full of good things, it is not full of ultimate things.
Christ alone can quench the deepest thirst of your soul. He invites you to do exactly that. “Let anyone come,” he says. Anyone. Faith is simply taking the bucket of your soul, the whole of your life, and dipping it in the well of God and drinking deeply of what you find there. Faith is trusting that Christ truly is your only hope in life and in death. Faith is accepting that your sin has made you far more thirsty than you ever dared to believe, but that in Jesus Christ you are offered water far more able to quench your thirst than you ever dared hope.
Make up your bucket list. It’s not a bad thing to do. Work on that 6-pack. Spoil your grandchildren. Visit all 50 states. Learn a foreign language. See if you can go see a grizzly bear catching a salmon in the wild. Come up with a wonderful bucket list and don’t just include items having to do with travel, pleasure and self-improvement. Put on there goals that involve helping some of the world’s most desperate poor, building community in the city where you live, and working for justice where there currently is none.
Do all these things as long as you know that even if at the end of your life you accomplish every last one of them you will still die thirsty unless…unless the bucket list of your soul has one thing at the top of the list which has been crossed off. Come to know and trust the one who came, and lived, and died, and rose, so that you could finally know the love and grace your Creator has always longed for you to know.
On the cross Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became thirsty so that in the end those who would trust him might never thirst again.
The Next Step
A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
Do you have a “bucket list”? If so, what’s on it? What’s one thing you would like to accomplish or experience before you die?
Read this portion of John’s Passion account: John 19:16b-30. What do you notice?
Of all the details John might include from that day, why do you think he includes the detail that Jesus cried out, “I am thirsty”?
If thirst in the Bible is a metaphor for spiritual emptiness, what does it mean to you that Jesus, the Son of God, experienced spiritual emptiness on the cross?
Psalm 42:1 says, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.” Is this a prayer you could pray or have prayed?
In one way or another, every human being is tempted to dip the bucket of their soul into the well of something other than God. For you, what well has most often tempted you? (In other words, how have you been most tempted to find ultimate purpose and satisfaction in life apart from God?)
How is the “living water” Christ offers quenching the thirst of your soul in life at this time? Can you give even one example?
What are you thirsty for in life right now?
 C.S. Lewis, from Mere Christianity. Here’s the rest of the quote: “If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy [these desires], that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.”
 Cited by M. Craig Barnes, Sacred Thirst (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2001), p. 20.
 See other scriptures like Isaiah 55:1 and Psalm 107:4-9.
 John 4:13-14.
 Luke 16:24.
 I’ve been helped making this connection, and with some of the wording here, by Timothy Keller in his sermon “He Died for Our Sins,” delivered May 4, 2009, at Island Evangelical Church in Hong Kong.
 Psalm 22:1.