In our culture, the one truth imposed upon almost everybody is that you never impose your truth on others, especially your moral or religious truth.
But imposing is not the same thing as proposing.
Someone on Golgotha responds to Jesus’ ‘I thirst’ by holding up a sponge soaked with sour wine on a branch of hyssop.
Whoever did that for Jesus, it’s an odd thing to do.
Hyssop is a small, bushy plant. It looks like thyme or marjoram. It’s not a very strong plant. You wouldn’t look at it and think it could bear the weight of a sponge soaked with wine.
So why use it? Why at the cross? Why not a stick or a pole or a sword?
In the Old Testament, the Book of Exodus, hyssop is used to sprinkle the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts of the Israelites; so that, when the angel of death passed over their homes they would be spared judgment.
Just as Moses used hyssop and lambs’ blood to seal that first covenant so now does that same plant and Christ’s blood seal a new one. There’s more going on at the cross than the fulfillment of a Psalm or two.
At the beginning of the Gospel, John the Baptist meets Jesus and declares: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.’
And earlier in this same chapter, when Jesus is judged by Pilate it’s at noon. The very same hour that thousands of passover lambs are slaughtered in the Temple.
And when Jesus is dying on the cross his leg bones are not broken- even though that was the Roman practice. His bones are not broken just as the bones of the passover lamb are not broken.
And when Jesus says he’s thirsty, he’s brought blood-red wine dripping from a branch of hyssop- the same plant that marks the people whom God will save.
When Jesus says ‘I thirst’ it’s not to fulfill this scripture or that biblical passage.
It’s to fulfill everything.
In the Book of Revelation, Jesus is called ‘the lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world.’ According to Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ cross makes visible ‘what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.’ The blood of Jesus, says Luke, ‘makes up for the blood of all the prophets shed from the foundation of the world.’ And St Peter, in his first letter, writes that we are ransomed by the blood of Christ and all of this was ‘destined since before the foundation of the world.’
The New Testament is unanimous: there is nothing impromptu or ad hoc about what happens on the cross.
When Jesus says ‘I thirst’ everything God has ever intended is at last coming together. It’s just two words: I, thirst. But it’s everything. And, if you’ve been paying attention and can connect the dots, it CLAIMS everything.
If this Gospel is true, it’s not simply true for me or true for you.
When we get to the cross, Christians have to bite the bullet and go against the cultural grain.
God save us from people who bully their beliefs on others, but God save us from Christians who are so nervous about the claims of the cross that they never speak about Jesus or act as though he mattered to anyone but themselves.
Now I know what you’re going to say: Who are we to say that our truth is superior to the truths others live by?
And that’s a good question, if it’s question of ‘our’ truth. But when you get to the cross, the claim of the Gospel is, simply, that it’s the truth. It’s the true story about the world and everybody in the world.
It’s the truth that from before creation began the heart of God has been bent towards the cross and that in Jesus’ self-giving love on the cross we witness as much of God as there is ever to see. And what we see there, what we see there on his cross, is that God is thirsty. Unquenchably thirsty.
For all of us.
And I know- this all sounds like a terrifically arrogant assertion.
Unless it’s true.
This exegetical rant brought to by a conversation we recently had on the podcast: