“I Thirst”

Posted: April 11, 2017 in Uncategorized

This simple statement, “I thirst.” seems out of place among the other dramatic statements Jesus made from the cross.  This seemingly insignificant statement is recorded only in the Gospel of John, and with John almost every insignificant statement is a clue to the deeper meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

One of the most important things we can learn from this part of the crucifixion story is that it paints a picture of the humanity of Jesus.  People who are very ill and near death typically become thirsty.  A nurse, hospice worker or family member will try to help out by giving a few ice chips, small sips of water or even a sponge on a stick dipped in water.  A similar technique was used for those dying on a cross.  The stick was much longer but the intent was the same – to quench the thirst of a dying individual.

The book says, “Here’s the point some think John was trying to make in his account of this scene:  Jesus was fully human.  Before his finalwordsdeath, he thirsted as we thirst, and then he died as we die. This was an important point for John, because even at the  time he wrote, there were some Greeks who saw Jesus as a spirit who only appeared to be a man.  Because such a spirit could not die, or even feel pain, he only seemed or appeared to die on the cross.  It was merely a drama.”  Others maintained that it wasn’t really Jesus on the cross.  They believed that when Simon of Cyrene carried the cross, he ended up taking the place of Jesus.  Their opinion was that the Son of God would never be defeated by evil people, not would he suffer and die on a cross.

By recounting the thirst of Jesus, John was saying “I stood by the cross.  I watched him suffer.  I heard him cry out “I thirst”.  It wasn’t just a show.  It was a real man, dying a real death.  It is an example of the humanity of Jesus.  Jesus didn’t circumvent death any more than he circumvented the suffering he could have avoided by drinking the wine mixed with poison or pain killer offered to him before the crucifixion.

Another interpretation of the words “I thirst” relates to an analogy Jesus used to describe the suffering he would endure.  At the Last Supper, Jesus took the cup and said, “This is my blood of the new covenant.”  When James and John requested to be seated at his right and left hand, Jesus asked them, “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?”  In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked asked three times if “this cup can be taken from me.”  When we understand that on many occasions Jesus used the idea of drinking as a metaphor for the suffering he would face, we see that the words “I thirst” may have pointed to something deeper.  It may be that Jesus was pointing to his willingness to drink the cup of suffering and sin and hate.  Or maybe he was pointing out the fact that the cup was now nearly empty.  His time of suffering was drawing to a close and the cup of his suffering was now nearly empty.  Rev. Hamilton says, “This interpretation is consistent with John’s statement: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were accomplished, … said “I thirst.”  His thirst was indicator that he had finished off the cup that his Father had given him: he had completed his mission to suffer and die on behalf of the human race.

Jesus’ words also remind me of Psalm 42 – “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, the living God.”  Perhaps when Jesus said “I thirst” he was speaking of his own inner longing for God.  Or maybe he was pointing back at his own words from the Sermon on the Mount when he said “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”  These words may have been intended for those around the cross to hear, or they may have been a prayer in which Jesus expressed his thirst for God.

As people stood around the cross that day, watching Jesus die, someone in the crowd heard him say “I thirst” and had the courage to break away from the crowd, find a hyssop branch, attach a piece of sponge to it and lift it with compassion to Jesus’ lips.  Maybe it was the disciple John or maybe it was his mother, Mary.  Maybe it was someone like Nicodemus who finally found the bravery to show his admiration for Jesus.  Regardless of who it was, someone dared to risk the scorn of the crowd to offer Jesus a drink before he died.  Today, we can still offer him a drink.  We do this when we see those who are physically or spiritually thirsty and we risk being scorned or ridiculed, or simply go out of our way to offer them a drink.  As Jesus said, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

What is it that you thirst for? What are you lacking most in life?  What void do you need to fill?  We get hung up on things that we think will bring us satisfaction … money, cars, clothing, authority, fame and so on, but they still leave us empty.  The cross beckons us to thirst for Jesus – the one who chose to suffer and die for you and for me.

I would like to close in prayer.  Please join me in saying the prayer that is printed on the bookmark you were given earlier:

Lord, be for me the source of Living Water.  May my heart thirst after nothing as much as it thirsts after you.  And may I, as one of your followers, extend water, both physical and spiritual, to all who are thirsty.  Amen.

Here’s a link to the entire sermon:

 esv 040217 I Thirst

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