April 5, 1985 | by Steve Roy | Scripture: John 19: 28–29 | Topic: The Death of Christ
After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the scripture), "I thirst." A bowl full of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth.
Jesus Is in Total Control During the Passion
In John 10:18 Jesus said, "No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again." Those very significant words of Jesus mean that everything that happened to him on that first Good Friday—all of the physical pain of the whippings, the beatings, the crown of thorns thrust into his head, the nails driven into his hands and his feet; all of the emotional pain of being mocked and spat upon; all of the spiritual pain that Jesus endured when his Father turned his face away from him as he took upon himself the sins of the world—all of it was voluntarily accepted and voluntarily endured by Jesus Christ for the glory of his heavenly Father and for the eternal well-being of his people. Nothing that happened to Jesus that day caught him by surprise. None of it was unforeseen. All of it was anticipated and taken into account by Jesus when he made that fateful prayer in Gethsemane, "Not my will but yours be done" (Luke 22:42).
The picture we see of Jesus in the gospel accounts of his passion is not one of a person who valiantly yet somewhat bewilderedly is confronting unforeseen circumstances that are beyond his control. No, the picture is one of complete control. Jesus is in total command of every aspect of the situation. That is true throughout the entirety of Jesus' passion—during his arrest, his appearance for "questioning" before the Jewish authorities and before Pilate, during the brutal treatment he received from the soldiers, while he hung on the cross in agony. Jesus Christ was not a helpless victim; no, he was the almighty, sovereign Son of God voluntarily submitting himself to humiliation and suffering, laying down his life of his own accord. That's the picture of Jesus we see in the gopels, and that's the picture of Jesus we see in these words from John 19 that Pastor Younge just read for us, constituting Jesus fifth word from the cross.
A Cry to Fulfill Scripture
"After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the scripture), 'I thirst.'" The picture again is one of Jesus in complete command, consciously fulfilling the program, the agenda that the Father had set out for him. John's reference to the fact that Jesus knew that all was now completed recalls his prayer in John 17:4, "I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do." The work has been completed, his suffering was coming to an end, and so to fulfill Scripture Jesus said, "I thirst." The whole scene is one of total devotion and commitment to the Father's program for his life and total command of the situation.
A Cry of Agony
But there is another picture as well—one of very intense physical suffering and agony. It is approaching the ninth hour (3:00 PM). Jesus has been hanging on the cross for six hours (cf. Mark 15:25, 34). The combination of Jesus' loss of blood, his exhaustion, his nervous tension, and his exposure to the weather has generated a raging thirst. Jesus' cry, "I thirst," was not a polite and quiet request for a glass of water. No, it was a cry of agony. Jesus' thirst while hanging on the cross in our place showed the reality and intensity of his physical suffering. His thirst consummated his physical suffering and thus enabled Jesus to know that all was now completed. And so, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, he cried out, "I thirst," asking for and then receiving a drink of wine vinegar from a sponge held up to his mouth on a stalk of hyssop.
A Different Picture in Matthew and Mark
Now this is clearly different from what is recorded in Matthew 27:34 and Mark 15:23, where at the beginning of his crucifixion Jesus was offered a drink of wine mixed with myrrh, a drug offered to help dull the pain. At that point Jesus refused the drink, desiring to face his hour of suffering and death with a clear head. Now approaching the moment of his death Jesus accepts this drink of wine vinegar to meet his own physical needs, to moisten his mouth so that he might offer clearly and loudly his next words, the triumphant "It is finished" (John 19:30), and as our text indicates so that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
Jesus' Commitment to Scripture
The particular text that Jesus had in mind is not mentioned. Some have thought that it refers to the prophetic picture of thirst during the death of the Messiah given in Psalm 22:15, "My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth." Perhaps more likely is that Jesus had in mind Psalm 69:21, "They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst." Whichever text Jesus had in mind, the picture is one of Jesus, even in the midst of the most intense physical agony, very much aware of the word of his Father in Scripture and very much committed to order all of his life, even these last few moments, by it. This scene speaks volumes about Jesus' commitment to Scripture and should speak very loudly and very clearly to us about our need to order all of our lives by Scripture, especially in the moments of our deepest suffering.
But in spite of the reality and intensity and significance of Jesus' physical thirst, I am convinced that something deeper is being expressed by this fifth word. Underlying his physical thirst is another kind of thirst that Jesus experienced in a deeper, more profound way on the cross—spiritual thirst. The evidence that leads me to this conviction comes from the use of the verb "thirst." The verb "thirst" or "be thirsty" is found five times in the gospel of John in addition to our text here in John 19. All five are in contexts referring to spiritual thirst.
Three of these usages occur in John 4:13–15 in the course of Jesus' discussion with the woman at the well. Jesus offers himself to her as the one who can give her living water to drink. And he says that "who ever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (v. 14). In John 6:35 Jesus says, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty." And in John 7:37–38 Jesus declared, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from him." And John helps us understand what Jesus meant by adding in the next verse, "By this he (Jesus) meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive."
Putting all this evidence together, we can see that this thirst that Jesus was speaking about is a spiritual craving for God, a longing that operates deep within the heart of every human being created in the image of God, a thirst that Jesus and Jesus alone can satisfy for all eternity. According to John's gospel this universal spiritual thirst can be quenched and satisfied only by the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised to give to all who will believe in him, and who will give to the believer eternal life. And it is this kind of thirst, this spiritual thirst, that Jesus experienced on the cross.
Separation from the Father
We must be very clear as to what was really going on upon that cross. The man who hung there was no ordinary Galilean rabbi. No, he was the eternal Son of God. Jesus of Nazareth was the Word of God who became flesh. He had existed from all eternity in the closest, most intimate fellowship imaginable with the Father. Even when he voluntarily left heaven's glory and emptied himself of all divine dignity and authority to become a man, he still maintained throughout his life sweet communion and deep intimacy with his heavenly Father. Until, that is, he hung on the cross.
There, as he took upon himself the sins of all his people, Jesus Christ experienced, for the first time in all eternity, the horror of separation from God. The Father turned his back on the Son while he hung there on the cross, in our place, inflicting upon him the full fury of his wrath for our sins. We hear of the horrifying reality of this separation from Jesus' own lips, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34). Jesus had known the joy of intimate fellowship with his Father, and now during this time of separation, Jesus wanted it back; he longed for it; he thirsted after God. On the cross Jesus was the supreme fulfillment of Psalm 63:1, "O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water."
This, then, at the deepest level, is the thirst Jesus experienced on the cross. He was physically thirsty to be sure. His physical thirst consummated his physical suffering. But his physical thirst was only the tip of the iceberg. Jesus' deepest, most profound thirst was spiritual, thirsting after his Father, from who he was separated as he hung on the cross paying the penalty for our sins. And so in conclusion let me stress the significance of this spiritual thirst of Jesus for our lives.
The Truth of Substitution
The truth is a simple one, but one that is very, very profound. It is the truth of substitution. The substitutionary nature of Jesus' death on the cross is expressed very clearly by this fifth word, "I thirst." Some of the most precious of all the promises Jesus gives us are those we have referred to from the earlier chapters of John about how Jesus promises to satisfy us and quench our thirst forever. Here in John 19 we see the source of those promises. It is Jesus own thirst on the cross. The glorious truth of the fifth word on the cross is that we don't need to be thirsty; our thirst for God can be quenched because Jesus was thirsty for us.
John gives us another clear example of this substitutionary character of the death of Jesus in his gospel. In John 12:27, following the triumphal entry Jesus said, "Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father save me from this hour?' No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!" That word "troubled" is a very strong one denoting the turmoil, the distress, the agony of soul Jesus experienced as he contemplated his death. And that word calls to mind other words of Jesus, this time to his disciples, which he utters two chapters later in John 14:1, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me." The point is clear, is it not? Our hearts cannot be troubled, precisely because Jesus' heart was troubled for us. So in the same way, our thirst can be quenched, we don't need be thirsty forever, precisely because Jesus was thirsty for us. That's the message of the fifth word for us today. That's the reason for great faith among us as we embrace this thirsty Jesus, and for great joy as we receive from him living water to quench our thirst for all eternity.
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