Passage (John 19:28-29):
28 After this, Jesus, knowing[ a] that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, "I thirst!" 29 Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth
I never knew how big a deal water was until I moved to Colorado. I mean I knew I needed water to survive, and to even feel good. I had even heard about droughts, and knew that it was important to have rain to grow things, and to keep our forests from burning up. I never really gave much thought to water and how important things like water rights were to a community's survival, and how all the politics of water worked.
I think this is because I was born in Oregon, and I went to high school on the coast in Alaska. I grew up in the Valley of Oregon, which has plenty of agricultural land and irrigation. When you grow up as a child in Oregon, and you have annual rainfall of 35-40 inches a year and snow melt comparable to Colorado in the Cascade Mountains, you tend to think of water the way SE Coloradans think of wind. You take it for granted. Water resources are just something that you have, and there is plenty of water to go around. It keeps the grass green and allows you a cool place to swim in the summer.
When I moved to Fowler, I had begun to study a little bit on the dust bowl. I learned that while Las Animas and Lamar were hit hard by the Dust Bowl, Fowler was not hit nearly as hard. And I was told this was because Fowler had wise community planning and an irrigation plan that kept it from drying up and blowing away. Water is important stuff for communities.
Water is important stuff for us as individuals as well. Ever been thirsty? I mean really thirsty? Ever felt like your mouth was just going to dry up, or that your tongue was going to get so swollen from lack of water that you would just have your throat close up. I hope you have not, but I suspect that some of you have.
The human body is made of between 60 to 70 percent water. That water is involved with nearly every vital function that your body performs. Our brains are 90 percent water, and if you are me the other 10 percent is mush! Our blood is made up of 82 percent water. Our body desperately needs water to survive.
It often does not take people very long to become dehydrated if they come from the flatlands to Colorado. Higher elevations cause people to need more water, and to pay greater attention to not getting dehydrated. One time, in Colorado Springs, we had a man come to church as a visitor in the middle of the summer. He was there for a family reunion. Turned out, he passed out while singing one of the songs in the middle of the service. The cause? Dehydration, which was exasserbated both by his advancing age and the big change in elevation. It was a scary thing. Of course, dehydration can be a scary thing.
Turns out water, and essential part that liquids play in our lives actually makes its way to the cross of Jesus. This is shown through Jesus' words, "I thirst".
We need to pay attention to this two word statement from Jesus. The statement, "I thirst". We need to figure out more about what it means, what the apostle John is saying through sharing it (since his gospel is the only one that does), and what it can mean to our lives.
When I was studying this and imagining this sermon being delivered, I imagined myself saying out loud, "What does 'I thirst' mean?" And then I imagined Shelby Fair answering me during a children's message saying, "Pastor, does it mean he wanted something to drink?" Shelby is good at keeping me down to earth like that.
And she certainly would have been right. Jesus wanted some liquid to put in his mouth. But this statement is saying several other things, and leaves several other questions. This is, in part, because it is in the gospel of John. And John is always using common everyday experiences to speak about deeper, more powerful truths.
The apostle John as he is sharing about Jesus' short uttering of 'I thirst', is not just saying one thing here, he is saying many things. Let's first take the most straightforward, common-sense interpretation of these words. Jesus wanted something to drink.
One of the purposes of John in his gospel is to remind us that Jesus was, to put it simply, "God in a bod". He was fully-God and fully-human. In John's epistle, he emphasizes that he literally heard, saw, and touched the one who died and rose again, and who now sits at the right hand of God.
To put it simply:
Turns out, as people near death, as Jesus is here, they often feel and appear thirsty, even though they are not really capable of drinking much of anything. Part of the process of dying focuses fluids in other places, other than the lips and mouth. That is why we often place ice chips in people's mouths when they are in pain, even if they are unable to eat or drink.
So the when Jesus says, "I am thirsty, or I thirst" he is signaling that his death is imminent. The Scripture says that he had accomplished his mission, all that needed to be done had been done. And he said he was thirsty.
His body was doing what people's bodies do when they die. He was fully-God and fully-human on that cross. Because he was fully human, as he came close to his final breaths he said he was thirsty.
The Bible says that they took a branch of hyssop, sopped it with wine, and pushed it to his lips. He took a little bit of it. The soldiers did not have ice chips. What they had was the cheap sour wine that they drank while they worked during the day. This was not something they gave him to mock him. It was just the cheap, nasty tasting stuff. A big contrast to the wine he created from water that was "the best stuff" at the party.
This focus on Christ's humanity and the explicit statement of his suffering is important. Many unorthodox Christians or people of other religions try to over-spiritualize what happened on the cross by saying that Jesus did not really die in the flesh and rise in the flesh. This was common in John's time and our own. Jesus' brief statement of thirst is a statement against these people.
When Jesus says he is thirsty he is showing his full humanity. He bled. He hurt. He thirsted.
This is not all the words, "I thirst" teach us. Another thing that is important to notice is that when John is sharing with us about Jesus' thirst, he communicating that the crucifixion of Jesus happened like the Scriptures had prophesied that it would.
2. When Jesus says, "I thirst," he is fulfilling the Scriptures.
In the classic Psalm that was seen as a prophecy to the crucifixion, Psalm 22, it says:
14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
15 My mouth[ d] is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.
16 Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce[ e] my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.
To a lesser extent John is also making a reference to Psalm 69 where it says,
19 You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed;
all my enemies are before you.
20 Scorn has broken my heart
and has left me helpless;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
for comforters, but I found none.
21 They put gall in my food
and gave me vinegar for my thirst.
Do you hear how the death of Jesus is foreshadowed in the Psalms? Do you notice how the Apostle John is careful to share details of Jesus' death that clearly align with these passages. Throughout his gospel, John is demonstrating how Jesus is embodying and fulfilling the OT call and promise that should be expected of the Messiah and Savior. When he shares Jesus said, "I thirst" he is continuing this practice.
That is not all we see through the use of words, "I thirst,".
Throughout the gospel of John the use of water as metaphor trickles throughout. In John 2, Jesus turns water into wine. In John 4, Jesus speaks of himself as living water (this has a double meaning because living water is 'alive, but it is also a way to speak of a stream that goes out from its source to provide for great numbers of people). In John 6, Jesus says that those who believe in him will never thirst or be hungry. In John 7 Jesus personifies himself as the "living water" again. There are also several places in John where water was not directly spoken of, but in a symbol of God's power and presence. These examples include the Baptism of Jesus, the healing of disabled people next to pools, and the washing of the disciples feet to name a few.
So the question comes, how can this Jesus, who is knee deep in water most of the gospel of John, and even personified as living water according to his own words, now cry out and say, "I am thirtsty"?
Someone might say this question is overly metaphorical here. I don't think it is. I think it is an important question. How can someone who is the living water cry out with thirst? What is he telling us about himself.
Here is what I believe the Scripture is saying here. It is alluded to in several places in Scripture, and especially Phillipians 2. In Phillippians it says that Jesus, "emptied himself, even to death on a cross". In Psalm 22 it says that Jesus is being "poured out". I believe that:
You see, what I believe is that Jesus is thirsting so that he can drink of his goodness. He is parched so that we can be refreshed by his forgiveness. He is being emptied so that we can filled. He is dying so that we can be filled. Filled with his Holy Spirit. His grace. His truth. Filled with the life-changing power of his word.
This emptying so that we can be filled. This being thirsty so that we can drink. This is demonstrated very clearly as we come to the Lord's Table. His blood is shed for us. And we are called to drink to remember. His body shed for us. And we are called to eat to remember.
I am a Baptist. I believe that this bread and this cup are symbols. They do not have any magical power to turn into literal blood and body.
But I am enough of a mystic to believe that symbols matter. They touch us. They move us. They change us. And I believe that when Jesus commanded us to remember Him with the bread and cup he did it for a reason. Probably several reasons.
The one reason I want to highlight today has to do with this statement, "I thirst". As we come to this table, we are filling ourselves up with God's forgiveness and grace. We are acknowledging that we need him and his cross. That we are parched and hungry without him in our lives, and that only he can fill us up with the things our soul needs for eternity.
We are remembering that we need to be nourished by the grace of Jesus that flows from the cross like a mighty river. We need to take this bread and cup so that we can remember that he is our life, he is our hope, he is our salvation. We are alone, lost, helpless, and heading to pain and destruction without Him.
He said "I'm thirsty", because he died to quench our deepest appetites and our most profound thirsts. He experienced the absence of these things on the cross so that we could experience the abundance of God's goodness through faith in the cross.
So, as you come to the Lord's table today, remember to long for Jesus, commit to hunger and thirst after Him and his will more than anything else.
He said, "I'm thirsty" so that we could be quenched. For this I am thankful. For this I come to the table and celebrate, and accept the gift he gives. I hope you will too.