Summary: Hanging on the cross, Jesus' declaration of thirst shows us not only his full humanity, but the full extent of his suffering, and it beckons us to follow in this way of suffering self-denial.
How many times have we heard that? Children run in after playing outside, “I’m thirsty!” Athletes run off the field after a hard-fought game; “I’m thirsty,” they say to the trainers. Runners approach the halfway mark of a marathon, thankful for the watering station set up there, because they are thirsty. Riddled by infection or disease, people enter hospitals dehydrated, their tongues swollen, making speech difficult, yet they can often eek out those words, “I’m thirsty.”
We are talking about a basic need here. So basic, in fact, that we often don’t even think about it. If we ourselves feel thirsty, we step into the kitchen, grab a glass and fill it up with water. It’s almost like breathing; we don’t think about it, we just do it. If we are thirsty, we get something to drink. It’s part of our make-up; absolutely essential to our life. We can go for weeks without food, but we can only go a matter of days without something to drink.
“I’m thirsty.” One of Jesus’ last words in his final moments. And like all of those final words Jesus spoke on the cross, this simple statement carries far more meaning than we might imagine at first. So today, we continue our look at Jesus’ last words on the cross, and the significance of those words for our lives.
Do you all remember Jesus’ first miracle? We actually reflected on it in a sermon not too long ago. Jesus, his mother, and some of the disciples were at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the wine ran out. So Jesus took jars full of water and turned it into fine wine, the finest any of the wedding guests had ever tasted. That was Jesus’ first miracle in his public ministry. Now we come to the end of Jesus’ public ministry; the end of his life. And as he hangs on the cross; mocked, beaten, exhausted, thirsty, he is offered sour wine; the cheapest stuff out there. It’s more than ironic, really. And John wants us to make that connection. John wants us to understand that Jesus was fully human; that he suffered in the same way that we suffer. He thirsted in the same way that we thirst. John is the only gospel writer to tell us that Jesus expressed his thirst as he hung on the cross, and he tells us so that we can connect to Jesus as a fellow human being.
And here’s the thing; Jesus wanted us to connect with him in that way. Jesus wanted us to understand that he took upon himself our very suffering. You see, as Jesus was led to his crucifixion, he had opportunities to alleviate his thirst and lessen his suffering. Mark’s gospel tells us that as Jesus was brought to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull), he was offered wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And Matthew makes the same report, except to say that the wine offered to Jesus was mixed with gall. And when Jesus tasted it, he would not drink it.
Now, history tells us that myrrh and gall were ways of speaking of poisons that were thought to deaden pain or even expedite death. It was not uncommon for people sympathetic to those being crucified to make such offers; otherwise, the person could suffer for days upon the cross. Yet notice that Jesus, upon tasting the wine mixed with gall, refused to drink it. He had the opportunity to take this poisoned drink that would deaden his pain and expedite his death and he refused it. Why would Jesus do that?
As Jesus was crucified, he was intentionally choosing to suffer. He was choosing the suffering of humanity. And Jesus’ suffering communicated both God’s pain at the brokenness and sinfulness of the human race, and the high cost of our redemption. Jesus’ suffering enabled him to identify with the suffering that we human beings face at times in our own lives. He would face all the evil that humanity had to offer and the despair we sometimes feel without any sort of anesthesia. He would suffer for as long as it took him to die. He faced sin, evil, despair, and death head-on. This was his mission, his purpose. He did not seek the easier way out. He died the horrible death of crucifixion because he wanted to fully identify with the suffering we experience as human beings and to show us the costliness of our sin and God’s grace.
How many of us ever make such choices? How many of us have ever chosen to take the hard road? We live in a day when most of us tend to prefer the easy way out. That’s what the latest technological revolution is all about! We drive through drive-thrus instead of walking in to the restaurant. E-mails now far outpace handwritten notes. We send birthday wishes via Facebook. If we feel bad, we take a Tylenol. If things aren’t going well, we look for a quick fix; whether it has to do with our marriage, our physical body, or our job. We like to take the comfortable way; we want to minimize pain and to avoid the way that requires sacrifice, or inconvenient.