The Thirsty Savior | John 19:28

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  • The Thirsty Savior | John 19:28
  • John 19:28 reports two details about Jesus’ dying moments. The verse tells us what Jesus knew: “Jesus, knowing that all was now finished.” Many die with so much they don’t know. 

    • You may not know why you were born. 
    • You may not know the reason for your death.  
    • You may not know what happens when you die. 

    Not so with Jesus! Jesus was a man on a mission. He was born to die. His death was the completion of a redemptive plan, not the conclusion of a human life. As Jesus drew his final breaths, he knew his mission had been accomplished. John 19:28 also tells us what Jesus said: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 

    This is the fifth of seven recorded statements Jesus made on the cross. Only recorded in John’s Gospel, it is the shortest of the final words of Jesus – two words in English, one in Greek. This fifth word is the first word Jesus says about himself. The first word was for those who crucified him: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The second word was to the criminal: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” The third word was to Mary and John: “Woman, behold, you son! Behold, your mother!” The fourth word was about God’s role in his death: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

    In this fifth word, Jesus says something about himself: “I thirst.” It is the most direct statement about the agony Jesus suffered on the cross. Jesus was whipped, beaten, and tortured. In his weakened condition, he was forced to carry his cross up Golgotha. A crown of thorns was placed on his head. His hands and feet were nailed to the cross. They stabbed him in his side. Jesus never said a mumbling word as he suffered these things. He only said, “I thirst.”

     This simple statement is the most difficult of the seven last words to understand. John 4:12-13 says, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.” John 6:35 says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” John 7:37-38 says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his belly will flow rivers of living water.” 

    The one who made these bold claims died saying, “I thirst.” How could this be? This is the good news of Christ’s finished work: The thirsty Savior satisfies thirsty sinners. How does the thirsty Savior satisfy thirsty sinners? 

    The Lord’s Perfect Humanity 

    Liberal theologians deny the deity of Christ. The early church struggled against the opposite error. Some affirmed the deity of Christ but questioned his humanity. 1 John refutes those who claimed that Jesus could not be a man because he was God. Jesus is the God-Man – truly and fully man and truly and fully God in one person simultaneously. This fifth word from the cross affirms the mystery and message of the incarnation. 

    The Mystery of the Incarnation. In 1995, Joan Osborne sparked controversy with her chart-topping song, “One of Us.” The song wondered what running into God on a bus might be like. What if, she asked, God was “just a slob like all of us” trying to get home after work? Many Christians were offended. However, the only thing offensive about her hypothetical question is that it is not hypothetical. The first truth of this fifth word is that God became one of us in the Person of Jesus. God the Father is a spirit who is incapable of thirst. Holy angels and fallen angels do not thirst.

    • Human beings thirst. 
    • Physical bodies thirst. 
    • Flesh and blood thirsts. 

     The Second Person of the Holy Trinity said, “I thirst.” Jesus separated the waters from the waters in creation. Jesus turned water into wine. Jesus quieted the winds and waves on the sea of Galilee. Jesus walked on water to save his storm-stricken disciples. Jesus promised to fully satisfy all spiritually dehydrated who come to him in faith. Yet the Water of life died saying, “I thirst.” 

    Why? Hebrews 2:17 says, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”  

    The Message of the Incarnation. A boy missed his father, who was away on military duty. To comfort himself, the boy would stare at the picture of his dad in a frame on his nightstand. When frightened, he would imagine his dad watching over him. One night, however, it didn’t work. Hearing him weeping, his mother came to his room and asked what was wrong. Through tears, he said, “I want Daddy to come out of the frame.” 

    Many children of God often feel this way. We believe all that scripture says about God the Father. Yet it seems the Bible is a picture of him in a frame. God has stepped out of the frame in the person of Christ. Jesus is the living proof that God knows and God cares. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” 

    This is the message of the incarnation: Jesus sympathizes with your weaknesses. Jesus got tired, faced opposition, and suffered grief. He knows what it means to be betrayed by friends, rejected by family, and lacking basic necessities. He suffered injustice. He was beaten near death. He was crucified naked before a mocking crowd. Jesus knows what it means to be so dehydrated by the circumstances of life that he cried out, “I thirst.” Warren Wiersbe wrote: “This simple word reveals to us the heart of the Lord Jesus and enables us to see his love in a deeper way.”

    The Lord’s Active Obedience 

    Sinners are saved by faith alone in Christ’s active and passive obedience. 

    • Active obedience is about how he lived. 
    • Passive obedience is about how he died. 

    We tend to focus on his passive obedience at the cross. But if the Lord had not perfectly lived in active obedience throughout his life, he would not be qualified to be our Savior. Jesus saves because he lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died.

    Yet there is a sense in which there is no hard distinction between Christ’s active and passive obedience. We see the close connection between these two truths in this fifth word. John 19:28 says, “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’”

    • When did Jesus say, “I thirst”? After this.”
    • How did Jesus say, “I thirst”? “Knowing that all was now finished.”
    • Why did Jesus say, “I thirst”? “To fulfill the Scripture.”

    The parenthetical statement is the key to this fifth word. Jesus did not say “I thirst” just because he was thirsty. He said this to fulfill the Scripture. What scripture? Psalm 69:21 says, “They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.” Psalm 69 is messianic. Many of the psalmists’ laments are ultimately fulfilled in the suffering of Christ. But this psalm had one more statement to be fulfilled before he died. So, to fulfill the scripture, Jesus said, “I thirst.” John 19:29 says, “A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.”

     This fifth word declares the inspiration, reliability, and authority of scripture. Isaiah 55:11 says, “So shall my word be that goes out of my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

    This fifth word is also an ironic statement about the sovereign authority of Jesus Christ. The suffering Servant was the sovereign Savior. A passing glance at the beaten and bloody man on the cross assumes he is suffering the consequences for his crimes – a victim of circumstances like the thieves hanging on either side of him. Look again! The man in the middle is the Son of God, who was in complete control of the circumstances of his death. While suffering excruciating pain, Jesus knew that all things were fulfilled – except one thing. So he whispered, “I thirst,” to prompt a soldier to give him a sip of sour wine to fulfill the scripture. 

    Here are the lengths Jesus is willing to go to obey the word of God. Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness. In his vulnerable state, Satan tempted him to turn stones into bread. Matthew 4:4 answers, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Jesus refused to satisfy his hunger so that he would fulfill God’s word. Now, Jesus expressed his thirst to fulfill God’s word.

    In Gethsemane, Peter drew his sword to defend Jesus. Matthew 26:53-54 says, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” We are saved by active and passive obedience of Christ to God’s word, will, and way. But look away from the cross momentarily to look in the mirror. 

    • What are you willing to go without to fulfill the scripture? 
    • What are you willing to give up to fulfill the scripture? 
    • What are you willing to go through to fulfill the scripture? 

    The Lord’s Sacrificial Atonement

     A harmony of the Gospels reveals this fifth word was uttered after the three hours of darkness on Golgotha. God turned off the lights of the universe around Calvary. Midday turned into midnight. God poured out his wrath against sin and sinners in the darkness on his beloved Son. 

    Matthew 27:46-48 says, “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, ‘This man is calling Elijah.’ And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink.” 

    John 19:28 fills in the story to tell us why this anonymous helper offered Jesus us drink: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” Jesus did not say “I thirst” just because he was thirsty. And he did not say “I thirst” just to fulfill the scripture. He said, “I thirst” because he was weakened, exhausted, and dehydrated by God’s wrath, which he suffered for us. 

    • The river of life is in heaven. 
    • Hell is a place with no water.           

    Luke 16:24 says, “And he called out, ‘Father, Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’” If three hours under the wrath of God compelled Jesus to cry out, “I thirst,” imagine how torment the unrepentant sinner will suffer in hell forever. The sinner’s only hope is to run to the cross and trust the one who suffered thirst so that you would not have to drink the cup of eternal punishment.

    Jesus said, “I thirst.” Someone gave him a sip of sour wine. It was not enough to refresh or replenish him. But it was enough for him to wet his lips and open his mouth to make another statement. Verse 30 says, “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up this spirit.”

     Jesus died – voluntarilyvicariously, and victorious – to satisfy our thirst. This is natural, inevitable, and universal. Every person suffers from thirst – not just physically.

    • Our minds thirst for truth. 
    • Our hearts thirst for joy. 
    • Our wills thirst for purpose. 
    • Our souls thirst for hope. 
    • Our consciences thirst for peace. 

    Jeremiah 2:13 says, “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Preoccupation with sex, money, power, drugs, and alcohol is the folly, wickedness, and desperation of thirsty people. It doesn’t have to be that way! Isaiah 55:1-2 says, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, and he who has no money, come buy wine and milk, without money, and without price.” That great invitation is extended through one who said, “I thirst.” 

    Revelation 7:16 says, “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore.” Revelation 22:17 records the final invitation of the Bible: “The Spirit and the bride said, ‘Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” 

    On December 7, 1988, Susanna Petroysan visited her sister-in-law, Karine, to try on a dress. About ten minutes later, a 6.8 earthquake hit Soviet Armenia. The floor opened, and they fell five stories down. Susanna and her four-year-old daughter survived but were trapped under the rubble. When her daughter cried in thirst, Susanna found a nearby jar of jam to give her. It lasted two days. But they were trapped for eight days. How did the daughter survive? The mother did what she had to do. She took broken glass, cut her fingers, and served her daughter her blood until help arrived. In a greater, deeper, higher way, that is what Jesus did for us at the cross.  

    I heard the voice of Jesus say, "Behold I freely give
    The living water, thirsty one; stoop down, and drink, and live." 
    I came to Jesus, and I drank of that life-giving stream; 
    My thirst was quenched, my soul revived, and now I live in him. 

    H.B. Charles Jr.

    Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.