by Jason Overman
He had plenty of water to make wine for a wedding, to wash the disciples’ feet (John 2:7; 13:5), but now there was none. There had been water enough for Pilate to wash guilty hands, but on the cross Innocence cried out, “I thirst!” (Matthew 27:24; John 19:28). Two heartrending, heart-healing words speak volumes, for in them we taste and see the glory of God.
Of the seven statements Jesus uttered from the cross, this one, falling aptly in between “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” and “It is finished!” (Matthew 27:45-48; John 19:28-30), discloses the full humanity of our Lord and the price and purpose of His becoming flesh.
The long, agonizing ordeal of crucifixion resulted in physical and feverish thirst above all sensations after pain. And yet, this thirst is more than that. The Word that was with God, that was God, became flesh in Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 14). The Incarnation makes God’s thirst possible. As we thirst, because we thirst, He was made thirsty.
Kenosis: “emptied.” Like a drink offering, the Son of God thirsted on the cross because He for our sakes was poured out. “Although He existed in the form of God,” Christ relinquished His majesty, “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8, NASB).
He became one of us, promised son of David, and then thirsted on a cross:
I am weary with my crying;
My throat is dry;
My eyes fail while I wait for my God. . . .
They also gave me gall for my food,
And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink (Psalm 69:3, 21).
As servant-man, Jesus descended into and filled up Israel’s story — indeed, all of our stories — joining Himself to the yearning vulnerability that is David and all humanity desperately separated from God.
More than fulfilling a Messianic prophecy about physical thirst, the cross- shattered Christ-cry exposes our greater spiritual need. Separated from His Father in this sin-bearing hour, the longing to be near God, to be satisfied in His presence, unites Him to the cry of Israel and those born of her faith:
As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God? (42:1, 2).
O God, You are my God;
Early will I seek You;
My soul thirsts for You;
My flesh longs for You
In a dry and thirsty land
Where there is no water (63:1).
Jesus made himself thirsty so that through Him our estrangement with God might be reversed, fellowship restored, our thirst quenched.
But as Word and divine Son, might His thirst communicate more still? Might not Jesus who groaned, “I thirst!” not also speak for God, who also longs for His people and has come down in Christ to reconcile the world to Himself, to make known in the cross His yearning love for restored communion with us, His creation (Hosea 11:8; 2 Corinthians 5:17-19)? I think so.
This Lord’s Supper, as we drink in memory of His death, I’m humbled afresh that with a thirsty cross He finished His work. And with the cruel thrust of a spear, water sprang up to eternal life (John 19:34). For those who believe and drink into His glory, they will never thirst again (4:14; 6:35).
Jason Overman is editor of the Bible Advocate and curriculum editor. Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.