Friday, March 29, 2024

The Fifth Word: Thirst

Thoughts on the First Word from the Cross

by Rev. Joel A. Brondos

christ crucified on the cross fresco blue background bowed head orthodox icon
John 19:28 – “I thirst!”

The fifth word from the cross actually was just one word (it takes two words in English to translate διψω). Though it is the shortest of Christ’s sayings from the cross, it is by no means insignificant.

First of all, the Scripture had to be fulfilled (John 19:28). “They also gave me gall for my food, And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (Psalm 69:21). Jesus would not let a jot or tittle pass from the law till all was fulfilled (Matthew 5:18) . . . and just before He spoke the words, “It is finished,” He was also fulfilling the Scriptures.

And there is more.

Roman soldiers were the most crude and cruel of men. We may see the depth of their depravity as they nailed Jesus to the cross, raised Him up, and stood around the crucified Christ. Cicero, the Roman orator, statesman, and philosopher had written that crucifixion was so horrible, that the word “cross” should never be mentioned in polite society: “Let the very word ‘cross,’ be far removed from not only the bodies of Roman citizens, but even from their thoughts, their eyes, and their ears.” (Cicero, [106 - 43BC], Pro Rabirio 16). But Roman soldiers demurred not one bit from crucifying hundreds -- or even thousands -- of men at a time.  For example, in 4 B.C., the Roman general Varus crucified 2,000 Jews.

The lictor had given Jesus forty stripes minus one with a whip of leather strands having pieces of sharp bone at the end which did not merely give welts, but ripped the flesh from His back. They put a purple robe on that back which had the flesh ripped off, they mocked Him – and later they ripped the blood soaked robe from His back in which the blood had no doubt begun to coagulate. They had blindfolded Jesus and struck Him asking Him to prophesy who had hit Him.

And their cruelty did not end there.

A bit earlier, Jesus had refused the drink they had prepared. Jesus had been offered sour wine mingled with gall to drink. “But when He had tasted it, He would not drink” (Matthew 27:34).

But Jesus had a second opportunity to quench the kind of thirst which accompanies the shedding of one’s life blood. He initiated it by saying, “I thirst.” And then we read: “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” (John 19:29).

People generally don’t give much thought to this or ask, “How was it that the Roman soldiers happened to have sour wine, a sponge, and a hyssop stick?” but it is noteworthy. The Roman soldiers carried no toilet paper in those days. Archaeology has discovered the xylospongius or tersorius, also known as a “sponge on a stick.” Uncovered in ancient Roman latrines, these wooden sticks with a sea sponge fixed at the end were often cleaned in vinegar. The soldiers likely carried a tersorius in their kit as they traveled about on their various assignments, including the one to Golgotha. They had them on hand, in this case, to add just one more insult and indignity to all the others they had already heaped upon the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sins of the world.

At the institution of the Lord’s Supper the previous day, Jesus had said that He would not drink of the fruit of the vine again until He drank it with them in the kingdom of God. On the cross, Jesus received the sour wine as He was opening the kingdom of heaven to all believers.

With that, we come to another noteworthy aspect of Jesus saying, “I thirst.” It is not uncommon today to see a glass or bottle of water on the pulpit. A pastor’s mouth can dry out while preaching. So, too, for our Lord.

Jesus said, “I thirst,” because He still had something important to say – words for our comfort, joy, and peace. When He had received the sour wine to His parched lips, He was enabled to say audibly, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. (John 19:30)

And now, we who with the apostle Paul “die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31), who have been “crucified with Christ,” (Galatians 2:20), who have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24) and who “boast . . . in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by which the world has been crucifed to [us] and [we] to the world” (Galatians 6:14) – we thirst.

We exclaim with David who, when he was in the wilderness, composed these words: “My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1b). Jesus, who knew thirst, invites us: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink" (John 7:37). And is it not this very same Jesus, who is the One speaking in Revelation 21:6, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.”

We thirst. And we drink the fruit of the vine with Him in the kingdom of God -- not sour wine or vinegar with gall, but His precious blood shed and His true body given for us in His death on the cross. Thus, when we go to the Lord’s Supper, we go as if going to our death – and when we go to our death, we may go as if to the Lord’s Supper where He “satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness” (Psalm 107:9).

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