As He lay on the cross, dying, the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ spoke. He first spoke a word of forgiveness for His enemies, and then one of reassurance to the thief who believed in Him. Thirdly, He spoke, restoring family and friends. Then came His cry of desolation. Only after all these words did the Lord utter a word about Himself, His personal need. What a lesson for us to learn about priorities! Where do we place our personal needs in our priority lists?
There is a kind of timelessness about hanging on a cross. It is not a quiet death-over in an instant, in one glorious moment of martyrdom, like being torn apart by lions. A cross is as much an instrument of torture as it is the gallows from which to hang.
And as the day wears on, seconds stretch into minutes which stretch into hours until there comes a point when time can no longer be measured, except in the gradual weakening of the body and its ever increasing demands for that substance which is so vital to life, so foundational to all living things and so basic to existence as we know it-water!-water to moisten a parched mouth, to free a swollen tongue, to open a rasping throat that cannot gasp enough air, to keep hope alive, to keep life alive, just a few moments longer. Water, to a crucified man, is life.
A thirst for water is a thirst for life and a thirst for life is a thirst for God, a God who promises streams in the desert, mighty rivers in the dry land and living water to wash every tear away.
Here, at the end of it all, those promises seem far away, distant. And yet Jesus, forsaken by God, still clings to the memory and hope of life. He cries, "I thirst," the smallest of the seven words He spoke from the cross, yet one full of mystery. Why did He speak this word out? Perhaps, as the evangelists tell us, to fulfil the scriptures. Which Scriptures? Possibly two Scriptures might have flashed in the Saviour's mind, "My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth" (Psa.22:15) or "They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst" (Psa.69:21). "I thirst" was a cry of agony indeed!
Consider all that happened to our Saviour in the hours before He was led to the cross. No food, no water, excessive sweating, scourging and whipping, the toil of walking all the way (Via Dolorosa), and carrying the heavy wooden cross. At Calvary, imagine the loss of blood from an already dehydrating Jesus-blood lost from the nail wounds in the feet and the hands, and from multiple lacerations caused by the crown of thorns. All this loss of water and blood would have led to hypovolemia and dehydration, medically speaking. As we all know, our body is made up of about 60-70% of water. A decrease of even 5% of this body water would lead us to the physical urge of thirst, a craving for water. This is a physiological reflex event. Perhaps it was this reflex which led the Lord to yearn for water!
But that was not all. The Lord must have felt an intense spiritual thirst too. Surely the following words from David's psalm must have run through His mind as He lay thirsting on the cross: "O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water" (Psa.63:1). The Lord Jesus Christ would have meant this also to indicate His thirst for you and me to come to Him. St. Bernard said this about the Lord's thirst, "O Good Jesus, Thou wearest the crown of thorns; Thou art silent about Thy cross and wounds; yet Thou criest out, 'I thirst!' For what, then dost Thou thirst? Truly for the redemption of mankind only, and for the felicity of the human race."
The Three Cups
Three cups were offered to the Lord just before and during His passion. They were the cups of iniquity, charity and mockery.
The Cup Of Iniquity
The Lord struggles on His knees in the Garden of Gethsemane. For those of us who have seen the film, 'Passion of Christ,' His struggle comes alive now. He pleads for this cup to be taken away from Him, yet concedes to do as His Father wills Him to do. "Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done" (Lk.22:42). Gracefully our Lord accepts the cup of suffering, of iniquity, from His Father and drinks it to the dregs. This is what has led Him now to this cross, and to this intensely painful thirst.
The Cup Of Charity
Tradition tells us that there were some charitable women who would minister to the poor wretches who were being crucified by the Romans. These godly women would try to deaden or lessen the pain of the men who were being crucified. They would make a mixture of gall (bile) and wine. The bile would be very bitter, so they would add some sweet wine to make it palatable. These sisters offered this cup to Jesus even before He was nailed to the cross. It would have been about 9 A.M. Then the Lord graciously refused to drink from this deadening draught. He wanted to fully experience the pain. He wanted to let every raw nerve in Him taste the depths of pain, all for you and me! "There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, He refused to drink it" (Matt.27:3).
The Cup Of Mockery
Calloused Roman soldiers were the executioners who would heartlessly haul up the wretches on to their crosses. Most of them would be from Italy. These Romans could not stomach (literally!) the water from the wells of Jerusalem. It seems that the water from these wells was fully contaminated with bacteria. The Jewish natives were immune to these germs, but not the Italians. So, to avoid the diarrhoea that would ensue if they drank water, soldiers would mix it with some wine-vinegar. The wine-vinegar would kill at least some of the bacteria and make the water safe for the Italians to drink. This so called 'safe' water was available near the cross where the Roman contingent was on duty.
After the Lord cries, "I thirst," around 3 P.M., the cup of mockery is offered to Him, the single most glaring act of mercy on this darkest day of all history. A rough Roman soldier, perhaps in mockery, offers the Lord a drink. This is the cup of mockery. The Lord drank from this cup. He accepted the mockery of the soldier! I believe He smiled on that gracious act! "The soldiers also mocked Him. They offered Him wine vinegar" (Lk.23:36).
What do you and I learn from this word which the Lord spoke? Is it relevant to us in this time and age? It is indeed. I believe there are three things we can learn.
1. All Our Suffering Has A Purpose
When we look at the extremely great suffering on the cross, we realise that it was for the salvation of all mankind, beyond space and time. So also, all our sufferings have a purpose. Perhaps we cannot decipher the purpose of our suffering right now, but it does have a purpose in God's economy.
Good comes out of suffering. The story is told about Elizabeth Prentiss, the wife of a Presbyterian minister. She was invalid through most of her adult life and was often in pain. Yet she was known to be a positive smiling person by others around her. One day she suddenly lost two of her children and was devastated. As she struggled to pray and ask God about this loss, He answered her, and she wrote the words of this famous song which we sing:
"More love to Thee, O Christ, more love to Thee!
Hear Thou the prayer, I make on bended knee;
This is my earnest plea, more love, O Christ to Thee!
Once earthly joy I craved, sought peace and rest,
Now Thee alone I seek-give what is best
This all prayer shall be! More love, O Christ to Thee…
Let sorrow do its work, send grief and pain,
Sweet are they messengers, sweet their refrain,
When they can sing with me, more love, O Christ, to Thee…
Then shall my latest breath whisper Thy praise;
This be the parting cry my heart shall raise,
This still its prayer shall be, more love, O Christ, to Thee.
2. God Understands Our Pain
Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey have written an excellent book called Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. They have written a sequel to it called In His image. They write, "Our prayers and cries of suffering take on greater meaning because we now know them to be understood by God. Instinctively, we want a God who not only knows our pain, but shares in it and is affected by our own. By looking at Jesus, we realise we have such a God. He took on Himself the limitations of time and space and family and pain and sorrow." In Hebrews 4;15 we read, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have One who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin."
3. Christ Is Still Thirsting
Yes, our Lord is still thirsting for all the people around the corners of this world, to come to Him. "(God our Saviour) who wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth" (1Tim.2:4).
The Last Word
Suppose you were at the foot of the cross on that fateful Friday, and suppose you had a water bottle full of clean water, would you have given the Saviour, the Living water, a drink?
If you have not repented from your sins, accepted the free offer of salvation from the Lord, why not do so now? By doing it, you would be quenching the Lord's thirst.
For those of us who have already accepted the Lord, He wants us to share the Gospel with others, our brothers and sisters around us. By doing that, we can quench our Lord's thirst.
The Lord Jesus Christ, now alive in heaven, says, "I still thirst." Shall we begin quenching His thirst now?