Thursday, April 8, 2010

Words from the Cross: 'I am thirsty'

Reflecting on the Easter story causes us to form a picture in our mind.  Jesus, the son of Mary, but more than that, the Son of God and Saviour of the world, arrested, put on mock trial, falsely accused, viciously treated by the Roman guard who crushed a cruel crown of thorns down onto his brow and then savagely flogged him with a barbaric instrument of torture, the cat of nine tails.  In our minds eye we see him struggling under the weight of his own cross, making his way through the streets of Jerusalem toward the place of his execution. His physical strength gone, he stumbles under the weight and simply can’t continue, and so someone else is conscripted to carry it for Him.  Then on Calvary we envision him laying down willingly on that rough hewn wood frame while they hammer long spikes through his hands and feet and then raise him up and drop the cross forcefully into the deep hole that will hold it up.

I point all this out to remind us…to remind us that long before His cross was lifted to the sky, he suffered intense physical pain and agony.  And yet there are recorded for us no cries for help, no screams of pain, no words of spite or retribution.  So far the words that he has spoken from his cross are very ‘in character’ for the Messiah.  They are cries that we would expect from the Christ: forgiving sinners, promising paradise, caring for his mother, and validating his relationship with God the Father as he cries out to him in spiritual anguish with the weight of the sin of the world on his shoulders.

But in John 19:28-29 we read these words:
“Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty’.  A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.”

“…I am thirsty.”

There are a few things that strike me about this that I want to  share.

I am struck by the humanity of these words.  First and foremost I am reminded Jesus was not only God in these moments but he was God in the flesh.  The Word become flesh.  He was fully God but also fully human.

The punishment that Jesus’ physical body had undergone was intensely grueling. He’d been flogged, had a thorny crown forced down on his head, dressed in a heavy purple robe and pushed and punched and spit on, carried a heavy cross and now hanging on that cross, his body was supported by nails through the palms of his hands.  His full weight made it so that it was like his arms we being pulled in two opposite directions causing him intense difficulty breathing – and the only way he could get a little relief was to put all of his weight on the one spike through his feet and push himself up with his legs to take a breath.  We are told by those who observed crucifixion in Roman times that intense thirst was one of the most prominent side effects.  The wounds through the hands and feet from the dirty rusty nails would become quickly infected and inflamed causing a raging fever.  In Jesus’ case, his entire back had been shredded as well by the cat of nine tails.

It says that ‘knowing that now all was completed…he said ‘I thirst’.  Almost like the checklist was done and now he could have His human moment. And so to cry out ‘I thirst’ was a final glimpse into the humanity of the Saviour.  He was like us – the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, he moved into our neighborhood and experienced what we experience, weariness, hunger, thirst, rejection, temptation – the list goes on and on.

But he was also God in the flesh.  Here on a mission.  Here to bring the good news of salvation and to become the perfect spotless Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world for the forgiveness of our sins.  He was the answer to all of the Old Testament prophecies about him.

And in this moment on the cross I am also struck by the fulfillment in these words.  The perfection.  It says that Jesus knew that all was completed, but it also says that this phrase in particular was spoken so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. 

Psalm 69:21 (NIV)
They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.

There were many prophecies fulfilled during Jesus trial and crucifixion.  Too many for me to mention here.  But this statement ‘I thirst’ was one more critical piece of that puzzle that convincingly portrayed Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, and the Saviour of the world.

Last, I am struck by the irony of this statement.  Jesus was after all, the giver of living water, as the Samaritan woman at the well had discovered.  He had promised the kind of water that will satisfy and make you never thirst again.  But in this moment on the cross, he experienced thirst in one of the most intense ways that a human can possibly experience it.  Did he need to?  No.  He is all powerful God.  But he did.  He did so he could identify with us and be the fulfillment of all that had been prophesied about Him.

I thirst! I thirst! The Saviour cried
With burning lips before He died;
A cooling draught He asked of those
Who mocking looked upon his throes.

Angelic hosts from heaven’s height
In sorrow gaze upon the sight;
But yet the sky no water drips
To cool the Saviour’s parched lips.

A thousand fountains flowed that day.
A river flowed not far away;
But not one cup by friend or foe
Was brought to mitigate His woe.

He suffered thirst on Calvary’s hill
That He our thirsty hearts might fill,
To open wide a fount of grace
For all who seek the Saviour’s face.

“O come!” We hear the Saviour call –
The invitation is for all;
“Ho, all ye souls athirst, come ye,
And drink the living water free.”
                Author Unknown

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