Reflection for Good Friday – ‘I thirst.’

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A reflection, from John 19:28, on one of Jesus’ last words. 
4th April 2015

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’

What does it mean that the God-man, the second person of the Trinity, was thirsty? In church history the doctrine of the person of Jesus (fully man and fully God) has been known as the ‘Incarnation’, and the doctrine of the persons and nature of God (one in essence, three in person) has been known as the ‘Trinity’. In naming these doctrines, we might be tempted to think that we have actually understood the reality to which they point. It’s what many Philosophy and Theology students like to think – that by being able to pronounce and spell the names of big words and terms (like Kantian Transcendental Idealism or pre-tribulational pre-millennial futurist dispensationalism) they actually understand what they mean.

But I don’t think that that’s what the early church had in mind when they formally articulated these doctrines, mostly to combat false teachings with inadequate human analogies. How is it that the eternal Word became flesh, and dwelt among us? How is it that God is one, and yet reveals Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; distinct persons, and yet equally God? These are eternal mysteries, and the words ‘Incarnation’ and ‘Trinity’ don’t function in order to help us comprehend how they work, so much as reaffirm that what they point to is reality – absolute reality, to be more precise. Jesus truly is the God-man, and Jesus truly is the second person of the Trinity.

And so I ask again: what does it mean that the God-man, the second person of the Trinity, was thirsty?

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’

If my use of technical terms so far has made any of you feel worried that my reflection is going to become just a technical theological lecture, good. That is a good fear. I also feel uneasy. Technicality is good shorthand to concisely and efficiently move forward in a conversation (provided everyone knows what the terms mean) but when we’re seeking to dwell on such weighty words, as we are this evening, they seem out of place. When we peel back the big words and categories and see what lies behind them, reading this verse, we are left with the historical reality that our God was thirsty.

  • Our God, who transformed water into wine in John 2, demonstrating that He had supreme authority over the elements of nature.
  • Our God, who told the woman at the well in John 4 that He could give her living water that would become a spring and well up to eternal life, providing true satisfaction.
  • Our God, who said to the crowds in John 6 that He is the bread of life, and whoever believes in Him shall never thirst.
  • Our God, who healed the man born blind in John 9 by instructing Him to wash in the Pool of Siloam.
  • Our God, who washed the feet of His disciples in John 13, serving, loving, and cleansing His brothers.

Our God, who has complete power and absolute control over the very substance He invented, water. Our God, who did not only speak of physical water, but also spoke of the true rivers of living water, the Holy Spirit. Hanging there, on that tree, He bears the wrath for our sins that we deserve, finishing the work that He had been sent to do by the Father’s love for the world to give us eternal life. Our God, nailed because of our rebellion, was thirsty.

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’

Isn’t that nonsense? It makes no sense. How can God be thirsty? When we read John 19:28 we read the historical reality that God was thirsty, and it makes no sense. But you know what else doesn’t make any sense? Sin. Sin doesn’t make sense. Sin is nonsense. What could be more nonsensical than to willingly rebel against the God who created us, cares for His creation, and righteously judges? And yet, sin is also a historical reality. I sin. You sin. We all sin.

And it is because of sin that Jesus hung on the Cross, suffered, and died for those whom He loves so much that He would undergo what cannot be comprehended by us in order to save those who do what is incomprehensible before God. In this last word of Jesus we see that our sin is more horrible than we perhaps believe, but that God’s love for us is more radical than we can possibly imagine.

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’

In Psalm 69, King David writes about his throat being parched and his enemies giving him sour wine to drink. Jesus, on the cross, fulfills this psalm amongst Roman soldiers, and in verse 29 we see that the soldiers did dip a sponge into sour wine and let Jesus drink from it. Such a drink is delivered out of mockery than out of a genuine desire to quench the thirst. What’s the significance of this action?

The cry of David’s psalm is for God to save him from his enemies, who wish to take his life, and it’s also a psalm of confidence that God will indeed do so. Jesus, knowing what He has done and that He is about to die, knows that He will not remain dead, but will be saved by God and given life. In fulfilling the Scripture, Jesus once again demonstrates that He is truly what Israel had been looking forward to, the embodiment of all their hopes and longings. How ironic, then, that this same Jesus is the one that the leaders of Israel have now crucified and sought to kill. However Jesus’ confidence in His heavenly Father is not a fantasy – Jesus will finish the work His Father sent Him to do, for the sake of His beloved, so that He will be able to save and give life to those who cry out to Him.

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’

And so we end with the same question that we began with: What does it mean that the God-man, the second person of the Trinity, was thirsty? It means that at the Cross we are confronted with the fact that our Creator, the giver of life and water, bled and thirsted for us. But perhaps ‘confronted’ isn’t the only word we should use here, because at the Cross we are comforted with the fact that our Creator, the giver of life and water, bled and thirsted for us. This Jesus, the God-man, suffered for us. This Jesus, the God-man, suffered for you.

Recall that in Jeremiah 2:12-13, God, through Jeremiah, charges that His people were guilty of two evils. They had forsaken Him, the only true fountain of living waters, and were trying to create their own fountains to quench their thirsts, even though they were utterly incapable of doing so. Do you know what is now available to you because of the suffering of our Lord? Brothers and sisters, where are you going to quench your thirst? Where are you going to find true satisfaction? Our Lord has now been glorified, and as is written in John 7, the rivers of living water that is the Holy Spirit is now given. Do you know Him? Do you know the God who has not only provided a way to be pardoned for our sins, but has also given us His Spirit to comfort us, cleanse us, renew us, and bring us to completion?

And, finally, do you know that we don’t serve a High Priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses? God knows what it is like to thirst. God knows what it is like to suffer. So come to Him for confidence. Come to Him for grace. Come to Him for mercy. Come to Him for strength.

Beloved, do you know why today, this Friday, is good? Because Jesus was thirsty, you never need to be again.

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’

James Chen

James is a Philosophy graduate from the University of Sydney and is currently a teaching and learning manager of a senior high school tutoring centre. James is a member of St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Carlingford and loves reading and teaching the Bible.

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