Scriptures

‘I Thirst’

Introduction

It’s near the end of Jesus’ human life, He senses it, He has hung on the cross for six hours now. It has become hard for Jesus to even get a breath. Hung from His arms, He must pull Himself up each time He wants to breathe, His shoulders ache, His mouth is parched and He is exhausted. And yet He doesn’t want to die without a final word, He asks for something to drink to wet His lips for this final effort.

‘Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’ John 19:28-29

A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.’

The fulfilment of Scripture

‘Knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.’ John 19:28

What Scripture was fulfilled here? A Psalm of lamentation, written by David, seems to have been fulfilled literally in Jesus, Psalm 69:21. Apparently, Jesus asked for something to quench His thirst in order to fulfil Psalm 69:21.

The first offering of wine

This wasn’t the first-time Jesus had been offered wine, both Mark and Matthew observe that He was offered bitter wine just prior to being crucified.

‘There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it.’ Matthew 27:34

‘Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.’ Mark 15:23

Perhaps this was intended as an intoxicant for those about to suffer pain.

A group of Jerusalem women, as an act of devotion, provided for a condemned man a vessel of wine containing a grain of frankincense to numb Him.

‘There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it.’ Matthew 27:34

Jesus refuses to drink this. He has committed Himself to the Father to offer Himself as a sacrifice. To attempt to lessen the pain of this sacrifice would have somehow been going back on this commitment.

The second offering of wine vinegar

The offering of something to quench His thirst after hanging on the cross for some time is a separate incident.

‘A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.’ John 19:29

Wine vinegar, ‘oxos’ didn’t have any alcohol left in it, but was a sour wine that had turned to vinegar. Wine is made from grape juice, yeast fermentation causes sugar to be transformed into alcohol, which continues until the alcohol content reaches about 11% to 12%. Wine vinegar, on the other hand, is made by the action of acetic acid bacteria on alcohol to produce acetic acid. Since the bacteria that cause this reaction are ‘aerobic’, they require that the wine be exposed to oxygen in order to form vinegar.

What is a container of wine vinegar doing on Golgotha that day? It’s ‘posca’, a drink popular with soldiers of the Roman army, made by diluting sour wine vinegar with water. It was inexpensive, considered more thirst quenching than water alone, it prevented scurvy, killed harmful bacteria in the water, and the vinegary taste made bad smelling water more palatable.

All over the empire, ‘posca’ was the soldier’s drink of choice, the soldiers had brought ‘posca’ to sustain them during their crucifixion duty. They weren’t getting drunk on it, just using it to quench their own thirst.

The Sponge

While a condemned criminal might be able to drink wine prior to being crucified, drinking from a cup while hanging on the cross wasn’t practical. So, when Jesus indicated His thirst, the soldiers used a sponge to give Him ‘posca’ to slake His thirst.

What was a sponge, ‘Greek sponges’, doing on Golgotha that day? It seems scarcely the thing you’d expect to find. Again, sponges were part of a Roman soldier’s kit. Sponges were found along the Mediterranean coast, were widely used in ancient times to line and pad a soldier’s helmet and soldiers also used sponges as drinking vessels.

No doubt one of the soldiers offered Jesus a drink of ‘posca’ from his own supply, using his own sponge. A soldier wasn’t required to share his drink with the criminals under his care, but he had seen that Jesus was dying unlike any other criminal he had ever seen. No cursing, no blaming, no anger.

A Man like no other

What was it like to watch Jesus’ slow death? Perhaps it had impressed the soldier with something like Peter’s words, 1 Peter 2:22-23.

Peter concludes this passage with something, however, that the soldier didn’t yet know, echoing the words of the ‘Suffering Servant’ passage of Isaiah 53. See also 1 Peter 2:24.

The ‘posca’ offered by a soldier on his sponge that day was an act of mercy to the One who was bringing God’s mercy to all humankind.

The hyssop

‘A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.’ John 19:29

John makes a point of specifying the ‘hyssop plant’, a small bush with blue flowers and highly aromatic leaves, whereas the other Gospels refer to it as ‘stick’ or ‘reed’.

What is the significance of hyssop?

Hyssop was used to sprinkle blood on the doorposts and lintels on the first Passover, Exodus 12:22. It was associated with purification and sacrifices in the tabernacle, Leviticus 14:4 / Leviticus 14:6 / Numbers 19:6 / Numbers 19:18.

No doubt John had this in mind when he wrote his Gospel.

Receiving the posca

John tells us that Jesus actually drank some of the vinegary ‘posca’ from the sponge.

‘When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.’ John 19:30

For a few seconds, at least, Jesus sucked the ‘posca’ from the sponge. He didn’t drink long enough to satisfy what must have been moderate to severe dehydration from loss of blood, exposure to the elements, and the necessity of gasping for breath through his mouth. The end was near, so He drank only enough to moisten His parched throat so that His last words of triumph might be heard across the hilltop of Golgotha.

What can we learn from Jesus’ words ‘I thirst’?

1. Jesus’ physical humanity.

First and probably of greatest importance, Jesus’ word ‘I thirst,’ reminds us of Jesus’ physical nature, His humanity. This was no play-acting on the cross, a divine being pretending to undergo a physical act of torture that couldn’t touch Him. This was tangible physical suffering, of which extreme thirst is the one element most of us can readily identify with from our own personal experience.

There was a heresy afoot in the Hellenistic world that Jesus didn’t really come in flesh and blood, much less die a gruesome physical death on the cross. Flesh was of the evil realm, they believed, and could never be holy. Only spirit was capable of the divine. So, Jesus didn’t really die, He only appeared to, He was only pretending, this is what Docetism and Gnosticism believe.

The apostle John was combating an early form of this heresy in his letters, 1 John 4:2-3 / 2 John 7.

Jesus fifth word, ‘I thirst,’ reminds us that Jesus died in the flesh for us and for our sins.

2. Jesus’ awareness of Scripture.

‘I thirst’ reminds us of Jesus’ extensive knowledge of the prophetic scriptures concerning His suffering and death and His willingness to fulfil each of them to the letter. The best-known passage, of course, is the ‘Servant Song’ from Isaiah 53:12.

He knew it well and referred to it again and again. Jesus’ action to ask for a drink is deliberately prompted by His knowledge of Scripture and determination to fulfil it.

‘Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’ John 19:28

3. Jesus’ determination to complete His task.

Jesus said, ‘I thirst’ to strengthen Himself and ease His throat so that He might cry out His final words from the cross ‘with a loud voice’, Matthew 27:50

He was summoning Himself to bring it all to completion.

Conclusion

We can only be in awe of Jesus and His awareness of not only those around Him but His Father in heaven and His desire to please His Father even moments before His death. We’re reminding of His humanity whilst suffering for each of us today.

May we never take the events of the cross too lightly and may we always learn from Him who hung upon it.

 

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"In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."

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