To be human is to thirst.
The average adult man’s body is 60 percent water. From the time of our birth, even up to the moment of our death, more than anything, our bodies crave the most precious natural resource on earth—namely, water. It has been said that the average person can live 30 days without food but only three days without water. When there is a lack of water, the body naturally goes into self-preservation mode and thirst kicks in. Suddenly, there is nothing more important than quenching our thirst. It is among the most basic instincts. To be human is to need water. To thirst is human.
As the pangs of death closed in upon our Lord on the cross, Jesus once again demonstrated the sincerity of his humanity. He identified with the longings of humanity. He understood our deepest needs and sympathized with our inherent pangs. The suffering of the cross touched him in ways that caused him to long for fulfillment, long for refreshing.
Death was slowly arresting his vitality. His energy was waning, and his body grew weaker and weaker. Just as the Scriptures had foretold (Ps. 22:15; 69:3), the depth of our Lord’s suffering was manifested in every part of his being, including his thirst. The depth of our sin is the extent to which it has affected every aspect of our being; so too must the suffering of Christ be on our behalf.
Suffering is exhausting. Anyone who has endured pain for any length of time knows the toll suffering takes upon the body. It breaks the will. It cripples the mind and causes it to self-exhaust in finding relief. The Crucifixion was particularly painful, exhausting, and even dehydrating. Yet the thirst of Christ was not simply a reminder of the limitations of our bodies but even more so a reminder of the depths and weight of our sin. Jesus was thirsty because his body grew weak. His body grew weak because of our sin. He grew weak because our sorrows weighed him down (Isa. 53:4). Because of our sin, Jesus was thirsty. Because of our sin, Jesus longed to be refreshed.
Thirsting for righteousness
As the body longs for water, so the soul longs for righteousness. Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve, the longing of the human heart has been for the restoration of relationship with God and the restoration of this world. We look out upon the world and see brokenness all around us—starvation, exploitation, persecution, abuse, brutality, sadness, and murder—and we long for a respite from the madness.
But let our gaze turn inward as well. We look into our own hearts and see the pride and arrogance, jealousy and hatred, the lust, greed, selfishness, and loneliness. Inwardly and outwardly, we thirst for righteousness, justice, love, and peace. Our sin and the sin of this world weaken us, sap our spiritual strength, and cause us to thirst. Sin makes us thirsty.
But why did Jesus, who knew no sin, thirst? Why did our Lord, who had everything and wanted for nothing—why did he thirst? His thirst was for righteousness—not his own but ours. And as the Bible says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matt. 5:6). The hunger and thirst of Christ on the cross was not simply for him but for you and me. As a result, Jesus cried, “I am thirsty.”
But who was this man who upon the cross declared himself thirsty and longed to be refreshed? Consider that it was he who, according to the Bible, set aside “storehouses” for snow and hail (Job 38:22). It was he who walked on the water (Mark 6:48) and commanded the stormy seas to be still (4:39). It was he who makes it rain in one city and holds back the rain in another, who causes one field to flood with water and another field to dry up (Amos 4:7). Surely he could have called a legion of angels to supply enough water to fill the oceans of earth many times over. He who was thirsty had the power to quench his thirst in a moment, and yet he chose not to.
No one willingly chooses to be thirsty. Thirst is something that comes upon us. It is a natural instinct brought on by a longing to be refreshed and refueled. Thirst is something we try to avoid, and once it comes upon us, we seek to satisfy it as soon as possible. No one chooses to have a dry tongue or parched lips. Yet Jesus did. He chose to be thirsty so we would and could be refreshed.
In choosing to become man and choosing to suffer in our place, he also chose to thirst. Sin makes us thirsty. Sin exposes our deficiencies and reminds us how easily we are discouraged in our battle against it. But how did he who knew no sin become thirsty? It was not on account of his sin that he experienced such thirst; it was on account of our sin. Again, the Scriptures were being fulfilled:
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isa. 53:5–6)
Our Lord was thirsty because sin makes us thirsty. In taking on our sin, he took on our thirst—our thirst for righteousness, holiness, and peace. And on the cross his thirst was not quenched so that ours could be. He was not refreshed so that we would be, through him. Now he commands us to be refreshed in his grace and mercy. Now when we thirst, we can hear the Savior say, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost” (Isa. 55:1).
An eternal spring
Not only does the cross of Christ satisfy our thirst, but that refreshment comes for free! There is no cost, except the cost already paid by Christ. He now says, “Come. Be refreshed.” The fountain of God’s gracious refreshing flows from the cross into all eternity so that those who enter heaven through the blood of Jesus will thirst no more (Rev. 7:16).
Being thirsty is a condition of this world. And the world desires you to drink from its contaminated well. But Jesus reminds us that such wells never truly satisfy, never truly refresh. Only the water that flows from his side, his eternal love and mercy, can truly refresh. As he said, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13–14).
Jesus was thirsty so that all who trust him can find living water and be thirsty no longer. Let us drink from the waters of everlasting life, joy, and contentment. Let us be refreshed in Jesus unto eternal life.
Anthony J. Carter is lead pastor of East Point Church in East Point, Georgia. Lee Fowler is an elder and Sunday School teacher at East Point Church. This article is adapted from their book, Dying to Speak: Meditations from the Cross (P & R Publishing). www.prpbooks.com