Cross Words: Thirsty Lips and A Thirsty Heart
I ask you to come with me now to Calvary.
Jesus has been upon the cross for several hours, and for the first and only time, He utters a word which is related to His physical suffering—one word in Aramaic, three words in English. Jesus says, “I am thirsty.” Now I want to point out that this was not an altogether selfish request. If you will recall at the beginning of the crucifixion experience, Jesus had been offered some drugged wine, a narcotic to ease the pain. Jesus pushed that aside. He would take the pain in order to keep His mind alert. He wanted nothing to dull or dilute His concentration. The basic work of His life and ministry on earth had now been done, but there were still some things He felt He wanted to say. He wanted physically to be able to say them. You see, after losing a large quantity of blood through His flogging and crucifixion, Jesus experienced extraordinary thirst. That always occurs with an extreme loss of blood. So Jesus asked for a drink in order to moisten His dry, cracking lips and His swollen distended tongue that He might be able to speak the words He felt called to speak. Now many of those who interpret this word of Jesus, “I am thirsty,” tend to allegorize it or spiritualize it. They say that Jesus was thirsting for prayer, or thirsting for love, or thirsting for service. That is not so. Jesus was thirsting for liquid. He needed moisture for His lips and His throat, and so He said, “I am thirsty.” It’s as simple as that. Yet, I think that there are two simple but powerful lessons we can learn from those words, “I am thirsty.”
First, the words bear testimony to the humanity in Jesus’ life.
Martin Luther said. “Christ ate, and drank, and slept, and worked. He was weary. He was sorrowful. He rejoiced. He wept and He laughed. He knew hunger, thirst, and sweat. He talked. He toiled. He prayed. There was no difference between Him and any other person except this: He was God and without sin.” Luther, when he said that, was trying to remind us that Jesus entered fully into the human experience. Sometimes we tend to forget that in the church. In our worship and adoration of Jesus Christ, we tend to exalt His divinity and forget His humanity. We try to lift Him up and separate Him from life. We do this to honor Him, and there is nothing wrong with our intent. The problem is that, as a result, Jesus comes off as a kind of separated Savior, having no real impact on our every day lives.
Therefore, I believe the greatest sin committed against Jesus in our time is the sin of lifting Him up into irrelevance. There is a marvelous poem by the great Studdert Kennedy, which I have always loved. I share it with you now changing only one word:
When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, Red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, when human flesh was cheap.
When Jesus came to Hilton Head, they simply passed Him by,
They never hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.
Still Jesus cried, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do. ”
And still it rained the winter rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall and cried for Calvary.
The greatest blasphemy of all is to see Jesus as irrelevant—to see Him as so heavenly that He is of no earthly use. But on Calvary we see so clearly that He was a man. He was fully human, so much so that as His lifeblood drained away He said, “I am thirsty.”
Also, those words bear testimony to the hope in Jesus’ heart.
It’s astonishing to hear Him say, “I am thirsty,” because, after all, who is going to give Him a drink? Mary and John were no longer there. He had sent them away. The thief who had called out to Him was in no position to help. So, who was there? Well the Jewish religious who despised Him, they were there. Of course, the soldiers who had nailed Him to His cross now were engaged in gambling for His clothes. The crowds were still there transfixed by a morbid curiosity at watching a man die. So, to whom did He say, “I am thirsty”? I think He said it to all of them. You see, I believe He was extending to them, in the midst of the horror and the evil of it all—he was extending to them the opportunity to do something good. In other words, I believe He saw possibilities in them still. So even on the cross, He was looking for the good in people when He said, “I am thirsty.” He was giving them the opportunity to respond in goodness. Jesus never believed that a life could be so broken that the pieces could not be put back together again.
Peter Cropper is one of the leading violinists in the world. He is part of the famous Lindsey String Quartet of London, England. The quartet was invited to play at the noted Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival in Finland. Because it was to be such a significant concert, the Royal Academy of Music in London decided to loan to Peter Cropper an exquisite Stradivarius violin, 258 years old, a marvelous instrument. On the day of the concert as Peter Cropper was climbing up the steps to the concert stage carrying that treasured violin in his hands, he tripped and fell flat with the violin beneath him. It was shattered to pieces. He was shattered, as well. He was inconsolable. He managed to gather all of the pieces into a box and he took the box back to England. The Royal Academy forgave him—I mean what else could they do?—but he couldn’t forgive himself. He searched and searched until he found a man named Charles Behr who claimed to be able to repair violins. He carried this box of scraps and pieces to Charles Behr’s shop, and he said, “Can you fix this?” Charles Behr replied, “Leave it with me for thirty days.” Thirty days later, Peter Cropper returned to Charles Behr’s shop. He was filled with a mixture of hope and dread at what he might find. Charles Behr presented the instrument to him. It was exquisitely beautiful. You could not even find the places where the mends had been made. But, of course, the real test would be in the sound. That’s what sets apart the Stradivarius violin—the sound—the rich resonant sound. Peter Cropper took the instrument, put it to his chin, put the bow to the strings, and began to play. The music began to sing and soar. The instrument was every bit as beautiful as it had been before.
That’s what Jesus does in life. Jesus comes to us. Jesus, this great Carpenter, this Master Craftsman, comes to us. No matter how shattered we may be by failure in our experience, no matter how broken we may be by what ever happens to us along life’s way—Jesus comes to us and picks up the pieces and through gentle, loving care, He mends those pieces back together again until we are just as beautiful—ah! maybe even more beautiful than we were before. Yes, that’s what Jesus does in a life and that’s what He wanted to do in the lives of those who gathered on Calvary that day. You see His heart was always filled with a thirst to change peoples’ lives and make them new. That’s what He wants to do in your life and in mine. Jesus never just sees us as we are. No, He always sees us as we can be, as we ought to be, and as He can make us to be.
Jesus said, “I am thirsty,”—one word in Aramaic, three words in English. We don’t have to spiritualize what He said. It speaks of the humanity of Jesus’ life, and it speaks of the hope of Jesus’ heart. “I am thirsty.” He says that to each one of us today. We can answer. How? Not by offering cold water for His lips but by offering our warm hearts to His service. For then He will take the broken, shattered pieces of our experience and He will lovingly knit those pieces back together again. He will make us whole and beautiful once more. He will make us, more and more, His very own …