As Easter approaches this week, of course Christians are going to focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus. I personally prefer to break Jesus’ death and resurrection into two parts. Easter should be focused on celebrating Jesus’ resurrection and shouldn’t dwell on the brutalness of Jesus’ death.
There are many ways to approach Jesus’ death on the cross and from my years of preaching I’ve learned that one sermon can’t cover every aspect of Jesus’ death. I recently had an odd thought cross my mind as I was looking at Jesus’ death however. Why did Jesus thirst on the cross?
Obviously we know the physical reason that Jesus thirsted. He was put on trial in the middle of the night and was taken from Annas to Caiphas to the Sanhedrin to Pilate to Herod and finally back to Pilate in a matter of hours. By noon was hanging on the cross when darkness fell over the land. Jesus would have been thirsty for no other reason than the fact that He had had nothing to drink.
The real question is why it is significant that Jesus’ thirst was one of the details of the cross that was recorded by the gospel writers. “I thirst” is one of the Seven Last Words from the Cross as Jesus’ final statements are known as. Is Jesus’ thirst a simple reflection of His humanity and a display of the frailty of His body in His last moments before death?
I could be wrong but I believe that there is much greater significance in what takes place because of Jesus’ thirst. When Jesus declares His thirst, He is perhaps no more than minutes away from death. If simple thirst was the issue, He could have gone a few minutes longer, knowing that He would soon give up His spirit. But I believe that what takes place before Jesus’ thirst and immediately after He declares His thirst is quite significant.
Before this, Jesus has asked “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” It is a repeat of the words of the prophetic Psalm 22. That is the moment that the sins of humanity are laid on Jesus and He is separated from God the Father. As God the Father looks down upon His Son, he now sees sin. Jesus is sinful in the eyes of the Father at this moment.
After Jesus declares His thirst, a sponge with wine vinegar is brought to His lips. We might want to focus on the drink itself but that is not what caught my eye as I studied this passage this year. It is a hyssop plant that the sponge is attached to. David mentions cleansing with hyssop in Psalm 51. It is at least one of the Psalms that he wrote after his sin with Bathsheba was discovered. A hyssop plant is used for cleansing.
Likewise, this plant is raised to Jesus’ lips. In Isaiah 6, Isaiah sees God face to face and cries out “Woe to me, for I am a man of unclean lips.” An angel then flies over to him and touches his lips with a hot coal to essentially atone for his sin.
When Jesus declares that He is thirsty, ignore the actual thirst part for a moment. What transpires is a hyssop plant is raised to His lips. This occurs just after the sins of the world have been laid upon Him. Jesus is in need of cleansing and the hyssop plant which David asked for his cleansing is raised to Jesus’ lips, the same location that Isaiah was cleansed of his sin.
This isn’t to pretend that there isn’t other significance to Jesus’ thirst or the wine vinegar or anything else in this passage. But aside from those other possibilities, I believe that Jesus is cleansed of the sins of the world that has been laid upon Him when the hyssop plant is raised to His lips on the cross. Moments later He will declare that it is finished and He’ll give up His spirit. He has taken the sins of the world and they have been cleansed.