Five Minute Devotions: John 19
John 19 takes us from the flogging of Jesus through his burial. It’s a story that’s been told and retold a million times. It’s a sermon that’s been preached in a million different ways and we yet to exhaust everything that’s within it.
The Humanity of Jesus
There’s a small part within John 19 that I want to focus on here. Verse 28:
After this, when Jesus knew that everything was now finished that the Scripture might be fulfilled, he said, “I’m thirsty.” – John 19:28
This is fifth phrase Jesus speaks from the cross as recorded by the Gospels. And it doesn’t seem like there’s much to say about it. It’s the most natural, most normal thing that Jesus has said. Of course he’s thirsty. A normal person who is out in the noonday heat in the Middle East will very quickly grow thirsty. And it’s unlikely that Jesus has had anything to drink since he left the Upper Room the night before.
Since then, he’s sweated so profusely that blood flowed from his pores. That will dehydrate you.
He’s been paraded from Annas to Pilate to Herod and back. His early morning hours were spent traversing Jerusalem on foot as he went from sham trial to sham trial. That will dehydrate you.
He’s been flogged within an inch of his life and forced to carry the hundred-pound crossbeam of his cross through the middle of the city to Golgotha. That will dehydrate you. He’s been on the cross for six hours. Probably twenty hours since he last drank anything.
“I thirst.” It’s the first expected sentence he has said. What we must remember amongst all of these things is that Jesus was really human. His was not a false humanity. He was not a God pretending to be man. He was fully and completely human.
But is there more to this interaction that just his humanity?
Bringing in the Kingdom
The apostle John records two reasons Jesus uttered these words from the Cross. First, because he knew that everything had now been finished. Second, so that Scripture would be fulfilled. So Jesus had an important theological purpose to his statement.
It was more than just an anguished cry of pain.
It was more than just a reminder of his humanity.
More than just the expression of a need.
This was purposeful. Now, for some reason, he indicates that he desires a drink. This was different than six hours ago. In a passage that often gets looked over, Matthew records another time Jesus is offered something to drink.
They gave him wine mixed with gall to drink. But when he tasted it, he refused to drink it. – Matthew 27:34
According to an old tradition, this drink was meant as a narcotic to ease the pain of the dying. But Jesus would not drink so that the effects of the cross would not be diminished. He had gone boldly and fully into the human experience in the incarnation. Now, he would do the same in the crucifixion.
The Cup He Does Not Drink
He does not drink this cup because the cup that he must drink—the cup he begs the father to remove from him—is one greater still. Move back to Gethsemane. Rewind some ten or eleven hours to his time in the garden. What is his primary concern?
“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” – Matthew 26:39
There is a cup that Jesus must drink that he begs might be taken from him. It is this spiritual anguish over this cup that causes him to sweat blood. Why is Jesus fixated on this imagery of a cup? Let’s go back even further to before Gethsemane. Rewind all the way to the Last Supper, the last time Jesus has taken a drink.
During Passover, there are four symbolic cups of wine. Let me quote to you from an official Haggadah, one endorsed by the Jewish Federation of North America. To end the Passover meal:
The blessing over the fourth cup of wine is recited: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine. The fourth cup of wine is drunk: We conclude the official part of the Seder with a final prayer asking God to bring the Messianic Era, when all of us will be gathered to Jerusalem as all humankind dwells in peace.
The Kingdom Brought In
So this is what should come next in the liturgy. They drink this fourth cup—the climactic cup of Passover—and the meal is done. Instead, Mark records:
After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. – Mark 14:26
No fourth cup. No end to the Passover. They sing the Hallel hymns. But Jesus does not bless the fourth cup. He does not pour it out or drink it. He just leaves. The climactic moment of Passover becomes an anticlimax as the disciples confusedly and hurriedly rush to follow him.
Dr. David Daube, in his book The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism, writes:
The meaning is that the fourth cup will not be taken, as would be the normal thing, at a subsequent stage of the service; it will be postponed until the kingdom is fully established.
So when Jesus is offered wine mixed with gall, he refuses. Both because he wishes to confront the realities of sin full-on and because it is not time to drink his fourth cup. But now, but now—six hours he has hung on the cross. Jesus Christ, on the cross, is doing the work of forgiving sin. He takes upon the Father’s justice and wrath. He bears the weight of sin and suffering and shame.
And then, he cries out “I thirst.” They bring him wine. And he drinks.
I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, Jesus said, until I drink it again in my Father’s kingdom. He drinks. He cries “It is finished!” And he dies. The fourth cup is offered up to him on a cross and he fulfills the feast through his death. Passover is completed. The Lamb has been slain. The Kingdom of God begins.
Father, lead us into your Kingdom. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. May our churches be your outposts and let our people be your emissaries. Let us shine like stars to reflect your glory.
What do you think about tying Jesus’s final drink into the Passover meal?
What is the importance of the humanity of Jesus? How is that harder for us in this generation to grasp?
Today’s header image is Michelangelo’s Crucifixion with Mary and John.
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