Here we see the intensity of Christ’s sufferings. Let us first consider this cry of the Saviour’s as an expression of his bodily suffering. To realize something of what lay behind these words of his we must recall and review what preceded them. After instituting the Supper in the upper room, followed by the lengthy paschal discourse to his apostles, the Redeemer adjourned to Gethsemane, and there for an hour he passed through the most excruciating agony. His soul was exceeding sorrowful. As he contemplated the awful cup he shed not beads of perspiration but great drops of blood.
His wrestling in the Garden was terminated by the appearing of the traitor accompanied by the band who had come to arrest him. He was brought before Caiaphas, and middle of the night though it was, he was examined and condemned. The Saviour was held until early morning, and after the weary hours of waiting were over, was brought before Pilate. Following a lengthy trial, orders were given for him to be scourged. Next he was led, perhaps right across the city, to Herod’s judgment-hall, and after a brief appearance before this Roman prelate, he was delivered into the hands of the brutal soldiers. Again he was mocked and scourged, and again he was led across the city, back to Pilate. Once more there was the weary delay, the formalities of a trial, if such a farce deserves the name, followed by the passing sentence of death.
Then, with bleeding back, carrying his cross under the heat of the now almost midday sun, he journeyed up the rugged heights of Golgotha. Reaching the appointed place of execution, his hands and feet were nailed to the tree. For three hours he hung there with the pitiless rays of the sun beating down on his thorn-crowned head. This was followed by the three hours of darkness, now over.
That night and that day were hours into which an eternity was compressed. Yet during it all not a single word of murmuring passed his lips. There was no complaining, no begging for mercy. All his sufferings had been borne in majestic silence. Like a sheep dumb before her shearers, so he opened not his mouth. But now, at the end, his whole body wracked with pain, his mouth parched, he cries, "I thirst". It was not an appeal for pity, nor a request for the alleviation of his sufferings; it gave expression to the intensity of the agonies he was undergoing.
"I thirst." This was more than ordinary thirst. There was something deeper than physical sufferings behind it. A careful comparison of our text with Matthew 27:48 shows these words "I thirst" followed on immediately after the fourth of our Saviour’s cross-utterances - "Eli, Eli, lama, sabachthani" - for while the soldier was pressing the sponge of vinegar to the sufferer’s lips, some of the spectators cried out, "Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him". We all know the internal trials of the soul react upon the body, rending its nerves and affecting its strength - "A broken spirit drieth the bones" (Pro. 17:22); "When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer" (Ps. 32:3,4). The body and the soul sympathize with each other. Let us remember that the Saviour had just emerged from the three hours of darkness, during which God’s face had been turned away from him as he endured the fierceness of his out-poured wrath. This cry of bodily suffering tells us, then, of the severity of the spiritual conflict through which he had just passed! Speaking anticipatively by the mouth of Jeremiah of this very hour, he said, "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done upon me, wherewith the Lord bath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger. From above hath he sent fire into my bones, and it prevaileth against them: he bath spread a net for my feet, he bath turned me back: he hath made me desolate and faint" (Lam. 1:12, 13). His "thirst" was the effect of the agony of his soul in the fierce heat of God’s wrath. It told of the drought of the land where the living God is not. But more: it plainly expressed his yearning for communion with God again, from whom for three hours he had been separated. Was it not Christ himself who said by the spirit of prophecy, said it now, immediately he emerged from the darkness: "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?" Do not the words which follow identify the speaker and reveal the time that longing and "panting" was expressed? "My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?" (Ps. 42:1-3