Max Lucado: The Astounding Empathy of Jesus

Are you thirsty today? Something you are longing for but don’t know what? I’d love to share God’s promise through a wine-soaked sponge. 

John 19:28-30 says, “Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:28–30 NIV).

This is the final act of Jesus’ life. In the concluding measure of his earthly composition, we hear the sounds of a thirsty man. Jesus. Lips cracked and mouth of cotton. Throat so dry he can’t swallow, voice so hoarse He can scarcely speak. He is thirsty. 

Why doesn’t He do something about it? Couldn’t He? Did He not cause jugs of water to be jugs of wine? Did He not make a wall out of the Jordan River and two walls out of the Red Sea? Didn’t He, with one word, banish the rain and calm the waves? Doesn’t Scripture say that He “turned the desert into pools” (Ps. 107:35 NIV) and “the hard rock into springs” (Ps. 114:8 NIV)? Did God not say, “I will pour water on him who is thirsty” (Isa. 44:3 NKJV)?

If so, why does Jesus endure thirst? While we are asking this question, add a few more. Why did He grow weary in Samaria (John 4:6), disturbed in Nazareth (Mark 6:6), and angry in the Temple (John 2:15)? Why was He sleepy in the boat on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:38), sad at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:35), and hungry in the wilderness (Matt. 4:2)? Why? And why did He grow thirsty on the cross?

He didn’t have to suffer thirst. At least, not to the level He did. Six hours earlier He’d been offered drink, but He refused it. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). Then they offered Him wine mixed with myrrh, but He did not take it. And they crucified Him. Dividing up His clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get. (Mark 15:22–24 NIV, italics mine) Before the nail was pounded, a drink was offered. Mark said the wine was mixed with myrrh. Matthew described it as wine mixed with gall. Both myrrh and gall contain sedative properties that numb the senses. But Jesus refused them. He refused to be stupefied by the drugs, opting instead to feel the full force of His suffering.

Why? Why did He endure all these feelings? Because He knew you would feel them too.

He knew you would be weary, disturbed and angry. He knew you’d be sleepy, grief-stricken and hungry. He knew you’d face pain. If not the pain of the body, the pain of the soul . . . pain too sharp for any drug. He knew you’d face thirst. If not a thirst for water, at least a thirst for truth, and the truth we glean from the image of a thirsty Christ is — He understands.

And because He understands, we can come to Him. Wouldn’t His lack of understanding keep us from Him? Doesn’t the lack of understanding keep us from others? Suppose you were discouraged at your financial state. You need some guidance from a sympathetic friend. Would you approach someone who inherited a fortune? Probably not. Why? He would not understand. He’s likely never been where you are, so he can’t relate to how you feel.

Jesus, however, has and can. He has been where you are and can relate to how you feel. And if His life on earth doesn’t convince you, His death on the cross should. He understands what you are going through. Our Lord does not patronize us or scoff at our needs. He responds, as James puts it, “generously to all without finding fault” (James 1:5 NIV). 

See Also

How can he do this? No one penned it more clearly than did the author of Hebrews who says, “Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because He was tempted in every way that we are. But He did not sin! So whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with undeserved kindness, and we will find help” (Heb. 4:15–16 CEV).

Why did the throat of heaven grow raw? So we would know that he understands; so all who struggle would hear His invitation: “You can trust me.”

Don’t we need someone to trust? And don’t we need someone to trust who is bigger than we are? Aren’t we tired of trusting the people of this earth for understanding? Aren’t we weary of trusting the things of this earth for strength? A drowning sailor doesn’t call on another drowning sailor for help. A prisoner doesn’t beg another prisoner to set him free. A pauper knows better than to beg from another pauper. He knows he needs someone who is stronger than he is.

Jesus’ message through the wine-soaked sponge is this: I am that person. Trust me.

Scroll To Top