Indeed, going back to the first century, there has remained within Christianity a docetic tendency to turn the cross into an object lesson, a huge living (graphic) parable that God is teaching us about how bad we are, how much we’re loved, how bad the Romans are, etc. But none of these attempts (which are alive and well up to this present day) has been able to do justice to what we see happening there.
A lot has been said about these words, and a lot more will be said, but for our purposes this cry of Jesus helps emphasize an aspect of the cross that we wrestle with here, because that the cross is a punishment is clear, but it is also the substitutionary death of the One who thirsts on our behalf, so we will have to thirst no more.
This is where a proper distinction between law and gospel becomes crucial, because even though we all thirst, the law exposes the deadly, destructive futility of our wells. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman in John 4: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again,” so the law exposes, convicts and and leads to the Gospel, the fount of living water.
Unfortunately for us, in light of this universal thirst we only have a proclamation of the Gospel to offer, a sip of wine or a bit of bread to slake people’s thirst and ward off hunger. This is unfortunate because, certainly, we would love to offer more. Promises of health, wealth, security and even joy are nice to make, but those and 13 dollars will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks, as they (always) say.
“They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” So say we all.