“I Thirst”: Teaching Jesus’ Words From the Cross to Teenagers

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.” 

John 19:28-29

I once attended a concert at an outdoor venue in Nashville, TN in late July. If you’ve never visited the South in July, it can best be described as “sweltering.” Add to that the fact that I had been on my feet, sweating, packed in a large crowd for about four hours. By the time the concert ended, I was desperate for water. I wasn’t able to make it to a water fountain easily in the chaos of the crowd, so my group decided to find sustenance at the nearby Wendy’s.

By that time, I could hardly wait to quench my thirst. I should have ordered water. Instead, I ordered what sounded good in the moment: a Sprite. Sure, the initial sip was heavenly and refreshing. But it did not quench my thirst. In fact, the sugary drink left me more parched than before. 

Teenagers today are well acquainted with the folly of reaching for the wrong thing to satisfy their thirst— the nagging quest for fulfillment deep in their soul. If they’re lonely, they Snapchat someone to come “Netflix and chill.” If they’re self-conscious, they diet and put on copious amounts of makeup. If they’re desperate to get into their top college, they stay up until 4AM studying. 

Like that Sprite, indulging these impulses might initially feel like sweet refreshment. But when it comes to satisfying the deepest need of their souls, they don’t come close. Indeed, these empty pursuits often leave teenagers more lonely, self-conscious, and anxious than before. 

Application for Teenagers

John 19:28 tells us that Jesus knew what it meant to be thirsty, too. Moments before his death, Jesus cried out, “I thirst.” A seemingly insignificant detail in the final scene of his earthly life, Jesus’ cry shows teenagers that he thirsted so that they might be granted an endless supply of living water in him. 

 On a basic level, this statement reminds teenagers of Jesus’ full humanity. Jesus, fully man and fully God, experienced all that comes with being a human, including thirst. He had suffered for hours without water, and he was thirsty. On the cross, Jesus’ agony was as real as the flesh on his bones. 

But Jesus was thirsting for more than just water. Like teenagers today, Jesus longed for something this world could not give him. Earlier, Jesus prayed that he might not have to face the brutal death that awaited him. He pleaded with God that there might be another way (Matt. 26:39). 

Of course, Jesus knew what had to be done: he must suffer and die in order to pay for the sins of the world. And yet, this statement from the cross demonstrates that Jesus thirsted for relief from the brutality, loneliness, and pain of his death. 

Most especially, Jesus thirsted for God himself. Along with David in Psalm 63:1, Jesus could have cried out: “Oh God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

For the first and only time, God the Father would turn his back on his Son. On the cross, Jesus experienced literal Hell: separation from God. In order to fully bear the penalty of sin, Jesus would have to be forsaken by God. In this moment, Jesus was thirsty for the very thing he— and you and I— need most: intimacy with his Heavenly Father. 

When Jesus cried out “I thirst,” his thirst was not quenched. Jesus needed water. Even more, Jesus needed union with the living God. Instead, he was given “sour wine on a hyssop branch.” As the text tells us, this was “to fulfill the Scripture,” most likely a nod to Psalm 69:21: “They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.”

Jesus’ very real thirst was met with a very real sour taste— the last thing any thirsty person wants or needs. 

Like the sour taste teenagers experience when their quest for satisfaction, connection, and approval leads them to empty cisterns, Jesus tasted the sourness of a life apart from his Heavenly Father. 

On the cross, Jesus took upon himself the thirst of alienation from God and the poison of death. He drank the bitter cup of the Father’s wrath against sin so that we might be spared it. Jesus thirsted so that like us, teenagers might know what it means to be satisfied in him.

Truth for Gospel Living

Earlier in John, Jesus met someone else who was thirsty. Sure, she was probably physically thirsty, drawing water from a well in the mid-day Mediterranean heat. But she was spiritually thirsty as well, searching for intimacy, connection, and belovedness that the world could never give her. She had tried to quench her thirst with relationships with different men, but she still came up empty. 

In the face of her thirst, Jesus makes an astounding offer: “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). Jesus knew the woman’s vain pursuits would only leave her thirsty again. Not so with Jesus’ “living water.” For “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (John 4:13). Jesus came to finally and fully quench this woman’s longing. 

Like this woman at the well, teenagers know the endless quest for satisfaction. They throw themselves into relationships, athletic and academic achievements, maybe even harmful and self-destructive behavior, only to realize that the thirst still persists. 

In the face of their thirst, we have an opportunity to show them Jesus: the only one who can fully satiate the deepest longings of their heart. Where other wells run dry, Jesus offers an endless supply of living water. 

When teenagers experience the “living water” offered to them in Jesus, they are freed from their relentless pursuit for satisfaction. They can rest from their addiction to academic success, their craving for more likes on Instagram, or their nagging need to be noticed by the “cool” crowd. They can say “no” to the sour ways of the world and “yes” to the abundant life of following Jesus and living in his Kingdom. 

Jesus extends the same invitation to our teenagers as the prophet Isaiah: “Come, everyone who thirsts; come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy” (Isa. 55:1)?

Teenagers are thirsty, and we know who can quench their thirst. In the days leading up to Easter, may we invite teenagers to come drink of the living water offered to them through Christ. May we invite them lay aside their labor after things that do not satisfy and to come and freely receive from Jesus.

Rebecca serves as the Ministry Development Coordinator/Assistant Editor for Rooted. Previously, she has worked in both youth and young adult ministries. She is a graduate of Furman University (B.A.) and  Beeson Divinity School (M.T.S). Rebecca is happiest on a porch swing, in a boat, or on the dance floor.

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