A Thirst Quenched
In the film The Empire of the Sun, there is a vivid depiction of desperate thirst. In the chaos of World War II in China, the young son of a wealthy British expatriate is separated from his family. There is no one to care for him. The boy returns to his home and lives for a while on whatever food has been left behind. But his supplies run out, and he is desperately thirsty. Even the swimming pool on the family estate has run dry. The boy returns to the kitchen, which is littered with empty cans, and he feverishly licks every last one to the very bottom.
That is a picture of what it is like to live in this world and be thirsty for God. We are thirsty people. We go through this life panting after something, anything, that will slake our thirsty souls. We think material things will quench our thirst. So we shop and buy and hoard things. Then we discover that we are still thirsty. We think sex will quench our thirst. So we leer and lust and indulge our bodies. Then we discover that we are still thirsty. We think success will quench our thirst. So we strive and struggle and step on other people. Then we discover that we are still thirsty. All those things are like saltwater: they look like they will refresh us, but they leave us even thirstier than we were before.
Some will go on being thirsty like that for all eternity. Jesus told a story about a rich man who died and went to hell (Luke 16:19–31). The man was tormented with such a thirst that he begged for someone, anyone, to come and “dip the tip of his finger in water and cool [his] tongue.” The rich man was so thirsty that he would sell his soul for a single droplet of water.
Jesus Christ knew that same thirst on the cross (Jn. 19:28). He endured the thirst of death and the thirst of hell so he could quench their fires for us. The Puritan writer Matthew Henry put it like this:
“The torments of hell are represented by a violent thirst, in the complaint of the rich man who begged for a drop of water to cool his tongue. To that everlasting thirst we had all been condemned, if Christ had not suffered on the cross.”
Jesus Christ was thirsty for you so you would not have to go on being thirsty for him. What you are really thirsty for in this life is not things or sex or success or even water. What you are really thirsty for is a personal relationship with Christ.
Listen to what Jesus says: “If a man [that is, anyone] is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:37–39). That is quite a legacy. If you sense a thirst in your soul for something that nothing else in this world can provide, then Jesus invites you to go to him and to drink what he has to offer. “If anyone is thirsty,” he says. Everyone who believes in him receives the water rights to an eternal spring of fresh water. Meet the thirsty Christ at the cross, and your soul will never go thirsty again.
Horatius Bonar knew the joy of this discovery and wrote,
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Behold, I freely give
the living water; thirsty one,
stoop down and drink and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank
of that life-giving stream;
my thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
and now I live in him.
Editor's Note: This post has been adapted from The Heart of the Cross(P&R, 2022), available now at ReformedResources.org.
Philip Graham Ryken (DPhil, University of Oxford) is the president of Wheaton College and the Bible teacher of Every Last Word radio and internet broadcasts. He preached at Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church from 1995 until his appointment at Wheaton in 2010. Dr. Ryken has published many books, including The Message of Salvation, Art for God’s Sake, When Trouble Comes, and a number of expository commentaries.
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