“They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.”
When He had tasted, He would not drink.
It would have made dying so much easier. Yet He refused.
And heaven was weighed in the balance. So serious.
The soldiers smirked with indignation as they reached for the hammer and nails. This enmity was the culmination of a veritable sea of wrath that swelled upon our Savior, one billow after another.
The contrary winds began to disturb the placid sea of unbelief when Judas delivered Jesus into their midst earlier than anticipated. Under the cloak of darkness, the workers of iniquity taunted their “victim.” In the presence of Annas, a soldier in an act of idle contempt smote Christ and no one deemed it unjust. Becoming more bold and incensed with greater rage these same soldiers, assured that Caiaphas cared little for justice, began to spit in His face and buffeted Him; and others smote Him with the palms of their hands saying, “Prophecy unto us, thou Christ, who is it that smote thee?” Even Pilate, the Roman judge, realizing that the multitude was bent on forcing him to choose between Caesar of Rome or Jesus the King of the Jews, cast his lot with the people. He knew that Jesus was innocent, he was afraid. His wife had warned him of her disturbing dream, he had done all that was humanly possible, he had told the Jews to judge Him for themselves, he had offered the people the choice of Barabbas or Jesus, he had sent Christ to Herod, and yet Christ stood before him. Finally he resorted to the basest form of human capriciousness. Thinking that man basically had pity for a victim, he instructed his soldiers to beat Jesus by giving Him the allotted stripes. The bits of bone dug into his flesh and the blood flowed from His tortured back. Yet they screamed the louder, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” The soldiers made sport of Christ, they placed the crown of thorns upon His head, put a reed in His hands, decked Him with a purple robe and in sarcastic humor defiantly cried, “Hail King of the Jews.”
Pilate washed his hands.
That was all this mob needed.
The soldiers led Him to Calvary. What humiliation! Jesus walked at the head of this strange procession. Upon his shoulders were the cross beams. Around His neck was suspended the piece of wood containing the charge which made Him worthy of death, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Soon it would be nailed as a superscription, claiming in bitter irony the truth. Behind Him followed the 2 malefactors, surrounded by the soldiers. On their heels came the daughters of Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin, and the mob. It was time for satiating their barbaric thirst for blood. What sport, what a parade. Interspersed in the midst of this drive for vengeance we hear the words of Christ to the weeping women, “Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” Simon of Cyrene took His cross, together they walked up Golgotha and awaited word from the centurion.
All was in order. The morning sun shone upon the scene. The walls of Jerusalem lay shrouded in the shadows. Around the base of the hill the throng assembled. The vertical beam was already fixed in the earth, the soldiers directed Christ to the cross-beam lying upon the ground. They stripped Him of His garment and paused a moment. One of the soldiers reached across and handed Jesus a drink. Jesus accepted it, but as soon as He tasted it, He refused it and returned it to the giver.
This seemingly insignificant event carries an eternal weight.
According to Roman custom, the drink offered was that of crude wine mixed with myrrh or gall. This combination had the effect of drugging the victim, much like an anesthetic. This custom was not of Jewish origin as some suppose; rather crucifixion was a Roman form of death and with it this offering of a drink. We should also understand that the purpose of this drink was not that of mercy for the poor victim. The Romans were not of a mind to be touched with pity for one they willed to murder by so torturous a death. The motive was far more selfish, it expedited the whole bloody business by yielding the victim more manageable. The Romans were efficient in everything they aimed to do, it was no different in the execution of their prisoners.
Christ refused this drink.
He had a reason. We may be sure that His reason was not grounded upon the whims of human nature. From the point of view of human desires, it would have been advantageous to do much more than taste, He would have drunk deeply and found sweet relief. The very thought of death by crucifixion evokes deep human emotions—outstretched hands being torn by crude nails that tear nerves, muscles and veins make even the hardest wince. We can only imagine what this must have meant to the one being crucified. Even though Rome intended it not as mercy, yet for the victim it would give him escape from the consciousness of pain and the stinging sensations as the executioner would nail his hands to the horizontal beam and then lift it up so that it could in turn be fixed to the vertical one and the feet nailed to the post.
His reason for not drinking had to be more than human.
Indeed it was. It was rooted in His divine calling as the obedient servant of Jehovah.
This He understood.
He had set His face to Jerusalem knowing that His hour was about to strike. In deepest submission He uttered these words, “Father, the hour is come, glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee; as thou hast given him power over all flesh that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.” He knew that the way of that glory lay in the deep shadows that gradually overtook Him. Prostrate upon the ground He groaned thrice amidst bloody sweat, “Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me, nevertheless not my will, but thine be done.” Strengthened by an angel He was once again assured that the way of the cross would lead Him to that glory.
The Father had willed that He would glorify Himself in the way of the salvation of His people through His Only Begotten Son. Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve the promise of the Savior elicited a song of hope from the lips of the covenant people. This culminated in the stirring song of Zacharias, “And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins.” This prophet of the highest soon stood in the midst of the people and said, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.”
This was the purpose of His coming.
Christ was fully aware of this during His entire life upon earth. He was keenly aware of this as He climbed the hill of the skull. How the love of the Father throbbed within His perfect heart. Before His mind He contemplated the wonder of the Father’s electing love. He knew that it was in this love that His heavenly Father had sent Him to these terrible depths. To consummate this perfect union of love He had come to do what those whom the Father had given Him could never do. He had come into the flesh to make perfect satisfaction before the bar of divine justice. His Father had said, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” The only way to escape death was that He should pass through it.
It was time for Him to drink the cup of divine wrath.
Only in this way could there ever be expiation for the sins of His own.
This He could never have done if He had tasted and drunk deeply. Divine expiation of sin demanded that the Mediator of the covenant had to undo what sin had done. The first Adam willingly walked in the way of sin. The last Adam must willingly give Himself a ransom for many. Jesus understood this. He said, “No man taketh my life, I lay down my life for my sheep.” To satisfy the justice of the holy God, Christ had to subject Himself freely as the obedient servant to the accursed death of the cross. From this point of view we may look upon the offered drink as an attempt of His arch-enemy the devil to strip Christ of the Mediatorial office. If Christ had done more than tasted, He would have become a victim of the wine and gall and the limp form of Christ would have been fixed to the beams without His being conscious of it. If this had happened, Christ could never have said as the obedient servant, “I lay down my life.” To make perfect satisfaction, our Lord Jesus Christ had to willingly give Himself to the cross. He had to literally stretch out His arms and open the palms of his hands and bear the anguish and pain as an act of obedience to the Father.
This He did. He gave Himself to the hellish torments.
But there is more. Expiation demanded more than a willing act, it required a willing act of love. Sin is an act of hatred against the holy God. Thus it was from the beginning. Adam and Eve willingly hated God and chose the friendship of the devil over against the friendship of God. The Mediator had to undo this. His work of the reconciliation of His own to the Father demanded that He love the Father. This love was so profound that He had to love the Father while the Father in righteous vindication visited Him with His infinite wrath. Satisfaction of the divine law demanded of Christ that He willingly give Himself to death not only, but that as an act of love for the Father and His own.
This He could never have done if He was sublimely asleep, drugged.
He tasted, but He would not drink!
He entered the threshold of suffering, a willing obedient servant Who loved His own even unto death.
O, what love. To spare us the suffering of wrath and judgment, He bore it all to the full. He refused the least relief in order that He might drink the bitter cup to the very last dreg. Active in His suffering He cried out, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Even then we see the wonder of divine love; alone in hell, writhing under the pains of punishment, Christ suffered this willingly in love. In love the Father had sent His own Son to such depths of suffering. All this, that we might be spared the heavy hand of judgment.
He tasted, but would not drink.
He performed a perfect work. He satisfied for the sins of those whom His Father had sovereignly given unto Him. He merited the perfect accounting so that, we may now gaze in wondrous faith at the victorious death of the Son of God and say, “Surely this was the Son of God.”
“Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The wrath of God is gone forever. He removed it by carrying it away. No longer does it touch His own, not in our diseases, not in our sufferings, not in our perplexities, not in our struggles in life, not in the hour of death.
There is only the smile of divine favor upon the children of God. And that is everything, it is heaven in our souls.
We have reason to live to the glory of God.
Think what it will be by and by.
Thanks be to God, “He tasted, but would not drink.”