On Good Friday, we remember Christ’s crucifixion and its significance. His suffering involved two drinks, one of which He rejected, the other He accepted. Mark 15:23 says, “Then they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He did not take it.” Yet a few verses later, in vs 36, we read: “Then someone ran and filled a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink, saying, ‘Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down.’”
Mark 15 brings us to the core of the gospel: Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. But God gives us more than the bare facts in His Word. He frequently zooms in on fine details. We see that also in the account of the passion and death of Christ. Every fine point is for our instruction. There is a saying that ‘the devil is in the detail’, but in God’s Word the Saviour is in the details. They show us so strikingly God’s love and justice. Today, Good Friday, we focus in on two details: the wine and myrrh which Christ rejected and, some verses later, the wine he drank.
Christ was at the place of execution, outside the city, and about to be crucified. Crucifixion was a terrible way to die – it could last a long time, even days. It was a miserable, a gruesome, way to go because the weight of one’s body slowly and painfully made breathing increasingly difficult. Hence crucified people were often given wine mingled with myrrh to dull the pain just a little, a sort of sedative to ease the suffering somewhat. Doesn’t Proverbs 31:6 say: “Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those who are bitter of heart”? Moreover, the myrrh in the wine acted as a pain relief.
Now Christ had not slept for twenty-four hours and had been cruelly treated. So, some relief would normally be welcomed. Yet Jesus refused. Why? Because He needed to suffer fully and completely, not just in body but also in spirit. His mind had to be unaffected by any sedative. Jesus must continue to have the presence of mind to endure everything. This is a small detail but good news for us. He won’t do anything to reduce the burden of our sins that He was carrying but would carry it completely for us.
Behind this offer of wine mixed with myrrh we see the devil’s temptation. Satan is always waiting for an opportunity to prevent Jesus from carrying out his goal. So he tempts Him with this sedative: surely a little drink won’t hurt will it? Think also of the cruel mocking of the crowd tempting Christ to come down from the cross. The devil always tempts us to do what we want, rather than to do what God wants.
But Christ saw through the temptation. He remained committed to doing God’s will. Christ consciously chose the cup of God’s wrath, a deadly cup which has God’s name on it. He would drink it completely, down to the dregs. He took the cup containing the full measure of the punishment on our sins. And therefore, He needed to be fully aware, fully alert. Throughout his suffering, there was to be no relief. All our punishment, all our sin, He took upon Himself.
To be sure, we still experience pain in this life – bodily, spiritual, and mental pain. And Satan often suggests to us that we are suffering because of our sin and so he encourages us to seek escape through alcohol, drugs or other means. He tempts us when we are vulnerable. He knows it can be hard to trust in God when you are in pain or suffering deep disappointment. But let us always remember Christ. He brought us peace. We can take our anguish, our suffering, our sorrow, our sin to Christ.
Yes, Christ rejected the offer of wine as a sedative so as to bear the full burden of God’s wrath upon our sin.
But in verse 36 we read that Jesus does drink. Why is it that He rejected the earlier offer of a drink, but now He does drink?
We need to consider that it has been six hours between these two verses, these two offers of drink, and during those six hours Christ has endured a constant barrage of punishment. For three long hours, He endured the prospect of life without God. He was rejected by God: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mk 15:34). Why was He abandoned by God? So that we should never be abandoned by God. He had accomplished what He sought to do. Now He could drink.
The Apostle John records: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, ‘I thirst!’ Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’”
Jesus had suffered it all and now says: I thirst. You are reminded of what David said (Ps 22) “My tongue clings to my jaws.” Jesus now drinks the sour wine. Yet even this was not given out of mercy but to prolong His suffering. His tormentors thought He had earlier called out for Elijah, and now they watched, expecting to see his disappointment when Elijah didn’t come. The crowd want to laugh at His disappointment.
Here we see a fulfilment of Psalm 69: “They also gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” It was indeed bad for David, but worse for Jesus. Yet even in this last cruel act there was purpose. God had turned away from him (an echo of Ps 22). Now a presence of mind, an inner strength, was needed – a final burst of energy. John says: “So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished.” Then Jesus cried out with a loud voice and the curtain of temple was torn in two. This shows all had been achieved.
Jesus drank the cup of suffering. Now He gives a cup to us: the cup of the blood of the covenant – God’s grace and love and mercy. Unlike that offered to Jesus, there is nothing sour or cheap about this drink. It is the cup of blessing of which we are reminded at Holy Supper.
Mark 15:23 and 36 are two verses that show that Christ took no short cuts in his suffering. He remained dedicated to fulfilling that which the Father had given Him to do. In this we rejoice. Now He keeps drawing us to Him in perfect love. Faith in Him is not disappointing. If we trust in Him we will never be let down. The love He showed for us on Good Friday He continues to show every day.
The above is a summary of a sermon by Rev R Bredenhof on Good Friday church service 14/4/2017. The summary is based on some notes taken by J Numan.