Mark 15:22&23 “They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.”
Anthelme Brillat-Savarin was an 18th century French politician who once said, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” Ludwig Feuerbach was a 19th century German philosopher who said something quite like that, “Man is what he eats.” That comment that has become a contemporary cliché, “You are what you eat.” Though we hear it regularly, we don’t believe that it’s true. What we eat is utterly inadequate in defining what men are; we are creatures of God made a little lower than the angels, whereas most of the human body is made up of water, H2O, with millions of cells consisting of 65-90% water by weight. So, most of a human body’s mass is oxygen. Carbon, the basic unit for organic molecules, comes in second. 99% of the mass of the human body is made up of just six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus.
I am saying that you cannot reduce a man to the sum of those elements. They may embrace 99% of everything contained in the body of a man, but they are utterly insufficient to explain what is an Eric Liddel or an Elisabeth Elliot, let alone a Rembrandt or a Johan Sebastian Bach? Of course a particular food and drink may highlight a man’s nationality or race or age. You could even tell John the Baptist’s calling to be God’s prophet by the fact that his food was locusts and wild honey; he dressed in camels’ hair and he lived in the desert places. Everything about him, even what he wore, and what he ate, revealed the nature of this divine spokesman’s message in all the stringency of its ethic. John lived apart from society, despising its fine food and drink, munching grasshoppers and honey, expecting the clouds of wrath to be soon raining down God’s judgment upon the land.
Rather than say that man is what he eats we’d say that man eats according to what he is. I think of a certain model who earns a million pounds every three months, whose picture snorting up lines of cocaine has just been published all over the world. What is she saying? That with all her vast riches she has failed to find peace of heart and happiness, and that she is trying – by ingesting chemicals – to cope with the profound emptiness at the centre of her life. The substances she takes into her body accord with what she is, a dissatisfied woman, but the truth is this, that the deepest essence of our life is inaccessible to what we eat, or drink, or smoke, or snort, or inject into our veins. None of that stuff can reach your soul. Tell me the kind of food that your soul feeds on day by day, and I will tell you the kind of food your body uses.
There has been just one person in the world in whom there was a complete connection between his heart and the food he ate, and that person was Jesus Christ. With Jesus Christ the saying is perfectly true, “what you see is what you get.” He is what he seems to be; he seems to be what he is. You can recognise Christ by every single thing he does. In every single thing he does you can see Christ as he really is, as long as you look at him with the eyes of faith. He is the true man; God’s great definition of a man. He is God the Son. When he is eating at a wedding feast in Galilee, or when he sits for a meal with a Pharisee in his house and allows a woman to pour fragrant oil over his head, or when he eats the Passover with his disciples, or when he initiates the Lord’s Supper – you know from these meals that this is a loving Saviour. When Christ eats fish with his disciples after he was raised from the dead you know that you are not seeing a spook. God has accepted the death of Christ for sinners and physically raised him up for their justification. What you see is what he is, and so the question is this, do you personally possess what Jesus Christ is – the one who is God’s Prophet, Priest and King as your very own Prophet, Priest and King?
I want to say to you today something unusual, that I want you to observe with me what goes into and what comes out of the mouth of Jesus of Nazareth. Pay attention to what he accepts and what he rejects. Here is a man who in everything that he did always did the will of his Father. He was once given a full cup to drink by his Father in the garden of Gethsemane . After great agony and fervent prayer he drank it down. Throughout his whole life, from the manger to the cross, his meat and his drink was to do the Father’s will. He drank God’s cup and no one could dilute it. No one could add a different drop to that cup. Satan was never allowed to tamper with this drink. It was exactly what the Father gave him, but on this first Good Friday he is reaching the dregs. A few more hours and the cup will be empty. Is it possible that on this day, with our Lord so weak that he has fallen under the weight of the cross, that Satan will spike the cup of the Lord with some fiendish ingredient? Do you think so? The devil will tiptoe across and slip something into Jesus’ drink? Is that possible?
1. THEY OFFERED OUR LORD WINE MIXED WITH MYRRH.
“Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh” (v.23). Now this was not God’s cup; this was the cup of man. In fact, this was one of the preparations for the crucifixion. This was the next step after the cross carrying had ended. When the condemned man had reached the place of execution a cup was given to the criminal in which was a sedative drink, a kind of primitive analgesic. It consisted of wine mixed with myrrh – Matthew calls it ‘gall’, in other words, it was something bitter. Myrrh and wine mixed together became a bitter drink. Yet handing the man this cup was basically a humanitarian gesture, in fact it’s been suggested that this drugged wine came from a group of God-fearing women. The pain of the cross would be excruciating and prolonged; sometimes men were suspended alive on their crosses for two days. So this crude narcotic was mixed and offered to dull the pain of a man on the cross and render him semi-unconscious. It couldn’t remove all the pain; how could it with big nails through a man’s hands and feet? But it made dying a little bit easier. Some people have quoted as a proof text for the action of these people Proverbs 31:6, “Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish.” Who were these women? Maybe they were the same ones who wailed aloud I the streets of Jerusalem whenever some mothers’ sons were carrying crosses on their way to their death. Or it may have been the women who ministered to Jesus during his ministry and followed him to the cross, the loving friends of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Joanna and the other Mary. While the soldiers were about to carry out their task of crucifying him – getting the sledge hammer and the nails out of the bag – the women were unsuccessfully persuading our Lord to take this drink that they had prepared. “It will help you! Drink it down, good Master, please!” Nothing was done by the Jews or by the Romans to prevent this kindness. The Jews were perfectly willing with one of their hands to support Jesus a little, even though the other was ready to push him into hell. The government will give a condemned man the most delicious breakfast he can order just before putting him in an electric chair.
2. OUR LORD REFUSED THE DRINK.
Matthew tells us something that Mark omits. He says, “There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it.” (Matt. 27:34). He acceded to the women’s pleas for a moment and he tasted the drink, just for a second, and then kindly refused to drink it. I find that so interesting, the fact that Jesus didn’t prepare beforehand for every circumstance he might meet. He relied on information gleaned from others, questions he asked that were answered and acted upon – “Who touched me? Where have you buried him?” – and from his own observations and experience, in exactly the same way as we all build up our store of knowledge. Our Saviour didn’t have a schedule on his way to Golgotha : “I’ll carry the cross for 200 metres and then collapse . . . I’ll refuse the cup they offer me . . . I’ll pray for them when the crucify me . . . An hour later I’ll talk to the dying thief . . . An hour later I’ll talk to my mother . . .” It wasn’t like that at all. He hadn’t figured out every reaction to every circumstance any more than any man does because he was a real man, bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh. All that the man Christ Jesus experienced on Golgotha was uncharted territory. Moment by moment he needed to pray, and think, and trust as we do. So when he was offered a drink he responded positively – as any man would. He was parched. Our Lord wasn’t a Stoic! He didn’t have the lordly attitude of some Superman, biting his tongue and muttering, “I’ll spurn their drink. I’ll do it my way.” He tasted what was offered to him. He doesn’t inflict on himself deeper pain than is necessary. Masochism – morbid gratification in suffering pain – is a sin. The sky above was beautiful; the birds were singing and his memories of his years at home with Mum and Dad were sweet to him. He was satisfied with all that he had done in speaking to the world. He accepted the worship of men when they fell down before him – how much more would he initially accept a cold drink!
So his first response was to taste the liquid offered him. Wasn’t he dehydrated after the whipping and the loss of blood? Do you know what it’s like to have a ravenous thirst, for your throat to be parched, panting for a drink of water? We see this broken, bloodied man and we would plead with him as the women did, “Drink it down! Drink it all!” Surely he can’t shun this last gesture of kindness which he’ll meet on this brutal day? “Drink it! Take what the women have prepared. It will dull your senses a little. It will take some of the horrors of Golgotha away. You won’t care so much about the taunts of the crowd as they mock you for hours. The sight of other men writhing in agony on the crosses to the right and left of you won’t be as harrowing, so, drink it down! The glimpse of your heart-broken mother, as pale as death, being supported by her friends won’t tear you apart so much. Drink it down, precious Lord, drink the painkiller!” But the moment Jesus smells the myrrh, he wouldn’t take it.
3. WHY OUR LORD REFUSED THE DRINK.
I will tell you why, because he is the only Mediator. There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. No one else. No other name under heaven to save us. No other religion has a sinless loving Mediator with God. How can a sinner approach the God who dwells in light? No man has ever seen God and lived, nor can we see him. Only by a Mediator can we approach him. Who will present us faultless before the presence of God’s glory in the great day? Only a Mediator can do that. Who can take away our guilt and bear in his own body our condemnation? Only a Mediator. Without a Mediator we are lost men and women. Joseph Irons has it spot-on in his hymn of praise for Jesus’ precious blood.
1 What sacred fountain yonder springs
Up from the throne of God,
And all new covenant blessing brings?
‘Tis Jesus’ precious blood.
2 What mighty sum paid all my debt
When I a bondman stood,
And has my soul at freedom set?
‘Tis Jesus’ precious blood.
3 What stream is that which sweeps away
My sins just like a flood,
Nor lets one guilty blemish stay?
‘Tis Jesus’ precious blood.
4 What voice is that which speaks for me
In heaven’s high court for good,
And from the curse has made me free?
‘Tis Jesus’ precious blood.
5 What theme, my soul, shall best employ
Thy song before thy God,
And make all heaven to ring with joy?
‘Tis Jesus’ precious blood. JOSEPH IRONS, 1785-1852
Our Saviour once told the story of a wealthy ungodly sinner who was treated with the utmost fairness by God and was condemned to hell. That is what Christ said, and he went on to say that there, in the agony of hell, the rich man asked could a drop of water be placed on his tongue. Our Saviour evidently knew about the pain of thirst, and here, of course, he is beginning his own descent into hell. What are the creedal words? “He was thrust into hell?” No. “He descended into hell,” and he chose each place where he put his feet as he went down and down into the lowest hell. He did not stagger and fall as he descended into the pit. His mind was clear; his heart was full of love for his people. The place where the chief of sinners would suffer – there Jesus went to bear that sinner’s condemnation. In the depths of the lake of fire he was submerged. For hours he suffered the anathema of a just and sin-hating God. That is why at the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour (v.33). The Bible says that God is light, but when this blackness settled over the land from 12 noon until 3 p.m. that day, it signalled divine judgment was taking place, not on the temple, and not on Caiaphas, and not on Pilate and his soldiers, but on holy, loving, undefiled Jesus of Nazareth. The darkness was a sign that God had removed his favour from his Son, and was pouring out all of his wrath upon him. In that darkness, Jesus was without God like sinners in hell are without him. After three hours of this remember how the Son of God cried out in the depths of his anguish: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Where did that question come from? Men and women, it came from hell. You know the symbols of hell which Jesus himself gave us, a place of unquenchable fire, eternal torment, somewhere where the worm never dies; a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. But what makes hell exponentially more horrible than we can describe or even imagine is that hell is the one place in all God’s universe where God’s grace and pity are absent.
Hell is the place of God’s retribution, and there’s no love, there’s no mercy, there’s no hope of God ever relenting or interceding. The love and mercy and hope are here now. God is showing them to you in bringing you here and offering you the glories of heaven if you but turn from your sin and trust in the great Mediator. If you reject his Son the Bible says that it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God. That is hell, as far as human words can describe, and that is what God the Son was experiencing on that first Good Friday. So when the Creed says that Christ descended into hell, we’re not talking about Christ going down into the place of woe, as if hell can only be experienced in a specific place. No, we believe that hell had come up to Christ.
We believe that especially during those three hours of darkness on the cross our Saviour suffered, in body and in soul, the unmitigated, eternal anguish, agony and punishment of hell for all our sins! Think of that. Christ suffered hell for me, and for you. And why did Christ do that? The answer is simple, yet so hard for proud sinners to believe. It was that we wouldn’t have to. Christ our Saviour humbled himself on the cross to that depth, to hell’s deep agony. That is what wrung from him the cry, ‘My God my God why hast thou forsaken me?’ It was that God might never forsake us. What an incredible, undeserving sacrifice that was for us.
That is why if our Saviour had been deadened in his spirit when facing God, or deadened in his spirit when facing the people standing or hanging on Golgotha , or deadened in spirit in loving to the very end all those that the Father had given him then Jesus himself would have sinned. How could he speak in the name of God to the dying thief, or to his mother, or to Peter if he were drugged? How could he intercede on behalf of the sinners crucifying him if he were drugged? Vague mumbles from the cross would have replaced those seven great utterances, and he would have been ashamed when he stood before God and the holy angels if he had gone through his last hours in a stupour! All the angels are alert, and they are doing what God has bid them do – comforting and protecting Mary and Peter and the disciples. It would ill become their Master Jesus to have been in a torpor while they were steadfast and abounding in the work of the Lord.
So in the offering of this drugged drink to Jesus we see the activity of Satan. Go back to the very beginning of his ministry when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. After forty days’ fasting he was very hungry and the devil tempted him to turn the stones that littered the desert floor into loaves of bread. “Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’” (Matt. 4:3&4). Jesus would open his mouth to imbibe the words of his Father. When Jesus was so weak, Satan urged him to use his power to make food for himself. “Just speak the word and it will be bread.” What is the devil saying? “Save yourself from the pain!” It’s the same temptation that comes to him here and now at the end of his ministry. Wasn’t bread legitimate? Didn’t the Saviour himself teach his disciples to ask God, “Give us this day our daily bread”? Wasn’t a pain-killer justifiable for Jesus hanging on a cross? Satan’s lie is this – the end justifies the means. The end will be freedom from pain. You hear it so often, “A man has to live doesn’t he?” We cut the corners; we cheat because everybody is doing it. Men lead girls on to believe they intend to marry them. Women terminate an unwanted pregnancy because they have to maintain a certain standard of living. “I’ve got to live. I’ve got a right to be free from pain haven’t I?”
The real issue is the impatience of unbelief. It makes us resentful and causes us to challenge the wisdom and goodness of God. Who put Jesus in the wilderness? God. Who led Jesus on the bloody road to Golgotha ? God did it all. Job was right when he said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.” Not fate, not bad luck, and not the devil. Ultimately it is God – of whom, and through whom, and to whom are all things.
How did Jesus answer Satan? He took a truth from Deuteronomy 8:3 and he told the tempter, “It is written: ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matt. 4:4). Food and drink and drugs may keep us biologically alive, but life that is abundant and purposeful and blessed and eternal is sustained only as we obey God. God put Christ in a wilderness and also on a cross, and the pain is great, but Jesus will die in obedience to the will of God. Better to die than defy God. Better to die than refuse God. Better to die in the will of God than live outside the will of God. Life consists of depending upon the provision of God, trusting God to provide at all times. Have you learned that God never leads in a single step that isn’t absolutely necessary for you? So start trusting, and being patient where you are today.
Many people today are like the model and her cocaine, looking for a quick fix. Christians are looking for an Aladdin’s Lamp kind of Christianity. Remember the story, how you gave the lamp a little polish and a genie turned up and granted you your wishes. That is not how Jesus lived. He knew that God had led him to the wilderness, and then from the wilderness every step of the way to the cross. God never put his holy child Jesus where his grace would not keep him, and so Jesus said no to the drug. God would keep him on the cross because he still had a great work to do – maybe the greatest of his whole life, and he would have a clear head to do it.
4. IN THE SMALLEST THINGS OUR OBEDIENCE TO GOD IS TESTED.
It was just a small thing for Jesus, taking a drink which would dull his senses before that fearful dying. Who’s going to notice whether Jesus did or didn’t drink what the women had prepared? Matthew did, and Mark did, and the church for two thousand years has. Just a small thing, but how much hung on it? The whole of redemption was there between the rim of that cup and the lips of Christ. It was as close as that. My salvation hangs there between the rim of the cup and the lips of Christ, and I shudder. Christ had to concentrate on his body and its longings at that moment – more than at any time since his temptations in the wilderness. He even took a sip, and then was there a quaking amongst the angels of heaven as they looked down and said to one another, “Will he drink it? Will he send himself into a trance?”? His mouth is as dry as a dust bowl. He longs for a drink – “just one swallow of clean water! Only one. Surely my loving Father understands? Surely he wouldn’t oppose me taking one glassful?” Was this the greatest of all temptations for its persistence and power and the agony of Jesus’ flesh? It would have been just a little action to quaff the glass in one gulp, but he didn’t. The moment he notices the stench of Satan’s hot breath clinging to the cup he knew everything and refused it. He saw his mother there looking plaintively at him. She wanted him to drink it but he wouldn’t. Mary Magdalene and the disciples all dreaded seeing him in the spasms of death, but he rejected the cup.
If he had drunk it then his priesthood would have been over. The priest may never be drunk in the house of the Lord. Jesus will love God with all his heart, not just the parts that weren’t affected by the drink. Jesus was full of God on Golgotha . He stands before God and receives from God every stroke of wrath. God does not administer one stroke too many; he does not administer one stroke too brutally. Every stroke he gives must be felt by Christ, God is not playing a game. The world will hold a sword in one hand and a soothing cup in another, but God holds a rod in one hand and a rod in the other. So that drugged cup was not given him by God, and Jesus’ refusal to drink it was just as important as his drinking the cup his Father gave him to drink in the Garden.
It seems a small thing saying no to a cup that’s offered you. It was just a small action when Lot’s wife looked back to Sodom , but little things will often show the state of a man’s mind more accurately than great things. Little symptoms are often the signs of a deadly and incurable disease. A tiny lump seems an ailment you could dismiss but it can be the evidence of a much bigger problem in your body. The fruit that Eve ate was a little thing but it showed she had changed from obeying God to obeying herself. The fruit touched her lip and she began to munch it, and her husband also. A crack in a rail on a track might seem a little thing but it can derail an express train and many be killed. The button on your computer is tiny. You press it – it doesn’t need a lot of muscle – and you are on a porn site on the world wide web. A single straw can show which way the wind is blowing; one snort of cocaine, one injection of heroin, one swallow of a little ecstasy tablet and the rottenness of a sinner’s heart is seen.
Are you trifling with little sins? Many are. They hold the essential truths of the gospel; they keep clear of drunkenness and fornication and gambling and drugs and violence, but they tolerate inconsistencies, some sort of weights that easily beset them. They make excuses for them – “it’s only a little temper, only a little thoughtlessness, only a little disdain.” They say, “God doesn’t take account of things like that. None of us is perfect. We mustn’t be too narrow. I tell you if you are one who speaks like that, the cup is touching your lip and you are beginning to drink it down.
Many people start off well. They seem serious about their faith; they attend meetings; they argue with their non-Christian friends about the claims of Christianity; they believe in prayer. Then something starts to go wrong. Have they found that the Bible is not true? Have they found that God is not faithful? Did the Lord fail to warn them about taking up their cross, denying themselves and following him? No, not at all. They started to trust in themselves. They said that of course Jesus Christ was fine, but they began a spirit of grumbling about the congregation and about the officers. They felt that it was all too narrow a religion. Grey hairs were here and there upon them and they knew it not. They began with Jacob, and David, and Peter, and they ended up with Esau, and Saul and Judas Iscariot. They began with Ruth and Mary; they ended up with Lot ’s wife. The cup touched the lip – and they drank it all. But Jesus Christ ended loving God as much as he loved him when he took our frail flesh.
If the Lord Jesus had drunk that cup we would have seen defiance against God in Jesus’ heart of hearts. The moment he began to act as if he knew better than his Father then he would be a fallen man, someone in need of redemption himself. The mission he had was clear, to love his own which were in the world and love them to the end. How could he still love them to the end if he were unconscious at the end? You think it was just a little thing to say no to the cup, but your salvation and that of the whole church hung on Jesus refusing it. Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, “Don’t think any sin is trivial; remember it will have everlasting consequences. O to have Brainerd’s heart for perfect holiness – to be holy as God is holy – pure as Christ is pure – perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. How much more useful might we be if we were only more free from pride, self-conceit, personal vanity, or some secret sin that our heart knows. O, hateful sins, that destroy our peace, and ruin our souls.”
It is one of the surest signs of Christian maturity that we pay careful attention to matters of detail in the Christian life. The Lord’s highest commendation falls upon men who are faithful in little things. It is at that point so often we are losing this particular battle. It may seem just a small thing to keep certain promises, write certain letters, heed the counsels of the elders, appreciate the church workers, and the youth leaders and those who keep the machinery of the church turning, and express your thanks. It may seem to you inconceivable that there should be a minister, or an elder or a deacon who does not have a time of personal devotions every day. It’s just a small thing to labour at such matters, but it is here that you and I are being tested.
Beware of half-hearted religion. Beware of following Christ during the fair weather and leaving him in the storms. Follow Christ for his own sake, if you follow him at all. Be consistent, be real, be honest, be sound, be whole-hearted. If you have any religion at all let it be 24/7; let it be 100%. Thomas Guthrie said, “If you find yourself loving any pleasure better than praying, any book better than the Bible, any house better than the house of God, any table better than the Lord’s table, any person better than Christ, any indulgence better than the hope of heaven – take alarm!” Beware of starting to think you have gone too far in religion, or getting too extreme in religion. If you would be a happy Christian don’t see how little of your heart you can give to Christ and be saved. Love him with all of your heart, and soul, and mind, and strength. Seek first the kingdom of God , and believe that then God will add all the rest to you. Say, “All the vain things that charm me most I sacrifice them to his blood.”
2nd October 2005 GEOFF THOMAS