I. Jesus Offered Wine Mixed With Poison
A. The Poison Jesus Refuses
In the 69th Psalm, we hear David’s desperate prayer to the Lord at a time when he is in deep trouble. “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched.” (vs.1-2).
And then with his ‘parched throat,’ he presents his case to the Lord. “You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed; all my enemies are before you. Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none.” (vs.19-20).
In fact, rather than ‘sympathy’ or ‘comfort,’ what David received from his fellow man, was poison. “They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst, they gave me sour wine to drink.” (vs.21).
As the trial Jesus Christ, before Pilate and the Jews, comes to its end and the verdict is settled, the “Son of David” is stripped of the robe that the palace guards had put on him, and they put his own clothes back on him. (Matthew 27:31). Now, as was the custom for crucifixions, the guards lead Jesus in a procession through the city, then outside the city walls, to the place of execution known as Golgatha.
Once they arrived there, BUT BEFORE CRUCIFYING HIM, Jesus was offered something to drink. St. Matthew tells us, “And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with poison, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it.” (Matthew 27:33)
It was not at all the Roman custom to do such a thing. The Romans used crucifixion because it prolonged the death of the crucified over many days as an example to instill fear and obedience in the populace. To have the prisoner drink poison to shorten the time of suffering was the opposite of their intent. Therefore, it must have been the Jews, his own ‘brothers,’ who offered Jesus this poisonous drink before He was crucified.
They had seen how persuasive Jesus could be when given the chance to speak. Even as He carried His cross in this unholy procession, He preached to the women who were weeping for Him.
Throughout His ministry, He had not only persuaded the crowds who came from miles to listen to him, but He had also persuaded even their own security guards whom they had sent to seize him, but who returned empty-handed, confessing, “we have never heard anyone speak like this man before.”
And whatever it was that He had said to Pilate seemed to move Pilate to defend Jesus, as feeble an attempt as it was.
Who knows what Jesus would say from the cross if given the chance? Who knows what confusion he might create in the minds and the hearts of those present? They must have reasoned that it would be better to make a quick end to his life on the cross with a drink of poison than to risk the chance of His using the cross as His final pulpit.
But Jesus, knowing that the drink he was being offered was laced with poison refused it, because He had seven last words yet to speak which the world must yet hear and remember. But He also refused to drink because He must not die by poisoning but by crucifixion so that the scriptures may be fulfilled.
In Proverbs 31:6-7 it is written, “Give strong drink to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.” But Jesus would receive no merciful anesthesia in his suffering and hour of death. He had led Israel through the dry desert, giving them food and drink along the way as He brought them to a land flowing with milk and honey. But now, in his time of hunger and thirst, Israel offers Him a drink laced with poison.
Just when the Lord needed a drink from the vineyard that He planted with His own hands in the hopes that it would produce a sweet wine for His pleasure, He is scorned, disgraced and shamed. “Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none…They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst, they gave me sour wine to drink.” ”
B. A Life Giving Drink Jesus Offers
How can we help but see here the glaring contrast between this treatment which Jesus is given – to that treatment which Jesus gave to His disciples there, in the Upper Room and to His church for all time. “Take and eat, this is my body given for you. Take and drink, this is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”
In complete contrast to the poison that He is given, He gives this bread and this wine for the eternal life to all who eat and drink of it in true faith. For in this bread He has mixed, not gall, but His holy body, crucified on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world – once for all. And in this wine, He has mixed, not poison, but His holy and precious blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins.
This is heavenly food that Jesus our Lord gives to us to eat and drink. Just as He led ancient Israel through the desert, feeding them along the way, bringing them to the land flowing with milk and honey, so He continues to feed His New Israel in their exodus out of this world into the next, feeding us with Himself, hidden in this sacrament, until we see Him face to face.
Here is food and drink that Jesus offers all who are scorned, disgraced and shamed by their own sin – AS WELL AS – for all who are scorned, disgraced and shamed by others. This is holy food and holy drink that gives real comfort and real deliverance to those in distress, because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the truest friend of sinners, is truly present in the bread and the wine.
When He was so thirsty, it was terribly cruel for Jesus’ enemies to offer him poison to drink. Likewise, how unmerciful and even cruel would it have been for Jesus to offer us in our hunger and thirst for forgiveness and righteousness, another parable or another symbolic example of himself, that does nothing but remind us of how hungry and thirsty we are and leave us just as dead in our sins?
No, our Lord is full of mercy and abounding in steadfast love and He gives us what we need the most – real, live-saving and live-giving food and drink that truly satisfies our hunger heart and thirsty soul.
“He took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take, THIS IS MY BODY GIVEN FOR YOU. And He took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And He said to them, ‘THIS IS MY BLOOD OF THE COVENANT WHICH IS POURED OUT FOR MANY.”
II. Jesus Offered Vinegar On The Cross
A. I Thirst
Now let us return from the Upper Room to Golgotha. Having refused the wine mixed with poison, our Lord receives the nails through his hands and feet and is raised up on cross to die. What began in the Upper Room and moved to the Mount of Olives has continued all through the night and it is now almost three o’clock in the afternoon of the following day. In all this time, Jesus has had nothing to eat or drink and has sweat profusely as He prayed and as He was being tortured. As Jesus hangs from the cross, dehydration begins to set in with vengeance.
In Psalm 22:15, David cries to the Lord, His God, “My strength is dried up like a piece of pottery, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth…” Now, the Son of David prays the same prayer. It is as if Jesus has hardly noticed his condition because He was so absorbed in accomplishing the work He was sent into this world to do. But now, “that the Scriptures might be fulfilled, he said, ‘I thirst.”
Surely, Jesus’ thirst was a real, physical thirst. He was experiencing hell itself in our place. The rich man had called out from hell to Abraham and begged Abraham “to send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” (Luke 15:24). Jesus is experiencing the fierce thirst for which there is no relief in hell.
But just as surely, Jesus’ thirst was also a spiritual thirst. He had been cut off from His heavenly Father which He would soon attest to. How He thirsted for the care and comfort and love the Father of whom He is the only-begotten. He thirsted with the desire that the 3rd day be accomplished and His Father is vindicated through His Son. He thirsted to be united to His Holy Bride whom He would make Holy by this very blood He was shedding for Her on this very cross.
This is the thirst that the Psalmist had seen coming when he wrote, “As a deer pants for streams of water so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, the living God.” (Psalm 42:1). “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1).
As Jesus complains about his thirst and begs His enemies for the mercy of a drink, one of the soldiers on duty took a sponge and filled it with wine that had spoiled into vinegar, and lifted it up on a pole to Jesus’ parched lips.
B. We Thirst
Once again the contrast between what Jesus is offered in His thirst and what He offers us in ours in enough to bring us to our knees. We have a spiritual thirst in that we too thirst for God, the living God. We are thirsty because, in our sin, we hide from God and cut ourselves off from Him – rejecting His Word simply by not paying attention to it – giving Him the silent treatment by rarely speaking to Him in prayer.
We thirst for peace and satisfaction, for contentment and to be loved. We hunger for security and genuine acceptance. And all of these hungers and thirsts we desperately try to have met by other people who are as fallen in sin as we are, who always fall short as we do. And so we are always hungry and thirsty.
The only thing that can satisfy that hunger and thirst that is present in every soul, is the faith that believes the Word of God which says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Mat. 5:6) Oh, how we hunger and thirst to really believe these words.
It is to all who hunger and thirst for peace and satisfaction, for contentment and to be loved, for security and genuine acceptance, the living God comes to us with Himself in the bread and in the wine.
To all who cry, “I hunger and I thirst,” Jesus comes saying, “Take and eat, this is my body given for you. Take and drink, this is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”