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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:The Suffering Jesus is Twice Offered a Drink
Text:Mark 15:23 & 36 (View)
Occasion:Easter (Good Friday)
Topic:Christ's Suffering

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 116:1,4,7                                                                                  

Ps 19:3,4

Reading – Mark 15

Ps 69:1,7,10

Sermon – Mark 15:23 & 36

Hy 23:1,2,3,6

Hy 82:1,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ Jesus, over the course of your life think of how many sermons you’ve heard about Jesus, and about the cross. Probably more than you can count! And today you’ll hear another. Yet don’t we all know the story already? So many times every year we return to this core message of the gospel. The outline of events is familiar: that Jesus suffered, He died on the cross, and He rose on the third day. That’s the story we know so well, and believe for our salvation.

But let’s think about how the Lord God tells this story. Because for the story of the cross—as for much of Scripture—God gives us more than just the bare facts. No, God so often provides a picture that’s in “high definition.” He zooms in so that we can see the fine details of an event. He tells us that Noah’s ark wasn’t just made of wood, it was made of gopherwood. David only needed one stone to knock Goliath down, but Scripture tells us that David took five stones from the brook. When Jesus called James and John, these two fishermen weren’t just fishing, they were mending their nets.

Also in the story of our Saviour’s suffering and death, there’s a host of details. So many, in fact, that we might skim over them and not even notice. After all, we know how the story ends, and we’re eager to get there. Yet there’s a reason for it all. Every fine point was recorded for our instruction. Particularly in Christ’s suffering, every word counts—every moment is important. They say sometimes that “the devil’s in the details.” In this case we might say, “the Saviour is in the details.” Because it’s these details that allow us to see so clearly, so strikingly, the beauty and power of what Christ did. It’s the details that reveal the great extent of his love.

Knowing that, we consider the two verses before us today. They are related, as the one is about wine mixed with myrrh, and the other is about sour wine. And at first, these two details might even seem contradictory, as our Lord first refuses to drink, and then later He accepts a drink. But these are two, separate, and important moments in the suffering of Christ. I preach God’s Word to you from Mark 15, verses 23 and 36,

In his suffering on the cross, Jesus is twice offered a drink:

  1. wine mingled with myrrh
  2. a sponge full of sour wine


1) wine mingled with myrrh: The events that lead up to our verses don’t need a lot of retelling. After much questioning and a lot of mistreating, a confused trial and a shaky verdict, Jesus has finally arrived at the place of execution. Outside Jerusalem, on this barren hill called Golgotha, is where He’ll be crucified.

Crucifixion is another feature of this story that we’re used to—it’s another feature that we might overlook. Yet then we forget that this way of inflicting death on a person was especially cruel. A crucifixion was sometimes known to drag on for days at a time, because essentially the victim was slowly being suffocated under his own weight. The person’s body was suspended awkwardly from the cross, his weight being pulled down by relentless gravity. This meant that as the hours went by, each breath became harder for the person to take in—until at last there was no more strength to breathe, and you had to surrender to death. Even the Romans agreed: this was a miserable way to go.

But even before Jesus is fastened to the cross, we read that “they gave him wine mingled with myrrh to drink” (v 23). Apparently this happened more often. Those who were going to be executed would be offered a bit of relief before they entered into the darkest place of their suffering. It would generally be some wine, mixed with something else—a substance that would dull the pain, just a little.

There’s a Jewish tradition which says there was actually a group of women in Jerusalem who devoted themselves to this grim “ministry of mercy.” They would attend every execution that took place outside the city gates, so that they could give some respite to the condemned. Some even say that they had Biblical grounds for such a practice. This is what Proverbs 31 instructs, “Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those who are bitter of heart. Let him drink and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more” (vv 6-7).

Maybe you’ve heard of something similar to this, how many soldiers have been known to take a stiff drink, some rum or whiskey, just before heading into battle. That’s because alcohol can take the edge off a person’s fear; it can make even the worse pain seem a bit more bearable. So also in the time of Christ: giving a shot of this wine before the misery started could to help ease the suffering.

Mark says that the wine which Christ was offered was “mingled with myrrh.” Myrrh was a spice that was used for a wide range of things. It was sometimes an ingredient in cosmetics, and was also used to embalm dead bodies. Apparently myrrh also had some narcotic qualities. Even in small amounts, it could alter a person’s state of mind, and make them relax.

We assume that the Roman soldiers would’ve allowed Jesus to take a swallow of this drugged wine before they hoisted him up. Maybe they would allow not so much out of compassion, but to keep him from struggling so much when He was being nailed down.

All in all, this seems like a natural thing to do. Think how any of us will seek relief from our discomfort. You have a splitting headache, so you pop a couple pills. Your young child keeps crying, you think some teeth are coming through, so you give some Tylenol. Pain relief: it’s a normal thing for humans to seek out, also for Christ—maybe especially for Christ.

Remember, our Lord has just undergone a terrible night and morning. He hasn’t slept for more than 24 hours. He probably hasn’t eaten or had anything to drink since the Passover meal. He’s been beaten with sticks, flogged with whips, forced to drag his heavy cross up to Golgotha. And, as we said, He’s about to be crucified—complete with nails piercing his hands and feet. He’s already in severe pain, and it’s about to get a lot worse.

Anyone would appreciate some relief from this suffering. To lessen the anguish by even one degree, to turn the pain down just one notch, would’ve been welcome. Before being lifted up, Jesus could easily have sneaked a swallow from that cup, “but…” Mark tells us, “He did not take it” (v 23). Faced with the unbearable, He would accept no reprieve. On the brink of despair, He would seek out no relief.

Why not? What difference would it make? Doesn’t the Bible say that strong drink should be given to the perishing? It does, but the Bible also says that the Christ needed to be oppressed for human sin. For our sin to be taken away, Jesus needed to suffer fully, and completely.

This meant torment, not just in body, but also in spirit. It wasn’t enough for the flesh to be pounded into the ground, while his spirit floated above in a haze. No, in these final hours his spirit had to be unclouded; his mind had to be undimmed. Jesus will bear the full brunt of God’s wrath: on his body, on his mind, on his soul—on his everything. And then, when the time finally came, Jesus will surrender his life by an act of the will. He will still have the presence of mind to lay his life down, and with open eyes He will go the Father.

Beloved, you can begin to understand why Mark has shared this moment with us. In the rush of events, verse 23 was probably nothing more than the outstretched hand of a woman holding a cup, and nothing more than a quiet word of refusal on Christ’s lips: “He did not take it.” Such a small detail—but when we zoom in, we see the good news written all over it. It means that our Saviour will be faithful. It means that He won’t take any short cuts in our deliverance. He won’t do anything to reduce this burden, but He’ll carry all of it. And He’ll do it for us.

The cup of wine mixed with myrrh was probably offered in human kindness. But behind it, we can probably see another of the devil’s temptations. Remember how Satan attacked Jesus right at the beginning of his ministry, over forty long days in the wilderness. And that wasn’t the end of it. After being denied the devil left Jesus, Scripture says, “until an opportune time.” Satan was just waiting for another opportunity to throw Jesus off-track.

So here it is: an invitation for Jesus to take the easier way. “Pain is bad,” the devil is whispering; “and as Son of God, you deserve a lot better. So why would you put yourself through all this? Why not accept some relief—a little sip won’t hurt, will it?” In these last hours there are other temptations too. Think of that cruel taunting to come down from the cross. How Jesus might’ve liked to, to show his mockers that He was the king!

We see in this the truth that temptation is so often custom-made. Satan tailors temptation to fit us well, to match our weaknesses at that moment. They’re custom-made, yet always the basic template is the same: it’s about us, thinking that this will be better than what God gives us. It’s about us, doing what’s easier, doing what we want. Christ knew that. He knew it before—He knows it now. Here on the cross He won’t put himself first, but He’ll seek God’s will above all.

You could say Christ refuses this cup of wine mingled with myrrh, so that He can take another cup. He is choosing to drink the cup that was given him by the Father: “the cup of God’s wrath.” In the Old Testament that’s an image for the fullness of God’s anger against sin. The Bible says that experiencing God’s anger is like taking a bitter cup that you have to drain right to the bottom, a deadly cocktail that leaves you reeling and ruined.

It’s the cup that has our name on it. All of God’s wrath should’ve been ours to suffer. But we don’t have to, because Jesus has done so already! The Father took the cup out of our hands, and He passed it on, to his one and only Son. That’s why our Saviour came to earth: to drink, to drink down the full measure of all our punishment.

For doing that holy work, Jesus was sober-minded and alert. He wasn’t drunk on wine, but He was full of the Spirit, so that He could do it right. And He did. He denied himself mercy, so that we might receive endless mercy. He accepted no relief, so that God might show us abounding grace. Beloved, it means our sins are paid for, down to very last one. For Jesus didn’t leave any of the pain of God’s judgment for us to handle. Not even a moment of it would He let us endure, but He took it all. 

There’s still pain in this life—for some of us, there’s lots of pain: there is physical pain, when your body is constantly aching. There is emotional trauma from things that happened in the past, or the mental anguish of anxiety or depression. And Satan still whispers, “Pain is bad. Sorrow is bad. God must be punishing you, because you’re such a rotten person. If God won’t relieve your pain, why not do it yourself? Why not dull your senses with this drink or that substance? Why not find your escape with this or that distraction?” Or we’re tempted to grow bitter. We want to think that God is a cruel God instead of a loving Father. We start to think that God might have good things in store for other people, but not for us. And so we grow distant from God—it’s hard to trust God if you’re angry with Him, or disappointed with Him.

But then we remember Christ our Saviour. He knows what pain is! He sustained all the wrath of God, down the smallest degree, down to the slightest measure. And Christ has not saved us from pain—He never promised us a pain-free life. But Christ has brought us peace! He endured the cross, despised the shame.

So we take all our anguish, and we bring it to Christ. We trust that Christ can use our suffering to make us holy. We take all our sorrow to Christ, because He’ll wipe away our tears. We take all our sin to Christ for him to cleanse us, and for God to grant us mercy.


2) a sponge full of sour wine: We skip ahead from verse 23 to verse 36, “Then someone ran and filled a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it to him to drink.” And the implication is, as we’ll see in a moment, that Jesus does indeed drink from this. So we wonder why there’s now a change: why is He now prepared to drink some wine? Is this some indecision on his part—or is Jesus now giving up, and is He now seeking a sinful release?

To understand this second small detail, it’s important to think about what has happened in between our two verses. An entire six hours have passed. This all started at the third hour, when He was first crucified. It’s now the ninth hour. Since then, there has been a constant barrage of torment against Christ.

His clothes were stripped off. He was jeered at and ridiculed. Then came three hours of darkness over the whole land. That darkness was meant for Christ, who was experiencing all the terror of God’s rejection: the light of God’s face was turned away. For three long hours, Christ endured the terrible prospect of life without the LORD. This was hell, the cup of God’s wrath.

And when He could take no more, Jesus cried out in his pain, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v 34). Borrowing the words of David in Psalm 22, Jesus spoke of his utter misery, his total abandonment by God. This was the low point: He was nearly at the end. He had carried his burden to the furthest point—and it was far enough.

Here we can pick up the story in John’s gospel. Because “after this,” John says in chapter 19, “knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I thirst!’” (v 28). He had suffered much—he’d suffered the very worst of it—and now all that was left was this parching thirst. From loss of blood; from physical shock; from a night and day without drink: “I thirst.”

It’s again the words of David in Psalm 22 that describe Christ’s misery so well, “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue clings to my jaws” (v 15). So, Mark tells us, “someone ran and filled a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it to him to drink” (v 36). Being on the cross, his arms fastened, you understand that He could no longer take a cup in his hands. He’d have to bend his head down and chew and suck on this sponge, to get any sort of moisture for himself.

But He does drink. Mark and John both tell us that it was “sour wine.” This was likely a drink that came from the Roman soldiers there at the cross. It was a drink known as posca, made from a mixture of wine that had started to go bad, together with water, and some spices. Posca wasn’t a fine wine, but they say it prevented scurvy, and for lower class people and soldiers it was usually safer than drinking the local water.

Jesus had asked for something to drink, and it was given to Him. Yet it probably wasn’t given out of mercy, like the wine was before. Likely this was intended in cruelty; it was probably meant to prolong his suffering. For listen to what is said right after they give the sour wine, “Let us see if Elijah will come to take him down” (v 36). They heard that cry from Jesus’ lips, “Eloi, Eloi,” so now they want to watch his disappointment when Elijah doesn’t show up.

As a bit background to that, people expected that in the days of the Messiah, the prophet Elijah would return from heaven. Malachi had talked about that, and Jesus himself said it would happen in Mark 9:12, “Elijah does come first and restores all things…” So the crowds think—quite mistakenly—that Jesus must now be calling out for the prophet, seeking help, hoping to be vindicated. They think He’s getting desperate, and they want to laugh at Christ as He gets more agitated. A gulp of sour wine is only going to revive him, and prolong the show.

Here too, we see the fulfillment of Scripture. Psalm 69 is another Psalm that describes David’s depths of suffering: “Reproach has broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness; I looked for someone to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none. They also gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (vv 20-21). It was bad for David—it was worse for Jesus. In his worst hour, He had few comforters, only people who were ready to laugh and mock.

Yet even in this last cruel act, there’s a purpose for Christ. For now it’s almost over. Jesus has just walked through the valley of darkest suffering, and He’s finished what was given him to do. An eternity, measured in six hours, was enough. God had turned away from Him—that’s what his cry of “Eloi, Eloi,” was all about: it was another echo of Psalm 22.

Suffering over, there was just one more thing to do, and that is to hand over his spirit to the LORD, to entrust his soul to the Father. This handover requires alertness, a presence of mind, an inner strength. After where He’d been, Christ had almost nothing left.

So he asks for that drink. Cheap beverage or not, it would give strength for the moment. He’ll take this drink for a final burst of energy. He needed this refreshment, to make that last lunge across the finish line. This is how John describes it in his Gospel, “So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing his head, He gave up his spirit” (John 19:30). Ignoring the mockery, He drinks, and it’s enough.

It’s another small moment, just a brief squeeze of a sponge in the mouth. But see what it leads to: “He cried out with a loud voice, and breathed his last” (Mark 15:37). And then the curtain of the temple is torn (v 38). For that’s it: He’s accomplished our salvation, once and for all. He hung on ‘till the end, ‘till everything was done. No one took it from him, but He laid down his own life, freely and perfectly.

He rejected one cup, and He accepted another cup, so that He could give us our cup. Not the cup of wrath—that’s been drained at the cross. It’s been taken away from us, and in its place, there’s given a new cup: the cup of blessing! For remember what Christ said at the last Passover? “He took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to his disciples, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many, for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matt 26:27-28).

That’s the cup we can take in our hands. It affirms God’s grace toward us, his love and mercy. There’s nothing sour about it, but God’s love is sweet and precious for all who believe. There’s nothing cheap or second-rate about it, but it’s so valuable for all who trust in Him.

Beloved, we see in these two small details from Mark how even in the last hours our Lord was faithful to his task. He was faithful, to give us the life that never ends. Today we remember how He took no short cuts on his way to eternal death. Today we remember that Jesus did not run away, and He did not give in. But He kept going, until He was done.

And if that’s what He did back then, if that’s how dedicated He was to our cause on that dark day, then certainly He won’t forsake us now! For now He keeps drawing us toward Him with his perfect love. Now He keeps lifting our heads, and pointing us to the Father. He tells you that your faith in God will never be disappointed. He assures you that if you trust in Him, your trust will never be let down. Whatever happens, Christ the Saviour is faithful: He showed it on the cross, and He shows it every day!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2017, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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