They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.
And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not.
WE SOMETIMES hear the phrase: A man is what he eats. We do not believe that this is true. Not that there is no connection at all between the food and the heart, between what is taken into the mouth and what the heart expresses. For there is such a connection. Christ Himself has taught us that. The meal a person takes is also a confession. Even the rim of the cup discloses what is in the inner heart. That is why we prefer to turn the saying just cited around. Rather than to maintain that a man is what he eats, we would say he eats according to what he is. It may be true that food and drink affect the body not only, but influence the soul also, and that to this extent food is a kind of education; nevertheless the deepest essence of our life remains inaccessible to the effects of bread and water, of food and drink. Food does not explain the soul, but the soul explains the food. Tell me the kind of bread your soul feeds on and I will tell you the kind of food your body uses.
There is only one person in whom this connection between the heart and the food proved to be complete. He was Jesus Christ In Him the external and the visible is always a faithful expression of the internal and the invisible. He is the highest truth; He is what He seems to be; He seems to be what He is. You can recognize Him in everything He does; in everything He does you can see Him as He really is, if you look at Him with the eyes of faith. Observe His mouth, and you will know the attitude of His heart. Pay attention to what He eats and drinks, and to what food and what drink He refuses, and you will know the food of His soul, and the drink of His heart. His food is to do the will of His Father; it is to drink the cup of His Father. But all cups of devils are repulsive to Him.
That is why He is our Mediator in everything, in His eating and His drinking also. Yes, even in His drinking. His drinking quenches thirst. His thirsting also quenches ours. Faith can find nothing in the whole of that awful passion night at Golgotha in which it does not recognize the tense will of the Redeemer for feeding His people. The law of His death was the same as the rule of His life: “Whether ye eat, or whether ye drink, or whether ye refuse to eat or to drink, do it all to the glory of God.” Would He not drink the cup which the Father gave Him? Would He not drink it to the dregs? Would He not drink it unadulterated? Throughout all these years, from the manger to the cross, He has been drinking that cup, and He never allowed anyone to add a different drop to it; that which the Father had put into the cup, that only He drank. Now He has reached the dregs; a few more hours, and the cup will be empty. Could it be possible for Satan now to introduce a different ingredient into the cup of the Lord, an ingredient which God had not prepared for the Servant of the Lord? No, to the very last Christ keeps the bitter drink in its pure condition; He leaves it as His Father had poured and given it to Him; He leaves it quite unmixed. Let us consider the significance of that.
When the procession had reached Golgotha the preparations for the crucifixion were begun. One of these was that the crucified persons be given a sedative drink. This is also given to Christ. The drink consisted of wine mixed with gall. St. Mark tells us that the wine was mingled with myrrh. Some observers think that St. Matthew, who speaks of gall, is contradicted by Mark, who mentions myrrh. However, there is no conflict here. The word “gall,” as we find it in the Greek language, can, just as the Hebrew word “marah,” be used in the broad sense of something which is bitter. Whoever follows the meaning of the word in the Greek translation of the Old Testament will find convincing evidence of the fact that this is true. Consequently the myrrh which was mingled with Jesus’ wine was the same bitter substance as that which Matthew called gall.
Who prepared this drink for Jesus? Opinions differ about this also. Some think that the women who followed behind Jesus, weeping, brought this drink with them. “Nowhere do we read that the Romans knew of this custom. Hence the drink very likely was prepared and brought along by the friends of Jesus, most likely by the women of Jerusalem who followed Jesus on His way to the cross. These, then, must have seen to it that this drink was handed to Jesus by the soldiers.”
 Groenen, op. cit., p. 447.
That, however, is no more than a hypothesis. A more plausible explanation is that the offer of a sedative drink was a fixed custom in connection with executions, a custom used by the Jews, permitted by the Romans, or probably even known to the Romans themselves. The pain of a crucifixion was so gruesome, that, moved by their “philanthropy,” they would give a person condemned to crucifixion such a sedative. Not that it would immediately remove all pain — how could that be, when nails are being driven through hands and feet? — but it did at least gradually put the consciousness to sleep, and make a more or less easy dying possible.
We are not going to try to determine the origin of this custom. It is true that this use of a bitter sedative at crucifixions is compatible with Jewish usage. Various Jewish writings contain references which suggest that felons condemned to die were to be given a reed dipped in wine and so to induce a gradual deadening of consciousness. In order to explain the custom, commentators sometimes appeal to Pro_31:6 : “Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto the bitter of soul.” These considerations are not very significant but there is one point which has some worth for us. These same Jewish writings also tell us that the custom was designed, besides serving as a sedative, to draw a confession from the condemned. Not that they wished to forego the death sentence in that case, but — think, for instance, of the persistent pressure brought to bear upon martyrs at the stake by dignitaries of the Roman Catholic Church by way of eliciting a confession from these — but the intent was partly theological. They supposed that a confession made at the eleventh hour might at least serve to gain him access to the next world, even though the condemned person was denied a life in this one.
 Strack-Billerbeck, Op Mattheus, p. 1037.
We should be imposing unwarranted fantasies upon the account of the most bloody reality the world ever witnessed if we were to insist that this last purpose also governed the Jews when they, by means of the Roman soldiers, extended a cup of wine mingled with myrrh to Christ. The supposition is not entirely untenable: church officials of a degraded kind have been known before to whisper weakly into the ears of a man whose blood was being demanded by the church: My son, give God the honor and make a confession before it is eternally too late. We do not know.
But we should not like to overlook the possibilities. We know, for instance, that Pilate mitigated his rigid justice by extending a sedative drink. Just so it is very likely that the Jews are perfectly willing with one of their hands to support Jesus a little, even though the other is ready to push Him into hell. Church officials have been known to be willing to help a person on the way to his death and the other world if only they were sure of being rid of him in this one.
Be that as it may, it is, even though the Jews themselves never once thought of eliciting an eleventh hour confession from Jesus, for Christ Himself indeed the important question. He must indeed make the good confession. For He does not want to drink the sedative, precisely because of the good confession, because of the good deed, which He would fulfill in its completed sense, and while He is fully conscious of what He is doing. The Jews perhaps would have welcomed a constrained confession, because an opus operatum fits beautifully into their perverted procedure. But if they want such a confession, they can be sure that they will never get it from Christ. He will never confess that He acknowledges the evil that they ascribe to Him. Moreover, in addition to this negative attitude there is another one which in the highest sense of the word is a positive point of view. Christ must make the good confession to His heavenly Father; He must confess truth, justice, life, love, grace, curse, time and eternity. Now this confession which as an office-bearer He must make before angels and men in the hour of being forsaken of God and of being compelled to meet God demands His whole soul. It requires the whole spirit of Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Hence a sedative drink, which would have dulled the sensitivity of His human feelings, would have rendered Him useless as the Mediator and as the second Adam. We are not putting it too sweepingly if we say that the offer of this drink was a Satanic temptation.
However, again we see Christ as genuine man, as true man; we see Him as the Mediator of God and man.
We said that we see the Saviour here as genuine, as true man. In this connection we think of that detail in the account which tells us that Christ tasted the wine just for a second. He did not prepare for this circumstance beforehand; His human nature, like ours in all respects, met with an unexpected experience here. Accordingly, Christ tastes of the wine which is extended to Him. What else could be expected? His exhausted body is crying aloud for water, and, in our compassion, we would like to call out to Him: Drink now! Drink now, Thou scourged mock-king; for these mercies of the ungodly are brutal indeed, but who would shun the last gesture of sympathy on the part of cruel bullies? Drink, empty the cup, take what they give Thee; it will dull the senses, take the world away for a second; the burning sun cannot reach Thee then, the tears of Thy mother will not wrench Thy heart in two . . . yes, drink. In this dumb cry of Jesus’ torn flesh we detect a faint resemblance of the parable which He Himself once spoke about the lost rich man who in his pain called for a drop of water. No, the resemblance is not far fetched, for this is the descent into hell. But that is precisely why Jesus is not like a laborer who calmly works out his schedule because he has beforehand figured out every reaction to every circumstance which would confront Him. Jesus responds immediately as a true man to the offer of the drink. He is very eager to drink something. Learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly of heart. Is not that your experience also? Even though He has perfect insight into the scandal of this crooked, legal procedure, He in no sense resembles the man who, while biting his teeth, stoically asserts: I shall insist upon my pride. I shall spurn their drink. Christ does taste of it. The soldiers need not think for a moment that He is not in a condition to pray for them. He will do so very soon. But God before all things, God first of all. This sinless soul responds immediately and genuinely to every stimulus coming to it from without. Genuinely, that is, according to the law. It is a spontaneous response — but it fits perfectly into the framework of obedience. The moment Christ but smells the myrrh, and knows that it will deaden His senses, He refuses to drink.
And why does He refuse?
Because He is the Mediator, the Mediator of God and men. If in this most momentous hour He should deaden His spirit, then He, overagainst God as well as overagainst His people, would be doing wrong. Then He could not have represented God overagainst the people and could not have represented the people overagainst God. Then He would not have been the minister of the Word who in what He says and what He does not say, rightly proclaims the truth and justice of God to men. Then He would not have been the intercessor for His people, even though the hour now demands that He be that. Then we would have lost the seven utterances on the cross, voicing as they do a great love and a great passion. Then He would have been ashamed in the presence of Gabriel and Michael, and of all the angels, who are ever alert to God, and who also are always looking upon the face of His Father, whenever they do something good to the least of God’s people. What think ye — could the least of God’s angels be a greater than He? The angels are ministering spirits sent out to minister to those who are heirs of salvation. Christ Himself taught us that they come to the little ones who can hardly manage to sustain their lives. They are around Him here, they support Mary, they sustain John, they save Nicodemus from suicide. They labor with the gratia praeparans — the preparing grace — in the souls of the darklings who are still shouting themselves hoarse, but who will after a few weeks and after the sermon of Peter be saying: Men and brethren, what shall we do? What shall we do? Legions of angels are present here and the spirit of God, praying in unspeakable groanings, is here, and is also there in the souls of men. The devils are here; the whole company of them is here. The spiritual world, good and bad spirits alike, is here.
Now suppose for a moment that of all those spirits the One who is called the Logos had fixed a separation and an antithesis between the perfect activity of His alert Spirit and the quailing activity of His human soul. In this we are touching on the extremity of the possible; and we all know that the idea is folly, the idea of a deadened Son of man among all those weaker, waking spirits.
We mentioned just now that we are standing on the border line of the possibilities which are in Christ. We referred to the problem of the relationship between His human and His divine nature. This is a mystery which no one can ever fathom, and no one can ever put the relationship between Christ’s divine consciousness, between the self-awareness of the eternal Word of God, on the one hand, and His human activity, the activity of His human soul and spirit, on the other hand, into a human concept, into a human formulation.
But there are some things which we do know. First we know that the divine nature can never let its alertness and activity be lessened or even changed. Second, we know that the sensitivity, the susceptibility, precisely because He is true man, is always finite, and therefore changeable, mutable, in process of becoming, and bound to everything which in this colorful life is subject to the sensuous apperception and vacillating movements of the soul, and the tensions of the spirit. Third, that this soul-activity of Christ is ever free from sin, and that consequently the effect of the outside world upon Him can never contaminate Him. Now the corollary of those considerations is that the divine knowledge of the Logos and the human knowledge and awareness of the soul and spirit of Christ, distinct from each other as they may be, never can be separated from each other, and never can be said to be antithetical to each other. True, His human soul works differently than His divine consciousness; His human soul engages in different inquiries of the heart from those which are the inquiries of the Logos and of the Spirit. But, precisely in this characteristic of the man Jesus inheres the possibility of that man to work in God’s direction all of the time and to conform the motivations of His soul to the conscious activity of the Logos of God.
That is why the problem of the apparently innocent drink is so very important. At this time Satan is abusing the discord which is active in Jesus’ human life because of the curse of our sin. Satan would, by breaking down Jesus’ body, cause Him to cry so loudly for drink that the sublime activity of Jesus’ soul may give its attention to an accident rather than to the main issue. Satan would induce Him to transpose the emphasis from the soul to the body, from the spirit to the soul and body, from God to man, from duty to pain, from eternity to time, from the history of God’s revelation to Jesus’ own experience at the moment. A change of emphasis, that is all. But that is enough, in His case, to break the world in two. Change the emphasis? That would mean that the man Jesus had chosen to stand overagainst God; for God always puts the emphasis upon the right place. Ah, a scattering of attention, a desire, a single act of the will designed to repel the judge who is driving the cold sword of His perfect wrath through Jesus’ soul and body, and all is lost. Then the Mediator is broken.
Therefore we can say that all eternity, that the whole of theology, and that the whole of God’s revelation in the incarnate Word lies between the rim of the cup and the lips of Jesus Christ. We are standing on the border line between two worlds, and we shudder. Soldiers bite their teeth and others curse, muttering under their breath because of this obstinate Jew. But the angels are aware of the fact that there is a quaking in the Kingdom of Heaven. They know that all science and all philosophy will be given the unending task of thinking about what is happening here.
 From the Greek text we gather that the soldiers persisted when Jesus refused; that Jesus was compelled several times to spurn what was offered Him. This drama was enacted before the eyes of the people (a prophetic drama!).
Let my soul ponder it also. The human soul of Jesus is, even in the most pronounced temptation, immediately ready to conform itself to God and the Logos. He at once senses the folly of this intoxicating image: a deadened Son of God and man among the waking sons of God, among the angels. Never did Christ have to fasten His attention upon the body so closely, and upon the tortured body presently, as He did at this time. Alas, that body can be so agonizingly big at times. It can cover the soul, it can darken the clouds, it can stand in the way of God. But Jesus sees His God even through His own clouds, and ever seeks Him out with a wise, a singing, a lamenting, and a longing attention. He seeks and finds God. No, God need not go out to ask a secretive Adam: Where art thou? A hoarse cry issues from the inner soul of Jesus, and that cry is seeking God. Where art thou, where art thou? I see Thee, I shall not let Thee go, even though Thou shouldst condemn me a thousand times. Never did the danger of a break between a whole series of the years of His life and this one moment of driven spikes and grinning faces threaten as overwhelmingly as it did now. Christ’s attention is being demanded for only this moment, but if He gives it, it will be at the expense of that period of thirty-three years of obedience. The life-work accomplished in thirty-three years is now in danger of drowning in a single cup of myrrh. But the human soul of Christ did not accentuate this moment at the cost of introducing discord into the logic of His whole life. The cup of myrrh did not interfere with the course of His obedience to God. He is the faithful worker of God: He builds His temple, laying stone upon stone. In this moment Satan incites Him, lures Him, to temptation, asks Him to bite His teeth, to lay this one stone somewhat crookedly in the way, and to give it a smart rap expressive of repressed animosity. But this is not the way it took place. Moses may strike the rock in a fit of anger, the rock out of which the miraculous water freely flows. But the greater-than-Moses does not strike the rock out of which His own blood must, as the drink of life, necessarily flow. God will not be able to say to Him: “Thou hast not hallowed me.” When Moses strikes the rock He spurns the service of the Word. This, accordingly, was his sin as an office bearer. Now Jesus must at once be both the Moses who breaks the rock by means of the Word as well as the miracle-working rock itself which must provide the water. And as He proceeds to be that He remains faithful to Himself, never once fixing a schism between the service of the Word and the service of blood.
No, you must not haughtily say that it was impossible for Jesus to be dulled or deadened. Do not say that, for that is not the issue here. True, from God’s point of view it was impossible. Jesus’ death presently is a different death from that of the other two. Christ presently will bear the pain of hell, and will endure the curse of the descent into hell. It would be folly to suppose that Jesus could be dulled; the terror of hell suffices to keep anyone awake. The attempt to deaden the senses of Him who must meet God and Satan in the extremities of death and curse is as ridiculous as the proposal Simon Peter suggested on the Mount of Transfiguration when he tried to cage the fluid sunlight of heaven in an insignificant hut.
But, once more, the point at issue here is not what is and is not possible. The point is whether the human nature of Jesus not only spontaneously and consciously spurns the evil choice, but also makes the good choice by a complete activity. This choice He made. He was not thrust into hell; He descended into hell.
Consequently Christ is susceptible to suffering the curse of sin. The curse will break Him. It will be His portion to endure the catastrophes of that curse in all their vehemence. For this He willed to do.
We have just referred to the catastrophes of the curse. By that we mean this. The curse which impinges upon life because of sin does not begin catastrophically but it does end catastrophically. As soon as sin had entered the world, the curse also entered. It spread out, penetrated farther; even though in varying gradations of intensity, it spread out through the entire world of created things. But this is important. At the first entering in of sin, the curse came very imperceptibly. It came, if we may be allowed to express it that way, on stockinged feet. The power to unbind, to loosen, which we call the curse, a power which disrupts the organic unity of creation so that the parts in relationship to each other and to the whole have lost their proper places, comes creeping into the world very surreptitiously and quietly after the first sin. The sun continued to shine, the streams of Paradise rippled on, the birds still sang. It seemed as though nothing were wrong. The flood, centuries later, came with far more obtrusiveness than the disruption of nature at the first advent of sin.
1. We shall return to the subject in the next chapter.
Nevertheless, the curse was present. Although it does not begin with a catastrophe it will end in catastrophe on the last day. Christ knew this. He saw the curse which follows close upon the sin of the world; He saw it simmering for thirty-three years. He saw it in the foliage of the trees. He saw the curse lowering in the sun. As children laugh while looking at the sun, and as the poets sing their sentimental songs about the moon and stars, Jesus says: The sun shall be darkened, the moon shall be turned into blood, and the stars shall come thundering down. He felt the curse in His own flesh; His thirst was a problem to Him and His hunger a theological difficulty. A person suffering from fever presents the problem of the disruption of the temple to Him, and the problem of a rift in the clouds.
Now return to the cup of myrrh. Can you believe that Jesus had become used to the “phenomenon” of the curse? Can you suppose that He no longer had an eye for that terrible conductor of our lives, after He had seen him throughout these years? We get used to things, but He did not. He always related the hovering of the curse over nature and life to the first and the last things that are to be in the world. In the last analysis He saw no fundamental difference between a toothache and the day of judgment. He knew very well that the grim persistence, the mad perseverance of the curse in this world, had begun in Paradise and had to culminate in the last or judgment day. That day would witness a catastrophe: moving mountains, a torn world, a devastated temple, and a sea of fire. The pain of these catastrophes He must bear today. His flesh must be torn; that which is tremendous is meet for His death. Presently He will live through the day of judgment in His own person.
Now pay close attention to His Word. He did not want to repel this tremendous judgment of God. His ears might not begin to hum, His eyes might not begin to blink, and His spirit might not subside within Him. Had He wanted that, the judgment day, which is the world-catastrophe of the final curse, would not have had a place in His soul. He may not repel, He may not thrust aside, He may not spurn the judge. “Whosoever lookest on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” He who does not look God straight in the eyes to perfectly desire Him has already committed the great denial against Him.
However, He preserved Himself, He refused the cup. He refused it spontaneously; He understood it all in a moment. This is the second Adam; not even the most rapid invasion of Satan can harm Him. Man can cut His body to pieces, but no one will succeed in driving a wedge between His soul and spirit in order that Satan may enter in.
Now suppose that this Priest had actually permitted Himself to be dulled and deadened by the cup. Then He would have been dismissed from the priesthood. The priest may never be drunk in the house of God. The sacrifice needs the prayer of the minister; he who offers the sacrifice may not become inattentive. As for the sacrifice itself, it may not mitigate the pain of death which justice demands. As for the temple, it can brook no stench of decay; hence the incense of pure prayer may not become mingled with the humid vapor of souls who seek something other than God. Whom have I in heaven above to compare with Thee? What is there on earth for me to desire, for me to yearn for, as adequate and pleasing as Thou? In Thee I can rest. No, Father, in Thy house there is nothing besides Thee. Hence the Son cannot want to be deadened or dulled. He is too full of Thee; He who is full of God cannot suppress Him; for God, in such a person, occupies the whole space.
O Priest, O High Priest. This Priest of our confession faithfully fulfilled His priestly service. Some say that the word “priest” is related to the root “stand”: and the work of priests is designated in the Scriptures by means of the technical term, “Come near.” We know that a drunken man cannot stand; he sinks down. Nor can a dazed man “come near”; he stumbles, he gropes. But Jesus who refuses the myrrh both stands and conies near. Now He ascends to the altars of God, to God, to His God, the source of suffering. Now He descends into hell and yearns for the commandments. God is striking Him — hence He must feel the pain.
Jesus feels that the heavenly pronouncement of justice differs from that which is pronounced on earth. When God punishes He punishes completely. His verdict is not characterized by that inner contradiction which characterizes the verdict of a Pilate who wounds the victim with a nail while he soothes him with myrrh. When God in His flaming wrath begins to punish, He does not administer one stroke too many, nor one stroke too brutally. Hence every stroke He gives must be felt. God is not playing a game. The world may hold a sword in one hand and a soothing cup in the other but God holds a sword in the one hand and a sword in the other, God is wholly love or He is wholly wrath. Therefore that, cup of myrrh could not be given Him by God.
Our soul must not overlook these things in passing by. The refusal of the cup of myrrh is just as important as the shedding of Jesus’ blood. Any fantasy of a holy grail or of a vessel which caught up the blood of Jesus must stand or fall with His refusal to accept the soothing wine.
Priest, High Priest. And, second Adam. Let us, as He Himself did, go back to the very beginning. When the first Adam had suppressed his God as a Father and Judge from his attention under the shadow of the tree of knowledge of good and of evil there must have been a moment in which this suppression of God, and this inattention, and this removal of the emphasis from the center to the periphery, was consciously willed by Adam. Otherwise his sin would have been weakness, not willfulness. If so, the contrast now is complete.
The first Adam consciously did the deed which thrust God out of his soul and his spirit. It was the deed of enmity. Now the second Adam must refuse such thrusting aside and must refuse it consciously. Actively, consciously, with the whole force of His human constitution fixed upon it, He must refuse the cup.
No heart can go beyond this. I see God standing here among the murderers. I know that Paradise is returning here, and also know that God is trying the second Adam more severely than the first. God prepared the first Adam for the coming test. Adam was told: Lo, there is a tree; stay away from it; do not eat of it. It was the tree of knowledge by which he might know whether he was to thrust God out of His place or leave Him in the place He should occupy. But the second Adam was given no preparation. He does not know, He does not notice. He even tasted of it, because the cup had been set before Him in a very common and ordinary way, and He was thirsty. But the moment He noticed the stench of Satan’s hot breath still clinging to the cup, He knew everything, and He refused it. He saw His mother standing there, and He knew that she wanted Him to have a drink. She could not bear the spasms of His death. Mary means more to Jesus than “the woman” meant for Adam in the hour of temptation. He would rather send His mother away than mitigate the dire tragedy of His death, and drink from a cup which justice and the commandments had not given Him.
Now we greet Thee, O King of the earth, who in the Holy Supper of the Lamb will pour out wine in glory. Thy lips crushed death to pieces, just as the teeth of the first Adam ground life to pieces. Your lips, O second Adam, parched with thirst, tasted of the problem of time and eternity, for Thy heart, although sorely tested, can taste only according to the law of God. Thy lips refused the food of the dead and the drink of devils. Now serve the wine of Thy love and . . . may He kiss me with the lips of His mouth, for I have not perished. Whoever has seen Him in that way will possess a Christ Whose love was in no sense drunk with wine, but Who is a glorious wonder of love known to no mortal. The beautiful wine of love beams out to Him from the rejected cup of devilish wine. This wine of love Christ Himself prepared here. The cross of weakness will become the throne of Christ’s might.