Today we come to the eleventh chapter of Frederick Leahy’s The Cross He Bore, a book many of us are reading to turn our hearts and minds toward the cross as we prepare to remember Jesus’ death and to celebrate his resurrection. Today’s text is Mark 15:23: “And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it.”
Leahy uses this chapter to look to the cup Jesus refused and to compare that to the cup of God’s wrath he was in the midst of drinking, and to the cup of righteousness he could then offer to all who would believe in him.
Here is a short quote from the chapter:
It was customary, by way of preparation for crucifixion, to offer the condemned a sedative drink. Mark says that Christ was offered “wine mixed with myrrh” (15:23). Matthew speaks of “wine…mixed with gall” (27:34). The word translated “gall,” like “marah” in the Old Testament, can be used broadly of something which is bitter. Thus in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) the word for gall is used in the same sense, and in Deuteronomy 32:32, KJV, we read “Their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter.”
This narcotic drink was offered for the purpose of deadening the pain. Matthew in his account was probably thinking of Psalm 69:21a, “They put gall in my food…” (NIV). Dr. J.A. Alexander remarks that “the passion of our Lord was providentially ordered as to furnish a remarkable coincidence with this verse.” It must not be forgotten that, in the final analysis, it is Christ who speaks prophetically in this great passion Psalm.
The soporific mixture offered to the Saviour was immediately refused. As soon as he tasted it he realized what it was (Matt. 27:34). A drink to quench his thirst would have been welcome, and he did accept such a drink (verse 48). That sour wine he accepted, but the drugged drink he instantly refused. To the very last he must have full possession of his senses. As A.H. Strong observes, his cry of dereliction on the cross “was not an ejaculation of thoughtless or delirious suffering.” Nothing must be allowed to insulate his spirit from the reality of the situation. Spurgeon remarks, “He solemnly determined that to offer a sufficient atoning sacrifice He must go the whole way, from the highest to the lowest, from the throne of highest glory to the cross of deepest woe.” He must suffer to the utmost. He must feel the full “sting” of his death. No anaesthetic was permissible. In Mark’s account of this incident the Greek text would suggest that they persisted in offering this drink to Christ and consequently he repeatedly refused it.