HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.–Matthew 27:34
The One Cup Jesus Refused to Drink
It was a kindly provision of the Jews to give an opiate to the condemned. They found their warrant in the page of the Old Testament. Anaesthetics in these earlier days were, of course, very far from perfect. There was no method of mitigating pain save by some dulling or stupefying drug. And it was such a draught that was offered to the Lord when He reached the place appointed for His death. This was fittingly the ministry of women. There was a guild of ladies who charged themselves with that. They bought the ingredients and mingled them, and had them ready for the unhappy criminal. And no one who witnessed the scene ever forgot how, when the draught was handed to the Lord, He quietly and deliberately refused it. He took it, and He tasted it. He was always courteous to the kind. He recognised the compassion that inspired it, and to the compassionate, He was ever gracious. Then, having tasted it, and having thanked them, He quite deliberately returned the cup. It was the one cup which He refused to drink. Can we understand that swift declination? Can we fathom the reasons for refusal? The answer brings us to the heart of things.
Had He Drunk It He Would Have Marred the Crowning Service of His Life
One thinks, for instance, how the drinking of that draught would have marred the crowning service of His life. The Cross was the crowning service of His life. There is a way of thinking of the death of Jesus as if it were the tragic end of a high story. There are those who take it as the pitiable opposite of all the rich and popular activities of Galilee. But never, through the whole New Testament, is there even a hint of such a view as that–the Cross is the crowning service of His life. Christ deliberately chose that by which He was to be remembered. It was the hour when everything burst into a flame. It gathered up into one splendid action all the redeeming labours of His days. All He had come to do–all He had lived for–all His work as prophet, priest, teacher and king–was crowned in the last service of the Cross. Now, when a man is facing noble service, does he drug his faculties with opiates? Does the surgeon take a drug before the operation? Does the captain do it when the storm is threatening? For such hours, the crowning hours of service, when tremendous demands are going to be imposed, a man must be at his clearest and his best. Had His work been over, our Lord might have drunk that draught. He might have argued that nothing mattered now. That swift refusal, as with a flash of light, reveals the Master’s outlook on His death. It was no tragic and pitiable end, to be got through with the minimum of suffering. It was a service to be wrought with His whole being.
Akin to that is the great thought that our blessed Lord died of His own will. “No man taketh it [my life] from me, but I lay it down of myself” (John 10:18). No beast in the sacrificial rites of Judaism ever died of its own will. It was dragged to the altar, struggling and reluctant. It died because other hands were gripping it. And the infinite value of the death of Jesus lay in its being a voluntary sacrifice–I come to do Thy will, O God. Now the singular power of opiates is this, that they interfere with the freedom of the will. Under their influence we are no longer free. We pass under the dominance of others. We are not controlled nor directed from within when the drug has poured its poison through the veins; we are controlled and directed from without. No longer are we self-determined, nor do we act because we will to act. We have yielded up the mastery of life; we have rendered our personality to others. And that was the one thing our Master could not do if, in the perfect freedom of His love, He was to lay His life down of Himself. So He took the cup, and tasted it, for He was always courteous to the kindly–and then, deliberately, He refused it.
How Much We Would Have Lost Had He Drunk the Cup
One thinks again how much we should have lost had the Lord drunk of that stupefying draught.
- We should have lost some of the sweetest passages of Scripture.
- We should never have heard that wonderful prayer for pardon, “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.”
- We should never have known His filial care for Mary, “Woman, behold thy son.” We should never have had the ringing, glad assurance wherewith He cried in a loud voice, “It is finished”–the greatest word in the whole of human history.
What multitudes have been rescued from despair by the story of the penitent thief, saved and blessed at the eleventh hour, when it seemed too late even for heaven’s mercy? Yet of that penitent thief we never should have heard, nor of his cry, nor of the Lord’s “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise,” had He drunk of that stupefying drug. A poorer Bible and a poorer Christendom–was our Lord conscious of all that? I do not know; the Scripture does not tell us. No man can fathom the consciousness of Jesus. I only know we should have lost forever the seven words upon the Cross, had He not refused to drink the offered draught.
He Wanted to be Our Brother in Suffering
One wonders, too, if in that great refusal our Lord was not thinking of His own. For in spite of all the advances of our knowledge, suffering is still terribly real. This is the story of a preacher who had a dying friend, of his boyhood’s home who suffered from an excruciating trouble. He was a genuinely Christian man, who had been active in the service of the Kingdom. And when friends stooped down to catch what he was whispering as he lay at last upon his bed of agony, what they heard was, “He suffered more for me.” Was our Lord thinking of that follower when He came to Golgotha that day? Did He resolve that He would be a Brother, down to the very depths of human agony? It would be so like Him if that were in His heart when–facing the untold agony of Calvary–He refused to drink the wine mingled with gall.