The Determination of Christ to Suffer for His People
“And they gave him to drink wino mingled with myrrh: but he received it not.” — Mark xv. 23.
OUR Saviour, before he was nailed to the cross, and on the cross, several times had drinks of different sorts offered to him. Whilst they were nailing him to the cross, they endeavoured to make him drink wine, or vinegar as it is called, mingled with gall; and when he had tasted of it, — he did taste it,— he would not drink it When he was on the cross, the soldiers, mocking him, offered him vinegar, or their weak drink of which they ordinarily partook, pledging him in their cups with scorn. And once more, when he said, “I thirst,” they took a sponge filled with vinegar, dipped it in hyssop, and put it to his lips.
This occasion of offering the wine mingled with myrrh is, I believe, different from all the rest. This wine mingled with myrrh was given to him as an act of mercy. Matthew Henry seems to think that it was prepared by those holy women who were wont to attend to the necessities of our Lord. They had followed him in all his footsteps whithersoever he went; it was by their bounty that the bag which Judas kept was generally as full as it was required to be, so that out of the store they could go and buy meat for their Master and for his disciples. It was these holy women who prepared the spices to embalm him at his burial; and Matthew Henry thinks that these women, prompted by their compassion for him, got ready this cup of wine mingled with myrrh, that he might be strengthened for his miseries, and that those miseries might in some degree be alleviated by the partial stupefaction which a strong draught of wine and myrrh would give to him.
This time, our Saviour positively declined the cup: “he received it not.” The wormwood he tasted, but this he received not at all; he would have nothing to do with it. Why? The answer is not to be found in our Saviour’s abstemiousness, for he was not abstemious; he was never self-indulgent, but he certainly was never abstemious. He was “the Son of man” who “came eating and drinking;” he felt no repugnance to wine; he himself made it, he himself drank it; he even earned for himself the name, “a gluttonous man and a winebibber”; not deservedly, but because, in contrast to John, who abstemiously refrained from ordinary food, Jesus Christ sat down with publicans and sinners, feasted with the feasters, and ate and drank like other men. Nor do I think the reason is to be found in any love of pain that Christ had, nor in any heartless bravado, which would lead him to say, “I will suffer, and I will put the cup away from me.” Far be that from Christ; he never thrust himself in the way of suffering when it was unnecessary; he did not go to give himself up into the hands of his enemies before his hour was come; he avoided persecution when the avoidance of the persecution would not be an injury to his cause; he withdrew out of Judaea, and would not walk in that land, because of Herod, who sought to slay him. I believe that, if our Saviour had not been the atoning sacrifice, if his sufferings had been merely those of a martyr, he would have quaffed to the very dregs the cup that was offered him, and would not have left any of it. The reason why he refused the cup, I think, is to be found in another thing altogether.
There is a glorious idea couched in the fact that the Saviour put the myrrhed wine-cup entirely away from his lips. On the heights of heaven the Son of God stood of old, and he looked down and measured how far it was to the utmost depths of misery; he cast up the sum total of all the agonies which a man must endure to descend to the utmost depths of pain and misery. He determined that, to be a faithful High Priest, and also to be a suffering one, he would go the whole way, from the highest to the lowest, “from the highest throne in glory to the cross of deepest woe.” This myrrhed cup would just have stopped him within a little of the utmost limit of misery; therefore, he said, “I will not stop half-way, but I will go all the way; and if this cup can mitigate my sorrow, that is just the reason why I will not drink it, for I have determined that to the utmost lengths of misery I will go, that I will do, and bear, and suffer all that Incarnate God can bear for my people, in my own mortal body.”
Now, beloved, it is this fact that I wish to bring out before you — the fact that Jesus Christ came into the world to suffer, and that because the myrrhed cup would have prevented him from reaching the lowest step of misery, “he received it not.” I shall have to show you, first, that this was very frequently the case throughout his life, that he would not take a step which would have diminished his miseries, because he was determined to go the whole length of suffering. Secondly, I shall try to show you the reason for this determination. Then, thirdly, I shall close up by speaking of the lesson that we may learn from it.
I. OUR SAVIOUR WOULD GO THE WHOLE LENGTH OF MISERY; he would suffer in every respect like as we suffer; he would bear the whole of the tortures of atonement, without even the slightest shadow of mitigation or alleviation. Now, I think I can show you that, on many occasions in Christ’s life, he determined to be tempted in every point in which men are tempted, and to be tempted to the utmost limit of the power of temptation; nor would he even accept anything which would have limited the force of the temptation upon man. I will give you some proofs of this. First, Christ knew that you and I would he exposed to peril; he therefore determined that he would be exposed to peril, too, and that he would not by any means, when it was in his power, escape from the peril. Let me show him to you high up there, on the pinnacle of the temple; there stands our Master, and a fiend by his side, on a giddy eminence, with but little beneath his feet; he stands poised aloft, he looks down the hill on which the temple is built, into the depths below; and the enemy says, “Cast thyself down, commit thyself to the care of the angels.” It was like this myrrhed cup — “Do not stand in this peril; cast thyself upon that promise, and risk thyself upon the angels’ wings, for they shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.” But like as he would not receive this cup, so neither would he receive this deliverance from his peril; but there he stood erect, confident in his God, not using the means of deliverance which the tempter wished him to exercise, even as he would not drink this cup.
Take another case: Jesus Christ knew that many of his people would have to suffer bodily wants, and poverty, and woe. He therefore hungered; after forty days’ fast, when he might have delivered himself from his hunger by turning stones into bread, one would have said, “It would have been a very innocent act to turn stones into bread, and feed himself;” but, “No,” says Christ to the gnawing pangs of hunger, “I will let you go as far as you can; I will not turn these stones into bread; I will let hunger exercise all its power upon me; I will let my body be gnawed by its fierce teeth; I will not mitigate its misery.” He would not receive that wine mingled with myrrh that the devil offered him in the wilderness, when he tempted him to make the stones into bread; he would not take the mitigation of his misery.
I will tell you another case. Many men have attempted to have their lives cut short because they have so much misery, and no more hope of being happy, therefore they have wished for death; they have wished that they might be as the untimely birth, that they might be shut up in the bowels of the earth for ever. They have longed for death, and desired it; and if an opportunity had cast itself in their way in which they might have died with honour, without having even the disgrace of suicide, how many would have accepted the alternative of death! Here is our Saviour in the same condition; for he is dragged to the brow of the hill of Nazareth. O Son of man, thy wisest choice is to be dashed down the sides of the hill on which the city is built! If thou art wise, thou wilt let them hurl thee headlong; there would be an end of all thy misery, for there are years before thee through which thou wilt be roasted at the slow fire of persecution, and afterwards thou wilt have to pass through floods of deepest misery. Do you not think the temptation started up in his mind, “Let yourself be cast down”? He knew all about it. Had he been cast down, he would have died an honourable death, like the death of a prophet slain in his own country; but no, “passing through the midst of them, he went his way,” because, as he refused the wine-cup, so he refused a hasty death, which would have delivered him from his miseries.
Do you not observe that I have only just given you specimens? You will find that all through the Saviour’s life it was just the same. You will not find him in one instance working a miracle to lessen his own bodily fatigue, or to alleviate his own bodily wants and necessities, but always letting the ills of this life wreak themselves upon him with all their fury. He hushed the winds once, but it was for his disciples, not for himself; he lay in the ship asleep, and let the waves toss him up and down as much as they pleased. He multiplied the loaves and fishes; but it was for the multitude, not for himself. He could find money in a fish’s mouth: but it was to pay the tribute, not for himself. He could scatter mercies wherever he went, — open men’s eyes, and deliver many of them from pains: he never exercised any of his skill upon himself. If the wind blew, he let it spend itself upon his cheeks, and crack them; if the cold was bitter, he let the cold come round him, as it did in the garden of Gethsemane; if journeying was troublesome, he journeyed where he might have travelled as his Father did; as old Thomas Sternhold says in his fine translation of the Psalms —
“The Lord descended from above,
And bow’d the heavens most high,
And underneath his feet he cast
The darkness of the sky.
“On cherub and on cherubim
Full royally he rode,
And on the wings of mighty winds
Came flying all abroad.”
So might Jesus, if he pleased, but he journeyed on in weariness. He might have made the water leap out of the well to his hand, but there he sat and thirsted, while he had power to make fountains gush even from the stone on which he sat. On the cross, “I thirst,” was his cry; and yet, if he pleased, he might have opened in himself rivers of living water; he had them for others, but he had none for himself. You will observe this fact that, in all the history of Christ, never once did he take anything which could have lessened his miseries, but he went the whole length; and as on this occasion he refused the wine drugged with myrrh, so never did he receive anything that had a tendency to prevent him from going to the requisite lengths of suffering.
II. Now let me show you THE REASON FOR THIS. Was it out of any love to suffering that he thus refused the wine-cup? Ah, no; Christ had no love of suffering. He had a love of souls, but like us he turned away from suffering, he never loved it. We see he did not, for even in the garden he said, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” It was his human nature struggling against suffering, as human nature rightfully does. God has made us so that we do not naturally love suffering, and it is not wrong for us to feel some repugnance to it, for God has implanted that repugnance in us. Christ did not sulfur because he loved suffering. Why, then, did he suffer? For two reasons: because this suffering to the utmost was necessary to the completion of the atonement, which saves to the utmost; and because this suffering to the utmost was necessary to perfect his character as “a merciful High Priest” who has to compassionate souls that have gone to the utmost of miseries themselves; that he might know how to succour them that are tempted.
First, I say it was necessary to make the atonement complete. I do think that, if our Saviour had drunk this myrrhed cup, the atonement would not have been valid. It strikes me that, if he had drunk this wine mingled with myrrh, he could not have suffered to the extent that was absolutely necessary. We believe Christ did, on the cross, suffer just enough, and not one particle more than was necessary for the redemption of his people. If, then, this wine-cup had taken away a part of his sufferings, the ransom price would not have been fully complete, it would not have been fully paid. And if it had but taken away so much as a grain, the atonement would not have been sufficiently satisfactory. If a man’s ransom is to be paid, it must be all paid; for though but one single farthing be left unpaid, the man is not fully redeemed, and he is not yet totally free. If, then, this drinking of the wine-cup had taken out the smallest amount from that fearful price of agony which our Saviour paid, the atonement would have been insufficient — insufficient only to a degree, but even insufficiency to a degree, however small, would have been enough to have caused perpetual despair, yea, enough to have shut the gates of heaven against all believers. The utmost farthing must be paid; inexorable justice never did yet omit so much as a fraction of its claim. Nor would it in this case have exonerated in any measure; Christ must pay it all. The wine-cup would have prevented his doing that, therefore he would suffer and go the whole length of suffering; he would not stop, but would go through it all.
Again, I say it was that he might be made a compassionate High Priest. Someone might have said, “When my Master died, he did not suffer much. He suffered somewhat, but the wine-cup prevented much suffering. I dare not touch the wine-cup; at least, I dare not take it so as to alleviate my sufferings at all; then I must suffer more than ho, for that drugged wine I must not drink. Surely, then, my Master cannot sympathize with me, if I for conscientious motives bear suffering without accepting alleviations which some think are wrong.” “Nay,” said the Master, “nay, you shall never say that. If you have to suffer without a comfort, I will let you know that I suffered without a comfort, too.” You say, “Oh, if I had some myrrh given me which could mitigate my woe, it were well!” “Ah!” says the Saviour, “but I have had it offered to me, and I will not drink it, in order that you may see that I suffered woe without the comfort, without the cordial, without the consolation, which you think would enable you to endure it.” O blessed Lord Jesus, thou wast “tempted in all points like as we are”! Blessed be thy name! This myrrh-cup could have put a plate of steel upon thy breast, it would have blunted many darts of suffering; therefore thou didst put it aside that thou mightest, naked suffer every shaft to find its target in thy heart. This myrrh-cup would have steeled thy feelings, so that thou couldst not be rent by the whips of anguish; therefore thou wouldst not take its steeling influence, its hardening qualities. Thou, who didst stoop to become a poor, weak worm, “a worm and no man,” didst bear the agony, without making the agony less, or strengthening thine own body to bear it. O blessed High Priest! Go to him, ye tried and tempted ones; go to him, and cast your burdens on him; he can bear them, he has borne burdens heavier than yours before. Cast your burden on the Lord, as his shoulders can sustain it; and his shoulders, that have borne trouble without comfort, can bear your troubles, though they be comfortless ones, too. Do but tell them to your Master, and you shall never find a lack of sympathy in him.
III. And now, what have we to say by way of A LESSON for this short discourse?
When Christ was offered this cup, he would not receive it. Sometimes, beloved, it is in your power to escape from sufferings for Christ’s sake; and you may rightly do so, if you can escape from them without injuring the mission upon which your Father has sent you; for as he sent his Son into the world, even so has he sent you into the world. You have your mission; and there are times when the acceptance of a cordial, or the reception of an escape from peril, would be a degradation to your high dignity, an injury to your office; and therefore there are times when you should decline even the cup of consolation itself. You and I are called to hold fellowship with Christ in his sufferings; perhaps our business places us where we have to hold fellowship with Christ in the suffering of contempt. The finger is pointed at us; the lip is sometimes protruded in derision; sometimes an expression is used towards us, calling us a hypocrite, a cant, a formalist. You may be apt to think, “Oh, that I could avoid all this! I wish I could escape.” Can you avoid it, and serve your Master as well? If you can, then drink the myrrh-cup, and avoid the misery; but if you cannot, and if it is proven that your position is one of duty, and one in which you can honour your Master, it is at your peril that you exchange your situation for an easier one, if you exchange it for one less useful.
“Oh!” says one, “I work among wicked men, and I have to bear a testimony for truth in their midst; may I not leave the place at once? I feel that I am doing good there; but the jeers and taunts are so hard to bear, that the good I do seems to be always counterbalanced by the misery I suffer.” Take care, take care, lest you let the flesh prevail over the spirit. It would be like a myrrh-cup to you, for you to leave your situation, and go to another; it would be the removal of your pain; ponder a long time before you do it, weigh it well. If your Maker has put you there, to suffer for his name’s sake, come not down from the cross to which he has nailed you by a daily crucifixion, till you have suffered all; and take not the myrrh-cup of an escape until you have borne all for Christ. I think it was holy Polycarp who, when the soldiers came to him to take him to prison, made his escape; but when he found afterwards that his doing so had dispirited some Christians, and had been attributed to his cowardice, when next the soldiers presented themselves, and he had an opportunity to escape, “No,” he said, “let me die.” It had been foolhardy of him, if he had run into the teeth of men the first time, in order to be put to death; but when he saw that he would serve his Master better by his death than by his life, it would have been an unrighteous thing if he had drunk of the wine-cup, if he had made his escape, and not died for his Master’s sake.
O my brethren, I do think that there are many cordials which the world, too, has to offer to the Christian which he must not drink at all, because if his Master wishes him to have fellowship with him in his suffering, it is his to suffer so far as his Master wills. You are perhaps a man or a woman of a sorrowful spirit; you are given to solitude and loneliness. There are certain amusements, which some men say are harmless; they tell you that they are meant for you, and ask you to go and take them. You think, “Well, in my low state, surely I might take these things. If I were happy and joyous, I should not need them; but surely, my Father, ‘like as a father pitieth his children,’ will pity me; and if I do these things, and do them merely for temporary comfort, my heart seems as though it would break if I had not this little temporary excitement.” Take care, take care, that it is not the wine-cup that prevents you, my friends. If your Master gives you the wine-cup, the golden wine-cup filled with the precious wine of the covenant, the strong promises, and sweet fellowship in Christ, drink it without a moment’s hesitation, and be glad, for God has said, “Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish;” and this is the strong drink he gives to you in the golden wine-cup of the Saviour’s fellowship. Drink it, and be happy. But if men would offer it to you, look many a time before you drink it. It may be, you may be right in drinking it, it may not be a wrong thing; but it may be, too, that even a thing that is innocent to others, may be wrong to you; and the taking of that amusement and pleasure into your hand, might be like our Saviour’s taking the myrrh-cup and drinking it. It would be a stultifying you, a preventing you from learning all the lessons of your misery, from going in all the steps of your Redeemer, who wishes us to follow him through all the miseries which he has ordained for us, that they may be the means of fellowship with him in his suffering.
This is the only lesson I desire to give you at this time. If the Lord impress it on our minds, it may be of use to us. Only let me say, how many there are who would have drunk this wine-cup, if it had been offered to them! Your Saviour has taken from you the desire of your eyes with a stroke; he has robbed you of one who is dear and near to you. Say, Christian, if you had had the myrrh-cup put before you, if it had been said, “If you like, that loved one of yours shall live,” if it had been offered to you that the life that has been taken away should be spared, could you with fortitude have said, “Not my will, but thine, be done”? Could you have put it away, and said, “No, my Master, if this cup may not pass from me except I drink it, thy will be done. And what is more, if it may pass from me, if I need not suffering, yet if I can honour thee more by suffering, and if the loss of my beloved one will serve thee and please thee, then so let it be, Drink it I refuse the comfort, when it comes in the way of thine honour; I reject the favoured mercy if it comes in the teeth of thy glory. I am willing to suffer; thy consolations I care not for; if I can honour thee better without them, I will do without them?”
There are some among you in the habiliments of mourning. Let me just, in conclusion, note a very beautiful thought of a good man on a passage of Scripture. Jesus says in his prayer, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.” Do you know why good men die? Do you know why the righteous die? Shall I tell you what it is that kills them? It is Christ’s prayer — “Father, I will that they be with me.” It is that that fetches them up to heaven. They would stop here, if Christ did not pray them to death. Every time a believer mounts from this earth to heaven, it is caused by Christ’s prayer. “Now,” says this good old divine, “many times Christ and his people pull against one another in prayer. You bend your knee in prayer, and say, ‘Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me be with me where I am;’ Christ bends his knee, and says, ‘Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me be with me where I am.’” So, you see, one gets hold of him, and the other, too. He cannot be in both places; the beloved one cannot be with Christ and with you, too. Now, what shall be the answer? Put the prayers side by side; you are praying, “Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me be with me where I am;” and there is your Saviour, praying that they may be with him where he is. Now, if you had your choice; if the King should step from his throne, and say, “Here are two supplicants; they are praying opposite to one another; their prayers are clearly contrary to each other; I cannot answer them both;” oh, I am sure, though it were agony, you would start from your feet, and say, “Jesus, not my will, but thine, be done.” You would give up your prayer for your sick husband’s life, for your sick wife’s life, for your dying child’s life, if you could realize the thought that Christ was praying in the opposite direction, “Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me be with me where I am.”
And now we come to the supper of our Master; oh, may the Master give us fellowship with him! Poor sinners that know not Christ, I have hardly a moment in which to address you; but remember, the separation which will be made between you and the church to-night is but a picture of an awful separation which shall be made between you and the church at the last great day. You will sit upstairs, some of you, to look down upon the solemnity: remember, you may look upon it here, but you will not look upon it in heaven, unless your hearts be made new by Christ, and unless you be washed in his precious blood.