"There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it" (Matt. 27:34).
In the middle of the story of the Crucifixion, as Jesus arrives at Golgotha, someone offers him a drink which he refuses. Why? The answer to that question has implications for our salvation.
The first thing to note is that what he was being offered was not just the regular wine that everyone drank. In fact, while Jesus hung upon the cross, he later accepts a drink of "wine vinegar" (Matt. 27:48; Mark 15:36; Luke 23:36; John 19:28-30). This occurs at the end of his ordeal.
The one offered before he was crucified was refused. The one offered at the end of the crucifixion was received.
The difference between these two drinks is important to note.
Mark tells us that the first drink was "wine mixed with myrrh" (Mark 15:23). Mark's Gospel is generally accepted to be the earliest one and Matthew drew upon it for his work. So, Matthew changes the specific word "myrrh" for a more generic word that really means "something bitter." You see, Matthew, throughout his Gospel, wants to emphasize that Jesus, in all He did, was fulfilling the scriptures. And here, he changes the word to
reflect the fulfillment of Psalm 69:21, "They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst."
For both Matthew and Mark, the point is that Jesus was being offered a pain-killing drink, a kind of narcotic that would help him through the experience in a drugged state. It was like offering Him a shot of morphine to put him into a stupor.
Jesus refused to deaden the pain of His ordeal. Why? Because He needed to bear the entire weight of mankind's sin and our offense against God. To numb the pain would be to lessen the efficacy of His substitutionary act of atonement. Jesus was not willing that anyone should perish and so He needed to be fully present to the task at hand.
For those of us who struggle with any kind of addiction (and that is probably all of us), we can find comfort that Jesus died for us, fully present to our pain, rather than opt for self-medication. Avoidance of pain is the essence of addiction. I am grateful that Jesus did not avoid the pain, but fully embraced the cross so that I can be fully free.
So, if Jesus refused the first drink, why did He accept the second one?
As John's Gospel makes clear in 19:28-30, Jesus was thirsty after completing the work of atonement. He had one more thing to do, and that was to fulfill the scripture quoted above, "and gave me vinegar for my drink." This drink was entirely different.
You see, people didn't really drink plain water very much. That is because the quality of the water was generally poor. Often they would mix it with wine vinegar to kill germs (although they would not know there were such things as germs). This drink would have refreshed Jesus and woken Him to the moment. Instead of avoiding the painful trial, it would have sharpened His senses.
In other words, Jesus wanted to stay alert until the very end. No swooning. No passing out. Even with the blood loss and probable dehydration, He stayed fully alert until the end. That is why He could cry out in a loud voice His final word from the cross, "Tetelestai" which means "It is finished!" Our obedient Savior had pushed through the pain and humiliation and temptation to quit and had completed the task that the Father had sent Him to accomplish, the atonement for ALL sin for ALL people for ALL time.
"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--YET HE DID NOT SIN. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Heb. 4:14-16).
"But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands...He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption" (Her. 9:11-12).