Book of Mark

The Wine Jesus Refused (Mark 15:22-23)

Christ at the Column by Caravaggio via Public Domain
Christ at the Column by Caravaggio via Public Domain

Pray

Secure my spirit in your Holy Spirit.
Plant my feet firmly in your word.
Establish the rhythm of my heart,
and know me, God, in this moment,
in this life.*

Read

Today I am picking up with two verses:

And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. (Mark 15:22-23, ESV)

Reflect

There is a scene in Little Women where Jo is in the early stages of her relationship with the Professor. He is sitting in the salon of the boarding house with a handful of other men discussing politics and philosophy over drinks. Their conversation goes something like this (I’m recalling from memory, here): Professor Baer offers Jo a glass of wine, and she declines.

“You don’t drink, Miss March?” he asks.

“Only medicinally,” she replies.

“Then pretend you have a cold,” he says playfully, handing her a glass.

I think about this story every so often. I enjoy wine socially, and many of my friends do as well. While I do have a few dear friends who are in recovery and don’t drink at all, on the whole, wine is part of my social life. And I’ve noticed that, even when you don’t abuse alcohol or drink excessively, there is an effect that goes with having a glass of wine. A glass of wine can help, as they say, “take the edge off.” Senses are somewhat dulled, inhibitions are slightly tamed and, for many, laughter comes a bit more loudly, a bit more easily.

While there are Christian traditions that don’t celebrate this at all, and in fact have placed a moratorium on drinking alcohol of any sort, the Bible does not seem to place the same carte blanche restrictions on wine, even recognizing it’s “gladdening” properties as a gift from God. God, says Psalm 104, causes the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that “he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.” A vat bursting with wine is a symbol of God’s provision for those who honor him (Proverbs 3:10), and, yes, wine is also meant to be used medicinally, as Paul prescribed to Timothy in his first letter.

This is significant in the light of Mark 15:22-23. “They offered him wine mixed with myrrh,” writes the author, “but he did not take it.” Jesus would have been totally within his rights to accept the offering of wine to help take the edge off. It would not have been sin. No one would have blamed him for taking a bit of wine to help dull his senses a bit. Of course, no amount of wine would have totally numbed his excruciating pain, yet he could have had a sip or two, just something to help, a little. As someone who loves him, I would have wanted him to! Anything to ease the pain of the cross!!

As we inch our way through the book of Mark, these are the kinds of details we discover—details that we might otherwise scan past in our efforts to get to the end, the good part, the part where he rises again. But today, in these two verses, we notice this simple yet profound fact: given a choice, Jesus opted to go to the cross with a totally clear head. Given the opportunity to have even a slight bit of relief from the anguish, Jesus did not take it.

He bore the full weight of suffering, fully aware.

He did not accept anything to help numb his pain.

He did not rely on anything but the power of the Holy Spirit to get through that dark day.

This tells me that Jesus made it to the cross because of no other reason than the joy that was set before him (Hebrews 12:2). He did not grit his teeth and tolerate the cross. He did not just get through it. And he did not rely on something to help take his mind off of what he was there to do. No, Jesus remained fully aware and fully sensitized to the pain—and to the joy of redeeming humankind. And that is how he endured the cross.

(One of my husband’s early spiritual mentors was Bill Lane, who wrote a commentary on the book of Mark. In this post on Desiring God’s web site, David Mathis draws from Bill’s commentary to give a bit more context to this passage. I recommend clicking through and reading this post as well.)

Jesus relied only on the strength that God the Holy Spirit gave him. Making his way to the cross, he was offered something with narcotic effects that is often used to give people a sense of strength—you might have heard of “liquid courage?” But Jesus rejected this offering from men and looked only to God for strength.

Apply

Let’s spend a few moments with this fact. Think about a time when you have been in pain—physical or emotional. How long did you wait for something to help ease that pain? I suffer regularly with menstrual cramps. At the very first sign of pain, I start popping acetaminophen. I do not like to be in pain. Sometimes, at the end of a long day, I have a glass of wine. It helps me relax, it helps gladden my heart (Psalm 104:15)—not something to abuse, but something to receive gratefully as a gift from God. And it is also worth noting that there were times when Jesus did enjoy a glass of wine—at feasts and parties—remember his first miracle?

Yet when it came to the cross, our Lord suffered on our behalf with nothing to ease his pain except the joy set before him, the joy that trumped pain in the end. Meditating on this fact fosters in me a sense of deepening gratitude and awareness for even the one-sentence details of what my Lord endured (“And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.”) It also convicts me of times I should draw healing, strength and peace from God, but choose instead to turn to food, people, or sleep. And while I don’t think it is wrong for us, his followers, to use medicine—be it something created in a lab or something fermented in a vat—it is noteworthy and praiseworthy that, when it came to bearing the weight of the world’s sin on his shoulders, our savior faced it with a totally clear mind and pure, inhibited love for the sinful world he was dying to save.

*This prayer comes from Canyon Road, a beautiful new collection of prayers written by Kari Kristina Reeves. I have been using this book a lot in my personal devotions lately and highly recommend it. 

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