The Last of the Vinegar

March 12, 2006 / No. 3297

Dear radio friends,

     Today we begin a spiritual journey.  By faith we seek to go to the cross of Calvary and there behold Him, God’s very Son, who suffered and died upon Calvary’s cross that we might have life eternal.  We desire to go by faith, guided by the infallible Holy Scriptures, to be brought before Him who was crucified and there, by faith, to confess that He died for me in order that I might forever live through Him.  May God bless us as we turn our attention to the sufferings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

     We begin today in Mark 15:35-37.  There we read these words:  “And some of them that stood by, when they heart it, said, Behold, he calleth Elias.  And one ran and filled a sponge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down.  And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.”  Our message today will be entitled:  The Last of the Vinegar.

     But we want to begin by asking a simple question:  Why did Jesus die on the cross?  Anyone who is acquainted with the Bible knows that its theme is:  Jesus of Nazareth was crucified.  We who are the recipients of the precious Reformed and biblical faith know that the death of the Savior was the one central point in the counsel of almighty God.  That, from all eternity in the mind of God, He had willed to give His Son to die upon a cross.  So we say that the cross is the center of time and eternity.  All leads to it, all sense isdetermined by it.  For instance, we read these words of the apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:23:  “Him [that is, Jesus] being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.”  He was delivered by God’s determinate counsel.  God determined this to be done in His eternal thoughts and counsel.  Jesus was not taken there in an inescapable, tragic chain of events, but He was brought there deliberately by the almighty God Himself.  The cross is the center of God’s eternal plan.

     But the question is this:  Why?  Why did Jesus die on that cross?  That is no little question.  That is nothing to trifle with.  Did Jesus die on the cross merely to influence us to live sacrificially for others?  Did Jesus die on the cross to inspire us to do something for Him or something for the downtrodden?  Did Jesus die on the cross to produce the emotions that people have when, perhaps, they leave the popular film “The Passion of the Christ”?  Is that why He died?  Did Christ die on the cross to show the necessity of some deterrent against sin, to say that God could possibly do this to you, too?  He could make you suffer likewise if you do not believe in Him?  Is that why He died on the cross?

     To all of those, a resounding “No!”  What is the answer of the Bible?  This:  the Son of God, in our human flesh, died on the cross to pay the penalty for the sin of God’s elect, for the sins of those whom the Father had given to Him (John 10) in a gracious decision of eternal election.  He died in order to pay what we could not, the penalty for our sin, and to make us what we could never make ourselves to be, namely, right with the holy and perfect God.  Why did He die on the cross?  He died to save our souls from the debt and from the power of sin so that He might present us before the throne of God without spot or wrinkle (Eph. 5).

     Do you know the answer to the question:  Why did Jesus die on the cross?  Do you know the answer this way, that you say:  “He died for me.  He went to the cross to pay for my sin and to deliver me from my sin so that now I might live forever before His face”?  Listen to these words from II Corinthians 5:14, 15:  “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:  and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.”  He died for us, for our sins, that we might now live unto Him.

     The verses that I read from Mark 15 bring us to the final moments of the cross of Calvary, when at last Jesus dies upon the cross.  These events happened shortly after the three hours of darkness.

     Jesus was nailed to the cross at 9:00 on Friday morning.  For the first three hours, until noon, there was light, and His enemies sat before the cross to deride and mock Him.  At 12:00 noon, a thick darkness descended upon the earth.  And for three hours it hung.  There was total silence until at last those three hours were concluded with the cry that Jesus uttered from the cross:  “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”  He has descended into hell.  That is, the hell of suffering that God’s people deserved was, during those three hours, poured into His own Son’s soul.

     Now we come (in Mark 15:35ff.) to the last five or ten minutes of the cross, after God has brought back the light, and the darkness of our death and hell has been swallowed by the heart of Jesus.  Now the Scriptures will tell us how He died and will assure us that, before He died, He gave signs that He had removed our sin and our guilt and had earned for us the Father’s hand of love.

     In His last moments on the cross, then, Jesus is saying, “I left nothing undone.  I fulfilled all my Father’s will.  I endured all.  I left not so much as a speck of guilt or sin unpunished upon you.  I endured it all.”  That is seen when He drank the vinegar.

     Notice with me, first of all, that the final act of mockery and derision is cast upon Him.  When He cried out, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” those at the cross said, “Behold, He calls for Elijah.”  He cried out, literally, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”  God, as I said, had brought back light to Calvary.  The three hours of darkness in which all the world was silent and Jesus endured the horrible abandonment of God for our sins are over.  The sun is shining again.  You would think that such a sign of God — pitch darkness at noonday for three hours — would have silenced the tongue of sin for at least a little bit.  But, no.  We read, “And some of them that stood by, when they heard it [that is, when they heard Him cry:  Eli, Eli], said, Behold, he calleth Elias.”  Some of them, we read.  That is, some of the Jews and the scribes and the priests that were there.  For among them there was the common Messianic expectation that when Christ would come, the prophet Elijah would be resurrected.  We read in Mark 9:11-13 these words:  “And they [that is, His disciples] asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come?  And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought.  But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him.”  The scribes expected that when Christ would come there would be an actual visitation of Elijah the prophet who had been taken up in a fiery chariot.  They had that mistaken understanding based on a misinterpretation of Malachi 4:5, where God said, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.”  That was a reference to John the Baptist.  And Jesus told His disciples that Elijah did indeed come, that it was fulfilled in the ministry of John the Baptist.  But they did not heed the words of John the Baptist.  John the Baptist, we are told (Luke 1:17), came in the spirit and in the power of Elijah.

     So this is what happened.  In the darkness the mouths of His enemies were shut.  But now, as the light returns and as Christ has just pierced the silence with the cry, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” they hear those words and make His cry out to be a cry for Elijah to come and to help Him.  The Lord’s words were clear.  Jesus cried with a loud voice:  “Eli,” which means “My God.”  But the unbelieving Jews take the first syllable “El,” and make a taunt out of it.  They taunt Him and say, “Oh, He must be crying for Elijah to be resurrected and to come and to help Him.”  Their blasphemous swagger has come back with the light of the day and they take the most sacred cry that the earth has ever heard and twist it into scorn.  The most sacred cry was, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”  And they say, “Oh, He’s calling for Elijah to help Him out of this mess.  We told Him,” they say, “to cry to God and see if God would deliver Him.  We told Him to deliver Himself and then we would believe Him.  Now He’s calling for Elijah.  So,” they say, “let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”

     Let us pause for a moment of application.  Sin is seen for what it is at the cross of Calvary.  The picture of the human heart at the cross is not pretty.  Look in horror upon the condition of our hearts apart from the grace of God changing it.  God has just shocked them.  He has just struck them dumb with three hours of darkness.  And, no sooner does He stop the miracle of the darkness and things are back to normal, and they gaze upon Him and they pick up where they had left off.  They had been ridiculing Him.  Now they pick it up.  His cry to God they make as an instrument of jest and ridicule.

     That is the human heart, that is sin.  If left to ourselves, no matter how shocked, it goes back.  God can speak.  Perhaps a high school classmate dies.  Perhaps some tragic event happens.  Perhaps some shocking catastrophe befalls your community.  But the human nature, in a very short time, goes back to bragging about who scored with whom, about drugs and drunkenness and parties.  Only grace can change, only grace can give us to sigh and to grieve over how callous, how awful, is our sin.  For, of ourselves, the flesh can get shocked and be quiet for a little bit, but it soon returns to its vomit.

     The text, though, is focusing our faith upon Jesus, in the words of triumph, that He has left nothing undone.  For we read that they offered to Him some vinegar upon a sponge and He received that vinegar.  In Psalm 69:21, a prophecy of the suffering of Jesus, we find these words:  “They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”  In order that the Scripture might yet be fulfilled, when they were crucifying Him they had offered Him vinegar to drink, mingled with gall.  We read in Matthew 27:34, “And when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.”  That vinegar, when He had first been crucified, was diluted with wine for the purpose of dulling His senses and His nerve endings.  He would not drink it.  But now they offer Him straight vinegar in a sponge upon a rod.  And John 19:28 unlocks the passage to our understanding, for we read:  “After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.”  When the light had returned and all things were accomplished, Jesus said, “I thirst,” so that they would offer Him vinegar, so that Psalm 69 might be fulfilled.  And that is what happened.  We read, “One ran and filled a sponge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed [a pole], and gave him to drink.”  And in John 19 we read that when Jesus had received the vinegar, He cried, “It is finished.”

     Undiluted vinegar is undrinkable.  To offer it to the parched lips of a dying man is cruelty.  The vinegar was not an act of kindness or consideration.  It was sour.  Try to drink vinegar once.  It needs to be diluted.  It is like trying to drink straight lemon concentrate.  It is unbearable.  But Jesus received the vinegar.  They offered it to Him upon a sponge.  And He sucked all the vinegar out of the sponge.

     The vinegar is the representation of the sourness of our sin.  All that makes us miserable and brings our lives into misery so that we would, if we could, spit it out; all the distasteful, all the spew-out of our sin — Jesus received it.  Not a drop did He leave behind.  With His mouth He sucked the sponge dry.  In that act, He was saying, “Upon My cross I have left nothing behind.  I have left nothing unendured.”  It was a sign to us that as the Good Shepherd He has sought out all our reproach, He has hunted down all the judgment that we had coming, He left behind no sin unpunished in His suffering.  He is not as a conqueror who left the enemy behind.  He did not simply fight in order that there would be a battle yet again.  No.  He endured all the suffering that our sin deserved.  He endured it all.  He left nothing behind.  He drank the last of the vinegar.

     So the Scriptures may proclaim to us in that glorious passage (Rom. 8:1), “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.”  Let this glorious gospel shine and flood into your heart today.  There is one perfect, full, complete payment for sin.  Only one.  It is on the cross.  If you do not look for the forgiveness of sins there, you will not have it.  You will not find it.  Jesus did it all!  All to Him we owe.  No other act, past, present, or future, can take away sin, can endure the suffering for sins.  It does not have to.  Because Jesus endured all the suffering that the sins of His people deserved.

     The light has returned to Calvary.  Now, to show to us the heart of Jesus (yes, the heart of sin — we saw the heart of sin being displayed at the cross — but now we see the heart of our Savior who has been crucified for us and who loves us), He receives this vinegar upon the sponge showing us that no sourness of God’s disfavor, no bitterness of wrath, has been left untouched by Him.  He has sucked it dry.  He has endured it all.

     Let us apply that in two simple ways.

     Jesus has obtained for us the favor of God.  You may today receive from the hand of God what is very difficult, what is very hard to take.  You might say that this is vinegar — this is impossible for my flesh to endure, it is impossible to see any good in this.  It may be the loneliness of old age.  It may be the knife of anxiety piercing your heart.  It may be concerning your child’s spiritual life or lack thereof.  It may be some private depression or private burden.  It is something very bitter, very hard.  But God says, “There is no wrath in that.  There is no bitterness from Me.  Jesus drank that.”  God says that now our trials and sufferings come to us in the love and wisdom of God to profit us and to perfect us.  Upon the basis of the cross we declare and believe that God is not dealing with His people in judgment, but He deals with us in Christ.  And the vinegar of the wrath and the curse of our sin is all gone.

     The second simple application is this.  This must motivate us to godliness.  Can you find entertainment, pleasure, and fun in the bitterness and dregs of sin?  Where we go and get drunk and drink in sin, will we entertain ourselves with the lusts and the perversions of the television, the magazines?  Will we please ourselves and our flesh in every sin, the very sins for which He was consumed and died?  Shall we try to suck pleasure out of lust?  Shall we try to hide ourselves with lies?  Do you see Him on the cross, child of God?  They offered Him undiluted vinegar.  And He received it.  All the sour, bitter dregs of sin’s punishment He took upon Himself.  Why?  So that we might go on in sin?  God forbid!  That is blasphemy!  So that we might drink of the favor of God and so that we might now live in godliness, thereby expressing our joy and our thanksgiving for what He has done.

     Hear the gospel.  Jesus made it unmistakably clear that He left behind nothing.  No sin, no wrath, no curse owed to our sin was left behind by Him.  But He endured it all.  He drank it all.  It is all gone.  And now we stand in the favor of God as His children so that we might praise Him and live to Him.

     Let us pray.

     Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word.  We thank Thee for Him who died upon Calvary’s cross that we might live through Him.  Bless Thy Word to our hearts.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.