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It is written:
Matthew 27:48-Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink.
Mark 15:36-Then someone ran and filled a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink, saying, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down.”
John 19:29-Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth.
One of the interesting questions about the crucifixion of Jesus involves this incident recorded in the Gospels. Were the soldiers showing Jesus compassion by giving him vinegar when He was on the cross?
No, they were not.
Further, when we come to realize what was actually taking place in this encounter, we will be even more astounded at the depths of human depravity and the grace and mercy of our loving Savior.
The first thing to notice is that the incident with the sponge and the vinegar was fulfillment of Bible prophecy. John’s Gospel reflects on this further:
John 19:28-29-After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” 29 Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth.
The specific prophecy in this passage goes back to the Book of Psalms.
Psalm 69:21-They also gave me gall for my food, And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
Consider how the CEV translates this:
Psalm 69:21 (CEV)-Enemies poisoned my food, and when I was thirsty, they gave me vinegar.
Notice that the giving of vinegar was set in parallel to how the enemies had “poisoned”the food. This shows that this was not an act of kindness or mercy, but of further suffering that the Messiah would endure.
“Both the thirst and the action in seeking to satisfy it belong to the fulfillment of the Scripture, namely Ps 69: 22: “They gave me vinegar for my thirst.” (The term [ḥomeṣ] was used of vinegar, but the Greek rendering of it ὄξος [oxos] denoted a drink, whether a watered-down vinegar or cheap wine, which was popular among soldiers.) The saying is part of the lengthy description of the desolation, isolation, and scorn experienced by the Righteous Sufferer, and in the psalm the giving of the drink appears to be part of the torment inflicted upon the sufferer.” (George R. Beasley-Murray, John, Volume 36: Revised Edition (Word Biblical Commentary), 351 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)
Second, the administering of vinegar to a crucified man was simply another form of inflicted torture. One student has noted that the ingestion of vinegar during crucifixion was another form of producing further agony:
“It doesn’t seem that writers in Roman times reported any attempts to ease the pain of a crucified person. There are, however, examples of the opposite. Executioners tried to extend the victim’s life to increase the pain. “The crucified are hung above the ground on a wooden cross. They are nailed there, hands and feet, executed in a lingering death. In fact, people weren’t crucified because someone merely wanted to kill them. People lived a long time on the cross—and not because they wanted to. Executioners prolonged the death because that prolonged the pain” (Augustine, Tractate 36). Here’s a note about a Chinese man crucified on Wednesday, October 28, 1863. Authorities charged him with kidnapping young girls and selling them as fresh-meat prostitutes. He was still alive on Saturday. A foreigner appealed to the top local official, called the Taotai, to put the man out of his misery. “The Taotai . . . immediately gave orders that vinegar should be administered, which he expected would produce immediate death; but the result was otherwise, and at sunset . . . two soldiers with stout bamboos broke both his legs and then strangled him” (J. Jones, On Punishment of Crucifixion in China).” (Stephen M. Miller, Eyewitness to Crucifixion: The Romans, the Cross and the Sacrifice of Jesus, 137 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, MI: Our Daily Bread Publishing)
Third, when we realize what was happening with this stick and sponge of vinegar, we get a truly horrendous look at the wickedness of mankind and God’s amazing grace.
The Romans had an instrument known as a tersorium. These were instruments located in toilets (public and private), consisting of a sponge attached to a stick. They were used by the common people and soldiers as people in our culture would use toilet paper. When finished, they would use vinegar to saturate the sponge as a way to disinfect it.
“For instance, the Roman habit of using a sponge tied to a stick for the purpose of cleaning the body constitutes a tremendous health risk. Although the cleaning device could be rinsed in a water basin, which was usually installed in the toilet room, the sponge stick was used repeatedly by many different people.” (Edwin M. Yamauchi, Marvin R. Wilson, Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical and Post-Biblical Antiquity: Complete in One Volume, A-Z, 2262 (Kindle Edition); Peabody, Massachusetts; Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC)
“In this passage, the philosopher Seneca gives an example to prove his point that people will, when faced with a death that is not of their choosing, use whatever they can find to end their lives. The man in this passage uses an instrument that the Romans used to wipe themselves: a sponge attached to a wooden handle. Recently, there was a German man in the training school for the beast hunts. One day, when he was being prepared for an appearance during the morning show in the amphitheater, he entered the latrine to relieve himself (this is the only place he could go without a guard and so have some privacy). While there, he found the wooden handle to which the sponge is attached. This instrument is used to clean a person’s unmentionables. The man took the handle and crammed the whole thing down his throat and so died of suffocation. This certainly ranks up there among the foulest ways to die. How silly it is, in truth, to be finicky when it comes to choosing a manner of death. This German was certainly a brave man and one who deserved the chance to choose how he would die.” (Brian K. Harvey, Daily Life in Ancient Rome: A Sourcebook, 174 (Kindle Edition); Indianapolis, Indiana; Hackett Publishing Company, Inc)
What our Savior endured to save mankind from sin is beyond reckoning.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.