There is no comfort in hell. At every moment those who are damned are afflicted with pain. There is no dulling of it; nor is any “getting used” to the sensation.
The puritans would talk about souls “writhing” in hell. That is an apt description because there are no comforts to be had.
If you’ve ever had a bad back, you have tried to get comfortable. It isn’t possible. You keep turning and twisting. You are writhing on your bed because the pain will not let you sit long in any given position.
Such is the experience of one who is in hell, and such was the experience of Christ in his death.
His body languishes away on that cross, and with it comes the pains of dehydration. He has had nothing to drink for at least 12 hours, and the day’s trauma has taken its toll. He thirsts.
Typically, when someone is in their dying days and last moments of life you do everything in your power to set them at ease. You give them a pillow and lay them in a position where they might be comfortable. If they are thirsty, you may put a cool cloth to their lips or give him some ice chips so as to offer them some sort of reprieve.
Today we even have hospice care. It is a whole business developed around the idea that the sick and dying should be given as much comfort as possible before they pass from this life into the next.
Yet when Christ was in the throes of death he received no such succor. His thirst was not quenched with a damp cloth or even a sweet wine—a sensation that would have brightened his eyes exceedingly, if even it be only for a fleeting moment. No! This reprieve is refused him who was damned of God. Instead they shoved upon him a putrid prick of sour wine.
His bitter death was made even more bitter.
My friend Lyle used to make his own wine. Before he moved to Alaska, he gave me his collection of wines that he had made. Let us just say he was an amateur at best in his wine making. It was not altogether good and I left it sit in my basement. As a matter of fact, I just threw it away a couple weekends ago. It had been down there for 6 years and I figured it was time to get rid of it.
Of course, we had to open every bottle and pour out the contents before we disposed of the bottles. As we did so, the fragrance of the fermentation was quite strong, but not exactly repulsive. It made me wonder, had this stuff aged well? Had time improved its taste?
I dabbed my finger in the wine and I stuck some on my tongue. I gagged. My tongue immediately lurched and my body’s reflexes induced coughing and spitting. My daughter, wide eyed with alarm, cried out, “Are you okay?!” Due to the recoil of my choking fit I couldn’t exactly answer her. I simply went into the house to get a drink of water and wash my mouth.
Christ was literally dying of thirst. To compile his anguish they made him imbibe a repugnant swig of sour wine.
Hell is a place where every comfort in life is removed. As God pours out his wrath and curse he strips away every grace and every blessing that he allotted you in life. Water and refreshment is a luxury that is afforded to us now by means of God’s benevolence. When we are deprived of it we should recognize that it is the due wages of our sin.
Jesus himself expressed the nature of hellish thirst in his own ministry. He told the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus. In death, Lazarus went to the bosom of Abraham and received comfort. But the rich man, what of him? He descended into hell, and his sufferings were so great that he yearned for a drop of water—just a drop would have been soothing to him.
When the Psalmist cried out that his tongue was sticking to the top of his mouth, he was articulating through parched sensations that the heavy hand of God had come down upon him. It was a lamentation of how ghastly the curse for sin was.
Here on the cross Christ was taking that curse. But he must drain this cup to the dregs!
It was not enough for him to be deprived of the soothing sensation of hydration though. The bitterness of the judgment of God must be tasted in its full. It was not enough for him to thirst, he must writhe. He must have his pains increased and intensified. He must be vexed. His taste buds must be aggravated through the irritating stimuli that sin justly deserves. He must gag and choke even to his dying breath. Even that last breath must not be easy. It must come through a throat clogged with a cocktail of death.
This episode of sour wine is only a momentary event. Two verses are perhaps too long to describe the length of what happened. But this moment, however brief it is, conjures up every judgment God ever inflicted through drink. Moses made the people drink the ground up grains of their venerated golden calf. The adulterous woman was made to drink the bitter dust & ash from off the alter (Numbers 7:1-35). Jeremiah prophesied of the cup of the furry of God’s wrath that the nations were made to drink.
Here in this wine upon Christ’s lips we see the anger of God’s judgment being poured out. The hot hostility of justice must be shoved down his gullet to the very end. No mercy can be given to this sin offering. No comfort can be afforded him who has become sin for us. He must writhe and he must suffer.
The Apostle Paul talks about how the saints in Corinth are continually comforted with every comfort that there is in Christ. When we read those words, let us not gloss over them lightly. As we see Christ die in such an excruciating way, we must remember that it was for us and for our salvation. It was so that we, poor wretches that we are, may have the comforts of heavenly life secured for us.
The sponge that was lifted to Christ’s lips is a reminder to us that he has soaked up every ounce of the extremity of God’s justice. Christ endured the severity of hell, even to his dying breath, that sinners such as us might not taste even the slightest drip of its bitterness. It was so that we, through faith in Him, might be allowed to drink deeply of the refreshing wells of God’s grace and mercy.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.