When I was a boy – perhaps eight or nine years old – my brother and I were both diagnosed as having a cavity, so we were taken by our mother to an appointment with the dentist to have our teeth filled. Because our usual dentist was away on vacation we were treated by his partner, one Dr. Barnes. I remember his name because forever thereafter my brother and I referred to him as “Bad news Barnes” – and for good reason. I had a cavity repaired previously, and to me as a small boy, the most fearful part of going to the dentist was the injection of novocain. I was initially excited when Dr. Barnes told me my cavity was rather small, so I did not have to endure that dreaded stinging shot. “You’re a big boy. You don’t want a shot, do you?” Of course not. Initially, as he started to drill away on the problem tooth, everything was fine. Then lightning struck. At least that is what it felt like to me. “Bad news Barnes” hit a nerve. It was the most searing pain I had experienced in my life up to that time. It traveled from my jaw, down my side, all the way to the bottom of my right foot. My brother was subjected to the same treatment. I heard him howl as I sat in the waiting room after I was done.
That childhood experience allowed me a keener appreciation for an incident about which I read recently. David McCullough’s lengthy biography of Harry Truman covers in detail the most difficult challenge Truman faced as president. During his second term, the Korean conflict erupted. Stopping the communist aggression on the Korean peninsula without allowing the war to extend into China and becoming World War 3 kept him at his desk for 18 hours most days. McCullough notes that at the same time he was handling this developing international crisis Truman was also undergoing extensive dental treatment. During a three week period the president had major work done – bridge work and multiple crowns – over twelve appointments at Walter Reed Hospital. Amazingly, through the process only once did he allow himself any anesthesia. Apparently, he did not want to be incapacitated in any way even for a short time were he needed to make a vital decision. To keep his senses sharp that he might fulfill his responsibilities, President Truman refused available relief from excruciating pain.
Reading about his self denial and commitment gave me a greater respect for President Harry Truman. That incident in Truman’s biography also reminded me of a similar, yet far greater expression of self-denial found in the Bible.
Both Matthew and Mark record that when the Savior was crucified, He was given wine mingled with gall or myrrh to drink. But when He tasted it, He refused it. This offering of wine appears to have been a humane custom attached to the barbarous cruelty of Roman execution. The wine and gall mixture was an intoxicating drink that would deaden the senses of the victim and thus diminish the suffering. Jesus refused to be drugged. He wished to be in full possession of His faculties as He endured the cross and performed the work of redemption for the sins of the world. Jesus suffered agony, both physical and spiritual, that our imaginations cannot conjure. He did so refusing deliverance or even the slightest easing of pain.
19th Century British preacher C.H. Spurgeon observed about this incident, “A stupefying draught was given to the condemned, to take away something of the agony of crucifixion; but our Lord came to suffer, and he would not take anything that would at all impair his faculties. He did not forbid his fellow-sufferers drinking the vinegar mingled with gall, but he would not drink thereof. Jesus did not refuse this draught because of its bitterness, for he was prepared to drink even to the last dreadful dregs the bitter cup of wrath which was his people’s due.”
His people’s due.” We should remember that all the Savior suffered on the cross was for us. It was for me.