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Communion Meditations (2012)

The Gall of Bitterness

Originally scheduled for July 1

In Acts chapter 8 we find the interesting story of Simon the sorcerer. We need not going to details; it is sufficient for us to notice that Simon attempted to buy the ability to lay his hands on people and give them the Holy Spirit. Peter, who was asked to sell, told Simon quite bluntly his heart was in the wrong place. In so doing he used an interesting expression: "gall of bitterness." This is found in the King James and New American Standard; the New International translates it differently, ignoring the colloquial expression. The word which is translated "gall" is used in only one other instance in the New Testament. It is found in Matthew's account of the crucifixion, where Jesus is offered wine mixed with gall.

What is gall? As the ancients would've used the word, it is a secretion of the liver. The substance is rather yellow and green colored and tastes extremely better — though why anyone would want to taste it I could not say. The people of Peter's time believed (incorrectly) that gall taken from a reptile was the source of its poison. Thus, gall could be seen as a somewhat poisonous substance. The wine offered to Jesus is in some Gospels described as vinegar, whose original meaning is "sour wine." The gall was added to counteract the sour taste and was believed to have some anesthetic quality as well.

The question occurs: why did our Savior refused to drink it?

·         The passage in Acts gives us one answer, symbolically. He wanted to be clear that there was no bitterness within him. He did not go to his death cursing those who nailed him to the cross, or those who sent him there. Rather, he asked his Heavenly Father to forgive them. It is an example to us that bitterness has no place in a Christian's life.

·         More obviously, it was our Savior's intent to suffer the penalty of the cross to the fullest extent possible. He rejected the wine until the very end of the crucifixion, when its anesthetic properties could do him no good. The wine he took at the very end before saying, "It is finished" was not mixed with gall. Even though the wine and gall was offered to him as a matter of kindness, he refused it in obedience to the Father's command.

It was our Lord's intention to drink the cup his Father had given him, not the cup of wine. The notes to the ancient Geneva Bible put it this way: "Christ took no comfort, that in Him we might be filled with comfort."

Does the gall of bitterness afflict you today, Christian? Examine yourself for this, and then take it to your Lord in prayer before you partake of Communion. In giving his body and blood, laid out before you, he had no bitterness. He would drive any bitterness from you — if you will but ask. Examine yourself, and then partake in a worthy manner.

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