Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Cup

Read Matthew 26:36-46 and 27:45-46.

(This post is based on chapter 3, “Looking Below the Surface,” in The Cross of Christ by John Stott.)

The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane

"My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will" (Matt. 26:39).

In Gethsemane, Jesus was "sorrowful and troubled" (v. 37). Luke writes, "And begin in an agony he prayed more earnestly; his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22:44). "Though the word 'like' may indicate that this is to be understood metaphorically, there are both ancient and modern accounts on record of people sweating blood—a condition known as hematidrosis, where extreme anguish or physical strain causes one’s capillary blood vessels to dilate and burst, mixing sweat and blood" (ESV Study Bible, p. 2007). On another occasion, Jesus said, "Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I have come to this hour" (John 12:27).

In Gethsemane, Jesus was "sorrowful and troubled" (v. 37). What was the "cup" that He dreaded to drink?

The "cup" was not physical suffering.

There are two reasons why the cup Jesus dreaded was not physical suffering. First, if the cup meant physical suffering then Jesus would have been guilty of not practicing what He preached. He once told His followers that when insulted, persecuted, and slandered, they were to "rejoice and be glad" (Matt. 5:11-12).

Second, if the cup meant physical suffering then Jesus would have been outdone by His followers. The apostles, leaving the Sanhedrin with backs bleeding from a merciless flogging, were actually "rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffering dishonor for the name" (Acts 5:41). In the postapostolic period there was even a longing to suffer martyrdom. In the middle of the second century, Polycarp, the eighty-six-year-old bishop of Smyrna, having refused to escape death either by fleeing or by denying Christ, was burned at the stake. Just before the fire was lit, he prayed, "O Father, I bless thee that thou hast counted me worthy to receive my portion among the number of the martyrs" (The Cross of Christ, p. 77).

The "cup" was spiritual suffering.

In the Old Testament, the Lord's "cup" was a symbol of His wrath. "In the hand of the LORD there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs" (Ps. 75:8). "Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering" (Isa. 51:17). "The LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: 'Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it'" (Jer. 25:15). "The cup in the LORD’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory!" (Hab. 2:16). On the cross, Jesus would experience the wrath of God. That was the cup Jesus dreaded to drink.
We turn back to that lonely figure in the Gethsemane olive orchard—prostrate, sweating, overwhelmed with grief and dread, begging if possible to be spared the drinking of the cup. The martyrs were joyful, but he was sorrowful; they were eager, but he was reluctant. How can we compare them? How could they have gained their inspiration from him if he had faltered when they did not? Besides, up till now he had been clear-sighted about the necessity of his sufferings and death, determined to fulfill his destiny and vehement in opposing any who sought to deflect him. Had all that suddenly changed? Was he now after all, when the moment of testing came, a coward? No, no! All the evidence of his former teaching, character and behavior is against such a conclusion. In that case the cup from which he shrank was something different. It symbolized neither the physical pain of being flogged and crucified, nor the mental distress of being despised and rejected even by his own people, but rather the spiritual agony of bearing the sins of the world—in other words, of enduring the divine judgment that those sins deserved (The Cross of Christ, p. 78).
In the end, Jesus was determined to drink the cup. When He was arrested, Peter tried to fight against the soldiers. But Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?" (John 18:11).

The Cry of Dereliction on the Cross

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46; cf. Ps. 22:1).

There have been many ideas about the significance of this cry from the cross: (1) it was a cry of anger, unbelief, or despair; (2) it was a cry of loneliness (He felt forsaken, but really wasn't); (3) it was a cry of victory (He quoted the first verse of Psalm 22 in order to represent the entire Psalm, which ends in triumph; cf. vv. 22-24). The best explanation is that Jesus actually was forsaken by the Father.

People sometimes refer to a place as "godforsaken." The cross really was a "godforsaken place." Why was Jesus "forsaken"? It was because of our sin.
“An actual and dreadful separation took place between the Father and the Son; it was voluntary accept by both the Father and the Son; it was due to our sins and their just reward; and Jesus expressed this horror of great darkness, this God-forsakenness, by quoting the only verse of Scripture which accurately described it, and which he had perfectly fulfilled” (The Cross of Christ, p. 84).

 "For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21).

While Jesus hung on the cross, "there was darkness over all the land" (Matt. 27:45). "It seems that the darkness of the sky was an outward symbol of the spiritual darkness that enveloped him. For what is darkness in biblical symbolism but separation from God who is light and in whom 'there is no darkness at all' (1 Jn. 1:5)? 'Outer darkness' was one of the expressions Jesus used for hell, since it is an absolute exclusion from the light of God’s presence. Into that outer darkness the Son of God plunged for us. Our sins blotted out the sunshine of his Father's face. We may even say that our sins sent Christ to hell…." (The Cross of Christ, p. 81).

The cross enforces three truths--about ourselves, about God, and about Christ:

1. Our sin must be extremely horrible.

The cross strips us of our self-righteousness. It shows us that we need a Savior.

2. God's love must be wonderful beyond comprehension.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son" (John 3:16). We can't understand the intensity of love that impelled God to give Jesus to bear the wrath we deserve.

3. Christ's salvation must be a free gift.

"[Christ] 'purchased' it for us at the high price of his own life-blood. So what is there left for us to pay? Nothing! Since he claimed that all was now 'finished,' there is nothing for us to contribute" (The Cross of Christ, p. 86). Salvation is by grace through faith.

"Your Will Be Done"

"My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done" (v. 42).

"Although in theory 'everything is possible' to God, as Jesus himself affirmed in Gethsemane (Mark 14:36), yet this was not possible. God's purpose of love was to save sinners, and to save them righteously; but this would be impossible without the sin-bearing death of the Savior" (The Cross of Christ, p. 79).

Are you willing to say to Jesus, "Your will be done"?

Whatever "cup" Jesus gives us, we must be willing to drink it.

How can you say no to Jesus after what He did for you?

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