Many months ago, inspired by discussion revolving around The Passion of the Christ, I wrote an article I entitled “Take This Cup Away From Me.” In recent days I have been continually struck by the greatness of Jesus’ sacrifice and my lack of understanding as to how great it really was. My thoughts turned to the article I wrote and I decided I would rewrite it and post it again. So here it is.
Jesus knew when and how He was going to die. Before the world was created, before He took on human flesh and drew His first breath, before His hands were nailed to a hard, rough piece of wood, Jesus knew when and how He would die.
The day before He was to die was the Passover. The Lord spent the evening with his disciples honoring the Old Testament laws pertaining to what He knew was the final celebration of the first and greatest of the feast days. When they had eaten their meal and shared in the first celebration of the new feast, the Lord’s Supper, Jesus led them to the Garden of Gethsemane, a place they often visited to spend time in quietness and prayer away from the crowds of followers – from those who wished to learn from the mouth of God Himself and those who simply wished to see Him perform great deeds. Leaving eight of the disciples near the gate He led the three who were His dearest friends deeper into the Garden. The gospel of Mark recounts this event.
He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch.” He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.” (Mark 16:33-13)
Luke also relates this story but adds “His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground.” As Jesus awaited the final hours of His life, He was in agony of spirit. His agony reached such intensity that His capillaries began to burst, mixing blood with His sweat. His blood began to pour before anyone had laid a hand on Him, before the first thorn was pressed into His flesh and the first leather strap bruised His back. Such was His agony that He called out to God that if it was possible, His Father would remove this cup from Him.
Did Jesus fear those He knew were coming to lead Him to the cross? Did He fear whips, chains, thorns and spikes? Perhaps his humanity recoiled at the thought of having a spike driven through His wrist or at being beaten with ruthless brutality, yet at the beginning of His earthly ministry Jesus had spoken to His disciples about just such an event. In Matthew 10:28 we read “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” In the Garden He prayed to God, asking if He might “take this cup away from [Him].”
To understand what Jesus’ words mean, we must turn to the Old Testament where we find continual references to a cup symbolizing God’s judgment. Consider the following passages:
You are filled with shame instead of glory.
And be exposed as uncircumcised!
The cup of the LORD’s right hand will be turned against you,
And utter shame will be on your glory (Habakkuk 2:16)
You have walked in the way of your sister; therefore I will put her cup in your hand.’
“Thus says the Lord GOD:
“You shall drink of your sister’s cup,
The deep and wide one;
You shall be laughed to scorn
And held in derision;
It contains much.
You will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow,
The cup of horror and desolation,
The cup of your sister Samaria.
You shall drink and drain it,
You shall break its shards,
And tear at your own breasts;
For I have spoken,’
Says the Lord GOD. (Ezekiel 23:31-24)
Upon the wicked He will rain coals;
Fire and brimstone and a burning wind
Shall be the portion of their cup (Psalm 11:4)
Time and again the Bible speaks of the cup of God’s wrath which will be poured out against sinners. It is a cup of horror, desolation, shame and destruction. It is a cup filled to the brim with the perfect, justified wrath of a perfectly just God.
Before the world was created, Jesus had agreed to drink this cup to save the ones He loves. He would not just take a sip of it, but would drink to the bottom of the cup, until there was nothing left. How His spirit must have assailed Him as our Lord, as fully human as He was fully God, waited to drink this cup. From the beginning of His life He knew this would be His end. Each day of His life He lived with the knowledge of the terrible, brutal end that awaited Him.
When Jesus considered the events that were to come, what was it He feared? He did not fear men, but rather feared His own Father! As He waited, He looked not to the beatings or the spikes, but to the cup of wrath His own Father was going to pour out upon Him. He feared the punishment He would have to face for my sin! He feared the punishment He would have to endure for your sin!
Just a few short hours after His prayer in the Garden, Jesus’ battered body was nailed to the wooden cross. As He hung there, alone and naked before God, He drank that cup. He faced God’s judgment and drank in the horror, desolation, shame and destruction that are rightfully mine. How the Father must have felt, having to punish His own Son with every bit of the wrath of His righteous anger against sin. At the time His Son needed Him most, He was unable to comfort Him. The Father poured out punishment against His Son the likes of which human minds can never comprehend. Hour after hour God’s wrath poured in, on and through Jesus. Jesus was utterly and completely forsaken by His own Father.
Finally, hours after He began, Jesus did what no other person ever could do – He emptied that cup, drinking down the last drops of God’s wrath, until there was no more. The wrath that deserved to be poured out against me was consumed by the One who loves me more than I can ever know. Having swallowed the last drops, Jesus shouted out in triumph “It is finished!” The work had been done. Knowing that His task was complete, Jesus turned His gaze to heaven and said “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.” At that moment He yielded up His spirit and returned to fellowship with His Father. Forsakenness was replaced by communion; pain by exaltation. All heaven must have rejoiced as Jesus returned to His Father in triumph!
There are those who would say that having seen the events of Jesus’ life portrayed in film or in drama they are better equipped to understand Jesus’ sacrifice. Make no mistake: this can never be! Though you may have greater appreciation for the physical abuse and torture Jesus endured, you can never begin to know the depths of His sacrifice. Seeing the drama of a spike being driven through the arms of a man tells you no more about the sacrifice of Jesus than seeing a thimble-full of water helps a child understand the power, depth and vastness of the oceans. Do not presume to understand what you can never comprehend!
How can we but stand in awe of what Jesus did. There is nothing we can add to this work to make it more complete, nothing we can do to make it less perfect. But what we can and must do is:
Fear! Fear, as Jesus did, the One who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Turn! Turn to Him who drank the cup, acknowledging that He drank the cup of wrath that was meant for you. Turn to Jesus, praising Him for the completeness of the sacrifice that is too great for us to comprehend.
Rejoice! Be thankful that Christ drank the cup to the bottom. Be thankful, knowing that all of eternity would not be enough time for you to drink that cup. Jesus’ sacrifice was so great, so complete, that what He drank during His time on the cross, you could not drink if you had the rest of eternity to do so. Look beyond the nails, beyond the blood, to the cup of wrath that was poured out upon Him. Look beyond the priests and beyond the soldiers to see God Himself sacrificing His very own Son’s life. See God laying His only Son on the altar as the full and final propitiation for our sin.
Rest! Rest in Him and in His infinite, complete, awesome love. Rejoice that your cup is empty, consumed in the greatest act of love the world could ever know.
A thousand songs, a thousand books, a thousand words cannot express adequate thanks for the sacrifice Jesus made. Yet let praise and thanks flow from your lips and from your heart, honoring the One who gave all He had for you and for me.