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I Will Take the Cup

The events of Matthew 26 serve as the penultimate moment in the life of Jesus. The climax happens on a tree the next day. But Thursday wasn’t a vacation. As Jesus was being anointed by the oil of an alabaster jar at the home of Simon the Leper (whom he had surely healed, otherwise he wouldn’t have paid him a visit) the “chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.” During those final days Judas, the treasurer of the motley crew of twelve, cut a deal with the ruling authorities to lead them to his friend Jesus for half a year’s wages.

After the deal was struck and the oil poured, Jesus gathered with his tribe in an upper room. Nothing fancy. A small table to lie around and the elements of a traditional Passover meal, which would have included stewed beans, olives with hyssop, bitter herbs and fruit. As the meal concluded, Jesus passed bread and wine, even to Judas who quickly fled and initiated his scheme. As Peter was loudly proclaiming he would never leave or forsake his King, Jesus’s eyes turned toward the garden.

It was the night before his imminent death, and he went out into an olive grove. He had probably been there many times before, because in John 18 we read, “Judas knew the place” when Jesus went to pray. It was probably owned by one of his supporters (like the borrowed tomb). The circumstances around the uniqueness of this moment surely felt familiar. Satan had returned.

In Luke 4, following his baptism, Jesus went into the wilderness and was tempted by his adversary – our adversary. Satan prodded Jesus to make bread out of stones in order to relieve his own hunger, to jump from a pinnacle and rely on angels to break his fall, and worship him in return for all the kingdoms of the world. “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:13) Jesus’s last moment in the garden was the “opportune time.” Jesus knew the task before him, and Satan would do everything to keep it from happening.

Jesus took his closest friends, Peter, James, and John, deep into the Garden of Gethsemane and asked them to keep watch as he prayed to his Father one last time. But then something strange happened. Satan attacked Jesus. Not with armies. Not with new temptations. But with sorrow.

Luke says Jesus began to be in agony. Matthew comments that “he began to be sorrowful and troubled” and Jesus said, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” Mark adds that Jesus was astonished by the way he felt. As Jesus appeared to be caught off guard by his emotional state, his disciples noticed his physical response. Jesus, the King, was drenched in sweat and blood was coming from his pores.

I have struggled with this response because Jesus always knew the plan. He said it over and over, maybe as many as seven times. Was Jesus weak? Wavering? This seems to stand in contrast to those who would follow Jesus in death. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna and disciple of John, when commanded by the Roman governor to proclaim “Caesar is Lord,” responded, “Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” Likewise, as the flames crept up the stake that held Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer, Latimer said, “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, play the man; We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” These martyrs appeared to have a poise and peace that was absent from my Jesus. How could they face death so much more strongly than he? The truth – both simple and profound – is that no one has ever faced the same death as Jesus. What put Jesus into a state of shock wasn’t death; it was the cup.

In almost every ancient culture the cup meant suffering. Habakkuk 2:16, “You will be filled with disgrace rather than honor. Now you yourself drink and expose your own nakedness. The cup in the Lord’s right hand will come around to you, And utter disgrace will come upon your glory.” That was what Jesus was facing – the cup of God’s wrath that humanity deserves was about to come down on Jesus – and he knew it.

Throughout humanity’s broken relationship with God, God punished people by putting them outside His presence. Like the flower needs the sun, outside of God’s presence we wilt. Since Jesus had never sinned, Jesus had perfect fellowship with the Father. God was always near. As Jesus began to pray in the Garden, it hit him. He was about to be separated from his Father. Jonathan Edwards says, “The agony was caused by a vivid, bright, full, immediate view of the wrath of God. The Father, as it were, set the cup down before him… he now had a near view of that furnace into which he was about to be cast. He stood and viewed its raging flames and the glowing of its heat, that he might know where he was going and what he was about to suffer.”

Jesus saw the consequences of the cup and still chose to take it. It was radically voluntary. He saw into the suffering and drank from the cup anyway.

This is a different level of obedience. Consider Adam and Eve in the first garden. The first couple were told that they could have fruit of any tree except for one. If they were obedient and avoided eating from the forbidden tree, they would live life abundantly.

In the new garden, God tells His little boy, “Obey me about the tree and be crushed by it. And Jesus still obeyed. No one has loved God like this.

Jesus said, “I will take the cup,” and by taking the cup he allowed the cup of wrath to be poured out on his back. The cup of wrath that I earned by I my rejection of Jesus was willingly taken up by the one whose perfect obedience should have merited only blessing and favor. Jesus took my cup and I received his cup of grace. “For [my] sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him [I] might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Critics of this idea that God died in our place for our sin would say, “I believe in a God of love, not a God of wrath.” I say, view your God in the Garden and see love maybe for the first time. Tim Keller says you must always ask skeptics of Jesus, “What did it cost your God to love you?” If the answer is nothing, it will take nothing for your God to walk away. But, if the love cost your God everything, the love He gave you He will never take away.

Jesus took the curse. You are no longer a slave, but an heir, and if an heir, a co-heir with Jesus. This Easter we celebrate that Jesus knew the consequences of taking the cup and drank from it deeply.

Chris Lawson

Founder of MyBigJesus.com, husband to Merri, father to Adam, Ellie, and Zachary, and executive pastor @reynoldachurch. Lives to make Jesus famous. He enjoys watching the Atlanta Braves and UNC basketball, as well as demeaning and insulting whatever sports teams you root for. He knows a disturbing amount about television and movies.

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