Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it? (St. John 18:11)
You and I often turn down offers for something to drink. I’ll gladly accept a cup of coffee or water most anytime; but there are other times when I don’t want a beverage. One friend of mine, in fact, rarely drinks anything with meals. To drink or not to drink? Well, that’s usually a matter of preference.
Tonight, we come face-to-face with another choice about drinking.
But this time, you can’t opt out of consuming a drink. You must choose one cup or another. Either way, you will drink.
Of all the ways by which the Scriptures portray salvation in Jesus Christ, the most vivid might be this Supper. The bread, of course, represents Christ’s body broken for you and for me. And the cup? Its essential meaning is the one our Savior gave it: the wine represents the blood of Jesus poured out according to the law of God to cover your sins.
But there is a further meaning to this cup – a meaning that involves not only the wine but also the very cup itself.
It is your privilege as a follower of Christ to drink from this cup. As you taste the sweetness of the wine, you are nourished spiritually with the truth that Jesus’ blood covers all your guilt. By the shedding of his precious blood, you have been made clean.
Perhaps the greatest blessing of this joyous cup, though, is that you and I do not have to drink the other cup.
In Scripture, “cup” also represents a person’s allotted portion in life. The psalmist in that most-famous of hymns, Psalm 23, rejoices that his cup “runneth over” with blessing. On the other hand, Jesus makes mention of the covenant of redemption between himself and God the Father, a covenant in which his cup, or lot, was to suffer for the sins of his people.
Jesus’ cup was to suffer for your salvation.
Or, to put it another way, Jesus’ cup was to drink that other cup of Easter: the cup of God’s wrath.
In the Old Testament, the Lord forced Israel to drink of the cup of His wrath when the Israelites had turned their backs on Him and instead worshipped false gods. They drank, Isaiah records, until they staggered and were rendered helpless and without strength. They drank deservingly of God’s anger.
Yet the Lord reserved His ultimate wrath for the enemies of His people: those who did not know or honor Him as the one, true God. He took that awful cup from His people and forced the nations to drink of it – even down to the bitter dregs.
That cup contained all of our holy God’s fury toward sin and toward sinners who would not repent and turn to Him. It literally was hell: being accursed by God. And those who drank it would drink to their death.
So we return to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus, who knew his “cup” was to drink of the cup of God’s wrath so that cup might pass by you and me. In one moment, Jesus was rebuking Peter, reminding Peter of the cup that was his. Yet in the next moment, Jesus was sweating drops of blood, his soul sorrowful unto death, as he prayed that this awful cup might pass from him.
Was Jesus of two minds? Was he not committed to the Father’s plan of redemption?
Of course he was faithful. Of course he was committed.
But he also was a true man with a true soul.
And he – who never had known a moment’s separation from his beloved Father – knew the horror of the cup he was soon to drink. Jesus knew he soon would descend to hell, being under the curse of God for your sake. He knew the Father would forsake him for a time as he bore your awful load of sin and guilt – treated like a wicked man as he, the Righteous One, bore your wickedness.
You might choose to drink water or to abstain later this evening. You might choose coffee, or you might refuse.
This meal presents you vividly with a choice, and this time, you cannot choose to abstain. Either you will look to Christ as your Savior and drink spiritually of his sweet salvation, or in the hour of your death, you will drink the cup of God’s wrath for your sins. One way or another, you will drink a cup at the hand of Almighty God.
If you already are a believer in Christ and therefore have the right to partake of this holy meal, spend time over the cup this night. Drink in the sweetness of Christ’s saving work. Meditate on his blood poured out for your redemption and perfect forgiveness.
And think on his immeasurable love: he drank the most-wretched cup of all so that you might drink freely of the cup of God’s mercy.