The Cup

Original Date: 
Sunday, March 4, 2012

Luke 22:39-53 60 Hours That Changed the World: The Cup

High Degree Stress
I’m going to tell you a story, but allow me to preface it by explaining something about myself. I am prone to motion sickness. Roller coasters are not my thing. Spinning in circles is not my thing.

In fact, I remember when my High School Physics class took a field trip to the local park to talk about centrifugal force by playing on the merry-go-round. I was smart enough not to get on the merry-go-round, but I thought I’d be okay if I was one of the guys who stood on the side and spun it. I wasn’t. After watching it spin for awhile I had to step away and throw-up behind a tree. My physics teacher was mortified.

I could tell you more stories of meals lost and trips to amusement parks ruined. If I spun around in 5 circles right now we’d probably have a problem. Motion sickness is like a way of life for me.

So when I went to Haiti last summer, I was nervous about the plane ride. Commercial flying isn’t too bad for me—I take some Dramamine and those big jets are pretty smooth. But I heard that it was a smaller plane that we flew into Haiti, and I wasn’t sure how that would go.

Flying in turned out to not be that bad. The MAF plane ended up being a lot larger than I pictured, and the flight from Florida to Cap Haitian was very smooth. The 12 minute flight from Cap to Pignon was a little dicier—it involves going over a mountain pass and landing on a grass runway—but I did pretty well. I was even thinking about joining Austin in the cockpit so that I could see the approach, but then I thought I better not push it.

Coming home though, was an entirely different story. I don’t know if it was because I was tired after the week in Haiti, or if it was just that much hotter when we got on the plane, or if the turbulence really was that much worse—but that first little 12 minute flight was by far the longest 12 minutes of my life. Something about going over the mountain pass—that sensation of the plane bouncing up and down while my stomach wanted to stay in one place—and the change in temperature—from really hot on the ground, to really cool in the air, back to really hot when we landed again—and I was really feeling it. My vision got really narrow, I could hear the sound of the blood rushing through my head, and my knuckles turned white I was gripping the armrests so hard.

But I didn’t throw up. Instead, I sweat. When we landed my Mom, who was sitting next to me, turned to me to say: “That wasn’t so bad” and she was just shocked to see that I was dripping wet. I looked like I had just stepped out of a shower. I was just covered with that thick, clammy kind of sweat that was rolling off me in beads. I could have taken one of those window squeegee scraper things and just pulled the sweat off my skin.

Now, again, I’m the guy who can throw up from watching a merry-go-round, so I’m not trying to make the flight into Haiti sound bad. It’s not. If you are thinking about going, I’d encourage you to do it.

But I tell that story to get us thinking about how our bodies react to stress, and to help us understand something that happens to Jesus in our scripture passage today. Because, make no mistake, Jesus is under high degree stress in our story.

The Midnight Hour
Last week we started a series called 60 Hours That Changed the World. I’m calling it that because from the time Jesus sat down to the Passover meal on Thursday night to the time He walked out of His tomb on Sunday morning was about 60 hours. And in the weeks leading up to Easter this year, we are looking at Luke’s retelling of the events that transpired in those 60 hours—the Last Supper, the Garden, the Denial, the Trials, and so on.

Last week our clock was set to 6:00, the start of the Passover meal. We learned that a sinister plot has been set in motion. Judas and the Jewish officials--guided by Satan--are orchestrating things so that Jesus can be quietly arrested, tried and killed. It is a wicked plan intended to put Jesus out of their lives forever.

But, at the same time, we saw that Jesus has a divine plan of His own. He is not going to be taken by surprise. He knows the course of events that have already been determined and in verse 22 He declares His readiness to go just "as it has been decreed.”

Now, this week, our clock is set to midnight. The Bible doesn’t give us a precise time marker—but it is at the end of the Passover meal, and traditionally that is a meal that goes to midnight—and Jesus and his disciples are going out “as usual” to a garden on the Mount of Olives to pray. In other words, Jesus is going exactly where Judas would expect Him to be.

And the thing that we’re going to see is that Jesus is under an enormous amount of stress. The kind of stress that would make even the strongest of people break out in a clammy sweat.

Here’s the text, Luke 22:39-44:

39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

There are two things I want to show you in this text. I’ll call them Jesus’ Agony, and Jesus’ Willingness. His Agony and His Willingness.

We’ll start with the agony. Jesus is suffering before the suffering.

Actually, this whole story of Jesus in the Garden is often called the agony of Christ. That’s based on the word Luke uses in verse 44 that says Jesus was in anguish. The Greek word is agonia, which comes from a word that means “struggle”, but which here means that Jesus is under intense mental pain. The idea is not that Jesus is struggling with God—we’ll see that is not the case in a bit—but that Jesus is struggling with the overwhelming weight of what He knows is coming.

Verse 41 says that Jesus knelt down to pray. That may not seem strange to us, but in first century Israel it was very unusual. In first century Israel, men did not pray from their knees, but standing with their faces toward heaven. Clearly Jesus is carrying a heavy burden.

The other gospels say that He was "sorrowful and troubled" and that His "soul [was] overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death." (Matthew 26:37-38, cf. Mark 14:33-34)

Agony seems like a pretty good word then. Like I said, Jesus is under a high degree of stress. To the point where it is nearly killing Him on His feet.

His suffering is about to begin: in the next 12 hours He’s going to be beaten and scourged and fixed to a cross, but the anticipation of it means He’s in agony right now. He’s suffering before the suffering.

There are a couple of other clues in the text to just how bad it was. Verse 43:

43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.

Jesus is distressed by what is coming that God sends an angel to help Him.

We touched on this briefly in December when I preached a sermon on what the angels saw when they watched Jesus’ life. We learned then that there are only two times in Jesus’ adult life when we are told angels came and assisted Him. The first was right after the temptations in the wilderness (Matt. 4:11), and the second is right here.

In other words, after Jesus had spent 40 days in the desert with no food or water and engaged in hand to hand combat with the devil, He needed angels to attend to Him. And, again, right here. When Jesus was a low as He could get, angels helped.

But, of course, when Jesus is on the cross, the angels do not get involved.

And then there’s verse 44 again:

44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

Jesus is in such agony, that His sweat is like drops of blood falling to the ground.

There are two ways to understand this (and the Greek isn’t clear). On the one hand, Luke might be saying that Jesus was sweating so hard and thick that the sweat ran off of Him as though He had been cut and was bleeding. That is, Jesus is sweating like I was on that Haitian plan ride. Not a light perspiration—the kind that keeps us cool and helps us regulate body temperature—but the kind of cold and clammy sweat that makes your clothes stick to your skin and leaves you feeling like a wrung out dish rag. What is sometimes called a “flop sweat.”

On the other hand, Luke might be saying that Jesus was actually sweating blood. It’s rare, but there is actually a medical condition called hematidotris where the blood vessels near the sweat glands constrict under the pressure of great stress and then dilate so quickly that the blood pushes out with the sweat. Again, it’s rare, but cases have been reported among soldiers about to enter the heat of battle and prisoners unexpectedly condemned to die. One comment I read on a message board suggested that the reason we don’t see more cases of this is because more often than not stress of this magnitude will lead to cardiac arrest before the skin has a chance to break out in bloody sweat.

Either way—whether Jesus was profusely sweating or actually sweating blood--it is clear that He was profoundly affected by what was coming. To say that He was under high degree stress is an understatement. Jesus was in unimaginable agony.

Drinking the Cup
So why? Why is Jesus so heavily burdened? What is it that has Jesus nearly dead on His feet?

I think a clue can be found in His prayer of verse 42:

"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."

Jesus prays about a cup. What, exactly, is He talking about?

Given that Jesus has just come from the Last Supper, we think immediately of the communion cup. Jesus told His disciples in the upper room that the cup represented "the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you (v. 20)." So in one sense we can say that Jesus is praying about the shedding of His blood. That He is distressed about dying.

It must be a terrible thing to know the time and manner of your death. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a death row prisoner, knowing that it in 24 hours, 12 hours, 6 hours, 3, 2, 1… I’m going to die. That’s the situation for Jesus, and it would be agony.

But I think this is more than Jesus knowing “Today I die.” As awful as that would be, Jesus knows there’s something even worse awaiting Him. And I say that because of what the image of the cup represents in the Bible. For example, Jeremiah 25:15 says:

This is what the LORD, the God of Israel said to me: "Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it."

Isaiah 51:17 says:

Awake, awake! Rise up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath, you who have drained to its dregs the goblet that makes men stagger.

And Revelation 14:10 says that those who worship the beast will:

drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath.

To me, these verses sound like the line in the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” that says: “He is stamping out the vintage, where the grapes of wrath are stored.” The Biblical image of the cup is a symbol of God’s anger towards sin. There is a long biblical tradition that says the Day of the Lord is coming when the holy, righteous God is going to pour out the cup of His wrath against sin.

God is a holy god. That means that He does not sin. It also means that He cannot tolerate sin. If He were to turn a blind eye to sin, He would become complicit to sin. So He is justly angry about sin. It must be punished somehow.

And what Jesus is in agony about is that He knows He is about to go and take that punishment. More than physical death, Jesus knows He is about to experience all the anger of god against sin poured out on Him.

Is it any wonder that He’s in agony then?? Is it any wonder that He staggered to His knees?

If you like to have a picture in your mind, the picture would be that of Jesus sitting at a table with a cup in front of Him. And in this cup is the vilest, sickest, most noxious poison imaginable. It bubbles and foams and pops and hisses. It is putrid, green slime. It reeks of sulfur and burned flesh.

And that nasty, toxic brew represents all of the sins that have been and will be committed and all of God's righteous anger over those sins. And Jesus has to drink that cup. Jesus is going to drink the wrath of God so that we don't have to.

Do we see how terrible this must have been? Do we catch the magnitude of the horror Jesus was facing? Maybe because we've heard it so many times before we've become callous to it. Maybe we've become used to seeing the cross as a decoration in churches or as a piece of jewelry on a chain. But what the cross represents is the separation of Jesus from God the Father (cf. Mark 15:34). What Jesus was facing was nothing less than the Hell we deserve.

Do you want to know how horrible it is to pay the penalty for your sins? Just look at Christ in the Garden. We have heard over and over again that "the wages of sin is death," but these words take on a vastly deeper and more personal meaning in the light of Gethsemane.

Do not esteem the cross of Christ lightly. Do not take it for granted. Jesus Christ drank the cup of God's wrath for us. He was about to pay a price too terrible for words.

Thy Will Be Done...
But this prayer doesn’t mean He was chickening out. Not at all. The second thing we need to look at is Jesus’ willingness. We need to see that Jesus was willing to take this cup. Back to verse 42:

"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."

When Jesus asks His Father to take the cup from Him, He is not trying to wriggle out of His duty. There is no sense in which the agony in the garden is the result of God wrestling Jesus into doing what He does not want to.

I know this from what Jesus says in the second half of His prayer: "yet not my will, but yours be done." It's the same thing Jesus taught His disciples to pray when He gave them a model prayer: "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Now Jesus is appropriating that prayer for Himself.

W. Bingham Hunter, in the book The God Who Hears says this about saying: "Thy will be done":

"Thy will be done" is not a prayer formula but an attitude: a reflection of the petitioner's willingness to admit that the Father's knowledge is more complete than his children's. It expresses the child's wish to learn to want what God gives. (62)

That last line is the key. This prayer expresses “the child’s wish to learn to want what God gives.” Jesus knows there is a divine plan and He knows that this plan will result in glory for Himself and for the Father (see John 17:1). And so He submits Himself to that plan and declares His readiness to obey it.

Even in the midst of terrible agony He places Himself squarely in the Father's care and expresses a willingness to "want what the Father gives."

Taken as a whole then, I understand Jesus' prayer in verse 42 to go something like this: "Father, if there is another way, if it is possible for us to find any other way to bring salvation to humanity, then let's explore it. If you want to do it another way, then I will go along. But no matter what, whatever you choose, that is what I will do."

Jesus prepares for what is coming by entrusting Himself to the Father's care. He faces the horror of the cup by believing that His Father knows best.

You see this trust and submission and obedience illustrated in the narrative of the arrest that follows. Verses 45-53:

When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. "Why are you sleeping?" he asked them. "Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation." While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?" When Jesus' followers saw what was going to happen, they said, "Lord, should we strike with our swords?" And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, "No more of this!" And he touched the man's ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour--when darkness reigns."

Your Savior was not taken kicking and screaming to the cross. He went willingly, obediently. In John's version of the arrest, when the disciple cuts off of the servant's ear (John names the disciple as Peter), Jesus even says: "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" (John 18:11)

Jesus really did lay down His own life (cf. Mark 10:45). Paul can truly say in the second chapter of Philippians that He "became obedient to death--even death on a cross!" (Phil. 2:8) Isaiah was right when he prophesied: "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth." (Isaiah 53:7)

This is the most remarkable thing. Jesus knew what lay ahead of Him. He knew about the abandonment and the torture and the cross. Worse, He knew that He was about to bear the penalty for all the sins in the world. The dread of it nearly killed Him on His feet. He's gone through agony just to get to this point. And then, when the bad guys show up He goes without hesitation, without a fight, without a hint of resistance.

So, here’s the main paint today: If the degree of Christ's suffering in the garden reveals the horror of the penalty that must be paid for sin—if the anguish and the staggering and the sweating blood and the angel in attendance help us to understand what drinking the cup meant-- then Christ's willingness to go and pay that penalty reveals the depth of His love for us. Because that’s why He went. He went for you. He went for me. He went so that He could reconcile human beings made in His image back into a relationship with God.

Christ knew what was coming--He knew he was facing God’s righteous wrath on our behalf--and yet when push came to shove, He went willingly. It truly is a great love when our Savior lays down His life for His friends (John 15:13).

Let Us Fix Our Eyes on Jesus
Finally, I looked for some neat and tidy way for this sermon to end. I tried to find a ribbon that runs through everything we've looked at so I could tie a nice bow around it and send you home with a few lessons and a couple of points of application. And there are a couple of things I could talk about. I could talk about how Jesus is the perfect model of prayer. I could talk about Jesus' obedience and submission to the will of God and how we should model ourselves after Him.

I could talk about those things because we have seen those things in the passage. But I don't want to end this message talking about what we should do or how we should act. I don't want to end this message talking about us at all.

I want us to finish with our eyes squarely fixed on Jesus. I want us to face squarely His great love for us. I have just been humbled and overwhelmed this week as I have looked at the agony Christ went through on our behalf.

And to think that He did so knowingly, and willingly, it is just astounding!

Sometimes a sermon doesn't have to have a grand plan of action. Sometimes there need not be a challenge or an application for us all to work on during the next week. Sometimes there doesn't need to be a ribbon to tie it all together.

Sometimes it is enough for us to just come to the end of the sermon and look at our Lord and say: "How marvelous! How wonderful! Is my Savior's love for me!"