As we enter the season of Passover and the celebration of the Resurrection, my heart has spent this morning pondering the cup.
In the Old Testament, the cup was often used to refer to God’s wrath being poured out in judgment. For instance, in Isaiah 51:17, the prophet 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” (NIV).
God allowed calamity to come upon His nation in judgment for their sin of idolatry. He declares in verse 21 that they will never drink from that cup again, because He will redeem them. Isaiah prophesies of the coming Redeemer.
Fast forward now to the coming of the Messiah and hear His own words in Matthew 20:22: “‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said to them. ‘Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?'”
He spoke these words in response to the request of a mother who wanted her two sons to sit as His right and left when He reigned over Jerusalem. She and her sons failed to understand that the Messiah’s reign would not be political or geographical, but spiritual and everlasting.
So what was the cup that Jesus said He was going to drink? It, too, would be a cup of wrath and suffering. The reason that Israel would no longer have to drink of that cup, according to Isaiah, is that God would send a Redeemer, and He would drink of that cup instead. Not only did Jesus face suffering in His trial and execution, but He also faced the judgment of the Father.
We often hear these words in Matthew 26:39 and think of the suffering of the cross:
“Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will'” (NIV).
The pain and suffering of the cross, however, could not compare to the judgment God poured on His son as He bore the weight of the sins of the world.
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV).
The cup Jesus referred to was, not only the physical suffering of the cross, but the pain of rejection by His Father as God would turned His head away from His own Son. God is holy. He cannot look on sin. That is why Jesus cried from the cross, “‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'” (Matthew 27:46). That was my sin and your sin that left Jesus forsaken. It was our sin that filled the cup of God’s wrath.
But wait. There’s another cup.
“When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds its fulfillment in the kingdom of God.’
After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’
“And he took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’
“In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you'” (Luke 22:14-20, NIV, emphasis mine).
Jewish tradition signifies four cups that are used during the Passover, or Night of Remembrance, as the Jews remember the night that God led them out of bondage in Egypt. The first cup begins the seder meal and is called the cup of kiddush or sanctification. The second cup is the cup of plagues or deliverance. The third cup is the cup of redemption or blessing, and the fourth cup is the hallel, which means praise.
The cup Jesus gave thanks for in verse 17 could have been the first or second cup of the meal. The cup taken after the supper is traditionally the third cup. Luke tells us in verse 20, that this cup comes “after the supper.” It is the cup of redemption. And this is the cup that Jesus calls the new covenant in His blood.
You see, long ago, God had declared through the prophet Jeremiah in Chapter 31 that “the time is coming…when I will make a new covenant” (v. 31). He said in verse 33 that He would put His law in our minds and write it on our hearts, that He would be our God and we would be His people. God declared in verse 34 that we would be able to know Him and that He would forgive our sins.
On the night of Passover with His disciples, Jesus declared that His blood would seal that covenant. In other words, the cup of God’s wrath for the judgment of sin would be poured out literally through His. Own. Blood. That just takes my breath away! The cup of God’s wrath becomes the cup of God’s redemption. The cup of judgment becomes the cup of salvation.
This season as we partake of the Lord’s Supper, may we never forget the judgment, wrath, and suffering of Jesus that the cup represents. Lord, let us remember. Let us be thankful. And when we put the cup to our lips, let us drink deeply of Your mercy and grace.