This passage is the story of two cups. Easter is the story of two cups.
One cup was offered in the upper room. The other cup was offered in the Garden of Gethsemane.
One cup Jesus gives to us. One cup Jesus drinks for Himself
One cup is a cup for the forgiveness of sins. One cup is a cup of wrath and judgement.
One cup brings life. One cup brings death.
One cup the bible describes as a cup of blessing. The other cup is a cup of curse.
But this is the story of Easter – Jesus drank the cup of curses so that we can drink the cup of blessings. In other words, Easter is all about a wonderful exchange. That’s how Christians for thousands of years have described it: a wonderful exchange: Jesus takes the curses that we deserve in order to give us the blessings that only He deserves. He doesn’t deserve the Garden of Gethsemane. He doesn’t deserve to drink the cup of curses, but He does. And we don’t deserve to sit at the Feast with the LORD Almighty. We don’t deserve to drink the cup of blessings, but we do. It’s a wonderful exchange. He takes what we deserve to give us what we don’t deserve.
Let’s think about this wonderful exchange a little more.
19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.
The Last Supper was a Passover meal. Passover was an event in the Jewish calendar all about the wonderful exchange. It began in Exodus when the judgement of God was going to fall on the whole land of Egypt. The Lord would pass through every street and would enter every house to kill the firstborn son, unless a lamb had died instead. If the household had sacrificed a lamb and painted its blood on the doorframes then judgement would pass over.
The next morning, imagine being a firstborn son who’d been spared judgement. Then you would really appreciate the wonderful exchange. Because the lamb had died instead of you. You deserve death, the lamb didn’t. But the lamb gets death and you get life. It’s a wonderful exchange.
And of course Jesus is the Lamb of God offered to the world – dying in our place. Judgement must fall, the whole world deserves the judgement of God. But the Lamb has been provided to take our judgement for us. He has died to take what’s coming to you. (A wonderful exchange).
It’s something the communion service dramatizes so powerfully.
26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples
Think about those four verbs. Jesus took bread. Notice that this bread is going to stand for Jesus – He says this is my body. So as Jesus takes bread, it’s telling us that Jesus took on our kind of life. He entered into humanity. He came to stand where we are standing. He took bread.
He also gave thanks. In Romans 1, one of the key ways it describes humanity’s original sin is that we “did not give thanks to God.” (Romans 1:21). We are ingrates – it’s a key way the bible describes our sin. But Jesus gave thanks. Throughout His life He received everything from His Father as a gift. And He gave thanks to God in everything. He lived the life that you and I should live but don’t.
So Jesus took bread, gave thanks, then He broke it. What a powerful dramatization! Jesus says “This is my body” then He tears it apart. It’s almost stomach churning when you realize that the cross is just hours away. THIS IS MY BODY – TORN APART! But it’s only as the bread is broken that it can be given out to others. And it’s only as Jesus dies, that He can give life to us.
And that’s the final verb: He gave it to His disciples.
I love that in communion you have to RECEIVE the bread and wine personally. You don’t just look at the bread and wine and say “That’s nice. I’m sure someone will really enjoy that”, No. You eat it. Personally. There are all these promises attached to the bread and wine – promises about the forgiveness of sins. But at communion you don’t just hear promises about the forgiveness of sins – you receive those promises physically. I could tell you “Jesus loves you” all day and you might think I’m talking to someone else. Even if I eye-ball you and call you by name “Jesus loves you, X,” it still mightn’t go in. But as I press the bread into your hand I can say “Jesus loves you” and you take it into yourself. I might tell you your sins are completely forgiven because of Jesus and you let it wash over you. But as I press the cup into your hands I say “this is, v28, for the forgiveness of sins” and you take it into yourself.
Jesus really wants to give Himself to us. And communion is a way of us receiving Christ in a very personal way.
So Jesus took bread (became a Man), gave thanks (lived the truly godly life), broke it (died) and gave it to His disciples (Jesus died SO THAT He could be given to each one of us).
I wonder what the disciples made of all this at the time. They’d be saying to themselves: “Could Jesus really be giving Himself away so freely like this? He’s saying He’ll be torn apart like bread and poured out like wine, could anything as violent as that really happen to Jesus? And He’s giving Himself away. Could He really be as available as bread for the hungry? Could He really be offering Himself as freely as wine at a dinner party? Does that even make sense?
Well within a few hours they would see how true it all was. As they looked at the cross they could see, “Yes indeed, He really was torn apart.” But also, with the last supper still fresh in their memory they could say “Jesus really is freely given. He’s MORE available than bread for the hungry. He’s MORE freely offered to us than wine at a dinner party. He really is FOR US! The cross proves it!”
And so that’s the cup of blessing – the blessings we don’t deserve because Christ was torn apart for us.
Now to the cup of curses, from verse 36:
36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me." 39 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."
Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus was sweating blood as He prayed. Blood vessels were bursting all over His body, He is overwhelmed to the point of death and falls flat on His face. Why? Because of the prospect of this cup. Verse 39:
"My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."
Here is a very different cup. It’s a cup that brings curse and death, and throughout the Old Testament the prophets spoke of this cup.
As I read these verses, see if you can get a picture in your mind of this cup:
8 In the hand of the LORD is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs. (Psalm 75:8)
Or here’s Jeremiah chapter 25:
15 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. 16 When they drink it, they will stagger and go mad because of the sword I will send among them." 17 So I took the cup from the LORD's hand and made all the nations to whom he sent me drink it:
[Jeremiah then describes handing around this cup to all the nations, but he starts in Jerusalem – judgement begins with the house of God and then flows out to the world… Jeremiah goes on…]
27 "Then tell them, `This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Drink, get drunk and vomit, and fall to rise no more because of the sword I will send among you.' 28 But if they refuse to take the cup from your hand and drink, tell them, `This is what the LORD Almighty says: You must drink it! 29 See, I am beginning to bring disaster on the city that bears my Name, and will you indeed go unpunished? You will not go unpunished, for I am calling down a sword upon all who live on the earth, declares the LORD Almighty.'
The cup represents the judgement of the whole world. And it’s a picture that gets picked up again in Revelation 14. Listen to how unthinkably horrific this cup is. Here’s Revelation’s picture of the future:
"If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, 10 he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. (Revelation 14:9-10)
Now do you understand why Jesus is overwhelmed, sweating blood, flat on His face and begging the Father for another way?
Jesus is about to drink the cup. All hell is distilled in it. For Jesus, the cup is the CROSS, where He was about to die. There’s no literal poisoned chalice being passed to Him. The cross is the poisoned chalice. The Cross is where He’s about to, in a sense, drink down the wine of God’s fury that has been poured full strength into the cup of God’s wrath. He’s about to drink that cup down to its dregs. The cross is Him cutting into the queue, snatching the cup away from you and I, and draining it Himself.
This is the cup that you and I deserve to drink. We don’t deserve the cup of blessing, the cup of forgiveness, the cup of life. We do deserve this cup: the cup of curses, the cup of wrath, the cup of eternal death. But what a wonderful exchange. We get the cup of life. Our Lord and Maker, the Beloved Son of the Father, He gets the cup of death.
And there’s a major part of Him that doesn’t want to drink it! Verse 39: “May this cup be taken from me!” He prays. Which is extraordinary. Throughout the Gospels Jesus has been saying He must suffer, He must die, He must go to the cross, He must take our judgement. But just hours from the cross the weight of it is crushing Him and He says “Father, is there some other way!?”
Often people ask “Couldn’t God forgive us without the cross? Couldn’t God bless us and bring us to heaven without all the agony of the cross?” Well Jesus asks that very question in Gethsemane. And if there was any other way, don’t you think Jesus would have taken it? If there was any other way, don’t you think the Father would have offered it? But no. There’s no other way. Either Jesus drinks the cup, or we do.
And by verse 42, Jesus is resigning Himself to it:
"My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."
But that’s the prospect: unless Jesus drinks the cup, the cup will not be taken away from you and me. Do you see that? Cover over the first three words of Jesus’ saying in v42 and you’ll see. Cover over “My Father, if” and you’ll see the truth of the situation: IT IS NOT POSSIBLE FOR THIS CUP TO BE TAKEN AWAY UNLESS JESUS DRINKS IT.
In the Garden of Gethsemane the prospect is clear for Jesus. Either He goes to hell, or we do. And after wrestling in prayer for an hour He arises with fresh resolve and He says “Father, let it be me.”
It’s the wonderful exchange. He takes hell, we get heaven. He takes the curses, we get the blessings. He takes death, we receive life.
You’ll often hear the name of Jesus, out on the streets, on TV. Mostly used as a swear word. But however it’s said, it means the same thing. He drank the cup, He gave His life, He died for me. So when we hear His name, let’s say in our hearts the truth: He died for me. Let’s practise it now, I’ll say Jesus and you say in your heart, “He died for me.” Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. He drank the cup, He gave His life, He died for me.