I have taken time each day this past week to read and reflect on the passion week narratives in the Bible. What has captured my attention in a fresh way this time has been the metaphor of the cup recorded in Matthew 26. While in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prays three times to the Father “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” He affirms that what is tantamount is the will of the Father.
The cup-what is Jesus referring to? The cup is a metaphor that almost always stands for judgment in the Bible. Earlier in Matthew 20, at the hands of a request by James and John for privileged positions in the coming kingdom, Jesus asks them if they are “able to drink the cup.” The kingdom of God is not without controversy and to lead in God’s kingdom requires the cup of judgment. Jesus knew that the cross was right before Him. He knew what His purpose in life was. He knew that He was about to take on the sins of the world-and incur the judgment and wrath of the Father on behalf of you and me. But there were other aspects of the cup that Jesus experienced that are instructive for us.
1. Jesus experienced the complete abandonment of His closest followers. After the time of prayer in the garden Jesus betrayer shows up with a band of accusers to arrest Him. The disciples put of a small show of allegiance and defense-then Matthew 26:56 says, Then all the disciples left Him and fled. We often hear about Peter’s thrice denial-but we forget that ultimately all twelve (and probably others) abandon Him at the hour of His greatest need.
2. Jesus experienced the humiliation of His own creation abusing Him. During the first phase of a trumped up trial Jewish leaders tried to find consistent testimony that would condemn Jesus. They could not find anything of credibility. Finally they challenge Jesus with the one thing he could not deny nor remain silent. They asked Him a question regarding His very identity. “. . . tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus reply’s, “You said so . . .” He goes on to make an clear allusion to Daniel 7:13 with the language of the Son of Man which was a clear reference to Messiah. Upon the Jewish leaders condemning Jesus to death they spit in His face, struck Him and slapped Him. Have you ever considered that the very ones whom Jesus created abuse Him with this kind of behavior?
3. Jesus experienced the obscene pain of the cross. This is the aspect that we know best. But do we? The experience of the cross is more than just the instrument of death. It is the whole process of shame, mocking at the hands of Roman soldiers, a crown of thorns, scourging with a cat of nine tails, the journey to Golgotha-and being nailed to a cross. Execution on the Roman cross was known to be one of the most painful deaths possible. This was part and parcel of the cup. What we truly deserved Jesus truly suffered.
4. Jesus experienced the loss of fellowship with the Father. Finally, as Jesus was about to expire, still hanging on the cross, He exclaims in Matthew 27:46, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” What Jesus had always known, perfect fellowship with the Father, was suddenly absent. As Jesus took upon Himself all the sins of the world, the Father had to rightfully look away.
Could there be any greater pain than the physical abuse of the cross, the communal abandonment of the twelve, suffering abuse at the hands of His own creation, and the emotional loss of the fellowship of the Father? It was all for us! Reflect and worship. The reality of what tomorrow represents changes everything.