Summary: The wrath that was due us fell on Him.

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This sermon is based on chapter 3, “Looking Below the Surface,” in The Cross of Christ by John Stott.


“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39).

In Gethsemane, Jesus was “sorrowful and troubled” (v. 37). Luke writes, “And begin in an agony he prayed more earnestly; his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). “Though the word ‘like’ may indicate that this is to be understood metaphorically, there are both ancient and modern accounts on record of people sweating blood—a condition known as hematidrosis, where extreme anguish or physical strain causes one’s capillary blood vessels to dilate and burst, mixing sweat and blood” (ESV Study Bible, p. 2007). On another occasion, Jesus said, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour” (John 12:27).

What was the “cup” that He dreaded to drink?

• The “cup” was not PHYSICAL suffering.

There are two reasons why the cup Jesus dreaded was not physical suffering. First, if the cup meant physical suffering then Jesus would have been guilty of not practicing what He preached. He once told His followers that when insulted, persecuted, and slandered, they were to “rejoice and be glad” (Matt. 5:11-12).

Second, if the cup meant physical suffering then Jesus would have been outdone by His followers. The apostles, leaving the Sanhedrin with backs bleeding from a merciless flogging, were actually “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffering dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41). In the postapostolic period there was even a longing to suffer martyrdom. In the middle of the second century, Polycarp, the eighty-six-year-old bishop of Smyrna, having refused to escape death either by fleeing or by denying Christ, was burned at the stake. Just before the fire was lit, he prayed, “O Father, I bless thee that thou hast counted me worthy to receive my portion among the number of the martyrs” (The Cross of Christ, p. 77).

• The “cup” was SPIRITUAL suffering.

In the Old Testament, the Lord’s “cup” was a symbol of His wrath. “In the hand of the LORD there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs” (Psalm 75:8). “Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering” (Isa. 51:17). “The LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: ‘Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it’” (Jer. 25:15). “The cup in the LORD’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory!” (Hab. 2:16). On the cross, Jesus would experience the wrath of God. That was the cup Jesus dreaded to drink.

We turn back to that lonely figure in the Gethsemane olive orchard—prostrate, sweating, overwhelmed with grief and dread, begging if possible to be spared the drinking of the cup. The martyrs were joyful, but he was sorrowful; they were eager, but he was reluctant. How can we compare them? How could they have gained their inspiration from him if he had faltered when they did not? Besides, up till now he had been clear-sighted about the necessity of his sufferings and death, determined to fulfill his destiny and vehement in opposing any who sought to deflect him. Had all that suddenly changed? Was he now after all, when the moment of testing came, a coward? No, no! All the evidence of his former teaching, character and behavior is against such a conclusion.

In that case the cup from which he shrank was something different. It symbolized neither the physical pain of being flogged and crucified, nor the mental distress of being despised and rejected even by his own people, but rather the spiritual agony of bearing the sins of the world—in other words, of enduring the divine judgment that those sins deserved (The Cross of Christ, p. 78).

In the end, Jesus was determined to drink the cup. When He was arrested, Peter tried to fight against the soldiers. But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11).


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