You will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow, a cup of horror and desolation, the cup of your sister Samaria; you shall drink it and drain it out, and gnaw its shards, and tear your breasts; for I have spoken, declares the Lord GOD. Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Because you have forgotten me and cast me behind your back, you yourself must bear the consequences of your lewdness and whoring.” Ezekiel 23:33-35 ESV Thus says your Lord, the LORD, your God who pleads the cause of his people: “Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more.
Isaiah 51:22 ESV
And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and aknelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”…. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. Luke 22:41-42, 44 ESV
Have you ever wondered about Gethsemane? Agony? Sweating like drops of blood? What was it about what Jesus was facing that would evoke such terror and revulsion? Yes, the humiliation, the beating, the death on the cross, all the things that were facing Jesus in the next twenty-four hours were terrible to contemplate, but what about all those people down through the ages who faced equally terrible deaths with a song on their lips? Why didn’t Jesus “bear up” better?
The answer is in the word that is repeated in all three of the passages above, the word “cup.”
It is a word expressing the experience of consequences. This world that our heavenly Father has made is one of cause and effect. It is not possible to live in defiance of the way in which the world is made, whether physical or spiritual, and then escape the consequences of our actions. Oh, yes, we personally may escape them for a time, but there will be consequences, and someone will experience them.
Those consequences are pictured by the Hebrew prophets as a cup filled to the brim with the most ghastly brew: all the hatred, all the tragedy, all the loss, all the missed opportunities, all the petty nastiness stemming from our determination to have our own way. And we will drink it; those consequences can no more be escaped than can the loss of fingers when we unthinkingly reach across a running circular saw for something on the other side.
Yes, the “cup” must be drained. But suppose someone else – Someone else – were to drink it for us? The “cup” could be taken out of our hands, and put into his. Now all of a sudden the agony of Gethsemane makes sense. Jesus was not agonizing over the circumstances of his own death, terrible as it was. He was agonizing over the hideous thought of having to drink the devil’s brew in our cup, the cup of all humanity: all the hurt, all the grief, all the terror, all the evil of all time, and in the end, for him who is Life alone, the Death of us all. Who in their right mind would willingly do that? Only one who was motivated by a bottomless love, a love for his Father whom he lived to please, and a love for the poor, pitiful creatures whom he had made for love.