Includes a remembrance of West Houston Bible Church organist Sally Davis.
Click the notes link below to view Dr. Dean's “Harmony of Jesus in Gethsemane” document.
Have you ever wondered what Jesus was referring to when He fervently prayed that God would take the cup from Him in Matthew 26? Listen to this lesson to understand that the cup is a frequent figure of speech throughout Scripture. See how it refers to judgment in the Old Testament. Find out that in this instance it has a deeper meaning than references to Jesus’ general suffering and mission on the Cross. Learn how it is a challenge to discipleship for believers. In addition, discover an appreciation of the value of art from the Middle Ages and renaissance, which portrays the content of the Bible.
Gethsemane: Lessons in Prayer
Matthew 26:36–46; Mark 14:32–42; Luke 22:39–46
Matthew Series #173
October 15, 2017
“Our Father, we’re thankful for the opportunity to come together to worship You through the study of Your Word. What we know is our Lord prayed in His high priestly prayer in John 17, “Sanctify them in truth, Thy word is truth.”
“It is through Your Word that we are matured, that we are changed, that we are transformed from who we are based on our sin nature to who we are based on our walk with Christ, our walk by the Holy Spirit.
“Father, we pray that we might be challenged by Your Word, that it might fulfill its purpose in our lives, and that we may recognize that there is nothing in this life that is more valuable, more significant than the knowledge and application of Your Word, and that this takes precedence over everything else: the highest of all priorities.
“For when we die, when we’re face-to-face with You, the only thing that we take with us is that spiritual maturity that has developed in this life. We pray that You would challenge us with what we study today.
“In Christ’s name, amen.”
Tribute to Sally Davis
As we just heard a tremendous arrangement of different things that Sally Davis prepared for this congregation, there are a couple of things I didn’t say yesterday at the memorial service that I’d like to comment on for the congregation.
There are times when a pastor sort of functions a little bit like a parent. Shepherds are like that. We live in an era today when there are times when people have just sort of lost an understanding in congregations of proper protocols and etiquette, and certain traditions that really were more characteristic of an older, well-churched, well-mannered culture than we have today and these things have gotten lost.
Sally exemplified this. Sally was one of two ladies in this congregation who practiced a form of etiquette that has sadly disappeared.
My first church was a church of a lot of older people. The mean age and that congregation was about 55 and that included all the bed babies. One of the things I appreciated from the very beginning is that there would be folks, usually ladies in the congregation, who were a little more mindful of these kinds of things, and they would on occasion, usually at Christmas or my birthday or something like that, they would send a little thank you note.
Sally was always consistent with that. There’s another lady in the church who does that as well. Frequently she might put a small little check in there or gift card or something like that. That’s not really the point, but it is very much appreciated by pastors to have those notes of appreciation.
Just so happens—I didn’t plan it this way—that October is Pastor Appreciation Month. You probably didn’t even know that October was Pastor Appreciation Month, but it is. Sally was often thoughtful that way, and that just shows a level of her grace orientation and her appreciation.
I don’t say this so much to expect that in the next week or two I’m going to get flooded with thank you notes or anything, but I also know that in our live streaming audience, there are a lot of people who listen, either they livestream or they listen later on to the lessons on the Internet, and they go to other churches.
Every one of us needs to be challenged a little bit in our less-than-genteel often-uncivil society to express appreciation and gratitude to a lot of different people for the way they serve the Lord in local churches.
We can think of the deacons, Sunday school teachers that often are not noticed and not mentioned and yet give a tremendous amount of their time to be here to teach the kids, to serve as on the deacon board, or to even be in the choir. It’s a good thing for everyone to be reminded to show a little appreciation in different ways for the service that is done in the local church.
The second thing that relates to that, that many people don’t know about Sally, reflects upon her dedication, a level of dedication that sadly is also rare to find in congregations. We have several people again who rise to this level, but it’s a challenge for all of us.
Sally was 87 when she went to be with the Lord. When I came back here 13 years ago, and we began this church, that would mean that she was 74, a time when many people think that they are retiring from the Christian life.
I often think as I observe people in congregations that retirement from your business world is your opportunity to go full-time in terms of serving the Lord. I’ve seen this happen with many different people, that once they are able to retire and not work 40, 60, 80 hours a week, then they get really involved in the local church in different ways, ways in which they can help.
Well, Sally was getting into her senior years, and like many of us, she had begun to notice that her joints and her fingers did not move like they once had. She suffered from terrible arthritis, and if you ever saw her hands, they were pretty gnarled, and looked like the last thing she could do was play the piano or organ.
Sally loved this congregation. She loved this church. She loved being able to use her talents to serve the Lord here. She would get up every Sunday morning and go through a series of things to prepare. She would have to soak her hands, she would have to put various creams on them to deal with the pain that came with the arthritis.
She would go through various exercises to stretch and to limber up her fingers. Nobody knew this and she did this every single Sunday. When many people would just say, “I’m too old. My fingers are too stiff. I just can’t do that anymore,” she would come every Sunday in order to play and to serve in this congregation.
Again I want to thank those of you who were able to take the time out of your busy schedules yesterday to be here, to show your appreciation and gratitude for her, for what she has done, and to express our love, the congregation’s love, for her to her family, and the support that they gave.
If you missed it, it’s on the Internet. Her grandson—who it turns out … I didn’t remember him but he was in my Prep School class along with Gregory Friehauf and Mary Elizabeth many, many years ago—and both of them (her grandson and granddaughter) just spoke, and said many tremendous things yesterday. So I just know it was greatly appreciated by the family and a great demonstration of your grace orientation if you were able to make it here yesterday.
This morning we’re back in Matthew 26 studying Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and we’re looking at these lessons in prayer specifically. In this lesson we’re looking at this phrase that Jesus uses related to the hour and the cup. He prayed to the Father, if possible, to let this hour and this cup pass from Him.
We need to come to understand this. There are lots of different things going on in Gethsemane and in the record of these things given to us in the synoptic Gospels. In our two previous lessons, we took the time to probe into what was going on in Jesus’ spiritual life.
Jesus suffered in tremendous ways in the garden. The language, as we saw, that is used to describe His emotional state tells us a lot about the fact that He’s genuinely human, and that He experienced some extremely intense emotions. He had this turmoil as He anticipated what was coming at the Cross.
So much so that when He gets alone with His disciples, He fell down on His knees, and then on His face as He pleaded with God in this prayer. It is dramatic. It is intense, and the emotion is so powerful that Luke—the physician, of course—records that He sweated great drops of blood.
This is not a phenomenon that is unknown to modern science—that this happens under severe distress to different people—because the capillaries just under the skin are under such pressure from the emotional stress that it pushes blood out through the sweat glands.
Jesus comes into the garden and in the garden He prays three times. There is a progression as we will see from prayer to prayer, and He prays that God’s will be done. When we really understand what’s going on here, that is a statement that is so profound.
It is often repeated in prayers by believers almost as a throwaway line where we pray to God, “Lord, I really want these five things;” and then we say, “But if it’s Your will.” It’s sort of like we’ve just canceled out our prayer, and we use it as a throwaway line. We don’t understand the context of how Jesus is using it in this particular prayer, so we need to look at that some more as we go through this.
In the previous two lessons, we examined the emotional pressure on Jesus, that emotion itself is not a sin. There are some emotional sins, but intense emotion is not inherently or necessarily sinful. But our response to that emotion may be sinful. That is part of Jesus’ test in the Garden of Gethsemane as how He is addressing that emotion.
I also talked about the will of Jesus because He talks about “not My will but Your will be done.” Does Jesus have His own will, a distinct will from the Father? How does that relate to the Father’s will? We did a study of the Hypostatic Union, that Jesus is One Person.
So often that’s what we understand: He’s the God-Man. He is two natures, but He’s One Person; the One Person hungered, the One Person thirsted. Often you’ll hear people say very wrongly, “Well, Jesus hungered out of His humanity,” as if He split Himself.
That’s the Eutychian heresy. One side is doing something and the other side isn’t. No, the One Person hungers, thirsts, is tired. The One Person is sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane.
So Jesus had His own will, but it is not independent of the Father, as I concluded the last time.
As we look at this section, which begins in Matthew 26:36, where we’re told, “Then Jesus came to a place called Gethsemane …”
It is a picturesque term. For Gethsemane in the Greek means the place of an olive press, where the olives were taken and put under pressure in order to squeeze out the oil. So it is a visual representation of what is going to transpire spiritually in Jesus’ life.
I make a point out of that because one of the areas where there is a tremendous lack of thought and development in theology is in the area of what is called in philosophy “Aesthetics.” Aesthetics has to do with that which is of beauty, and it is usually applied to areas of the arts, areas of musical arts, areas of the visual arts, areas related to the expression in theater of different things, all of which is part of God’s creation.
One of the key factors that many people today have lost is that every area of God’s creation is corrupted by sin. Every area of human intellection is corrupted by sin. There are no areas of human activity that are neutral. Music isn’t neutral, art isn’t neutral; the dramatic arts aren’t neutral. Everything is either going to be the result of a divine viewpoint or human viewpoint, and yet you find very few people who are willing to think and probe in these particular areas.
Sally understood this. She was a classically trained musician, and that is why she worked hard at making sure that music that we sang conformed to the words that were put to that music. She composed things, and she put things together in order to elevate our own consciousness in singing and in worship. Not writing that which appeals to the lowest common denominator and what is publicly popular, but that which is designed to elevate our thinking in terms of God and in terms of His creation.
That is also true in areas of the visual arts. This is why in children’s books you see illustrations, you see illustrations in many Bibles, as these are to portray these biblical stories, these biblical narratives in order to bring out these particular points. One of the points that is often brought out in art is the area of this episode in Gethsemane, and the intensity of the emotion at this particular time, and what is going on.
I pointed out last time, Jesus’ will conforms to the Father’s will. In John 4:34 He said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.”
Jesus clearly says He has a will, but His will is to do the Father’s will: they are united together. We’re going to tie this together, but this is important to be reminded of these things.
In John 5:30, He said, “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.”
He’s not ever, ever—before the incarnation or after the incarnation—operating independently of the Father.
John 6:38, He says again, “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”
When we get into the analysis of this prayer, where He is praying, “Father, if it’s possible let this cup pass from Me. Nevertheless, not as I will but as You will,” we have to interpret that in light of these other statements.
One of the things I want to do is kind of a little shift in our focus and concentration right now, to talk a little bit about where I’ve been the last couple weeks. We went to Italy. We probably went to over 20 churches looking at art. We went to well over 10 museums, a lot of Rome just is an outdoor museum, and we went there.
One of the things that I’ve noticed and learned over the years is that Christians—Protestant Christians, and especially American Protestant Christians—just sort of have this knee-jerk negative reaction to anything that comes out of the Middle Ages or the Renaissance as being just inherently wrong.
“There’s some justification for that because a lot of the art that we saw just communicates a lot heresy. I can’t tell you the dozens and dozens of pictures, artwork, that we saw where Mary is at the center or she’s above Jesus and she’s got a crown on her head. That depicts a heretical doctrine in Roman Catholicism that Mary is the queen of heaven.
But we often throw out the baby with the bathwater. There are many things that are significant about the art of that time. A couple things for you to think about: first of all, about 90% of the artwork that was in Christendom during this time was biblical art. The other 10% was mythological representing different Roman and Greek myths, but most of it was biblical.
Whether you like one piece or not, or even agree or disagree with some of its theological implications, perhaps we might think of it in a different way. They were attempting to portray the biblical stories and its impact on—usually the impact on—the artist or how he thought it should impact the person looking at it.
Think about this: 90% of that artwork was an attempt to portray the Bible. Compare that to the art that’s been produced in the last 200 years. Would you rather be studying and trying to think through the biblical art of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance or thinking about some of the contemporary art where you have the crucifixion of Jesus in a glass of urine?
Think about these things. Maybe we jump to too many conclusions and throw the baby out with the bathwater. What was going on in many cases is that the artists were working to understand the Bible and to present a visual representation of what was going on in the text.
In many cases, two things are going on in the artwork, and I will show you a couple things to apply this in a minute. First of all, you have the artist’s own spiritual struggle. He recognizes his need for grace. In many cases, we’re critical of the Catholic crucifix because it keeps Jesus on the cross. I understand the theology there, that in the mass Jesus is crucified again and again and again. But He died once for all, for all sin. We understand that.
There’s another thought going on here, and that is an emphasis that people needed to think about what Jesus was doing on the Cross. A lot of the artwork was designed to be a focal point of meditation on what was happening in the Bible.
Now because it’s visual art, it needs to be understood biblically, just like the distinction between general revelation and special revelation. We can understand that they may have used it wrongly, or they may have had some bad theology, but the depiction of a biblical event is just that: it’s a depiction of a biblical event.
Sometimes it’s talking about and expressing elements that relate to the artist’s own spiritual struggle to understand grace and forgiveness, and at other times it is just a visual presentation of the biblical event. Its focus was to get people to think about the biblical event, to go back to the story in the Bible, to reflect upon that, and I’m going to show you an example in a minute.
Another thing is that as we approach this kind of art from our background of biblical knowledge, we can use this in some cases to better portray Scripture, to add an element to Scripture that challenges us to think in terms of this artist’s application, because sometimes it was quite good.
But often there are problems with the art just as there are problems with art today. Nothing that any human being creates to present the Bible is going to be inerrant, so there are things there that we can learn from history. Let me show you a couple of examples.
First, on the upper left, I have a copy of Caravaggio’s Jesus on the Mount of Olives. It is Jesus—you see Him. The central focal point here is on this figure, who is Peter, and here you have Jesus waking Peter up in the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s a little dark, but you see two other figures here, and that’s James and John.
As we first look at this one, the first thing that struck me was that this is all about Peter; it’s not about Jesus. If you know anything about Caravaggio, he comes out of a horrible and rough background. This guy was trying to compete with Paul in terms of being the chief among sinners. He’s very concerned about forgiveness, so he wants that focus to be on Peter, that Jesus has forgiven him.
Here’s Peter, who is such a failure. Just before this episode, if we remember earlier in Matthew 26, he tells Jesus he’s going to be tested but he is not going to stumble. Here he can’t even stay awake! Sort of like some people in Bible class.
In not too a long a distance beyond this, which captures a moment in time. If you’re biblically alert you’re thinking, okay what happened before this? What happens after this? Peter is going to deny Jesus three times, and so a big element of looking at this portrait is its emphasis on grace and forgiveness, and that comes across. The focal point is not on Jesus, it is on Peter.
You look at this and you might say, “Well, Peter was a young man at the time.” If you look at it where you can see it more closely, James and John are both young, but why is Peter portrayed as an old man? Because in this period of time, that’s how Peter was often portrayed in his maturity, and so the person who looked at this picture in the Renaissance would know that’s Peter because that’s how he’s typically portrayed. He’s typecast, as it were, so when you look at it, “I know, that’s Peter.”
If you look at the fresco on the right, which was in the Church of St. Mark in Florence. They had these cubicles where the friars—the monks—would go. Each one of them had these frescoes painted on the wall, and there was some tremendous art that was there.
This is from Friar Angelico; the FRA stands for Friar. It’s called “The Agony in the Garden,” and basically there are three sections to this. He’s painting much earlier than Caravaggio. Caravaggio, you see real people there that you could recognize on the street. Here they’re more idealized.
On the lower right here, you have Mary and Martha. You think, “Well, they’re not even mentioned in Gethsemane.” Well this is actually another scene. They’re in their home, because at the time—I didn’t catch this; how many of y’all caught this? Jesus takes the disciples and goes to Gethsemane … where have they been staying? They’ve been staying at the home of Mary and Martha.
Mary and Martha are back home where Jesus and the disciples are staying, and they are pictured by him as praying and staying awake. There’s a definite contrast between them and the three disciples, who can’t stay awake. They can’t pray. What he wants you to think about is, who do you identify with?
This is all about application in thinking through the implications of the story, and he is presenting that through his artwork. He labels them: see their little halo? You can’t read it, but in their little halo he has their names, so you can identify each person.
Then he has Jesus in this sort of third panel where Jesus is separated from the three. Then this figure here is an angel that is strengthening Jesus. So he’s got the biblical elements there.
Now he doesn’t know what the Garden of Gethsemane looks like on the Mount of Olives because he’s never been there, so he puts this within a more Italian Renaissance context, but part of the reason for that is because he’s talking about the fact that even though this happened centuries ago, it has significance for today.
We fit into that in the same way. These are just some of the things to think about here, and they relate to our topic and what we’re studying.
Next time we’re going to talk a little bit more about what’s really portrayed in this Caravaggio, and that is Jesus’ challenge to them to watch and pray, to stay awake, and His statement that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. That will be our final study in Gethsemane.
In Matthew 26:39 in the first prayer, Jesus prays, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
In the second prayer, Matthew 26:42, He prays the same thing, but He says it differently. He says, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.”
Then in the third prayer, Matthew 26:44 simply says, “saying the same words.”
What is the significance of this request to “… let this cup pass from Me”?
Let me give you a little warning here. Sometimes it’s just fun for me as a pastor to teach or to see how some different things come together that I’m teaching, because who is one of the major players here? Peter. What do we study on Thursday night? Peter.
What have we been studying? (We broke things up because of going away on vacation.) We’re studying the substitutionary atonement. That directly relates to the cup and these things are going to tie together in a significant way when we get into 1 Peter 3. The Scripture hangs together, and it’s very important to see how these things fit.
So Jesus is praying that this cup, whatever that is. You see some people think it is just generally suffering. Some people think it’s more specific—the atonement of Christ where He pays the penalty for our sins on the Cross. Other people have other strange ideas, but His prayer is to avoid the cup. What’s going on here?
In the Mark 14:35 passage we’re told, “He went a little further, fell on the ground and prayed that ‘if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him.’ ”
This is the indirect discourse or indirect description of what Jesus is praying. Then He’s directly quoted—we have the direct quote in Mark 14:36, “… He said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for You; take this cup away from Me ...’ ”
You see a difference in how he expresses Jesus’ prayer between verse 35 and verse 36. In verse 35 He says that “the hour might pass from Him,” and in verse 36 it’s, “Take this cup.” We see here that these are really talking about the same thing.
Look at Matthew 26:39: the “if” here is a first-class condition, and the “if” in Matthew 26:42 is a first-class condition.
Usually the way we hear the first-class condition is, “if and it’s true.” The Greek has four different ways to express conditions: “If and it’s true;” “if and it’s not true;” “if and maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not;” and the fourth is “if and I wish it were true.”
But that is an oversimplification that often pastors fall into. Actually, as Dan Wallace defines it in his Greek grammar, Beyond the Basics, he says, “… the first-class condition indicates the assumption of truth for the sake of argument. It may be true, it may simply be assumed to be true for the sake of argument.”
That is probably what we’re seeing here. Jesus is saying if it is possible: assuming that you could do this. And He knows, as I’ve been pointing out in the two previous lessons, that it is impossible. Jesus has said again and again and again that He’s going to Jerusalem where He is going to be betrayed, where He is going to suffer, and He’s going to die, and He’s going to rise from the dead.
He has said that again and again. He knows this is His unavoidable destiny. So He’s not really expressing this as a genuine possibility that He can avoid it. He knows He can’t avoid it. So when we pray for something, and then we say “Well, Father, Your will be done,” we’re not saying the same thing Jesus is saying.
Jesus already knows that it’s not possible, but He is praying this because of the situation, the pressure, His anticipation of what the cup entails, which we will see in just a minute.
Luke expresses it this way in Luke 22:42, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Yours be done.”
The way Luke expresses it makes it clear that it isn’t God’s will, but it also makes it clear that Jesus’ will is the same as the Father’s. The way many people read these statements is as if there are two requests: first of all, “If it’s Your will, take it away from Me,” and secondly, “Nevertheless Your will be done.”
Whereas, the grammar makes it impossible to take the second clause as a second petition. They are tied together; it is one request not two requests. Jesus’ will never was disconnected from the Father’s will: it’s always the same.
Point of application is: don’t make a prayer and then close out saying, “Nevertheless, Your will be done and not mine.” That is not what this is doing. It may appear that way in English, but it’s not that way.
The first clause assumes that the request is Christ’s will—the request to pass the cup—but it is precisely the Father’s will. A better way to take the last clause would be to see it as more of a declarative sentence filling in—actually there’s an ellipsis in here—filling it in by stating it, “But this is not what I will, but what You will.”
He is affirming the Father’s will throughout this particular clause, so He’s not operating on His own initiative or on His own will. He is not wanting something apart from the Father’s will at any point.
We see in Mark 14:35 the use of “the hour”; that’s the timeframe in which this would happen. Then it’s defined as the cup.
But what exactly is Jesus asking for? We need to look at the significance of the cup. That obviously is some sort of figure of speech because He’s not talking about a literal cup, He’s talking about what it stands for.
Jesus talked about a cup just a few verses earlier in Matthew 26:28, where He is initiating the Lord’s Table, and He talks about the cup. He said this cup is the new covenant of My blood, so there’s a connection there. What is happening in terms of this phraseology for the blood of Christ?
Now those of you who’ve been around a while know that I repeat this every time we have the Lord’s Table, that blood is a symbol of a violent form of death. Jesus’ death on the Cross, His physical death, was a physical punishment or penalty, but His spiritual death, which is what pays the penalty for sin, was also a punishment. God the Father is imputing to Him our penalty for sin, our spiritual death on Him.
This is basically what He is anticipating because He will be for the first time—not ontologically separated from the Father, that can never happen, not in terms of His being or His essence—but He will be judicially separated from the Father as He who knew no sin is made sin for us.
The anticipation—not of the horrors of the flogging and the beatings and the crucifixion and all of the physical trauma, not in anticipation of all that—but in anticipation of this judicial separation from the Father is what He is stating. This is what He is talking about.
We saw this in an even earlier chapter in Matthew 20. This is where we see significant application for us. This is that episode we covered, maybe a year ago where Salome, the mother of the Sons of Zebedee, the mother of James and John. Now remember who are the three guys in the garden? Peter, James, and John. They were the same three that were out on the Mount of Transfiguration, but the two of the three are the focus of this episode.
Salome, the mother, dear old mom, comes in and she’s wants to go to bat for her kids and make sure that they have a good place when Jesus comes into kingdom, and so she asked this in Matthew 20:20–23, “Grant that these two sons mind may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left in Your kingdom.”
“But Jesus answered and said, ‘You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink …’ ”—see at this point He’s not just talking her, He’s talking to these two boys. He says— “… are you [all] able to drink the cup that I’m about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
What’s this cup? It’s the same cup. It’s that cup of Him being judged on the Cross, “and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with.” That baptism is identification with our sin.
We say, “Well, wait a minute.” In the next verse He says, “You will indeed drink My cup …” How does that happen? “… and be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized with.” How does that happen?
First of all, we need to understand the metaphor here.
1. There are several words for “cup” in the Old Testament.
The word that is translated POTERION, which is the Greek word that is used here, is kos in the Septuagint. Kos is the Hebrew word. There are several different words for “cup” that can be used in Hebrew, but this word kos is the word that is consistently translated with the same word for cup that we have here.
2. Kos occasionally means a literal cup. Frequently, it is used to represent the pouring out of God’s judgment of wrath on sinful people.
We have some examples in the Psalms:
Psalm 11:6, “Upon the wicked He will rain fire and brimstone and a burning wind shall be the portion of their cup.” The cup represents the pouring out of God’s judgment.
In Psalm 75:7–8 we read, “But God is the Judge:”—so the judgment’s the context and—“… He puts down one and exalts another. For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red …”—that red color depicts blood, violence—“… it is fully mixed, and He pours it out. Surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth drain and drink down.”
That imagery comes back several times in the Book of Revelation.
Then we have another great passage in Isaiah 51:21–23.
“Therefore, please hear this, you afflicted, and drunk but not with wine. Thus says your Lord, the Lord and Your God, Who pleads the cause of His people: ‘See, I have taken out of your hand the cup of trembling, the dregs of the cup of My fury. You should no longer drink it. But I will put it into the hand of those who afflict you …’ ” What He’s saying here is “I’m going to judge those who are against Israel.”
Jeremiah 25:27, “Therefore you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Drink, be drunk and vomit!”—very picturesque language here—“Fall and rise no more, because of the sword which I will send among you.” That’s judgment and death.
“And it shall be, if they refuse to take the cup from your hand to drink…”—taking the cup is receiving that judgment—”… then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “You shall certainly drink!
“ ‘ “For behold, I begin to bring calamity on the city which is called by My name …”—this is Jerusalem—“… and should you be utterly unpunished? You shall not be unpunished, for I will call for a sword on all the inhabitants of the earth …” ’ ”—worldwide judgment also fulfilled in the future.
What we see here is the Old Testament background to understanding this word. It is a word that relates to divine judgment on sin. So when Jesus prays, “Let this cup pass from Me,” He’s not talking about His physical suffering, He is talking about His spiritual suffering when He is going to bear the punishment for our sins on the Cross, that substitutionary atonement.
It is emphasized in passages like Romans 5:8 that “God demonstrates His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died on our behalf.” He is our spiritual substitute on the Cross.
It is emphasized in 1 John 2:2, “He Himself is the propitiation.” He satisfies the justice of God. Why? Because He’s judged for our sin.
Now here’s another point. When you go back to many of the Old Testament passages that are talking about wrath, and what you run across when you hear some people, they just can’t understand how God is going to be so angry with Jesus.
See, this is the problem of making God’s wrath emotional. It is an emotive term, but it is a figure of speech. God’s wrath is often portrayed with what’s called an anthropomorphism. Literally in the Hebrew it means “God’s nose burned.” God doesn’t have a nose. Neither does God get angry in terms of emotion. It is an expression, though, to emphasize the severity of God’s judgment.
You may go to court and you may say, “I don’t want the judge to throw the book at me.” Now you know no judge worth his salt is going to pick anything up and throw it at the defendant. It’s a figure of speech that you hope that he is not going to unload the full penalty of the law on you. You don’t want to experience the wrath of the court.
Now if he’s a good judge, he is not to get angry. He’s going to read the law and tell you what your penalty is. So the term “wrath of God” is a dramatic way of bearing the fullness of God’s judgment. That’s what propitiation is. God judges Jesus on the Cross and His justice and His righteousness are satisfied.
1 Peter 2:23, “Who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten …”
The suffering here, notice, and I pointed this out when we went through this, Peter uses a more generic term for suffering because he’s going to take the specific kind of unmerited suffering that Jesus experienced on the Cross and use that to apply to us in terms of our unmerited or undeserved suffering. This is how we should respond. We can’t suffer as Jesus did, so He doesn’t use a more precise term, but He uses a more general term because then he can make application.
He says that Jesus’ suffering, 1 Peter 2:24, “He Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.” There’s the application: that we might live for righteousness.
2 Corinthians 5:21, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” This is the cup. Jesus is identified with our sin and He is, therefore, judged for that.
This is the background for understanding Matthew 20:22–23, Jesus is going to drink the cup of bearing our sins on the tree. He will die in our place. He will bear our penalty on the Cross. That is the baptism that He’s baptized with. He’s identified with our sin and, therefore, He died spiritually for us.
That is applied to the disciples. They can’t drink that same cup, they can’t die for us. They can’t be identified with our sins. So how were the disciples connected? How did they drink this cup, and how were they baptized? Confusing isn’t it? It’s not clear.
They weren’t clear on the concept. They probably scratched their heads about that initially, but then as things developed, they forgot about it. What does He mean that we’re going to drink His cup and be baptized with that baptism? Later revelation makes it clear.
Romans 6:3 Paul says, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?”
When we trust in Christ as Savior we are identified with His death, burial, and resurrection. But there’s a reason for that. It is not just a nice little theological truth; it is so that we will live differently. That’s what Jesus is getting at with those disciples. Again and again through Matthew He’s challenging them to be disciples and to follow Him no matter what.
Paul is looking at it in a little different way, but he says the same thing. Romans 6:4, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should also walk in newness of life.”
Jesus is identified with our sins: that’s the cup. But when He applied that to the disciples, what He is saying is, are you willing to be identified with My death? In other words, are you willing to carry that out and walk in newness of life?
Because the point ultimately of our salvation isn’t just going to Heaven. That’s great and that’s wonderful, and we don’t do anything to earn or deserve it. It’s simply by faith in Christ. But the point is, as believers in this life, that’s the starting of the new life, so that because Jesus conquered death, we then can live in newness of life.
The challenge for us is not to let this end in sort of a stillbirth. We’re born again, we will have eternal life, we will never lose that, and we will spend eternity in Heaven. But there’s a reason for that birth, and that birth is to grow to spiritual maturity, to study the Word, to learn all that God has for us, and not be satisfied.
As I’ve heard some people say, “I’ll just be glad to be in Heaven. I don’t care if I’m in the ghetto or in the rich part of town, as long as I’m there.” That is not a biblical attitude.
That’s what Jesus is getting at; that’s what Paul is getting at: that the purpose for our salvation is to live in newness of life. And it’s only the Bible and the teaching of Scripture that transforms our lives into what God wants it to be, away from slavery to sin, to the freedom that we have in Christ.
With our heads bowed and our eyes closed.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to study these things, to reflect and meditate upon what happens to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, what He is praying for, the significance of that for our lives: that this is not simply limited to what He is praying for in terms of not going through the cup that hour.
“But there is a whole biblical teaching here that ultimately impacts us: are we willing then to follow through with the cup as it is applied to us in terms of our identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection, that we may live in newness of life?
“Father, I pray that as we’ve studied this, that if someone is not a believer, that they’re not confused. We’re not talking about how to get to Heaven, but how we who are destined for Heaven should live today. Getting to Heaven when we die is a free gift. It is a free gift that comes simply by trusting in Christ because He did the work, He died on the Cross for our sins, He paid the penalty. That was the cup that He drank on the Cross. He died for us.
“By trusting in Him, we are identified with that death on the Cross, and we are given new life, and that only comes by believing in Him. Faith alone, nothing else. Not faith plus works, not faith plus baptism, not faith plus going to church, not faith plus reforming our life; it is just trusting, believing Jesus died for us.
“Father, we pray that anyone listening, either here in our presence, or on the Internet, that has never trusted Christ as Savior would do so, would realize Jesus died for them. He paid for your sin and you can have eternal life.
But that life demands nourishment. After we’re saved, we need to grow and mature as believers, desiring the milk of the Word that we may grow.
“We pray that You would challenge us with all that we’ve studied today.
“In Christ’s name, amen.”