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The Cup of Christmas (by Matthew DelValle)

(originally published December 22, 2010)

39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. 45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”  (Luke 22:39-46)

During the Christmas season we are reminded of the truth of the Incarnation. The Incarnation is that God the Son—Jesus Christ—took on human flesh. He became one of us. He was born of a woman (Gal. 4:4). He lived under the authority and instruction of His parents (Luke 2:41-52). He had brothers and sisters (Luke 8:19-21). He ate when He was hungry (Luke 7:36). He drank when He was thirsty (John 4:7). He slept when He was tired (Luke 8:23). He cried when He was sad (John 11:35). He was like us in every respect (Heb. 2:17), yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). Christmas reminds us of all these truths.
In this passage from Luke 22 we catch another glimpse at the humanity of Jesus: He sweated. We have all sweated before. But have you sweat so hard drops of blood fell from your face? There is a condition known as hematidrosis where extreme anguish or physical strain causes the blood vessels to burst, mixing blood with sweat. Jesus was undergoing such anguish. Matthew’s account records Jesus saying, “My soul is very  sorrowful, even to death” (Matt. 26:38). Jesus was experiencing the most extreme level of anguish. Why? It was because of His Father’s cup that He knew He must drink (John 18:11).
The Cup
I want to camp out on this “cup” for a moment. In the Old Testament the cup was a metaphor for God’s wrathful judgment upon sin. In Psalm 75:8 Asaph wrote, “For 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.” The prophet Isaiah echoes this language, “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). In both of these Old Testament passages it is the wicked who are to drink the cup of God’s wrath. They are the ones who deserve judgment, and therefore they are the ones who drain the cup down to the dregs.
Yet here in Luke’s Gospel we read something startling: Jesus is asking the Father if He is willing to remove a cup from Him. God the Father had prepared a cup of wrath for God the Son to drink to the full. It was as if God the Father was saying, “In the hand of the LORD there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and I pour out from it, and my only begotten Son shall drain it down to the dregs.”
Jesus knew He was to drink the cup of His Father’s wrath. He knew what awaited Him at His crucifixion. It wasn’t death at the hands of lawless men that put Jesus into agony. It wasn’t even the horrific death of crucifixion. Jesus had taught His disciples, “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell” (Luke 12:4-5). No, what Jesus agonized over in the garden of Gethsemane was not murder by sinful men. What Jesus agonized over was drinking His own Father’s cup. That’s why He ended His prayer by saying, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). “It was the will of the LORD to crush him” (Isa. 53:10).
When Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, that wasn’t hyperbole (Matt. 27:46). Jesus wasn’t just saying how He felt. He didn’t merely feel forsaken. He was forsaken. He was bearing the full weight of the wrath of God against all law-breaking, glory-trading, God-dishonoring sin upon Himself. Every bitter thought, every evil deed—all the sins of everyone who would believe in Him Jesus took upon Himself. If ever there was a person truly forsaken—in the deepest sense of the word—it was Jesus. He drank the cup down to the dregs.
Christ Our Curse
Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’” The reason Jesus was forsaken by His Father is because He was cursed by His Father. That is literally what happened at Golgotha. The Father couldn’t even bear to look at His Son, who had become a mass of sin. The very sight of it disgusted Him because all He saw was filth. That is what is meant when we read, “He became sin who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ became sin.
Think about this: The eternity of punishment that the wicked will experience will not compare to the wrath that was inflicted upon our Lord. It will not be equal. They will only experience the due punishment for one person’s sins—their own. No more, no less. Christ took the punishment of wrath not for one person but for billions of people. That is punishment upon punishment, wrath upon wrath, multiplied billions of times over. And what normally takes an eternity to unleash was concentrated into the most intense three hours that can be conceived. 6-week summer classes are harder than 16-week semester classes; try cramming an eternity of punishment into 3 hours. The cross was a crash course in experiencing the holy wrath of Almighty God.
I think that’s why Jesus prayed so hard His sweat became blood. It was His last opportunity to commune with His Father before He would be totally and utterly forsaken. In a matter of hours, the Father would turn His back on His Son. He would not listen to Him. He would curse Him. That’s why Luke records in verse 44 that Jesus was in agony. What could be more agonizing? He was about to experience the wrath of His Father.
Saved From God’s Wrath
So what are you saved from? If someone asks you, “Are you saved?” what do they mean? Saved from what? Friends, if we have repented of our sins and believed in our hearts that Jesus Christ is Lord, we have been saved from God Himself. We aren’t saved from hell. Hell wasn’t mad at us. We’re saved from God, and His righteous wrath against our rebellious, cosmic treason. In my place—in my place!—condemned He stood.
I love these words from John Stott about Christ’s death on the cross: “[The cross] is an appeasement of the wrath of God by the love of God through the gift of God. The initiative is not taken by us, nor even by Christ, but by God himself in sheer unmerited love. His wrath is averted not by any external gift, but by his own self-giving to die the death of sinners. This is the means he has himself contrived by which to turn his own wrath away.” To which I say, “Hallelujah!”
We are saved from God, by God, for God. Now God is no longer angry with us but only and forevermore our merciful Father. That, my friends, is amazing grace. Thank you, Jesus, for drinking the cup for me.

Man of Sorrows! what a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
“Full atonement!” can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Lifted up was He to die;
“It is finished!” was His cry;
Now in Heav’n exalted high.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew His song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Other posts by Matthew DelValle: