The Cup Jesus Drank

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Several years ago, I had a colonoscopy and was asked to “prepare” for the event. The “cleanse” this preparation entailed was not as refreshing as it sounds. I was encouraged to drink a cup of liquid dynamite, so vile it made dirt seem sweet, every two hours for an entire day. The first few times seemed bearable compared to the violent convulsions and dry heaves my body displayed knowing the bitterness that was coming with every subsequent attempt.  Years later, my brain can still remember how rancorous that stuff tasted and the terror it unleashed on my insides. It was a bitter cup.

John’s mother once asked Jesus if her son could be Jesus’ right hand man in his kingdom. (Mt 20:20-24, Mk 10:38-39) Jesus’ response was curious. He said, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” When John said yes, Jesus said, “You will drink my cup…”

This same John, in his gospel, refers to this “cup” again. After he describes Jesus’ arrest by Roman guards, and the subsequent attempt by Peter to turn the event into a brawl, Jesus is quoted as saying, “Put your sword in its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (Jn 18:11) This is John’s only reference to this cup, but the Synoptic gospel writers consistently report Jesus’ use and deepening of the metaphor.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke describe Jesus sharing a Passover meal with his disciples prior to his arrest. (Mt 26, Mk 14, Lk 22) Mark records Jesus’ words when he took the third of the four Seder cups of Passover, the cup of redemption, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them.  “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (14:25-25) He asked them to drink it as well.

Passover was an exercise of shared remembering for the Jews. In Exodus 6:6-7, God made four promises to his people, Israel, that they remembered in four symbolic cups of wine at this special memory meal: (1) “I will take you out of Egypt,” (2) I will deliver you from Egyptian slavery,” (3) I will redeem you (from death) with a demonstration of my power, and (4) I will acquire you as a nation/make you my people.” Jesus drank the first three cups with his disciples, highlighting the third, but what about the fourth cup? Could it be the cup he claimed he would drink anew in the kingdom of God?

The “cup” metaphor is still in Jesus’ thoughts as he moved from the Passover meal to the Garden of Gethsemane. (Mt 26:39, Mk 14:36, Lk 22:42) In his heart-wrenching, bloody-teared prayer he says, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, but not as I will, but as you will…If this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” (Mt 26:39,42) The Old Testament is full of imagery of God’s cup of wrath, a bitter cup indeed. (Psalm 75:8, Isaiah 31:17, Jer 25:15-28, Revelation 14:10)

Finally, with Jesus hanging from a Roman cross suffering all the agony a human body and divine soul can endure, John brings his reader back to Jesus’ cup. (John 19:28-30) Near death, Jesus said, “I thirst.” Delivered to his lips on a hyssop branch (the same type of branch used to spread the Passover blood over the Israelites doors all those years ago) was sour wine. After he drank it, he said, “It is finished,” and breathed his last.  Could this be the fourth cup of Passover, ushering in the kingdom of God anew, and declaring all who would accept this sacrificial gift as children of God?

Jesus knew the bitterness of the contents, but he willingly drank the cup his Father gave him to drink, on our behalf, converting a cup of wrath into a cup of life.  John likely recalled that Jesus had told him he would drink this cup. It would be a cup of salvation and joy (Ps 116:13, Ps 23:5), but also one of suffering and death. He had told him earlier “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” (Mt 16:24, Mk 8:34) The irony of drinking this free cup of life, is that it costs the believer everything.

I drank a bitter drink once. It flushed out the junk, so that doctors could look inside my guts, and give me a clean bill of health.  Jesus drank the bitterness of the wrath of God. He drank every last drop of suffering and death that my sin deserved, and made it possible for God to look into my heart and declare me clean, his daughter, stamped with his unique seal of ownership, his Spirit. We can drink to that!

Why We Are All Thirsty People

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Isolation is catastrophic.   A baby cannot survive without human touch. Elderly people who are socially isolated are twice as likely to die prematurely. Loneliness impairs immune function and spikes inflammation, so it literally makes us sick. As human beings, made in the image of relational, three-persons-in-one God, we require connection.  We thirst for it with a primal intensity. We are all thirsty people.

John quotes Jesus as saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:35-37) John comments that Jesus said this in reference to someone who was coming later in the story, someone who would connect us to God in a most beautiful and intimate way.

John, one of Jesus’ closest personal friends, knew loss and loneliness well. He watched his friend writhe in agony on the cross. He took Jesus’ mother home at his friend’s dying request.  He marveled over breakfast on the beach with his risen Lord, but then watched him leave again, this time for good.  He carried on in Jesus’ name as a leader of the church in Ephesus.   He lived long past his martyred fellow apostles. He was exiled to an island where he saw a great vision from God. I think John had experienced the Holy Spirit in very personal ways throughout his lifetime. At least half a century after Jesus’ ascension, John is penning the words of this gospel account, an old man still waiting to see his friend again.

John remembers Jesus promise of the Holy Spirit throughout his gospel, always connected to a water motif, but in chapters 14-16 John highlights Jesus’ last words of encouragement to his followers before his death. These words have no doubt shaped John’s own personal relationship with God the Father and Son by God the Spirit ever since. In intimate fashion, John made clear that Jesus promised not to leave those who believed in him as orphans, isolated and alone. God the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit would now incarnate themselves in the heart of every believer, an eternal presence, like a perpetual spring of living water.

Jesus makes startling claims in regard to his Spirit in five unique references in this text! He told his disciples (including John and now including us) that if they have faith, they will do the same things Jesus has done and even greater things than he did! Say what?! He said it as better if he left them, so that his own Spirit, the Counselor, would come to them. Could this be true?! This Counselor/Helper/Holy Spirit/Spirit of Truth, will dwell with/in each believer! He will continue to teach, remind, testify, convict, and guide into ALL TRUTH each individual who collectively form the body of Christ, his church!  The Spirit, alive in people, will bring glory to God on earth and in heaven, long after Jesus leaves the earth and returns to the Father.

It is this Spirit, Paul would say, that connects us to God as a child to his daddy. The Spirit gives us breath to cry out as Jesus did, “Abba Father” (Daddy God) as the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God. (Romans 8:15-17)  This is not just good news, it’s amazing news! Just like only water can quench a deep thirst, only the Spirit of God can fill the deepest desire for connection that is inherent to humanity. Not only did Jesus absorb the wrath of God that our sin demanded on the cross and overcome death in his resurrection, but he left his Spirit multiplied millions of times over in every believer who would follow him since. We are not alone. Ever.

 

References to the Spirit in John 14-16:

#1 – I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, because I am going to the Father…If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father to give you another Helper to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (14:12, 15-18)

 

#2 – All this I have spoken while with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (14:25-26)

 

#3 – When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. (15:26-27)

 

#4 – But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I’m going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgement, in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me, in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer, and in regard to judgment because the prince of this world now stands condemned. (John 16:6-10)

 

#5 – I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own, he will speak only what he hears, and will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. (John 16:12-14)

Water in a Basin

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“Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair.” John 12:3

“Then he (Jesus) poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciple’s feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” John 13:5

Sacrifice hurts. Sacrifice is hard. Love is sacrifice.  In John’s gospel, Mary’s sacrifice foreshadows Jesus’ sacrifice, both demonstrating the full extent of love.

Mary took a valuable possession, worth a year’s worth of common wages, and poured it over Jesus head, body, and feet, wiping his feet with part of herself. (See also Matthew 26; Mark 14) Her action was beyond convention or expectation.   It was done at the expense of her money, her pride, and her reputation. It was an act of adoration and love that was despised by man, but commended by her Lord and friend. Mary was already doing what Jesus would soon call his disciples to do.

Jesus’ took a towel and wrapped it around his waist. He poured water into a basin. He took the position of a Gentile slave, defying convention and expectation, and washed the feet of the friends who would soon reject him. It was done at the expense of his pride, his rights, and his dignity. It was an act that was defiantly despised by one of his best friends, Peter, but commended by his Father. It was an action that foreshadowed and symbolized the humiliation he was about to endure and the complete washing that his death and resurrection would secure. For John, years after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, it also symbolized a washing away of sins that baptism would symbolize for Christ followers for years to come. (Same language is used for baptism in Acts 22:16, I Corinthians 6:11)

John records Jesus’ take on his own actions. He tells his friends, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Later he will tell them, “A new commandment I give to you, that you should love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15:12-13)

The first commandment these disciples would have known was to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus gave a new commandment, upping the ante, and deepening the love requirement. Now he compelled them to love sacrificially, like he did when he washed their feet and like he will do by bearing the penalty for the vileness of their sin in his humiliating death on a cross.

Jesus asks all of us who choose to imitate and obey him to do the same, to love sacrificially by “washing one another’s feet.”  Washing feet may involve doing something you don’t want to do. It may involve not doing something you really want to do. It hurts. It’s hard. It requires confidence in the one who loves you so much that he would sacrifice for you. Will you humbly pour some water into a basin today?

Jesus’ Tears

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I don’t just cry; I weep. It’s not pretty or dainty. It’s ugly and raw. The sounds that accompany the outbursts are often guttural and unpleasant. Though it usually flows from something I see or hear at surface level, it always exposes something much deeper.   Tears, for me, are a passageway for joy or pain, an escape route to restore balance to my soul. I do this because I am an image bearer of a God who weeps.

Jesus said that the eyes are the lamp of the body. (Matthew 6:22) They reflect what our gaze is fixed upon. This light shines into the innermost places of our heart, revealing its condition. Jesus’ eyes, John tells us, spilled forth water mixed with proteins and oil. The living waters of Jesus’ Spirit were stirred. He wept. (John 11:35)

John reveals the scene that Jesus’ eyes gazed upon. It was a public display of mourning…for his beloved friend, Lazarus… who had been dead for four days.   Communal displays of grief were not uncommon in Jewish first century culture. Often professional mourners joined family and friends for seven loud days of weeping and wailing. For three days, however, the wailing had a distinct purpose; there was still hope that the spirit of the dead person would rejoin the body and live again. By day four, the tears turn to unabashed grief, sorrow over the finality of the situation.

John says that when Jesus saw this scene, especially the pain of Mary and Martha, Lazarus’ sisters, he was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” (Jn 11:33, 38) The Greek verbs used here evoke a less serene image.   They reveal anger, literally the snorting sound a horse makes before a charge in battle, emotions so strong that they cannot be contained. They force action. Jesus demands that to see where they’ve laid him and to roll back the stone of the grave.

The verb translated “troubled” literally means agitated, the same word applied to the healing waters in John 5.   Jesus, who had just declared to Mary, “I am the resurrection and the life,” is staring down death and the “finality spell” it has cast over his followers.  He is agitated, riled up, angry no doubt, and he desperately wants those he loves to understand who he is and what he has come to do! His power (grace) could not be contained as he brought Lazarus back from being overwhelmingly dead, a foreshadowing of his ultimate victory over death through his own resurrection that was yet to come.

On another occasion, as he approached his own death, Jesus wept when he saw Jerusalem, lamenting over those who couldn’t understand the implications of his incarnation. (Luke 19:41) Jesus’ tears are a window into the indignation and compassion of God, troubled by the chaos, suffering and death that sin ushered into his creation, but overwhelmingly saddened by those will not accept Jesus Christ as his appointed pathway back to redemption and life, abundant and eternal.

My tears release the joy or pain deep within (literally the chemical remnants of stress) to restore homeostasis or balance to my physiological body.   God’s angry tears reveal his intention to restore balance to his fallen world.   Jesus, God with us, would lay down his life, a perfect sacrifice for sin, and utterly destroy death when he rose three days later, never to die again. A living Savior whose Spirit was stirred, now offers that same Spirit to those who will believe in Him, a guarantee of eternal life. Will you believe today? Death does not have to win. Jesus enables those who sow with tears to reap songs of joy!