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4501 Waller Rd E
Tacoma, Washington
INI
The Third Sunday in Lent
February 21, 2016
Ascension Lutheran Church, Tacoma WA
Paul Naumann, Pastor

Jesus' Searching Question:
"SHALL I NOT DRINK THE CUP
WHICH MY FATHER HAS GIVEN ME?"
John 18:10-11

Grace and Lenten peace be multiplied unto you, from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen. Our text for this morning's meditation is found in the eighteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, verses ten and eleven, as follows:

Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant's name was Malchus. Then Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?" Here ends our text.

In the Name of Jesus Christ, who died that we might live, Dear Fellow Redeemed,

There is a certain plant native to parts of Europe and North Africa; it has a purple stem, and bears clusters of small white flowers. In its natural state it looks innocent enough, but when processed it yields an alkaloid compound that is highly toxic. Its Latin name is "conium maculatum," but it's more commonly known as poison hemlock. The ancient Greeks used it to execute prisoners. Condemned criminals would be forced to drink a bitter potion containing poison hemlock. Shortly thereafter they would suffer convulsions, paralysis and eventually death. In the year 399 B.C., the famous philosopher Socrates was put to death this way. Convicted on a charge of corrupting the youth of Athens, he was given the bitter cup of hemlock to drink -- and died in agony.

Some 430 years later, another famous Man was given a bitter cup to drink. This time, though, there was a choice. Strangely enough, this Man drank the cup not because He was forced to, but of His own free will! And this time it wasn't hemlock in the cup, but something far more bitter. This was a draught of immense suffering and woe - the cup of God's righteous anger over the sins of the world. And Jesus Christ was the one who drank it. This morning we'll consider one of the most searching questions of the season of Lent - in reality, one of the most searching questions of all time:

"SHALL I NOT DRINK THE CUP
WHICH MY FATHER HAS GIVEN ME?"
I. It's a question Jesus asked of Peter.
II. It's a question you may ask of yourself.

We return once again to the scene we visited last Thursday evening during our midweek Lenten worship. The Garden of Gethsemane is lit by the flare of torches. Jesus and His few disciples are confronted by a large group of armed men the traitor Judas at their head. It is "their hour," as Jesus said, "and the power of darkness."

It was just a short time before this, you recall, that Peter the impetuous disciple had been bragging about his bravery. He vowed never to leave Jesus' side, to fight to the death, if necessary. Now, evidently, he decides it's time to put his words into action. Seeing that Jesus is about to be taken prisoner, Peter snatches his sword from its sheath. He lashes out. As it happens, one of the high priest's servants - a fellow named Malchus - is standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. Peter's swings his sword and strikes a glancing blow at Malchus' head, severing the right ear.

I wonder what Peter thought was going to happen next. Maybe he envisioned the rest of the disciples rallying behind him, encouraged by his bravery, defeating the armed men who had come to arrest Jesus. Perhaps he thought Jesus would once again cause his enemies to fall backward to the ground. Maybe Jesus would strike them with blindness so that He and His disciples could escape to safety, as he had done that time in Capernaum.

But how shocked Peter must have been when Jesus spoke quickly to him, not to praise his bravery -- but to rebuke his ignorance! "Jesus said to Peter, 'Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?'"

This was Jesus' searching question to Peter. "Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?" It was a question that assumed many other questions. "Don't you know why I'm here, Peter? Don't you know what this is about? After all the hours I spent teaching you, do you still not understand the work I came to do?" For the moment, Jesus warded off disaster by immediately and miraculously healing the servant's ear. But that question remained, as if suspended in the air. "Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?" Peter no doubt puzzled over these words in light of the sad and confusing events that followed. What exactly did they mean? For us, of course, there is no puzzle. We know, now, what those words meant.

When was the last time you drank a liquid that was very bitter? Maybe you can't remember. Companies work hard to make their products palatable; nowadays even medicine usually doesn't taste too bad. Perhaps you remember drinking something bitter by mistake - something that was never intended to be consumed by a human. But Jesus drank the bitterest cup of all. And it was no mistake - his action was completely intentional!

Jesus' experiences over the next twenty-four hours would be very bitter, indeed. He knew what lay ahead. By going quietly with the arrest detail, Jesus was surrendering Himself to a dreadful, an unthinkable, fate. There would be physical abuse: forced exhaustion, beating, scourging, and lingering death by crucifixion. Worse still would be the spiritual agony He'd have to go through, agony we can only guess at. To be innocent, and yet be condemned - to be supremely virtuous, and yet suffer humiliation and shame. At that time, most condemned criminals were put to death by beheading, which for all its barbarity was at least a quick and merciful death. Jesus would have no such mercy. Jesus would be made to suffer horribly. He would be tortured to death on a Roman cross, a mode of execution reserved for the worst and most vile of offenders. This shame, too, Jesus had predicted to His disciples: "For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: 'And He was numbered with the transgressors.'" -- Luke 22:37.

Sometimes, as you know, a bitter experience can be tempered by having friends to share your sorrow. But even this small comfort would be denied Jesus. He would see one friend betray Him, another deny Him, and the rest run away from Him in fear. Jesus would fulfill the prophesy of Isaiah, "I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with Me." -- 63:3. Indeed, it was a bitter, solitary cup that He was about to drink.

And yet, Jesus' searching question held answers, too. Answers for Peter, and answers for us. The Greek text is very emphatic as to the reason Jesus would drink the bitter cup: because it was a cup that His Heavenly Father had given to Him. This was the way God wanted it! From the beginning of the world, this had been the Father's master plan of redemption - to substitute His innocent Son for guilty sinners like you and me. To cover our sins by punishing Him! Who could imagine such a daring rescue plan? Who could conceive a love that would sacrifice so much for people so unworthy? Not long ago we talked about how a loving parent might throw himself in front of a speeding car to save his child. We can understand that. What we can't imagine is a parent deliberately pushing his child into the path of certain death -- in order to save someone else. But that's what happened on Calvary. That was exactly God's plan! To sacrifice His Son in order to save us. This was the reason He gave Jesus such a bitter cup to drink. It was His Father's will that He drink it, and Jesus wouldn't let the sword-wielding Peter - or anyone else - keep that cup from His lips. Isn't it ironic? Peter wanted to fight anything that might lead to the cross. Jesus fought anything that might lead away from it. He told His disciples, "Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour!" -- John 12:27.

Jesus chose to accept that cup of His own free will. The question, "Shall I not drink it?" implies the answer "Yes, of course! I must drink it!" He had a specific goal in mind, a particular joy it was His object to attain. The writer to the Hebrews says, "[Look] unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame." -- 12:2. What was that joy? What made Him willingly take that bitter cup of suffering to His lips? My dear friends, He did it so He could put a different cup, the sweet cup of salvation, to YOUR lips!

Free forgiveness for all your sins, peace with God, and eternal life - that's the cup Jesus brings to you. And what does He ask in return? Merely that you receive these blessings in faith and thankfulness. -That doesn't seem like much to do, does it? But evidently it is too much for a lot of people. Millions of Americans have heard the Gospel but rejected it. They haveturned down God's offer of salvation in Christ. He has drained the bitter cup for them and offered them the sweet, but they have dashed it to the ground. For them the cross is a stumbling-block and foolishness, the Gospel a fairy tale, designed for kids and few gullible adults. They prefer to serve other gods, like the god Money, or the increasingly powerful gods, Pleasure and Entertainment. Some make themselves into gods, and presume to earn heaven through their own good works. But we will not be deceived by these false gods, or by any others. Jesus is our Lord. He has told us, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father, except through Me." On the cross He drained the bitter cup of suffering that, for our sins, we deserved to drink; in its place He offers us that other, much sweeter cup. It's free, and it's for you -- it's the cup of salvation and eternal life!

So ask yourself this morning's searching question: "Shall I not drink the cup which my Lord Jesus has given me?" Yes! In the cross of Christ we find the sweet offer of free salvation, and it's an offer that's much too good to turn down. Joyfully, let us answer the question the same way the Psalmist answered it: "What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me? I will TAKE the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD." AMEN.