One of my “old favorite” movies is geared around the search for the cup from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper, some call this cup the Holy Grail.
And why in this film are the Nazis, a medieval-oriented religious group, and Indiana Jones on a mad-dash against each other to find Christ’s sacred cup? Because they believe anyone who drinks of it will have eternal life – but they are not talking about eternal life as a new and forever relationship with God, as the Bible defines it. No, they think it is like the so-called “Fountain of Youth” that will give them life forever, immortality right now, and invincibility (which, of course was very important to the Nazi general). Now all that is a silly twisting in order to make a Hollywood blockbuster film…
But what was the cup Jesus spoke of? Not the actual cup He drank from at the Last Supper, but the cup Jesus spoke of when He expressed His desire to let “this cup” pass by Him, meaning that He longed to not drink of it? Listen to how His prayer to the Father is recorded in the synoptic Gospels: (taken from the Garden of Gethsemane)
Matthew 26:39, “And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”
Mark 14:36, “And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.”
Luke 22:42, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.”
John 18:11, “So Jesus said to Peter, “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” Thus pointing to Christ’s focus on perfectly fulfilling the Father’s plan.
The Cup Jesus Drank…
So what was this cup, what was in this “cup” that Jesus Christ agonized over it so deeply? What is the meaning behind this metaphor?
Throughout the Old Testament there are references to the “cup of God’s wrath” being poured out in judgment on the unrighteous or even that the unrighteous would be forced to drink from this cup (Psa. 75:8; Isa. 51:17, 22; Jer. 25:15-29; Ezek. 23:31-34; Hab. 2:15-17). Continuing in the New Testament, the book of the Revelation talks about the cup of God’s wrath being poured out in judgment (14:10; 16:19; 18:6-8).
Specifically to the cup Jesus willingly drank from until it was empty, He would take upon Himself all the just and holy wrath of God against sin, in submission to the Father’s will and in love to save condemned sinners (cf. John 3:16-19; Luke 19:10; Matt. 18:11).
Yet this cup signified more than just His physical death. Jesus would not only take upon His body the full wrath and opposition of God against sin through every lash from the cat-of-nine-tails whip, every nail driven into His hands, each thorn that lacerated His head, and each agonizing, gasping breath on the cross as he suffocated under his own weight…
But also, the penultimate sacrifice in drinking this cup was the moment in time when God the Father turned His face away from His Son in judicial separation of relationship. God the Father could not look upon sin and therefore turned His countenance away from God the Son, “who became sin, who knew no sin, so that we could become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).
In this agonizing moment, Jesus, the Son, who eternally dwells in perfect oneness and communion with God the Father,“cried out in a loud voice, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? (My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me? (Matthew 27:46; cf. Mark 15:34; Psa 22:1).”
As Louis Barbieri wrote, “Jesus sensed a separation from the Father He had never known, for in becoming sin the Father had to turn judicially from His Son (Rom. 3:25-26).” (TBKC, pg. 89)
For the first and only moment in time, Christ called out to the Father and there was silence. This was the cup of death – complete death. To be torn – even for just a brief moment in time – from the perfect love-relationship – seems unthinkable yet it is unmistakable. Such was the death Christ endured.
Why was it necessary for Jesus Christ to go through this physical and spiritual death? Because Christ’s physical death on the cross would alone not be enough to erase the sin-debt resting upon all of mankind. Christ’s death had to be total – as the One who would drink all of God’s wrath for us and for our salvation.
And so a hymn-writer captures the scene:
“…How great the pain of searing loss, the Father turns His face away…as wounds which mar the Chosen One bring many sons to glory.” (from How deep the Father’s Love for Us)
First Adam: Death
In Genesis 3:1-7, Adam and Eve rebelled against God and believed the word of Satan, that serpent of old, rather than the word of God. Although God said, on the day in which they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would “surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Satan, sneered, “surely you will not die…” And so the husband and wife sinned in unbelief. They bit into the forbidden fruit and pitted themselves against the will of God.
Adam’s body remained yet strong, but he knew true death had already come.
Life as it was meant to be lived is only found in a personal love-relationship with the Life-Giver. But now Adam and Eve lived separation, alienation, and condemnation from the One who gave them life.
And so God the Creator turned His face…In agony, He drove out the progenitors of the human race (Gen. 3:23-24).
But God was still rich in grace.
Second Adam: Death to Life
As Jesus drank the entire cup of God’s holy and just wrath against sin, He, in turn, was offering the cup of salvation in the New Covenant, which is in His blood (Luke 22:14-23). All the justice and righteousness of God was satisfied in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:24-25; Rom. 5:6-11).
So the apostle Paul wrote in His letter to the Romans:
“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, have now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” (Romans 5:6-10)
So through Christ’s complete death we may receive complete life in Him. Christ’s death was the pathway to life.
Suddenly the moment of agony and silence is complete. The cup of death and wrath and judgment is empty. Jesus the Son cries out with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit my Spirit.” (Luke 23:46)
And so Christ can proclaim in His last breath, “It is finished.”
Paid in full.
Sacrifice complete. (John 19:30)
Have you received the salvation from the cup of death, freely offered in the One who died for you and me?
[Scroll down and click on the play button to listen to the audio message from our Good Friday service at North Park Baptist Church. (Begins with a scripture reading from John 19)]
FOOTNOTES (For the extra curious):
 We want to be very careful in interpreting the meaning and full extent of Christ’s death, so that in our zeal uncover rich truth we do not do violence against essential Trinitarian theology. John Piper provides some helpful restraints in understanding the full death Christ endured: “The forsakenness cannot mean, for example, that the eternal communion between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit was broken. God could not cease to be triune. Neither could it mean that the Father ceased to love the Son: especially not here, and not now, when the Son was offering the greatest tribute of filial piety that the Father had ever received. Nor again could it mean that the Holy Spirit had ceased to minister to the Son. He had come down upon him at his baptism not merely for one fleeting moment, but to remain on him (John 1:32), and he would be there to the last as the eternal Spirit through whom the Son offered himself to God (Hebrews 9:14). And finally, the words are not a cry of despair. Despair would have been sin. Even in the darkness God was, “My God,” and though there was no sign of him, and though the pain obscured the promises, somewhere in the depths of his soul there remained the assurance that God was holding him. What was true of Abraham was truer still of Jesus: Against all hope, he in hope believed (Romans 4:18). . . .
…Yet, with all these qualifiers, this was a real forsaking. Jesus did not merely feel forsaken. He was forsaken; and not only by his disciples, but by God himself. It was the Father who had delivered him up to Judas, to the Jews, to Pilate, and finally to the cross itself. And now, when he had cried, God had closed his ears….” From http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-have-you-forsaken-me
 One of my seminary professors, the late Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost delineated this further during class discussion: “The consequence of sin is spiritual death. The One assuming the obligation to pay this debt had to pay it to the full. Christ could not save us by being simply crucified to the Cross. His physical death would have only been a token payment. The indebtedness would not have been canceled. . . . The separation of the Son was an eternal separation of the Father – not related to time, but related to kind. This was the separation of an eternal One within the realm of an instance in time. In the Incarnation, Christ did not give up His glory or lay aside His deity. But His glory was veiled. The veil in the Temple was not to keep man out of the Temple, but to allow a holy God to dwell amongst the people without destroying them with His searing presence. By this [Christ’s complete sacrificial death] we are as acceptable to God as His Son is. God could impute and impart the righteousness of Christ…” (from BE446, Dallas Theological Seminary). In other words, because Christ is eternal, this momentary “separation” (though I do not mean a division of the perfect Trinitarian communion) paid the debt of our eternal separation from God.
P.S. Click on the play button below or subscribe to our iTunes podcast channel to hear a Scripture reading from John 19 and my devotional message (“The Cup of Death”), delivered on Friday evening, April 3rd, 2015 at North Park Baptist Church of Grand Rapids.