Two Cups – One Rejected, One Accepted
Matthew 27:33-34, John 19:28-30
Twice during His time on Calvary, Jesus was offered a cup of wine. Both cups were offered to Him as acts of mercy and kindness. The first cup He rejected, the second He accepted, and therein, I believe, hangs a sermon.
The first cup was offered to Him just before the act of crucifixion took place. It was the custom then that those who were to be crucified were offered wine mixed with myrrh. It had a kind of anesthetic effect and thus lessened the pain and the suffering of the one being crucified. Jesus refused that cup.
The second cup was offered to Him at the end of the crucifixion experience, just minutes before His death on the cross. Jesus had said from the cross, “I thirst,” and one of the soldiers offered Him a cup of what was called “pasca,” a cheap soldier’s wine, and Jesus accepted it to slake His thirst.
Now both of these cups, the cup of anesthesia and the cup of refreshment, were offered to Jesus as an attempt to help. Why did He reject the one and accept the other? I think I am learning the answer and I want to share what I am learning with you…
You see, I have come to believe that Jesus rejected the first cup because He understood the world’s need and the role He would play in meeting that need.
Jesus knew that He was heading into the greatest battle of His life. And as He sought to master the power of evil on the cross, He wanted first to master Himself. As He headed into this showdown with the world’s sin, He did not want His senses drugged or His mind numbed. As He prepared to walk the valley of the shadow of death to try to win the world’s salvation, He wanted to be physically and mentally alert. And so He rejected the cup that might have clouded His consciousness in the middle of the conflict.
Do you ever stop to contemplate the extent of the world’s evil? Let me mention some things that have been in the news in recent days. Item: One night last week the city of Boston erupted in a spree of violence that left six innocent people dead and four wounded. Item: A headline states that one in every six children in this country will be abused before they reach adulthood. Item: White-collar crime in America was revealed this last week to be ten times greater in the amount of money it steals than street crime. Item: The Internal Revenue Service announced this week that they expect more cheating on tax forms this year than ever before. Item: This week’s Time magazine mentions a new book called The Agony of Deceit which scores a number of noted preachers, not just for the lavishness of their lifestyles, but also for the poverty of their theology.
Item: The Wall Street Journal announces that a brilliant thirty-five year old scientist named Irvin Siegel, after years of research at Merck Drugs, has made what appears now to be a significant breakthrough in understanding how the AIDS virus reproduces itself; and then almost as an afterthought, the article mentions that this brilliant young scientist, Irvin Siegel, was one of 257 people killed when a terrorist bomb blew Pan Am Flight 103 out of the sky over Scotland.
We are confronted on every hand with unspeakable acts of evil in our world. And frankly, I find it encouraging to realize that Jesus faced the reality of that evil in the world and that He was willing to fight that evil on the cross. And since He wanted to throw all of the life and love that was in Him into the conflict, He refused to drink the anesthetic cup.
Of course, we have a tendency to turn away from the evils which exist in this world. We don’t like to see hungry people. We don’t like to hear about those who are being cheated. We don’t want to be told about the deadly effects of pornography. We don’t want to be reminded of the moral morass of abortion. We don’t like to know that we are living in a society which many times gets by on lies. We even try to duck or deny or diminish our assignments as Christians in this world of sin. For example, we are all called to be evangelists, to take the Good News of the Gospel to the world. But what do we do? Well, some people have tried to rationalize evangelism by saying that “all I need to do is live a good life, I don’t need to actually tell anyone about Jesus.” Some people have tried to reduce evangelism to leaving a printed tract in a telephone booth with the hope that someone will find it. Some people have tried to pass off as evangelism painting a Bible verse on a bed sheet and holding it up at the fifty-yard line at a football game. That’s not true evangelism. That’s the weakening of discipleship. That’s the eradication of purpose. That’s the denial of what Christ has called us to do—namely to run the risk of sharing the Good News for the sake of a world that has gone plum crazy.
The two greatest astronomical discoveries of our time are the existence of black holes and quasars. Black holes are stars that have died and have collapsed in upon themselves and have created such intense gravitational pull that they suck everything about them, even light itself, into themselves so that it disappears, vanishes forever. Quasars, on the other hand, are the most energized bodies in the heavens. They hover about the edges of the universe and each quasar is brighter than ten billion stars. Now it seems to me that there are what I would call “black hole Christians,” who want faith to be something they suck down inside of themselves for the strengthening of their own souls and nothing more than that. And then there are “quasar Christians,” who do all they can to bring the transforming light of Jesus Christ to the aching darkness of this world’s evil.
I saw a cartoon of a woman who was fixing a flat tire on a very hot day. She was having difficulty and a truck driver passing by, saw her, and stopped to help. He worked himself into a heavy sweat changing the tire, and just as he was about to pump the jack to lower the car back down to road level, the woman said to him: “Please let the car down gently, my husband is asleep in the back seat!”
Well, there are lots of people who wear crosses about their necks, or who claim to bear Christ’s name, who want everything to be so gentle that they don’t have to be wakened in the back seat. But, my friends, that’s not the way of Jesus Christ. He hit out at evil wherever He found it. He attacked the sins of this world with great energy, cost what it may. We are called to be like Him, to do battle with evil without the benefit of narcotics. No anesthesia. No denial of the truth. We are to hit with all of the life and love we possess. Praise God that Christ did that, and would God that more of us would do that in Christ’s name.
So Jesus rejected that first cup, but the second cup He accepted because I believe He understood His own need and the role that others could play in meeting that need.
The battle of the cross was now over. The Scriptures say that when everything was finished, Jesus said to those gathered at the foot of the cross, “I thirst.” Now that’s a remarkable thing when you think about it. Most of us are hesitant to ask help of anyone, let alone to ask help from our enemies. I mean we’re smart enough to understand that if we are in the position of giving help that puts us in control, but as soon as we ask for help from someone else, there’s a degree of vulnerability in that. We are putting the other person in charge. And here Jesus asked His enemies for help.
Carl Jung, the great psychiatrist said that to confront one’s own need and to articulate it to others is one of the most difficult tasks in life. That’s true. And yet notice how many times Jesus—just looking at the last week of His life alone—notice how many times He asked for help. He needed a place to stay and asked for one in Bethany. He needed a place to celebrate the Passover and He asked for a room in Jerusalem. When He went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, He asked His disciples to stand with Him and to pray for Him. They didn’t do it, but He asked them to do it. He did not hesitate to express His needs in such a way that Simon of Cyrene was enlisted to carry His cross. And now, on the cross, He says, “I thirst.”
I’ve thought about that soldier who took the cup of “pasca,” the cheap soldier’s wine, to Him. Did that young soldier do it out of pity? In even the cruelest of people there are usually a few drops of the milk of human kindness. Was that it? Or was the young soldier moved by admiration that this One dying on the cross was strong enough to make Himself vulnerable even to His enemies? Frankly, I think that’s the reason. You see, vulnerability doesn’t weaken life; it strengthens it. It opens it. It not only strengthens and opens the one who makes him or herself vulnerable, but it also encourages others to have the strength to reach out and help. And that’s when good things begin to happen in life.
I think of a doctor who told of an amazing experience he had had. He was in the hospital and he received a call to rush to the emergency room. He hurried over and saw other physicians and nurses crowded around a man who had gone into cardiac arrest. When he looked at the patient, he realized that the man was a close personal friend. They worked furiously to try to save the man, but finally gave up. As the team turned to walk away, this doctor who had just lost his friend, turned back and put his hand on the chest of his friend and prayed: “O God, give him life again.” And beneath his hand, he felt the man begin to breathe again.
Now when that doctor told me that story, I said: “Have you shared that story with other doctors?” He replied: “Heavens, no. If I shared that with other doctors, it would set off a debate about whether he really died, and that maybe just one more push of a hand on his chest was all that was needed to get the breathing mechanism started. I never share with doctors miracle stories. The way I witness to doctors is the same way I witness to anybody else. I tell them how Jesus is helping me through the tough times my wife and I encounter. I tell them how faith has strengthened me in trying to deal with a daughter who is alienated from the family. I don’t try to win people,” he said, “with great stories about the great things God has done. Instead, I tell them how God is helping me in my own struggles. I’ve found that’s what people are best able to hear.”
It’s like the little boy who went up to the door and knocked and a lady answered it. He said: “I understand that you have some puppies for sale.” She replied, “Yes.” He asked: “May I see them?” And the lady picked up a box containing five little roly-poly balls of fur. The boy asked the price and the lady told him that a puppy would cost him ten dollars. He said: “All I have is a dollar and sixty-three cents. If I paid you that now, could I take one of the puppies and then pay a little more each week. And oh yes,” he said, “is it true that one of the puppies is crippled?” She answered: “Yes, the one over in that other box is hopelessly lame.” The little boy said: “That’s the one I want.” The woman asked, “Why?” The little boy pulled up the leg of his pants and revealed a brace on his own young limb. And he said: “I have found out that crippled people need special understanding and that’s what I would like to give to that puppy!”
My friends, it is not in heralding our spiritual triumphs that we win over the world. Rather it is in admitting that we wear braces and that God sustains us in the hard and painful realities of life. So Jesus said: “I thirst. Will someone give me a drink!” And a young soldier boy who perhaps had never been asked for anything in such a vulnerable way before, responded. And I believe that what that young soldier did brought joy to the Saviour’s heart. In fact, I have thought a lot about it this week and I have just about come to the conclusion that if I could be anyone who was on that hill that day in those hours, the one I would want to be is that young soldier.
I love Jesus.
I love the way He had the spiritual strength to face the needs of the world and that He allowed nothing to keep Him from meeting those needs. And I love the way He had the spiritual strength to face His own needs and that He allowed nothing to keep others from meeting those needs. And I think that by so doing He has shown us what it means to live in Christ.
Think about that this week.