This message was aired on the Reformed Witness Hour on March 1, 1999.
What contributes to dead orthodoxy? What contributes to mere formal worship? What contributes to a lack of pastors? What contributes to an increase of complex conflict in family and church? What contributes to many young people exiting a doctrinally sound denomination like ours? Of course, there are other components, but I strongly suggest that alcohol abuse is a far stronger factor than we have been willing to consider. Quickly to disagree and dismiss this diagnosis is to ignore what Scripture frequently indicates to be a problem in the church. Read Isaiah 5:11–25, 28:14; Hosea 4:11–19; Joel 1:5; Amos 4:1–3, 6:1–6; Nahum 1:10; Habakkuk 2:15–17. I only echo the warning of the prophets to the Old Testament church.
Alcohol is not an evil. It is a good and lawful gift that we may use. But considering the widespread abuse of it, each of us needs to consider whether it is expedient/beneficial. Paul continues, after saying that drunks will not enter into the kingdom of heaven: “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful unto me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Cor. 6:12). Instead of being profitable, alcohol is becoming a powerful enticement unto all kinds of sin. Am I willing to abstain from this lawful substance for the spiritual benefit of myself and quite possibly also of those with whom I drink? Unwillingness is evidence that I may have a problem.
The quenching of your thirst comes not by drinking deeply of beer, but by imbibing “the sincere milk of the word” (1 Pet. 2:2). Real merriment and rest for your soul come not by spirits with drinking songs, but by the Spirit with psalms (Eph. 5:18–19). You cannot wash away with mind-numbing liquor the guilt that plagues your conscience; only the blood of Christ drunk by the mouth of faith has such power. Our drinking problem is not only that we drink underage, excessively, and idolatrously, but also that we are not drinking what is far more satisfying. Let Reformed people repent of drunkenness and in so doing earnestly partake of the water of life freely (Rev. 22:17).
Note: Let all beware of self-righteousness. If the reader is truly not someone who personally struggles with the sin of drunkenness, it would do him well to repent of his abuse and/or idolatry of other things such as cigarettes, drugs, caffeine, food, sports, screens and devices, essential oils, video games, shopping, etc. But God forbid that the abuser of alcohol, in seeing the sins of others also exposed, minimizes his own wickedness and need of repentance.
“The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting” (Isa. 50:5–6). “No man taketh it (my life) from me, but I lay it down of myself” (John 10:18). “I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:15).
That willingness of Jesus Christ to go to the cross was motivated by His eternal love for us: “the Son of God who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Because He loved His children, given to Him of the Father, with an everlasting love, and because that love is the expression of the sovereign and eternal love of God —for this He gave Himself for us. “Having loved his own.he loved them unto the end” (John 13:1).
Even more amazing and wonderful, the voluntary suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ appears when we see that He knew in precise detail all the suffering that was to come to Him. He did not step into something of which He had no knowledge. He did not go upon a path where He did not know how it would end or how deep or how awful or how agonizing it would be. The suffering that the Father had prepared for Him was not a vague, fuzzy, indiscernible mass in the future. But He knew. He knew exactly its depths and its extent, even down to the suffering of the curse and the wrath of God against our sins on the cross during the three hours of darkness.
Love may prompt a man to volunteer to put himself in the place of another, only to have him say, “Had I known all that was involved, I would never have been so willing.” Christ knew. He knew how unworthy we were. And He knew what He must suffer.
Scripture presents this truth to us in a figure of speech, in the figure of a cup that He willingly drank. All the sufferings necessary to make full payment for our sins were poured into a cup that the Father presented to His Son, the Son of God, who knew what was in that cup and who loved me, drank the cup, and then dashed the empty cup on the ground before the cross.
In Matthew 26:42 we read: “O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.” And John 18:11, “The cup that my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” These were the words that He spoke while in the Garden of Gethsemane hours before the cross. There in the Garden of Gethsemane He saw a cup that the Father had extended before Him, a cup that He must drink.
What was in that cup? In general, the idea is very clear. A cup is a vessel filled with liquid that one drinks. This was the cup given to Him of the Father. We read in Psalm 75:8, “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full of mixture; and he poureth out of the same: but the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them.” We may say that the cup held before Jesus was the full measure of the suffering God had set out as the way of payment, or atonement, for the sins of His people. These sufferings had been assigned to Jesus, sufferings that would culminate in the cross.
The Bible makes plain that the cross was not simply an act of injustice on the part of men. It was not simply an example of what awaits men if they do not repent. But the cross was substitutionary suffering. Jesus Christ suffered in the place of the people given to Him of His Father. And He suffered what they deserved. It was God’s Son in our flesh, standing in the place of God’s elect out of the earth, standing in the place of what they deserved as sinners who had broken His law. The cup that the Father presented to His Son was filled with the lava of God’s holy wrath against our sins, the measure of suffering owed to us who have sinned against the God of heaven. And to receive that cup meant for Christ that He must assume our place before God’s justice, and answer in His own body upon the cross by enduring the burning and holy vengeance of the wrath of God owed against our sins. Christ knew of this cup.
The Garden of Gethsemane was not the first time that He learned of its existence. He had said to His disciples in Matthew 20:22, “Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.” For this purpose Jesus came into the world. It was a sign to Him. But now, in Gethsemane, Jesus comes to the moment when He must actually drink that cup. The hour had come. The full horrors of sin and guilt are now presented to Him. He is under the shadow of the cross.
In many ways Gethsemane gives us a deep insight into the agonies that Christ is going to suffer upon the cross. While on the cross, Jesus is going to speak seven times. Only one time did His words have direct reference to the personal agony that He carried as He bore the penalty for our sins. That was the fourth time, when He said: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” He gives there a direct inlet into the deepest agony of His soul. Gethsemane reveals the personal agony of Christ as He stands in our place and prays about the cup: “O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.”
We must understand that Jesus Christ was not hallucinating. He was not seized by a figment of His imagination. He was coming under the complete realization in His soul of what it would mean to stand before the bar of God’s justice representing the multitude which no man can number, the elect of God from every nation, tongue, race, and age.
That cup that He must drink is further described in Revelation 14:9, 10: “If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb.” It is the picture of the cup of God’s wrath unmixed with mercy or pity, poured out upon Him. It was this cup that was presented to Christ, the cup all the elect would have to drink personally if Christ did not drink it in their place. A cup composed of all the elements that the righteousness and justice of God demanded as He beheld the sins of God’s people. Those sins were imputed or reckoned or given over unto Christ, the Lamb of God, so that the cup that He must drink is the undiluted wrath of God against the sins of God’s people, the cup which began to be filled in Adam, his original sin, and is still being filled with every sin you and I commit, filled with the sins of all of God’s elect, the burning lava of God’s holiness against their sins.
What was Jesus to do with that cup? He was to drink it. He was to drain it until empty and not an ounce left within.
It is clear that when the cup was presented to Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus saw that His calling was to drink it. He said, “The cup that my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” He said that to Peter who was standing at that moment in His way.
Now, when you drink something, say a glass of water, and you empty it, you ingest it, you internalize it, so that it becomes part of yourself. The Father presented the cup to His Son, not simply to look at, not to admire the holiness of God reflected in it, not only to stagger at its horrors as He did; but God presented the cup to Christ for this purpose: to drink it. It cannot pass away from Him except He drink it, ingest it into His soul. As water is poured down into your stomach, so Christ must take to Himself the undiluted wrath of God against our sin so as to bear it away.
The Lord showed His aversion to this cup. In verse 39 of Matthew 26 He says, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” He recoiled at the prospect of drinking it. We might ask, “Was that right?” Three times, in fact, He prayed in Gethsemane that it might be removed from Him. He asked whether there might be another way, whether the cup of wrath might in some other way be drained than by His having to drink it. He wrestles with this. He wrestles in prayer so intense that He fell upon His face on the cold ground and sweat great drops of blood. Was that right?
Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, not only was that right of Jesus, but it would have been the grossest impiety, the grossest hardness, the grossest callousness to look into that cup with anything other than aversion. The aversion, you understand, is not an unwillingness to save us. His reluctance is not that He is reluctant to obey the Father. He is not questioning the will of the Almighty. The aversion is to the horror of God’s wrath against sin! “Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath” (Ps. 90:11). Who knows God’s wrath so that he can have an appropriate fear of it? Who has the proper regard for the wrath of God? You see, sin has crusted us. Sin has blinded us so we do not see what sin deserves. We do not fear the wrath of God as we ought. We are like a child who uses a stick of dynamite as a drum stick, out of ignorance.
But Christ is sinless. His holy nature is exposed to that divine fury. He does know the power of God’s wrath. He can anticipate its horrors. And the anticipation of it almost crushes the life out of Him. He does not ignore sin; He does not downplay the reality of divine vengeance and justice. He has no careless disregard for divine holiness. He looked into eternal burnings.
But there was something greater to Him, something greater even than the dread of God’s holy wrath. And that was our salvation. The great thing for Him was that He had come to do the will of the Father: not My will, He prays, but Thine be done. “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God” (Ps. 40:7–8). My concern is to do Thy will. Not only passively by having Thy will performed upon Me, but My concern is actively to perform that will of God. I am resolved to do Thy will. I will drink the cup dry.
That means that the anguish He actually endured, especially during the three hours of darkness on the cross, did not exceed what He saw in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the Garden He saw the cup. He peered over its brim. He smelled its substance. It caused Him to fall to His knees. On the cross He received the cup. He drank it all. During the three hours of darkness He drank and drank and drank until in the agony of His soul He burst out: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” He drained the cup.
There on the cross the eternal flames and burnings earned by our sins were quenched by the Son of God in our place, quenched by the Son of God drinking it, taking it to Himself. He drank the cup dry. It is finished, He cried out!
Then they offered Him the sponge filled with vinegar. And He drank that vinegar dry. He sucked it all up. He drank the cup of fury dry, every little ounce of it until the cup was empty. Then the cup, being empty, may be smashed at the foot of the cross. For that cup no longer exists for the people of God. That cup cannot be refilled. It is not only empty, it is broken at the foot of the cross!
What a wonderful word. It is a very sobering word. When you begin to view your sins in the light of the sufferings of Jesus Christ, and when you look into the cup that caused Him to be sore amazed, can you talk then about little sins?
Can you look into the cup of His sufferings, the very sight of which caused Him to stagger to His knees in intense agony, and can you talk then of little sins? A little compromise, a little falling out between husband and wife, a little spat, a little look of lust. You say, “Well, we go so far but we don’t go all the way.” A little desire of covetousness, a little lie, a little pride, a little vanity? Here is the true estimation of your and my sin that we readily minimize and justify and overlook. You want to know what sin is? Look into the cup! That is what our sins deserve! Bring the cup He drank before you and see if you can talk yourself into the idea of little sins.
Can you look at the cup He drank and minimize the judgment and wrath of God against sin? If the sinless Son of God was in an agony when He considered the content of the cup of God’s wrath, if the pure Son of God cried out, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” as He drank the last dregs of the cup of God’s wrath, then what is it going to be for a sinful man or woman, a boy or girl, to fall into the hands of the living God unrepentant and unbelieving and die in sin? Do you live now in the pleasures of sin? What will it be when the almighty and holy God presses to such a person’s lips the cup of wrath that impenitent sinners shall receive from His hand? I call you to flee this wrath. Repent! Do not think that you are up to the challenge of facing the holy God. Repent.
This is a wonderful word of comfort to the people of God. Our death and the curse were in that cup. It was full for Him, but it is empty for us. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
Child of God, have you come to the settled conviction that whatever chastisement the Father deems necessary to bring to you, that there is no wrath of God in it? Whatever is necessary of God’s dark providences to make you to know what sin remains in you and to bring you to repentance, do you know that there is no wrath of God in His dealings with you? It was extinguished. It was exhausted. It was finished in Christ. Not a drop of it is left. The cup has been drained and then dashed in shivers at the foot of the cross. We may make bold to say that the conscience of God is satisfied in the draining of the cup by His Son. God has a conscience, a very scrupulous conscience. His conscience is satisfied. He beholds His Son obediently drinking all the liquid of that cup and He thunders His holy “Amen,” when Christ says, “It is finished.” All the wrath which we deserved has been taken away.
And now our cup is full. He has made a new cup for us. “I will take the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord” (Psalm 116). His cup was abandonment and curse. Our cup: blessing! The cup of blessing. Even though God’s holy eye still sees the vileness of our sin, yet in Christ there is no condemnation. Let us rejoice in this consolation: the cup He drank is empty. It is replaced with the cup of salvation which is full. He swallowed the fury of the holy wrath of God against my sins so that I might be filled with the fullness of salvation. He drank it willingly, completely, all of it.
To God be all the praise!