In a garden near Jerusalem, just hours before His death on the cross, Jesus agonized in prayer.
He had journeyed to that spot from divine glory, and there in His humanity – sorrowful, sweating drops of blood – He made a desperate plea: “Remove this cup from me” (Mark 14:36).
When Jesus asked for “this cup” to be withdrawn, He wasn’t asking God to keep Him from the taunting soldiers or the humiliation of public execution. Jesus wasn’t requesting that God take away the inevitable physical suffering.
No, the cup set before Jesus was the cup of God’s wrath.
Several places in the Old Testament (Isaiah 51:17, Jeremiah 25:15, Habakkuk 2:16, to list some) reference a cup filled with the wrath of God – a cup in which God’s just but fierce anger toward sin is stirred up and ready to be consumed by the unrighteous.
It is this cup that Jesus asked to have withdrawn. Jesus in the garden reckoned with the work set before Him from "before the foundation of the world" (I Peter 1:20) — the horrifying work of absorbing the wrath of God for sinful humanity.
Jesus knew that on the cross, He would receive His Father's just punishment for sin He had not committed. “Remove this cup,” He asked.
But the truth about this cup? It was supposed to be mine.
The cup of God’s wrath had been prepared for my sin. God's holiness demands justice for my unholiness. The cup of wrath is the sinner’s deserved drink. My deserved drink.
Yet, Jesus also prayed, "not what I will, but what You will" (Mark 14:33). And when Jesus rose from His prayer, His resolve was clear: “Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11).
And so the cup, filled to the brim with God’s fury toward all the sin of all of humanity for all of time, was poured out on Jesus. He drank the cup!
On the cross, Jesus became the sin of the world, and in His final cry, "It is finished," Jesus proclaimed that He had consumed every last drop of God's wrath! Because of God's great love, Jesus, my substitute, exhausted the wrath of God!
This is the Gospel! For those who believe in the saving work of Jesus, the cup is empty! Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath so that we might instead drink the cup of God’s salvation, Living Water. Let’s taste it again and again, the sweet grace of God available only because Jesus drank the cup.