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Why Did Jesus Pray for the Cup to Pass?

Knowing the trouble that was to come, a man of sorrow finds for himself a place to pray. Once He reaches the garden He was in search of, His knees fall to the ground, and His face follows. He begins to pray, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” He told his friends, who accompanied Him, that He was sorrowful unto death, yet not one of them could stay awake to pray. Their heavy eyes tempted them to rest, and they fell to sleep. Their Spirit was willing, but their flesh was weak. Among these friends was one whose flesh fell to a greater sin. This friend, Judas, was plotting to betray the man of sorrow, Jesus, making sure that he kissed His face before he seized Him.

While Judas was plotting his betrayal of Jesus, the predestined plan of God was unfolding. Judas would sell Jesus, the chief priests and elders would take Him away, the Romans would crucify Him, and the Jews would mock Him, but God would crush Him. Yet, here was Christ, in the garden, pleading that the Father take this cup from Him.

But why? How could Jesus do this? Didn’t He know this was the plan of God, and it was good? Of course, Jesus, the all-wise Messiah, knew that the Scriptures taught that the Son of God must be crushed for sinners. He knew that this was God’s will. It was His plan. God didn’t merely “allow” Jesus to be killed; God Himself crushed His Son. As Isaiah says, "Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief” (Isaiah 53:10a).

So, why did Jesus plead for another way? It wasn’t because He was ignorant of the Scripture; rather, He knew a truth woven all throughout Scripture that we are naturally ignorant of. He pleaded for the cup to pass because He knew what the cup contained. He knew something only a holy man like Himself could be aware of.

What is the Cup?

Unlike Christ, our flesh is drawn to drink of this cup that Christ pleaded to be taken from Him. It catches the eye of the flesh, and though warned of its poison, the body of death picks up the cup to drink it down to the dregs.

After being warned time and time again of the wrath to come if they did not repent, the Israelites chose to drink this cup as they continued in their sin. So God spoke to Jeremiah, "Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. (Jer. 25:15). The cup was one of wrath, yet the people of Israel did not fear as they should have. The warning of judgment should’ve caused terror in their heart, yet they willingly took the cup. It was prepared for the wicked of the earth. "For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.” (Psalm 75:8).

This cup isn’t only a picture of wrath in the Old Testament, but the New Testament warns the wicked of it as well. It was wrath for the peoples then; it was wrath when Christ drank of it, and it will be wrath given in the future. All throughout Revelation, we are told of the wicked of the earth drinking this same cup. "The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath.” (Revelation 16:19).

Why Christ Asked for the Cup to Pass

The cup Christ was given was a cup of the fury of God’s wrath. Because He became our sin, He took the punishment of it. Still, it may trouble us that Christ feared drinking the cup and asked His Father for the cup to pass. Isn’t it a sin to fear or be anxious? Does this imply that Christ sinned?

Before we begin to doubt the sinless nature of our Saviour, let’s remember how the whole of Scripture presents fear. Scripture makes it clear that to be anxious or fearful is a sin– even when it comes to things that seem important. We are told to not even worry about food or clothing but to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Mat. 6:31-34). Yet, there is something in Scripture we are actually encouraged to fear, and that is the Lord. We are told that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Pro. 1:7). True wisdom comes from understanding that God is one to fear because He is holy. If our unbelieving friend came to us telling us of their sudden fears of God’s wrath, we should recognize that they have every reason to fear judgment if they are not saved. Their fear of God’s wrath is the beginning of wisdom. As for our unbelieving friend, we can then point them to the hope of the Gospel, telling them they need not fear wrath if they repent. If they turn from their sin, they will not be given the cup of God’s fury. But, in the garden, no one could tell Christ not to fear God’s wrath. He was going to take our place and become a curse on our behalf. His fear was not only justified; it was righteous.

Our Savior lived as a homeless rabbi, went long periods of time without food, and was sought to be killed by the Jews many times. He did not fear man nor lack of provision; He was not anxious over earthly matters as we are.

Being one with God, He knew the wrath of God in a way no one can comprehend but God Himself. His fear was not a sinful one; it was a holy fear that exposed His divinity. The grace of God shields us from fully comprehending His wrath; if we had full knowledge of the wrath of God, we could never sleep knowing that many will receive His wrath one day. While we cannot comprehend the full nature of God and wrestle with unbelief in the flesh, Jesus was fully convinced that "God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day” (Ps. 7:11). And He knew that this God was giving Him a cup of this indignation.

In His righteousness, He pleaded that the cup would pass. In His divinity, He was troubled by what was to come because He had a full understanding of the wrath that sin deserves. The punishment our Savior took for our sin was far more than a beating from man; it was a beating from God Himself. The suffering of Christ was far more than a cup of sour wine from Roman soldiers; it was a cup of the wine of wrath from God Himself. That is why the Messiah pleaded that the cup be taken from Him. We may be spared of the cup of the wine of wrath because the Son of God. became a curse, bearing our sin and punishment.

"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

2 Corinthians 5:21


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