The Cup is Empty

wine-glass-2-pixThe importance of daily gospel reminders cannot be overstated. It is not just our hope and our joy, but the Scriptures tell us that the truths of the gospel are what propel us forward into fruitful and God-honoring lives. We need to constantly remember it and believe it afresh. One particular aspect of the gospel is worthy of our focus: Jesus took the wrath of God for us. The reminder that Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath to the full can help to keep us from both despair and legalism in our Christian lives.

We are always unproductive in our spiritual growth when we forget our secure standing in Jesus Christ. Peter warns us of this in his second epistle. He writes:

 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. (2 Peter 1:3-9)

Peter urges the church to continue to practice its faith. Supplement faith with real discipline and action, with virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, and godliness. The reason it is important to practice faith is because without it we become “ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He adds, then, that a lack in these qualities is directly related to forgetting that we have been “cleansed from…former sins.” When we forget the forgiveness that is ours because Christ paid the penalty for us then we become ineffective and unfruitful in our spiritual development. This is an important word for us to hear: we must keep the gospel always before us. To forget this truth is to become spiritually anemic.

The Bible teaches us that we have every reason to stand confident in our relationship with God because Jesus drank the cup of the Father’s wrath to the full. Throughout the ancient world the cup served as a symbol for a person’s fate. It’s a metaphor that serves to reflect a person’s portion or lot in life. In that regard the cup can be positive, as we see in both Psalm 23 (an overflowing cup) and Psalm 116 (a cup of salvation), or it can be negative, as we see in Isaiah 51 and Jeremiah 25 – which both speak of the “cup of wrath.” The latter image becomes important as this theme of the cup of God’s wrath gets developed across the storyline of Scripture. The cup of God’s wrath is a cause of stumbling and eventually destruction for those who are forced to drink it. It comes to all who rebel against the almighty, so that he tells the prophet to make the enemy nations drink it (Jer. 25:15-17, 28).

In the New Testament, however, we see that Jesus takes up this cup. Jesus is uniquely fit to drink this cup (Matt. 20:22), and he drinks it at the cross (Matt. 26:39; John 18:11) as he dies for sinners. Jesus bears the cup of God’s wrath in our place. Jesus takes drinks to the dregs the full cup of God’s wrath. He took our punishment such that Paul can claim: there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). In other words, the cup is empty for those who are in Christ.

This is a crucial truth to grasp. It propels us forward in faithful obedience to God because it counteracts our tendencies towards both despair and legalism. It fights against both because it promises security in our relationship with God. In our own flesh we know we are weak and pathetic. Our best efforts at following Jesus are still far short of what they should be. We can echo Paul’s cry so well: For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate (Rom. 7:15). Our failures and struggle with sin, which clings so tightly to us (Heb. 12:1), can be a cause to despair. Many Christians feel the weight of their sin and question their salvation, question their love for God. Our frequent reminders of imperfection become a cause to wonder about how God could ever love us. Yet, Jesus’ death says to us, “the cup is empty.” Our obedience is not about earning God’s favor. The cup of judgment and condemnation is empty, we are free to “approach the throne of grace with confidence” (Heb. 4:16). We can trust that “if we confess our sins,” no matter how many times we confess them, that “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We have this hope and confidence. 

Despair and legalism can lead many of us to unfruitfulness in our Christian lives. We become stuck, despondent, fearful, and self-pitying. We refuse to act for God because we are harboring the feelings of guilt and shame from past sin. We become consumed with what we can do, not what God has done. God has dealt with all our sins and calls us to believe in His faithfulness. The cup is empty! Turn to Christ again and again in repentance knowing that God can forgive us in Jesus because there is no condemnation left for His children. The cup is empty! Jesus cries out from the cross “It is finished” (John 19:30), and when raised He sat down at the Father’s right hand (Heb. 1:3). The cup is empty, cling to this truth, friends, and find that you produce much fruit as you grow in your knowledge of, and love for, the gospel.

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