Friday, November 17, 2006

The Cup

Reading University Christian Union, 16th November 2006
Download mp3: The Cup: Mark 14:1-31

Mark 14v1-31. The Cup – Part 1.

What are the most significant words ever spoken? Darth Vader: "I am your father" - Renee Zellweger: "You had me at hello" - Christopher Lloyd's Doc Brown: Roads, where we're going we don't need roads" - Rene Decartes: "I think, therefore I am". - Neil Armstrong: "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind..." - Churchill: "We will fight them on the beaches.." Tony Blair: "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime"

If we're being fair we should admit that most of the really significant things in history have been said by God. How about "Let there be light" for a start. And then within Mark's gospel we have God saying "You are my son" - his own Darth Vader-esque moment, with somewhat greater significance. Over the next three weeks we'll hear Jesus say three of the most significant things ever said. Friends, we are on holy ground. Possibly the all time top three. You could argue that it's two other people who say the most important things in Mark - namely Peter who confesses, in Mark 8, "You are the Christ" and the Centurion who says, in Mark 15, "You are the Son of God" - however they are response to the real revelation of Jesus and the gospel. Next week - "Remove this cup from me" as Jesus wrestles with the prospect of drinking dry the cup of the Father's wrath at the Cross. A second cup, to follow tonights. And then "My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?" as Jesus drinks the cup of God's wrath, abandoned on a cosmic scale. But first we must hear Jesus tell us of the life that is ours from his death, saying, Mark 14:24: "This is my blood of the covenant poured out for many". This not a cup of wrath but of life and promise.

My Bible tells me that this chapter is about The Institution of the Lord's Supper. I think that rather misses the point. The cup is not about communion, it's about the cross. The meal is not the point, his death is. This event has fascinated many, from Indiana Jones' last crusade to Dan Brown's extrapolations from Da Vinci's painting of it. Many have pursued the “holy grail” the physical cup used here. Others like Dan Brown have suggested that the San Greal was the Sang Real – Holy Grail, or Royal Blood? Though he draws dozens of false conclusions he's on to something. This cup is precisely about Jesus' blood. Not however a blood-line of imaginary children, but a blood-line of faith for those Jesus sheds his blood to save. Something for all generations and all people groups. We'll focus on what Jesus says and look for their meaning, not in folklore but in Jesus words in their context.

Read Mark 14v1-31

"This is my blood, of the covenant
which is poured out for many"

I. The Promise is in blood
It was a promise
We live in an age where promises seem all too breakable. People find ways out of contracts. Even the lifelong promises of marriage are shaken off. Just watch Britney do it “one more time”, as irreconcilable differences break a bond that was agreed to only be parted by death. Oops... That can make it hard for us to believe God's promises. But his aren't just symbolised by a ring on a finger, but achieved and sealed in blood. And not just any blood – the blood of Jesus.

The Bible is God's book of promise. Time and again we see him commit himself to humanity. Our terminology for the Bible emphasises this. Old and New Testaments – meaning Old and New Covenants. Two volumes of Promise. And all of those promises are YES in Jesus. If we look back to the start we see God promise Abraham that he will make an uncountable people with a land. But by the start of the second book, Exodus, the people are numerous but they don't have a land. They're slaves in a foreign land.

Mark wants us to think about these events. Come close, and see what's going on. Look at Mark 14v1 you'll see that these events are in focus here. It's passover time. And moreover, look: 14v14 Jesus is speaking at a passover meal. At the passover, God's rescue of his people out of Egypt he told them to kill a lamb. It's blood was to be painted over their doors. God would then pass over in wrath, but the blood would spare them. God would not inside the house, seeing the blood would be enough to save.

Likewise when God's promises to them are reinforced in Exodus 24 blood is shed and sprinkled on an altar and on the people. Someone dies so another can live. And God's promises are confirmed. Every year God's people would remember that rescue with a passover meal. But Jesus isn't looking back at this pass over – he looks forward and brings new meaning into the meal. Not the lamb, but bread and wine to symbolise the death he is about to die.

Another promise securing death. A wrath bearing death that becomes for us a wrath averting death. God's unbreakable promise of life. A promise that does everything. A promise that means that God is only looking at the blood of Jesus. A colleague of mine puts it helpfully... “If a quiet time could have got you right with God, Jesus would not have died.” (Mike Reeves) We don't get this life by painting blood on a door, nor by splattering it on ourselves, nor by behaving better, nor actually by drinking the cup. The cup is symbolic and it points to the cross. And says – believe. Believe in the death of Jesus.

Jesus arrived on the scene in Mark 1, saying that all God's promises had been fulfilled. Everything previous was now YES. And Jesus showed how he rules with powerful authority – “be cleansed” -- “you're forgiven” -- “follow me....” “arise”... The son of man came to give his life as a ransom for sin... and now he speaks with that same authority: “this is my blood - of the covenant” He doesn't arrive to be served but to serve us. To do for us the one thing we could not do for ourselves. To save us from the wrath of God and bring us into the forgiveness and favour of God.

This is the ultimate promise. The final promise. The old ones were good, but this puts them in the shade. The cross is where we see the promise of God. The historic event at the heart of Christianity. The promise is sure.
More things to see and savour:

How will he die? Voluntarily
Everything is happening just around the time of passover - but look at v1b: The chief priests and scribes are plotting to kill Jesus - though they're scared of the people so they're stalling. They've been after Jesus since he started drawing crowds and claiming to be God. Their dirty tricks campaign has failed to dispell the crowds or stop him preaching... they tried to brand him demonic, law-breaking and blasphemous... his family were nice and just said he was insane. But nothing has been able to stop Jesus... only one way remains...

They think they've got him this time. But look at 14v8. Jesus knows all about it – and he's not the only one. He famously commends a woman who annoints his body. Preparing his body for burial. He knows what is happening. Mark isn't hanging around though. 14v10. Judas plots to betray Jesus. It looks like the religious authorities and one of Jesus' own disciples are going to defeat him. But, v18. Jesus announces that he will be betrayed. He knows what is happening... though his followers are more concerned for their reputation than the reality of Jesus dying. Clinching it 14v21. All of this - is "as - it – is - written". Jesus is in control here. He has written the plan. He's not being caught out. His word stands. When he says his blood will be “poured - out” - he means voluntarily. Its not a tragic accident that Jesus dies.

How will he die? Killed by God
But there is another side we need to see to the HOW of Jesus death. Everything here is God's plan... v27. God has said - it is written - that the shepherd - will - be - struck. Jesus quotes Zechariah to help interpret his death. Words about God judging because of the spiritual adultery of his people – unfaithful to God. Here's the idea: Sin is so serious that it will require the shepherd to be struck. Struck down. Killed. And by whom. God says “I - will - strike”. The LORD will kill the shepherd. Jesus is the shepherd and his Father will strike him down. The whole Trinity in agreement that Jesus must die.

Killing him outright with a blow of his awesome and terrifying personal wrath. The Father and Son are not pitted against one another – Jesus goes voluntarily in full agreement. He went voluntarily to die. And it wasn't the Pharisees, Sadducees or High Priests. It wasn't Judas or Pilate. It was God that killed Jesus. And he did it to complete his wonderful salvation plan by satisfying his wrath that we sinners deserve. Jesus goes to his death voluntarily, and it will be his Father who executes that death. This is the promise-making blood-shedding death of Jesus. That's the first big thing: The promise is in blood... 2nd, the invite is for sinners...

II. The Invite is for sinners

Jesus speaks about his death in v24, but Mark arranges other words around it – and they give us great insight into the meaning and purpose of Jesus' death...
v21. One of them will betray Jesus.
v27. You will all fall away.

In both cases the disciples are most concerned about themselves – they ask: will it be me, and then defending themselves under Peter's leadership: They all agree that they will not desert or deny Jesus. But Jesus says – it is written. You will all fall away. V27. “you - will - all – fall - away” and the word is “skandalizein” -- meaning scandalised or caused to stumble. The cross makes them stumble. It offends them. Their saviour crucified under God's curse... it's been tripping them up ever since they first heard of it – back in Mark 8 – when Peter rebuked Jesus for saying he had to die.

The Cross has become a great symbol of fashion and architecture and faith, so much that it's become sanitised. But this was the most scandalous form of execution ever invented. The shameful way of killing criminals. And it fitted with the Jewish understanding that to hang on a tree was to be cursed by God. It was unimaginable that God's Saviour would do that. But one would betray him to that, and the rest would stumble.

Now, we might imagine that Jesus going to the Cross somehow shows how valuable we are. Irresistable to God.... But, that would entirely miss the point. Yes it shows God's love but more than that it shows our peril. It shows terribly evil we are. Not evil because we, humanity, crucified the Son of God – though that was an act of unbelievable evil.

So deeply evil that it was necessary for the perfect Son of God to die, bearing the wrath of God for us. Personal and rightful wrath that should be ours. And wrath which endangers any who haven't sought refuge in Jesus. We are so bad that it takes Jesus being crucified to rescue us from hell. Such are our crimes against our maker.

James Edwards puts it very helpfully:

“The sin that necessitates the sending of God's son is not the sin of Caligula or Nero or the legion of tyrants in human history ever since. It was the sin of the tenants of his own vineyard. Of his own disciples. Of Peter and James. Of you and me. The essential evil in the world and the essential atonement for the evil of the world are present at the Lord's table”

His death was for many. It was a substitution. One in the place of another. And it was for a group called the “many”. This recalls what Jesus said in 10v45 about being a ransom for many. For Who? For sinners. For rebels. For betrayers. For deniers. For usurpers who commit “identity fraud” on God (citing: David Horrocks). Claiming for themselves what only he can do. Jesus death serves us, by doing what we could not do – setting us free from slavery to sin and from a death sentence under God's wrath. Here is love!

Peter thinks he could die this death, but he could not. Only the Son of God can die for sinners. Only the Shepherd can be struck for sinners. The disciples are tragically missing the point. They stumble over it. Do we? Polly Toynbee was scandalised by the Cross last year as she reviewed the Narnia film. And she confidently proclaimed: “I will die for my own sin”. How we stumble over the Cross! The next event in Mark's story is Jesus in Gethsemane where the prospect of that other cup – the cup of God's wrath will overwhelm Jesus. Jesus will be thoroughly terrified, almost to death, by the prospect of facing the fullness of God's wrath. This is not a death we could die. The cross says clearly this is something you cannot do. Let us not be scandalised by the cross but rather rejoice in it.

Dan Brown and Indiana Jones and co missed the point. This cup is not about the cup - it's about the Cross. But, Peter and Polly Toynbee missed the point also. The cross of Peter or the cross of Polly will save no-one. The Cross of Christ, is all. Jesus' terrifying death secures for each person who repents and believes in it, God's full favour instead of his wrath. The great exchange. It gives us total - confidence - to know - and to enjoy - God - forever.

Our society says that this is terribly arrogant. How could we be so confident? But this is not self-confidence in religiosity or desire or works. Jesus is the one and only ground of our confidence. "This is us, we you and me together". Not a company of the respectable and self-righteous. We are a company of betrayers, deniers, stumblers and liars. Repentant - and forgiven. Soaked clean - by the blood of Jesus.

And that means we go away this weekend without faking goodness. We need no Peter-like bravado, but the honest confession of our struggles and sin, and our sure dependence on the blood of Jesus. - we could not do what was needed, but Jesus did it for us... And the same honest confession should mark our lives daily. The old hymn captures it well:

Guilty - vile - and helpless we
Spotless - Lamb of God - was He
Full atonement - can it be
Hallelujah, what - a - Savior

Jesus wasn't caught out by the cross it was God's plan. God's blood-sealed promise of life for The Many, for people like us. A secure unbreakable promise. The life-changing promise of the coming of his global rule under King Jesus. And the invitation to blood-soaked eye-opening sin-forgiven new life. A life in the full favour of God because of the blood of Jesus.

John Stott puts it well: “The Christian community is a community of the cross, for it has been brought into being by the cross, and the focus of its worship is the Lamb once slain, now glorified. So the community of the cross is a community of celebration." Let us put our trust in the blood of Jesus and rejoice! Let us join the cry of the people of God... the people from whom the shepherd was struck... The confession of Zechariah 13v9, Jesus blood is poured out as God's promise, so we confess: “The - LORD – is - my - God” - Amen!

4 comments:

  1. Great post.

    It is great to be reminded of the second point especially as it sometimes gets lost.

    And great to be reminded that communion (and its institution of it) is all about the cross, and only about itself as far as it is pointing towards that.

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  2. no need to beat you up/kill you so far then! :-)

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  3. thanks a lot Dave

    This especially is great -

    "Not a company of the respectable and self-righteous. We are a company of betrayers, deniers, stumblers and liars. Repentant - and forgiven. Soaked clean - by the blood of Jesus."

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  4. Thanks Dave. Good to think again of the cross... and really helpfully explained.

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