This sermon was written for the saints at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, New Mexico, to be preached on Holy Thursday, 2012.
Exodus 12:1-14 + Psalm 116 + 1 Corinthians 11:23-32 + John 13:1-15
Tonight begins the first of the Three Holy Days, from sunset to sunset, according to Creation Time – first evening and then morning each day. It would take a full twenty-four hours – or maybe just a lifetime – to do justice to all the events that took place during the twenty-four hours of that very first Holy Day that began at sunset on Maundy Thursday and ended at the eerie sunset of Good Friday.
So many memorable and meaningful events took place on that Thursday night. The love of Jesus on display as he washed his disciples feet. The command for them to walk in his footsteps of love, self-sacrifice and lowly service. The Passover meal. The predicted betrayal, abandonment and denial. The High Priestly prayer of Jesus – for his disciples back then, and also for his disciples now. The Garden of Gethsemane. The anguish of Jesus’ soul.
“My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here and watch with me.” And then, with sweat dripping like blood, Jesus prayed three times to his Father to “take this cup” from him, “if it is your will. My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”
And the Father’s will was done. Jesus drank from the cup. And that brings us back to the one thing I would ask you remember tonight, or at least, the one thing I would ask you focus your attention on. On Palm Sunday I asked you to remember one thing above all else – to remember Jesus riding on a donkey. Tonight, as we begin the first of the Three Holy Days, remember the cup.
We sang about it already in the Psalm this evening, and since we’ve been considering the Psalms throughout our Lenten journey this year, let’s include them for the Three Holy Days, too. In Psalm 116 we sang the words of the Messiah, “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.”
Now the interesting thing about the Messianic Psalms is that, though they were written hundreds of years before Jesus was born, they were written from the perspective of the Messiah both as the events are transpiring in his life, and also as he looks back on it all after it’s all over.
Listen to the words of Jesus in Psalm 116, “I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.” You see the perspective of the Messiah there? It’s as if Holy Week is already over and done and the Father has already heard him and delivered him from his enemies on Easter Sunday. But the Psalm gives us a window into what Jesus was going through as Holy Week was happening.
“The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of the grave laid hold on me. I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the LORD: O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul!” Sounds just like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, doesn’t it?
Then he gives thanks to the Lord, “For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living.” Sounds like Easter Sunday, doesn’t it?
But see what had to happen in between. A cup had to be drunk. In order for sinful mankind to be able to drink salvation from God’s cup, the sinless Son of Man had to first drink the cup of wrath, the cup of punishment, the cup of torture and death. And when he asked his Father to take it from him and his Father didn’t do it, what did Jesus do with that cup? Oh, he could have thrown it down on the ground and let God’s wrath against sin be poured out onto sinners. Remember, he said in the Garden when Peter drew his sword to defend Jesus, “Put your sword away… Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”
Instead of dropping the cup, Jesus drank it – drank it down to its dregs. He had to be brought low, lower and lower and lower, down to the point of death, even death on a cross.
But as he says in the Psalm, “When I was brought low, he saved me.” The cup of wrath and suffering for sin had been emptied. And now the cup of Jesus is filled to the brim with salvation – not just for himself in his glorious resurrection, but with salvation that he pours down the throats of his people.
What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.
That’s not just a figurative expression. Jesus literally poured his salvation – his forgiveness and his life, into a cup on Maundy Thursday and gave it to his disciples to drink, not just once, but to do this in remembrance of him, to lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, to drink from it often and to proclaim his death again and again until he comes.
Do you still sin after your baptism? Yes, you do. Do you still have bitter enemies who can attack your faith in Christ and beat it to a pulp? Yes, you do. But you have been given a cup of salvation, filled with the precious blood of the Lamb of God, filled for you to drink.
It’s not a symbol of Jesus’ blood. By the power of Jesus’ word, it is his blood. It’s not a symbol of salvation. By the power of Jesus’ word, it is salvation and forgiveness and life for all who believe in the words and promises of Jesus – given for you, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. No sin is wicked enough, no enemy is strong enough to undo Jesus’ words of promise. He pours his salvation into this cup, and so administers a lethal dose to death.
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. Even your death is precious to your Father in heaven, because you have been united to his precious Son, Jesus Christ, whose death was also precious in the Lord’s sight, precious enough to satisfy God’s wrath against every sinner. Your death, when it comes, will be precious to your Father in heaven, because you have drunk from his cup of salvation, week in and week out, and so you have received the medicine of immortality, a better Tree of Life, God’s seal and pledge that, though you die, you will live.
And isn’t that what that other Psalm says, too? You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Ps. 23:5-6)
Remember the cup of Jesus – the cup that he drank, and the cup that he has filled with his salvation, with his blood, poured out for you. The table is ready. Drink from his cup and live. Amen.