I wanted to force myself to drink something bitter and difficult. Coffee came to mind, since I abhor the taste and smell of it, but I am sure I'll quickly lose empathy from most of you. (I know I’m in the minority: tea drinkers are the Mac users of the hot beverage world.)
So, instead, I am drinking tea with leaves loose in its murky depths. Each swallow includes a few of the harsh, black bits. Nasty stuff, this.
Ironically, for health reasons, I’ve lately been drinking only hot water, so this is doubly difficult. But it’s still the mildest of annoyances compared to the drink in today’s passage in Isaiah.
Rise up, Jerusalem,
you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord
the cup of his wrath,
you who have drained to its dregs
the goblet that makes people stagger. (51:17)
The wrath of God is a hard thing to read about. In our age of self-justification and relativism, we expect him to grade on a curve. As long as we’re a rung or two above the real “sinners,” we expect we’re okay.
The Bible, however, is clear: in our fallen state, our sin offends and angers the Righteous One. God is love, Scripture tells us, but that love does not negate his holiness. Here, and in many other passages, his wrath over sin is portioned out into a cup. Since he is just, he gives the exact retribution the situation requires.
That’s why one has to drink it all. I’ve reached the bottom, and I don’t think I can handle the remaining dregs. This section of Isaiah, the punishment meted out by God makes them metaphorically stagger like drunken men. In fact, they’re pictured as passed out in the street, the cup still in their hands.
But that’s not the end of the story.
When they wake up, they find the cup gone.
21 Therefore hear this, you afflicted one,
made drunk, but not with wine.
22 This is what your Sovereign Lord says,
your God, who defends his people:
“See, I have taken out of your hand
the cup that made you stagger;
from that cup, the goblet of my wrath,
you will never drink again.
Herein is the mystery. How is this possible? God has not changed. He remains holy. And his people’s penchant for disobedience is as entrenched as before. What has happened that they will never receive the cup again?
Isaiah 53 would give ancient readers a hint. But we have been given the full answer to this riddle. Jesus took the cup of God’s wrath. That’s what he refers to when he says, “shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11)
He drank the wrath that was portioned out for me. For each of us. He experienced the bitter rejection of being under God’s punishment. He (literally) staggered under the weight of the cross.
Perhaps, in this time of advent, we ought to add a cup to our nativity scenes.
Just as a reminder of what his coming has taken away from us.
Lord, we deserved that cup. And yet your promise holds: we’ll never have to drink from it. All because of the willingness of Jesus to take it for us and drain it to its depths. Remind us today, as we drink our mildly bitter cups, of the cup he drank for us.
Reader: Just curious – what’s the worst thing you ever had to drink? Tell me about it.