Cups and Choices

Psalm 23. 1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

The passage we just read is of course one of the best loved and best known of all the Psalms, indeed in all of scripture. It is a passage that I would expect most of us here know by heart. I know Laura had her Sunday school class learn it last year, and I believe they all got to the point so they could recite it from memory. You’ve probably heard it preached on in the past, probably more than once. So I’m not actually going to preach on the 23rd Psalm today. Yes, I know that we read it a moment ago, and that does seem like a bait and switch to read something and then not speak on it. Well, I didn’t just read because I like it, I am going to speak on one verse, actually one phrase from one verse, at least in a way of introduction. That phrase is from verse 5: my cup runneth over.

The term is used as a common enough expression, and quite frequently in a not especially Biblical manner. It means of course to have more than you need, more than you can even contain. The image it evokes is obvious and striking, you can easily image a cup being filled to the brim, and then filled even more, so that the contents flow out over the top and spill unto the saucer or unto the table or wherever the cup happens to be. If your cup runneth over, you have no lack.

You might think at this point that our topic this morning is divine blessing, or generosity, or wealth, or something along that line. But no, that’s not the subject today. I want to talk about cups.

This is the point where you can look at the clock and ask yourself if Marko has gone loopy and is he planning to spend the next half hour talking about dishes. Don’t worry, I’m not going to debate the merits of tumblers versus goblets versus mugs or anything like that. A cup is a common thing, you can see one sitting right here on the edge of the pulpit. It’s nearly full of water, and I’ll probably drink most of that before I finish this morning. When I’m speaking my throat gets dry sometimes and I really appreciate the cup of cold water.

The reason for my sermon this morning is that cups are referenced frequently in scripture, sometimes in a literal sense, but more often, and more interestingly, in a metaphorical sense, in a spiritual sense. It is those metaphorical cups in scripture that have something to teach us.

When David wrote the phrase “My cup runneth over” in Psalm 23, it’s not that he was describing an actual vessel filled beyond capacity with milk or water or wine. He was describing the manner and the level of blessing that he had received of the Lord. It was more than he could keep to himself, it was more than he needed or required, or indeed, more than what he could even deal with. His cup of blessing ran over.

When we say that his cup overflowed, it is important to understand what that means. We have no trouble understanding the overflow part; that is easy to visualize. Where we need more help might be the word blessing. We have a concept of blessing in our culture in North America, a concept that is deeply flawed. When we say blessing, and by we I mean believers throughout North America, throughout our culture, when we say that someone is blessed, we typically mean that things have worked out well for them. Quite often that means that they are materially wealthy, or they have had some considerable measure of success in their personal life or their business. We don’t look at a person who is having a rough go of it and say “He has been so blessed.”

Is that what being blessed actually means? Perhaps it is part of it, but certainly not all of it. Look at David. He says that his cup ran over, but would we call him blessed by our modern standards? We know that David was a king, and he certainly spent a good portion of his life in a position of power and wealth, but his path was far from smooth, and much of his life was not what you could call comfortable. He was the youngest of eight sons, he got stuck with the tasks no one else wanted to do. I didn’t grow up with seven brothers, with any brothers, for that matter, but anyone who did knows that brothers pick on one another, and it’s often the younger ones who get the worst of it. Younger brothers get forgotten about as well. When Samuel came to Bethlehem to anoint one of the sons of Jesse as the next king of Israel, David was out tending the sheep, and no one thought to go and get him, not until Samuel asked “Do you have any more sons?” We would not call that a blessed upbringing by our standards.

David was a man who spent years on the run to avoid his enemies. He endured several wars, both foreign and civil conflicts. He was betrayed on multiple occasions, he was hunted, first by his father-in-law Saul, and later by his own son Absalom. He made mistakes, yes, and sometimes caused his own trouble, but many times his own allies and friends stirred up strife through their own schemes and private agendas. His chief general, Joab, committed murders because of personal vendettas. David was a king, but he spent much of his time putting out fires as it were. When he wanted to build a temple to the Lord in Jerusalem, he was denied this. God did not permit him to do so, because of the blood that was on his hands. God did not want a man of war to build His house.

Was David blessed? By our shallow modern standards, maybe not so much. But as far as David was concerned, he was deeply blessed. His cup ran over. Not with wealth and easy living, but with a relationship with his creator. He knew that God was taking care of him, no matter how chaotic and dangerous the world was. No matter if he walked through the valley of the shadow of death, which he did many times, when he fled for his life time and time again, when he lived in exile, and when buried several of his own children.

How was David most blessed, though? He was called a man after God’s own heart. Whatever his level of physical blessing may have been, he was spiritually blessed far beyond that. He knew God, he talked with God, he had a relationship with God. We look at the other kings of Israel and Judah, so few of them had anything that even slightly compared with what David had. But it’s not that David was randomly handed a cup which overflowed. That was not passed to him on some divine whim, God did not choose David by chance or by luck. David chose God. He chose to follow God, to trust Him, to depend on Him, and so David was blessed accordingly. Not with great riches and material blessings, but with a closer and deeper relationship with his creator. That is a major component of how and why his cup ran over.

David was of course not the only person in scripture to use a cup, either literally or metaphorically. And while I looked up multiple different examples in my preparation for this sermon, there is one name that I kept coming back to. One name, one man, who is of the house and lineage of David, as it happens. That name is the Lord Jesus Christ.

My theme, my linking thread this morning is cups. There are many examples I could use, one that comes to mind where the Lord mentioned cups in a literal, yet illustrative sense is in Matthew chapter 10 and Mark chapter 9, when He said that one who shared a cup of cold water in His name, or indeed in the name of a disciple, would have reward. A cup of cold water is such a small thing. There’s one sitting right here on the pulpit. It took no great effort for that cup to be here, but yet I appreciate its presence. I’m glad for this cup of cold water, and it’s not even an especially warm day, and I haven’t been speaking all that long. After a long walk or a few hours of yardwork on a hot summer day, there is nothing more welcome than a cup of cold water. Sometimes a literal cup of cold water is exactly what the situation calls for. Sometimes that cup of cold water is whatever someone else happens to need most. In particular when someone is doing the Lord’s work, whatever we can do to help, no matter how small or how great, is of value and of merit. Even if that help is no more than a cup of water.

Sometimes we undervalue what we can do, or we overvalue what we have already done, and so perhaps we don’t bother with the cup of cold water. We don’t see the importance, or we don’t see it as being worth our effort, but the Lord does. The Lord sees not as we do, He sees a much wider, much deeper view than we are capable of. Man looks on the outside, but the Lord looks at the heart.

God not only sees more than we do, He also feels more than we do. We think we see everything, hear everything, and feel everything, but we come far short.

Turn to Luke 22 to see just how much the Lord feels and experiences. We’ll read from verse 39 And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him. 40 And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation. 41 And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, 42 Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. 43 And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. 45 And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 And said unto them, Why sleep ye? rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.

We’ll end there. These verses of course describe the agony of the Lord in the garden of Gethsemane. We could have read a similar account in Matthew or Mark, but I think that Luke’s description may best capture the intensity of the situation. In all three Christ described what was ahead of Him as being a cup from which He was to drink, a cup which He did not look forward to with anticipation. Quite the opposite, in fact. This was a cup no one would ever want to partake of. Repeatedly the Lord prayed that this cup might pass from Him. Was there no other way to accomplish victory over sin and death? Even as He prayed for its removal the Lord acknowledged that He would go forward, and that His will would be subject to that of the Father. As much as He did not wish to, the Lord Jesus Christ would drink from that cup.

This was a purely metaphorical cup. There was no liquid there, save for the intense perspiration that He experienced, sweat mixed with blood as Luke describes. The medical term for that is hematidrosis, which is a rare but documented medical condition caused by extreme stress. The stress provokes ruptures in the capillaries, and the result is sweat tinged with blood, especially from areas of the body like the forehead, the nails, and the nose. Leonardo da Vinci described a soldier with this condition, a man who sweated blood before battle. In more modern times it has been observed in prisoners awaiting execution. The actual amount of blood loss is not large, but the condition leaves the skin fragile and tender, and the sufferer will experience dehydration and weakness. Keep in mind this took place mere hours before He was beaten and scourged, before a crown of thorns was pressed into His already damaged brow, before He was given a cross to bear out of the city. No wonder His body was not able to carry the cross all the way to Calvary, and no wonder He cried out from thirst.

This is the cup from which the Lord drank. Even before He was betrayed, tried, beaten and crucified, He was already suffering. Even before His communion with the father was cut off for those three dark hours on Calvary, He saw what was coming, He felt what was coming. He knew what the cup contained, yet He drank it. He drank it alone, no one else could share that cup. And so He drank it down to the last bitter drop.

That was not the only cup He drank from that night, though. Not long before, He had shared a different cup with His disciples. Look up the page a few verses, to verse 15 And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: 16 For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. 17 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: 18 For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come. 19 And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. 20 Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.

We’ll end our reading there. This is a very different cup that the Lord mentioned here, this time a literal cup, but at the same time very much an illustrative one. Christ took the cup, and shared it, and the bread, and He broke that, and shared it as well. He had shared the previous three years with His disciples; He had eaten with them on countless occasions before this. But on this night, the night in which He was to be betrayed not many hours later, it was different. The bread and the cup were more than simple sustenance, they were pictures. His body and His blood were illustrated by those emblems, and the presentation and the consumption of these items in that context was given as an instruction to the disciples to follow. They were told to remember the Lord in this, and they did so, as do we.

The disciples did not know at the time what was to take place in the hours to follow. They did not know the sufferings that the Lord would soon experience. Even if they had some inkling that He would suffer and die, and indeed the Lord had told them of that on more than one occasion, so perhaps they should have had some understanding, some small grasp of what was to come, but they surely did not even begin to imagine the complete scope of what this meant. Even if they could have foreknown the extent of Christ’s sufferings, they would have had no understanding that He was about to pay the price for their sins, for our sins, for the sins of the entire world, of everyone who had ever lived and would ever live on this planet. The disciples did not understand that at the time. Frankly, we only barely start to understand it now, and that is with the benefit of much time and study on the matter. We will truly comprehend how vast was the cup which Christ drank, we will never now how immense the load he bore. But in recognizing that, in knowing that we don’t really know, we can begin to appreciate what it was that vexed Him in the garden that night. We can begin to see why He asked us to remember.

On Sunday morning when we partake of the bread and the cup, we are doing so because of something that happened twenty centuries ago. We remember the cross, and we do so in the same manner in which Christ looked forward to that same cross that night. We do so because He asked us to.

This is one sacrament that unites all who follow Christ, all who call on His name. Or at least, it should unite us. There are believers in countless cultures throughout the world that do many different things in many different ways, but if we are doing things even remotely according to God’s word, it will unite us. Sadly, that is not always the case. Throughout Christendom the Lord’s Supper has at times been twisted, abused, misunderstood and misinterpreted, and in many cases, sorely unappreciated, but all who bear the name of Christ should recognize and appreciate and strive to obey this command. He told us all to drink from the cup and to eat the bread in remembrance of Him. At this particular assembly we do this on a weekly basis, and I’m glad that we do. We know that some other places may only do so once a month, or even less frequently than that, and I know I would sorely miss it were we to cease from our weekly schedule for that meeting. When we obey the Lord in the bread and in the cup, we partake of a blessing that was intended for us, one that far too many believers are content to leave sitting on the table. And when we miss out on that blessing, when we do not drink for that cup, we may be all the more likely to pick up a different cup instead. To see what I’m talking about turn please to 1 Corinthians chapter 10. We’ll read a few verses starting at verse 16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? 17 For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. 18 Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? 19 What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? 20 But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. 21 Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.

This particular passage is talking about the eating of things that have been offered to idols. That is not a specific concern for us in this culture, we don’t have a lot of pagan temples. Mind you, the Buddhist monks may have some statues that they bow before, but if there’s anything we don’t need to worry about from the monks it’s the thought that they might start selling discount meat.

We don’t have the same issues with idolatry as did the early church, we don’t see a temple to Apollo or Artemis on every corner. We do have a lot of idols, though, that people worship with every bit as much vigour as if they knelt before a false god. In this culture we worship athleticism, we worship celebrity, and we worship wealth. We worship entertainment, we worship pleasure, we worship success, and we worship self perhaps most of all. Those things all are deeply ingrained in our culture as having value, as being worth devoting your time and your money to pursue. Not necessarily all of them for everyone, of course, much as if you lived in Athens two thousand years ago you did not worship Zeus and Ares and Poseidon and all the rest. You worshipped whatever god or gods were important to you.

When you worship anything, it demands your attention, it demands your money, it demands your time. When you worship, whatever resources you have are drained in that worship. Not necessarily drained dry, mind you, although that might indeed be the case. How many lives are wasted and indeed extinguished far too early because of a worship of substances and intoxicants? We see far, far, too much of that in our culture today. I looked up the statistics. Do you know how many people in Canada died from opioid related causes last year? The statistics say at least 2458, and that’s without the numbers from Quebec which were not available. That’s just shy of seven people every single day. And that’s only one category of drugs. Alcohol related deaths? I found the 2015 numbers, and it was 5082. That’s more than twice as many.

While my theme this morning is cups, and so you might this the connection is appropriate, this is not a sermon on the evils of drugs and alcohol. Not specifically, at least. Paul presented two different cups in 1 Corinthians 10, the Lord’s cup and the cup of devils. These are two very different things. You can’t drink from both of them. My point is that what you worship determines your destiny. You may choose to follow God, to worship Him, to trust in Christ and to believe in His work on the cross. If you do so, then you should also remember Him, as He instructed His disciples to do that night. You can drink from God’s cup of blessing, you can join with His people, and have communion with Him. That is one option.

Or you can choose to worship something or someone else. It doesn’t really matter what it is, ultimately. There are people in this world who actively worship Satan, and there are people in this world who actively worship Vishnu, and there are people in this world who actively worship professional football. Obviously we would all say that it is far worse to be a devil worshipper than it is to worship the New England Patriots or the Dallas Cowboys, and I will not dispute that, but if you are worshipping something other than God, then you aren’t worshipping God. Exactly what it is you are worshipping is not the key detail. If it’s not God, then it might as well be the devil.

That’s harsh, but it’s true. The cup from which you drink, and the company with whom you decide to fellowship, that is key in deciding your path. And it is a single path, not an alternating one between left and right. You can’t have it both ways, as Paul so strongly expresses in the verses we just read. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.

People try to have it both ways, they try to keep one foot in the church and one in the world, but it will not work. That’s because it’s not something that you do, it’s something that you are. You can’t have fellowship with God and with the world, you can’t truly have both, anymore than you can ride two bicycles. You need to pick one of the other. As Christ said in Luke chapter 12: 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Whatever you value most, what is your treasure, that is where your loyalty will end up. This is not a 50/50 type of situation, either. People don’t straddle this question and half of them end up following God. Sadly, almost everyone who tries to ride on the line will end up on the world’s side, sooner or later. If you don’t let go of the world, if you keep taking sips from the world’s cup, eventually it will claim you.

There is one more cup to look at this morning, and that is in Psalm 11. I’ll read just two verses from there, verses 5 and 6. 5 The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth. 6 Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup.

The world’s cup might look shiny, fun, and enticing, but it comes with a price. Rebellion against God is not without consequence. God will judge those who are wicked and who love violence. What does it mean to be wicked? We might imagine some particularly dark meaning, but the word, the Hebrew word is Rasha (raw-SHAW), it means one who is guilty, or who is opposed to God. That’s a pretty wide net to cast. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

As for violence, well, we might in our minds want to limit that to those who are particularly brutal and aggressive, but that comes far short of the meaning. Violence is not limited to assault and murder. We live in a world filled with people who claim to be seeking peace, but they love violence. They do violence in their deeds, in their words, and there is violence in their hearts. We know this is true, we see it in the people around us, and we know it of ourselves. How often do we get angry, and for the most selfish of reasons? We might never lay a hand on anyone, but that does not mean there is no violence inside us.

What is the cup of the wicked and the violent? The verses we just read do not paint a pretty picture of it. Fire, brimstone, tempest, and snares, a better translation of snares might be calamity. Those who are guilty before God, those who love violence, they will find no peace.

In closing I want to read a single verse from the gospel of John. Don’t feel the need to turn there. It’s from chapter 3, verse 36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

There are choices in this life. We spoke earlier of how David chose the Lord, and you also have a choice. You choose what you wish to believe, who you will follow, who you will serve. You choose from which cup you wish to drink.

All choices are not equal, though. The cup of the world leads not to life, but to punishment and death. He who does not believe in the son of God? The wrath of God abides on him. It remains. The wrath of God is not something that you can shake off. You don’t get to pick yourself up and dust yourself off after facing your maker.

That is the only option that leads to life and peace. As we said earlier, Christ drank the cup for us, the cup of suffering. In doing so He paid the price for our sins, He drank the cup so we don’t have to. But we can still choose from which cup we drink. The price is paid, but it’s up to us to believe and accept it.