With A Hint Of Suffering – 02.14.2021
Larry Nassar, once a world-renowned sports physician who treated the top Olympic gymnasts in our country as well as serving as a university doctor at Michigan State, in 2018 was sentenced to 175 years in prison after pleading guilty to a massive list of sexual abuses. It was a shocking story that would not stop unfolding – the pure level of his deceit and crimes astonished the entire country. At his sentencing, more than 150 women and girls gave victim statements, and the judge let every single one of them speak. One of those women, the very last one, was a woman named Rachael Denhollander. Rachael was the first to publicly accuse Larry with an accusation that stuck, and her background in law helped her become an advocate who made sure Larry saw his day in court. Justice came because of Rachael’s efforts.
On January 24, 2018 – just a few years ago, Rachael got up and spoke to Larry. I’ll recommend to you her whole speech, which you can find on the internet – but I wanted to read you just a short excerpt:
“Larry, if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen this courtroom today. In the bible you carry says it is better for a stone to be thrown around your neck and you thrown into a lake than for you to make even one child stumble. And you have damaged hundreds. The bible you speak of carries a final judgment where all of God’s wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you. I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me – though I extend that to you as well.”
Whew. Today is week two in our sermon series: The Meta-fors. For all of February we are spending some time with the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah trying to discover what are the metaphors for? As we talked about last week – prophets love to use shocking imagery to get people’s attention. Last week we had a good laugh as Jeremiah compared pride to a pair of moldy underwear, and we saw that love binds us together much better than pride ever could. Today, as you will see, the metaphor is a little less fun, but it is just as important. Let’s take a look.
Now, before we dive in we need to remember a few things about reading the prophets. First, the role of the prophet is to be the mouthpiece of God, and they spent most of their time warning people: you did a bad thing, so there’s going to be punishment. Second, if a prophet was ever wrong, they were a false prophet. The guys in the bible were always right. And then finally, the imagery prophet’s use is weird and shocking on purpose to get people’s attention. And with that primer, we jump into chapter 25, [read v.15-17]. Take this cup and make people drink from it. God says that the cup is “filled to the brim with my anger” – so the cup represents the wrath of God. And THAT apparently means crazy warfare that will be sent against their country. You guys did a bad thing, punishment is coming. And you might be thinking – okay, so let’s scale it back. Let’s lighten it up a little with a joke or something. But he doesn’t. Verses 18 to 26 are just a big list of countries that were getting punished and then in verse 27 [read v.27-29], and it goes on like that for another ten verses, all the way to the end of the chapter. Drink from this cup, it’s full of my anger. Yeah, no – I don’t want to. Well, you have you drink it. And it’s gross and it will make you throw up and you still have to drink it. I think if I had to capture my reaction to this passage I would use this little guy here [put the shocked emoji on the screen]. Huuh, yikes. The message is pretty simple – actions have consequences. We cannot escape disaster, the consequences of our problems. Sin brings punishment. They did something wrong, something against God, and so the cup of God’s wrath is poured out on them, and they can’t avoid it and it’s really really unpleasant and terrible and awful and maybe a little bit gross. This passage is one of those where we want to look away. Like the Larry Nassar trial, it’s justice, it’s deserved, but it’s still really hard to watch. It’s so awful to see terrible actions and their horrifying consequences. God tells Jeremiah – take this cup, and make them drink it.
Then we move over to our second scripture, which is a story of Jesus. You might remember last week I mentioned that a lot of these images from Jeremiah have a counterpart in the life of Jesus. And when we put them up next to one another we learn something. So let’s step into Matthew for a second, chapter 26, verse 36. It’s a familiar story – the garden at Gethsemane, and it says [read v36-39]. Jesus is going through a thing. His soul is crushed with grief, he is completely overwhelmed with sadness. So he reaches out to a couple of close friends, and says – will you stay up with me while I go pray. He prays to God – please, if it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Now right away you probably noticed the metaphor. Jesus is talking about a cup too! Jeremiah had a cup full of God’s anger, and Jesus has a cup – they’re the same! But there’s one important difference – in the story of Jeremiah, the people deserved the cup of anger. Right? Bad things were happening, but it’s bad things that was their fault. Jesus’ cup, well he didn’t do anything wrong. You see, sometimes bad things happen, and it’s our fault. We did something wrong and actions have consequences. Jeremiah shows us what it looks like when it’s our fault. But other times bad things happen and it’s not our fault. It wasn’t Jesus’ fault, and it’s not always our fault. Sometimes bad things just happen. Jesus teaches us what to do when bad things happen and it’s not our fault.
[read v.40-41]. Jesus goes off to pray to God, please let this cup pass away from me – but when he comes back they’ve fallen asleep. And as I was reading this last week I realized – Jesus is having a very human moment here. In this moment, Jesus needed a friend. Jesus was just looking for someone to walk with him when life gets hard. And He was disappointed, because his friends let him down. Have you ever had that in life? When you needed something, and people you love, and you know they’re trying to support you and look out for you – but they mess it up? They fall asleep on the job. They say something or do something, and you know they mean well – but it leaves you feeling worse? I love this church family, and how we support each other and we celebrate together and we grieve together and all that – but the truth is this is a collection of broken people. And just like blood family – sometimes we let each other down. Sometimes, even when we’re trying our hardest, we hurt each other, we lash out, disappoint, or neglect each other. That night all those years ago, Jesus needed a friend. He needed some support from his community, and the disciples let him down. And I know they mean well. Right? Like, I know the disciples loved Jesus so much, they wanted to do the right thing. But they’re just human guys, they’re not always going to say or do the right thing.
[read v.42]. This is an incredible prayer. Jesus is putting it all out there. I see what’s coming. I see what’s happening in my life and I don’t want it. I want you to realize what Jesus is doing here. Jesus is giving us permission to ask God to take away our troubles. Sometimes I think some of us have this guilt about selfish prayers. We feel like we should only pray for others and we shouldn’t complain about our situation. We have so many blessings, we feel like its not right to call on God with our problems. But Jesus did it. Jesus cried out to God, please take this cup away from me. (Of course we have to be prepared that God might say no, like he did with Jesus) – but Jesus cried out anyways. Jesus cried out when something painful was happening in his life. And you can do the same. When you are going through something, and maybe the community around you has let you down – God is always there for you. God is the greatest listener you have ever encountered. Studies have shown that a regular prayer life, talking to God regularly has a similar affect on brain patterns as weekly therapy sessions. It is so good for you to cry out to God, even with things that are going on in your personal life. If you are going through something difficult today, I want to encourage you to call on God.
And look what happened next [read v.43-44] Three times Jesus went to pray to God, and verse 44 tells us that Jesus said the same things again. Jesus is being repetitive. It’s okay to come back to God over and over with the same request. Ultimately the answer God gives Jesus is no. No, I will not take this cup away – you have to drink from it. But I think what we see is by going to God over and over and pouring out his troubles, putting it out there – that act of prayer gave Jesus the strength to face the struggle that was coming. Jesus went to his death on the cross with his head held high because he had put it in front of God. There is power in prayer. It transforms us, and gets us ready to face the world. I think that’s why our passage ends like this, [read v.45a]. Go ahead and sleep. Before the “police” show up and arrest Jesus, before his betrayer betrays him – he has this moment of compassion for the friends who let him down. Going before God in prayer gave him compassion for his friends and strength to face his troubles head on.
So what we have this morning are two very different verses – but what I want to show you is what happens when we put these two verses together. Jeremiah shows us what happens when it is our fault. There is a cup of God’s wrath – consequences for our actions, and we cannot escape it. That cup is staggering, violent, makes us want to throw up, makes us fall down and we cannot rise again. Because of our sins – there is a cup of God’s anger for each of us, and that’s really awful. Jeremiah took the cup of God’s wrath and took it to each of the nations and told them, you have to drink this. This is the consequences of your actions, and you have to drink it, this is the bed you’ve made, and you have to lie down in it. If justice is a real thing, then the things you have done have earned you a sip from the cup. But what I want you to realize today is that it’s the same cup in both stories. The cup of God’s wrath that each of us earned because of our sin, is the same cup Jesus drinks in the garden. The good news this morning is that Jesus drinks OUR cup of God’s wrath. Every dark moment in our life – every time we lied, every time we had a lustful thought, every selfish moment, every time failed to take care of our neighbor, every time we failed to love, every time we turned away from God and worshipped the lesser things of this world – the punishment for that, that each of us deserve, is the cup that Jesus drinks. The good news this morning is that Jesus took the weight of our sin with him on the cross. The difference between Jeremiah and Jesus is that we do NOT have to drink from the cup, because Jesus did it for us.
What I’m trying to tell you this morning is a bit of good news, bad news. The bad news is that you are a bigger screw up than you ever knew. Your sin against God is worse than we could ever imagine, it is so awful we can’t even handle it. Most of us spend our lives trying to convince ourselves “it’s not that bad. I’m not that bad.” But our sin against God is worse than we could ever imagine. It is so horrible it pushes us to our knees – we fall and cannot rise again. But that realization MUST be paired with the good news. The good news is God’s mercy and his grace is deeper than we could have ever hoped. Yes – it is true. Our sin is worse than we could ever imagine. There is a sip from the cup of God’s wrath for each of us, but God’s mercy and his grace is deeper than you could ever have hoped. Jesus Christ, the son of God, takes the cup of God’s wrath away from us, and says, “I will drink this for you. Because I love you and I want you to have a second chance.”
I used to do this thing, even when I was just starting out as a Pastor. I would avoid talking about some of these buzz words. I thought – oh man, if I talk about sin or wrath or judgment – people will run away. All the visitors who come will walk away thinking “that guys a weirdo – talking about how bad we are.” And I’m not trying to be some fire and brimstone pastor – right? That’s not my style. But I’ve undergone a shift in the last couple years. As I have spent more time looking at what Jesus did for me. And I’ve started to understand exactly what it was that Jesus did for me on that cross all those years ago. I realized – I want to talk about the judgment. I want to talk about the sin, I want to talk about my screw ups and the wrath they deserve, because it shows how much God loves me. I can’t believe that God would take MY cup of wrath, he takes the punishment I deserve – because he loves me and he is so incredibly merciful and graceful. When I see what Jesus has done for me – I have no other response than to repent of my sin and follow Jesus forever. He forgave me my sins, and he will forgive you. If you repent and give your life to him. So the first part of the application for today. When you have done something wrong – turn to Jesus. Witness as he drinks your cup of wrath, repent and leave that sin behind forever.
Whew, I never thought I’d miss a sermon about moldy underwear. Jeremiah sort of goes zero to sixty pretty quick around here. But there is one more application. First, when you’ve done something wrong – turn to Jesus. Absolutely. But the second application is for when you have NOT done anything wrong. Jeremiah talks about bad things that happen when it’s your fault. But what about when it is NOT your fault? Sometimes bad things just happen – what do we do then? Think about Jesus in the garden. His situation was not his fault. So let’s do what Jesus did. When bad things happen: pray for strength, cry out to God, ask God to take it away, be repetitive. These are all things that Jesus did, and we can do them too. When the world is coming apart – turn to Jesus and pray for strength. Another you can do is look for support in your community. Jesus looked for support from his disciples – it didn’t work very well, they kept falling asleep. But your church, your family, your friends – people who love you are a great place to start when looking for support to get through a rough time. When things are hard, and you did something wrong – turn to Jesus and repent. When things are hard and you did NOTHING wrong – turn to Jesus and pray for strength. No matter what comes, turn to Jesus.
The cup of wrath metaphor is not quite as much fun as moldy underwear – but when I saw what Jesus doesn’t with Jeremiah’s cup, I knew we needed to look at that. And so I’ll leave you with this, when everything is terrible and it’s all your fault, may you repent and turn to Jesus. When everything is terrible and it’s not your fault, may you turn to Jesus and pray for strength. And then, when we have all turned to Jesus, may it not be so terrible ever again. Amen.