The Messianic Cup of Wrath and Joy

(an exposition of Psalm 69)

Jesus prayed, saying,

My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Mat. 26:39)

Jesus drank the cup of utter shame, the cup of horror and desolation! Yes, in sufferings and prayer He took the cup of God’s wrath and drank it to the very dregs. This is the very picture we have in Psalm 69, many centuries before it occurred!  While David is speaking in the Psalm, it is the Messiah’s voice that we hear in David.  With David’s prophetic Psalms we hear “the Spirit of Christ in them…when He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them [the prophets] that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you …” (1 Pet. 1:11-12).

Even though David was Israel’s greatest king, his life of sin and cover-up excludes him from being our model Messiah King. This Psalm pictures for us not only the cup of God’s wrath that Jesus our Messianic King drank for us, but also that cup of wrath poured out on those who remain His enemies.

This prayer-Psalm of Christ concludes with His cup overflowing with songs of praise, as did David’s when he exclaimed: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Ps. 23:5-6).

Christ repeatedly claims the words of Psalm 69 as His own words and deeds. One of the great Scottish ministers of long ago, John Brown (1784-1858) set forth a key principle for interpreting a given Psalm: “If the speaker in a Psalm … is obviously the same from beginning to the end, and if a petition of such a Psalm is, in the New Testament, expressly referred to the Messiah, the whole is to be considered as applicable to him” (p. 27, The Sufferings and the Glories of the Messiah).

I am persuaded that there is really much more of Christ in the Psalms than many Christians are ready to acknowledge and see. The slowness of heart among Christ’s disciples to believe all that the prophets have spoken has not diminished even after so many years. May God open our eyes to see what so many scholars are unwilling or unable to see!

1. Jesus drinks the cup of God’s wrath (verses 1-21)

A. It is Jesus who claims this prayer as His own

See His words (recorded in John 15:25): “But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason’” coming from Psalm 69:4: “Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head.” Commentator George Horne (in his 18th century commentary on the Psalms) says, “Like a herd of evening wolves the enemies surround the Lamb of God!  They thirst for His blood without cause or offense found in the Sinless One!”

Church fathers (such as Augustin) point out that the first Adam stole all our righteousness, but the last (second) Adam restores what He did not steal (v. 4).

Puzzling? David’s guilt and folly are as real as that of every sinner in the world. Jesus, as our representative Head identifies with David’s sin and ours as He restores what He did not steal.  He has taken our folly and guilt as His own. Hear the words of 2 Cor. 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) recognized Jesus here and says: “It is the true man Jesus Christ who prays in this Psalm and who includes us in this prayer.” Further, “Jesus prays for forgiveness, not for any sins of His own, but for our sins which He has taken upon Himself and for which He suffers. He puts Himself completely in our place and in the sight of God He chooses to be a man like us. And so He is united with us in offering the most human of all prayers, and herein precisely shows Himself to be truly the Son of God” (p. 19, Psalms–The Prayer Book of the Bible).

The Head acknowledges the diseases of all the members of His body! Like in His suffering, in His praying He identifies with us and stands before the Father to intercede for you and me. What a great reservoir of gospel truth we find in the prayers of Christ in the Psalms!

The words of verses 8-9: I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother’s sons; for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me;” are reiterated in John 2:17, which tells us that “His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’” And Paul speaks of Christ’s experience: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me” (Rom. 15:3).

Why the zeal and the passion? Why the insults and suffering? Why a stranger to His own? “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:10-11). Yes, His rejection really was what we deserved; He suffered those insults in our place. It is all redemptive!

Finally, in verse 21 we read: “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.” Matthew records (27:34): “There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall,” while John witnessed (19:29): “A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.”

This Psalm is fulfilled in Jesus! It is applied to Jesus! It is claimed by Jesus to be His!

B. It is the cup of God’s wrath that Jesus drinks

Verses 1-2:

Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me.

Here Christ (David’s Son) is like a drowning man with the stormy waters crashing in upon Him.  The sins of the world are pictured as deep mire or swampy mud pulling Him down.  As the Head of His people, He prays to the Father to “save” His “body.”  The waters have reached to His very “soul” as the Innocent One is “drowned” by suffering to spare us, the guilty.

Verse 3:

I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched.
My eyes fail, looking for my God.

This pictures the days of His flesh when “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence (vss. 8-9). His entire life on earth reflects this prayer, but it is especially seen in Gethsemane and on the cross. His throat was parched and his “eyes failed” as He suffered for our sake — the Righteous One for many unrighteous.

David and the O.T. saints are only examples — other recipients of the unmerited grace of God; they are not models for us to emulate.

Verses 10-12:

When I weep and fast, I must endure scorn;
when I put on sackcloth, people make sport of me.
Those who sit at the gate mock me, and I am the song of the drunkards.

To wipe out our sins the Son of God became a ‘man of sorrows.’ He took on mortal flesh and blood in order to suffer in our place. He mourned, fasted, prayed and wept, humbling Himself to the very dust as if He were the wicked one. Remember how the rulers scoffed at Jesus saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He is the Christ of God, His Chosen One!” (Luke 23:35). And Mark records (15:29-32): “Those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!’ In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.’ Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” Even drunkards compose mocking songs about Jesus so that we would not be forever mocked and forsaken.

Matthew tells us of the garden scene, that Jesus “fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ … A second time he prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.’ … He went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing” (26:29, 42, 44). The prayer of the suffering Savior brings life, and in verses 13-21 of our Psalm we hear His prayer for deliverance.

2. Jesus Prays Out the Cup of God’s wrath (verses 22-28)

Here is the cup that the Psalmist pours out in prayer on the enemies of God: “Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup” (Psalm 11:6) and “For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another. For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs” (Psalm 75:6-8). Here is the prayer for the kingdom of God to come and for God’s will to be done!

If you compare these “curses” with what the Christ has suffered in verses 1-21, you will see them mirrored in the cup that is poured out on the wicked.

Look at His sufferings and you will find they are the very covenant curses of verses 22-28 that will come upon the enemies of the Lord.

His table/food – poison
His peace – trap
His despair and forsakenness
His insults, shame, dishonor, mockery
His afflictions, attacks, alienation,
His eyes – darkened
His body – trembling
His reproach, sackcloth
His Name – blotted out of the book of life!

What do we do with our enemies and the Lord’s? Paul reminds us forcefully of God’s instruction to His people through Moses in Dt. 32:35, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). While we cannot personally pray for our enemies to suffer these curses, we do pray that they will settle upon all who do not repent and have faith in the suffering Savior.

Luke applies the curse of verse 25: “May his place be deserted; may there be no one to dwell in his tent” to Judas as the unrepentant covenant breaker who suffered the curse of the covenant (Acts 1:20).  We see a similar curse in Psalm 109:8: “May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.” We must pray such words only in the name of the Lord Christ, leaving vengeance in His hands. Thereby we rest in His executing righteous judgment in the accepted time on all who reject the curse that came on Jesus’ body given on the cross as the way of salvation.

Truly we can only pray these “curses” in the name of the One who was made a curse for us, to save all who call upon His name.

Paul reminds us: “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you” (2 Thes. 1:6-10).

3. Jesus Enjoys the Cup of God’s Salvation (verses 29-36)

My cup overflows with songs of praise.

Verse 29:

But as for me, afflicted and in pain—may your salvation, God, protect me.

His affliction and pain have the purpose of salvation and His exaltation on high! David here is really Christ’s representation in prayer and person. He drank all of the cup of God’s wrath as if He had been godless and deserving of God’s curses. Now God sets Him on high! The sufferings of Christ are followed by His ascension to glory at the right hand of the Father!

Verse 30:

I will praise God’s name in songand glorify him with thanksgiving.

Here His cup overflows with song and thanksgiving. He rises from suffering to triumph and resurrection. Jesus sings praise to the Father for saving Him and us — a GREAT salvation!

God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.  For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:32-36).

Verse 31:

This will please the Lord more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hooves.

The ox and bull, even offered with horns and hooves as the very best legally required sacrifices, are but a shadow of the real sacrifice of love–obedience unto death–offered by Christ. His suffering propitiates the wrath and curses of God, as even the finest of the old offerings could never do. This pleases God!

Verse 32:

The poor will see and be glad—you who seek God, may your hearts live!

This is for the reviving, renewing and restoration of all those who seek God as humble disciples of Jesus Christ, who taught us: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” and “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:3, 5).

Verse 33:

The Lord hears the needy and does not despise his captive people.

Let us never doubt that God hears our prayers in Jesus’ Name.  When we are suffering persecution and trial, we must pray in the spirit of Christ, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Mt. 26:39).  God hears us because Jesus took all of the cup of God’s wrath even in His horror of facing death forsaken by His Father.  Recognition of His forsakenness revives our heart since it assures us that we will never be forsaken!

He listens to us in our poverty and distress and even delivers us from the bondage of our addictions and the prison of the grave.

Verses 34-36:

Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and all that move in them,
for God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah.
Then people will settle there and possess it;
the children of his servants will inherit it,
and those who love his name will dwell there.

Here the cup of blessing overflows from the Savior of life, risen from His sufferings as the Messiah.  Men and women from every nation under heaven, even the seas, earth itself and everything that moves shall praise the Name.  His name is above every name; it is the name before which every knee must bow. This Psalm vividly shows us that even through the most desperate of sufferings and curses, our prayers in Jesus Christ can end in doxology. We look forward to the day when: “[His] ransomed creation with glory ablaze, in true adoration shall sing to [His] praise!” With eager anticipation we await “inheriting” and “dwelling” with our glorious Lord in the new heavens and the new earth (2 Pet. 3:13)!