WHAT IS THE LORD’S CUP?
What is the Lord’s cup? His cup carries only one meaning. When the Lord was in the garden of Gethsemane, a cup was before Him. It was God’s cup of righteousness which He was to drink. Yet He prayed to the Father, saying, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39). Here we clearly find that the cup and God’s will were two different things. At that moment the cup was the cup, and God’s will was God’s will; the two had not yet become one. The cup could be changed, but God’s will could never be changed. The Lord was asking if the cup could pass. But He was not asking to avoid God’s will. The cup could pass, but He was absolute to carry out God’s will. The cup was not a necessity. It was not permanent but incidental. If the cup was not God’s will, He was willing to let it pass. But if the cup was God’s will, He would drink it. The Lord’s attitude was clear: If it is God’s will that I drink the cup, I will drink it. But if it is not His will that I drink the cup, I will not drink it. His word indeed draws out our worship. He could never reverse the order of His word. It would have been wrong for Him to pray the other way around. In other words, the one thing He insisted on in the garden was knowing whether or not the cup was God’s will. Before the cup and God’s will became one, it was all right for the Lord to pray as He did. In fact, He prayed this way three times (v. 44). But when He knew that the cup and God’s will were one, He said to Peter outside the garden, “The cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11). In the garden He could ask for the cup to be removed, because the cup and God’s will had not yet become one. Outside the garden the cup and God’s will were one. At this point the cup was different; it was something from the Father. This is why the Lord said, “The cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?”
Here we find the deepest spiritual lesson. The Lord was not hasty even when He was about to go to the cross. He only wanted to carry out God’s will. He was not set on crucifixion. Although His crucifixion was crucial, it could not replace God’s will. Although the Lord’s crucifixion was the most important thing, He was still under God’s will. Although the Lord came in order that He would become a propitiation for the sins of many, and although He came expressly to be crucified for men, the cross could never surpass God’s will. He did not go to the cross simply because the cross was good and necessary for men’s salvation. He did not come for the crucifixion but for doing God’s will. He went to the cross only after He realized that God’s will was the cross. He went to the cross for the simple reason that it was God’s will. He was not crucified for the sake of crucifixion. God’s will is higher than the cross. Hence, the Lord’s crucifixion was not just a matter of the cross but a matter of doing God’s will. He went to the cross because the Father wanted the crucifixion.
We can see that the cup is dispensable but God’s will is indispensable. The Lord did not ask for God’s will to be taken from Him. He had no direct relationship with the cross; it was only an indirect relationship. His direct relationship was with the will of God. This is why He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane for the cup to depart from Him. He wanted to walk in God’s will. He chose God’s will; He was not choosing the cross. Hence, the Lord’s cup signifies His subjection to God’s paramount authority. He prostrated Himself to choose God’s will, and His only desire was to carry out His will. This is why He asked James and John, “Are you able to drink the cup which I drink?” (Mark 10:38). In other words, He was asking if they could prostrate themselves to choose God’s will in the same way that He prostrated Himself before God to choose His will.
This is like Abraham’s offering up of Isaac, which I spoke of earlier. In the end Abraham took Isaac back. Perhaps many people have offered up their Isaac. It becomes a problem to them when they are asked to take Isaac back. This seems to be a loss of face to them. Many people attach themselves directly to their consecration. Others attach themselves directly to suffering. Still others attach themselves directly to their work. But we should be directly attached to one thing only—God’s will. To drink the Lord’s cup means that we should not be attached directly to anything. If a cup is not God’s will, we do not have to take it. Even though everyone knew that the Lord was going to go to the cross, He still prayed at the final hour to know whether the cross was God’s will. Everything depends on God’s will, not on us. Many people work for the sake of work itself. Once they take up a work, they cannot take up anything else. They are stuck to their work and sunk in their work. They have no more time to consider God’s will. They insist on having their work to the end. This is not working for God’s will but working for the sake of working. The Lord was so much for God’s will that He was able even to give up the cross. When He understood God’s will to be the cross, He took it without consideration of its pain. Drinking the cup means that we deny our own will and yield to God’s will. The Lord was asking the disciples if they could yield to God’s will in the same way that He yielded to God’s will. This is the Lord’s cup. If a man wants to be near the Lord or receive glory, he has to obey God’s will.
Obedience to God’s will is an important matter. It is a great matter. If a man can say glibly that he obeys God’s will, he probably has not seen the great significance of God’s will. Obeying God’s will means being related to His will directly. Everything else can change. Even the cross, God’s cup of wrath, can change. But God’s will can never change. Man must forever be subject to God’s authority before he can obey God’s will. In reading the prayer in Gethsemane, we have to touch this spirit. The garden of Gethsemane speaks of the peak of the Lord’s submission on earth. He did not impose God’s will on the cup. Here is a profound principle. God’s will was the object of His submission; God’s cup was not the object. From the first day to the last, Christ’s unswerving allegiance was to the will of God. He obeyed God’s will all the way to the end. This was more important for Him than anything else. I believe there is a most profound revelation in the Lord’s earthly experience of Gethsemane. We have to know Christ Himself through such a deep experience. Up until a few hours before the cross, He was still not committed to the work of the cross; He was only committed to obedience to God’s will. Hence, the highest calling is not the work, the suffering, or the cross, but the will of God. This is why the Lord asked James and John, “Are you able to drink the cup which I drink?” It seems that the Lord was saying, “If a man wants to draw near to Me and receive a place in glory above that of the other children of God, he must be like Me, yielding to God’s will and taking it as the unique goal. Only such ones can come near to Me and sit at My right and left hand.” Whether or not we can be near the Lord and sit at His right and left depends on whether we can drink His cup, which is to render absolute obedience to His will.
(Authority and Submission, Chapter 18, by Watchman Nee)