“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Psalm 23:5 ESV
The overflowing cup in this context symbolises limitless, unbounded joy. The presence of the Heavenly Shepherd, His unfailing love, care and protection, are all reasons for us to continually rejoice; but this cup contains much more. A wonderful restoration of ‘all that the locusts have eaten’ – whether happiness, relationships, money or success – is reserved for the people of God. On seeing everything, once ruined, indeed all creation, now restored to a greater splendour than ever before, how can we respond except with joyous celebration?
‘When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations,“The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.’ (Psalms 126: 1-3 NIV)
As Christians we realise that the best things this world has to offer are transient – so the work of restoration on this earth is partial. We look forward to the final and perfect renewal of all things. This, however, does not minimise the importance of the restoration that we will enjoy on earth, because they prove the perfect faithfulness of God, and are a foretaste of the blessings prepared for us in eternity.
God intends for us to partake of His cup of joy at several levels. At one level, His joy will sustain us now, while we live here as aliens and strangers. The cup of joy will also be the recompense for the period of sorrow and suffering that the carrying of the cross of Jesus inevitably entails. As Jesus promised – “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22 ESV).
The cross, meant loss in the deepest sense, for those who had to suffer its agonies as Christ did – a crushing of the body and loss of all dignity. We learn that Christ, our Shepherd endured the cross, scorning its shame, for ‘the joy set before Him’ (Hebrews 12:2). The joy, that He anticipated, and which hastened His steps to Calvary were two-fold: first, the joy of having accomplished the will of the Father; and second, the joy of being united with the redeemed. For God, the homecoming of every child, saved from sin, is an occasion for a great celebration. How much greater will our joy be in heaven when sin is eternally banished and the full number of saints are reunited with the Beloved.
A recurring theme in the OT is the restoration of Jerusalem, a glorious city that was utterly devastated by her enemies. The prophets reveal God’s great love for this stubborn and rebellious city. For a period of time, Jerusalem rejected God and His chosen Messiah, and withdrew herself from God’s protection. Jesus wept at her sufferings and the great desolation that she would endure, for her refining and purification. So Jerusalem – the archetype of those loved, sought and redeemed by God – was handed a cup, the cup of sorrow and chastisement for her sins. It is described as a cup large and deep, of scorn, derision, sorrow, ruin and desolation (Ezekiel 23:32 NIV).
The suffering we endure in this world is the direct consequence of humanity’s sin and fallen state; and therefore a form of divine chastisement. As far as we Christians are concerned, because Christ has already borne our chastisement, the suffering we experience is the result of our oneness with Christ. To James and John, who came to Jesus requesting special honours in the coming age, He replied,
“You do not know what you are asking,” Jesus replied. “Can you drink the cup I will drink, or be baptized with the baptism I will undergo?” “We can,” they answered.“You will drink the cup that I drink,” Jesus said, “and you will be baptized with the baptism I undergo.” (Mark 10:38-39 Berean Study)
During Holy Communion, we remember that Christ drank of this very cup on our behalf and as we sip from the holy cup, we indicate our willingness to participate in His sufferings. Drinking from this cup was a painful experience for Jesus; so He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39 NIV). As the Firstborn, He obeyed the Father, and set us an example to follow.
The communion cup is also the confirmation, a sign and a seal, of the beautiful inheritance – the cup of joy – set apart for us. As the NIV 84 translates it, the psalmist exclaims – “Lord, You have assigned me my portion and my cup; You have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance” (Psalm 16:5-6 NIV 84). Yet most versions put it like this – “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot” (ESV). Now God may offer us the cup of His Son; we may choose to receive it and drink from it, or reject it. Drinking from this cup is symbolic of our merging our lives with Christ’s. And many will indeed reject the cup, saying as some of Christ’s own first followers did – “This is hard teaching, who can accept it?” (John 6:60 NIV).
Again, like the pain of childbirth, the grief we endure has a purpose – God intends to use it to equip us for eternity.
“…You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.” (John 16:20-21 NIV).
So the cup of suffering symbolises 1. The ‘good’ things that we must give up, and 2. The pain that comes our way, either on account of our faith or simply because we are part of a fallen humanity. In each of our lives, things happen that we do not fully understand. We lose a loved one. Something we treasured, or worked hard for, is taken away from us. As Christians we are often required to lay down things in obedience to the will of God. Rewards promised to us in God’s word may be withheld from us, again for reasons unknown to us. In the midst of all this confusion, and seeming injustice, we are called to trust God.
The life of faith is a divine bargain, and we give up something of value, to gain something better. Jesus promised that in this age we shall be amply compensated for the things we give up, and in the age to come, like David, we shall ‘recover all’. Jerusalem will receive a full recompense ‘in the year of God’s favour… the year of the vengeance of our God’
So Christians have every right to hope for the great restoration that God has promised us. As I mentioned before, we will indeed see many acts of restoration in this life, but everything will come to perfect fruition and fulfilment, in the next.
To be continued
Father, thank You for the joy of belonging to You. Help us learn more and more to appropriate this wonderful inheritance that is ours in Christ. Fill us to overflowing that we may be strengthened to overcome every difficulty that comes our way.