Today is Good Friday, and this day is not observed as a funeral for Christ. It is a day of repentance over sin and restrained joy and praise for the redemption Christ accomplished on the cross. It is a good day because it was on this day that our Lord suffered and died in our place.
One of the powerful stories in Scripture regarding the redemptive work of Christ is the Garden of Gethsemane (found in Matthew 26:36–46; Mark 14:32–42; Luke 22:40–46). It is an intense experience, where Jesus says he is greatly distressed and troubled, overcome with dread, and his soul is very sorrowful. Jesus is experiencing something, seeing something, facing something, that no one else faced in death. And as he sees it, he is asking God to remove it if there is some other way.
If we look to the Old Testament for some background, we discover that the "cup" is used in three different ways. The first and most obvious way is the literal cup. This would be passage that speak about literal, physical cups people use or drink out of. For example, Jesus took a literal cup and blessed it at the Last Supper.
The two other ways of using the language of a "cup" are both symbolic:
The Symbolic Cup of Blessing - this would be the way Psalm 23 uses it: “my cup runneth over.” This symbolizes the blessing of God in life.
The Symbolic Cup of Wrath - this would be passages related to the cup referring to the wrath and judgment of God. There are at least fifteen different passages in the Old Testament that speak of the cup of the wine of God’s wrath. This cup is symbolic of God’s hatred of sin, pointing toward the fact that he will punish sin.
The symbolic cup of blessing does not fit with the message of Good Friday because Jesus is asking the Father to remove the cup, making us realize that this cup is not a pleasant experience. Let me provide some of the Old Testament background.
Psalm 75:7-8 says, "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." Notice that the cup described here is a cup reserved for wickedness.
Take for example Isaiah 51:17-19, which says, "Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering. There is none to guide her among all the sons she has borne; there is none to take her by the hand among all the sons she has brought up. These two things have happened to you-- who will console you?-- devastation and destruction, famine and sword; who will comfort you?" Notice again, this is described as a cup of wrath.
Now these are just two examples of over 10 passages that highlight this theme. The message of the Old Testament is this: God reserves his judgment until the appropriate time, and when the cup "fills up" with wrath, God determines to judge.
So one way to look at Jesus' prayer and sacrifice on the cross is this way: the cup of God' wrath had filled up since creation, and God was going to empty it on more than just Israel, or the surrounding nations. God was going to empty that cup upon us.
Jesus, however, went to the cross in our place. Jesus took the cup of God's wrath and drank that cup on the cross. He actually drained the cup of God's wrath completely. That is what is happening when he cries out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!" In the process of pouring out his wrath upon the Son, Jesus felt the abandonment and isolation that takes place when one has to drink the cup wrath.
But the message of the gospel on Good Friday is this: once Jesus drank the cup of wrath, there was nothing left. He took all of God's wrath upon the cross, and since he emptied the cup of wrath, he allows us to drink from the cup of blessing, the cup of salvation.
So on this Good Friday, enjoy the blessed state of your salvation because Christ drained the cup of wrath and judgment and gave you a cup of blessing and salvation instead. This is why we call the message we proclaim "the gospel," for this is good news indeed.