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February 14, 2024

Vladimir’s Cup

Passage: Matthew 26:39

Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The focus of our meditation is the passion narrative just read. You will see that Jesus willingly suffered the
wrath of God in your place in order to secure you a place at the great banquet of eternal life. Again, the
Evangelists record Jesus’ prayer in the Garden:
“Nevertheless not My will, but Thine, be done.”
O Lamb of God, bless Thy Word that we may trust in Thee. Amen.
Vladimir Putin, president of Russia – it would seem for life – has an extensive hired staff charged with his
personal safety. As Putin treads carefully through life aware of the many enemies he’s made for himself over
the years. Within Putin’s employ are at least one thousand bodyguards surrounding him at all times in the event
of attack. Also on the payroll, an assortment of informers who have infiltrated the circles of those out to get
Vladimir Putin’s suspicions run so deep, that he has an official taste-tester. A man whose entire workday
consists of taking a sample of every meal before Putin takes a bite himself. And, because poison’s a whole lot
easier to transmit through liquid, taking a sip of every cup Putin drinks from before it touches his lips.
Putin knows well how this works. Having taken more than a few people out himself, any good poison has a
time delay, lest it be traced back to the where, when, and who of the source. Which means it takes
magnificently refined taste-buds to recognize that something’s just a bit off before it overtakes the system,
which is the cup-bearer’s real training.
In turn, it takes a good deal of trust on Putin’s part, faith in a man who would never turn his back on him. So
faithful to Putin, he’d give up his life.
No, not just anyone can drink from Vladimir’s cup. Each day he lives, a game of Russian roulette. Each sip he
takes could be the one which gets him. And he really hasn’t done his job, until it does, and he goes to his grave
in the rich despot’s place.
Yes, Vladimir Putin, Russian president for life, goes to some pretty remarkable lengths to keep himself in
power. But so can you. Maybe not with a fully employed staff, but there are certainly some measure you’ve
taken to protect yourself, if not from physical harm, at least your ego.
On account of a few enemies you’ve made for yourself over the years. Times you’ve let down your guard,
trusted someone’s kindness, only to realize after the slow-release of their poison takes effect that you should
have known something was off from the start.
Who doesn’t surround themselves with a few friends you can trust a little more than the rest. Keep a few
informers in other circles too just to keep a head’s up on what they’re up to. And though no literal cup-bearer,
someone you can send to test the waters of a conversation you know won’t go well if it came from your lips.
Get a good taste for a situation before you show up.
All this tip-toeing about, suspicion and intrigue, entrapping one another in the effort to stay on top, like some
elaborate chess match: Шах и мат Check and mate! A game not so entertaining to the God who watches every
move from above.
A treachery of the heart no different from that which keeps Vladimir Putin president for life. Notice, I keep
emphasizing the “for life” part. His cup-bearer might be able to keep him from liquid assassination, but there’s
no escaping the long-term poison of sin, the term limit no man can outwit: death.

What does any of this have to do with the Passion narrative?
You see, all that chess game nonsense heaps up against you a tally of sin which your God cannot ignore.
And what it deserves is His rightful wrath, a condemnation described throughout the Psalms and Prophets, as
“the cup of His indignation.” “The cup of My fury.” “The cup of trembling… the dregs thereof, all the wicked
of the earth shall” drink.
“Without mixture,” in other words, there is no watering down what our sins deserve.
And this, this is what Jesus is talking about when, in the Garden of Gethsemane, He falls on His face to pray,
“Abba, Father… Take away this cup from Me.”
Again: “If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.”
There was no other way. It had to be, because only Jesus stepping in to taste this cup in your place could secure
for you a place in heaven: “If this cup may not pass… except I drink it, Thy will be done.”
It’s not the first time Jesus talked about His saving mission in terms of food and drink: “My meat is to do the
will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work.”
And He made clear it was a job He was more than willing to die for: “No man taketh [My life] from Me, but I
lay it down of Myself.”
On one occasion, a few fellows wondered why they couldn’t have a job like His. Jesus answered and said, “Ye
know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?”
His disciples were all-too-quick to respond: “We are able.”
No, just as there’s but an elite few who can drink from Vladimir’s cup, not just anyone could drink of this cup
from the Ruler of heaven and earth.
Only Jesus proved Himself fit for the job by living the righteous life none of us could: “This is My beloved Son
in whom I am well pleased.”
Only Jesus’ tastebuds were so magnificently refined by His encounter with the devil in the wilderness – “in all
points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” – one good whiff of the cup, and He knew what He was in for.
Only Jesus could be trusted never to turn His back on you: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay
down his life for his friends.”
The first sip, so great a shock to His system, “His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the
As the slow-release toxin played out in gruesome consequences across the next twenty-four hours.
Once in a weakened state, they come to take Him in arrest, Peter plays bodyguard. Jesus rebukes: “Put up thy
sword into the sheath: the cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?”

Jesus Himself could have called upon the whole heavenly entourage in His employ: “Thinkest thou that I cannot
now pray to My Father, and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels?” But refuses the
same: “How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?”
Even the few insiders Jesus has, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who, though they consented not, knew
every detail of the plan about to go down, they keep silent, only showing up in the end to put Him in a grave
hewn for the likes of a rich despot.
Yet nothing could keep Jesus from drinking every last drop, down to the dregs at the bottom of the cup, lest one
sin, any of your misdeeds, be left out of His all-atoning suffering and death.
There was no secret to the where, when, and whom. This poison can be traced back with certainty to the first
bite in the Garden of Eden, the iniquity which has flowed in the bloodstream of each child of Adam since.
Now flowing through Jesus’ system up until the venom having run its full course, His belly swollen with water
and blood, pale with anguish, lips and visage languished, Jesus lets out one final cry: “It is finished.”
Be not fooled. This is no defeat. This is the conclusive “Шах и мат. Check and mate!” of the greatest chess
match every played.
Finished is the cup of wrath your sins deserve. Empty, every accusation the devil could ever make against you.
All of which makes for eternal peace between you and your God.
All because Jesus stepped in to be your divine cup bearer to not just taste but guzzle down death and hell, in
order to offer you in turn a seat at the banquet hall of Paradise, by placing in your hands the chalice of eternal
life with Him.
Thus the Psalms declare “I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.”
Now, up until the feast begins in glory, you’ll have to somehow maneuver your way through a world of sin.
His disciples wanted a job like His: “Ye know not what ye ask.” But Jesus continued to make clear how if your
life is truly joined to His, you will encounter your share of hardships: “Ye shall drink indeed of My cup…  If
any man will come after Me, let him… take up his cross, and follow Me.”
But instead of evading your foes to keep yourself on top, the Gospel refines your taste for every hardship He
sends your way to be for your eternal best:
What God ordains is always good.
Though I the cup am drinking
Which savors now of bitterness,
I take it without shrinking.
Confident that through the single sip of faith, you have a true Insider at God’s right hand, and with that legion
of angels He held at bay now serving at your behest, you may walk about your days secure in the undeserved
favor and divine protection yours in Him:
No poison can be in the cup
That my Physician sends me.
My God is true; Each morn anew
I’ll trust His grace unending,
My life to Him commending.

Yes, you can only keep yourself on top so long before you face the stalemate of death. Why, even Vladimir
Putin, president of Russia, seems more than aware of the ‘for life’ part.
A little known fact, one public event Putin never dares miss, even in the middle of covid, is Easter Vigil at
Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow. And wouldn’t you know, he takes his entourage along with him to
Which means at least once a year, they all have a very different job. The bodyguards, the insiders, together
with that food tester whose lips touch the communion cup just before his do, all risking their lives that night to
make sure Putin hears and receives the Jesus who alone lives and reigns forever.
What a mysterious working of God’s grace!
The Lord just as wondrously preserves every breath you take.
All on account - whether he knows it or not – on account of Vladimir’s real cup and yours: the blood Jesus shed
for all lost mankind.
“O taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Now the peace that passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.