April 10 – Sixth Wednesday in Lent
by Pastor Pete Scheele
Read 1 Peter 1:18-19
Grace and Peace to you as you let Jesus take the wrath of God from you, from God, our Father, our suffering Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Have you ever read John Steinbeck’s epic novel ‘The Grapes of Wrath?’ It is about refugees from the Dust Bowl of the Great Plains in the 1930s. But what about the title, ‘The Grapes of Wrath?’ What do grapes have to do with wrath?
In the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ Julia Ward Howe uses this same phrase ‘The Grapes of Wrath.’ Do you remember how the song goes?
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword; His truth is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.
Again, what do vintage, wine and grapes have to do with God’s vengeance and wrath?
Have you ever thought about how you make grape juice or wine? To make grape juice or wine you have to squeeze all the juice out of the grapes. I brought some grapes with me, and I’m going to squeeze them to see how much juice I can get out of them. (Squeeze the grapes over a bowl and then pour it into a glass)[You will need a wash cloth to wipe your hands and any spills.] Sure enough, that’s how you make grape juice and wine. But how would you like to be one of those grapes that got squished? (Hold up on undamaged grape.) How would you feel if you were this grape and you knew you were going to get squished? You wouldn’t feel very good, would you? I could squeeze this grape, because I am bigger and stronger than it is. That is, if I wanted to. God is able to squish us, if He wanted to. God could squish us just like I squished the grapes. In fact, God has every right to squish us and destroy us because of our sins that have destroyed the perfect world that He made for us. God could take all His wrath out on us because of our sins and we would look just like this grape pulp. (Pick up and show the pulp let in the squishier.) It doesn’t look very good or pleasant thing to happen to us and yet that is the imagery of ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ in our time and in the Bible times.
Up until the past 100 years any time you squished some grapes you would eventually get wine and when it was referred to in the Bible it often symbolized the blood of suffering. You can no doubt understand why. For one thing, their appearance is so similar. A dark red wine looks very much like and stains just like blood. (Hold up the glass grape juice) Without smelling or tasting this, you might not be able to distinguish it from blood. Take a close look at the cup that you have do you really know what is in it? Go ahead and taste it. What does it taste like?
From the time that sin came into this world God has required the payment of blood for sin, because the blood of all humans and all animals is their source of life, the payment of death. Sometimes the Bible portrays God’s wrath as stamping out sinners like one would crush grapes in a wine press. Being just and hating sin, God has every right and duty to stamp out sin and that means stamping out sinners.
In our Old Testament reading for tonight we hear Jeremiah announcing the anger of God as he says, “Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. You, therefore, shall prophesy against them all these words, and say to them: ‘The Lord will roar from on high, and from His holy habitation utter His voice; He will roar mightily against His fold, and shout, like those who tread grapes, against all the inhabitants of the earth.’”” (Jer. 25:15, 30) The prophet Isaiah paints the same picture as he records what the Lord declares to us, “I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with me; I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; their lifeblood spattered on my garments, and stained all my apparel.  For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and my year of redemption had come.  I looked, but there was no one to help; I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold; so my own arm brought me salvation, and my wrath upheld me.  I trampled down the peoples in my anger; I made them drunk in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.” (Isaiah 63:3-6)
The price of sin is death, the shedding of blood. The problem is, if you pay for your own sin, than you’re dead! You’re like a grape that’s been stamped flat and dried. There is no hope for you. But if someone else pays your debt for you, then you can live! You’re freed from the debt of sin. Either way, the price of blood has to be paid to accomplish redemption.
This was the meaning of the slaughter of the Passover lambs – and all the other sacrificial animals of the Old Testament. Their lifeblood, not the people’s, was spilled. God’s wrath against sin “passed over” the people, crushing the animals, though they were only symbols of the final, complete sacrifice of the perfect blood that would be shed. When the people gathered around the Passover table, they drank four cups of warm, dark red wine during the meal, symbolizing the warm blood of the freshly sacrificed lamb. Look on the front of you bulletin and you will see the four promises that God gave to the Israelites of Old and us today. As I say each of these promises I want you to repeat them and then take a sip of wine or grape juice from your cup.
I will bring you OUT from under the yoke of the Egyptians. (Sip) I will RESCUE you from your slavery. (Sip) I will REDEEM you with outstretched arms and with mighty acts of Judgment. (Sip) I will TAKE you as my people, and I will be your God. (Sip) (Ex 6:6-7)
Of the four cups, the third ‘cup of blessing’ or ‘the cup of redemption’ commemorated God’s promise to free the Israelites slaves by the outstretched arm of God. When Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with His disciples on Maundy Thursday evening, He took this third cup of wine, the cup of redemption. After He blessed it with the traditional Passover blessing, He gave it to His disciples and said, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:27-28)
No longer did this cup of dark warm wine merely symbolize the blood of the sacrificed animal. Now it actually contained the blood of the perfect sacrifice of redemption to end all sacrifices. It was Jesus’ blood, the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world that He is giving the Disciples on that night. In giving the disciples the cup of redemption, Jesus was saying that God’s wrath would crush Him as the payment for all who are enslaved in the hopelessness of sin.
But what a terrible price to pay! No wonder Jesus pleaded with his Father, “If possible Father, take this cup from me. Yet not my will but yours be done!” (Lk. 22:42) The cup that Jesus drinks for us contained God’s wrath against sin . . . All of God’s wrath against all of our sins! All of God’s just fury against the rebellion of every sinner who had ever lived or would ever live was concentrated in the cup of suffering that Jesus would experience the next day. God through the words of Isaiah explains it this way, “It was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and make His life a guilt offering.” (Is. 53:10a) To crush Jesus as grapes are crushed in a winepress. The Grapes of Wrath. “He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities” (Is. 53:5) On the cross the immeasurable weight of all the sin of the world crushed Him.
That’s the horrible price of our redemption; the blood of Jesus, the perfect Passover Lamb. “Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Pe. 1:18-19) Having given them the cup of His blood, Jesus said one thing more; “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” (Mt. 26:29)
What does Jesus mean by these words? He is saying that they would not drink the fourth cup. Though the rabbinic writings specify that the Passover meal cannot be considered finished until the fourth cup is consumed. Jesus is saying that the Lord’s new Passover meal is not finished. It continues today! In fact it will continue until we all drink of the cup of completion in the Father’s kingdom of heaven forever. That means that every time we gather at the Lord’s Table for Holy Communion, Jesus is as present with us in the bread and the wine as He was with the disciples that very first Maundy Thursday. The New Covenant meal continues today as real as it was when it was first instituted, and it will continue until Jesus returns to take all those who believe in Him to His Father’s kingdom. The meal is not finished until all believers are in Heaven with God at His table.
In the next week and many times throughout the year we will share in this precious gift given to us by Christ’s blood-shed for us on the cross of Calvary, the sacrificial price He paid to redeem us from all of God’s wrath. Come, receive the price of Your redemption and remember the four ‘I will” promises that God gives to you. “I will bring you OUT from under the yoke of your slave master!” “I will RESCUE you from your slavery!” “I will REDEEM you with outstretched arms and with mighty acts of Judgment!” “I will TAKE you as my own people and I will be your God!” Remember all that God has done for you and will do for you and give Him praise always. Amen.