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When was the last time you were astonished, astounded or stunned?
According to Paul Harvey, if you had been in Swan Quarter, NC in September of 1876, you would have been. A small group of Methodist Christians had been meeting in homes and desired to build a church building. As Swan Quarter is located near the Outer Banks, they attempted to purchase a vacant piece of elevated property near the downtown but the owner, Sam Sadler, refused to sell.
So they erected a white clapboard building and set it on brick pilings to provide as much protection as possible from flooding. They planned a Dedication Service for Sunday, September 17, but on Saturday a hurricane struck that area and most of the town was flooded. Three days later, it stopped raining and as people began to peek out their windows were amazed to see their newly constructed church building slowly floating down Oyster Creek Road! A dozen or so townspeople threw ropes around it and tried to stop but to no avail. They were amazed when it came to an intersection and the church building, as though it had a mind of its own made right-hand turn. But they were absolutely flabbergasted when, two blocks later, it settled on that same little knoll they had attempted to purchase, and slowly turned around in the currents to face the road. The owner subsequently sold the property to the church where it still stands to this day. 1
After this astounding miracle, the church name was changed from Swan Quarter Methodist Church to Providence Methodist Church. You better believe it! If you don’t I invite you to go on-line and check it on Snopes.
I asked you, ‘When was the last time you were ‘astonished,’ ‘confused,’ or stunned to the point that it made you ‘stagger’ in dismay?’
I asked you this because while reading Psalm 60 as part of my devotional time this week I came across a phrase that reached out from the Bible and grabbed me.
The New Living renders verse 3 “You have been very hard on us, making us drink wine that sent us reeling.” But other translators render the phrase, (Darby) ‘wine of bewilderment’, (NKJV) ‘wine of confusion,’ (BBE) ‘wine of shaking,’ (NIV, NASB) ‘wine of staggering,’, (Young’s) ‘wine of trembling.’ I don’t usually care for the old King James Version but I became enamored with the its rendering ‘the wine of astonishment.’ because I saw it as an apt description of the communion cup, for certainly it contains the wine of astonishment or so it should.
But let’s not leap into New Testament theology until we discover why this author, David, chose to use that phrase.
The way I see it David was bewildered, confused, astonished for two reasons. First, David was astonished that God would bring judgment upon him.
Bible commentators explain that when David wrote this Psalm he was probably at the height of his power. Israel’s borders had expanded about as far as they would go. And the prelude to the Psalm tells us that his army has just won a convincing battle.
But then the Psalm indicates two things happen: First, David believes that God had rejected them because they suffer some kind of military defeat: “You have rejected us, oh God, and broken our defenses” (vs. 1). Secondly, an earthquake made things worse: “You have shaken our land and split it open” (vs.2).
In other words, in light of all the blessing that had come from God, David is now astonished that the bad moon (to borrow last week’s sermon title) has risen over David and his people.
The great 19th century preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, preaching on this, said, “Our afflictions have made us like men drunken with some potent and bitter wine; we are in amazement, confusion, delirium; our steps reel, and we stagger as those about to fall. We are like men intoxicated, and at our wits’ end, not knowing how to reconcile these troubles that come into our lives with God’s promises.” 2
Sometimes we too respond by staggering when trouble comes our way:
God, I thought you were on my side. Lord, I have accepted by faith what You have done for me in Jesus. God, I go to church, maybe not every Sunday. But I go when I can. I pray, I read the Bible, I’m a good person. I thought everything was copacetic between you and me. But now this; why this, why now? What did I do to deserve this?
If this is the way You are going to treat me, maybe I’ll cut back on my church attendance. Maybe I won’t go at all anymore. Yea, maybe I’ll just give up on You altogether. In fact
You ever been mad at God? That’s one way we can respond when pain and suffering invade. We can blame God and become angry with God and even walk away from God.
If that’s you, you need to know that God understands and God can take it, He has broad shoulders. And when you are ready to ask for God’s forgiveness for being angry with him, then God’s grace will be there waiting for you. And I am praying that today is the day when, if you are angry with God, that you will let it go. Because the longer you cling to it, the harder it will be for you to return to Him.
We need to learn this lesson from David. Remember I said David was astonished for two reasons. He was first astonished at the God’s judgment. But secondly David is astonished that after experiencing rejection, and expressing his frustration when David calls upon the Lord for salvation, “Now rescue Your beloved people, answer and save us by Your power” (vs. 5) God comes through for Him and His people again. In other words, David is blown away to see God’s judgment so quickly tempered by God’s grace. For David drinking the wine of astonishment comes as response to God’s judgment so quickly followed by God’s grace.
If David had reason to be astonished at God’s judgment quickly followed by His grace we should be immeasurably more so.
For the New Testament declares that for God to maintain His justice, He must exact judgement on human sinfulness for we broke God’s moral law.
That’s what God in Christ has done for us. Now you would think that since we are the ones who have sinned and continue to sin God would be justified to punish us. But get this, God exacted the judgement of death we deserve upon His own Son! Jesus died in our place! And though that’s nothing new to most, if not all of us, there are times it should still astonish us!
We all know that stand-ins are people who replace movie stars in scenes that are either dangerous or sometimes just uncomfortable to be in. Glenn Duhigg, who worked as the stand-in for Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 2 wrote,
It sounds very glamorous saying you’re the stand-in for Tom Cruise but I don’t think most people realize whatever scene Tom was in, I would be the one standing there, oftentimes for hours in all kinds of weather as the crew set up the shot – getting the lighting just right and the props just so. And then Tom would just walk on the set from his air-conditioned trailer to shoot the scene. As one of the other stand-ins said, ‘I realized very quickly the difference between being a star and being a stand-in.’” 3
The communion cup is the cup of astonishment because Jesus was our stand-in! He endured long hours of pain and discomfort, as He took the punishment from God, in our place. It’s amazing that He would do that because really he’s the star! You wouldn’t expect Tom Cruise to stand-in for Glenn Duhigg. No, no in Hollywood; Tom Cruise is the star! And yet, even though Jesus is the star, He chose to be our stand-in!
Peter writes in his first letter, “For Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
Leon Morris, in his fine book, The Cross in the New Testament writes: “Was there a price to be paid? He paid it. Was there a victory to be won? He won it. Was there a penalty to be borne? He bore it. Was there a judgment to be faced? He faced it.” 4
When we pick up this cup, hold it in our hands and put it to our lips, God is saying to us, ‘Your sin made it necessary for His sacrificial death; however; My Son died in your place.’ This is the cup of astonishment in that God’s judgment fell upon the sinless One so that we could get off scot-free!
John Stott in what I consider the most important book in my library, The Cross of Christ, writes:
The concept of substitution may be said, then, to lie at the heart of both sin and salvation. For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives which belong to God alone; God accepts penalties which belong to man alone. 5
Or as Paul writes the Corinthians: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Corinthians 5:21).
What an amazing offer of grace! He offers to take upon Himself our sin and in exchange we receive His righteousness!
Do you know Him? To put it as simply as I can put it, if Christ is not my substitute, then I still occupy the place of a condemned sinner. If my sins and my guilt are not transferred to Him, then they remain with me. If He did not deal with my sins, then I must deal with them. If He did not bear my penalty then I must bear it. There is no other possibility; it is either Him or me.
We need the wine of astonishment over and over, lest we forget. No wonder Jesus said, “Do this, in remembrance of Me.”
And so now we prepare to come to the table of the Lord and take up the cup of astonishment where we see everything is nice and clean and pleasant and beautiful. Yet today I pray that God would give us eyes to see more than sits on this table for there is more here than meets the eye. I pray that God would enable us as He did Moses to see the holiness of an unconsumed burning bush upon this table. It is the cup of the Lord Jesus; filled with His blood the blood of His sacrifice, poured out for YOU and for me. For when we perceive upon this table the presence of God; when we plumb the depths of His divine judgement upon His own Son so that we could be covered by His marvelous grace we will not only take off our shoes, we will open our hearts as we realize we too have come to stand upon holy ground!
And as we partake of the wine of astonishment we will give thanks to Him who loves us so by offering Him the very best of our very lives!
1 Aurandt, Paul. More of Paul Harvey’s the Rest of the Story. [New York: Bantam Books, © 1980] pages 190-192.
2 Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. The Spurgeon Archive www.romans45.org/spurgeon/treasury/ps060.htm
4 Morris, Leon. The Cross in the New Testament. [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdman’s © 1965] page 405.
5 Stott, John. The Cross of Christ. [Downer’s Grove, Illinois: