“Drinking the Cup of the Lord” (Mark 10:35-45)

The Fifth Sunday in Lent (March 21, 2021)

What do Xi Jinping, President of China,  Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, President Joe Biden, and the coalition of leaders of Black Lives Matter all have in common?  Not much, you say!  Perhaps that is true when it comes to their various ideologies and beliefs.  However, it is clear from their actions of late that all of them are identical in their deep-seated desire to be in control and dictate to others how they should live and what they should value.

Our text today from St. Mark’s Gospel, directs us all to examine our heart’s attitude towards this same scourge that plagues all of us.  Inbred into the fallen nature of us human beings is the desire for worldly glory and authority over others.  This was true as we see even among Jesus’ closest followers. Reflective of their reputation as being the “Sons of Thunder,” James and John, the Sons of Zebedee, in an almost arrogant fashion, boldly requested of Jesus, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." 

First of all, it is almost beyond the pale that anyone would even have the gumption to make such a request of Jesus.  He is The Lord of lords and King of Kings.  How presumptuous on their part!  However, the other disciples must have had similar thoughts of glory, for Mark tells, when the other ten heard it “they began to be indignant at James and John.”  From their actions here as well as elsewhere, we can safely assume that such indignation did not derive from a sense of righteous indignation.  It was more out of envy and jealousy that they hadn’t thought of asking Jesus the same thing before James and John.

Secondly, it is almost beyond belief that James and John would ask such a thing given the fact that Jesus had just finished, moments earlier, pointedly filled His disciples in on the terrible treatment He would receive once they reached Jerusalem. Jesus had told them He would be handed over to the high priests and the scribes and be condemned to death by them… and that He would even be handed over the Gentiles, humiliated, beaten, spit upon and finally executed.  But still James and John had visions of grandeur on their minds.  I mean, really?

Jesus, however, responded to His disciples’ brash request in a rather surprising fashion.  He didn’t scold them for their arrogance but rather sought to teach them that glory-mindedness had no place in His kingdom.  He said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?

Drinking the cup of the Lord for these Jewish disciples, no doubt, immediately brought to their minds the Passover Meal, in which they would drink God’s cup of redemption. Every position around the table had its own honor.  The meal itself always pointed God’s people to the Heavenly Banquet at which He promised that He would one day recline with them.  So, naturally then, when Jesus asked them if they were sure they could drink the cup He would drink, they responded, “We are able!”  There was no doubt in their minds they were more than ready for the honor to drink from the King’s cup.  Who wouldn’t be ready for such glory!

Obviously, for you and me, when we think of drinking of the Lord’s cup, it is hard not make a connection with drinking from the cup in the Lord’s Supper.  And, of course, what an honor that is, right!  And, I mean, it couldn’t be any easier, could it?  We just go to the Lord’s Table and do what He bids us to do, “Eat and drink!” 

Besides, as so many want to believe today, this eating and drinking of the Lord’s Supper, is our right isn’t it?  We tend to think that we have earned the right to drink of it by virtue of our exemplary Christian life… and all those years of service to the Lord.  “Besides,” some are also apt to think, “Long ago I made my decision for Jesus.  He knows how much I love Him.  Of course, I am able to drink of the cup He offers me.  If anyone denies me that right they are dissing me, saying I’m not worthy!”

But, perhaps, we ought to hold it right there!  Since when is a gift of God’s blessing ever a “right” that you and I have either earned or deserve?  By virtue of the fact that everyone of us was conceived and born in the sin of Adam, another arrogant man who thought He deserved the right to be equal with God, none of us deserves anything from God.  We are enemies of God.  On top of this, none of us has lived a life that is fully pleasing to God. Every minute of every day our thoughts, words, and deeds are permeated with lusts, sins, and evils of every sort of description!  As the Holy Scriptures assure us, the only things we have earned and have a right to are death and everlasting punishment under the wrath of God.

The Lord did not institute the Passover Meal for His Old Covenant people as something they were entitled to, but rather as a gift to them, that they might have by His grace an ongoing participation in the redemption He had won for them.  Their personal glory and honor had nothing to do with it. 

The same can be said for you and me, who now live under God’s New Covenant.   Jesus did not institute His Holy Supper as something we deserve or have a right to.  The Holy Supper is at the heart of that New Covenant The LORD spoke through Jeremiah about; that is, a covenant based purely on God’s gracious forgiveness.  Jesus established this sacramental meal to give His disciples, like you and me, the opportunity to continually eat of the body and drink of the very blood He willingly gave and shed in His own suffering in death to redeem us from death and the fires of hell and to purchase us a seat at the eternal banquet. 

The honor attached to drinking of this cup is Christ’s to bestow as He wills all by His grace.  It is not honor that is apprehended as a right or a reward! 

But perhaps, I am getting a bit ahead of myself here.  When Jesus made this reply to His disciples about drinking His cup, He had not as of yet instituted His Holy Supper.  Neither was He referring to the Passover meal.  The cup He had in mind of drinking was the same one He had just previously attempted to warn them of; that is, a cup of suffering and death.  It was the same cup He would during His last night of life on earth implore His Heavenly Father to take away from Him if it were possible.  This cup contained God’s wrath against the sins of the world.

That’s why Jesus also connected this cup He was about to drink with what He called “His baptism.”  Here, too, if Jesus was making a reference to the baptism He had received from John in the Jordan, then it was to the fact that there He had been anointed  with the Holy Spirit to be the Sacrificial Lamb for the world of sinners.  It had nothing to do with any kind of special honor He had received. 

But more than likely, Jesus was not referring to that baptism at all.  For He clearly says, “Are you able to be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with.”  He is speaking in present tense.  Even as He was speaking He was experiencing this baptism.  Jesus was referring to the “baptism of fire” He was undergoing as God’s sacrificial Lamb to give His life as a ransom for all sinners.  Likewise, the cup Jesus was drinking, like His baptism, contained rejection from His own people, opposition by the religious elite as well as sometimes by His own disciples, and, of course, ultimately the cross. 

Could James and John undergo this kind of baptism?  Could they drink this cup?  They brashly said they were able.  Of course, they were thinking of a cup of glory and position not Jesus’ cup of shame, dishonor and death. 

Surprisingly, however, Jesus said to them, “The cup I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 

God bestows honor when and where He chooses.  He does so all by His grace and in accordance with sovereignty.  But James and John would come to know what it meant to suffer, not for their sins, because Jesus was in the process of doing just that. No, they would come to share in some of the same persecutions, opposition, and punishments Jesus received. In other words they would drink down the cup of His suffering.  For James that meant being the first of the apostles to be brutally executed by the Jews, in the early days after Pentecost.   For John, it meant living out much of his later life locked away on the Island of Patmos. The cup of the Lord, their King, had a cross in it for them as well.  So much for their illusion of grandeur, position and glory!

So it is for you and me, 21st century followers of Jesus as well.  Being a Christian is not about glory in this world.  It is not about being top dog… having your say… forcing your will on others… being served by others!  That’s the mindset of the world, a world headed for destruction.  By the way, worldly control and glory always prove to be quite elusive and are often stripped away in a moment via a coup, an election, the bullet of some madman, or even through a poor decision or an immoral action of one’s own. 

But fellow servants of Christ, at our baptism we were marked with the cross of Christ.  In fact, as the Bible teaches us, through those Holy waters empowered by Christ’s Word, you and I were buried with Christ into His death and also made alive together with Christ in His resurrection (Rom.  6). 

In baptism our old, worldly, nature with its glory-seeking mindset was drowned and put to death in Christ’s death so that we might be set free to live with a mind and life shaped and steeped in the cross of Jesus.  This is a mindset that sees greatness not in worldly position, but in sacrificial service to others.

This means that our lot in this world as a follower of the Christ of the Cross is the same as that of Jesus.  If we remain faithful to Him and His Word, we, too, will drink the cup of Christ’s suffering.  We will be baptized with the waters of persecution.  If they persecuted Jesus, our Savior and God, they will persecute us. We, too, will be called upon to bear reproach for confessing the truth of Christ in this world “hell-bent” on obtaining glory not forgiveness.

Therefore, even drinking from the cup of the Lord in His Holy Supper is not something I participate in to show God my worthiness or even how much I love Him.  To do so is nothing but sinful arrogance.  Rather, participation in this blessed meal is a humble acknowledgment on my part that Jesus gave up His body unto death and spilled His blood in atonement for my sins.  Our participation proclaims His death for me (I Cor. 10).  I come to His table not feeling entitled but truly graced; graced to receive the very body and blood of our crucified Savior for the forgiveness of all my sins.

Oh, but we can delude ourselves into thinking that we can be a Christian and still be honored by the world. We can seek to live our lives in a manner that avoids having to testify to the truth of God’s Word or make judgments about what is evil and sinful in the sight of God, or refrain from professing the cross of Jesus so we can avoid all conflict and live peaceful lives in this world. 

And, of course, we can seek to live in this fantasy world being promulgated by some in the Christian community today that if you just give your life over to Jesus, you will be prosperous, evil will stay away from your tent, and you will live a victorious life with honor and glory. 

Yes, you and I can live with this mindset, but we will no longer be Christians… we will no longer be saved.  For true glory, is first that glory of the cross that leads ultimately to that glory that Christ shares with us in heaven. As the Apostle Paul assures us, we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17). 

You see, there is nothing inglorious about being humble.  There is nothing dishonorable about being the servant of all.  There is nothing shameful about being maligned and despised for the sake of Christ.  In His cross one sees the true glory that shines to all eternity.  It is that cross that redeems us to be people of God and co-heirs with Christ.  There is no greater glory!  Cheers! Drink in faith and steadfast hope the cup of the Lord!  Amen.

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