Fifth Sunday In Lent
March 18, 2018
“Are You Sure You Want This Cup?”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Last Sunday I mentioned the scientific facts proving that going to church is good for you. A variety of studies show that people who are religious live longer than people who are not. After the service I had a number of takers. “Sign me up!!”
But I didn’t convey the whole truth last week. I’m only given 15 minutes so I couldn’t get everything in. As the old radio voice of Paul Harvey would say, “And Now The Rest Of The Story…” Living longer is not always pleasant. Living longer can result in a few challenges that are uncomfortable. Just living, whether it is long or not, is work. In the Sunday study in Hebrews we read this section last week, “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.” (Hebrews 10:32-34) I then asked the class, “After hearing that, who would want to be a Christian?”
The truth of the matter is that being a Christian is costly. Or, in a paraphrase of the words of Jesus, “Are you sure you want to drink this cup?” Our Scripture reading is from the Gospel of Mark. This was now the third time that Jesus had spoken about His trip to the cross. Each time He added more detail, “We are going to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” (Mark 10:33-34)
But the disciples were the epitome of true men. They didn’t hear. They didn’t listen. They only heard what they wanted to hear. James and John, two of the three of the inner circle of Jesus (the other was Simon Peter) said, “Lord, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” (Mark 10:35b) What did they want? They wanted the place of honor, prestige, glory. “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” (Mark 10:37) They didn’t know what they were asking. Could they drink the cup He was going to drink? Are you sure you want this cup? They said they did. They thought of it as glory. They thought they would be in a place far superior to the other 10 apostle’s.
Jesus told them that they would be drinking this cup – not of glory but of suffering. James, the one asking, would be the first of the 12 martyred. (Acts 12:2) In fact, 10 of the 11 remaining (after Judas took his own life) would die an unnatural death. John, the one asking for a special seat in Christ’s earthly or heavenly kingdom, though not dying as a martyr, suffered for the name of Jesus. “Are you sure you want this cup?”
There are Christians today in numerous Islamic countries who are asked one question and it will determine if they live, or die. “Are you a follower of Jesus?” “Are you a Christian?” If they say yes, they are murdered. Are you sure you want this cup?
The cup was not a delight for Jesus, either. Just hours before His arrest on Thursday, and His trial and crucifixion, He went to the Garden. “Going a little further, He fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from Him. ‘Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’” (Mark 14:35-36)
This was an awful cup to drink. He drank the cup of God’s wrath. He was forsaken by His Father. He was left alone to bear your evil and my evil. “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us.” (II Corinthians 5:21a) “He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him and afflicted. For He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5)
Are you sure you want to drink this cup? Jesus said yes. For us He drank the cup. For the full forgiveness of sins He drank the cup. James and John wanted to sit in that place of honor, on His right and His left. Jesus told them, “To sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” (Mark 10:40)
By the way, I think I know who gets to be on His right and left. The two criminals who were crucified with Him are in those places. The sign over Jesus’ head read, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” He was a king on the cross. He was ruling. He was drinking from that cup and those two guys were given a place of true significance, one on His right and the other on His left in this His kingdom of salvation.
Are you sure you want to drink this cup? Now I’m talking about all of us. And now the cup is the cup of salvation. Yes, we desire that cup. In John 6 many followers of Jesus were leaving Jesus. Jesus then asked the Twelve if they wanted to leave as well. Simon Peter, speaking for them said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) We get to drink from this cup which is the most blessed cup. The Psalmist wrote, “How can I repay the Lord for all His goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.” (Psalm 116:12-13)
The Lord’s Table is the cup of salvation. I pray that you have a desire to receive the cup of Christ. It is the cup of forgiveness and new life and strength. Paul would say of it, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” (I Corinthians 10:16)
James and John entered this whole conversation with motives that were entirely selfish and self-centered. “Lord, give us what we want!! I want seat number one and my brother wants seat number two.” They were looking for a throne but He gave them a cup. First of all a cup of suffering. Then a cup of salvation and grace. And now a cup that would transform how they would live. “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45) Their service would be modeled by the One who “made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (See Philippians 2:6-8)
Now the cup was filled with humility and service. This cup is one that we drink and it is one that flows out to others. Last week the title for the sermon was “3:16” – meaning John 3:16… “God so loved the world…” There are a number of other 3:16’s in the Bible as well, here’s one, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” (I John 3:16) That’s the cup that we have been given, a cup of God’s deep love for us and a cup of compassion, mercy and kindness that can be shared with others.
When the cup that God gives you is a hard one can you drink it? When it is one of suffering and loss can you still say, “Not my will, but Yours be done?” When you suffer in one way or another because you are a follower of Jesus will you still drink from the cup?
When you are called to drink from that cup of suffering drink fully from the cup that overflows, runs over, the cup of God’s full love in Jesus. Did you know that Jesus can’t love you more than He already does? Drink from that cup. Drink from it today and then tomorrow drink even more. That cup will also transform you. You will drink for yourself and then you’ll want to share it with others.
Are you sure you want to drink from this cup? Yes. I can’t wait!! Amen!!