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04.03.11 True Followers Part Two, Mark 10:32-45 Sermon Summary

by on April 12, 2011

Summary Points

  • The nature of Christ’s cup is both conviviality and judgement
  • True followers of Christ will drink his cup
  • Drinking the cup reveals salvation

In the middle section of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus offers a tutorial on what it means to his followers. He is on his way from Caesarea Philippi to Jerusalem, and three times Jesus predicts his death. And all three times his disciples change topics.

After the third prediction, brothers James and John ask Jesus if they can sit on his right and left in his Kingdom. Instead of serving others, as Jesus does and demands of his disciples, these disciples are more interested in glory. To their question, Jesus offers two answers.

The second answer is that positions in the Kingdom are not his to grant. Who fills those positions has been determined by God. The gist of the second answer is to simply trust that God has reserved a seat just for you. In the mean time, get on with serving others.

The first answer is more involved. Jesus begins by asking them, “Can you drink the cup I drink?” Of course James and John answer with a quick, “We can.” They had been sharing Jesus’ table for a long time. Did they not feed over 9000 men, not counting women and children, over two occasions? Were they not with Jesus when he was accused of being a drunk and reveling with prostitutes and sinners? So James and John quickly answer that they can indeed drink Jesus’ cup—a cup of conviviality.

For Mark’s first audience, some 30 years after Jesus’ death, and for us today, the cup is recognized as a sign of the resurrected Christ. We, too, might wish to answer quickly that we can drink from Jesus’ cup.

But this isn’t the only meaning of the cup Jesus had in mind. In Isaiah 51:17, the cup represents something else: “Rise up, Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD, the cup of his wrath, you have drained to its dregs the goblet that makes men stagger.” It is this meaning of the cup that Jesus refers to as he prays in the garden prior to his arrest. “If possible,” he pleads, “let this cup pass by me” (Matthew 26:39).

Some of us wonder if we are even able to drink this cup. “Isn’t Jesus’ cup unique?” we ask. In one sense, it’s true that Jesus’ cup is one of “final judgment,” and as part of that finality his cup is unique. On the other hand, the curse under which all creation labors remains. We see it all around us in suffering of all kinds: for example, sickness, aging, and death. We might not talk about these as God’s active judgment upon us, but we suffer as a result of the judgment of God upon sin.

This is why Jesus clarifies his question about the cup with a question about baptism. Baptism, much more than being a ritual of initiation and a cleansing of sin, is a dying with Christ. We are baptized into his death, in order that we may rise to new life. And that new life begins after our baptism, not after our death. So Jesus affirms James and John, but not in the way they had hoped. “You will drink the cup,” he says, for he knows that all true followers of him will suffer. After all, God didn’t spare Jerusalem, God doesn’t spare Jesus, and God won’t spare Jesus’ followers either. (See Jeremiah 25:29).

The good news is that when Jesus drank his cup, “down to the dregs” of death, God resurrected him from the dead. In other words, his drinking revealed salvation. “Drinking” here is a metaphor for “following.” Jesus drank his cup—he followed God’s will for his life perfectly. And here Jesus is teaching his disciples to drink their cup as he drank his—to follow him faithfully. For it is in drinking and following that our salvation is also revealed.

Psalm 116:13, says “I will lift up the cup of salvation.” In our lives, when we follow Jesus, when we drink from his cup, we never have to do it alone. The cup of peacemaking, of social justice, of love even for enemies, of service, and of forgiveness is Jesus’ cup. And because of his resurrection, he is with us when we drink of it. And because of his resurrection, we know our drinking of it will not ultimately end in death, no matter how difficult following him may become.

Later in that same chapter referring to God’s wrath, it says, “This is what your God who defends his people says, ‘See, I have taken out of your hand the cup that made you stagger'” (Isaiah 51:22). In other words, God’s “wrath,” “judgment,” and the “curse,” all eventually yield to God’s taking the cup out of our hands. In the words of Psalm 30:5, “God’s anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” As Christ’s example shows, salvation is revealed when we drink the cup.

If drinking Christ’s cup is a metaphor for truly following him, then the cup is a metaphor of life. Our cups are filled with a mixture of curse and conviviality, of death and resurrection. These are the challenges of being a true follower of Jesus Christ. Can we drink the cup? Yes, we can, but we don’t drink it alone.

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