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Questions Jesus Asks Us: “Can You Drink the Cup I Am Going to Drink?”

February 26, 2012

Sermon:  Questions Jesus Asks Us:  “Can You Drink the Cup I Am Going to Drink?”
Text:  Matthew 20:20-28


Several weeks ago I was thinking about a theme for our sermon series during the season of Lent.  I started looking through the four Gospels, paying attention to the questions Jesus asked his disciples.  I was able to create a list of more than 135 inquiries from our Lord, many of which were very poignant.   It occurred to me that the questions Jesus directed to his disciples in the first century are also relevant to his disciples in the twenty-first century, relevant to us today.

I invite you to turn with me to Matthew 20, beginning at Verse 20 and continuing through Verse 28.  Hear now the Word of the Lord:

20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
21 “What is it you want?” he asked.
 She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
 “We can,” they answered.
 23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

I come to this passage of Scripture with some of my own questions.  I ask, first of all, who is this woman who comes to Jesus and makes this request.  We learn most about this woman when we work a kind of puzzle by looking at the various Gospel accounts.  We can name her by identifying the women at the cross and those at the empty tomb.  Different terminology is used in each of the Gospels, but you can see that the books are really in agreement.  This righteous woman was one of Jesus’ followers, one of his disciples. In one place, she is called Salome.  This is not the same Salome who danced for Herod and asked for the head of John the Baptist.  In another, she is called the wife of Zebedee.  In a third location, she is called the sister of Mary.  All of those aspects are true.  Salome is a sister of Mary and maternal aunt of Jesus.  Her sons – James and John – are first cousins to Jesus.

Knowing this relationship between the woman and Jesus perhaps makes this question seem less audacious.  After all, blood is thicker than water.  It seems only right that Jesus’ two first cousins should have the places of honor when he comes into his kingdom.  You will notice that Jesus responded to the two grown men walking with him rather than to this woman posing the question.

Who are these two men?  We know that Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee when he called his first two followers, Peter and Andrew, who had a fishing business.  Jesus then immediately called James and John who had a fishing partnership with their father, Zebedee.  The first four of the disciples Jesus called were fishermen, according to the Synoptic Gospels.

James and John apparently had a pretty quick temper.  The use of the Aramaic word to describe them, Boanerges, means “Sons of Thunder.”  We also know they were quick to rise to the defense of Jesus.  When a Samaritan village did not receive Jesus, these two wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy the village.  I suspect that these Sons of Thunder played a very important part in the disciple band.  They were certainly a part of the inner circle, the small group of disciples Jesus allowed to accompany him on certain occasions.  For example, he took only Peter, James, and John to the Mount of Transfiguration.  Jesus allowed these same three followers to be with him when he went to heal certain people.  Jesus depended on these three in a special way.

In this passage from Matthew 20, we are told that Salome was asking for a place of honor on behalf of her two sons.  Other Gospels tell us that they asked for this honor themselves.  Regardless, Jesus responded by asking his own question:  “Can you drink from the cup from which I will drink?”

You might expect this kind of question at a service of the Lord’s Supper, but I would suggest that Jesus did not have the Lord’s Supper in mind.  He is actually asking, “Can you endure the suffering that I am going to endure?  Can you drink from the cup of suffering?”

The two offer a rather quick reply that must have been a bit blithe.  When they answered, “Yes, we can,” I doubt they fully understood what they were saying.  Jesus, as if to drive the point home to them, says, “You will drink from the cup from which I drink.”  They certainly did drink from the cup.  They certainly did learn the meaning of suffering as followers of Jesus.

If we look at the way this story played out, we see that James was the first of the disciples to die.  He died by Herod’s sword, possibly because he was a Son of Thunder.  Some scholars believe that John was possibly ninety-four years old at his death.  This last disciple to die was the patriarch of the church in Ephesus.

When the other disciples learned of this question, they were upset, “indignant” the Scripture says.  Why should these two think they should have places of honor, even though they were first cousins, even though blood is thicker than water?

Jesus straightened out the entire group by explaining, “If you are going to be great, you have to be the servant.  If you are going to be first, you have to become last of all.  You must take the model that I set for you.  The Son of Man has come to serve, not to be served.  The Son of Man has come to give his life as the ransom for many.”  This servant’s heart becomes a part of drinking the cup of suffering.  Adopting this servant attitude becomes a part of what Jesus expects from his disciples.

How does this question relate to us?  As we head now toward the cross and focus on the suffering of Jesus on that cross, are we able to drink of the cup of suffering?  This does not mean that we can take a little bit of juice here.  It means that we understand that this experience requires sacrifice.  Please do not tell me that you are giving up Facebook for Lent.  Do not tell me that you are giving up watermelon for Lent or giving up chocolate for Lent.  Do not trivialize the sacrifice Jesus made and the sacrifice he expects of us.

What should we give up for Lent if we are going to follow this practice modeled by Jesus?  We need to give up hatred.  We need to give up bitterness.  We need to give up prejudice.  We need to give up anything that interferes with our relationship to another person, such arrogance and pride.  We need to give up anything that interferes with our relationship to Christ.  Only then can we learn what it means to drink from the cup from which Jesus drinks.

We thought that the new Prayer Room would be finished by this time, but a problem arose several weeks ago.  Cornerstone Baptist Church gave Morningside a stained glass window from the previous church building.  After getting it cleaned and framed, we mounted it on the wall in the Prayer Room and installed a back-light for effect.  A man here at the church was doing a little more work on the window when it fell forward, hit his ladder, and shattered.  I can tell you that the workman was very distraught.

In order to pray about this sermon series earlier this week, I went into the Prayer Room.  I looked at that broken picture of Jesus with Mary and Martha and thought, This picture depicts the very essence of this season.  Lent is about the brokenness of our Savior.  The fact that he is broken on the cross, broken through his passion and suffering, requires of us a broken and contrite heart.   

Some of you are living with brokenness:  a deep grief, a serious illness, a great disappointment.  That brokenness of our hearts, that contriteness of our hearts, is the sacrifice acceptable to the Lord.

A young pastor had so many gifts for ministry.  He was a good preacher.  He was outgoing and personable with other people.  For some reason though, he was not connecting with this church family.  He went to an elderly pastor for advice and said, “I don’t understand.  I am doing everything they taught me in seminary.  I am trying to use all my gifts.”

The old pastor counseled, “Until your heart has been broken, you will never have the attitude of a servant.  Until you have the attitude of a servant, you will never connect with your congregation.”

What is the sacrifice acceptable to the Lord?  It is a broken and contrite spirit.  Where do we see the example?  It is in our Lord Jesus Christ who takes the cup of suffering and asks every single one of us, “Are you able to drink from the cup from which I drink?”

We are headed straight to the cross by going back to Golgotha.  We will see there again the brokenness of Jesus.  What do we take?  We take our own brokenness because the foot of the cross has no places of honor.  The ground at the foot of the cross is level.  Blood is thicker than water.  Through the blood of Jesus, we, as sinners, are saved by the grace of God.  In our brokenness, we all become servants of our Christ.

When we come to this Table, we take the elements:  the bread, a symbol of the broken body; and the cup, a symbol of the shed blood.  We remember the brokenness of our Savior and bring to him our own brokenness.

This is not Morningside’s Table.  This is not a Baptist Table.  This is the Lord’s Table.  All who profess Jesus Christ as Lord are invited to take part in this Supper.  Let’s take this meal together.

On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread and blessed it.  He broke it and said, “This is my body broken for you.”

Prayer of Blessing for the Bread:  Our Father, help us to do that which pleases You as we partake of this bread.  Help us to realize Your suffering as we move through this season of Lent toward the cross.  Create in us a clean heart, O God, and renew in us a right spirit.  For we pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

No words better express the brokenness of Jesus on the cross and our response than these:

 When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
See, from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e’re such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Jesus said, “This bread is my body given for you.”  Eat this as often as you eat it in remembrance of him.  Eat all of it.

Prayer of Blessing for the Cup:  Our Father, we come into Your presence now with a very deep awareness of what You have done for us.  As we partake of this cup symbolically, we pray that You will help us remember that the juice represents the blood of Jesus, shed for us.  In the precious name of Jesus, we pray.  Amen.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ, my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”  Drink it as often as you drink it in remembrance of him.  Drink all of it.

During this season of Lent, every single one of us has a decision to make.  All of our decisions, however, do not require coming down the aisle.  If you have never accepted Christ Jesus as your Savior, this would be a time to make that decision.  Invite him to come into your heart.  Acknowledge him as the Lord of your life.  Many of us need to rededicate our lives – privately or publicly.  Some may need to make a decision regarding full-time Christian service, perhaps as a pastor or a missionary.  You know what God is leading you to do.  We invite your response.

Kirk H. Neely
© February 2012 

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