A Drink from the Cup/September 3, 2017

Second Baptist Lincoln
 Sept. 3, 2017      

A Drink from the Cup

Matthew 20:20-24                  

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.

At our American Baptist Assembly Grounds at Green Lake, WI, there is a small, isolated outdoor worship area called Hopevale. It is a memorial to eleven missionaries who gave their lives in service to Christ. During WWII, as Japan was rapidly expanding their empire, they invaded and occupied the Philippines. Americans and other expatriates were sent to internment camps. But a group of American Baptist missionaries instead went deep into the jungle to live among the Christians with whom they had been working. They believed that God had placed them there and they wanted to continue to support their Christian friends. The Japanese military eventually caught up with them and killed all eleven of them, leaving their bodies in the peaceful setting of the outdoor worship chapel of Hopevale.

When I hear stories like this, I can’t help but to wonder if I would be even half as faithful as those who give their lives. People like the apostle Paul and the disciples of Jesus.Toward the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the mother of the sons of Zebedee, disciples of Jesus, went to Jesus and asked, “"Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom." His response to her was, "You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said to them. "Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” And they believed that they could.

You may recall that I referred to this text last week when Jesus had told his disciples that they must become like little children to see the kingdom of God. Christ was asking them if they had what it takes to really follow Him. Would they be willing to pay the price of true discipleship? If the disciples were to share in Christ’s triumph they would have to share in his suffering. He was telling them that there is no crown without a cross. The word “cup” that Jesus used in His response to the disciples’ request was an anticipatory reference to His prayer in Gethsemane. Mark 14:36 tells us that while in Gethsemane Jesus prayed saying, “Abba, Father,” he said, “Everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” For Christ, the “cup” meant suffering, misunderstanding, betrayal, ridicule, and the agony of the cross. The cup, symbolizing trouble and suffering as it does here, is a frequent theme of the Old Testament. (see Psalm 75:8 and Isaiah 51:17) Thus, when Jesus asked His disciples if they could “DRINK OF THE CUP” He was asking them if they would be willing to endure trouble, suffering, hardship, sacrifice and even death for Him. He was asking them if they would be willing to “TAKE UP THEIR CROSS AND FOLLOW HIM…” (Matthew 16:24). 

The communion “cup” speaks of suffering; Christ’s suffering and our suffering. Writing to the Philippian believers (1:29) the apostle Paul said, “FOR IT HAS BEEN GRANTED TO YOU ON BEHALF OF CHRIST NOT ONLY TO BELIEVE ON HIM, BUT ALSO TO SUFFER FOR HIM.” 2 Timothy 2:12 says, “IF WE SUFFER WITH CHRIST, WE SHALL ALSO REIGN WITH HIM…” If we are truly following Christ there will come times when we will, like James and Charma Covell, who died at Hopevale, be called upon to suffer for Christ. In many parts of the world suffering for Christ involves torture and even death. In scores of countries it is not uncommon for Christians to be abducted, tortured, and even killed simply because they follow Jesus. Imprisonment, forced labor, loss of employment and property come to many believers.

This table is one of sacrifice. The cup that represents Christ is one of shed blood and agony. Many powerful stories of God’s powerful presence through that tragedy came out of the Hopevale experience. One of those happened during peacetime, in Japan. (As told by Elmo Familiaran). One day the General Secretary of the Japan Baptist Union was riding the train to work holding his Bible on his lap. An elderly Japanese man seated across him was staring at his Bible and making eye contact. Finally he asked the General Secretary, “Are you a Christian?” to which the General Secretary responded, “Yes, I am the General Secretary of the JBU.” The old man then asked if he knew Dr. James Covell. The General Secretary responded, “Yes, he was a missionary of the ABCUSA and was executed by the Imperial Army in the Philippines.” The old man replied, “I know…I was a member of the platoon that executed him and the others!” Then he went on to say how he was moved by the way they asked for a time to pray, and to return to face their death in peace. This moved his soul so, that after the war he sought out to read the Bible to learn about their God, and later on became a Christian! (A Meditation on a ‘Centralite’ Journey”Rev. Elmo D. Familiaran).

You and I may never know what it means to shed blood as a martyr. The disciples knew. Jesus knew their future.  And it seems that each accepted their fate.  But as we come to this table, we need to be reminded of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf so that we can have life. Amen.