The Cup And The Crown


Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’

‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He asked. They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at your right hand and the other at you left in your glory.’

‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said. ‘Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?’ ‘We can,’ they answered.

Jesus said to them, ‘You will drink the cup I drink and be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with, but to sit on my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they are prepared.’ When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John (Mark 10: 35-41).

What a cheek! James and John were shameless in their attempt to get ahead of their fellow disciples. Up to this point the disciples had jockeyed among themselves for the highest position in the kingdom of God. Jesus often caught them arguing and tried to instil in them the values of the kingdom but, apparently to no avail. In the same way as they ignored His repeated warnings about His impending death, they were deaf to His teaching about leadership and greatness.

Now James and John went straight to the top. One would have thought that they would have been careful about approaching Jesus on this subject seeing that He had clearly taught them not to seek greatness. The way up was down, He told them, but they had obviously not got the message.

Did you notice how they approached Him? “Will you say yes to whatever we ask you?” That’s what children do. They want to secure the parent’s agreement before they ask what they want. Jesus was smart. He was not about to fall into their trap. “Tell me what you want first and then I’ll give you an answer.” Their response was bold and brash. They had obviously schemed together to secure their place in the kingdom before the other disciples got in. “Promise us that we will have the places of honour beside you when you are crowned king.”

“You guys just don’t understand, do you?” I can imagine that Jesus was annoyed with them. What would it take to get it into their thick skulls that they had no right to ask for what they were asking? Matthew mentioned that their mother accompanied them when they came to Jesus with the request and voiced it for them. Did they think that their mom had more clout with Jesus than they had? This had even become a family matter.

Jesus’ response cut right across their way of thinking. There was a cup to drink and a baptism to be baptised with before they could receive a position of honour like that. What was the “cup” to which Jesus referred? It was a cup and a baptism He, first of all, was about to endure before they could experience it themselves.

Throughout the Old Testament the “cup” is mentioned – both the cup of God’s wrath (Jer. 25:15) and the cup of salvation (Psalm 116: 13). Without going into great detail, “cup” is a euphemism for the full experience of either wrath of salvation. Paul uses the same expression to refer to God’s blessing (1 Cor. 10:16). To “drink” implies to take it into oneself with all its effects.

“James and John, before you can participate in any glory that belongs to me, you must first drink the cup I must drink. Can you do that?” How blasé they were in their reply. “Yes, we can” they replied, yet they had no clue about what they were saying. Sadly Jesus agreed that they would drink the cup and go through the baptism but to give them the assurance of the honour they requested was not His right.

Jesus’ position of honour was given to Him by the Father but earned by His humiliation and suffering. He drank the cup of God’s wrath to the dregs so that He could offer the cup of salvation to anyone who received it by faith. Mere association with Jesus did not qualify the brothers. Only full participation with Him would allow them to share in His glory. The cup first and them the crown.

At that moment they had no idea what He meant but they would one day. John was killed at the hands of the despotic Herod and John was exiled to the Isle of Patmos. Yes, they had a cup to drink – the cup of suffering because they had been baptised into identity with Jesus.

Each of us has our own cup to drink and our own baptism to be baptised with. Only when we submit to Jesus and embrace the cup will we have a share in what has been prepared for us.

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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Luella Campbell

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