Text: Mark 10:35-45
Date: Lent V + 3/22/15
It always strikes me as a little odd, strangely out of place and out of step when, as we come nearer in preparation for the Great and Holy Week of our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection, we hear this Gospel reading, this incident of James and John suddenly getting the big head and talking about places of power and prestige in Jesus’ coming kingdom. But then how could they know, really know what really lay ahead of them in Jerusalem in a few days?
Oh, they were told. In fact the sentence just before our text reports Jesus saying to them, “See, we are going to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise” (Mark 10:33-34). But their expectations of power and glory blinded them to see that Jesus wasn’t just speaking symbolically but literally. You and I have been there before. We’ve “read the end of the book.” We know that after the joyful entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday we will trace the three dark days of our Lord’s arrest, fixed trials, condemnation, captivity, then the abuse and scorn and mocking, then death by crucifixion. And we do so maybe easier than we ought. Yet we know the glorious outcome of Easter and what it all means and what it was all for.
It is almost embarrassing to hear when Jesus asks the two “sons of thunder,” “What do you want me to do for you?” And they say, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Glory! Power! Prestige! But they didn’t know yet there was also a Price!
Think about it. Who was it that did end up one at Jesus’ right hand and one at His left on Calvary? It was then, Mark says, that Jesus mentioned something about a cup and something about a baptism. “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” Maybe they should have said, “What? What do you mean?” But their drive for glory, power and prestige roused their pride so that they bragged, “We are able.” They really didn’t know what they were asking.
What sort of foolishness is this, we ask. For we know, and the world needs to know and admit, that Jesus’ death was all about His receiving nothing but the wrath of God against sin, all sin. It was the cup of wrath He would drink. Surely we sinners would only die if we were to drink that cup. And the baptism He spoke of was not that of water and the Spirit but of the fire of all God’s punishment for the sin of the world. Such a baptism we could not endure.
Nevertheless, Jesus surprises them and us, saying, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” In these words lie the mystery of Christian suffering, salvation and solidarity with Christ.
Though Jesus took the ultimate suffering for the sin of the world on the cross, still the Christian endures suffering in this world; but no longer suffering God’s wrath directly against our sin as much as participating in the redemptive suffering of Christ, as St. Peter wrote, “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet 4:13). “You see, John and James, the glory you seek is coming, but only through suffering, only through the cross.”
Jesus speaks of His coming suffering and death as drinking a cup and being baptized. This is the Law of God’s judgment against all sin, against your sin. It is just like God said through the prophet Jeremiah against His own people.
“Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: ‘Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.’ So I took the cup from the Lord’s hand, and made all the nations to whom the Lord sent me drink it.” “Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, be drunk and vomit, fall and rise no more, because of the sword that I am sending among you.’ “And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: You must drink! For behold, I begin to work disaster at the city that is called by my name, and shall you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, declares the Lord of hosts.’ “You, therefore, shall prophesy against them all these words, and say to them: “‘The Lord will roar from on high, and from his holy habitation utter his voice; he will roar mightily against his fold, and shout, like those who tread grapes, against all the inhabitants of the earth” (Jer 25). This is the punishment and wrath of God we deserve from Him; how do we say it, temporal now and eternal forever. This is the cup Jesus will drink on our behalf, the baptism with which He is to be baptized through His suffering and death on the cross for us, for our sin.
But that’s not all. “For our sin” implies that the fruits of His suffering and death will somehow be given, distributed to us. A cup and a baptism. Jesus knew what was coming. You and I know what is coming. James and John did not know, yet. They would go through the agonizing wonder of Jesus’ betrayal, suffering and death. But now we know.
Jesus drank that cup of God’s wrath. He drank it for us. He drank it, He shed His blood, and it killed Him. It killed Him for us, in our place, our substitute. Jesus was baptized into death. The wages of sin is death. The wages of your sin, of our sin is death. That baptism killed Jesus for us, in our place, our substitute.
The ransom paid, Jesus—true God begotten of the Father before all worlds and true man born of the virgin Mary—Jesus conquered sin and death, rose from the dead and now all that remains is the distribution of His victory to all who pay the simple price of faith in Him, in His word of promise. Now, the cup that brought Him wrath, suffering and death He takes and gives to us. That same blood which He shed for the remission of sins on the cross now is given to us, “this is my blood,” full of that remission, forgiveness and life. The same baptism that killed Him now has killed us. You are dead through your baptism, but dead now to sin and now raised to newness of life in Christ. For we are baptized not into our death but into His for us!
Greatness and Glory. Power and Prestige. We’re all tempted by our limited vision of things. But for that we are given a cup, the cup of salvation, and a baptism, a baptism into death and resurrection. The mystery of our Lord’s Passion is before us. Come, let us follow Him, come, let us receive Him.