Three times in Mark’s Gospel Jesus predicts His suffering, death, and resurrection. In chapter 8, Jesus says plainly what will happen to Him, and Peter rebukes Him. In chapter 9, Jesus teaches His disciples that He is going to be delivered into the hands of men, they will kill Him, and He will rise after three days (9:31). “But [the disciples] did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him” (9:32, ESV). And in chapter 10, Jesus says, “See, we are going up 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” (10:33-34, ESV). After this third prediction, James and John ask for what they do not understand: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (10:37, ESV). If Jesus is going up to Jerusalem to sit on His glorious throne (Matthew 19:28; cf. Luke 22:30), James and John want to make sure they get the two thrones closest to Jesus, closest to the King. But can they share His cup? Can they share His baptism? They are confident that they can. So Jesus answers them: “The cup which I Myself am drinking, you will drink; and the baptism with which I Myself am being baptized, you will be baptized. But to sit at My right or at My left is not mine to give, but [it is given] to those for whom it has been prepared” (Mark 10:39-40). The cup is the cup of suffering; the baptism is the baptism of death. It is what He has just told them: to be mocked and spit upon, beaten and killed (10:34; cf. Mark 14:36). James and John, do you really want to share My glory when I sit on My throne? Because the only place it says “King of the Jews” is above the cross (Mark 15:26). And James and John, you can’t sit on My right and left there because two thieves already have those spots reserved. “[W]ith him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left” (Mark 15:27), the exact phrase that Jesus uses in Mark 10:40. But don’t worry, James and John, you will drink My cup and you will be baptized with My baptism. Herod Agrippa I used a sword instead of a cross, but James was killed because he was a Christian (Acts 12:2). According to long tradition, John died of old age; but, as he writes in the Revelation, he also suffered because he followed Christ: “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus”-John’s shorthand for persecution (Revelation 1:9, ESV). Both James and John followed Jesus, both drank the cup of suffering, and both were baptized with the baptism of death, one by the sword and one by the ravages of life.
But the Christian’s sacrifice is not confined to the end of life, just as Jesus’ cup was not confined to the end of His life. Though the purpose of His earthly life is summed up in the suffering and shame and death of His final week, Jesus’ cup is His entire life, from conception to death. The Gospels, with one voice, show us Jesus drinking the cup He’s been given and being baptized with that baptism. They show us Jesus being limited by everything that limits us and going through all the difficulties that belong to living in a world overrun with sin. His entire life is a pouring out of Himself for the sake of His people. In the fullness of human flesh, in the fullness of deity, Jesus drank the cup of judgment meant for the wicked (see Psalm 75:7-8). And in the end, under that deaf and dark sky, there was literally nothing left in Him. He gave it all for you; His life as a ransom for yours. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Leviticus 17:11, ESV).
Then, with the cup empty, with the baptism done, He put an end to the finality of death with the finality of resurrection. He is alive! Because you were baptized into His resurrection, and not only into His death, your life is baptismally tied to His life. What’s His is yours. That means your resurrection will follow your death. But it also means something for our lives now that is completely opposed to what James and John, and the other ten disciples, and you and I usually think. “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His whole self as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45). All of Jesus’ works and signs and teaching “pursue one end [and] have one aim: that God be revealed as God and count as God among men, that God may be in these last days acknowledged and adored by men in repentance and faith; in a word, that God may reign” (Franzmann, Follow Me, 191). Our God, unlike the gods of this world, reigns inconceivably in service and sacrifice. It is that reign of God that has come near to you, caught you up, gathered you in. God reigns as God when His Son is present among us as One who serves the undeserving, as One who gives to the thankless, as One who pours out all His grace upon the disgraced.
Thus it should be among us, brothers and sisters. One of Lent’s purposes is to teach us to begin-or begin again-to practice a life that reflects the reign of God among us. Now, the Church is not made the Church because of how her members serve each other and those around them; nor is she sustained and preserved by doing the commands of God in love. That is all Christ; all His gift. But the Church is the Body of Christ, and the Body of Christ is a gift of God to the world. You are a gift of God to your family, to your congregation, to all the other people who make up the web of relationships into which God has put you. Before God, in Christ, you are free. Nothing is required of you because Jesus has done everything. Your cup of judgment is empty because Jesus has drunk it to the dregs. But before others, in love, you are bound. You have nothing that you have not been given, and so you have nothing that is yours to hold back from them. Every Christian is a servant and a slave of all.
But do not make it more complicated than it is. Do not let that little word “all” paralyze you. We are so used to thinking in grand, glorious, expansive terms: put an end to poverty, put an end to hunger, make sure that there are no more homeless children, give health insurance to every person in the United States. Because of that, we can’t see the trees for the forest. By all means, according to how God has blessed you, give to organizations that are worldwide in their service. But no matter what you do in other places, the opportunities present themselves every day to practice the Lenten life of service. Every day I am required to put others before myself, as are you. I cannot do whatever I want, or use my time however I want; nor can you. And I sin when I ignore the obvious needs of others that call for me, very specifically, to be husband, father, and pastor to them; thus you sin when you do not do what your vocation requires of you. We lord it over others and exercise authority over them when we reverse the order and do what Jesus never did: put self before others. “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a [slave], being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:1-7a, ESV). You are not Jesus. You are not in control. You cannot give those around you everything they need from you. The frustration we feel at the impossibility of our vocations will either drive us to bitter selfishness-I can’t do it all anyway, so I’m going to get what’s mine-or it will drive us to repentance: O God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Selfishness leads to hell, but repentance leads always back to the cross; back to the cross in the font, back to the fruit of the cross at the altar. And when we have been forgiven and fed and our thirst has been quenched with the Body and the Blood of Christ, we pray: “we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another” (LSB 201). Whether you are martyred like James or die in old age like John, you live only by faith in Christ toward God and by works of love toward others: that is the whole life of the Church as we follow our Lord to death and into life.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.