God’s Word for You
Mark 10:35-40 The cup and the baptism
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, April 1, 2021
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” 36 He said, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 “Allow one of us to sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
Matthew tells us that James and John’s mother came with them, and it was she who made this bold and unusual request. Obviously the boys agreed with her. The request is like the favors asked of great kings. Herod had said to his step-daughter, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you” (Mark 6:22). Later, Jesus would grant us all the ability to ask this way: “You may ask me anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:14, 16:23-24). James and John show their own ignorance of what was about to happen. They are assuming that Jesus was about to enter into some kind of earthly kingdom, small or large. Even after Jesus gave them the detailed rundown of the seven holy predictions (Mark 10:32-34), they still did not understand. They were looking for prestige and power.
38 Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I am drinking or be baptized with the baptism I am being baptized with?”
To “drink the cup” was to share the same fate or punishment as someone else. We see this expression used in the Old Testament: “In the hand of the LORD is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs” (Psalm 75:8), and there are other passages like that (Isaiah 51:17-23; Jeremiah 25:25-28, 49:12, 51:7).
While washing (baptizing) was part of the ceremony of the sacrifice, both for the butchered animal (Leviticus 1:9, 1:13) and the priest making the offering (Leviticus 16:4, 16:24-28), the image of baptism here is different. It is parallel with the cup of suffering. Jesus also said, “I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!” (Luke 12:50). The word baptize simply means to wash, such as washing the dishes (Mark 7:4), and so Jesus’ reference to his suffering with a cup to drink and a washing to undergo is actually a metaphorical picture of his suffering and agony happening both inside his body (the cup) and outside on his flesh (the baptism). This falls in line with Isaiah’s terrible description of the agony of hell happening both inside the body (“their worm will not die”) and outside (“nor will their fire be quenched,” Isaiah 66:24). Jesus was going to experience all the agony of hell on the cross, in place of mankind, to suffer in our place “and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). So the two sacraments offer a cup of forgiveness and a baptism of forgiveness to us, to rescue us from the hell Jesus suffered in our place when he was forsaken by God (Mark 15:34).
39 “We can,” they answered, and Jesus said to them, “The cup I am drinking you will drink. And the baptism I am being baptized with, you will be baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to allow. Instead, it belongs to those for whom it has been prepared.”
The disciples didn’t fully know what they were saying when they blurted out, “We can!” But Jesus acknowledged that, at least as far as humanly possible, they would suffer as he suffered, and for the gospel. James died a martyr’s death with the sword (Acts 12:2). John was imprisoned (Acts 4:3-21, 5:18), he was beaten up (Acts 5:40), he was in danger of being murdered or executed (Acts 5:33), and he was exiled to Patmos (Revelation 1:9). There are ancient traditions or stories of John being boiled in oil and of being forced to drink poison without any harm to himself, but as Pastor Wenzel put it, “the two incidents have probably been invented in conformity to this prediction of drinking a cup and being baptized” (Commentary on the Gospels p. 553).
Many interpretations have been offered to explain Jesus’ words, “To sit at my right and left is not for me to allow,” etc. In the end, honor is given by God, but it is not given based on one’s own worthiness or blood-relationship or public opinion. Too many people in positions of leadership might be tempted to think, “Peter or Paul might sit at God’s side, but shouldn’t I be the one to sit with him on the other side?” Jesus cautioned about this kind of thinking in the parable of the place of honor: “Do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat,’ and then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place” (Luke 14:8-9). The conclusion to that parable, “He who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11), is even more true about the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus himself. He set aside even his divine power in order to become the sacrifice that was slaughtered for the sins of the world. His exaltation is to the Father’s right hand, and no one begrudges Jesus that place. Instead, we give him glory and honor and our eternal devotion for the gift of his sacrifice. Praise him forevermore, the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world. Amen.
Pastor Timothy Smith