Mark 10:38-40 “‘Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?’ ‘We can,’ they answered. Jesus said to them, ‘You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 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.’”
Jesus’ picture of drinking the cup and being baptized with his baptism are obvious pictures of suffering persecution for your faith. He reminds us that he was no stranger to that kind of suffering. You remember that in the Garden of Gethsemane he begged his Father to take the cup of his suffering and death away from him, if possible.
The difference between Jesus’ two pictures illustrates different features of the suffering and persecution we experience for our faith. Drinking a cup of something is an act in which we are active and willing. We take the cup and drink it. In the same way Jesus wants us to be willing to accept the persecution that comes our way when we faithfully hold to our beliefs and practice our faith. We feel the temptation to compromise, to make concessions, and in this way to avoid the ridicule and abuse our faith and Christian life invite. But there can be no godly greatness for those who try to win the world’s acceptance at the expense of Jesus’ word.
Baptism is a passive picture. It isn’t something we do. It is something that happens to us. So it is that we don’t have to go looking for persecution and abuse. If we live lives as Christians, if we give a clear and faithful witness, generous helpings of the world’s hatred and ridicule will find us without our help.
This is what James and John found as apostles of Jesus. The places at Jesus’ right and left hand were not open for them. But they did end up living lives of godly greatness as servants in Jesus’ kingdom. James was the very first of the twelve disciples to give his life for his faith. King Herod put him to death by the sword. John was the last of the disciples to die, but during his long life he was imprisoned at least three times, scourged, and exiled. According to legend, he survived one attempted poisoning.
Today these men are heroes of faith because they followed Jesus to godly greatness. Jesus suffered and died to win our salvation on the cross. These two brothers suffered and died to bring that salvation to the world Jesus came to save.
Not every Christian will face the extreme persecution James and John suffered. But drinking Jesus’ cup of suffering and receiving his baptism of suffering are unavoidable features of following him. We don’t have to seek them. They will come to us. But we endure them as they did for Jesus’ sake, because they come with the saving grace only he provides.