Mark 10: 32-40
There are three places and times where Jesus foretells his arrest, death and resurrection in the gospel of Mark. We read and heard the third this morning. Over the last several weeks we’ve heard all three. After Jesus prophesied his death and resurrection a second time in chapter nine, the disciples argued among themselves who was the greatest. After the third time here in chapter ten, James and John came to him to ask if they could sit on either side of him in his glory, when he reigns. When they hear these prophecies, they react to the words. I believe they react out of insecurity and fear.
Someone once wrote, “Fear is the worst use of imagination. It is anticipating the worst, not the best that can happen.” A salesman, driving on a lonely country road one dark and rainy night, had a flat. He opened the trunk – no lug wrench. The light from a farmhouse could be seen dimly up the road. He set out on foot through the driving rain. Surely the farmer would have a lug wrench he could borrow, he thought. Of course, it was late at night. The farmer would be asleep in his warm, dry bed. Maybe he wouldn’t answer the door. And even if he did, he’d be angry at being awakened in the middle of the night. The salesman, picking his way blindly in the dark, stumbled on. By now his shoes and clothing were soaked. Even if the farmer did answer his knock, he would probably shout something like, “What’s the big idea waking me up at this hour?” This thought made the salesman angry. What right did the farmer have to refuse him the loan of a lousy lug wrench? After all, here he was stranded in the middle of nowhere, soaked to the skin. The farmer was a selfish so-and-so, no doubt about that! The salesman finally reached the house and banged loudly on the door. A light went on inside, and a window opened above. A voice called out, “Who is it?” The salesman yelled back angrily, “You know darn well who it is. And you can keep that stinking lug wrench. I wouldn’t take it if you paid me!”
After the first time Jesus prophesied his death and resurrection in chapter eight, Peter rebukes Jesus by saying this can’t be so. Jesus rebukes Peter right back by associating such a reaction to something Satan might have said. For Peter, this can’t and shouldn’t happen. The other two reactions, the argument over who was the greatest and the brothers asking to sit beside him in glory, was to assuage their own insecurities and fears over such a thing happening. If some of them could be exalted or promised security, they could live with his death.
Living with fears and insecurities isn’t my intention to address this morning. What I found helpful in these verses was what Jesus and James and John would have in common. In fact, what every Christian could claim in common, and they are a cup and a baptism.
I’m limiting myself by referencing a cup and a baptism found only in the gospel of Mark. There are a couple cups referenced in this gospel, but I’m focusing on one particular cup Jesus references: “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want. (Mark 14: 36)” He prayed this in the garden before his arrest. This cup represented his challenge and for which he needed courage. It’s interesting it was Peter who rebuked Jesus for prophesying he would be arrested and crucified, and it was James and John who wanted to sit beside Jesus in his glory after hearing the third foretelling of his arrest and crucifixion, and in the garden, Jesus was accompanied by Peter, James and John.
After the first foretelling of his arrest, crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus told his disciples and the crowd bluntly that if you follow him, you must carry your own cross as you go. The cup he was given is synonymous to the cross he would bear. This was his challenge, and it was for this he needed courage. The challenge for all of us is to live out our faithfulness to God beyond what we believe we’re capable of doing. Sometimes, education or training help us go beyond our own limitations to do what we may not be capable of doing. During World War II, a program was organized to train volunteers in the skills of emergency first aid. There was a fear if the city was bombed there would not be adequate medical care available for the people wounded. There was one woman in the class who seemed bored and detached from all that was taught. She was there out of a sense of obligation but had no enthusiasm for learning. One day, this particular woman showed up to the class abounding with enthusiasm. She could hardly contain herself as she told the others in the class the source of her newfound excitement for the course. She said, “This class never meant much to me until yesterday! I was sitting on my front porch when there was a horrendous automobile accident in front of my house. Two cars crashed head-on into each other. Bodies were thrown out of both cars. Everywhere there were people who were seriously injured. Blood was everywhere I looked. I almost fainted. Then I remembered what I learned in this class – and I put my head between my knees, and I didn’t pass out.” This woman was challenged to do something beyond herself, but her courage was limited. The cup we are given, the cross we’re meant to bear, is beyond our human capabilities to manage. We need courage for whatever the Lord gives us to handle, manage, do to manifest his Kingdom, his reign in this world. If we are to follow him, we carry a cross, bear a cup that we can’t bear, carry without courage bestowed on us by our Father.
“The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized. (10: 39)” Jesus’ baptism in Mark is recorded in simple terms in the first chapter. He was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan. As he came up out of the water, the heavens parted, and the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove. A voice was heard from heaven declaring Jesus as God’s son with whom God was well pleased. The Spirit immediately led him into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan for forty days. Afterwards, he entered Galilee proclaiming the good news of God. The baptism was what each of us is promised, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. When it is not a baptism of repentance which John the Baptist preached, but a baptism, an anointing, an empowerment from God which Jesus himself received, and what the apostles received at Pentecost, we are given a true new birth by faith in Christ and an assurance and empowerment to do things beyond our limited ability to do.
One of our former bishops wrote in his book, United Methodist Beliefs – A Brief Introduction, that John Wesley experienced at Aldersgate Street in 1738 his heart strangely warmed, “an experience of something outside the bounds of his limited experience – an Other coming to him, grasping his life, commandeering him toward places he could not have gone on his own.” Bishop Willimon goes on to write, “Experiences of the Holy Spirit not only warms our hearts; it also strengthens our hands and puts our feet in motion. . . In these activities, God is busy acting upon us, placing something into our empty hands, enlivening our cold hearts, enabling us to be transformed in ways that we could never be on our own.”
It is not in fear and insecurity we live our lives with faith in Jesus Christ. We live soberly to follow our Lord who saved us by his blood by carrying our cross and our cup of challenges and courage and in the baptism of Holy Spirit we claim empowerment to go where we never expected to go and do what we never could ever do on our own.
(Preached at Lincoln UMC in Lincoln, AL, October 17, 2021)