Matthew 20:20-28 – Christ’s cup. A bitter truth of the Christian call.

“For me to drink of his cup, or as Luke 9 puts it pick up my cross and die daily, is to make myself nothing, so that I can give others everything believing that God the father, through Christ’s propitiation, has given me everything… It sounds heroic in word but in deed it is bitter!” – Exerpt

20Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.”23He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,c 27and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,d 28even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

For me this text is a sober but relieving reminder of my deep dependency on the Holy Spirit to continually lead me to the cross. In sin, I secretly desire self exaltation, under an unconvincing guise of holy motivation. I have shamelessly asked God to elevate me to a position of higher praise. Even choosing a position of Godly influence such as a worship music super-star, or more recently, a widely influential preacher. The sons of Zebedee do the same thing here. Like them, and everyone else (apart from the work of the Holy Spirit changing us from the inside) we share a shameless unbelief. A blindness that deceives us to believe that our greatest acheivment is to be recognized as worthy of highest praise. This blindness causes us to view Christ as a vehicle to satisfaction and prevents us from seeing Christ alone as truly and totally satisfying.

But this text points out more than our failure to understand God’s magnificence compared to our subordinance.

In verse 22 Jesus states with a seemingly solemn tone “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink”? Oh the dreaded cup. Typically in Jewish idiomology, the cup (like baptism and the sea) is associated with suffering, and drinking from it illustrates bearing under that suffering on purpose. When Jesus asked this question, the 2 understood that Jesus was referring to a price-tag that comes with the honor of holy royal glory.

The importance of this passage is explaned in verses 25-28 where Jesus tells the practical outworking of that suffering which Christians (those who follow Christ) are called to partake in. Christ teaches that unlike the self promoting glory of the rulers on the earth, Godly glory is selfless. It trusts that God is just. That he will glorify those who are worthy of glory and bring low those who are unworthy. With trust in God’s just righteousness and steadfast love Christ selflessly poured himself out to serve and love the lowest. He made himself nothing, so that we could be something. God the father who is just, righteous and steadfast in love glorified him with everything.

So what do I do with that? For me to drink of his cup, or as Luke 9 puts it pick up my cross and die daily, is to make myself nothing, so that I can give others everything believing that God the father, through Christ’s propitiation, has given me everything. That is what I must do if I consider the title Christian of any value – but when my mind is set on my flesh, I hate the thought of it. Making myself nothing, counting others more significant that myself… It sounds heroic in word but in deed it is bitter! So I’m reminded of the words Jesus said, that are so important to me if I am going to walk this way, they are in John 16:17. Jesus says “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” If at any moment I step outside the council of the Holy Spirit, working in and purifying me, it becomes impossible for me to live out the calling of a Christian.

Romans 8:6-11
6
For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

One thing that I haven’t done in this post is explain the great glory and joy of the life in Christ. I will save that for another post. This is good enough to dwell on for now.

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