In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
In 2003 there was a news story that tickled my fancy—one of those good grief what will people thing of next type of things. A man named Timothy Treadwell fancied himself a Grizzly Bear whisperer. This guy got in his head while recovering from a heroin overdose that grizzlies were just misunderstood and were really just big cuddly teddy bears. The guy did all the late night talk shows promoting his book and publicizing his actions. He seemed to be doing things right, and was going to give us access to the inner workings of bear life in Alaska as he lived among them—pretty cool.
But in 2003, the story came out that the grizzly whisperer and his girlfriend had been eaten by the very bears he was claiming were so friendly. Oops. Doing a little digging, I found that his girlfriend was actually scared of these bears and he was out later than he normally would have been—a time when the bears are trying everything they can to gain fat to get them through the winter. He failed to maintain the healthy respect for the animals that is required when dealing with things that can kill you if they want.
It is important to keep this healthy respect in mind when one regularly dwells in close proximity to things that have the potential to destroy—whether they be bears or other wild animals, or some destructive force, or even God. I like the quote from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe that Mr. Beaver gives when the children ask him if Aslan is safe before they meet him: ““Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Jesus is asked today by James and John if they can be on his right hand and his left when he comes into his power. They, of course, are thinking of earthly power and have no idea of the depth of the request of which they ask. Jesus asks them, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” To which they both respond, “We are able.” “Of course, Jesus, whatever we have to say to get the top spots before someone else gets them.” But let’s take a minute and see the depth of which Jesus speaks when he refers to this cup and this baptism.
This Cup. Now my bible links back to Isaiah 51:17 on this phrase. “Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering.” Here the Jews are in exile and Jerusalem has been destroyed by the Babylonians. We learn from Jeremiah 25:15 that this cup was meant for God’s enemies and it was the cup of their destruction.
This links us back to Deuteronomy 28. Deuteronomy and Leviticus in the Bible are some of the most neglected books of the Bible by Christians. Leviticus because it is a book full of rules and rather dry if you don’t really know what is going on there. And Deuteronomy because if you slog your way through Leviticus in an attempt to read the whole bible, the last thing you want to read is a recap of everything you just read. “I’ve read all this, let’s get these poor people into the Promised Land already.” <skips to Joshua>
But in 28th chapter of the most skipped book of the Torah (Deuteronomy) we read the blessings and the curses for the covenant the people of Israel have just sworn with God.
“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. 2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. 3 Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. 4 Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. 5 Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. 6 Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.”
Those are the blessing. It is a great thing to follow God’s laws and keep his commandments.
But how many of us are sinless? How many of us always do what is right? For us, there are the curses.
“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. 16 Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. 17 Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. 18 Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. 19 Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out. 20 “The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me.”
Uh oh! This is what was fulfilled when Jerusalem was sacked as Isaiah said, and if you REALLY want to see it in action, read Lamentations. God does not take sin lying down. He is just. And a just God cannot allow sin to go unpunished. The scales have to be balanced. We see this take place in Revelation 14:10, again with the cup of wrath. Those who are marked with the sign of the beast that is those who are opposed to God, (for those who are for God wear the mark of God upon their foreheads), and thus reject God’s help, are forced to drink the cup of wrath for themselves “and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night…” Scary stuff.
But for those who have been marked with the sign of God, that this the mark of Baptism, they have already had this cup drunk for them. This scary cup is the cup that Jesus was confronted with in the Garden of Gethsemane. “My Father, if it be possible, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not as I will, but as you will.” And Jesus received no answer from his Father because there was no other way. “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” This is the cup which he is referring to when he asks James and John if they are willing to drink it. If they really knew what Jesus was asking them, who would actually say yes to that?!
The baptism which he refers to is not baptism as we think of it—not yet anyway. The Greek word baptisma means immerse, Jesus is referring here to his immersion into sin. As our OT lesson says, “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” He, though sinless, is immersed in sin and has laid on him every sin that was, is, and will be committed EVER. No mortal man could ever do this because he would first have to take care of his own sins. It had to be God that did this, that is why Jesus received no answer from his Father when he asked for a different way. It had to be Jesus, because only Jesus, who was already in a right relationship with God, could deal with the sin collectively.
So are James and John able to drink this cup and be baptized with this baptism? Not at first. Jesus does something unique. Only he is able to do this. But because he does this, James and John, and you and I, can also drink this cup because he has taken away the sting of death. We are baptized into his death and resurrection and so we participate in this, but only after he does. So Jesus is right when he says that they will do these things as well.
Now I tell you all these things not to give you a hell-fire and damnation sermon, but to remind us of both the stakes and the depth of our relationship with God. We are, in fact, standing in the lion’s den with a real lion—one who does have the ability to kill and eat us. He is not a tame lion by any means. But he is good. Don’t be like brother Treadwell, never underestimate anything dangerous, especially God. But also it pays to remind us every now and then of the depth to which God will go to deliver us from our sins.
In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.