"Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?"— Matthew 20:22.
THE incident which is narrated in our context occurred just previous to our Lord's death. He had gone up to Jerusalem. He had made the triumphal entry into the city. Now He was waiting for the grand climax of His experiences. He had forewarned His disciples and had explained to them that the chief priests would deliver Him up to be crucified.
But the Apostles in general did not understand the Lord's words. On many occasions His words had been figurative. So now they wondered what He meant. They did not know what kind of figure of speech this could be. They thought that He was near to sitting on His Throne, and that they would be with Him. So thoroughly were they convinced that the establishment of the Kingdom was at hand that St. James and St. John—their mother acting as spokesman, advocate—had asked that when He came into His Kingdom they two might sit near Him, the one on His right hand, and the other on His left. They were expecting that in a day or two important events would take place which would bring them into the Kingdom.
Our Lord's answer to this request was intended not only for the disciples there before Him, but undoubtedly for all His disciples throughout the Gospel Age, to set before them the conditions on which the Kingdom was to be attained. Our Lord stated the matter very plainly, asking James and John, "Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They did not understand these words in full, but perceived that it meant some kind of death. "Are you able?"—Are you willing? They replied that they were.
The word able, while it contains the thought of force, strength, nevertheless expresses willingness; for it refers to the will. The thought is not, Are ye physically able?—but, Are ye mentally able? This thought would properly be represented by the word willing. Are your wills strong enough? The two disciples determined that they were. "Yes, Lord, we have a will to do the whole thing, whatever it may be." They were fully given up to the Lord, to do His will. They would be willing for anything. They had such appreciation of the Kingdom, and such confidence in the Lord that whatever He was about to do they were willing to do.
OUR LORD'S REAL BAPTISM
And so it is with us. Our wills are made up. "Are ye able?" Surely! There is not a doubt—nothing to interfere. That which the disciples could not understand, and which we could not have understood had we been in their places, we fully understand now, because we have the assistance of the Holy Spirit to guide and help us in the understanding of the deep things of God. We see that the Lord meant that He was immersed into death. At the beginning of His ministry, He gave up all of His earthly interests in every sense of the word. This was His sacrifice. It was symbolized by baptism into water, but it was really a baptism into death. He had been fulfilling that baptism for three and a half years; and the next day He would die, as He well knew. "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened until it be accomplished!"—Luke 12:50.
The thought is, "I am feeling greatly straitened until that baptism be accomplished. It will be accomplished tomorrow. I find that connected with that death there are difficulties that I had not expected. I am anxiously waiting for tomorrow, for the completion of My sacrificial death."
Our Lord had not supposed that His consecration to death would mean a death of such serious indignity, humiliation and misrepresentation of His character—an ignominious death. He had known that He was to be crucified, had told His disciples so and was entirely willing thus to die. But as He got down to the core of the matter, He saw that the arrangements were that He was to die the death of a criminal. It was an entirely different matter to be crucified as a criminal. Because He was a good man, it was most trying to Him to be arrested as a blasphemer—one guilty of the worst crime known to the Jews. To be condemned on the charge of blasphemy and to be led by His own countrymen to be put to death, when He was really giving up all that He had for the service of God, was a terrible ordeal for Him—much more of a test for Him than it would have been for one who had been tainted with sin, and who was less sensitive because of his wrong life. Jesus seems frequently to have referred to this cup, as if He instinctively shrank from the experience.
THE CHURCH'S CUP OF EXPERIENCE
In a broad sense, the figurative expression, cup ofexperience, might be used in referring to every affair of our lives. But this is apparently not the way in which Jesus was using this word at this time. He used it in respect to something in the future. "Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?"—in the future—that cup which I shall drink within the next few hours. That cup was a terrible draft to Him—not the dying, not the cross. He had not asked that He might be spared the dying, that He might avoid death. But He had asked that this bitter cup of ignominy, that He should be put to death as a blasphemer, might be set aside; and yet He said, "The cup which My Father hath poured for Me, shall I not drink it?" After He had cried out with strong cryings to God and had received the assurances of God's favor, He was then ready to drink of this cup.
So it is with the Lord's followers. It is hard that our good should be evil spoken of, that we should be declared to be poisonous to every religious sentiment. This is a part of our experience. To have people separate us from their company would be a trifling thing. To die in some respectable way would be a small matter. But to be put into a false light, to have our good made out to be evil, these are trying experiences. Our attitude is to be the same as that of our Master, "The cup that our Lord shall pour, shall we not drink it?" We have the word of the Apostle that all things shall work for good to those who love God, to the called according to His purpose. With these thoughts before our minds, we are to be of good courage and to accept the cup of experience which the Lord has for us. We know not how near that cup may be. Perhaps with the Church it is the same as with Himself. Perhaps there will be a measure of acknowledgment that we are right about the Divine Plan. Then through the machinations of the church systems we may be delivered up—possibly to death.
THE TEST NOW UPON THE CHURCH
The disciples at the First Advent did not realize how near they were to the experiences of Gethsemane and Calvary. It may be so with us now, for aught we know. Therefore we realize the importance of our lives being such as the Lord has marked out for us. Watch ye, lest ye fall in the hour of temptation! The hour of temptation was upon them; therefore it was important that they keep themselves in the right attitude. And so should we do now, when we believe the Age is closing. There may be peculiar tests, which the Lord may not wish us to know—they would not be such tests if we knew of them in advance. Therefore we should be on guard that we may be found loyal and faithful, and that we may demonstrate our faithfulness unto death in the way that the Lord has prepared for us.
It would appear as though the present time may be one in which the Lord is giving His people a test of a new kind. Even though we see the Gentile nations in process of disintegration, there is an opportunity for some to doubt the whole matter and to say, "There have been wars before, and I suppose there will be wars yet! This is not the end of the Gentile Times, as I thought it would be." Such people, if they had been engaged in the Lord's service, might leave it and go into worldly society, or become engrossed in business, or what not. This is most particularly the very time in which such testings might come. Therefore we should be on our guard lest any spirit of doubt come upon us. "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation."