The Cup of Suffering
February 2nd, 1969 @ 10:50 AM
THE CUP OF SUFFERING
DR. W. A. CRISWELL
2-2-69 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message. It is entitled The Cup of Suffering. It is taken from the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, the Second Gospel, and beginning at the thirty-fifth verse. Mark 10:35: “And James and John, sons of Zebedee,” cousins of Jesus—Mary and their mother were sisters—
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came unto Him, saying, Master, we would that Thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire.
And Jesus said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you?
They said unto Him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on Thy right hand, and the other on Thy left hand, in Thy glory, in that New Jerusalem.
But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask:
and that is so true—
You do not realize for what you ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?
And they said unto Him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized:
And out of that came the title of the sermon: The Cup of Suffering. “Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” [Mark 10:38]. And this of course referred to the sufferings of our Lord, that James and John should eventually share.
The cup of suffering, what it was to Jesus: three times do the Scriptures say that our Lord wept, He “burst into tears” if you take that Greek word and translate it actually. One was at the tomb of Lazarus; in compassionate sympathy, weeping for those who weep, who lay their beloved dead away [John 11:35]. Second time He wept over the city of Jerusalem; weeping for the lost of the world [Luke 19:41]. The third time that He wept was in the Garden of Gethsemane. The author of Hebrews says that He made appeal unto God, who was able to save Him from death, with strong crying and tears [Hebrews 5:7]. Of course, there is not moment or hour or generation to speak of the sufferings of our Lord, the cup that He drank.
Next, what it meant to John, the cup of suffering: John outlived all of the other disciples by a full generation. After the Neronian persecution in which Paul lost his life, in which Simon Peter was crucified—tradition says with his head down, lest he be crucified in the same way his Lord was—after the Neronian persecution, in about 65 AD, thereafter the story of the Roman Empire was one of oppressive persecution against the people called Christians; which meant that John lived for a full generation in that terrible oppression. He was exiled under Domitian from his beloved people in Ephesus. He was placed on a lonely, stony island called Patmos; a little mound of rock surrounded by the sea [Revelation 1:9]. And in a vision in the Apocalypse, in Revelation 21, when John writes, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the old first heaven, with its sterile stars and its burned out planets, its desert wastes, all are passed away; and I saw a new earth, which is none other but a vast cemetery and mostly drenched in human blood, the old earth passed away: and there was no more sea” [Revelation 21:1], do you ever think what that meant? Now it means a whole lot, many things in the Bible, but I think personally it meant also this: when John writes, “and there was no more sea,” on that little, lonely, rocky island of Patmos, day after day, he must have stood on the shore of the sea and looked across that stretch of water that separated him from the people that he loved, the beloved pastorate of the church in Ephesus, and when he says, “in the new earth [Revelation 21:1], when God has refashioned and remade and regenerated this whole earth, there will be no more isolation and separation and exile; we will all be together in God’s grace, in God’s city, in God’s love and mercy, the heavenly fellowship of the Lord’s redeemed.” The cup of suffering [Mark 10:38], what it meant to John: a whole generation of agony and persecution and exile.
But not in my life have I ever heard it referred to what it meant to James, nor have I ever heard a sermon on James, nor can I ever remember anyone speaking particularly about James. James and John, sons of Zebedee, always James is first; Peter, James, and John; James and John; James was the older brother. And as gifted, as sensitive, as tender, as loving, as faithful as John was, I would suppose, because his name is always first, that the tremendously beautiful and pristine virtues of Christian faith were most wonderfully exhibited in James. Now there is a reason why you never hear him referred to. I have never heard a sermon preached on him. For in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts, it says that Herod Agrippa I, the king over all Palestine, stretched forth his hands, and he killed James the brother of John with the sword [Acts 12:1-2]. Where I read therefore the Lord asking [Mark 10:38], “Can you drink the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” that cup of suffering for James was martyrdom. As you look at his life, here is one of God’s servants, most richly endowed. He had been with his Lord all through the days of His flesh. He had been trained as Simon Peter and John his brother, the beloved disciple. And all of those intimacies that graced our Lord, known only to them, James minutely, sublimely, gloriously shared. The Lord had an inner circle: Peter, James, and John. On the Mount of Transfiguration James was there with those three [Mark 9:2]; in the raising of the daughter of Jairus from the dead, James was there [Mark 5:37]. And yet, as Christianity is launched, and the apostles begin to proclaim its saving message in the Mediterranean Roman world, James is cut down. You never hear of him, nor do you follow his life, because he was martyred at the beginning of the Christian era: Herod Agrippa I cut off his head with the sword.
Now our response to that loss is one of the feeling of how great a tragedy, what waste and what loss, the martyrdom of James. Simon Peter, the glorious preacher, and John the incomparable seer, but James, equally as endowed, as gifted, is cut down at the beginning of his apostolic ministry. Herod Agrippa cut off his head. That’s the way we look at it. That’s the way we equate things. His life was lost; bathed in his own blood, cut down at the beginning of his apostolic witness. And to us it seems such loss and such waste. That is, to us.
But to God there are purposes in His grace, in His sovereign will, in His heavenly choices; there are purposes that are served by suffering and by death, by blood and by martyrdom, as the purposes of God are served by length of days and strength of life. It is an astonishing thing, sitting at the feet of Jesus and letting the Holy Spirit teach us how life is so different and differently interpreted in God’s sight as in our sight.
I heard of a young English college student who, having given his life to a missionary witness in Africa, finished the course of study and was ready to be sent out. And when the doctor of the sending missionary board examined him, the doctor said to the young man, “You cannot live in Africa. For you to go is to die; and you ought not to go.” And the young man replied, “But sir, deep down in the earth, for every bridge that stands the tide, there are stones on which the piers stand, that are hidden and unseen, unmarked and unknown; but without them, the bridge could not rise. If it please God, I shall be one of those stones buried and hidden in the earth; but God has spoken to me, I have heard His call, and if it is to die, then I die.” And he went to Africa, and as the doctor said, he soon died. But on that grave and in that dedication of life, God moved a thousand upward, onward, higher, heaven-ward, Christ-ward, God-ward.
Nor have I ever seen a more dramatic and striking illustration of that than in this recent visit that I made to Hawaii, preaching to their state evangelistic conference there and visiting with the pastors on the islands. In 1778, the adventurous, romantic, dramatic, seafaring English captain James Cook first sighted the Hawaiian Islands. He named them the Sandwich Islands, after the Earl of Sandwich, who is also the inspiration of our hamburgers and cheeseburgers and all of those sandwiches that we eat. Well, Captain Cook must have been a very impressive figure. For to those Hawaiians, he described the glories of the British Empire, and seated at his feet was a young Hawaiian lad, sixteen years of age, by the name of Kamehameha, and he was the grandson of the king of that island. And as he listened to Captain Cook and followed the outline of the British conquests that made their empire great, the young fellow resolved in his own heart that he was going to put all those islands together, and he was going to be king over all of them, all eight of them. He must have been a tremendous warrior, a man of vast physical strength. And he subjugated the islands; he conquered all of them and put them under the kingship of Kamehameha. They’ve got stories there about everything you see. Between two mountains on Kauai, there’s a big hole; it’s very noticeable. And when you look at that hole there, that ledge of rock joining those two mountains, there’s a hole in it, very round. You say, “Well, that’s an unusual geological formation. Where’d that come from?” And they say, “Why, that’s very simply explained: when Kamehameha was warring and subjugating his islands, he threw a spear at an enemy on Oahu and missed him, and it made that hole in the mountain.” Well, I said, “Good night, Oahu is ninety miles away.” “Well that just shows how great a warrior Kamehemeha was.”
Well, in the subjugation of the islands, bloody, war, there was a boy named OpuKaha’ia eleven years of age. And he saw his father and mother slain before his eyes. And the eleven year old boy was taken by those who had slain his parents. But the lad was very unhappy. And when he was fifteen years old, in the bay of Kona, on the island of Hawaii, the big island, there was an American vessel anchored, a sailing ship. And this boy, fifteen years of age, jumped into the sea and swam out to that vessel; climbing aboard, asked its captain, Captain Brintnall, if he might be his servant and stay on the ship. The boy was so intense, so importuned, that the sea captain took him; finally brought him to his home in New Haven, Connecticut, and he lived there in the home in New Haven. Seated on the steps of Yale University, the lad began to cry. And when those who saw him asked him why, he was weeping for learning that somebody would teach him.
I think, as I review this, what a different generation of students we have in the universities of our day and of our generation. It’s another world. But this lad, seated on the steps of Yale, weeping, “Oh, that somebody,” as he said it, “would teach him learning!” In that day, there was Samuel Mills and Adonirum Judson and other of those friends and students, who met under a haystack and dedicated themselves to the missionary evangelization of the world, out of which came the great ministry of Adonirum Judson and Luther Rice and Samuel Mills. Samuel Mills, seeing that boy, took him and taught him and won him to Jesus. And when Samuel Mills was ordained, OpuKaha’ia was his first baptismal convert. And the lad, now studying in college and finishing, gave himself to carrying the message of Jesus back to his family and his people in Hawaii.
Then, as with the apostle James, as the boy was trained and ready to return, he was stricken with typhus fever and died. In our human judgment, what a tragedy, what a loss, what a waste, but the great and famed preacher Lyman Beecher delivered the funeral oration over that Hawaiian boy. And he told the story of OpuKaha’ia. And when Lyman Beecher was done with his message, there by those who listened auditorially and in the tract that was printed of his funeral sermon, there were seventeen men who volunteered to go to Hawaii in OpuKaha’ia’s place. And in 1820, they landed in the Sandwich Islands. And not in the annals of modern missionary history has there ever been a turning to God as there was in the Hawaiian Islands. One year they had over fifty thousand converts; and they turned those entire islands to Jesus Christ. And they became the most Christian of all of the Polynesian groups in this earth.
And as I read the life of that boy and his death, just as he was beginning to turn his face homeward as a missionary and a gospel preacher to his people, to see him die, what a shame, what a tragedy, cut down at the very beginning of his ministry. But God has purposes that we don’t understand. He has choices into which we cannot enter. And out of the death of that boy came the most glorious evangelization in modern missionary story. That is God.
And in my ministry through the years of my life, I have seen it again and again and again: out of this cup of suffering, out of this baptism of death, God raises up some holy and heavenly and immortal purpose of His own choosing, of His own sovereign grace.
I went up to a woman one time in Kentucky, in the association where I was a student pastor, and said to her, “To me, you are the greatest Christian I have ever known in my life.” She had three darling children; they were affluent people, had a large, large, rich farm there in Kentucky. They had a car, the children had a car, and the older boy was the one who drove it. And the three children—this is in December, while they were getting ready for Christmas—the three children were in the car, and he was driving them to school. Evidently the cold weather, and the windows up, and the doors closed, and they never heard the train coming as they crossed over the tracks, and all three of those children were killed. And that mother stood by a grave and saw all three of them buried in an open grave. What she had done as she had prayed through the indescribable sorrow of her life, she gave herself to the nurturing and the teaching and the training and the guiding of all the children in the association. She headed the Sunbeam work, she headed the Royal Ambassador work, she headed the Girls Auxiliary work, she headed the YWA work; and she was giving her life to the children in all of the churches of the association. Out of the great sorrow of her life came one of the sweetest and most dedicated ministries I’ve ever looked upon. And if you are sensitive to God’s will at all, there are times and occasions and instances in your observation and in your life where you see God taking out of suffering, disappointment, out of death, great and glorious and benedictory blessings for His people and for the kingdom of heaven.
I went up to a woman one time, and I said, “I think it is glorious you support six missionaries, you do it.” In her life she had married a well-to-do man, and he was graciously sympathetic, and she was supporting six missionaries, she was. And I was just remarking to her how fine to use her wealth like that. And she said to me, “You know when I was a girl, I gave my life to be a missionary; but I couldn’t go. The door was never open. And now that I am able, I am sending six in my stead.”
I am just saying that defeat, and frustration, and disappointment, and sorrow, and tears, and agony, and death have a place in God’s sovereign purpose for us, for His people.
One time somebody mentioned that if you take the first letter of “disappointment” and change it to an “h,” “His appointment,” that you have God’s answer for all of the tears and sorrows and frustrations that we know in our lives: disappointment—His appointment. And a devoted Christian wrote this poem:
Disappointment – His appointment
Change one letter, then I see
That the thwarting of my purpose
Is God’s better choice for me.
His appointment must be blessing,
Though it come in sad disguise
For the end from the beginning,
Open to His wisdom lies.
Disappointment – His appointment
No good thing will He withhold
From denials oft we gather
Treasures of His love untold.
Well, He knows each broken purpose
Leads to fuller deeper trust
And the end of all His choices,
Proves our God is wise and just.
Disappointment, and who hasn’t known it?
Disappointment – His appointment
Lord I take it then as such,
Like the clay in hands of potter
Yielding wholly to Thy touch
All my life’s plan in Thy molding
Not one single choice be mine
Let me answer unrepining,
Father not my will but Thine.
[“Disappointment”; Phil Keaggy]
Could I close with one of the noblest words to be found in human language, in human speech, in human literature, or in that blessed Book out of which I preach? Paul went to God with a thorn in the flesh, “I do not think I can bear it.” And God said, “Let it suffice, let it suffice; for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Then Paul replied, “Therefore will I take pleasure, I will rejoice in reproaches, and persecutions, and sorrows, and defeats, and disappointments, and despairs: for when I am weak, then am I strong” [2 Corinthians 12:7-10]; God’s all-sufficient grace.
And I am not able to enter into the purpose of God in the martyrdom of James [Acts 12:1-2]; but when I get to glory, I’m going to ask Him, and God will have a reason why; as God will have a reason why in your life, and in the circle of your family, and in these sometimes undisclosed tears and heartaches you experience in your life. God purposes some better thing for us [Hebrews 11:40]. So when sorrow comes, and disappointments and defeat, this is God’s portion for me, and if this is the cup, then dear Lord, though in tears and in agony, let me drink it, Lord, as God shall will [Mark 10:38]. He shall say, and I shall obey.
On the first note of this stanza, come. A family you, a couple you, a one somebody you; I’ll be standing here on that side of our Lord’s Supper table. And as I stand there, in this balcony round, you, on this lower floor, you, into that aisle or down one of these stairways, come and stand by me. “I give you my hand, pastor; I’ve given my heart to the Lord.” Or, “We’ve come to the city of Dallas, and in this dear church, God has sent us to plant our lives in prayer and program and appeal with you.” Or as God shall lay any appeal on your heart, come. Answer with your life, do it now. Let no one leave for just this moment. You’ll have opportunity if you’d like to go in a moment. But now as we stand before the Lord who loves us and gave Himself for us [Galatians 2:20], who died in our stead [Romans 4:5; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 1:4; Hebrews 2:9], who encrimsoned this earth with His own blood that we might have forgiveness of sin [Ephesians 1:7], as we make appeal in His name, you come, you come. Make the decision now, “I’m going to come,” and then in a moment when we stand up to sing, be the first one here. “My wife, my children, all of us are coming, pastor”; or just you. And the Lord’s angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
I. The cup of suffering
A. What it meant to
times Scriptures say our Lord wept (John 11:35,
Luke 19:41, Matthew 26:39, Hebrews 5:7-8)
B. What it meant to
1. Persecution of
2. Life on lonely
Patmos (Revelation 21:1)
C. What it meant to
James (Acts 12:2)
1. He had been part of
the inner circle (Matthew 17:1-8, 26:36-46)
2. As Christianity is
launched, he is cut down by Herod Agrippa I
II. Our response
A. How great a tragedy
B. His life cut off –
what could he have been?
God honored more in suffering and death than in length of life and success
Young volunteer in Africa
Story of James Cook, Kameha-meha, and Opukahaia
A. Woman giving her
life to children of Warren County
B. Young woman
missionary struck down, then supported six others
C. Disappointment – His
D. God’s all-sufficient
grace (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)