“Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They said to Him, “We are able.” So He said to them, “You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.” (Matt 20: 22-23)
Whenever I have read these words, spoken to James and John when they asked to sit next to Jesus in Heaven, I have taken the baptism and the cup that Jesus refers to as being the same thing: the suffering that will soon overwhelm all His human senses. We know that this is definitely true of the “cup”, because He asks the Father to take it away if it were at all possible; but Jesus was always economical with His words and I don’t think He is repeating Himself here. Also, He refers to the cup as still being in the future, whereas the baptism is a present reality: it is “the baptism that I am baptized with.”
James was martyred, and tradition has it that John was as well, after his exile on Patmos; so they both drank His cup. In a wider sense we all do when we put our flesh to death with Jesus on the cross. But the only baptism that Jesus was already “baptized with” before He was crucified but which still awaited the disciples at a future time is the baptism in the Holy Spirit. When Jesus promises the Holy Spirit He tells the disciples “you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:17). The Holy Spirit is with them while they are with Jesus, because Jesus is immersed in Him; and He will be in them from Pentecost onward.
So there are definitely two sides to the coin of discipleship: the cup and the baptism. For fruitful discipleship, which Jesus Himself tells us is true discipleship, we need them both: indeed we cannot have one without the other. If we follow the thread of what Jesus taught His disciples at their last meeting together, documented in John 12-16, we see the progression from the seed falling to the ground and dying in order to multiply, through the need to remain submitted to the word of God and to love one another (neither of which are possible if the flesh is not dead), to the provision of the Holy Spirit who will bring the multiplication of God-Life into the submitted heart where Jesus reigns.
Paul expressed his greatest desire like this: “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phil 3:10). The baptism and the cup. The cup and the baptism. These are the great truths of discipleship. Luke 6:40 tells us this: “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.” At the end of the disciples’ training John gives us his account of the disciples’ commissioning: “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you. And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20: 21-22) The mighty rushing wind that came from heaven not long later came first from within Jesus, from the “baptism that He was baptized with.” Jesus sends us as He was sent, with the cup and the baptism. We can become as dead to self as He was, we can be as filled with the Spirit as He was, and that is why we can do the works that He did. This is what the Word of God tells us. Satan will do everything he can to diminish and dilute this truth. He works tirelessly to convince us that we are only insignificant shadows of the great apostles who walked with Jesus two thousand years ago. But the Word of God tells us that our discipleship can be as fruitful as that of Peter, James and John, because we have the same Spirit and the same Word, and we are following the same master. So are we dead to self, and is there no room for anything in our lives except what the Holy Spirit brings us? We know these things: blessed are we if we do them.
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