Some time ago, our church sponsored its annual Missions Week Conference. Missionaries from a variety of organizations were given time and opportunity to visit our Sunday school classes to give updates and ask for financial support.
As we waited for class to begin, my wife, Frances, and I were chatting with the other class members, sipping on tea, and eating homemade pastries. Our class was made up of mature adults ranging in age from about forty years old to around seventy. We were a well-mannered, well-dressed, and well educated group, eager to learn about our current topic, the Sermon on the Mount.
At the appointed time, we took our seats and waited for the missionary assigned to our class to arrive and give his presentation. The door swung open and in strode a tall, rugged, young man who was about 22 years old. He was wearing dark khakis, a slightly rumpled shirt, and a suede jacket. If he had a wide brimmed fedora, a whip, and a phobia for snakes, he would have been the image of Indiana Jones. His name was Garth.
We sat there in rapt attention as Garth described to us where he was going and what he would be facing. His mission field was the Indian sub-continent and his destination was Bangladesh. Bangladesh – the very crossroads of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. It is a place where being a follower of – let alone an evangelist for – Jesus Christ is dangerous business. Garth talked about their hostility to Christians, the meager living conditions in which they live, the lack of communication systems, and the remoteness of his assignment.
As he spoke, his eyes danced with excitement. This would be harsh duty. Or as the post-modern youth would say, XTREME! Unlike Indiana Jones who swept into each adventure looking for the lost ark or the Holy Grail to take, Garth was going on foot, taking the cup with him to a lost people to give.
Now when the hour came, Jesus took his place at the table and the apostles joined him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took bread, and after giving thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And in the same way he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22: 14 – 20)
In the traditional Jewish Passover feast, four cups are used. The first is the cup of sanctification, which recalls God calling His people to Himself and delivering them out of slavery. The second is the cup of plagues or judgment, reminding God’s people of the ten plagues in Egypt. The third is the cup of redemption and blessing. The fourth is the cup of praise and God’s kingdom.
It was the third cup that Jesus shared with His disciples. It was this cup that Jesus pleaded with His Father to take from Him during His agony in the garden, but drank it out of obedience.
“My Father, let this cup pass from me! Yet not what I will, but what you will”. (Matthew 26:39)
This is the cup to which Jesus was referring when the sons of Zebedee asked to sit in glory at His right and left.
“You don’t know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I experience?” . . . “You will drink the cup I drink, and you will be baptized with the baptism I experience” (Mark 10: 38, 39)
Jesus’ disciples did indeed drink His cup when they went forth from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth obeying the Great Commission. It was the cup of remembrance – the communion cup observing Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. It was also the cup of obedience – doing our Father’s will, whatever the cost. It is the cup of character and integrity that is displayed by God’s men throughout biblical history.
As I thought about Garth going deep into the bowels of a dark and dangerous culture, obeying his Lord and Savior’s Great Commission, I remembered the cup. Garth is a smart, engaging, handsome young man who could be a slam dunk professional success. But, Garth chose to drink the cup his Lord had given him. Forsaking money, status, a lucrative career, and the simple security of living in this nation of bedroom communities, Garth joined the brotherhood.
It is a brotherhood of men who are linked throughout biblical history by a common thread. Each one, at a cathartic inflection point where pure faith and total trust in God collided with their broken and hopeless spirits, laid down his life for His cause, His truth, and His will. It is a brotherhood to which we are called as protectors and defenders of the Body of Christ. It is a brotherhood we enter when we spread the Gospel to lost people in dangerous places. It is a brotherhood to which we belong when we climb into the coffin of a brother in need and selflessly administer God’s grace. It is the Brotherhood of the Cup.
As we learn more about these brothers, we will find that they do not resemble most of today’s men in the church. These were guys who got their hands dirty and their faces bloodied. Each one wrestled with sins, fears, and weaknesses just like ours. Each one was called to a mission he believed he could not do. Each one came from an unlikely background – some of which were very sordid.
Some started as cowards, connivers, thieves, liars, and murderers. Some began serving as young boys – shepherds fighting wild animals and giants with a slingshot, hostages in strange lands refusing to worship pagan gods, a hated brother sold into slavery, or a student, far from home, learning at the feet of a priest. Others drank the cup in their advanced years, leaning on a staff, eyes darkened from blindness, or hanging on a cross upside down.
We often think of the Old Testament as a long-ago era in history. But, even though it did take place in an ancient time, the seemingly impossible challenges that beset Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Caleb, Samson, David, Elijah, Elisha, Daniel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah are with us now.
The world in which Jesus ministered and the early church grew was likewise very different than it is today. Still, the forces of deceit, cruelty, heartlessness, and evil that John the Baptist, Peter, James, John, Matthew, Stephen, the rest of the Apostles, Timothy, Silas, Mark, Luke, and the healed blind man who was thrown out of the temple when he witnessed for Christ remain in our church and our culture today.
In each and every case, these men drank the cup, risking their lives and spilling their blood in obedience and integrity. None of them took their faith for granted, got comfortable basking in God’s grace, or spent their time arguing and fretting over worship music, pot luck dinners, or mindless gossip.
We are called into the brotherhood. The Bride of Christ, His holy church, is under relentless attack now more than ever. God’s people are being led astray in worshipping the golden calves of our day. Although the eschatological end times are yet to come, anti-christs are all over the place. Your homes are being invaded, your schools are being infected, and your children are being molested spiritually, culturally, and vicariously.
Let’s lock arms, shepherd one another, and build each other up. We can enrich our faith, our integrity, our character, and our trustworthiness. We can learn how to be bold and effective as we witness for Christ. We can stand firm in the face of today’s version of the Midianites, pagan worshippers, and evil emperors. We will grow strong in the protection of our families. We will defend the purity of Christ’s church. We will drink the cup that God has place on our tables before us – the cup of redemption and blessing.