by T. Austin-Sparks
[Readings not given on audio: Mark10:35-39; Matthew 26:27,28,39,42; Luke 22:20; John 18:11; 1 Corinthians 10:16; 11:26.]
The gospel by Luke, chapter 12, verses 49 and 50: "I came to cast fire upon the earth; and what will I, oh that it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished."
With the passages which we have already read fresh in our minds, I think we are able to see that this passage gathers them all into itself, and that what they and it bring before us is the relationship between the cup of the Lord and the scattering of the fire in the earth. The Lord, in these words, joined these two and showed their relationship, indicating that the scattering of the fire in the earth was dependent upon the drinking of the cup. And in saying that, He only indicated an established law, a law which history has demonstrated and proved so deeply, so mightily - either negatively or positively.
Where there has been no cup there has been no fire: where there has been the cup, there has always been the fire. It is the story of all the persecutions, all the sufferings of the people of God, which have issued in the progress of the gospel. It is something, dear friends, that we have to very clearly recognise and to accept, that right at the very heart of everything in the purpose of God, there is a cup. And only by the drinking of that cup is any kind of real spiritual progress, enlargement, possible. But, to put that in another way, there is always a cup, but the drinking of that cup will always issue in spiritual progress or increase or enlargement or deepening. It is gain.
Now here we have to pause to clear up the peril, the difficulty that is always present to confuse our minds in this matter, to destroy a fundamental conflict or confusion. On the one side: the Christian life ought to be characterised by joy, by peace, by rest, by hope, by Life. On the other side, the same Christian life - not in contradiction to that - but can be, and should be, characterised by suffering. The Lord Jesus mingled those two things in the moment when He took the cup. "He took the cup, and gave thanks" - and gave thanks. There should be, I say, no contradiction between these two things: joy and sorrow mingled; rest and peace and hope in the very presence of suffering, adversity and affliction.
If we don't clear up this matter in our minds, we are going to get into difficulty. We are going to argue that the Christian life ought to be one continuous, unbroken song, of joyfulness and exuberance, enthusiasm and lightheartedness, and nothing whatever that is not that, is right in the Christian life. You've misread your New Testament if you think like that! On the other hand, it is possible for us to so regard the sufferings and the trials, the difficulties and adversities, as the marks of a kind of holy Christian life, which must exclude anything exuberant and joyful and glad. And some people nurse that kind of complex: and they're afraid of joy; they're afraid even of spiritual laughter!
You see what I mean, we have to recognise that we are not speaking about natural things now. There is that sublime, that wonderful, that Divine paradox - "sorrowing, yet always rejoicing", in the midst of afflictions and trials; "manifold trials", Peter says, yet "rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory". Somehow that has got to be reconciled, or we shall be in trouble. The true apprehension of the cup is not morbid, is not morose, it is not eternal sadness. The true apprehension of the Christian life is not that of frivolity and superficiality. It is something that has, as we have said, a cup right at the heart of it.
Well, let us see to it that we get over any peril or danger of having a contradiction in the back of our minds in this matter, and get it quite clearly straightened out. We have to deal with our difficulties as we go on. That is... that peril is far more real than perhaps you recognise. We are meeting those who are having a very good time. They're in one of those phases and stages of the Christian life where all is good - it's spring-time, or it's summer-time - there are no clouds in their sky, and they are inclined to 'down' the person who is having a bad time, and feel there is something wrong with their Christianity. Of course, for the time being, they are passing through some time of darkness, perhaps eclipse.
On the other side, let us be very, very patient if it is we who are having the difficult time, with those who are not. And let us reconcile these things and see that they may only represent two aspects of one thing and not be contradictory at all.
Now, I don't want to take too much time because I have a lot to say. Let us get on with this matter. Firstly then, the cup.
We all know that the cup of the Lord is central and basic to the Christian life and to the life of the church. It has that place in the church's life, it is there. It represents the very centre, the very focal point, of the church's life and of the believer's life. That is where the Word of God puts it, that is the place that the Scriptures give to it: the gathering centre of the people of God, the foundation of their life individually and collectively. But there's a division in the cup, which we must recognise immediately, there is a division in the cup: that is, His side and ours. Let us get this cleared up before we go further.
There is the side of the Lord Jesus in that cup, with which we have nothing to do, so far as the drinking of it is concerned. It's uniquely His; it's His alone. It has to do with, as we know, with our redemption. It has to do with our sin, it has to do with our judgment under the wrath of God. It has to do with the final outworking of sin and judgment; it has to do with death. It has to do with the remission of sins: "This cup... the new covenant in My blood, shed for the remission of sins". It has to do with our justification before God, our setting in the position of the Righteous One; it has to do with our very life - the eternal life. In all that, you and l have no part, except to receive it by faith. In drinking the cup we do not, of course, work out our redemption, or have any part or place in that great atoning, substitutionary, representative work for us. That is isolated to Him. No one can just go on that path with the Lord in His sufferings; that's His path.
But then there is our path, not in that, for our sufferings with the Lord are not vicarious as His were. But, here we are, we are brought in to share the cup, but our part is in another realm. It's that of sharing His reproach. It is because we are standing with Him for His rights which are being disputed and challenged and so terribly fought against in this very universe and in this world. It is because the Holy Spirit is doing something in us in relation to the character of the Lord Jesus. And you know very well that no sooner is there the slightest sign of any Christlikeness in an individual, that seems to provoke something and bring out antagonism, which says, in effect, "You must not behave like Christ!" They take "knowledge that we have been with Jesus", and they counsel to put us to death. There's something in the spiritual realm which hates this character of Jesus, because its presence is an exposure and a condemnation of sin.
Evil hates good and cannot bear its presence - it causes misery and suffering - the very presence of good. And it is in that, just being Christlike, that we are involved in His cup. And in all it is because we have taken sides with Him against the great enemy, His age-long, sworn enemy, who, with all his vicious malignity, is determined that the last, the last semblance and trace of this One shall be blotted out, if he can, if he can! And you and I and our presence in this world are a semblance of Christ, or we should be, and we come under those evil counsels. And that is our part. We are partners with Him in His position in this world, and that involves the drinking of His cup, the cup of suffering.
That's where we begin with the cup. It's there as our ground: the ground of our salvation, our redemption, our justification, our life. We stand on that ground. We take the cup gratefully and with thanksgiving. But we commit ourselves, in doing so, to this side of the cup. We commit ourselves. We become involved in this side of His sufferings, and there is no evading, or avoiding, or getting away from it. We've got to recognise this. I said it's something to be clearly recognised and definitely and deliberately accepted, right at the outset, and continually to be kept in mind.
But there are, after we have said that, there are other things about the cup. And I'm keeping really, to the Word. You can check what I'm saying by the Scriptures. This cup sets forth and represents the absolute holiness and apartness of Christ, and of all that is related to Christ.