Before email or text messaging, my husband, James, and I fell in love with each other through writing letters to each other. After a few months James decided it was time to visit. While we had previously met, we had never spent time together having serious intentions. Driving away from the airport after picking him up, I took a swig from my water bottle. Offering him the bottle, I asked, “Are you thirsty?” At that point, he says now, hope rose within him. A woman doesn’t share her cup with just anyone!
In ancient times, the man who drank from the same cup as the king was called the cupbearer. A highranking royal officer, the cupbearer not only served the king’s drinks but also ensured his safety, protecting the sovereign from assassination by poison. Due to the constant fear of plots and intrigues, the cupbearer had to be thoroughly trustworthy. In Eastern culture, drinking from the same cup meant you were willing to die for the king. At a wedding, two people drinking from the same cup indicates their level of intimacy.
Jesus spoke of a cup He would share with His followers. James, John, and their mother had approached Jesus requesting “closest-to-You-in-Your- kingdom” positions so they could sit on the right and left side of His throne. Jesus said, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” (Matt. 20:22, NASB). Only those who will drink from My cup will be near Me in My kingdom. What strange words.
Just before this encounter, Jesus had described His future suffering with James, John, and the other disciples. “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify” (Matt. 20:18, 19, NKJV). However, the disciples did not understand. Like followers of any rising leader, their eyes were set on glory.
Jesus was alluding to the reality of His suffering when He spoke of the cup. To follow Him was to pursue a man carrying a cross. “Are you able to do that?” He asked. “We are able,” they naively answered.
They would drink of the same cup. Of Jesus’ followers, James was the first to feel the sword. John endured persecution the longest. Their request was answered.
They received no obvious heavenly position of glory, but I doubt it mattered to them at the end. The purified desire for closeness with the Savior was granted. Both were brought into greater intimacy with Christ through fellowship with Him in suffering.
Peter also had this lesson to learn. His aversion to suffering was so strong that after Jesus explained what He would endure, Peter took Him aside and rebuked Him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to You.”
Jesus answered, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me.” Peter’s attitude toward suffering was preventing the closeness Jesus longed for.
When cleansing the temple, Jesus spoke with similar passion. As He was chasing the retailers out, overthrowing tables, aggressively removing material things that stood between true worship and the people, He cried, “Take these things out of the way!”
Did Peter understand the rebuke? Was he able to grasp the path of suffering? Years later he wrote, “For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. . . . But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:19-21, NIV, 1984).
To endure suffering with dignity is thankworthy. God is thankful when, instead of buckling under victim mentality, or blaming Him and shaking the fist as if He were the source of the pain, we choose to allow suffering to draw us closer to Him.
“Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude” (1 Pet. 4:1, NIV, 1984). “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial . . . but rejoice . . . as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings” (1 Pet. 4:12, 13, KJV).
A partaker means a sharer, a fellow, a partner, a comrade. The quest of those who come to love God becomes this: “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings” (Phil. 3:10, NKJV). Why would they seek this kind of fellowship?
Suffering is a vulnerable, narrow place. We don’t spill our deepest pain to just anyone, especially in the midst of it. We tend to assume that others will not understand, that they may not validate the intensity of our hurt. They might say something callous or cast blame. But those who do suffer with us reach a level of transparent friendship deeper than all other relationships.
Peter wrote, “If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” (1 Pet. 4:16, NKJV). Tragically, our world is full of inescapable suffering. We suffer the bitter consequences of our decisions and irretrievable mistakes. We also suffer what is unfair and wrong. Yet over and over again, Scripture says that God is just. In contrast to the world’s injustice, a belief in His fairness brings strength to live unashamed, knowing that someday He will make it right. While His love cannot yet put an end to suffering, it can enable a man or woman to get back up after being hit hard, to experience the darkness and still believe in the light, to have something precious ripped away and know that it will yet be restored.
God is glorified by those who, in spite of everything, choose to trust. Ultimately, Christ enables all who drink from His cup to triumph over affliction.