The Relationship Between the Cup and the Scattered Fire
Mark 10:35-39; Matthew 26:27, 28, 39, 42; Luke 22:20; John 18:11; 1 Corinthians 10:16, 11:26
"I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!" (Luke 12:49, 50).
With the passages that we have read fresh in our minds, I think that we are able to see that this last passage gathers them all into itself, and that what they all bring before us is the relationship between the cup of the Lord and the scattering of the fire in the earth. The Lord joined these two things together, and showed their relationship; indicating that the scattering of the fire in the earth was dependent upon the drinking of the cup. And in so doing, He only indicated and established a law, a law which history has demonstrated and proved - either negatively or positively - so deeply, so mightily. Where there has been no cup, there has always been 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 that we have to recognize very clearly and to accept quite definitely, 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, the drinking of that cup will always issue in spiritual progress or increase or enlargement or deepening. It is always gain.
An Apparent Contradiction
Now here we have to pause to clear up the difficulty that is always present to confuse our minds in this matter, a fundamental conflict or confusion. On the one side, the Christian life ought to be characterized by joy, by peace, by rest, by hope, by life. On the other side, the same Christian life - without any contradiction to that - not only can be, but should be, characterized by suffering. The Lord Jesus mingled those two things in the moment when He took the cup. "He took the cup, and gave thanks" - He 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 do not 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, joyfulness and exuberance, enthusiasm and lightheartedness, with no 'wrong' or sombre elements whatever. If you think like that, you have misread your New Testament! On the other hand, it is possible for us to 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. Some people nurse that kind of complex: they are afraid of joy; they are afraid even of spiritual laughter!
We have to recognize that we are not speaking about natural things now. There is that sublime, that wonderful, that Divine paradox - "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" (2 Corinthians 6:10), in the midst of afflictions and trials; "in manifold trials," Peter says, yet "rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory" (1 Peter 1:6-8). Somehow that has got to be recognized, or we shall be in trouble. The true apprehension of the Christian life is not that of frivolity and superficiality. It is something, as we have said, that has a cup right at the heart of it. The true apprehension of the cup is not something morbid, something morose; is not eternal sadness.
The peril of having a contradiction in the back of our minds in this matter is far more real than perhaps we recognize. Suppose we are meeting those who are having a very good time. They are in one of those phases of the Christian life where all is good - it is spring-time, or it is summer-time - there are no clouds in their sky, and they are inclined to 'down' the person who is having a bad time, perhaps passing through some temporary darkness or eclipse, and to feel that there is something wrong with their Christianity. On the other side, if it is we who are having the difficult time, let us be very, very patient with those who are not. Let us reconcile these things and see that they may only represent two aspects of one thing and not be contradictory at all.
(continued with # 2 - (The Cup of the Lord)