The Holy Grail6

Quest for the Holy Grail © Image created by Ross Cochrane using Blender and Paint.net

Matthew 20:20-23 – A QUEST FOR THE TRUE HOLY GRAIL 

Simple but beautiful. Filled to the brim. Sought after through the centuries. Desired by the infamous SS and the Catholic Church alike, legends have developed about its whereabouts; is it in the caves of Montsegur, France or hidden somewhere in Oxford England or in a Chapel in Valencia Cathedral in Spain?

We all know that Indiana Jones found it in the caves of Petra and Dan Brown informs us with arrogant certainty, despite his distorted historical evidence, that it was a person, not a cup. He assures us it was not made of the wood of a Carpenter, clay from the earth, or silver and gold with embedded emeralds and precious stones, but of flesh and blood. He could be right in one respect, so let’s begin the quest for the true Holy Grail by reading from an ancient book which gives us clues …

COME, … 

Then the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, comes to Jesus with her sons. She kneels respectfully to ask a favor” (Matthew 20:20 NLT).

Mark calls her Salome. John calls her Jesus’ mother’s sister. Matthew calls her, the mother of the sons of Zebedee rather than the wife of Zebedee. It’s obvious that Zebedee hasn’t been involved in this favor-seeking exercise and that Salome has raised these sons of thunder by herself. Perhaps Zebedee has died and is no longer in the picture at all.

So James and John are full cousins of Jesus. They feel connected to Jesus by family. They are ambitious, looking for personal reward and special honor, a cup running over with power and prestige, but do they expect success without sacrifice? The Holy Grail comes with an adventure and a price.

 WITH RESPECT …

Salome bows before Jesus as a king, but her understanding is limited to an earthly kingdom and her ambition for her sons crowds out any understanding of the cup for which she asks.

The brothers are willing to let their mother approach Jesus with this request. Do they think that Jesus would favor her more? All three of them have obviously spoken about this in private before coming to Jesus.

 AND ASK … 

“What is your request?” He asks. She replies, “In Your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to You, one on Your right and the other on Your left (Matthew 20:21 NLT).

Perhaps they think they have earned the right of positions of authority when Jesus, as the Messiah, takes up His role as King of Israel. Surely they can drink from the Holy Grail; the cup of power?

After all, James and John (and Peter) were present at the Transfiguration of Jesus and when Jairus’ daughter was raised from the dead by Jesus. Surely that counts for something?

Adam Clarke suggests that Salome, James and John were thinking in terms of a new Sanhedrin being formed and they would be the supreme dignities in the great Sanhedrin. The prince of the Sanhedrin (Ha-Nasi) sat in the midst of two rows of senators or elders; on his right hand sat the person termed Ab (the father of the Sanhedrin); and on his left hand the Chacham, or sage. These persons transacted all business in the absence of the president. The authority of this council was at some periods very great, and extended to a multitude of matters both ecclesiastical and civil. These appear to have been the honors which James and John sought. (Adam Clarke’s Commentary.)

It is clear that Salome, James and John are interested in status rather than service, homage rather than humility, recognition rather than reaching out, power rather than God’s purposes, authority over rather than assistance to others. They wanted more to lord it over others than to love others in humble recognition of their worth to God.

 WITH THE RIGHT MOTIVES …

Jesus isn’t willing simply to grant any such request. Neither does He for us, but He gives us opportunity to verbalize what we are thinking in order to correct us and guide more surely towards His purposes so that we ask aright.

Lord, guard what I ask of You. Help me to be discerning.

James 4:3 (NLT) says, ” … you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.  And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.” 

Indiana Jones learned that penitent man kneels before God, and Salome also kneels respectfully before Jesus. The difference is that her request of power for her sons is not a request of a penitent heart.

Help me not only to submit to You respectfully in my actions but also in my motives.

You encourage me to come, even if I have it wrong, to ask for Your cup, but help me to ask aright.

I want to bring You honor in my life, but it is tinged with sinful attitudes at times. I know I love the praise of others far too much. There are times when I am way out of my depth and let You down because of my pride and selfishness.

But You invite me to find Your will for my life, things that will make a difference in Your kingdom, neither above or below what You intend for my life, to drink from the cup. Keep me engaged with Your purposes, listening for Your correction and willing to change and grow.

 AND SEEK TO UNDERSTAND …

Salome is the mouthpiece for selfish ambition, but you will notice that Jesus shifts the answer to her sons and to us.

“You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?” “Oh yes,” they reply, “we are able!” (Matthew 20:22 NLT).

Here is the Chalice of Christ, the Holy Grail! A bitter cup of suffering, not what I immediately associate with God’s favor, especially if I crave position, power and influence.

Apparently, criminals were at times made to drink poison and assassinations could be made by spiking wine with poison, but this cup of suffering was spiked with the poison of my sin and just as deadly.

This was not a cup of sweet wine offered to Jesus to celebrate His status. But a bitter cup of deep suffering to demonstrate His Servanthood

James and John could not endure such a poisonous potion of suffering due to their arrogance and pride, and it was these very sins, among others, that soured the very cup from which Jesus tasted. It was for their sins and my sins that He would die.

Jesus encourages me not be too quick in saying I am able when I am clearly NOT. He doesn’t simply say “No!” But as He questions me through His Word, He gives me the opportunity to respond, no matter how arrogantly to Him, and then He brings correction and further understanding so that I can adjust the tenor of my prayers according to His purposes.

 AS YOU DRINK …

Jesus tells them, “You will indeed drink from My bitter cup. But I have no right to say who will sit on My right or My left. My Father has prepared those places for the ones He has chosen (Matthew 20:23 NLT).

Jesus is patient, direct. James and John would indeed drink the bitter wine from this Holy Grail. What did He mean? And does He expect me to suffer also?

James will die by the sword. (Acts 12:2). Was the cup for him the cup of martyrdom? Tradition says John was tortured, then banished to the Island of Patmos. Was that his bitter cup? Can I expect a gruesome end on this quest for the Holy Grail?

Click on picture below for the animation

 

Cup of Christ or Cup of Judgment © Images and Animation by Ross Cochrane

 FROM THE CUP OF CHRIST, …

According to Dake, 12 cups are given figurative meaning in the Bible, but I think they can be reduced to perhaps 4. The key cups are of judgment, salvation, suffering, and communion. 

  1. THE CUP OF JUDGMENT ON THE WICKED

Psalm 75:8 (NLT) says, For the Lord holds a cup in His hand that is full of foaming wine mixed with spices. HE POURS OUT THE WINE IN JUDGMENT, AND ALL THE WICKED MUST DRINK IT, draining it to the dregs.” 

The Cup of Judgment is eternal death. Romans 6:23 (NLT2) says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

2. THE CUP OF SUFFERING ON THE CROSS

Jesus speaks in Matthew 20:22 (NLT) of the bitter CUP OF SUFFERING I am about to drink?” 

It is as if Jesus takes the Cup of Judgment of the wicked from me and gives to me the cup of Eternal Life (Salvation). He drinks my cup of death and I drink His cup of life. 

3. THE CUP OF SALVATION FOR THOSE WHO BELIEVE

David says in Psalm 116:13 (NLT), I will lift up the CUP OF SALVATION and praise the Lord’s name for saving me.” 

4. THE CUP OF THE PASSOVER CONFIRMING THE COVENANT 

The Passover cup confirms that I am forgiven. In Matthew 26:27-28 (NLT) Jesus took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is My blood, which CONFIRMS THE COVENANT between God and His people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many.”

How can I or anyone possibly DRINK THE BITTER CUP OF CHRIST? How can anyone really share in the suffering of Christ? 

When Jesus concedes that James and John will suffer also, is He is talking about identifying with His death, just as followers of Christ do each time they celebrate Communion?

Dan Brown almost got it right. The Holy Grail does involve a person; Jesus Christ Himself. The cup represents His death for me. My quest is reached …

 BY DYING TO SELFISH DESIRES, …

Romans 6:6 (NLT) speaks about sharing in the suffering of Christ. “We know that our old sinful selves were CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.”

Galatians 2:20 (NLT) says MY OLD SELF HAS BEEN CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

Am I willing to die to my pride daily and give my life in serving Jesus, no matter what the cost? Help me to do so, Lord.

In Luke 14:25-34 (NLT), Jesus again speaks of me sharing in His suffering. He says, ... if you do not CARRY YOUR OWN CROSS and follow Me, you cannot be My disciple.

In Luke 9:23-26 Jesus said, If any of you wants to be My follower, you must give up your own way, TAKE UP YOUR CROSS DAILY, and follow Me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for My sake, you will save it. 

… AND IDENTIFYING WITH CHRIST, …

Paul, writing to the Philippians in Philippians 3:8 (NLT), spoke of his own experience, saying Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and BECOME ONE WITH HIM.” 

Jesus used James’ and John’s response as an opportunity to teach them what it means to be on a quest for the Holy Grail: to be a follower of Christ. Servanthood comes before Status. Only then could they understand that sitting in places of power with Christ must be seen from a totally different perspective.

Ephesians 1:20 (NLT) says

I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe Him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and SEATED HIM IN THE PLACE OF HONOUR AT GOD’S RIGHT HAND IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS.”

 THEN YOU WILL BE BLESSED BEYOND MEASURE …

Drinking from the Bitter Cup of the Holy Grail (the cup of Christ) is closely associated with being seated in places of honor with Christ. In the light of all that Christ has done for me, Ephesians 2:4-8 (NLT) makes more sense. It says,

But God is so rich in mercy, and He loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For He raised us from the dead along with Christ and SEATED US WITH HIM in the heavenly realms because we are UNITED with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of His grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all He has done for us who are UNITED with Christ Jesus. God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.”

 AS YOU SERVE THE SERVANT KING.

When Jesus spoke of sharing the cup of His suffering, I think He was referring not only to James being beheaded (Acts 12:2) and John being exiled to Patmos (Revelation 1:9) but he was inviting them and me to share in what led Him to the Cross; His willingness to do whatever it took to see others saved from the power of sin and death.

My quest for the Holy Grail is to be crucified with Christ or united with Christ which means to have His mission no matter what the cost. To serve in its fullest measure. If I identify myself with Christ I will identify with Him in His death and resurrection and sit with Him, united in His Purposes.

Simple but beautiful. Filled to the brim. Who is willing to drink?

John 12:26 (NLT2) says, Anyone who wants to be My disciple must follow Me, because My servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves Me.” 

It is not so much that I have the honor of sitting with You, but that You have humbled Yourself to sit with me. It is not about a quest to find the Holy Grailbut about drinking from the cup of Eternal Life already offered. It’s not about me asking You for favors but about me choosing to serve You. That blows my mind. I am servant to the Servant King.

Pastor Ross

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