This is the pastor bringing the message entitled, The Cup of Suffering. In our preaching through the Book of Mark, we are in chapter 10, beginning at verse 35:
“And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came unto Jesus, saying, ‘Master, we would that Thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we desire.’ He said unto them, ‘What would ye that I should do?’ They said unto Him, ‘Grant unto us that we may sit, one on Thy right hand, and the other on Thy left hand, in Thy glory.’ But Jesus said unto them, ‘Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of; and can you be baptized with which I am baptized?’ They said unto Him, ‘We can.’ And Jesus said unto them, ‘Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: —But I can’t do the other—But to sit on My right hand and on My left hand is not Mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared'” (Mark 10:35-40).
What a wonderful day to see that! Who will it be on His right hand and on His left? Maybe some sweet, humble mother that the world never knew. Maybe a devout missionary who laid down his life.
“You know not what ye ask. Can you drink of the cup that I drink of?”
And when they said, “We can,” the Lord replied, “Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of.”
Our Lord Himself drank of that cup of suffering. In the fifth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, He prayed unto God “with strong crying and tears. And though a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered.” [Hebrews 5:8]
And you read together out of the sacred Word: “O God, let this cup pass from me. Not My will; Thine be done” (Matthew 26:39).
Our Lord Himself drank of that cup of suffering. John, the brother of James, drank of that cup of suffering. He lived to be over a hundred years of age. And in the whole century, the Christian knew nothing but persecution. And John himself was exiled to the Isle of Patmos to die of exposure and starvation. He drank of that cup of suffering. And James, the elder brother of John, drank of that cup of suffering. He was the first apostle to be martyred. He was beheaded under Herod Agrippa I.
You know, it’s unusual, I have never heard in my life a sermon on James, not one. Many, many sermons have I heard, even from our pastor, on James, the Lord’s brother, the author of the Book of James in the New Testament, and the pastor of the church in Jerusalem. But I have never heard in all of my long life a message on James, the brother of John, the martyred apostle of our Lord.
Reading from the Book of Mark—and it is strange to me that it is Mark who presents it—reading from the Book of Mark, there are several notices of this Apostle James, the elder brother of John. He’s the son of Zebedee and Salome, apparently an affluent family in Galilee. Mark speaks of the fact that they had servants in their homes. Mark mentions the fact that Salome ministered to our Lord Jesus of her substance—apparently an affluent family.
He was an apostle. The Book of Acts, chapter 1, says that an apostle had to be someone who was a disciple of John the Baptist, and who was a witness of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. So when I read the first chapter of John, Andrew finds Peter and brings him to the Lord. And that would mean that John brought James, his elder brother to the Lord. And in the story of the life of our Lord, there he is, one of the three.
When the Lord raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead, Peter, James and John are there. When the Lord is transfigured on the mount, Peter, James and John are there. When the four disciples asked the Lord of the days of the consummation of the age, James and John, Peter and Andrew are those who asked for the revelation of the denouement of the age. In the Garden of Gethsemane of which you read, Peter, James, and John are there. And when the Lord is raised from the dead and appears to the little group in Galilee, James and John are there.
And from Mark also we find something of the personal devotion of those two, James and John. They are just fanatically given to the Lord. They are hot-tempered when that village in Samaria refused to welcome Jesus. James and John asked for the fire of heaven to come down and burn them up. And that’s why Jesus called them the sons of Boanerges, “the sons of thunder.” They were ambitious for the Lord. In the passage that I have just read, they asked, in His glory and in His kingdom, one to sit on His right hand and the other on His left.
Then in the midst of it all, James is beheaded. Herod Agrippa I cut off his head. In that twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts, it is interesting to me, it starts off with Herod’s cutting off the head of James. But the chapter ends with Herod Agrippa being eaten up by worms—and he was only thirty-four years of age.
I often wonder, as you have, what kind of a life would it have been had James lived. Do you notice Herod Agrippa arrests for execution two men out of that apostolic group, Simon Peter and James? That is evidence in itself that James was a dynamic leader of the group and a marvelous exponent of the faith. So he slew James first. And I’ve often wondered, as I say, what kind of a life it would have been had James been given days and years, as his brother John was, who himself had one of the most gloriously effective ministries that mind could imagine. What kind of a life would it had been had James lived? Then as I prayerfully think through it, it may be that a life is more used of God and blessed of heaven in death than it is in length of days. Maybe God is honored more in suffering and in death than in length of life and success.
I read of a young man, not well, who appeared before a mission board to be appointed an emissary to Africa. And the doctor who examined the candidate said, “This young man cannot go; he’ll die. He’s not able to go.” And the young man replied, “In the building of a great bridge, under those piers that hold up the giant spans, are great rocks you never see, foundation stones that hold up the edifice. And my life can be like that. I can be an unseen stone, down underneath, holding up the great superstructure above.” Could that be true? Is it possible that God can be honored more by suffering and by death than by the gift of the length of days?
May we look at it, taking a page out of the history of our forty-ninth state, Hawaii? In 1780, the famous English sea captain, James Cook, discovered the Sandwich Islands, later changed to the Hawaiian Islands. And there was a young fellow on that island by the name of Kameha-meha. These islands in all of their history had been divided up into tribal groups, warring groups. And this young fellow Kameha-meha, just sixteen years of age at the time, listened to James Cook, the great English sea captain. And he, as he listened to James Cook, learned that the British Empire had been coalesced, had been made together, by conquest, by war. And he resolved that he would take those tribal groups in the Hawaiian Islands and conquer them and put them together into one great group.
Well, the young fellow was gifted beyond compare. He was a glorious warrior. It beats anything you ever heard in your life how those people looked upon Kameha-meha. For example, up there in the northern island, in [Kauai], when you go up there, there are two mountains up there that are joined together. And where they are joined together, in those great rocks is a great big hole. And they’ll tell you that the hole up there in [Kauai] that, that hole up there was made by a spear thrown by Kameha-meha.
And you’ll say, “Where was Kameha-meha when he threw the spear?”
“Well, he was in Oahu, and missed his target, and hit that mountain up there.” And Oahu is ninety-two miles away. It’s just amazing what they say!
Well, anyway, that brilliant warrior conquered the entire island group, put it together under one government, and he was the king. Well, in that conquest, Kameha-meha slew the father and the mother of a little eleven-year-old boy, such as you saw up here just now, Opukahaia. And the little boy in his heart said, “I want to leave. I want to escape,” having seen his father and mother slain before his very eyes. Off of the shore of Maui was an American sailing vessel. And that little boy swam from the shore to the vessel. And appeared before the Captain Brintnel, and asked Captain Brintnel if he could be his slave, if he could be his servant.
And the captain took the boy, brought him back home to America, to New Haven, Connecticut. There in New Haven, Connecticut, where the little lad grew up, serving in the household of Captain Brintnel—[Samuel] Mills, with Adoniram Judson, you remember, in the haystack prayer meetings, started the great first missionary movement in America—[Samuel] Mills found the boy, and won him to Jesus, and baptized him—the first convert of [Samuel] Miles.
And the lad, growing up, entered Yale University, the Divinity School, and gave his life to go back to his people and win them to Jesus. One day he was there standing on the steps of Yale Divinity School, weeping. And when a friend asked why, dissolving in tears, he said, for his people. He was going back and win them to Jesus. Now, listen, upon his graduation and preparing to return to Hawaii, he contracted typhus fever, and died of typhus fever in 1818.
The great [Boston] pastor, Lyman Beecher, preached his funeral sermon, and in the course of that sermon told the story of Opukahaia and his dedication to go back to Hawaii to win his people to the Lord Jesus. And the Boston pastor made appeal for somebody to take his place. There were seventeen who volunteered. And in 1820, those seventeen landed in Hawaii. And thereafter follows the most miraculous page in modern missionary history. They won that entire Hawaiian group of island people to the Lord Jesus. They had fifty thousand converts every year until the whole island group was Christian, belonged to the church.
Where did that come from? It came from the death of that Hawaiian lad, Opukahaia. I don’t think, had he lived, he could begin to have been as successful as he was in his death. God blesses human suffering and human death.
I so well remember in Warren County, where I was the pastor of Libby Reynolds when she was a little four-year-old girl. I remember a consecrated, dedicated woman there. She so impressed me that I went up to her one time and said to her, “I have never seen anyone like you.” She was giving her life to the children of Warren County, where Bowling Green is the county seat, where Western Kentucky University is located. She was giving her life in that association to reaching children—GA’s, RA’s, Sunbeam bands, Vacation Bible School, just pouring her life into those children.
And here’s why, and what happened: an affluent home in Warren County, her three children were in a car going to school. You know, I imagine, just imagining how children can be distracted by talking to one another, visiting with one another—as they drove that car up to cross the L & N Railroad, a Pan American passenger train, at a furious speed, ran into that car, and killed all three of those children instantly. And it was out of the death of those three precious children that this consecrated and affluent woman gave her life to reaching children for the Lord Jesus. It is possible that God can bless our suffering and even our death more than in our life of strength and length of days.
While I’m speaking of it, I went up to another woman one time. She had given her life to be a foreign missionary and was cut down by a tragic providence. And she was supporting six missionaries, six missionaries—out of the suffering and hurt, that great, beautiful dedication of that glorious woman.
Lord, I am human enough that I want to live. And You have been wonderfully good to me in length of days and in strength for ministry. And I thank You and praise You for it. But at the same time, I am not forgetful that God can bless the suffering and the death of those who are not allowed, like James, not allowed to finish life in a glory and in a triumph.
Change one letter, then I see
That the thwarting of my purpose
Is God’s better choice for me.
His appointment must be blessing
Tho’ it come in sad disguise,
For the end, from the beginning
Is open to His eyes.
No good thing will He withhold.
From denials oft we gather
Treasures of His love untold.
Well He knows each broken purpose
Leads to fuller, deeper trust
And the end of all His choices
Proves our God is wise and just.
Lord, I take it, then, as such.
Like the clay in hands of potter
Yielding wholly to Thy touch.
All my life’s plans in Thy molding,
Not one single choice be mine.
Let me answer unrepining,
“Father, not my will, but Thine.”
Don’t you be persuaded in your heart that because of the hurt in your life, and the suffering in your life, and the disappointment in your life, that you have failed. Maybe this is God’s way of making you a wonderful and glorious blessing.
It was thus with James, God’s first martyred apostle. And it can be true of us when we bow in His will, and give ourselves to His infinite and heavenly choice.
Copyright © 2013 The W. A. Criswell Foundation.
All Rights Reserved.
For more of Dr. Criswell’s sermons go to www.wacriswell.org.