The 2nd of a pair of sermons on Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
If everything that God had ever done was published in newspaper form, what would the main headline be? If it were possible to compile a list of God’s ten greatest achievements, what would be at the top of the list? Surely, it is the work that God has done for us in Christ, in securing our salvation.
Scripture draws on many different human situations to help us make sense of this. It takes us
- to the law court, and teaches us that in Christ we have been acquited; – justification
- into the home and teaches us that Christ has reconciled the wayward children to their loving father; – reconciliation
- into the temple, and teaches us that through the sacrifice of Christ the wrath of God has been averted; – propitiation
- to the market-place, and teaches us that Christ has paid the price for the release of slaves; – ransom
It had all begun with a rather tactless question from James and John. “Teacher,” they said, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
Jesus gently corrects them by pointing out that greatness in the kingdom of God does not consist in lording it over others, but in serving them. “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”
Our Lord reinforces it by refering to himself: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” The logic is this: if even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, then how much more his disciples? Worldly ideas of rank and privilege are out of order in the kingdom of God, because they are inconsistent with the mission of the Son of Man.
But then he adds, to show just how far his own servanthood extended, “and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Ransoms of various kinds crop up quite regularly in the news.
A few years ago, the Enigma code-breaking machine was held to ransom after it had been stolen from Bletchley Park museum. A ‘five-figure’ sum was reportedly demanded for its return.
More recently, a gang of thieves demanded a £3,000 ransom from a Catholic priest for the safe return of his dog. Rosa, a four-year-old Welsh Terrier, was in the back of Father David Lloyd’s car when it was stolen from outside his home at Saint Peter and the English Martyrs church near Dudley.
More recently still, a former Indian police officer revealed that ransom of 200m rupees (over £2m) had been paid to secure the release of popular film star Rajkumar at the end of his 108-day hostage.
The idea of ransom was also well-known in Bible times. In the OT, a ransom was frequently the price to be paid to release someone from a death sentence. In the NT, it often referred to the payment that would handed over in order to free slaves or prisoners of war.
Now, in any ransom, there are three things to be considered. There is a plight from which someone needs to be delivered. There is a price to be paid. And there is a person who is to pay that price. Consider these in relation to the work of Christ.
1. What is the plight from which we have been ransomed? We are in slavery to sin, condemned to death. We need someone who can not merely act on our behalf, but actually take our place. This is the meaning of ‘for’. If all this talk of redemption sounds like an idle tale, then it is probably because we have not taken our plight seriously enough.
But ‘no man that seeth himself to be a sinner really, can count himself a small or little sinner. Nor can it ever be, till there be a little God to offend, a little guilt to contract, a little law to break, and a little wrath to incur. All which are impossible to be, blasphemy to wish, and madness to expect.’ (Robert Traill)
2. What is the price with which we have been ransomed? What did he hand over? £3,000? £10,000 £2m ‘The Son of Man came…to give his life.’ 1 Pet 1:18f ‘You know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ.’
‘There is balm in Gilead; Christ has laid down his blood as the price of our redemption; and he offers himself and all his merits to us, to redeem us; he invites us to come to him; he has promised to give his Spirit, to enable us to do what is required. Why then, sinners, will ye not look after this great privilege? Why starve in the midst of plenty? Why perish when there is a remedy to save you? Would not he be thought to be mad, who having a pardon offered him, only upon the acknowledgment of his fault, and promising amendment, should bid the prince keep his pardon to himself; for his part, he was in love with his chains and fetters, and would die? Thou who neglectest redemption offered thee freely by Christ in the gospel art this infatuated person. Is the love of Christ to be slighted? Is thy soul, is heaven worth nothing? Oh then look after redemption through Christ’s blood!’ (Watson)
3. Who is the person who has ransomed us? ‘The Son of Man’. This was Jesus’ favourite way of referring to himself. In Mark’s Gospel, the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins, and is lord over the Sabbath. The Son of Man would suffer many things, and on the third day would rise again. The Son of Man would one day return in power and glory.
This was an exalted title, indicating that Jesus has the right to be served, although he chose not to exercise that right.
This was a messianic title, indicating that Jesus was consciously applying to himself the great ‘suffering servant’ passages of the Old Testament.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
And so Jesus offers himself to us in two ways in this great verse. He offers himself as our example, and he offers himself as our Redeemer.
As our example, he calls us to follow him in self-giving service, ‘for even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.’
But before we can benefit from Christ as our example, we need to receive him as our Redeemer. Our plight is so great, and the price so high, that only he could go so far as to ‘offer his life as a ransom for many.’ Have you accepted him – will you accept him – as your teacher, friend, redeemer and king. And then,
Let us learn how to serve,
And in our lives enthrone him
Each others’ need to prefer
For it is Christ we’re serving.