For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
Introduction: Christmas Is About . . .
Today and next Sunday I want to meditate with you on Mark 10:45. It is a very important Christmas text.
Christmas is about the coming of Christ into the world.
It's about the Son of God, who existed eternally with the Father as "the radiance of his glory and the exact representation of his nature," taking on human nature and becoming a man (Hebrews 1:3).
It's about the birth of a man by a virgin conceived miraculously (not sexually) by the Holy Spirit so that he is the Son of God, not the way you and I are sons of God, but in an utterly unique way (Luke 1:35).
It's about the coming of a man named Jesus in whom "all the fullness of deity was pleased to dwell" (Colossians 2:9).
It's about the coming of the "fullness of time" that had been prophesied by the prophets of old that
- a Ruler would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2);
- and a child would be born called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6);
- and a Messiah, an anointed one, a shoot from the stem of Jesse, a son of David, a King would come (Isaiah 11:1–4; Zechariah 9:9);
- and, according to our text today, Christmas is about the coming of the Son of Man who "came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).
This brief expression of Christmas in Mark 10:45 is what I hope God will fix in your mind and heart this year so that your faith in future grace will be strengthened and so that you will have a clear, short word of explanation that you can refer to when you are talking to others about what Christmas really means.
So we will take it one step at a time and make sure that the words are clear and that we understand why Jesus said them in this context.
Whoever Wishes to Become Great . . .
Let's get the story clear: James and John, two of Jesus disciples—the sons of thunder—came up to him and said (in verse 35),
"Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And Jesus said to them, "What do you want me to do for you? And they said to him, "Grant that we may sit in your glory, one on your right, and one on your left." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" And they said to him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. But to sit on my right or on my left, this is not mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."
What James and John Got Right
James and John get one thing right here, and most everything else wrong. They are right in verse 37 when they say that Jesus is destined for glory—"When you sit in your glory." And that is a good thing to be right about. There are some people in this room who are not yet right about that. Here's how you can tell. If you know that a company's stock is going to take off and go through the roof, you buy that stock and not the competitor's. If you know this building is going to stand after the storm and no others, you get in this building, and not the others. And if you know that Jesus is going to reign in glory in the end over every rival, then you follow Jesus and not his rivals. And some are not following Jesus and so don't have it right yet about his glory. You're not yet as far along as James and John.
They had that right. Jesus would take his kingly seat in glory someday and rule the world. Nobody really believes this who isn't following Jesus.
What James and John Got Wrong
But they probably didn't understand the cup and the baptism that Jesus was talking about in verse 38: "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" They said yes. But did they know? What was he talking about?
What is this cup? In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus pleaded with his Father, if there was another way besides the horror of crucifixion and abandonment, would he please take that way. But these were the words he used,
Abba! Father! All things are possible for you; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what you will. (Mark 14:36)
The cup was the death he was about to endure. So he was saying to James and John: if you want to rule with me in my glory the way you are asking, then you must die with me—you must drink the same cup.
And did they understand the baptism? "Are you able to . . . be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" In Luke 12:50 Jesus said, "I have a baptism to undergo, and how constrained I am until it is accomplished!" Jesus saw his death not only as a bitter cup to drink but an immersion—a baptism—in suffering. He said, in effect, my pathway to glory and to kingship is through suffering and death. If you want the kind of honor you are asking for, you must follow me in my suffering and death.
But there will be others who will follow like this, and I have only one right hand and one left hand. Who shall sit there? Verse 40: the one for whom it has been prepared by my Father. God the Father has decided this. It is not mine to change now.
So what he has done is take their desire for glory and show them that the path to glory is a pathway through suffering and death. That is what Christmas means: on Jesus' pathway from glory to glory, he came here to pass through suffering and death. Now he says, "Do you want to be great in glory with me? Walk with me on this path of suffering."
The Same Response to the Other Disciples
What happens, then, is that the other disciples get bent out of shape because of James and John's aggressive claim on the places of honor in the kingdom. What will Jesus say to them? He says basically the same thing he said to James and John, only with different words. Watch how he does it. Verse 41 says they are indignant with James and John. So Jesus calls them all around and says (in verse 42),
You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. 43) But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; 44) and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all.
Now that is the same as saying to James and John: if you want to be great with me in my glory, you must drink the cup of my suffering. If you disciples want to get in on the greatness, you must be a servant, and if you want to be first, the way James and John asked about the first places, you must be slave of all. But what does slave of all mean?
What It Means to Become Slaves of All
In the next verse, (10:45) he gives an example of what he means, namely, himself. "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." Notice the point here is serving that results in dying—a giving up of his life. So in verse 38, when he showed James and John the way to glory, he said that they would need to drink his cup and share his baptism, namely, death. And here in verse 45, when he shows the rest of the disciples the way to greatness, he gives his own death as an example: "the Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many." In both cases he is giving his death as an example of the kind of suffering and service that the disciples are called to.
That's the context of verse 45. It is part of a very radical call to discipleship. If you want to follow me and seek the glory of the kingdom, be prepared to suffer. That is the way I go, and those who follow me go the same way. I don't take the hard road while you take the easy road. The road that leads to life is hard and few there be that find it (Matthew 7:14). We take the same road. "He who would come after me must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34).
The Radical Call to Be Served by Jesus
Now in that context Jesus gives a powerful Christmas promise of future grace. As far as I know, no other religious leader in the history of the world has done what Jesus promised here. He says in effect in verse 45 that this radical call to discipleship—this call to come and drink the cup of suffering and service—this is not a call to serve Jesus, but a call to be served by Jesus as we serve others and to be ransomed by him from death. Let me say this again, to be sure you hear it correctly: the good news (the good news of Christmas) is that the radical call to Christian discipleship is NOT a call to serve Jesus, but to be served by Jesus as we serve others, and to be ransomed by him from death.
You see this in verse 45: "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." At first this only sounds like an example to follow, right? Don't lord it over your fellows; serve them. Why? Because the Son of Man set you an example: he serves. He gives his life. So at first the verse sounds like an example to follow.
Much, Much More Than an Example
But then you ponder for a few moments and it hits you. Wait a minute! This is not just an example for me to follow. He is not just saying, "Serve the way I serve." This is the Son of Man serving me! Ransoming me from my sin and my death! Refusing to be served by me. Insisting on being the Servant and the Savior in my life.
This is not just another teacher with some rules about how to live, gathering some radical disciples to live the way he lives and stir up a revolution. This is a man (and more than a man!) telling his disciples that he has come into the world to serve them; he does not want them to serve him; and he will lay down his life so that their lives can be ransomed from sin and death. This is unheard of. You need to feel how wild this is. No man ever spoke this way—except maybe in a mental hospital. No respected religious leader ever spoke this way. Either Jesus is above every ordinary teacher, with some supernatural power and dignity, or he is a lunatic.
When he calls for radical, self-sacrificing discipleship, he gives a reason in verse 45: "For [note the word!] even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom of many." Yes, this is a call to act the way he acted. But, O, so much more! The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve! Not to be served by whom? Whom does he not want to be served by? Answer: the very disciples that he is calling to drink his cup and endure his baptism and to be the slave of all.
"Be My Disciples—Don't Serve Me"
He is saying: Yes, drink my cup. Yes, share my baptism. Yes, serve others. Yes, be the slave of all. This is what it means to be my disciple. But don't serve me! I have not come to be served. I will not be served like this. I will be the servant. I have not come to be served, but to serve. In your relationship with me, I will be the servant. I will serve you. I will work for you.
Do you think you can drink this cup without my help and service? Do you think you can endure the suffering of my baptism without my serving you and helping you? Do you think you can become the kind of person that renounces fame and human status to serve all other people without my serving you—day and night all the days of your life? No you can't.
Do you recall what Jesus said in John 15:5?
I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from me you can do nothing.
Apart from me you can do nothing. You cannot drink my cup. You cannot endure my baptism. You cannot serve each other. You cannot become the slave of all. To do any of this, you must "abide in me and I in you." You must trust me to serve you. Abiding in the vine and being served by Jesus are the same thing. And both are the same as living by faith in future grace.
A Christmas Demand and Promise
Jesus is saying, "Christmas means that the Son of Man comes. And when he comes, he demands something and he promises something. He demands your life. All of it. He demands that you take on a life-style that sacrifices everything for the sake of serving others (Luke 14:33). This is hard. In fact, it is impossible. That's what Jesus said to the disciples in Mark 10:27 when they said, "Who then can be saved?" He said, "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God." It is impossible to drink the cup of suffering. It is impossible to become everybody's servant. UNLESS . . .
That is what verse 45 is all about. The great UNLESS . . . Unless the Son of Man is serving you day and night.
Mark 10:45 is what turns Christianity into gospel. If Christianity were only a great and radical teacher calling for the sacrificial obedience of radical disciples, it would not be good news. It would be just another ideology. Another philosophy. Another moral improvement program. If Christmas only meant that a man appeared on the scene of history to call others to be servants, it would not be good news.
We know that already. We know intuitively that we are to love and serve and sacrifice, rather than boast and seek our own status and lord it over others. We don't need a Messiah to tell us that. What we need is salvation from guilt and death and hell. And we need power to drink the cup of suffering in the path of service. We don't need another religious leader to say, "Follow me." We don't need another prophet, like Mohammed. We don't need another philosophical Buddha or Confucius, or another political organizer like Karl Marx or Mao Zedong. We don't need any more New Age mysticisms or psychological self-help strategies. What we need is Someone who can forgive our sins and ransom us from guilt and death and the wrath of God, and who can give us a new life with the power to die for each other in the service of love.
That is what Christmas is all about. That is what Mark 10:45 is all about. Jesus does not merely come as another teacher or philosopher or politician or mystic. He comes to do two things. One: to give his life as a ransom for many. (We will dig into that great work next week.) And he comes, secondly, to serve his disciples—to serve all those who will stop trying to earn his approval by serving him, and will humble themselves like little children and let him serve them. This is the help we need and the power we need. He is our Redeemer from guilt and death and hell. He is our helper day in and day out as he serves us by the power of his Spirit.
I commend him to you for your trust. For your enjoyment this Christmas.
Becoming Like Children on Christmas
Our new daughter, Talitha Ruth, arrived in our home Friday night at 9 1/2 weeks old. She smiled. She cooed. She ate. And she fell asleep in her crib. And slept for seven hours. She did not serve us at all. She is totally dependent on being served by us. If she insists on serving us rather than our serving her, she will die. This is why Jesus said, "Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).
It's almost Christmas. Open your heart to receive the best Christmas present imaginable: Jesus giving himself to die for you and serve you, all the rest of eternity. Receive this. Turn away from self-help and sin. Become like little children. Trust him. Trust him. Trust him with your life.