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 and Review: Don't "Serve" Jesus
Last week we focused on the spectacular truth about the coming of the Son of Man—that he came NOT to be served, but to serve. The reason this is so important to see is that in the preceding verses Jesus had just laid some radical expectations on his disciples. He had told James and John that they would be required to drink the cup of his suffering (v. 39), and he had told the other ten disciples that, if they want to be great in the kingdom, they must become servant of all (v. 44). So he is expecting them to be radically different from the way humans ordinarily act. They are to serve each other and all people, even non-Christians, and in that service drink the cup of whatever suffering it will cost. And it will cost.
The Heart of Christianity
Now if that were the only message of Christianity, it would not be good news. There would be no gospel. I need more than for someone to tell me what I should do and should be. I need help to be that and do that. This is why Jesus says what he says in verse 45. "The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve." What a horrendous mistake it would be if we heard Jesus' call to be the servant of all in verse 44 as a call to serve him. It is not.
It is a call to learn how to be served by him. Don't miss this. This is the heart of Christianity. This is what sets our faith off from all other major religions. Our God does not need our service, nor is he glorified by recruits who want to help him out. Our God is so full and so self-sufficient and so overflowing in power and life and joy, that he glorifies himself by serving us.
He does this by taking on a human nature and seeking us out and then telling us that he did NOT come to get our service, but to be our servant. In other words, he is saying that the demand that we be servants and that we drink the cup of suffering in service—that demand is where he wants to serve us.
Jesus Wants to Serve Us
Here is a general truth I give you to ponder and believe: every time Jesus commands something for us to do, it is his way of telling us how he wants to serve us. Let me say it another way: The path of obedience is the place where Christ meets us as our servant to carry our burdens and give us his power. When you become a Christian—a disciple of Jesus—you do not become his helper. He becomes your helper. You do not become his benefactor. He becomes your benefactor. You do not become his servant. He becomes your servant. Jesus does not need your help; he commands your obedience and offers his help.
This is why becoming a Christian is a humbling thing. We admit that we need help. And we turn to Christ and say, "I can't be or do what I know I am supposed to be and do. I am desperate. I need something way beyond what is inside of me or in any other ordinary person. I need you. I turn to you. I have nothing to offer in trade or purchase. I trust you to show me mercy. I trust you to be my servant."
When we do that, when we submit to him in that way, Christ becomes our servant. And when he does, all of his other radical commands are no longer things we do for him, but things he enables us to do for others. The Christian life is a life of serving others in the strength that he supplies as our servant. It is loving others with the love he gives us as our servant. It is sacrificing and suffering with the hope and joy and patience that he gives us as our servant.
Christian living is walking in the shadow of our servant King. It is making sure that we stay in the path where he loves to serve his people—the path of faith and love.
I know that the apostle Paul called himself the "servant of Jesus Christ" (Romans 1:1). This is not a contradiction of what Jesus is teaching here in Mark 10:45. Jesus himself called us his servants in other contexts: "The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him" (John 13:16). The idea of servant is being used in two different ways. We are the servants of Jesus in that we submit to his authority and his right to tell us to do whatever he pleases. But we are not his servants in the sense that he needs our help and that his enterprise in the world is sustained by our energy. He is not our servant in the sense that we command him how to live. He is our servant in the sense that he uses all his divine resources to help us and strengthen us and guide us and support us and provide our needs.
He Gives to All Men Life and Breath and Everything
Acts 17:25 shows what is bad about "serving" God:
He is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything.
In other words God does not want to be served in any way that implies we are supplying his need or supporting him or offering him something that he does not already own by right.
Therefore we simply cannot negotiate with God. We have nothing of value that is not already his by right. We cannot service him. His car never breaks down. It never runs out of gas. It never gets dirty. He never gets tired. He never gets depressed. He never gets caught in traffic so that he can't get to where he wants to go. He never gets lonely. He never gets hungry.
In other words, if you want what Jesus has to give, you can't buy it. You can't trade for it. You can't work for it. He already owns your money and everything you have. And when you work, it is only because he has given you life and breath and everything. All we can do is submit to his spectacular offer to be our Servant. And this submission is called faith—a willingness to let him be God. Trust him to be the Supplier, the Strengthener, the Counselor, the Guide, the Savior. And being satisfied with that—with all that God is for us in Jesus. That's what faith is. And having that is what it means to be a Christian.
Jesus Came "to Give His Life as a Ransom for Many"
But now let's take the specific act of Jesus' service that he mentions in Mark 10:45. "The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." Jesus came to "give his life as a ransom for many." This is what Christmas is about. He came. He did not come to be served. He came to give his life a ransom for many. Let's think about this act of service.
It Was Intentional
First of all, let it sink in that this act of giving his life as a ransom was intentional. It says he came to do it. Christ did not come to earth for other reasons and then get caught up in a plot that resulted in his death. He came to die. Hebrews 2:14 puts it plainly:
Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.
Jesus came to die.
Look back in this very context to Mark 10:33–34. Jesus is on the road going up to Jerusalem. There is fear and amazement in the air, because everyone suspects something tremendous is going to happen. Jesus tells them what he is walking into, willingly:
Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and will deliver Him to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock Him and spit upon Him, and scourge Him, and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again.
So Jesus is knowingly walking into the jaws of suffering and death. Verse 45 says why: He came to give his life a ransom for many. Don't miss this. Jesus is choosing to suffer. He is choosing to die. He is participating intentionally in his own execution.
His Death Is a "Ransom"
Now why is his death called a ransom? "The Son of Man came to give his life a ransom for many." Ransom is a good translation. The Greek word here (lutron) meant just that—a payment to release someone from some kind of bondage: prisoners of war, slavery, debt. So the implication is that Jesus sees his death as a ransom to release many from bondage. He is paying what they cannot pay so that they may go free. He is substituting himself for them. And at the cost of his life, they get freedom.
So this ransom is describing a substitution. Jesus in the place of the many. Sometimes people say that the word "for" doesn't have to mean substitution. "Ransom for many," they say, may only mean, "for the benefit of many," not, "in the place of many." But listen to this compelling word from Leon Morris:
Even if . . . we take the substitutionary meaning out of the preposition ["for" = anti], we have not taken it out of the passage, for the situation [in view] is one in which the many are condemned, their lives are forfeit. If Jesus gives His life "a ransom for many" and thereby they are released from their condemnation, then a substitutionary transaction has taken place, understand the individual words as we will. (Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross [Grand Rapids; Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955], p. 36)
That seems exactly right to me. But what is the bondage or slavery that the many are in that they need to be ransomed from?
What Are "the Many" Ransomed From?
Jesus describes us in John 8:34 as enslaved to sin: "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin." He did not see us as occasionally sinning, but as under the power of sin. We are slaves of sin and we need to be ransomed from its power.
But that's not the worst of it. Jesus taught that the penalty for sin is eternal punishment. In Matthew 25:46 he says, "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." Sin brings the wrath of God. It brings judgment. If we don't find rescue from the guilt of our sin, we will be punished, Jesus says, forever, because sin is an infinite offense against an infinitely holy God. So the slavery and the bondage that we need ransoming from is the slavery of sin and eternal punishment.
How Do We Know We Need Ransoming?
That is what Jesus comes to do: ransom many from the guilt and power of sin and the penalty of eternal punishment. That is our condition. How do we know this is so?
First, our conscience tells us that we are sinners. We know that we have fallen short of our own standards, and therefore how much more must we have fallen short of God's. But what about the penalty of that? It is amazing how we excuse ourselves here. Some say, "I am not worse than others." Some say, "My sins are only small, compared to the sins of others." Some say, "God would not condemn me, because he is loving." Some say, "Eternal punishment would be unjust."
But what are all these? They are opinions of men. How can you know how God will respond to your sin when you die? The answer is written by God in your heart (Romans 1:32); and written plainly in his Word. Therefore, do not let your own mind make up an answer to this. Way too much hangs on it. Search the Word of God. Seek for his answer and he will show you. I believe the answer is plain in Scripture: our condition of sin will bring judgment and wrath on us after we die if we do not find a rescue. "The wages of sin is death," said the apostle Paul, "but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). There are two destinies: eternal life, and eternal death. Eternal death is what we need to be saved from because of our sin.
How Does Jesus Ransom Us?
So what then is the way Jesus rescues us? Jesus says, "The Son of Man came . . . to give his life as a ransom for many." He gives his life for the many. That is, he dies for many. The ransom price is his life. This is why the Bible says again and again that Christ died to save us. "While we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). We were "justified by his blood" (Romans 5:9). "We were reconciled to God by the death of his Son" (Romans 5:10). "He bore our sins in his body on the cross" (1 Peter 2:24). "Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust" (1 Peter 3:18).
The heart of the Christian message is that Christ came to give his life a ransom for many. That is, to die for many. That is: to save many from their sin and from its guilt and power and penalty in eternal punishment.
Are You in "the Many"?
Now the last question is: who are the many? Are you in the many? Were you ransomed when Christ died? Are you still under the guilt and power of sin when you might be free? Are you moving toward eternal life or eternal punishment? Who are the many that were ransomed by the Son of Man when he gave his life?
Turn with me to John 15:13. Here Jesus answers the question about whom he ransomed. He says, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." He says that he will lay down his life for his friends. He will ransom his friends. So here is the question for us this Christmas: Are you a friend of Jesus? If you are, you were ransomed. If you aren't, you can become one this morning. What does it mean to be a friend of Jesus?
The next verse explains (John 15:14): "You are My friends, if you do what I command you." This is not how you become a friend. This is the way you act when you are a friend. This is not the way you become his friend. It is the evidence that you are ransomed. The ransom is what frees you and empowers you to do what Jesus commands you to do. First you know yourself ransomed, then you enjoy the freedom and power and fruit of the ransom.
So we have come back to where we started. Jesus did not come to be served but to serve. You can't serve your way into the friendship of Jesus. If you want to earn wages from Jesus, you are not his friend. Right in John 15:14–16 he makes clear that you can't be a slave and a friend at the same time:
You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you.
Jesus did not come in search of slave labor. He does not need it. He came in search of those who would become his friends. That is, he came in search of those who would trust him to serve them. TRUST HIM TO SERVE THEM! For these he laid down his life. For these he gave his life as a ransom. These are the many in Mark 10:45. Everyone who trusts the servant Christ as Satisfier, Supplier, Guide, Forgiver.
What creates the friendship is that Jesus chooses you and opens his heart to you and reveals the glory of the Father. (John 15:15: "All things that I heard from my Father I made known to you.") In fact, this is the essence of becoming a friend of Jesus: you hear in the words of Jesus and you see in the work of Jesus the revelation of God the Father. That revelation changes you. It causes you to be born again. It wakens in you faith that Jesus is the final revelation of God, and that God loves you in Christ, and that he will serve you for all eternity. This is what it means to become the friend of Jesus: seeing in him the all-satisfying glory of God, and trusting him to be your servant-guide and your servant-helper, forever.