I really want to focus today on verse 45, because it’s one of those verses which we come across now and again which briefly sums up the whole of the gospel and which encapsulates everything which we need to know and believe about the Saviour, Jesus Christ. But before we get to that verse, we have verses 32 to 44 where the Lord Jesus once again predicts his death and resurrection before speaking to his disciples about greatness in his kingdom.
And so, we see from verse 32 that the Lord and his disciples were on the way to Jerusalem. That means we’re nearing the end of Mark’s gospel, because the whole of the gospel culminates in Jerusalem and in the events of that first Good Friday and Easter Sunday when our Saviour died to pay for our sins and when he was raised to give us life. According to verse 32, the Lord was leading the way. With him are the twelve disciples, who were astonished; and another group of followers who were afraid. Why were they both astonished and afraid? Well, no doubt it was because of the Lord’s willingness to go to the place of suffering and death. On two previous occasions — back in 8:31 and 9:31 — he has predicted his suffering and death at the hands of the elders and chief priests and teachers of the law. He had made clear what would happen to him in Jerusalem. And so, now that he’s heading there, now that he’s set his face to go there, some are astonished at his willingness to go there; and others are afraid of what will happen there.
And sure enough, once more he explained to his disciples what was going to happen to him. We’re going up to Jerusalem, he explained, and ‘the Son of Man’ — and he’s the Son of Man — the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law; and they will condemn him to death; and then they’ll hand him over to the Gentiles who will mock him and spit on him and kill him. But that’s not the end of the story; that’s not the final word; death was not the end for our Saviour, because after he was killed, he was raised from the dead, triumphant over the grave, to ascend to his Father’s right hand side and to give salvation to all his people. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, suffered and died on the cross to pay for our sins and he was raised again afterwards; and all who believe in him receive from him the forgiveness of sins and the sure and certain hope that just as he died and was raised, so all who believe in him will likewise rise from the dead to live with him forever. And so, you need to believe in him; you need to rely on him and on him alone for peace with God and the hope of everlasting life, because whoever does not believe will be condemned for your sins and shortcomings, and you will suffer eternal punishment for all the ways you have dishonoured and disobeyed the God who made you and gave you life. But whoever believes will be saved. So, believe in him, the only Saviour who was prepared to go to Jerusalem and to suffer and die for us and for our salvation.
But look what happened next. The Lord was thinking about what would happen in Jerusalem, and how he would give up his life for our salvation. That’s what he was thinking about. But James and John are thinking of something else entirely. They come to the Lord with a request. Verse 37:
Let one of us sit at your right hand and the other at your left hand in your glory.
There’s one good thing that can be said about their request: they understood that the Lord Jesus was a King who would live for ever in glory. They got that right. But their request betrayed something about themselves, because it showed that they wanted a privileged place for themselves. The right hand and the left hand were the places of honour and power and authority. And that’s what they wanted for themselves. And, if you look down to verse 41, you’ll see that the other disciples — when they found out what James and John had requested — were indignant. They were annoyed; annoyed presumably because James and John wanted to rule over them from this privileged place at the Lord’s side.
And the Lord’s response to James and John and to the other disciples is twofold. First of all, in verse 38 he makes clear to them that the way to glory comes through suffering. He refers to a cup and a baptism, both of which were images used in those days to refer to suffering. So, you want the place of honour, do you? But are you prepared for the suffering that must come first? And then, secondly, in verses 42 and 43 and 44, the Lord made clear that while those who belong to this unbelieving world seek to lord it over one another, the Lord’s people are to be very different. Instead of wanting to lord it over one another, instead of wanting to rule over one another, the Lord’s people are to serve one another. Greatness in Christ’s kingdom means loving and serving your neighbour so that instead of living a selfish life, with ‘me’ at the centre, and everyone else is here to serve me and to do what I want, we’re to live selfless lives of service to others. Instead of seeking the place of privilege and honour and authority, we’re to seek the place of service. That’s what it means to be a member of Christ’s kingdom.
And by living like that, we’re only following the example of our King. And that takes us to verse 45 where the Lord — referring once again to himself as the Son of Man — tells us that he did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. In this verse, he gives us the reason why he came to earth; and he explains that reason by using two pictures.
And the first picture he uses is the picture of a servant. The Son of Man came to serve. Now a servant is, of course, one who serves; and the picture we should keep in mind is of a servant in a house, waiting at table, offering food and drink to the guests. He’s not there to be waited on himself; he’s there for the benefit of others, to serve their needs and to give them what they require. Now, as soon as you say that, then you realise what a staggering thing this is for the Lord Jesus to say, because after all, he’s God; he’s the Master; he’s the Lord. He’s the Lord and we’re his servants. We’re meant to serve him and to carry out his requests. Nevertheless, here he is, saying to his disciples that the reason he came to earth was to serve. And just to make sure that we get this straight in our minds, he says it in two ways. First, the negative: he did not come to be served. Well, we expect the opposite, don’t we? We’d expect him to say that he came to be served. But he didn’t say that; he said: he did not come to be served. And then he states the reason why he came positively: he did not come to be served, but to serve.
Well, of course, this is in line with what the apostle Paul tells us in Philippians 2 where he says this about him:
being in very nature God, [he] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.
He came to be a servant. And, of course, as we read the gospels, we see this very clearly. Think of the people who used to come to him, confessing their need. People who were blind and lame and sick; and he used to say to them:
What do you want me to do for you?
We’ll see it in Mark 10:51 where he asked Blind Bartimaeus:
What do you want me to do for you?
There he is — the servant — asking men and women what is it they would like him to do for them. It’s staggering really. On one occasion, Jairus came up to him, because he was worried about his sick daughter; she was only 12 years old; and she was dying. And so her father said to the Lord Jesus:
Please come and put your hands on her.
And immediately, immediately the Lord Jesus did what he asked and he went with Jairus to see his daughter.
Now — for us — to see a king or a president or a prime minister is hard enough. But to expect an important person like a ruler to come to our home to see our sick child is unimaginable. They are far too busy; far too important. They aren’t interested in ordinary people like us with our everyday problems. They have far more important things to do. But the Lord Jesus was here, willing to welcome people and to listen to them and to do whatever they asked of him.
Or we can think as well of that time when the Lord Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. There he was — the Eternal Son of God, Mighty God, worthy of honour and praise — and yet he got up, wrapped a towel around his waist, and began to do this job which only the lowliest servant was expected to do.
Or whatever about John 4 and the story of how the Lord Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well. Now, at that time, he was tired and hungry; his disciples had gone off to fetch some food and he remained at the well to rest. He was thirsty as well, because when the woman appeared, he asked her for a drink. But then, it’s as if he forgot all about his hunger and thirst and his tiredness; and he began to speak to that woman about spiritual matters and spiritual thirst. She was in need of the Saviour; and she needed forgiveness and she needed a new life; and he forgot his own needs and focused entirely on what she needed.
When we read the gospels we discover that what the Lord Jesus said in this verse is perfectly true: when he came to earth, he didn’t come to be served, but to serve. He went about doing what he could for the people around him.
Now, this is one of the reasons the Lord Jesus is so special and so worthy of our love and devotion. He was prepared to come down from heaven to earth for us. He came for our benefit. He came to help us and to serve us and to provide us with what we needed. Other leaders expect us to serve them. That’s what the Lord Jesus was referring to in verse 42 when he said that the leaders of the Gentiles used to lord it over the Jews. At that time the Romans — the Gentiles — had occupied Israel and were ruling it; and they were throwing their weight around and taking taxes off the people and imposing Roman rule on them. But the Lord Jesus was completely different: the reason he came to earth was for our benefit. He came to help us and to give us what we need. And, of course, what we needed, more than anything else, is implied by the next picture the Lord Jesus uses.
The second picture is of a ransom, given to release captives. So, for instance, in Bible times, prisoners of war might be released on the payment of a ransom. Imagine if your best soldiers had been taken captive. You would want them back. And so you would enter into negotiations with the enemy and come to terms with them and agree a price in order to set free your best men. Slaves might also be set free on payment of a ransom; and indeed if the slave could save up enough money himself, he was allowed to pay for his own release. Some of us were reading about this on Wednesday evening when we were studying Leviticus 25 and the right of redemption which every Israelite received from God. However, there’s another use of the word which is helpful. In Exodus 21 we read about what should happen if a man had a bull which attacked and killed another man. Well, the bull must be killed, stoned to death. But under certain circumstances — if the owner was negligent, for instance — the owner of the bull must be killed as well. He must be condemned and executed if he were — in some way — responsible for what happened. However — and this is the important bit — it was possible for the owner of the bull to pay a ransom to redeem his life. In the eyes of the law, he was guilty and deserved to die; the law condemned him. However, it was possible for him to pay a price, a ransom, and so be spared.
And that’s what we need to keep in mind when we hear the Lord Jesus tell us how he did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. The Lord Jesus came to earth to hand over a ransom in order to free those who were condemned and deserving of punishment.
Now, this implies several things. Firstly, the Lord Jesus was referring to us: to men and women and children like us who are condemned by God’s law and who deserve to be punished because of the guilt of our sins. We were thinking of this recently as we studied the story of the rich, young ruler who wanted to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. The Lord Jesus referred him to the law; and we saw how just like the rich, young ruler, none of us is able to keep God’s law perfectly and perpetually. Think of the very best person you know, the one who seems the kindest, the most selfless person you know; the one you admire the most for the quality of his or her life. I’m sure you can think of someone, someone who really stands out as a good and decent person. But think of that person for even a minute; and as you recall what makes them so good, you’re also able to recall one or two flaws as well. Maybe you remember something they did which was not right. Or you remember some bad habit they have, some weakness they possess. Well, if the very best of us is flawed, then all of us are flawed. All of us stand before God as guilty sinners, because all of us has sinned and we’ve fallen short in so many ways. None of us is able to stand up to his searching gaze as he looks into us and through us and as he sees all that we have ever done wrong.
And yet, because of God’s great love, he sent his Son into the world to pay the ransom to set us free from the condemnation and the punishment we deserve. The reason the Lord Jesus came to earth was to provide us with what we needed; and what we needed more than anything else was to be set free from condemnation and everlasting punishment.
Secondly, the picture of the ransom implies a price was paid. And the price the Lord Jesus paid to set us free was his own life. He did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom. He’s the only person who has never sinned; he’s the only person who always did what was right; he never sinned and he never fell short. He lived a perfect life of obedience. And the Eternal Son of God gave up his perfect life as the ransom to pay for our sins and shortcomings.
You see, there’s nothing we could give to God to pay for our sins and are shortcomings. After all, what could we offer to God to make up for a lifetime of sin? Even our best deeds are spoiled by sin and even if we were able from this moment on to live a perfect life, nothing we do in the future can make up for our sins in the past. There’s nothing we can offer to God to make up for our sins. But the Lord Jesus Christ gave his perfect, priceless life to pay for our sins; and his perfect, priceless life was the ransom needed to set us free.
And then thirdly, the price was paid for many. Someone once asked the Lord Jesus whether there will be many or few who will be saved. And the answer the Lord gives here is that there will be many.
Some of us here today have already been set free from the guilt of our sin. You’re trusting in Christ and you know that his life was the ransom required to set you free from condemnation so that now you’re pardoned by God and you’re bound for the glory of the life to come. And so, you’re able to rejoice today, because of what Christ the Saviour has done for you and how he gave up his life for you when he died on the cross. But perhaps there are others here today and you wonder whether you can be saved, and whether God will accept you and forgive you for all that you have done wrong. You’re aware of your shortcomings and your guilt and the things which aren’t right. You know that before God you’re guilty and deserve to be condemned. And you’re wondering whether you can be saved. Well, the good news of the gospel is that you can be saved. The reason the Lord Jesus came into this world was to give his life as a ransom for many; and so there will be many who are set free by his death; and you too can be one of them, if only you will confess your sins to God and ask him to forgive you for the sake of Christ the Lord who gave up his life as a ransom to pay for our sins. Relying on him and him alone, ask God to save you. And since the Lord Jesus has paid the ransom for many, you can be assured that the value of his priceless, perfect life is enough to cover over all of your sins too. If he said he gave his life as a ransom for a few only, you would have a reason to worry. But since he said that he gave his life as a ransom for many, then there’s no reason to hesitate and you should straightaway ask God to pardon you for the sake of Christ who gave up his life for our salvation.
And if you have trusted in Jesus Christ, then consider this: The price has been paid. The cost has been met. There is no condemnation for those who are trusting in Christ Jesus. Though the Devil may accuse you, though you may be reminded daily of your faults and failures and your weaknesses and your mistakes, nevertheless, the price has been paid; and you have been freed; and you will never ever come under condemnation. And when Christ comes again and you’re brought in to stand before the Lord God in all his majestic glory and holiness, then you need not be afraid, and you need not think that you do not belong in his presence, because the price has been paid, the ransom has been handed over, God the Son himself has paid the price for you, because he wanted you — sinner though you are — to be with him for ever. And when you enter the glory to come, you may ask yourself:
Why am I here? How did I get here? How did I come to be here, in God’s presence, around his throne, with all his angels and all of these many others?
And the answer the Lord Jesus will give is this:
You are here, because I did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for you.