Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 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.” Mark 10:42-45 (NIV)
As Jesus steps out in front to lead the way to Jerusalem, his disciples know he is walking into the lion’s den. It’s not surprising then that they are astonished and those who followed were afraid. The religious leaders in Jerusalem are hostile to Jesus. We know their power. What will they do to Him?
Jesus knows what they will do, and he tells the disciples quite clearly. “We are going up to Jerusalem” (v33). and here’s what is going to happen: The Son of Man will be betrayed, condemned, and handed over to the Gentiles. They will “mock Him, spit on Him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise” (v34).
A higher way?
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask… Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” (v35, 37).
This is the height of insensitivity. Jesus has just described the suffering He is about to endure. The cross is less than one week away (The story of Palm Sunday comes in chapter 11). Only a few days later and Jesus will be in the mocking, the spitting, the scourging, and the nailing. The mind of Jesus is gripped by the prospect of his own impending death. And his friends are already squabbling about the inheritance.
John Stott says “The brothers’ statement ‘We want you to do for us whatever we ask’ surely qualifies as the worst, most blatantly self-centered prayer ever prayed”
James and John wanted to be on the left and right of Jesus in glory. Christ was to have others on his left and right before that. This gives us a real insight into the human condition. By nature we are supremely interested in ourselves—our place, prospects, position, and recognition. All of this comes out in what James and John are asking: “Jesus, we want the prime positions beside you in glory.”
A middle way?
Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. (Matthew 20:20)
Matthew tells us that the mother of James and John was involved in this request. It’s worth thinking about this family. James and John were the sons of Zebedee, who owned a fishing business. This was a middle class family. Dad owns a small business and Mum is ambitious for her children.
When James and John became followers of Jesus – he gave them the nickname “Boanerges,” which means “Sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). That tells us a bit about their character—headstrong, confident, ambitious, and supremely focused on themselves, just like a lot of guys on the sports field, and in business today.
An inner way?
Our selfishness makes us insensitive to the needs of others. It makes us shallow. How can a marriage survive if two people are supremely interested in themselves? How can there be a healthy family or business or church if our greatest interest is in ourselves?
Thomas Carlyle and his wife, Jane, were especially focused on themselves. One writer thought that it was “good of God that Carlyle should have married Mrs. Carlyle, thus making two people miserable instead of four.”
Self interest chokes the growth of love. If you are going to love another person, you have to overcome the self interest that makes you insensitive to the needs of others. It ruins a marriage and it makes life miserable at work. It crushes young people and it ignores old people. That self interest is in us all. It’s the root problem we wrestle with all our lives.
Jesus Came To Expose Old Ways
…the Son of Man did not come to be served… (v45)
This is one of the most important statements in the Bible. It clearly explains why Jesus Christ came into the world. This mission statement comes in two parts—first the negative, then the positive.
To be successful in any mission, you need to be as clear about what you are not going to do as you are about what you are going to do. The best way to achieve nothing is to attempt everything.
The way of condemnation
God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world. (John 3:17)
Christ is very clear about what he did not come to do: He did not come to condemn the world. Do not confuse a ministry of condemnation with the ministry of Jesus. We are not in the business of condemning immorality or drug abuse. That is not our ministry. That is not why we are here, if we embrace the mission of Jesus. The law condemns, but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3).
If Christ wanted to condemn the world, he would have done it from heaven. Pour out judgment. Blitz the planet. But if the mission is to condemn, then you don’t leave heaven in order to take on the flesh of a baby lying in a manger. You don’t fast for 40 days and nights, and you don’t spend hours in prayer. You certainly don’t go to a cross and cry out “Father forgive them,” if your mission is to condemn.
The way of servitude
…the Son of Man did not come to be served… (v45)
The Lord Jesus Christ did not come into the world to condemn it. And the Son of Man did not come to be served. What does that mean?
To be served is to have other people do things for you. People work for you, people assist you, people get things done for you, people make life easier or better for you. The Son of Man did not come to be served. Jesus says, “I did not come into the world to get you to do things for me.”
Christ did not come to get you to do things for Him. He doesn’t need that. The book of Revelation gives us a glimpse of the glory of Christ seated at the right hand of His Father, surrounded by thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand angels (Revelation 5:11).
The book of Hebrews says that all God’s angels worship him, and “He makes His angels winds, His servants flames of fire” (1:6,7). When you see Jesus Christ with a hundred million angels serving Him it becomes clear—He doesn’t need us to do things for him.
The Son of Man did not come to be served. If you think that the mission of Jesus is to get you to do certain things for Him, you have not understood the gospel.
A new way
The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. (Revelation 22:3)
Wait a minute! Aren’t we supposed to serve God? Yes we are, but the Bible speaks about another day when His servants will serve him. There will be a new heaven and a new earth and serving Christ will be our joy forever when Christ comes in glory. If His Spirit lives in you, you will already find joy in serving Him. But that is not why Christ came into the world.
Some of us desperately need to hear this. You beat yourself up, believing that you haven’t done enough for Jesus Christ. You say to yourself “I’m not a good enough Christian. I don’t pray enough. I don’t evangelize enough. I don’t serve enough. I don’t love enough.” And the more you worry about it the more uptight you become.
Jesus says “That’s not why I came!” Jesus did not come to get you to do things for him. And when you see that it will be a great release, because it will free you from evaluating your life on the basis of activity.
Jesus Came to Walk the Road Never Traveled
…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve… (v45)
What was Jesus’ objective in coming into the world? The Son of Man came to serve, not to get you to do things for Him. He came to do something for you! Christ’s objective in coming was not to demand something from you, but to accomplish something for you. Not to get you to do something for Him but to do something for you.
The gospel is not about what you are doing for God, but what God is doing for you. How does Christ serve us? Is it by giving us everything we want and making life as we would want it to be? No. That’s the mistake James and John made: “We want you to do for us whatever we ask” (v35).
A ransom road
…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom… (v45)
How does Christ serve us? He gives his life as a ransom for many. A ransom is a price paid for freedom. And in this way, He does for us what we could never do for ourselves.
We use the word today if a person is kidnapped or held hostage. We talk about “paying a ransom.” In Bible times a ransom could be paid to free a slave. And, in some cases, if a person was facing the death sentence, a ransom could be paid to save the person’s life (Exodus 21:30).
All three meanings of the word “ransom” apply to what Jesus says:
- By nature we are hostage to an enemy. We follow the ways of this world because we are trapped in the kingdom of darkness (Ephesians 2:2).
- By nature we are slaves to ourselves. We follow the thoughts, desires and cravings of our own hearts (Ephesians 2:3).
- By nature, we are offenders against God, under the sentence of death and objects of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3).
Why do you need a ransom? Jesus says “I came to set you free from Satan’s power. I came to release you from the tyranny of self—living for yourself, dragged around by the power of your own thoughts, desires, and cravings. I came to lift the death sentence that would bring you under the wrath of God.” Jesus came to serve. He came to accomplish something for you that you could never do for yourself. He came to pay the ransom.
A life-giving road
…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life… (v45)
The price of this ransom was the perfect life of Jesus poured out for us in His death. Jesus uses two pictures to help us understand what His death involved—the cup He drank, and the baptism He endured. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (v38)
The cup of wine is often used in the Bible as a way of speaking about God’s judgment. The book of Revelation speaks about “the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath” (Revelation 14:10).
When Jesus died on the cross, the wine of God’s fury was poured full strength into the cup of His wrath and Jesus drank it. That’s how He paid the ransom. And on the last day, those who continue in rebellion will drink it too.
When he speaks about His baptism, he is speaking about a flood of suffering that will overwhelm his soul. That is what it took for Him to pay the ransom and that is the price of the ransom. No one else could pay it. This is why He came into the world.
A road for many
…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (v45)
Whose life will be changed because Christ laid down His life? Who will be set free from the kingdom of darkness, from the tyranny of self and from the sentence of death? To answer this, we must look at two places where the New Testament talks about a “ransom”:
- The Son of Man came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
- “For there is…one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (I Timothy 2:5-6).
The Bible says that the ransom is for “many” and that the ransom is for “all.” When God says that the ransom is for “many”—He reminds us that some people will not be saved. And when God says that the ransom is for “all,” He reminds us that all people can be saved.
Both these truths need to be heard, because the payment of Jesus’ shed blood is sufficient for all, and it is saving for many. The “many” are those who come to Him in repentance and in faith. You can look anybody in the eye and say “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). You need have no hesitation about this. Many have come, and many will come. The question is: Are you among the many?
By His death, Christ will bring many into the glorious freedom of the sons of God. Why should you not be among them? There is nothing you have ever done in the past that can exclude you, if you will turn to Him in repentance and faith. His death is sufficient for you.
Where Does Christ Lead His Followers Today?
Whoever wants to be first, must be the slave of all, 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. (v44, 45)
Jesus said this to His disciples when they had been thinking about themselves and their positions. There is a model, or a pattern here. If serving others is the mission of Jesus, how much more should it be the pattern of our lives? If even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, why would we think that we should go through life expecting other people to do things for us?
True freedom is not freedom from God and others in order to live for yourself. It is freedom from the tyranny of yourself in order to live for God and others.
You may say “That’s a long way from reality for me.” That’s why we need the ransom! I need the Redeemer to storm my life. I need His Spirit in me. That’s why He came. This is what He offers. Salvation is about receiving from Christ, so that you become like Christ! “He died for all, that those who live might not live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Corinthians 5:15)
Believing the gospel
Can this Redeemer, who paid the ransom, really set you free from a life of self-interest and insensitivity? Do you believe that He can change you at that level? Believing the gospel means answering “yes” to that question.
What happened to James and John? We’ve seen their insensitivity and self interest. What happened to these men?James became the first of the apostles to be martyred. Herod had him put to death with the sword (Acts 12:2). He overcame self interest and laid down his life for the cause of Christ. John lived a long life, and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he wrote the fourth gospel, three letters of John and the book of Revelation.
Of all the New Testament writers, John speaks about love with the greatest depth and the greatest sensitivity. Read the letters of John and you will see that there is depth, strength, patience, kindness, and love:
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)
What happened to the old insensitivity and self interest? John has become a different person. If Christ can do this for John, He can do this for you. He can do it for someone you love. This is the hope of the gospel. Great change is possible for you through walking with Jesus, by the Spirit, over time.
Think about the difference this would make in your marriage, your family, our church or in your workplace, if by the Spirit of Jesus you were to serve, rather than being served. Imagine a husband and wife who bring blessing to each other, rather than make demands of each other. A community of believers who choose what is best for the advance of the gospel, rather than what is most comfortable for themselves.
Imagine a workplace where people see the Spirit of Jesus in the lives of His followers. Because they are learning that the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. If that was life for Him then it will be life for us also. Salvation is about receiving from Christ, so that you may become like Christ!
 John Stott, The Cross of Christ p.286
 Bengel, – cited in James Denney “The Death of Christ,” p.30.
 Alfred Lord Tennyson (paraphrased) 1885, from a conversation with Margot Asquith about Thomas & Jane Carlyle, p. 114, in Brewer’s Famous Quotations, by Nigel Rees, Sterling Publishing, 2006.
 William Lane cites, Psa 75:8, Isa 51:17-23, Jer 25:15-28, 49:12, 51:7, Lam 4:21f, Ezek 23:31-34, Hab 2:16, Zech 12:2 Commentary on Mark p.380.
 John Stott (paraphrased), The Message of Galatians, p. 141, InterVarsity Press, 1971.
© Colin S. Smith
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