The Ransom

Original Date: 
Sunday, March 12, 2017

Mark 10:32-52 The Ransom

Jason McElwain is severely autistic. He did not talk until he was 5; he couldn't chew food until nearly a year after that. He also wore a diaper for much of his first six years.

But he always loved sports. His older brother, Josh, used to take him everywhere: to bowling lanes and golf courses and basketball courts, and it gave Jason purpose.

"He was different mentally, clearly," Josh says. "But physically, we were able to play the same sports. It kind of connected him more than anything."

He became obsessed with basketball, standing in front of a hoop every summer morning, shooting from sun-up until he was forced inside at night. When he got to junior high, he eagerly tried out for the basketball team. He didn't make the cut.

His mother left a message at the school. She was desperate, and explained that Jason didn't have much in life, and could he please be on the team? A student-manager position was created for McElwain, and though he desperately wanted to play, he was as passionate as anyone on the court. He wore a dress shirt and tie to games, and jumped up and down as if their winning baskets were his. After practices, McElwain would go to the YMCA so he could shoot and dribble.

"He was almost like a little walking encyclopedia of basketball," says former teammate Devin DePoint. "He could recite the most random things people wouldn't remember. People understood how much time he put into helping the team, how much he lived and breathed basketball. He really acted like an assistant coach and a player in practice. He was just always there."

Then, on Feb. 15, 2006—senior night—this happened:

It’s not the way it usually works. The behind-the-scenes guy doesn’t usually become the star. The manager on the end of the bench doesn’t usually end up writing two books or having Hollywood movie studios competing to tell the story of his life. People who fetch water and wipe up other people’s sweat don’t usually get much recognition.

But maybe they should.

In our text today, Jesus turns the way things usually work on their head. He tells us that the path to greatness lies through service. He gives us a different picture of what it means to be great.

My focus is this morning is going to be on Mark 10:35-45. I want to walk through the passage in three sections, and then I’ll have two points of application.

A Different Path to Glory
So, first, verses 35-40. I’ve labeled this section “A Different Path to Glory.”

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

39 “We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

We have to say, right away, that this is a bold request by James and John. I mean, look at how they lead it off: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” That’s a pretty presumptuous thing to say, don’t you think? This is sort of like if you find a Genie in a bottle and he tells you that you can have three wishes. Everybody knows the first thing you ask for is unlimited wishes.

That’s more or less what James and John are doing here. Their nickname, given to them by Jesus, is “Sons of Thunder”; and they are living up to it here. They are being rather aggressive and very ambitious.

Have you ever made a request like this of God? “Jesus, I’d like you to do whatever you ask.” We might not say it quite so bluntly, and yet sometimes we get to feeling like we should be in charge instead of Him.

And yet, Jesus listens to their request. “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

James and John are shameless in their self-promotion. They believe that Jesus is destined for great things. And while they are correct in believing that Jesus will enter into glory, their understanding of what that means is all wrong.

They figure that Jesus is going to gain an earthly throne. That He is going to become King of Israel and drive the Romans out. And when the great and glorious day of Jesus’ victory comes, they want an inside track into being His top lieutenants.

James and John remind me of the political “hangers-on” we see so much of today. Whenever we have an election all of these political action committees and donors come forward to spend millions of dollars helping their candidate get elected. Why do they do it? Is it because they believe so fiercely in the American government that they want to see the best candidate elected? No. It’s because they hope that when the new guy gets elected he’ll remember them and bestow all sorts of favors on them.

And that’s what James and John are hoping for here. They believe Jesus is destined for great things and they’re hoping He’ll take them along for the ride.

Now, I want you to notice that Jesus does not rebuke James and John for their ambition. Jesus is not opposed to a desire for greatness or a wish to be significant. Throughout this passage Jesus is comfortable with His disciples’ hopes to live lives of great meaning. It’s just that, the way to get there is different than they think.

James and John are hoping for military triumph and political power, but Jesus tells them He is traveling a different path to glory. He says, “"You don't know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?"

Both the cup and baptism are images that are often used in the Old Testament as symbols of divine judgment. Isaiah talks about the “cup of God’s wrath” and the flood of Noah was like a baptism in judgment. Later, when Jesus is praying in the garden for “’this cup to be taken from me”; He’s talking about the trial and suffering He knows He is about to endure on the way to the cross.

So when Jesus talks about the cup and baptism with James and John, He is saying that His path to glory is through suffering. It’s not as simple as a great victory parade, or popular acclamation. There will be no crown without a cross.

So what Jesus has done is take their desire for glory and show them that the path to glory is a pathway through suffering and death. And He says to His followers: “If you want to share my glory with me, you will have to walk the same path of suffering.”

James and John are full of bravado. They believe they can follow Jesus, though it is clear they do not yet understand.

A Different Idea of Power
Which leads to the second section of the story, verses 41-44; what I’ve labeled: “A Different Idea of Power.”

41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 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. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.

Of course, when the other 10 disciples get wind of what James and John have asked, they get all bent out of shape. They had been hoping for those seats themselves, and you get the feeling part of what upset them so much is that they didn’t think to ask first.

So now the disciples are bickering and squabbling among themselves, and Jesus calls them together and talks about power.

The disciples’ problem is that they have the wrong idea of what it means to have power. The examples they have—the “rulers of the gentiles” and the “high officials”—are bad examples. These are people who see their authority as an excuse to get their own way. These are people who wear their power as a badge of privilege.

The disciples are thinking: “If I could be at the top with Jesus, then I’ll be able to tell people what to do. Nobody will be able to question me. I’ll always get my own way.”

Really, this is the world’s idea of power. It’s as old as history, and ingrained—I believe—in us from birth.

For example, I found a poem on the internet by children’s author Judith Viorst which puts into words what every 8 year-old boy probably feels. It’s called: If I Were in Charge of the World.

If I were in charge of the world
I’d cancel oatmeal
Monday mornings
Allergy shots, and also,
Sara Steinberg.

If I were in charge of the world
There’d be brighter night lights
Healthier hamsters, and
Basketball baskets forty-eight inches lower.

If I were in charge of the world
You wouldn’t have lonely,
You wouldn’t have clean,
You wouldn’t have bedtimes,
Or “Don’t punch your sister.”
You wouldn’t even have sisters.

If I were in charge of the world
A chocolate sundae with whipped cream and nuts
Would be a vegetable.
All 007 movies would be G
And a person who sometimes forgot to brush,
And sometimes forgot to flush,
Would still be allowed to be
In charge of the world.

That’s our idea of power. To be in charge of the world. To have things go your way. Calling the shots.

But Jesus says to His followers: “Not so with you.” Jesus says things will be different among His followers. Jesus says power will be used in a different way. We won’t be like the rest of the world. “Not so with you.”

Making essentially the same point He made with James and John, He says that if His followers want to be great, they must be prepared to suffer. Becoming great means becoming a servant. Being first means being a slave.

What if, Jesus says, the great people in the world are really the people nobody notices? The basketball managers and the special education teachers? The ones who work behind-the-scenes to care for those who need help? What if the real power is not found in being able to tell others what to do, but in giving yourself away to help those in need? What if real strength is modeled by those who are secure enough to serve others?

Jesus’ idea of power is not like the rest of the world. It doesn’t mean using your position and your influence to get yourself ahead; it means using those things to serve others.

A Different Kind of God
And then, to illustrate His point, Jesus uses Himself as an example. Verse 45:

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.”

This is the final section of the story, and I call it “A Different Kind of God.”

Jesus is God in human flesh. He is the almighty creator of heaven and earth.

The title he uses for Himself here, the “Son of Man”, seems simple enough. Jesus is a human being. But as we saw a couple of weeks ago, this is a reference to the book of Daniel where “one like the son of man” comes “with the clouds of heaven” and is “given authority, glory and sovereign power” and receives worship from all nations and has a kingdom “that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).

Jesus is the Ancient of Days. He’s heir to the throne of heaven. He’s the object of the angels’ worship.

So if anyone deserves to be served; to rule in heaven and make the rules and be in charge of the world, it is Jesus. And yet, He says here: “I did not come to be served, but to serve.”

Then He takes it a step farther. He says that He is going to “give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus came to be a substitutionary sacrifice.

Consider the little preposition “for” in the phrase “ransom for many”. In Greek, that’s the word “anti” which means “instead of,” “in place of,” or “substitution.” Jesus’ mission is to take our place. (Tim Keller, King’s Cross, p. 140)

And the word “ransom”. Sometimes this word can get us off track. We think of a ransom as something you pay to a kidnapper to get your child back. That leads us to think that maybe Jesus had to pay off Satan to buy us back from hell. But that doesn’t quite get what Jesus is saying.

The true meaning of the word “ransom” is to “buy the freedom of a slave or prisoner.” It is a “huge sacrificial payment” that pays off “the debt of the slave or the prisoner in order to procure his or her freedom.” (Ibid)

So Jesus isn’t talking about buying us back from Satan—Satan has nothing to do with it—so much as He is talking about paying off the debt that our sins have created for us.

And the way that He intends to do that, of course, is by dying on the cross. The first paragraph Chlea read today was Jesus telling the disciples that He was going to Jerusalem to die—the third time He has predicted his death in three chapters. The disciples still don’t get it, but that is the way Jesus is going to pay our ransom.

A different path to glory. Suffering.

A different idea of power. Not for myself, but for others.

A different kind of God.

You will not find a statement like this from the deity of any other religion. The whole idea of a “god” in the mythologies of other religions is that we work for them. No other “god” promises to serve the people. This is utterly unique.

And this, Jesus says, is why He came. To serve us.

An Example To Follow
Now, there are two points of application.

First, we must follow Jesus’ example by serving others.

The whole context for this statement by Jesus is in regards to how His followers should conduct themselves when it comes to positions of leadership.

“Not so with you.” Jesus says. Leadership—positions of power and authority for Christians—does not look the same inside the church as it does outside of it.

No self-serving leadership for the Christian. No Donald Trump self-promotion or Nixonian grab for power. No lording it over people.

A Christian must lead by serving. A Christian leader considers himself a slave to those he leads.

We need to change our idea of what it means to be a leader. It’s not about glory. Jesus says it means a readiness to suffer. It’s not about power. Jesus says it means using your power to benefit others.

So think about those areas where you have authority, and the implications this has for you.

Husbands, this is how we are to lead in our homes. Not as “king of the castle” expecting to have our every whim met; but loving our wives as Christ loves the church, humbling ourselves and serving them.

Parents, this is how we are to raise our children. Not, “because I told you so”, but because I love you and am called to raise you in the fear of the Lord, I will tie your shoes, and I will discipline you even if it hurts me, and I will suffer with and for you.

Church leaders, this is how we are to lead the church. Not, “I should get my way because I've been a part of this church for so long”, or “because I'm an Elder”; but instead, I will put the best interests of the church and Jesus Christ ahead of my own interests

Young people, some of you have a great deal of influence with your friends, and you should use that influence not to build yourself up and make yourself look great; but to serve your friends and help them to be recognized for their gifts and talents.

Jesus, who had all the power and authority in the world, set it aside to be a servant. And we should follow His example.

Let Christ Serve You
Then, the second application—and I think the more profound one—we must allow Christ to serve us.

Think about this—let it sink in for a little bit—Jesus says that He came not to be served by us, but to serve us.

My friend Matt writes this:

You cannot be saved and a have a part of Jesus for eternity, unless…you allow him to serve you. You cannot serve yourself and be saved. You can't even serve God to be saved. The Gospel is not a "help wanted sign." God is not looking for servants. Shockingly, God is looking to serve us. The Gospel is a "help available sign." (Matt Mitchell, “The Sovereign Servant and the Blessed Imitators”, 11/7/99)

Pastor John Piper writes this:

The good news…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. (12/17/95)

Let me repeat that, because it is so important. The good news of Christianity is that the call to Christian discipleship is NOT a call to serve Jesus, but to be served by Jesus as we serve others.

So often we begin to think that God needs us. That God needs us to serve in church, or He needs us to give our money to certain charity, or He needs us to tell others about Him. And we begin to think that we are pretty important in the whole scheme of things in the Kingdom of God and it’s a lucky thing God has us.

But that’s not what Jesus is saying. He didn’t come to be served by us, but to serve us. He didn’t come to receive our help, but to give us His help!

So sure, He wants us to do those things. He invites us to join Him in the work of the kingdom. But it only really works as we allow Him to serve through us. We are only going to be able to serve others when we first allow Him to serve us.

This is so radical! This is so wild! No respected religious leader ever spoke this way. No great worldly leaders think like this. We must swallow our pride and allow Jesus to serve us.

Why He Came
Jesus says this is why He came. He came to demand something and to promise something.

He demands your life. All of it. He demands that you look and act differently than the rest of the world. That you take on a self-sacrificing lifestyle that serves others. That you make yourself the slave of all.

And this is hard. In fact, it is impossible. It is impossible to drink the cup of suffering. It is impossible to become everybody’s servant.

UNLESS… That’s what verse 45 is all about, it’s the great UNLESS. It is impossible unless the Son of Man is serving you day and night. That’s His promise.

John Piper writes:

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 [Christianity] only meant that a man appeared on the scene of history to call others to be servants, it would not be good news…. 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 Mark 10:45 is all about. This is why Jesus came.

He came to serve.

Not to be served by us, not to call us to some radical moral commitment we could never hope to achieve on our own, not to be in charge of the world so we would all do exactly what He says—but to serve us. To give His life and free us from the burden of our sins and empower us to live love-saturated, joy-filled lives of service.

Jesus came to serve.