Mark 10:41-45 “When the ten heard this, they became indignant with James and John. 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.'”
Jesus of Nazareth has been approached by James and John, their mother being their spokesman. She pleaded with Jesus on their behalf that these boys should be allowed to sit each side of him in the kingdom. What elevation, from catching fish for a living to honours like that! It’s the stuff dreams are made of, but the Saviour replies that he’s not like a boss who may or may not grant a top job to people who lobby him. The other ten apostles are watching and listening to this dialogue with increasing anger, and Jesus notices. He knows that they’ve been arguing in the previous days about who’ll be the greatest in the kingdom of God, and he doesn’t want another power struggle breaking up the fellowship of his disciples.
Then the Lord calls them together to pour some oil on these troubled waters, and he does so in this way, by explaining to them what greatness is all about. Kingdom power is displayed not in the one chosen to sit in the royal coach with the monarch, or who has a place at the top table, or who gets invited to the weekend house party, or who receives a Christmas card from the in crowd, or who is going to sit next to them on the platform. They’re not the great ones in God’s kingdom. Who then is? The Lord tells us, and his words seem such an anticlimax, it is the person who serves. “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (vv.43&44).
So we all have a yawn, and we settle down to think about the week ahead, because who is going to get excited about the joys of slavery and the excellence of serving other people. This is not a subject to grab us. It is a theme our flesh finds tedious. Many of you are thinking, “It will take more than this preacher to motivate me to become a slave?” And you are dead right. It will take the blood of God the Son and the power that made the universe. “Holy Spirit I will need you especially today if we are going to be changed by these mighty words.” Only his empowering and illumination and energising can kill us and quicken us. Let me tell you first of all about the one who is speaking these words. The Holy Spirit always draws men to the exalted Jesus.
1. KNOW ABOUT THIS GLORIOUS SPEAKER.
i] This is the Son of Man. That is how he has introduced himself to these men when he talked to them about his end in Jerusalem (v.33), and now as the one who has come into the world it is as the Son of Man (v.45). The one Daniel speaks of in the seventh chapter of his prophecy, coming in the clouds with glory, and receiving from God an everlasting kingdom that will not pass away, a kingdom that will never be destroyed. This is the one. The apostles were highly favoured being on the spot when divine prophecy was being fulfilled. This mighty one has arrived and it is none other than their own rabbi and healer and friend, Jesus of Nazareth.
ii] This is the Servant of the Lord. Jesus says he came to be their servant (v.45). This is the one whom God spoke about in Isaiah 53, in one of the great prophecies of the suffering servant, saying, “my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities . . . For he bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:11&12). Maybe you haven’t read Isaiah chapter 53 but you might have heard Handel’s oratorio “The Messiah” where these words are sung, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” and again these words, “Surely he hath borne our sins and carried our sorrows. Surely! . . . Surely!” Those words are from Isaiah 53 and they are about the Lord Jesus. There was once a man from Ethiopia in Africa and he was reading those words. “About whom does the prophet write this?” he asked aloud, and a Christian named Philip heard him and sat with him. He “began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35). So the one speaking these words is the Son of the Man spoken of in Daniel, and the Servant of the Lord spoken of in Isaiah. But more than that;
iii] This is the one who has ‘come’ into the world. Jesus did not say that he was ‘born’ to serve, but that he had come to serve (v.45). In other words, unlike all of us he was already in existence before he was born. I don’t mean for those prenatal gestation period, but before that, as the divine one, the eternal one, the unbegun one. He has come. He was in the beginning with God as his eternal Son and now he has come into this world. The promised seed of the woman has come. The Messiah who would bless all nations as the seed of Abraham is this one who has come. The eternal Son of God has taken frail flesh having come to this world. He has become man while yet remaining the mighty God, two natures in one eternal and indivisible Person. Jesus is that coming one.
J.C.Ryle says, “Had my Saviour been God only, I might have trusted him, but I could never have come near to him without fear. Had my Saviour been man only, I might have loved him, but never could have felt sure that he was able to take away my sins. But, blessed be the Lord, my Saviour is God as well as man, and man as well as God – God, and so able to deliver me – man, and so able to feel with me. Almighty power and deepest sympathy are met together in one glorious person, Jesus Christ my Lord.” But more than that;
iv] This is the most extraordinary of teachers. What words we have read so far in the gospel. Never man spake like this Prophet. It was his Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, who was actually in the old prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and also in the psalmists when they spoke and wrote. They could only speak as they did because he was inspiring them. As we listen to him preaching in Galilee that claim makes sense because nobody had ever spoken like Jesus. The Buddha never did, and neither did Mohammed, and neither did Karl Mark or Sigmund Freud or any of the supremos of the 19th and 20th centuries who have exercised such baleful influence over the world. Which of them ever said, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me for I am meek and lowly of heart and ye shall find rest to your souls for my yoke is easy and my burden is light”? But Jesus said that and much more than that. Listen to our text and its sublime words, “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” (vv. 43-45). Where will you ever find in human literature such concepts? You will only discover their echoes in the best of man’s writings which have been influenced by Jesus, but when he spoke words like that they were newly minted and fell with the freshness of a new day on these disciples. But more;
v] This is the almighty and omnipotent one. Everything that had any form of existence had to submit to him. A fig tree, a herd of pigs, a shoal of fish, winds and waves, bread, dried fish, water and wine, disease, a mob and even the demons – every created thing did exactly what the Lord told them to do, in every single case without exception. They were utterly incapable of resisting his will. A platoon of soldiers fell down at his feet when he said, “I am!” The devil is like a strong man who has his prisoners locked up in his impregnable fortress, but Jesus is stronger and with his little finger he can bind the evil one, open the doors, break every chain and release the lot. Satan is powerless to prevent him. When Christ is confronted with the temptation of the world with all its glories being offered to him he spurns it. When sin would persuade him most powerfully to obey he rejects sin utterly and always. This is mighty Jesus.
I will tell you one thing more about his power, that the Lord is stronger than death. Lazarus tells us it is so, and so does Jairus’ daughter, and so does the son of the widow of Nain. Our Saviour always knew that he had the power to lay down his own life and raise it again. Let me explain to you what death is. Life is the union of the body and the spirit. Man is body; man is soul; one person. Death occurs when that union is destroyed. The outer man is then laid in the ground and the inner man is brought to its Maker. That is what death is, that profound disruption of our persons. When the Lord Jesus Christ hung on the cross he breathed his last, and death, which had dared to approach him, severed the bond between Jesus’ soul and Jesus’ body. But then advancing, marauding, killing death met another bond in Jesus Christ which it found it could not destroy, though it tried with all its might. There was a bond which had been established for over thirty years between Christ’s divine nature and Christ’s human nature. Death could take out its sword and hack away at that for ever, but it could never destroy that union. Jesus as to his body was in the tomb; Jesus as to his spirit was in heaven. God gripped his body in one divine hand and his spirit in another divine hand. After death Christ yet lived. Death was impotent to destroy the God-man, and on the third day God reunited body and soul by the Spirit of holiness in his resurrection from the dead. Jesus was all-powerful in death. So there is nothing in heaven or earth or hell that can resist this Lord Christ. He is Omnipotence incarnate.
So this is the glorious and mighty one whose words we are reading here. He reigns at the heart of Christianity, not Moses, and not Elijah, and not Paul, but Jesus Christ. Knowing him is the beginning of Christianity, and a developing relationship with him and a growing submission to him is the Christian life. Listen further as this glorious person now tells us what greatness is:
2. KNOW ABOUT THE NATURE OF TRUE GREATNESS.
“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” (vv. 42-44). There were no democracies in Jesus’ day. The Greek experiment of a limited fledgling democracy had ended when it was conquered by Rome. Everywhere there were tyrannies, all the world over. In every continent despots ruled. That was the world into which the early Christians took the gospel. Notice how Jesus describes it, “rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them” (v.42). It was no appearance of ruling which they gave; they ruled, and usually with a heavy hand. There was no constitutional monarchy. The Emperors encouraged people to worship them; they gave themselves divine titles and encouraged temples built to their glory.
There was no history of democracy for the disciples to admire. There were only the famous generals of the past who had become the new tyrants, men like Alexander and Julius Caesar. That very time when Jesus was speaking these words the Romans were ruling the world, but before them Greece had ruled, and before them Persia had ruled, and before them Babylon had ruled. Because of their savage spirit they are compared in the Bible to four ravenous beasts. When Rome sent its governors to rule over some such province as Judea then the Emperor Tiberias disdained the lot of them. He once said about a certain departing proconsul on his way to a far-flung part of the Empire, “There’s another bloodsucker off to gorge himself on a wounded man.” While our Lord was actually here on the road to Jerusalem talking to the Twelve the Roman governor living in Jerusalem was an infamous man called Pontius Pilate. He was typical of that ruling class; one of his contemporaries described him as “a man of inflexible disposition, harsh and obdurate” (Philo, ‘Embassy to Gaius,’ 302). The blood of many Jews flowed in the streets when he was in charge of Judea. Pilate’s first response to any dissent was the sword. Role models for leadership for these disciples would be the more benevolent dictators. Religious centurions, for example, and yet they were men who said to one servant, “Go!” and he went, and to another “Do this!” and he did it. The Twelve were surrounded by the abuse of power, and so they knew what Jesus was talking about when he mentioned rulers lording it over the Gentiles. Notice how Christ begins his words to them, “You know,” he says (v.42), because they did know about Herod and Pilate and Caesar. The least they had to do with such rulers the better. There was a little known man called Galba who actually became emperor and this is what he said, “Now I can do what I like, and do it to anyone.” That was a typical response to having power amongst the rulers of the Gentiles.
“‘Not so with you,'” said Jesus (v.43). Our own callings forbid it. Today we are appointing a new elder, that is, we are officially recognising a man who has served the church for many years. Is there anything we elders and ministers and deacons possess that we didn’t first receive from God? What has made us different from anyone else? “I am what I am by the grace of God,” says the Christian, so how can we lord it over others? God has given us a spiritual gift by which we’re enabled to give out the ministry of the word, and others have gifts to receive that ministry, all as it pleased the Lord. Boasting is foolish in the light of the discriminating grace that made our office different. Again, our message forbids such a spirit. We tell men that it is only by the incarnation of the Son of God, his agony and death, that they could be saved. Only by the Sovereign Spirit regenerating us in a birth from above can we entrust ourselves to the Saviour and be made new creations. Salvation is not by works but through faith in Christ alone. Then how can that spirit – “I’m an important lord and master,” – survive in a man whose message must be redemption through the Cross, and regeneration through the Spirit? Not so with you.
Paul protested at the adulation some were giving him and Cephas and Apollos in Corinth. Not so to us! Paul said that they were, “Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord had assigned to each his task” (I Cor. 3:5). We are not servants from whom you believed – as if we were the authors of your faith, giving you new life. We are not servants in whom you believed – as if we were the objects of your faith. We are servants through whom the gospel came to you. Channels only of the blessed Master! We are like John the Baptist called “to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him” (John 1:7); John was a conduit by which light was focused on the people who dwelt in darkness.
What do these servants do? Paul said, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who makes things grow” (I Cor. 3:6&7). The apostles in the book of Acts were itinerants; they came and went, staying for some months in one place or even a few years somewhere else, but all the time God himself was watching over his church, causing the seed to spring up and grow and blossom and bear fruit. Preachers dare not think of themselves as anything special, just scatterers of good seed, and waterers of plants; that is all. It’s the work of the summer student temporarily working in the Garden Centre, so why complain? You’re only a servant. The best complement you can give a minister is that he is good in planting seeds, or that he is useful in watering seeds. Such work is never going to catch the headlines, but it is utterly essential. One day someone sowed a seed in George Whitefield. One day some person watered a seed that had been planted in Charles Haddon Spurgeon, or Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Those men would never have become the men they were unless other utterly anonymous people had sowed a gospel seed in their lives, and another had watered it. Who did that? Servants did it. And such mighty men as those I’ve mentioned never forgot that they were also mere servants planting and watering. If power is your obsession then your whole focus in on yourself, and love for others is killed. Not so with you! Desire to serve others must be first in your life and then love for others grows.
But the Lord Jesus brings this whole concept of the glory of servanthood onto a far higher plateau, “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” (v.45).
3. KNOW ABOUT TRUE REDEMPTION.
“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” (v.45). Here is the role model, not the rulers of the Gentiles but the gentle ruler from heaven. For even Jesus Christ, whose glory we’ve heard about today, himself acknowledges that he didn’t come to rule but to serve. If there was one person in all of human history that mankind should have fallen before and given their whole lives to serving it was the Lord Christ. But he didn’t come for that but to serve us, and this was the zenith of his service, to give his life as a ransom for many. What are the implications of these words?
i] The Plight of Man – Imprisonment.
All men and women are in a state of captivity. Think of a child who is kidnapped and kept locked up. A ransom price is demanded for her to be freed. There will be no freedom for her until the money is handed over. How precious is that life to her parents? Beyond anything they possess. They would even bankrupt themselves in raising the money demanded if they might have her back alive; either of her parents would be prepared even to lay down his or her life that the daughter might be freed. She is beyond the price of pounds and pennies. So it is with you in the sight of God. What’s the profit for you having gained the whole world and yet lost your own soul? Your life is more valuable than the world, and yet that life of yours is in bondage to sin. Think of this great statement; “But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin” (Gals. 3:22). Aberystwyth a town of prisoners; Wales a Principality of prisoners; Europe a continent of prisoners; the whole world is imprisoned to sin, not one man being at liberty? No not one. Everyone obeying sin. Sin tells them not to pray and they don’t; not to read the Bible, and they don’t; not to think of their never-dying souls, and they don’t; not to think of inevitable death, and they don’t; not to think of God, and they don’t; not to seek salvation, and they don’t; not to think of judgment and hell, and they don’t. They do what sin tells them to do because they are sin’s prisoners
Some of them are prisoners of Lord Soccer, and some of them are prisoners of Lord Rock music; and some of them are prisoners of Lord Fashion; and many of them are prisoners of Lord Television; and some of them are prisoners of Lord Pornography; and some of them are prisoners of Lord Drink; and some of them are prisoners of Lord Drugs, and all of them are prisoners of Lord Unbelief, but none of them is free, no not one. Sin has them all as its prisoners.
The Times last week printed key extracts from the autobiography of a man who drifted into becoming a pornography addict. There is a certain child pornography website based in Texas and 7,000 users of that site have been disclosed in the United Kingdom alone. Incidentally that is only one of hundreds of thousands of such sites, and some of the men who are enslaved to that site are high court judges and policemen and school teachers and doctors and professional men. The Times said, “It might just be your colleague, your neighbour, your brother, even your husband.” There is a comedian who talks to his audience about remaining in the study at night after his wife had gone to bed, telling her that he is “doing his accounts,” and the audience all titter when he says that because they know what he’s looking at. Addicts nervously laughing at fellow addicts. So one of those ‘prisoners’ named Andy Bull wrote of his years of captivity in the Times, and he used to tell his wife when he sat down behind his computer that he was “researching the book.” He thought he would write a book about the world wide web called, “The Virtual Eden,” and he wrote these words, “In the Garden of Eden God told Adam and Eve that they must not eat the fruit of a certain tree. With the internet there is no supreme being telling us what we can and cannot access. The internet is godless Eden. It is down to the individual’s conscience what they do and don’t look at and delve into” (The Times, July 17 2004). It was there that he made a popular mistake. Yes, there is a supreme being who is over the internet. Andy Bull was soon to discover that surfing the internet is not to escape from God, and that what a man sows that he also reaps. He learned how a man’s conscience can be dulled and bought. He told his readers, “gradually I looked more and more at pornography. Then [which was about five years ago], and even more so now, pornography was endemic on the internet, and I found I had an appetite for it. The more I fed that appetite, the more it grew.” That is the power of Lord Porno. Poor Andy was learning that he was indeed a prisoner of sin. Four years later in March 2003 the doorbell rang at 6.20 in the morning and the police had come to arrest him, and he was to spend three months in prison for making indecent images of children. His name is now on a growing list of offenders. He had sowed a wind and reaped a whirlwind. God is there in the internet after all and what God is doing is this to men who defy him and reject his grace, he is giving men “over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity” (Roms. 1:28).
Very few are paedophiles, but all of them are by nature prisoners to sin. When God the Son says, “Come to me,” it is sin that tells them, “Don’t listen!” and they’re all obeying sin. When I look down from the pulpit I see everybody in a cage. It is a staggering sight. Everyone is a soul more valuable than the universe and yet everyone is a slave to sin. You understand that it is not that we feel that we are prisoners. We are prisoners to what we constantly obey, whether we feel we are or not. Jesus said, “Everyone who sins is a slave of sin” (Jn. 8:34), slaves to their pride; slaves to their temper; slaves to their jealousy; sin has made them prisoners. God’s condemnation lies upon all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. What a burden. We’ve rebelled against God and he has taken our freedom from us. We boast of having a free will, but we’ll only choose what our wills desire, and they never desire the living God and the abundant life that’s found in Christ. Not for a moment. Our wills always say no to Jesus. “You will not come to me that you might have life,” says Jesus. We are prisoners of sin.
An Indian evangelist was preaching on this theme in the open air and a young man was interrupting and asking him questions. “You say we are all in chains? I feel none. How heavy are they? Sixty pounds? A hundred pounds?” The preacher said, “If you laid an anchor chain on top of a corpse would it feel the load?” “No!” said the teenager, “It’s dead. It wouldn’t feel a thing.” “So it is with the spirit that is dead. It doesn’t feel its load.”
ii] The Price of Freedom – Redemption.
Why did the Son of Man come? To serve and “to give his life as a ransom for many” (v.45). What wonderful words. When you read them you can see what Hugh Binning meant when he said, “To a dying man one line of the Bible is worth more than all human learning.” Consider these two great interrelated words, ransom and redemption, and how they perfectly address the state that you are in today. Isn’t this your desperate need? For ransom – a price that must be paid to make you free, and redemption – the mighty consequence. The Jewish historian Josephus describes the Roman general Crassus invading Jerusalem in 53 B.C. He was going to plunder the Temple. A priest named Eleazar came to him carrying a large bar of gold and offered it to him as a ransom (it is the same word that Jesus uses here). “Don’t destroy God’s Temple. Take this gold as a substitute for the ornaments and hangings and furniture and curtains,” he said. The Temple survived, it was redeemed by the ransom paid.
At the battle of Agincourt the English soldiers captured French knights and put them in prison until their families had paid the ransom demanded, and then they were set free. They were redeemed by the price that was paid. The children of Israel were s laves in the land of Egypt but the Lord redeemed them at the Passover. Blood of a spotless lamb was shed and sprinkled on the door of every believing household. The blood of the lamb was the ransom they paid and their first-born were spared. They were redeemed from their slavery. They became free men. Out of Egypt they went, and off into the promised land. God had redeemed them from their bondage with an outstretched arm and a mighty hand. Free at last! Free at last! Through God Almighty they were free at last.
We talk about people ‘redeeming themselves.’ Think of the English football captain with his reputation both on and off the field in tatters. He missed not one but two penalty kicks in the European Cup and there is a huge question mark over his future. Let us imagine that in the next international match he leads his country onto the pitch, when many sportswriters will have been surmising that he is past it, and he plays a stormer, scores a hat-trick and is the outstanding footballer on the field. The headlines the next day would cry that he has redeemed himself with a magnificent all round performance. They wouldn’t use that of another man who plays consistently well. He’d have no need of redemption. They didn’t use it of the English captain when he was at the height of his career and building on success after success. No, the phrase redeeming himself is used to describe someone who’s in a bad way. His reputation is as good as gone, his life in ruins, and then he buys it back with his unexpected success. He redeems himself by his own brilliant game. Apply this language to the moral sphere. John Profumo was a cabinet minister who, forty years ago, had an affair and lied about it to family and friends and to the House of Commons. He was disgraced, but for the rest of his life he has lived blamelessly, caring for people in the inner city whose lives were being destroyed. John Profumo became a very great man, and the world says, “He has redeemed himself.” In both these instances we find men whose lives have been spoiled by their own failure but who have done something to restore themselves.
Are we able to redeem ourselves? Our problem as sinners is this, that we neither can nor will. We lack both ability and motivation. Sin is too powerful for men. It reigns over them and they want it to be so. “Don’t go to church this morning and hear of God’s wonderful provision of a Saviour in his Son Jesus Christ,” says sin to thousands of people in Aberystwyth this morning again, and every man jack of them has obeyed their master – as they have for years and will continue to do so for the rest of their lives until eventually they’re destroyed. “Accept this gospel of mercy through Christ,” we say, but “the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cors. 2:14). We need a Redeemer outside ourselves to break the power of reigning sin, to deliver us and then never let us go, in other words, someone who will do for us what we are unable to do for ourselves. That Redeemer is the Son of Man, the Servant of the Lord, the promised Messiah, God’s great prophet, the all-powerful Conqueror of sin and death whose name is Jesus. He did not come to judge but to save. He did not come to condemn but to deliver. He did not come to rule over but to serve. He will kneel on the floor with a basin of water and a towel and he will wash the feet of the Twelve. What a loving tender man! But his greatest service is when he gives up his very life itself – that magnificent and perfect life – when he chooses to die on Golgotha. His death is the ransom price and the result is that many are redeemed.
This is the unanimous testimony of the New Testament. Paul says that Christ “was born under the law to redeem those under law” (Gals 4:4&5), and again that he “gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness” (Tit. 2:14), and again, “In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Ephs. 17). Peter too says the same, “You know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot” (I Pet. 1:18&19). You always remember this, that there was no escape for you. You were hopelessly enslaved. There was no ransom who price you could raise to deliver you from such a situation, but then, incredibly, unbelievably, a ransom was provided. What a price! The death of the wonderful Son of God. That ransom price was lovingly and completely paid and you have been redeemed. Never take that ransom for granted. Never count it some inevitable and ordinary thing, like a bored teenager you catch with wandering thoughts in a Bible Class. “Why did Jesus die?” you ask him. “For our sins,” he says without thinking. He has heard it so often. This is the most incredible event that has ever happened. The day Jesus Christ became our substitute on Golgotha’s cross was the most remarkable day this world has seen or ever will see. Even the second coming will not be so glorious a day as that was, and redemption by the death of the God-man happened. Accept it with wonder. Think of it with gratitude. Consider it with awe. Live the rest of your life serving others in a spirit of reverent fear.
We were in captivity, in the grip of sin, unable to break free but the price of our redemption – the ransom price for our bondage to end – was met by God the Son by his death on Golgotha. The wages of sin is death, God has declared. Something in the very nature of the God of light, in his holy anathema towards sin, demands it, but that same loving God has provided the price to the last penny that pays those wages which he demands. The God who required redemption provided redemption. The God who declares, “A ransom must be paid for you to be free,” himself pays the ransom and himself delivers us and grips us with a love that will never let us go, our Sovereign Protector. No ransom price could be found nor ever will be found except in the blood of Jesus. In him God’s injured law and honour has been satisfied. So Satan and sin no longer have the right to control sinners. That right is withdrawn from them because God’s law has been fulfilled by Jesus Christ, and the ransom for sinners’ deliverance has also been paid by him. The strong man has been dispossessed of his prisoners. Sin did all it could to destroy our Lord on Golgotha but Jesus was more powerful and triumphed over it and rose on the third day. He is the conqueror of sin and death. He can liberate favoured sinners at will.
The Saviour couldn’t make it clearer to the Twelve: the Son of Man will give his life a ransom for many. Look at that word ‘for’ and think of how it is used in the New Testament. In contexts like this it means substitution. The Lord once said to his disciples, “will you for a fish give your children a snake?” Of course they would not. What does the word ‘for’ mean there? Substitution; the one, a serpent, in the place of the other, the fish. The writer to the Hebrews talks of Esau taking a morsel of meat for his birthright. Esau handed over his birthright and took the tasty meat in its place. Matthew tells us early on in his gospel that King Herod died and King Archelaus ruled for him, in his place – it is the same word as Jesus uses here. Christ gave his life as a substitute, “in my place condemned Christ stood.” He paid their ransom and so they are delivered.
It was done for ‘many,’ Jesus says. A ransom is always specific isn’t it? A child is kidnapped and a ransom price is paid to the captors and that particular child is freed. It does not mean that every single kidnapped child in all the world is released. A ransom is always for definite individuals. Every penny of the price demanded has been paid and the consequence is deliverance of that person. Jesus does not provide a mere potential freedom for all prisoners everywhere but definite effectual freedom for those he’s ransomed. They are going to be freed. Nothing can prevent their deliverance. When Christ paid the ransom price how many were redeemed? Many, many! A company of people more than any man can number from the whole of history and from every nation in the world. Multitudes of people, every single one of them effectually freed from the slavery of sin. What are the numbers of the redeemed in heaven? They’re like the sands on the seashore in number. Many! The life of the infinite holy God-man, laid down in the death of Golgotha, has ransomed them all. The penal infliction which they had deserved has been taken by him. He offered himself to give death for death; he offered himself to give life for life. He frees others by taking their just punishment upon himself.
iii] The Product of Redemption – Service.
“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” (v. 45). As worthless sinners like us were bought at such a price – the blood of God the Son – then worthless sinners are going to be worthy of our service until we can work and breathe no more. The privilege of washing the feet of God’s people was established 1,900 years ago by the preciousness of the price paid. Remember how Paul takes this up and exhorts the Corinthian congregation to change its ways. It was tolerating immorality in professing Christians. “You are not your own any longer,” Paul told them, “to think you can do with your bodies whatever you want. You have been bought at a price. So honour God with your bodies” (cp. I Cor.6:18-20 & 7:23). We’ve been ransomed with Christ’s blood. How can you misuse a body and mind and soul bought at such a price? An Old Master has come on the market and been sold at an auction for a staggering 60 million. Do you keep it in the damp garden shed or in the cellar where mice run around? Of course not. It has been bought with a price. So it is with you; you have been bought by the Son of God, so honour him with your body’s resilience and energy, serving those people Jesus loved and gave himself for.
Two years ago the name of thirteen year old Milly Dowler became tragically famous in Britain because she had been abducted on her way home from school in Weybridge. Her body was discovered six months later in woodland twenty miles away. What have her parents Sally and Bob been doing in the past two years? They’ve spent their time working for the safety of other children, advising them and raising awareness on issues of personal safety. Their little girl’s life was murderously taken from her by an unknown man who is still walking free in the country lanes of England. The death of Sally and Bob’s daughter has changed everything in their lives. They now work for others teaching them to be careful and watchful and wise.
The life of God the Son was taken from him too, but he also laid it down absolutely freely. He did that to release you from your selfishness and helplessness, that henceforth you might live as he lived – for others, to change their lives. Love so amazing, so divine demands your soul, your life, your all. You are called to use your new freedom to release other prisoners and to help those who have been freed. Sally Dowling says, “If we can stop something bad happening to just one child that’s what we’ll try to do.” That is what the Christian says. “Jesus Christ has redeemed me that I might serve his people and love my neighbour as myself. If I can help end the slavery to sin of just one other person then by the grace of God I’ll try to do that.” The love of Jesus Christ for me, in giving himself for me, constrains me to live no longer for myself but for them. That is the effectual result of redemption, a life of service in Jesus’ name.
August 1 2004 GEOFF THOMAS