A Ransom for Many

Text: Mark 10:35-45
Date: Lent V + 3/18/18

This is a most unusual story today. For at first hearing we think it’s all about us, how we are not to be too proud or “lording it over others” as Jesus says, but are to see ourselves as servants after the example of Christ. And that’s part of it. We with the other disciples are taken aback and become indignant at James and John. But it wasn’t because they were any more loyal or faithful than the others, but I suspect but rather jealous that the two Zebedee bros cut in line to request Jesus what they themselves really desired, special reserved seating when Jesus would enter His glory in Jerusalem, rebuilding the Davidic temple and kingdom. And we should say that Jesus will come in His glory. But what is His glory? We are to discover next week that His glory begins with the cross, giving His life as a ransom. Then the kingdom will be fully restored only at the end of time when He comes in glory to gather “the many” who believed and received the gift of His redemption. By then, however, we will have been rid of any prideful boast or desire for recognition over other fellow redeemed sinners.

It does strike us that the two bold disciples are among the first to get bitten, as Luther would say, by the theology of glory. They didn’t understand Jesus’ prediction when he said, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise” (Mk 10:33-34). This is the Fifth Sunday in Lent, our last chance as it were to be prepared for the Great and Holy Week. Like the disciples we can be distracted by the normal routines of life and be unprepared and missing the importance of this, the heart and center of the Gospel of salvation, namely, our Lord’s suffering and death, that death we are to proclaim with bread and cup until He comes. Through the tragic story of Jesus’ betrayal, abuse, rejection, His bitter suffering and crucifixion we are to begin to see the true glory for which we long.

Jesus told them, “You do not know what you are asking.” For they did not realize what the cup that He will drink, or the baptism with which He will be baptized really was all about.

Throughout the Old Testament, “the cup” is usually a metaphor for the wrath of God’s judgment upon human sin and rebellion. The cup that Jesus must drink then is nothing less than the divine punishment for sins which he will bear in our place who are the real guilty ones. So also this baptism of which He speaks. The Greeks would use the concept of baptism to refer to being so completely overwhelmed by disaster or danger as if drowning in our sin. The cup and the baptism are nothing less than His death on the cross.

What did James and John think He was saying? For when He asked them if they were able likewise to drink that cup and endure that baptism they boldly and proudly and foolishly said, “We are able.” They weren’t able. And neither are we. For as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, this saving service was nothing other or less than giving his life as a ransom for many. The death of Jesus is His service to God, a vicarious death in which the repentant sinner finds release from sin and eternal judgment. One author suggests the infinite value of Jesus’ death not as a mere martyr “but as the transcendent Son of Man.”[1] In other words we are summoned by faith to “see through” the tragic scene of Calvary this glorious transaction of the vicarious and voluntary giving of His life for the sins of others, for our sins.

It was as Isaiah the prophet predicted that in this way the Savior would “make an offering for guilt” (Is 53:10). His death is the guilt offering spoken about in Leviticus (Lev 5;14—6:7; 7:1-7; Num 5:5-8).

“The Son of Man came…to give his life as a ransom for many.” That is, He takes our place under the wrath, condemnation, judgment, punishment and death our sins have earned us before God. “The many” implies a certain few. But be clear on this. Though Christ’s death was complete for the sins of the whole world, of every sinner, and every sin, so that whoever will believe in Him will have eternal life, “the many” refers to the elect, that is, those who do not ignore or reject His gift of forgiveness. Yet many will. There, in heaven, will be the glorious fulfillment of the kingdom.

What we dare not miss is the Good News of this transaction on the Cross as we walk next week with Jesus to the cross. Nevertheless, our Lord’s submission to the Father’s will is also an example to the Twelve and to us. In praise to Christ the cross summons us to pattern our lives after the same humility of the Son of Man. The Apostle John, I’m glad to report, did finally understand as he wrote in his first epistle, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John “sweet” 3:16).

[1] William Lane, The Gospel According to Mark, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1974), 383.