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.
One of the more significant phrases that Mark preserves is this short phrase about Jesus’ purpose in coming to the earth. Why did Jesus come? To serve and give his life as a ransom for many. Although we can think of other reasons that Jesus came, we should pay attention to his own words like this phrase above because Jesus actually said it. What are these two things?
First he came to serve. All throughout Mark, Jesus has been displaying his authority with his teaching. He has been powerfully healing and casting out demons. But now as Jesus turns his face towards the cross, we see that he also develops his teaching. It isn’t just about the kingdom, but also who he is in the kingdom. Although he has been shown to be the Son of Man and Son of God in his actions, here we see that Jesus is the Servant. For Jesus to associate serving with his forth-telling of his coming crucifixion is crucial. In tying these two together, Jesus is subtly calling himself the Messianic Servant from Isaiah. Jesus came to be that Servant. This servant in Isaiah is called the suffering servant. Isaiah prophesies that the servant would suffer; he would be despised; he would be forsaken; he would be acquainted with grief. This servant would be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. The Lord would cause our iniquity to fall on him.
With these words, we see a picture of the servant being a ransom for others. To be a ransom is to take the place of someone. Israel was redeemed out of Egypt, and the Israelites were perpetually reminded of this when they redeemed their firstborn with a sacrifice. It taught them the price of their redemption out of slavery. But now the servant redeems from something much greater; he redeems his people from sin and death. Although slavery was terrible, it was a sign of a much greater problem: the curse of Adam and the transmission of original sin from our forefather Adam. In Adam, all humanity died and now are sinners by nature. We know this intuitively. Even on NPR this week, there was a program where the commentators acknowledged: yes, everyone lies. There isn’t a human being who will avoid sin. We expect others to sin against us and others. This is the world we live in. What is the consequence of this sin in our lives? God will bring judgment on us. The Israelites in the Old Testament are the perfect illustration for us. They were God’s chosen people, but because of their sin, God brought judgment on them. Judgment was necessary for sin even on God’s beloved, and this judgment is death.
But Jesus says he came to give his life as a ransom for many. He will go to the cross, which he has already mentioned, to die, and this will be a ransom for many. He suffered in our place, and he died. He died, and received the judgment for many people’s sin. He died so that others might live. And we should add that he rose from the dead so that death is no longer something to be feared because it cannot hold us. He showed that he has power even over death, and the many will rise with him.
How do we participate in this ransom? Jesus didn’t ransom all humanity. He gave his life as a ransom for many not for all. There are others who will not be ransomed and thus will receive God’s judgment, and will surely die. Mark has given us two pieces to this. The first is the gospel proclamation in the beginning of Mark’s gospel: Jesus preached the kingdom of God and repentance of sin and faith in the gospel. The second is that we see pictures throughout the gospel of people who experience Jesus’ ransom. Bartimaeus at the end of Mark 10 is one of them. He pleads for mercy to the Son of David. Jesus heals him because he has faith (and we would say he has repented). Bartimaeus then leaves all that he has and follows Jesus on the way to Jerusalem.
So we too ought to respond to Jesus in a similar way. If he came to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many, we hope to experience this ransom ourselves. We ought to live with repentance and with faith. We follow Christ wherever he leads because our ransom has been paid and because Jesus is now the firstborn from the dead. We no longer fear death because Jesus has power over death. This is the revolutionary and miraculous ransom of Jesus.