A ransom for many

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Sermon: Sunday, 14th July, 2024
Speaker: John Johnstone
Scripture: Mark 10:45

What is Christianity all about? What is the message of Jesus in a nutshell? How important is it for us to understand this anyway? To understand what it truly means to be a Christian, you need to understand who Jesus is, and why he came to earth. Who is Jesus? He is God. He is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. No one made Jesus. He has always been there. There is one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is called ‘the Word’. When we hear the title ‘Word’ it is talking about Jesus: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.’ (John 1 vs 1-4) Jesus, then, because he is God, is the one who gives both physical and spiritual life.

Consider the Christmas story. This is when Jesus (who is God) decided to leave his dwelling place in Heaven, and come down to earth, in order to become a real human being. Most of us know how this happens. Mary becomes pregnant by the power of God the Holy Spirit, and so her baby is truly human and truly God at the same time. Jesus becomes the God-man. This is quite simply astonishing. God enters into his own creation by becoming one of us. So, why did he do this? Jesus tells us plainly. Speaking about himself as the Son of Man, which is a divine title, he says that he: ‘… did not come [into the world] to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ (Mark 10:45) Let’s sum up what we are saying so far. Who is Jesus? He is the unmade and only God, who is good and kind and true. Why did he come to earth and why did he become a human? In order to give his life as a ransom for many.

1. Jesus’ death is a ransom

Is this offensive or the best possible news? What is a ransom? A ransom is the money paid to gain the freedom of those in captivity. For example, recently in Nigeria, a Christian pastor was kidnapped and held to ransom. He was in great danger and payment was demanded in exchange for his liberty. The ransom was paid; however, sadly the terrorists did not release the man. In Bible times, a ransom was the money which needed to be paid in order to set a slave free. Even today, in our computerised age, we talk about ransomware, where our computers are taken over by hackers (in other words they are enslaved by someone else) and in order to get a decryption key from the hackers, a ransom price has to be paid. Sadly, often it is a waste of time paying this ransom as it just encourages more cyberattacks and is no guarantee that we will get our data back!

Why might all this be offensive to us? Because Jesus is implying that all human beings are slaves to their own selfishness and prefer to live for themselves than for God. This might offend you. But is it true? Certainly, many are slaves to drugs and alcohol. You also get shopaholics and workaholics and all these things point to a lack of self-control. When we live for our own pleasures, those pleasures take a grip on us and master us. Are we really slaves to wrong desires and behaviours? Yes. All human beings, some in less obvious ways than others, are slaves to sin. We cannot control our tongues but hurt one another. We have outbursts of anger. Can I prove this? Just try and live a loving, kind life for just one week, where we treat others as we would like to be treated. We cannot do it. Every single day, I break several of the 10 commandments. Without God’s help, I cannot stop doing this. Without Jesus, I am a slave to sin. This also means that morally speaking, because I am consistently breaking God’s rules, I am getting into more and more spiritual debt to God. He hates the way we live selfish lives. We are in great danger, as we deserve his judgment because of our wrongdoing.

But here’s the good news. A successful ransom always sets someone free. The price is paid and the slave is set free forever. This pictures what happens when we become Christians. When we trust in Jesus, he pays an enormous ransom price in order to set us free. The average ransom price for a Western hostage is around $3 million. But what’s the largest ransom price ever paid? The largest was not paid with money but when Jesus voluntarily died on the cross for us, shedding his own blood in order to pay our debts and set us free. The price is his own blood, shed on the cross.

‘For 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 ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.’   (1 Peter 1:18-19))

‘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 10:45) When we receive Jesus’ death as payment for our own wrongdoing, something wonderful happens. God changes our hearts and gives us new desires and inclinations. Of course, we are not perfect, but we are no longer slaves to sin and to self, but become free to be the people God intended us to be. We become servants of God, wanting to please him more than we want to please ourselves.

For Christians, this ransom is the opposite of offensive – it is the best news in all the world, and that’s why we want to share it with others. We’re told in this verse that the Son of Man ‘gave’ his life as a ransom. In other words, no one took Jesus’ life away from him. He gave it voluntarily and willingly. Jesus’ death on the cross was no accident. Listen to Jesus’ words in John 10:11: ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’

Notice the word ‘for’. Jesus lays down his life ‘for’ the sheep. He gives his life as a ransom ‘for’ many. The word ‘for’ signals that Jesus is dying in our place. We are the ones in debt who deserve to die, but he dies instead of us. He is our substitute. Out of amazing love for slaves to sin, Jesus suffers and dies in our places, in order to set us free and live new lives of love to God and love to others.

‘For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people.’   (1 Timothy 2 vs 5-6)

Jesus’ death is the greatest ever ransom. It is 100% effective. For all people who with empty hands receive Jesus’ free offer of dying in our place, there is the promise of freedom, forgiveness and eternal life. It’s almost too good to be true. But it is true. And Jesus did not just die for one particular race or gender or age of people. He dies for many. ‘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 10:45) Christians belong to an international family of people down through the centuries. What do we have in common? We were all slaves who have been set free by Jesus Christ. That’s why we love and him and live for him. He died for us.

2. Jesus’ death is an example of how we should live

Jesus’ wonderful statement about giving himself as a ransom comes out of an embarrassing context. The disciples know that Jesus is God’s promised Saviour-King. They know he is the Messiah. But they don’t yet understand the kind of Messiah he is going to be. He had not come to save them politically from Roman occupation, but to save us spiritually from our sin. And because they are thinking about Jesus’ work in worldly categories, they want the best places in Jesus’ cabinet when he comes to power. They have the ‘brass neck’ to ask Jesus for the most prestigious jobs that were on offer. They are pushing themselves and their own interests forward. It is like asking a bride and groom for the best seats at the top table at the wedding.

The others disciples are furious. Perhaps they are furious because they hadn’t gotten in there first and asked for these positions of power. Once again, Jesus must patiently correct his disciples. In verse 42, Jesus speaks about the Gentile rulers and officials- they use their political power for themselves and loved to be served by those they have authority over. Jesus says, do not be like them! Christian leaders are to be totally different. We must be counter-cultural. We must focus on serving those under our care. Here’s the truth, greatness in the Kingdom of God is measured by how well we can be servants. ‘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.’ (Mark 10:43-44)

Friends, this is not just for church leaders. All Christians, all followers of Jesus must die to themselves, in other words, die to living selfish lives; instead, we must focus on serving God and serving others. Jesus is our example. He left the glory and splendour of Heaven and came down to earth in order to sacrificially serve rebels like us. He is our example. We too must sacrifice our time and resources and preferences for others. We too must be servant-hearted. If Jesus, the eternal Son of God, could humble himself to serve others, then of course his followers must do this too.

Here’s the challenge: when you come to church, do you behave as a servant, doing what you can to love and help others? Is that your focus? Or do you come to church for what you can get out of it, and then leave? Do you put the needs of others ahead of your own?

Later in life, the apostle John comes to understand that greatness is the Kingdom of God is measured by service. ‘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 and sisters.’   (1 John 3 v16)

3. Elders must be eager to serve

Today we are ordaining a new elder in the church. Jesus sets the tone here for the kind of leader he wants him to be. He wants him to be a humble servant.

‘To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.’   (1 Peter 5:1-5)

Jesus is the great Shepherd of the sheep – the church. He is the one who protects us from evil and he is the one who teaches us from His Word. Elders of the church are Jesus’ under-shepherds, and are also tasked with being men who love the Bible, so that we can protect the church family from false teaching, and feed the church family with nutritious and wholesome teaching from God’s Word. We must be those who understand and live out and love the Bible.

I love the phrase in 1 Peter 5:2: ‘… be shepherds of God’s flock.’ The Christians in this church all belong to God, and not to the leaders. Leaders must always remember that those we care for belong to King Jesus. He died for them and he loves them. And yet, he entrusts them to the care of church elders. What a privilege!

But let’s close with the 3 words at the end of 1 Peter 5:2 – Jesus wants elders who are ‘eager to serve’. It’s not always easy being an elder in the church. It comes with responsibility and time pressures. It involves hard work. So how can we do a good job? We must keep praying for a heart like Jesus – a heart willing to serve. And we must keep drawing inspiration from the example of Jesus our Saviour, who did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.