“Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the tenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Dear friends in Christ, Jesus had a way of shocking people. He shocked people with His miracles, the great shows of power that demonstrated His authority over disease and demons, the wind and the waves. He shocked people with His teachings, for He taught ‘as one who had authority,’ not as they were used to hearing from the scribes and rabbis. He shocked people with His actions, turning over tables, writing in the dirt, and eating with sinners. In fact, the very appearance and demeanor of Jesus was shocking. Mark tells us, “They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.” There was something about Jesus that made that crowd around Him uneasy. His emotions were at a boiling point; there was an intensity radiating from Jesus that made people nervous. He had a determination, an inner resolve that seemed dead-set to travel to Jerusalem.
He went to that holy city completely aware of what He would encounter there: “See, we are going 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.” Mark doesn’t tell us how Jesus spoke these words; we don’t know what tone of voice He used, or what emotions accompanied this statement. But I picture Jesus saying these words defiantly, with strong emotion, matter-of-factly declaring what will happen to Him. ‘I will be condemned. I will be humiliated. I will be mocked and spit upon. I will be flogged and killed.’ That is His destination, His destiny, His goal. He knows that Jerusalem holds only suffering, but yet He doesn’t turn aside from His path. Instead He marches on, for this Jesus is confident in His Father’s love, He is confident that He will be vindicated. This graphic prediction of suffering and death ends with the statement, “after three days He will rise.”
Jesus knows that He is the suffering servant described by Isaiah hundreds of years earlier, the servant who declared: “The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near.” Jesus knows that He will be vindicated, because His suffering and His death is for you and for me. His suffering and His death is God’s plan for your salvation. His suffering and His death is necessary to reconcile man to God. Jesus comes as a servant, the suffering servant, who bears the iniquity of man. Perhaps this is what shocks His followers the most: the great Jesus, worker of miracles, stiller of storms, teacher of God’s Word, is a servant, a suffering servant.
If they hadn’t understood this before, the followers of Jesus should’ve realized at this moment that any visions of glory were far-fetched. No matter how shocking it was to them, the truth was that Jesus had come to serve, to suffer and die. But humans don’t speak the language of service; we speak the language of power. And so James and John chose this very moment as the opportunity to ask Jesus a question: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Sure, James and John know about the cross, they’ve heard about service, but it doesn’t really effect how they treat their fellow Christians in the Church. They want to exercise power over others, they want to get their way above all else, on everything from the budget to the color of the paint on the walls. Maybe James and John are used to exercising power at home or in their business, and they take that attitude with them into the Church. Or maybe James and John are used to being trampled on in the world, and the Church is the one place where they can flex their muscles and order someone else around. Either way, for them the Church is no different from the world; here the language of power speaks, and they selfishly seek to impose their own will.
But the rest of the group is no better. “When the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.” The only reason everyone else is upset is because James and John had the boldness to do what they wanted to do. They are indignant because they don’t want anyone placed in authority over them. The ten disciples want the same power that James and John grabbed for. Their perfect vision of the Church is a place where there are plenty of bosses to go around, but few if any workers. And so, they will seek any opportunity to exercise power, to subvert and go behind those placed in authority, whether a board, a committee, an officer, or their pastor. Once again, it comes down to selfishness. The ten want to have their own way, they want to exercise their own power, and so they refuse to be placed under the authority of others, especially James and John.
Into this mess of power grabs and selfishness, Jesus speaks the language of service. “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.” That is the way of the world, the way of power, of domination, of tyranny. The world teaches you to seek power and to hold onto that power with all your might, exercising it only for your own benefit. Jesus shows His followers a more excellent way. “But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” The way of the Church is not power but service. The way of the Church is placing your desires behind the needs of others. Those who are placed into authority are not there to exercise power, to get their own way or to satisfy themselves. They are to exercise authority in service. This means subverting your own needs to the needs of others, becoming servants and slaves to those around you. The one with the greatest authority should seek to be the lowest servant. The language of the Church is service, not power.
This isn’t a language that the Old Adam or the world around us understands. His words come as a shock; Jesus isn’t operating the way we would think. Servants and slaves are treated as doormats in a world that knows only power. Suffering is the result of selfless service: suffering from your sinful nature, which doesn’t want to have its desires for power to be crushed; suffering from your fellow Christians, who bring the language of power into the Church; and suffering from this world, which is always looking for an opportunity to crush the weak. Jesus promised us that this would happen, that we would follow His pattern: “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” Jesus has been called upon to drink the cup; the cup of suffering. Jesus has been called upon to be baptized; the bloody baptism of fire on the cross. Those who live their life in service, placing the needs of others ahead of their own, will suffer in the same way.
Jesus sets the pattern; He is a servant of all, as we are called upon to be, and He will suffer for it, as we are promised. But His suffering as a servant was far more than merely an example for us to follow. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” His service, His suffering is in your place; His service, His suffering is for your salvation. Jesus drinks the cup of suffering for you, as your servant. He drinks what you deserved for your sins, and He drains it down to the dregs on the cross, swallowing the poisonous mixture in bitterness and agony. In the same way, Jesus’ bloody baptism is in your place. At the Jordan, He was baptized in the place of sinners, He was declared the sin-bearer. That baptism was brought to its completion with His bloody baptism on Calvary’s cross. There He died in the place of sinners, He died as the sin-bearer, He died for you. He died as your ransom, the required payment for your sin. He placed your need for salvation ahead of Himself, and the One through whom the earth was created became the lowliest servant, obedient even to death.
As a servant, as a slave, He was condemned with the condemnation you deserved; He was condemned in your place. He was condemned to remove your condemnation, the condemnation of eternal death. He shows us the greatest example of service, and through that act of service He brings us forgiveness for when we fail to follow that example. He gave up all claims to power to forgive those who seek after power; He was selfless to forgive the selfish. He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many, as a ransom for you.
No wonder the people following Christ had amazement and fear; what Jesus calls for is drastically different than the way the world operates. But He walks that path Himself, not seeking after power but making Himself the servant of all. Even today He serves you with His Gospel, the free grace and the forgiveness of sins won because He willingly drank the cup, He willingly submitted to the baptism of the cross. Jesus doesn’t act the way that we would expect; He acts in self-giving love, love that pours out upon you through the forgiveness of sins. This is shocking, but this is who Jesus is, and this is what He has come to do. The God of the universe came to serve you, to give His life as your ransom, because of His great love for you. In His holy and precious Name, Amen.