Sermon for March 18, 2018, Fifth Sunday in Lent

Mark 10:41-45 (Fifth Sunday in Lent—Series B)

“To Serve and Not to Be Served”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

March 18, 2018

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Our text is from the Gospel reading for this Fifth Sunday in Lent, recorded in Mark 10:

41And when the ten heard, they began to be indignant concerning James and John. 42And Jesus called them together and said to them, “You know that those who consider themselves rules of the Gentiles lord it over them and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43But it is not so among you. Instead, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant. 44And whoever wishes to be first among you will be slave of all. 45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.


          Mirrors are great. Every morning you wake up and see the “beautiful morning you!” And then you attempt to make yourself look presentable for the rest of the world. Of course, mirrors present a backward form of reality. I reach my right hand up. The mirrored image is raising its “left” hand. I shave the left side of my face. From the perspective of my mirrored image, it’s the “right” side. Of course, if you have a certain type of mirror, you can not only have things reversed but also upside down. Imagine, upside down and backward! What a view!

          The reign and rule of God in Jesus Christ is like a mirror. Life in His rule and reign is backward, and sometimes upside down, from the reality that we know in this corrupted and fallen creation. In our reality, the weaker serve the stronger. The greater rule over the lesser. The rich trample the poor. The popular get all the attention. The rest are outcasts. But in the reign and rule of God, it’s all different. Jesus taught, “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant. And whoever wishes to be first among you will be slave of all.” “The greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matt. 23:11). “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). “Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:15). In God’s rule and reign, the greater serve the weaker. The greater are servants of everyone!

          This is demonstrated for us and shown to us by none other than God Himself. The triune God is clearly the greatest God. There is none other that can even compare to Him. He is the only God. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—one God in three divine persons—is the almighty, the all-knowing, the holy, the just, the gracious, the merciful, the omnipresent God who made heaven and earth. He alone can rightly receive the name, Greatest. But what does this God do? He counts His creation, which had fallen into sin and deserved His wrath and the just punishment of death and hell, more important than Himself. You and I who sin daily against God by disobeying His commandments, who regularly act as if we are our own gods who love ourselves more than we love God or other people—this very God determined that we were worth serving so that we might be saved from sin, death, and hell.

          This certainly says something about the value of all human life, does it not? According to His justice and holiness, God our Creator has every right to punish and condemn us, His creatures, for failing to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. God the Creator has holy justice on His side in punishing the sinner with death. But He chose, out of His grace, not to condemn, but to save and to rescue. The plan from before the creation of the world (1 Pet. 1:20) was that God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, would become fully human in order to become an אָשַׁם (asham), that is, an offering for sin.

Under Yahweh’s covenant with the people of Israel, any person who had sinned was a guilty person. In Leviticus, the Lord outlined a procedure of obliterating guilt. “Normally, restitution must be made according to cash values, plus a twenty percent cash penalty. An animal of specified value was brought to the priest, sin was confessed, and the animal sacrificed in a specific manner. The goal was atonement and forgiveness.”[1] To be in need of an אָשַׁם, a person understands his or her total alienation from God, including its consequences of death and hell. To be in need of an אָשַׁם is to daily recognize your sin by the constant need for an offering for guilt to talk place on your behalf. Thus the writer to the Hebrews says, “In these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.  For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:3-4 ESV).

So God chose to meet our need and become an אָשַׁם for us. We read in the Fourth Servant Song in Isaiah 53, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt” (Isa. 53:10 ESV). Yahweh’s Servant, God the Son, stepped into human flesh, without sin or guilt, not need in a guilt-offering for Himself, in order to be THE once-for-all offering for guilt. And this is precisely what Jesus, God the Son, says to His disciples in Mark 10, “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 is the Servant of the Lord identified in Isaiah 53. He is the Servant who bears the curses Israel earned for herself by her breach of contract with God Almighty. Jesus is the only acceptable אָשַׁם who meets the demands of God’s justice by His sacrifice and the shedding of His blood. Jesus as the Servant offered Himself on the cross as the guilt-offering in compensation for the sins of all people. What happened because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is that your alienation from God as a sinner is overcome. Death is defeated and conquered. You are released from the bondage of sin because your sin now stands forgiven through the guilt-offering of Jesus’ blood. We can say it this way, that Jesus’ service was offered to God to release us from our indebtedness to God.

The Son of Man, then, didn’t come to be served by humanity, but rather to serve sinners and to give His life as a ransom for many. It is Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Man, who took the place of “the many.” Jesus took the place of Israel. Jesus took the place of all sinners, having happen to Him—death and hell—what should have happened to Israel and to all of us. You see, “the many,” we sinners, had forfeited our lives because of our sins. Jesus gave His life in our place and, in His death, paid the price that sets all people free. The sacrifice of the One, Jesus, is contrasted with those for whom it is made, “the many.” With this in mind, we see our Lord in Mark 10:45 say that He gives His life as a ransom for many. He borrows from His Word spoken in Isaiah 53:12, “he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.”

In the literature of the rabbis and in the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran, “the many” was used as a technical term for the elect community, the end-time people of God, which would be the new Israel of Jew and Gentile, the holy Christian Church made up of “all nations.” Jesus’ reference to being the אָשַׁם, the guilt-offering for sin, the One who gives up His life for “the many,” highlights that what our Savior accomplished at the cross was for ALL people so that they might be saved from sin, death, and hell, in order to become new creations who serve as the people of God in Christ Jesus.

And that is indeed how you and I are called by God to live under His reign and rule—as servants and slaves. “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant (dia,konoj, diakonos). And whoever wishes to be first among you will be slave (dou/loj, doulos) of all.” Jesus understands these two words in the same way here; they are synonyms. Our life of discipleship, lived out in the reign and rule of God in Christ, is a life in which we set aside our own wants, needs, and desires for the sake of another person. We do not dominate and tyrannize others. To the contrary, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel, we are empowered to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than [ourselves].” We are able as new creations in Christ to be like Christ so that we “look not only to [our] own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4 ESV). As those who have been served by Christ in His perfect life, death, and resurrection, we now live, having this mind among ourselves, which is ours in Christ Jesus. He “was in the form of God, [but] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8 ESV). Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.

The disciple, then, is like her or his Master. We are being shaped by the Holy Spirit to be more and more like Christ, the Servant of All. In Christ, we learn not to put ourselves first but to put others before ourselves. Why? Because Christ put us first. Moved by nothing but gracious love, He became the great sacrifice, the once-for-all אָשַׁם for human sin, including all of yours and mine. Jesus laid down His life as a ransom for many. See what value the Crucified and Risen Lord places upon you! He places the same value on everyone else you meet. Your call within your vocation is to serve them as Jesus serves them through you.

The Lutheran Women’s Missionary League does an excellent job helping us to see what serving as Christians really looks like. The LWML Pledge reads, “In fervent gratitude for the Savior’s dying love and His blood-bought gift of redemption we dedicate ourselves to Him with all that we are and have; and in obedience to His call for workers in the harvest fields, we pledge Him our willing service wherever and whenever He has need of us. We consecrate to our Savior our hands to work for Him, our feet to go on His errands, our voice to sing His praises, our lips to proclaim His redeeming love, our silver and our gold to extend His Kingdom, our will to do His will, and every power of our life to the great task of bringing the lost and the erring into eternal fellowship with Him.” Make us your servants, Lord Jesus Christ, each and every day. Amen.

[1] G. Herbert Livingston, “180 אָשַׁם,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 78–79.

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