43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The context of this passage is Jesus speaking with James and John. These two disciples had come to Jesus, just after Jesus announced his coming sufferings, and had the audacity to ask him to grant them the two highest positions of authority in his kingdom. In responding to them, Jesus showed them that, in the kingdom of God, we do not jockey for position and power. Instead, the ones who truly are great in his kingdom are the ones who are more concerned with serving others.
In verse 45, Jesus uses his own life as the example of perfect service for others. Clearly Jesus is the greatest in the kingdom. Yet, Jesus did not come to earth to be served by others. He did not come to live in comfort and ease, to boss people around and be taken care of by them. Instead, Jesus came to serve others. The ultimate act of Jesus’ service is that he gave his life as a ransom for many.
** Disclaimer – the following couple paragraphs are a theological pondering of mine that this passage led to. These are not always in my daily journaling. They are also quite reformed, so if that is not your position, please do not let them distract you from the things in the passage with which you can agree and from which you can benefit. **
In a quick theological side note, I find Jesus’ use of the word “many” here significant. Jesus could have said that he was giving his life as a ransom for all, but he did not. Only one place in the New Testament is it said that Jesus is a ransom for all, and that is 1 Timothy 2:6, the context of which appears to have more to do with all classes of people rather than with all individuals. Truly, it makes sense that the death of Christ is a ransom only for the saved, as it would make his ransom insufficient for the lost if Jesus died to pay their ransom and still they remained lost. Thus, it seems to me that Jesus’ words here affirm a particularity to his redemptive work.
Now, what does that mean? It means that the ransom of Jesus is perfect. Any person who comes to Jesus in faith has been ransomed by Jesus. That ransom is paid and perfect. This leads us to understand the security of our salvation and the sovereignty of God over our election. It helps us to praise God even more deeply for the fact that Jesus would be our ransom even though we could do nothing to earn it. It leads us to evangelism, as we can know that there are people out there who need to hear the command of Christ to come to him for salvation. It gives us confidence in evangelism, because we know that God will most certainly save those Christ has ransomed. It does nothing to deny human responsibility, as it is incumbent on all to come to Christ for grace—those who come do so because of the grace of God and those who do not refuse because of their own personal desire not to do so. It shows us the absolute perfection of the work of Jesus who fails in nothing.
** Excurses over **
While I find thinking about issues like the previous fascinating, I am not actually most drawn to this passage because of it. What got my attention most is the fact that Jesus makes it plain that the key to greatness in his kingdom is not success in this life. Big houses, recognition, and worldly success are not what make one great in God’s kingdom. Neither do church buildings and large congregations make a minister great in the kingdom of God. What makes one great in the kingdom of God is a willingness to follow God and to lay down our lives for the good of others and the glory of God.
Lord, I thank you for the fact that greatness in your kingdom is not about any measure of greatness that this world recognizes. I ask that you help me to love the family and flock that you have given me. Help me to serve you by giving of myself for your glory and the good of others. Help me to remember that nobody in the world needs to know my name so long as you know it.
I also thank you, Jesus, for giving your life to ransom me. I deserve judgment. You took it in my place and bought me into your family. Help me to be a part of taking this grace to others. I know that you have made it clear that all people everywhere are commanded to repent and turn to you for mercy. I ask that you will give me the chance to share this call with all I possibly can. I ask that you allow me to see people come to you in faith. And, I acknowledge that any success that I will ever see in evangelism is because you have already done the work and thus you are worthy of all of the glory.