December 8, 2002
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's Picture of Jesus:
Perhaps I remember the boy by the road the best. For eight days we worked and sweated our way across the Dominican Republic, from Puerto Plata in the north to Santo Domingo in the south. Ironically, although we would see just about 1000 patients in the four medical clinic days we conducted, the most disturbing medical sight was on our "day off": the day we traveled from Santiago, our home base in the interior of the country, down to the capital city, Santo Domingo.
He obviously had been set out to beg, here at the only semi-modern rest stop along the way. A boy, maybe 13 years old, immobile, his legs grotesquely swollen by elephantiasis. The disease is like it sounds: in his case, both legs were swollen up thick and round like an elephant's. I only got a glimpse of him, but in that glimpse I knew that I didn't want to look long.
In that moment, I saw something frightening and humbling. It was frightening to know that such a wretched disease existed. It was humbling to know that at that moment, I didn't have the compassion to overcome my fear and my revulsion-something that this boy's family had had to do every day.
It was also humbling. And it made me think of another place on the far side of the world.
It smells there. So I'm told; I've never been there. It is a great smoky city, a churning pot of smoke and heat and human and animal waste. It is one of the most crowded cities in the world, and yet the poor continue to come. Whole families live in the space between floors of buildings.
By Hindu custom, cattle roam freely in the cities, while the poor are trapped. In the heart of this darkness, you will find some old buildings that have become unlikely places of pilgrimage: the compound of the Sisters of Mercy. For years an old Albanian woman whom the world called Mother Teresa oversaw the work.
Calcutta was the worst place on earth, and that's where she and the sisters planted themselves. Caring for the dying of Calcutta can only be thought of us the most thankless task on the face of the earth, and that's what she set about doing.
In the summer of 1996, she as well came under the care of the sisters. She, world-renown, a guest of Presidents and parliaments, received exactly the same kind of care that all the dying of Calcutta received from the Sisters of Mercy. Ironically, she died the same week as Princess Diana. Even in death, celebrity overshadowed servanthood.
Why set out to minister in this miserable place? Why not leave it to the Indians-to the Hindus? It was because of the servant nature of her master, Jesus Christ. She could not imagine a place on the face of the earth more needy of the reality of Jesus.
Four Pictures of Jesus
Last week, we mentioned that the four gospels give us four distinct and interlocking portraits of Jesus.
Matthew: King: the Lord of all, the master, for whom there is ample proof of His Lordship
Mark: Servant-the one who give all
Luke: Savior-of the whole world
John: The Word made Flesh-God becoming one of us.
The curious thing about Mark it has no account of Jesus' birth. Only Matthew and Luke have complete birth stories. John at least discusses Jesus' coming from an eternal, heavenly point of view.
There is nothing like that in Mark.
Jesus' "coming" in Mark:
The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. A rather stark opening! More like a title…with shades of Genesis 1:1's "In the beginning…"
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
Here's what's going on: the religious people are complaining that Jesus is spending all His time with big-time sinners. Jesus answers that He's come just for the big-time sinners, not the have-it-all-together crowd.
Here's the high peak in this range:
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.
Here Jesus uses His favorite term for Himself-Son of Man-to tell why He came. He didn't come to be the Big Kahuna; He came to serve. And in His serving, to give His own life away-a "ransom" He calls it-for many.
One other place talks about His "coming" in Mark: that's when Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, on the day we celebrate on Palm Sunday. We're told that some people cried out, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!"
So while Mark has no story of His birth, the idea that His coming is from God and that in a sense, He's come from someplace else is all throughout Mark's gospel.
The interesting thing is that every place in Mark that refers to Jesus' coming, His coming is described as a kind of surprise development:
He doesn't come for the religious people, but for the skuzzy people.
He doesn't come to be served
He doesn't come to be honored, but to give His life away
He doesn't come to live a long life, but to die
He doesn't come on a conquering stallion, but rides into Jerusalem on a pathetic little donkey
This is a different kind of coming.
If Jesus is a King (and Matthew's gospel makes sure we know that He is), then He sure is a different kind of King.
What Child is This?
An old Christmas carol asks the question, "What child is this, on Mary's lap is sleeping?" The Refrain answers, "This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing." But what a strange King!
Jesus remains a baffling figure. What kind of Messiah gets Himself crucified? What kind of King has not only has no palace, but often has no place to sleep at night? What kind of Lord views service as mandatory-and survival as optional?
If He's King, then He has an upside down kingdom. Pharaoh and Caesar and Hitler and bin Ladin sent they underlings to die on their behalf; this King dies for His people. What kind of kingdom is that?
Better yet, we have an upside down King here. Unlike medieval fairy tales of Kings dressing like commoners to get a flavor of life for the little people, He becomes a little person.
John tells the story. It was the night of the Passover, the night before Jesus' death. Jesus took off His robe and got down on His knees to wash the feet of His disciples. No one else would do this lowly job, so He did. It was not beneath Him. (John 13:2-5).
And Paul tells us that He came from the eternal circle of the Triune God-Father, Son and Holy Spirit-and became one of us. Downward He stepped, from the glory of heaven and the endless adoration of the angels, to being planted in the womb of a Jewish woman, to birth, to mere human appearance. But that was not enough. He could have spent His earthly years in majestic glory: instead, He spent them as a common laborer in a backward land occupied by a foreign power. He could have ruled-He had every right. But He spent His years serving, giving, loving, caring, and tenderly gathering in the lost sheep, the lost people of Israel. He could have lived a long life, but it was cut short by an unjust death with Him still in His 30s. He could have died peacefully in His sleep, but instead He died by the cruelest technique of its day, the long lingering shameful death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5-11)
There is nothing but surprise in this Jesus. He seems to have it all backwards. The famed early 20th century British author Dorothy Sayers wrote,
For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is-limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death-He had the honesty and courage to take His own medicine. Whatever games He is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself. He Himself has gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair and death. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.
The Unexpected God
This King, this Jesus, this servant, this God in the flesh is a surprise all-around.
Theologians talk about the transcendence and the immanence of God. Transcendence has to do with how high God is: Almighty, holy, eternal, all-powerful, all knowing and so forth.
The immanence of God has to do with how low God can reach: that He is loving, gracious, compassionate, merciful, and so on.
The great surprise of Jesus is like doing the limbo: how low can He go?
He is a King and yet also a Servant. In Isaiah, He is foreseen as the Servant, the Servant of the Lord, the Servant who is disfigured and even put to death because in the hidden will of God, this was the way to set a whole people free. (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)
And so we make the discovery: at the core of all the universe is not a God unmoved and unmoving, a cold throne of fate and power, but instead a God of love and grace. Frankly, this simple truth is one I never cease to be amazed by. The universe looks cold and uncaring. If you go mountain climbing and fall off, the mountain does not mourn you. But there is a God who does.
In this one little verse, Mark 10:45, Jesus uses the term "The Son of Man": "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."
The term has a curious history among the Jews. Many places in the Old Testament, the term means, "mere man." God spoke to Ezekiel, calling him "son of man" to emphasis his weakness in the face of the divine. It means that you are thoroughly human. Yet Daniel uses it as a title for the Messiah. The Son of Man remains one human-but exalted nonetheless. (Daniel 7:13-14). No wonder Jesus liked the term so much. Rather than blow His horn as the Son of God, He again and again identified with us mere weak human beings.
And He says that the Son of Man has a mission: "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." He comes to serve, and has one particular act of service as the target of His mission: to give His life as a ransom. The ransom here is a payment to set the captives free.
I find myself in a conversation with Jesus:
Q: Why did You come Jesus?
J: I came to serve. I came to give Myself away-even to the point of death.
Q: But why?
J: It was necessary. Because of love. Because I could not abandon the people of the earth in their sin. I came to show the way-in my character, in my healing, in setting people from the demonic powers. But just that wasn't enough. Only a human can bear human sin; only God has the power to take it away. So I came, fully a human being, fully God, and took it to the cross. When I died there, I killed that sin too.
Q: So You died for me then, didn't You?
J: Yes, child. I died for you.
Q: I can't understand that kind of love…
J: We never understand love! That's why it's freely given. You don't dissect it-you accept it.
He is the King…but the Upside Down King. He is the Lord of Glory-and the Servant who gives His life as a ransom for many…as a ransom for you.
© Copyright 2002, Pastor Glenn Layne, www.templecitybaptist.org