Jesus has been both instructing and illustrating about greatness in the Kingdom, and great crowds began to follow him. Most recently he has, for the third time, specifically predicted his death and resurrection, though most did not understand this was the redemptive fulfillment of His life. A sham trial, public beating and mocking, and the death of a condemned criminal among criminals. What is the main point of the cross? Redemption and a ransom paid, death for life, is now the message.
25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:15-18
1. The Competition Continues – First a Request Prefaced with Faith. Having missed most of the message of Jesus and the cross, even to the disciples, mama now comes for her sons Zebedee and asserts a request for greatness in the Kingdom for her sons, just short of God Himself! Another gospel accounts confirms this is ALSO the request of the two sons (Mark 10:35-41). This request is twofold: first, it is asked respectfully, and we understand with faith. Meaning that this woman and her sons believed what they ask could be granted by Jesus. This alone acknowledges their understanding of who Jesus was, even if they were not clear as to what He was shortly to encounter in the passion week.
2. Second, a Request Exchanging Earthly Status for Heavenly Gain. Even so, this woman and her sons, asserting a request that would supersede even the predicted status of Peter as the Rock upon whom the Church would be built, now requests high standing before the throne of God. Hendrickson notes that ‘[this woman] was guilty of confusing earthly realities with heavenly, as if what is generally happens on earth, when men who, after a tremendous struggle, have finally reached the top, will then from their lofty perch look down upon and hold down all those below them, also applied in the kingdom of heaven. Of course, this woman is 180 degrees wrong and misdirected. This misses Jesus repeated teaching that the last shall be first, the least shall be the greatest, the servant shall be lifted up, and certainly, that death will be swallowed up in victory in the short distance left to the cross and empty tomb.
3. A Ransom Paid. What it Was and How it is Applied. Again, Jesus teaches about the ultimate purpose of his life and work, and the plan of the heavenly Father, to sacrificially send his Son as a payment for sin. A payment of a ransom is redemption, of being ‘bought back’, the idea of deliverance or liberation from a state of bondage and captivity by the payment of a price. It is the exchange of God’s righteousness, in the blood of Jesus, for our unrighteousness, our rightful condemnation before God. Following from the teaching and imagery of the Old Testament, and the Exodus following the Passover in Israel, it is payment of a price and liberation from slavery, in this case slavery to sin and condemnation to death separate from God. The Passover led to the Exodus. The payment of sacrificial blood redeemed or paid the ransom for Israel. Such was Isaiah’s powerful message:
The Suffering and Glory of the Servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) – ‘A Man of Suffering and Familiar with Pain.’ ‘For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors’
13 See, my servant will act wisely[a]; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. 14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him[b]—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness—
15 so he will sprinkle many nations and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand. 53 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. 4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression[d] and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.[e 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes[f] his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life[g] and be satisfied[h]; by his knowledge[i] my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,[j] and he will divide the spoils with the strong,[k]because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
John Stott has said: ‘the emphasis of the redemption image is on our sorry state – indeed our captivity – in sin which made an act of divine rescue necessary.
For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be.
God could quite justly have abandoned us to our fate. He could have left us alone to reap the fruit of our wrongdoing and to perish in our sins. It is what we deserved. But he did not. Because he loved us, he came after us in Christ. He pursued us even to the desolate anguish of the cross, where he bore our sins, guilt, judgement and death. It takes a hard and stony heart to remain unmoved by love like that.’
Such is our Easter season. Can we spend time prayerfully thanking God for this incredible gift of grace and mercy to us through Jesus, and for all who believe in His name and receive Him? Who can you pray for that God will draw to Himself also in redemption? I have my daily prayer list. Join me in the same. Best to you this week.
- John Moore