Jesus said: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
The incident on the road to
There are many times when you will hear about a person’s identity and believe it, but will have incorrect ideas about its significance or influence. So it is with James and John. After hearing the prediction of Jesus’ death and resurrection, they ask for a place of honor: “Grant us to sit, one at Your right hand and one at Your left, in Your glory.” James and John had anticipated a glory that Jesus would have after His suffering and death, and they wanted a greater share of it than any of the rest of the Twelve. But what these two disciples ask of Jesus have a worldly concept of glory based upon a flawed understand of Jesus’ being the Christ.
That is why Jesus points out the error of the brothers’ request: “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” The place of honor will be given, but it is given in response to suffering and death. Greatness will not be displayed by the giving of random commands to any person they encounter who is of lower rank. Jesus says that is how the unbelievers act, not His disciples: “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you.” Any thoughts that James and John may have had about exercising authority by being Jesus’ right-and-left-hand men were to be discarded. There will be a glory for Jesus and His followers, but not like that.
Instead, the glory of God will be shown through acts of humiliation. That is the point of Jesus’ statement about His suffering and death. Everything that Jesus describes will take place to Him: “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.” But in these things, the glory of God is revealed, because through these acts of humiliation, a great prize is won and presented: the redemption of the world. As that redemption is achieved, the Eternal Father honors His Son by seating Him at His right hand, and all those who are redeemed shall witness it. That glory has nothing to do with worldly authority.
So Jesus tells the two brothers: “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at My right hand or at My left is not Mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” Jesus calls all of His disciples to a life that resembles His: they will suffer for following Him. And even if one of Jesus’ disciples isn’t martyred for the faith, they will still be placed in positions of servitude, just as He was: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
That is the way of life to which you have been called. It is a new way of life, given to you as Jesus has achieved it through His servitude. You have a newness of life, because of Jesus’ identity as the Christ. Because He has offered “His life as a ransom for many,” your sins have been atoned for and sacrifice has been given which redeems you. That is how Jesus has fulfilled His identity—not by lording it over you as the Son of God, demanding to be worshiped, revered, adored, obeyed, and served, but by being mocked, beaten, spat upon, flogged, and killed.
Had Jesus simply exercised divine authority over you, you would still be under divine condemnation. But since “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many,” you have forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. That is the promise of the New Covenant that the Lord God made: “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
This is how Jesus fulfills His identity as the Christ, as the fulfillment of everything the Old Testament priesthood and sacrificial system led up to. So the author of Hebrews describes Jesus: “In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence. Although He was a son, He learned obedience through what He suffered. And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.” Jesus’ identity is wholly wrapped up in His sacrifice for you and the entire world. The glory that Jesus earned from the Father He shares with all of you who had none, so that you may be given it in eternity.
So for all of Jesus’ disciples on earth, there is a life which resembles His. You have been set free by the ransom of Christ’s life. And yet, you are bound to be a servant to everyone else precisely because you have been set free. The glory that Christ shares with you here on earth is to be seen by imitating Him in His humility. This is the great truth that Luther put forward about the Christian life, capturing Jesus’ idea about living as a servant: “A Christian is a free lord, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant, subject to all.” You are freed not to be a selfish tyrant, but to be a servant in what you do to others.
Jesus’ actions done for you turn your minds away from the thinking that James and John exhibited. Once they understood what Jesus’ identity was all about, they grasped the newness of life that He gave. So there was no more arguing about who should sit on Jesus’ right or left. Instead, there was the motivation to extend the love of Christ by both speaking about Him by living among people as He did.
Through your similar actions, others will be able to learn about Jesus’ identity. By speaking about Him and imitating His actions, you will make known exactly who Jesus is: the Redeemer who forgives sins because of His love for the sin-stricken world. You have been freed to do so. You don’t have Satan binding you anymore. You don’t have the corruption of sin keeping you from knowing Jesus and His ways. You don’t have the selfish ambitions driving everything that you do. No, you have been set free from these things. So now, in the newness of life that you possess, you can be a servant and slave to all, as Jesus says.
In that way, you have the identity of Jesus right. It is a full understanding of who He is and what He has done for you. You know that Jesus is the Son of God, but you understand that He is the Son of a merciful God. You know that Jesus is the eternal heir of David’s throne, but you understand that He is a benevolent monarch. You know that Jesus is Lord of all who is subject to none on earth, but you understand that He has become your servant and has given His life in ransom for you.
As that true knowledge and understanding of Jesus’ identity is found in you and expressed that truth in word and deed, so others may learn it as well. And as they learn of who Jesus is, they receive the benefits that He has earned for them as He becomes their Lord. That is the lesson that James, John, and the rest of the Twelve learned from Christ Himself. So you may learn it also, as you have heard the words of Him who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.