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He Came to Serve the Helpless

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As we think about the reasons Scripture gives for Jesus’s coming, we should not miss how shocking these reasons must sound, particularly when we remember that Jesus is God in the flesh. Consider, for example, what Jesus says in Mark 10:45:

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Earthly rulers typically visit their people with the expectation that they will be applauded and catered to, but Jesus had a different agenda.

Jesus Came to Suffer
Jesus uses the title “Son of Man” in Mark 10:45. This is actually the most common way He referred to Himself. Son of Man is a great title, for it signifies that Jesus is a man, a fully human person. He is like one of us. But he is not just a man. 

The words “The Son of Man came” may sound unremarkable to us, but do you know anyone who decided to come into the world, and for a particular reason? Of course not. We don’t talk like this, and for good reason. We didn’t exist before we entered this world, so we didn’t have many decisions to make. But Jesus did. He is fully man and He is fully God, the pre-existent One.  Amazing, this One who is called both the Son of Man and the Son of God came to suffer. 

The first half of Mark’s account is spent following Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, but then a transition takes place in chapter 8. In chapters 8-10, Jesus travels to Jerusalem where He is going to be crucified, and on three different occasions, He talks about his impending death (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:32–34).

Jesus knew why certain things were happening throughout his ministry. There was an intentionality to the cross. We can see this as far back as Isaiah 53, a prophecy that was written hundreds of years before Christ came. This prophecy plays an important role throughout Mark’s Gospel. It comes in the midst of what is sometimes called the Servant Songs of Isaiah. Isaiah foretells that Jesus, the Servant of God, would go to the cross. 

It was God’s will to crush Jesus and to cause Him to suffer. The cross was not an accident; the cross was why He came. That’s why Jesus asks His disciples, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:38) Drinking the cup and baptism are both metaphors for his wrath-absorbing death. Jesus is referring to the time when He would drink the cup of God’s wrath, the wrath due our sin. This was a baptism, or (literally) an immersion, in suffering. Jesus is knowingly and willingly walking into the jaws of suffering and death. That’s why He came.

Jesus Came to Save
There’s a reason Jesus came to suffer and to give His life. He came to give His life as a ransom. Mark uses the Greek word lutron, a word that refers to a payment made to release someone from slavery. A ransom is the cost of setting someone free. We were slaves to sin, slaves to ourselves, slaves to death, and Christ gave His life so that we might be free. He has paid the price of our release, and we our saved. 

Jesus Came to Be Our Substitute
The reason Jesus’ suffering saves us is because He came to be our substitute. Notice that all-important word for: Christ gave “his life as a ransom for many” (10:45; emphasis added). The word for here literally means “instead of” or “in place of.” Jesus came and gave his life as a ransom (or payment) instead of, or in the place of, those He would save. 

You and I stood under the weight of sin and the wrath of God, deserving of death, and Jesus took our place. He became our substitute. This is the great and glorious gospel, not just that Jesus died for you (as if He was only showing you His love), but that He died instead of you. You deserved to die, but Jesus came to take your place! The great hymn “Man of Sorrows! What a Name” captures the wonder of this truth:

Man of sorrows what a name
for the Son of God, who came
ruined sinners to reclaim:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
in my place condemned he stood,
sealed my pardon with his blood:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Guilty, helpless, lost were we;
blameless Lamb of God was he,
sacrificed to set us free:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

He was lifted up to die;
“It is finished” was his cry;
now in heaven exalted high:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

When he comes, our glorious King,
all his ransomed home to bring,
then anew this song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah, what a Savior![1]

Jesus came to suffer, to save, and to be our substitute. This the heart of the gospel. 

Jesus Came to Show us How to Live
The fact that Jesus died in our place cannot be overestimated, but amazingly enough there is even more to his coming than that. In this passage Jesus was telling His disciples to be servants, or slaves. They too would drink the cup of suffering, giving their lives to serve others. 

To be clear, James and John did not experience the same cup and baptism Jesus Himself experienced on the cross—they couldn’t absorb the wrath of God and atone for sins—but  their lives were to be about sacrificial service to others that leads one to suffer. Jesus was calling them to a radically different way of living than the rest of the world. They were not supposed to live like worldly rulers, but rather as servants, slaves of all. Mark 10:45 is therefore not only a picture of the theological significance of what Jesus did on the cross, but also a practical exhortation for His disciples to live with the same kind of selfless, sacrificial love. Jesus is both our substitute and our example.

Jesus Came to Serve Us
Unfortunately, we think of Jesus as our example and that’s where this passage stops for us. We think we’re supposed to be thankful for Jesus’ sacrifice on a cross, and then we’re supposed to live with sacrificial love for others. But if that’s where we stop, then we will miss the point of what Jesus is saying, the point that has the biggest effect on how we live the Christian life. 

Jesus wants us to serve others, but according to Mark 10:45 he also came to serve us. 

The word translated serve can refer to waiting on tables. Mark is saying that Jesus wants to wait on you. Consider for a moment . . . 

  • He did not come to be served by you; He came to serve you.
  • He did not come to be helped by you; He came to help you.
  • He did not come to be waited on by you; He came to wait on you.

Jesus did not come as some potentate whose personal whims were to be catered by lowly servants. He came to be the lowly servant. 

–This article is adapted from He Came: Four Biblical Reasons for the Coming of Christ by David Platt (with David Burnette). Go here for a free download.

[1]P.P. Bliss, “Man of Sorrows! What a Name,” 1875.

David Platt serves as pastor at McLean Bible Church in Washington, D.C. He is the founder and chairman of Radical. He is the author of several books, including Radical, Radical Together, Follow Me, Counter Culture, and Something Needs to Change.
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