Friday, November 12, 2010

To Give His Life as a Ransom for Many


“To give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28)

I read Matthew 20 yesterday morning and was struck again by God’s grace. The chapter starts with the parable of the laborers in the vineyard where we see the landowner’s generosity to each worker. Then Jesus predicts his death and resurrection for the third time in the book of Matthew. Then the section that closes with the words: “To give his life as a ransom for many.”

The section contains the story of James, John and their mother asking if James and John can have the seats to the right and the left of Jesus in the kingdom of heaven. This means they wanted to put in a place of honor. James and John were cousins to Jesus so maybe they thought being in the family would help them obtain this place. This request was made in front of the other ten disciples who immediately were not happy with James and John. But Jesus quickly turns their attention to the purpose of discipleship: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave” (Matt. 20:26-27). Jesus clearly wants the disciples to realize the purpose of following Christ is to serve others for the glory of God. As followers of Christ we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves. I know my own heart and I often want to be served rather than to serve others. Or I will complain about being worn out or tired or just plain lazy to avoid serving my neighbor. This is not representative of the Gospel.

We know this is not the example Jesus showed us with his life and death. He goes on to speak words that blow my mind every time I read them: “Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). The Creator of the universe takes on humanity so that he may come and serve sinners. If you are not aware of this truth let me clarify it for you; Jesus Christ is the perfect Son of God who deserves to be served yet he did not come for that purpose but rather came to serve. The greatest display of this service came when Jesus humbly and obediently walked the hill Calvary to lay his life down for his enemies. He died “to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Ransom in that time period would have brought to mind the price paid for the release of a slave. The reality of this truth for us is that Christ died to pay the price to free us from our slavery to sin. As natural men and women we are enslaved to our father the Devil. We love the darkness and our slavery to sin so much that we hate the light. But Jesus is the light of the world and “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). The light of the world, Jesus, came to shine in our dark hearts and release us from our bondage to sin through the cross.

One other point for the Christian I must touch on is the word substitution. I love to talk about substitution because not only did Christ pay the price for sin, but he also took our place. We were not just freed from sin but someone had to bear our sins. Sin has to be punished and Jesus is the one who took the punishment we deserved. The text says, “To give his life as a ransom for many.” The word “for” indicates “taking the place of” many. He took my place. If you have put your trust in the work of Jesus Christ upon the cross then you too can say, “He took my place.” What a glorious reality to ponder: The God-man Jesus Christ took the place of sinners upon the cross.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

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