The Undoing of Death
Meditations for Holy Week Inspired by Fleming Rutledge’s Sermons
Mark 10.45 “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
1 Corinthians 6.20 “You were bought with a price.”
The passage from the gospel of Mark must have had an eerie effect upon the disciples when Jesus spoke those words. I mean, who talks about their own death? Jesus was, of course, speaking of himself. The ‘Son of Man’ title in the New Testament carried the nuance of a long-awaited person with divine power and privilege. So here Jesus is pretty much saying “the Messiah has come” in me. The title “Son of Man” appears in the book of Daniel and describes a messiah coming “with the clouds of heaven” and with all power and dominion. Yet here Jesus suggests that the Messiah, full of power and dominion, comes as a servant to offer a ransom.
When I think of ransom today I immediately think of a hostage situation. A person who can’t free himself or herself and is under the control of another person needs someone from the outside to save them, like a Hostage Rescue Team. And Jesus in Mark 10 is saying he has come from the outside.
It helps to think of Europe during WWII. There were many partisan and resistance groups that fought the Nazi’s tooth and nail all throughout Europe. But all their efforts would have been in vain without an invasion from outside to help them. C.S.Lewis based his Narnia books in England during WWII and uses the same premise. The citizens of Narnia find themselves in a struggle against the wicked White Witch, but they
cannot free themselves without an invasion from outside. It isn’t until the news arrives that Aslan has landed that the Narnians know they will be freed. In the same way, Europeans immediately had hope when news of D-Day reached them. Creation is not in any way free. It is enslaved, held hostage by evil. We are in thrall to Death and Sin. Only an invasion by the Creator himself can free it. And the Son of Man, says Jesus in Mark 10, has ‘landed.’
But the gospel of Mark does not only tell us that Jesus has come from outside as the Son of Man. But also that he has come as a ransom. So, somehow Jesus is both the one-man Hostage Rescue Team AND the hostage who comes forward and volunteers to be killed so the others might be freed.
If you say this doesn’t make any earthly sense, you are right. It isn’t that God came just to set us free. He has also substituted himself for us. As Fleming Rutledge put it, “We escaped; he was immolated. The size of the ‘ransom’ is equivalent to the size of our enslavement. That is the payment of equivalent value. That is what we are worth to him.”