Perhaps one of the best-known verses in Scripture is “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
What may not be so well-known is that Jesus announced this about himself while dealing with problematic attitudes of his disciples, and in part as a reason or grounds for the kingdom-oriented attitude of self-denial and service to others.
Jesus’ identification of himself as a ransom is certainly soteriological: giving his life to set free those men held captive by their sin and Satan is the essence of salvation. Yet the context is ethical: how do we live in light of this soteriological truth?
Jesus had announced his imminent suffering (Mark 10:32-34), and James and John responded by requesting to be “made much of” when Jesus came to power (10:35-45). Jesus taught them that his followers would join him in suffering, but that being “made much of” was God’s to give as he saw fit: it was for those “for whom it has been prepared” (10:40).
He then reminded them of the upside-down, back-to-front nature of kingdom living: the first will be last and the last first (10:42-45). As a primary indicator that this kingdom mentality was right and proper, he reminded them that his own back-to-front attitude led to his giving his own life to purchase the freedom of those who could not free themselves (10:45).
We still need this reminder. We still want to be made much of by our spouses, made much of by our children, made much of by our friends, and made much of by our churches.
We think and act as if everyone around us has been created to serve us; to make us feel good about ourselves, to affirm our existence and worth, to recognize how important we are. And when we expect others to make much of us, there is little will and energy left to actually do anything for anyone else, or even think of others before ourselves.
The reality is that God has already made much of us in the crucifixion, when Jesus “gave his life as a ransom for” you, and for me, and for everyone who repents and believes. It is now time for us to make much of others.