Others Devotional, volume 20

Sticker Shock by Joel Renkema

Scripture: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10.45

“You were bought with a price.” 1 Corinthians 6:20 

The passage from the gospel of Mark must have had an eerie effect upon the disciples when Jesus spoke those words. I mean really, who talks like that anyway? Who talks about their own death so casually? 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” and it is ME! The title “Son of Man” gains traction 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 in order to rescue.

It helps to think of Europe during WWII. There were many partisan and resistance groups that fought the Nazis 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. Someone from ‘outside’ had come!

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. It tells us that Jesus has also 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.”

We were “bought with a price,” reminds the Apostle Paul. That means your life and my life actually have value. Anyone Jesus died for has value. That value is not less than Christ himself. Talk about Sticker Shock!

We honor the ransom paid when we honor the value of the lives Jesus died to ransom. We dishonor the ransom paid by Jesus, when we dishonor the lives of people Jesus died to rescue. As Christians this means we must look at people – the refugee, the immigrant, the unborn, the death row inmate, etc. – as valuable as the life of Christ paid on their behalf.

Prayer: Father in heaven, the price you paid for us is beyond comprehension. Grant us the eyes to see in our neighbors and our enemies the value of your Son’s life. Teach us every day to wonder at the mystery that you would value our lives worth the ransom you paid. In Christ we pray, Amen.

About the Author: Rev. Joel Renkema is a pastor at Visalia CRC, husband and father, lover of books (the exciting and fantastical kind and not the boring stuff they make you read in school), fanatic of Liverpool FC and unashamed admirer of Will Smith.

Originally published on February 15, 2017.

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