Christ’s passion for the glory of the Father and the salvation of his beloved is what Easter is about. In Mark 10:45, Jesus explains why he was born:
“For even the Son of Man came not to serve, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The gospel is proclaimed in this verse . . . how? How is this good news? In this post, I aim to answer that question. The following are expanded notes with commentaries from a sermon I heard Steve Lawson preach at the Cross of Christ regional Ligonier Conference in Ft. Worth last November, titled ‘Christ, Our Ransom.’ Though I remember Lawson’s brilliant exposition of the text fairly well, my notes were brief, so most of the following is my commentary on Lawson’s exposition.
What is a ransom (Gk. lupron)? In pop culture today, a ransom nearly exclusively refers to a payment rendered to a kidnapper in order to secure the redemption of the person kidnapped. However, the Bible’s reference to a ransom typically refers either to payment under the Law made for sin or a price paid to redeem a slave (e.g. Ex. 21:30, 30:12; Lev. 19:20). In fact, the connection of a ransom paid for redemption with slavery is an important parallel to make for every Christian who has been bought and redeemed from their slavery to sin into adoption as slaves of Christ, who is an infinitely glorious and benevolent Master.
Why was a ransom necessary? After Peter and John healed a lame begger and preached the gospel at Solomon’s Portico, they were arrested for preaching the resurrection. The next day, Peter preached to the Council of Sadducees and elders, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is not other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The very fact that salvation in Christ is needed should make the idea of redemption in order to be saved necessary. So why? Peter proclaims Christ alone has given his life as a ransom for those chosen by God’s sovereign grace in Christ before the foundation of the world, and the ransom required was necessary because we were 1) slaves to our sin (Rom. 6:20), and 2) to Satan (John 8:44, 2 Tim. 2:26) and 3) we were held captive to the world that is hostile toward God, while in bondage to the curse of the law. In order to fully comprehend Mk. 10:45, it is absolutely necessary to place the third reason at the top of the list. Ultimately, a ransom was necessary for our salvation because we are cursed for not keeping the Law. This curse is rendered by God who declares “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Therefore, Gal. 3:10b says, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”
Who paid the ransom? Paul unlocks the answer to this question in one beautiful sentence about the great exchange of Christ’s righteousness for our sin. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Who paid the ransom? Jesus did. The Judge of heaven and earth paid the price for our ransom. Our precious resurrected Savior paid the punitive substitutionary atonement for all who are legally declared righteous by faith before the Father. I have said this in several posts now: that is why imputation is so important to justification. Christ lived the perfect live that we should have lived and are condemned for not doing, and he died the sinless sacrifice on our behalf, our ransom, imputing his righteousness to us and taking our sins from us and taking them on himself on the cross. Therefore, Christ has paid the ransom price by becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:13).
How was the ransom paid? “. . . to give his life” (Mk. 10:45). Jesus Christ paid the ransom price necessary for our redemption by offering his life on our behalf. The high price to pay for our redemption was not easy, either. Jesus had to die. Rom. 3:24-26 teaches, “We are justified by his grace as a gift, through redemption that is in Jesus Christ, whom God put forward as a propitiation . . .” Propitiation is a heavily loaded word in the New Testament, but it is a beautiful word in light of the gospel. It, first, carries the meaning of the kind of atonement necessary to pay our ransom. In fact, we can be sure by this verse that the cross satisfied the necessary atonement for our sin by exhausting the cup of God’s wrath forever by his blood. If that were not enough, the Greek word for propitiation also carries with it the idea of expiation. In the Old Testament, the cover of the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies was sprinkled with the blood of the expiatory victim on the annual day of atonement (this rite signifying that the life of the people, the loss of which they had merited by their sins, was offered to God in the blood as the life of the victim, and that God by this ceremony was appeased and their sins expiated). Why does the gospel hinge on this? When the hope of the gospel is proclaimed, it also celebrates the righteousness of God in all his glory. Therefore, Paul adds to Rom. 3:25a, “This was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be the just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (vv. 25b-26).
Was the ransom voluntarily paid? I feel this point should be added because a few misguided folks have vocally denied the beauty of the vicarious suffering of Jesus Christ as our penal substitution and ransom for our redemption, occasionally drifting to calling Christ’s death on the cross cosmic child abuse. They claim a neutered Christus Victor theory of atonement in an effort to preserve God’s righteousness and the unity of the Trinity. But stooping to these counter-gospel conclusions is an affront to the gospel. Why? Jesus willingly laid down his life for the sheep. Jesus knew the will of the Father spoken in the Scriptures by Isaiah, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief” (53:10, cf. Matt. 27:46), and his reply was, “I am the good shepherd . . . and I down my life for the sheep” (John 10:15). Therefore, the ransom was paid by our Savior’s blood, not spilled, but poured out voluntarily. Jesus was not the victim of the cross. He was the victor, and he is alive today!
To whom was the ransom paid? Too many believers have assumed the ransom was paid to Satan since we were slaves to sin and death as children of wrath and sons of disobedience (see Eph. 2:2, 3). But the ransom was not paid to Satan. It was not offered to the devil. He did not hold the price of redemption over the heads of sinners. No, the ransom was paid to the Father who was pleased to save many by offering his Son on the cross for our redemption.
For whom was the ransom paid? “. . . for many” (Mk. 10:45). The blood of Christ was shed on the cross for many. We can be sure Jesus was not crucified for his sin, but according to the foreknowledge of the Father, he was appointed to die for our sin. He took our place. This is the vicarious nature of the atonement for the payment of our sins, and Jesus says it is ‘for many,’ not all. There is a specific focus of the specific atonement of those redeemed by God’s grace for us in Christ, and there is also a glorious triumph in ‘for many,’ not all. We can be sure not a drop of Christ’s blood was poured out in vain–not a cent of the ransom was overpaid. Jesus is receiving his very bride, and by the proclamation of the gospel, God according to his sovereign grace is calling all of his sheep to the sheepfold.
Are you in Christ today? Are you among those for whom the ransom was paid? If you are hearing the gospel proclaimed to you as you are reading this loud and clear like a ringing bell, answer the call. Believe and be saved. Be reconciled to God through faith in all the promises God is for us in Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the glory of Easter.
PS :: Read Drew’s post below about the Said at Southern blog madness. We made it to the second round, which is actually a surprise for us. There are a lot of excellent blogs in the S@S network, including several who have been blogging faithfully longer. But, if you feel like it, vote for us. If not, that is fine. We are just glad you are reading.
PS2 :: Also read Drew’s post Preaching the Wrath of God on Easter, where he asks, “What did you hear preached on Sunday morning?” “If we sacrifice the whole truth for a half truth, we might win more hearers, but in doing so we have ceased to preach the gospel and we have begun to deceive our hearers.”
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