May 1, 2016
Today, if I wanted to write a letter to someone in the world, this world of almost 7 and a half billion people, it would only take about six identifying criteria for that letter to be delivered.
Let me explain. Let’s say I was writing to someone living in the United States. By writing USA on the envelope, I’ve just eliminated 7 billion on the planet. Let’s say that person lives in New York – a state of 20 million people – by writing New York on the envelope, I’ve just eliminated 300 million people in the US. Let’s say that person lived in New York City – wow, a city of 8 million. But by writing New York City on the envelope, I’ve just eliminated 12 million people from the rest of the state. Do you see – in three criteria, I’ve just gone from 7 and a half billion people to 8 million. By adding one more criteria, the street – and I’ve just eliminated well over 7 million people.
By adding the house number, criteria number 5, I’ve now reduced the number of people on the planet to the three or four people living at that address. And by adding the name – criteria number 6 – I’ve gone from 7 and half billion people on the planet to one person. I know, some of you are saying, dude, have you ever heard of email? I can go from 7 billion to one with a single criteria – one unique email address.
Whatever. Here’s my point: when you study the Old Testament, you find there is not one, there are not 6, but some 300 prophecies – criteria, if you will – that identify the Messiah who was to come. And when you study the New Testament, you find Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled every single one of them. Even if you combine some of those prophecies because different prophets said the same thing, you still have dozens and dozens of prophecies that Jesus fulfilled perfectly. The statistical probability that He would do so in His lifetime is astronomical – beyond mathematical possibility.
Let me explain that. A couple weeks ago, I suggested if someone wanted to, let’s say if Jesus wanted to, He could have spent significant time studying the Old Testament in those first thirty years of life. I suppose He could have reviewed those Messianic prophecies and orchestrated events to fulfill some of them. For example, He could have chosen to ride into Jerusalem on a the colt of a donkey one day, in fulfillment of Zechariah 9. I suppose He could have summoned the strength to be silent before His accusers, per Isaiah 53. Wow – that’s two prophecies – not that impressive. But let’s face it, orchestrating the prophetic events of His birth and His death – that would not have been easy. For example:
- How could He orchestrate His birth in Bethlehem, per Micah 5:2 when His parents lived in Nazareth? Remember, God sovereignly arranged through the Emperor Caesar Augustus to tax the entire world, just to get a pregnant women from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
- How could Jesus, for that matter, orchestrate being born of a woman, per Genesis 3:15? Okay, I’ll give you that one.
- But how could you possibly orchestrate being born of a virgin woman, per Isaiah 7:14? That’s a little more impressive.
- How could He make sure He was a descendent of Abraham? Well, you say, He was a Jew. True enough, but remember, Abraham had eight sons – to include Ishmael. But the Messiah would come through Isaac. And Isaac had two sons, but the Messiah would come through Jacob. And Jacob would have twelve sons, but the Messiah would come through Judah, and one of Judah’s descendents, David. A bit challenging to ensure you were of the line of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and David – prenatally. You see, we’re using all this criteria to narrow it down – from millions, to thousands, ultimately to One. To the One. You see, not everyone could be the Christ. The criteria was fairly specific.
- Further, how could you orchestrate the events of your death? How could make sure you were crucified – pierced hands and feet, per Psalm 22 and Zechariah 12? Written hundreds of years before crucifixion was invented by the Persians.
- How could you make sure not a bone would be broken, per Psalm 34, when the criminals crucified on either side of you had their legs broken?
- For that matter, how could make sure you would be put to death with criminals, but buried with the rich, per Isaiah 53?
- How could you make sure your side would be pierced, per Zechariah 12?
- How would you make sure the soldiers would gamble for your clothes, per Psalm 22?
- And please tell me, how could you ensure that you would rise from the dead, per Psalm 16, Psalm 49 and I Corinthians 15. Neat trick.
There could be no doubting that Jesus was the fulfillment of Messianic prophecies throughout the Old Testament. Like a letter addressed to Him – all the criteria pointed directly to Him alone. No one could orchestrate these events – certainly those events beyond His control, well, unless they were not beyond His control.
Who but God Himself could dictate where He would be born, how He would be born, where He would die, and how He would die? There could be no doubting He was the One – the seed of the woman, who would crush Satan’s head. The descendent of Abraham, through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed. The descendent of David, who would sit on David’s throne forever. The Christ, the Son of God, who bore our sins in His body on the cross, so we could become sons and daughters of God.
I suppose you could throw out the Old and New Testaments as fabricated nonsense – written after the fact – but history would not be on your side. This what our study in the Gospel of Mark has been all about. It has been Mark’s purpose to prove Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. The expected Messiah to come. His birth, His life in His words and works, His death and resurrection – all in fulfillment of OT prophecies, prove it, beyond any reasonable shadow of a doubt.
Last week I told you we would be taking a break from our study in Mark and abbreviating our worship services – last week and this week. We want to make sure you have the time to visit our Volunteer Fair. More than visit – we want to encourage you to join us in the work. This is what Elders and ministry leaders are supposed to be doing – equipping the saints for the works of service. And so, having had time to prayerfully consider your spiritual gifts and passions, we want to challenge you to use those gifts, skills, passions and experiences for the work of the Gospel through this church. So again, this morning will be a shortened service to give the time you need to sign up to serve the body of Christ.
But here we are, this first Sunday of the month. I’m simply going to prepare us for time around the Lord’s table in communion. I want to remind what this is ultimately all about. I want to remind you that Jesus proved who He was – Mark recorded it for us. He proved it by His words and His works. He proved it by His fulfilling perfectly OT prophecies. There could be no doubting or dismissing it. And in fulfillment of those OT prophecies, Jesus came to fulfill a certain purpose. Mark clearly records it for us in Mark 10:45. Some suggest this is the theme verse of the book – if not, it at least tells us why Jesus, as the Christ, the Son of God, came. Why He gave His life as He did. Read it with me, Mark 10:45 – Jesus is speaking, and He says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
We’ll look at this verse more closely when we get to Mark 10, but I want you to see several key points here.
First, I can’t resist highlighting our Christ’s serving during our volunteer fair when we’re encouraging you to serve. The context of the passage is this. For the third time, Jesus has just foretold His coming suffering. He said in verses 33-34, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles. They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again.”
We’re on our way to Jerusalem, and I’m going to die. Next verse, so James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to give us something. Grant that we may sit on Your right hand and on Your left hand in Your glory.” Jesus has just predicted His suffering – to come very shortly – and these two disciples have the audacity to say, hey, give us seats of honor. It’s almost as if they didn’t hear what Jesus just said. This has always been our biggest problem, to think this is all about us.
So Jesus responds with these words – that’s what Gentile rulers want – they want to lord their authority over people. They want it to be about them. But that’s not the way it is to be with you. Whoever wishes to be great must be a servant. For, even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. You see, the way of the Christian life, exampled by Jesus Christ Himself, is a life of service. That’s what we’re encouraging, indeed challenging you to do – remembering from last week, that by doing so, it is for the good of the body, it is good for you, and it is for the glory of Christ.
Second, I want you to notice the word even. The verse would make sense without the word even – for the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. But the word even is there in the Greek – why? Well, because the title, Son of Man, which was Jesus’ favorite title for Himself, comes from Daniel 7, verses 13 and 14. Listen to this, “I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven one like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented to Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the people, nations, and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”
This is incredible. The Jews knew this was a Messianic prophecy. And they expected the Son of Man, the Messiah, to come with great dominion and authority and glory, and all the peoples of the earth would serve Him. And His kingdom would be an everlasting kingdom. Is that true? You bet it is. Read the book of Revelation. But in His first coming, even the Son of Man, the Messiah, this King with this glorious description, did not come to be served, but to serve.
And serve He did. How? Notice third, Jesus came to give His life. He came to give, in an act of grace. They didn’t take His life from Him – He gave it. In the Good Shepherd discourse in John 10, Jesus says this, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep….I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep…For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. [Notice] No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” (John 18 – Gethsemane; John 19 – Pilate)
Jesus came for the express purpose of giving His life – through painful, sacrificial, substitutionary death on a cross – giving His life, laying it down for us. For His sheep. He knows us, and He calls us by name.
The last thing I want you to notice in Mark 10 is this – Jesus came to serve by giving His life a ransom for many. What does this word ransom mean? It’s speaks of a price of release – a payment made to release a prisoner, a slave, captive, a prisoner of war. Here, a payment made to redeem us, to release us out of the slave market of sin. But the question is, to whom was the ransom paid? In the early church, it was widely held the ransom was paid to Satan, since he held sinners captive to do his will. Jesus paid the price to Satan, to take the keys and free us.
Most today rightly reject that notion. There is never an indirect object identified – that is, He paid a ransom, but to whom? It’s not clearly stated. Again, most reject the idea that Jesus paid Satan anything, as if he deserved it. If anything, it is suggested Jesus paid a ransom to His Father, to satisfy the just demand of His righteousness and our rebellion.
You see, sins must be atoned – and by His substitutionary atonement, Jesus perfectly met the demands of justice, paying His Father the ransom to purchase us, to redeem us, to buy us and make us His own. That is what we remember today as we go to the table. Jesus, our Great High Priest, came to bring an offering – a sacrifice – and the offering, the sacrifice was Himself – to serve by giving Himself a ransom for many.