This is an excerpt from a sermon preached yesterday afternoon on Mark 10:32-45.
That brings us to those famous words at the end of verse 45, “and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Those are rich words. They are also words that can easily be misunderstood or even twisted. I want to look closely at what Jesus is saying here.
First, he says that he gives his life. In other words, again, this is an active thing on his part. No one takes his life from him, he lays it down of his own will. Jesus was a willing participant in his crucifixion and death. He was not a victim. Some have said that Jesus’ death on the cross was some form of “cosmic child abuse.” Some have said that the orthodox view of the atonement means that God the Father is taking out his anger on his Son, abusing him. We have to get this straight: Jesus willingly went to the cross and took the wrath of God against our sin. This was no cosmic child abuse, but a sacrifice willingly made. Jesus did this because he wanted to, because he was filled with love for those he died for.
Second, he gives his life as a ransom. The word “ransom” has often confused people. The Bible uses this concept in a way that’s slightly different than the way that we often speak of “ransom.” We often speak of ransom in the context of a kidnapping. Someone kidnaps somebody else and holds them hostage. In order for the captive to be released, a ransom has to be paid. It has to be paid to someone. However, in the biblical use of this word, there is no person to whom the ransom has to be paid. No passage in the Bible directly mentions who receives the ransom payment and then releases the captive. The biblical emphasis in the ransom is the costly price paid. Now in theology we work that out further and understand that this costly price was paid to God’s justice. But here in Mark 10:45, Jesus is simply emphasizing that a great cost was involved in freeing sinners from the slavery of sin and the wrath of God.
Third, he gives his life as a ransom for many. These two words at the end of verse 45 are important. Each word teaches us something. The word “for” tells us that this is a substitution. What Jesus did on the cross has often been called the substitutionary atonement. He is our substitute that brought us into restored union and fellowship with God. He took our place on the cross. He took the wrath of God which should have been directed at us for our sin. That’s the gospel! The good news is there in that little word “for.”
The word “many” tells us that Jesus did not give his life as a ransom as a substitute for all. He laid down his life for the sheep. That means that he made the atonement with the intent of paying for the sins of the elect and the elect only. Jesus did not die for all people. He died on the cross for his chosen ones and them alone. We call that doctrine particular atonement or sometimes it’s called limited atonement. It’s the ‘L’ in the famous TULIP acronym.
It’s not only found in this passage. Look with me for a moment at John 10:11. Jesus says that he lays down his life for the sheep. Who are the sheep? That question is answered further in John 10. Jesus says in verse 27 that the sheep hear his voice and follow him. In verse 28, the sheep are given eternal life and will never perish. And in verse 29, the sheep are those whom the Father has given to Jesus. Jesus dies for the sheep, to give them eternal life. He does not die for all people, but only for the sheep. His sacrifice was enough to pay for the sins of all people, but it only worked to pay for the sins of the elect. He gave his life for many, not for all. Maybe you’re still not convinced. Look at Matthew 1:21. The angel tells Joseph that the baby to be born will be named Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.” Not everyone, but his people. In Matthew 26:28, Jesus says, “…this is my blood of the covenant , which is poured for many for the forgiveness of sins.” One more passage. Hebrews 9:28, “…so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time.” If Jesus died on the cross for the sins of all people, then why did the Holy Spirit say, “many” and not “all” or “everyone”?
If you stop and think about this for a moment, this makes sense. Please listen carefully. Can we all agree that unbelief is a sin? It is a sin not to believe in Jesus Christ. He commands repentance and belief in his Word and when people do not obey this divine command, it is wrong, it is a sin. We also agree that all sins will be punished in hell if people do not believe in Christ. We also know what Jesus says in Matthew 7:14: “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Those who go on the broad road to destruction are many, Jesus says in the verse before. There are many people who will end up in hell. Jesus says it. But if Jesus died on the cross and paid for the sins of absolutely everyone, then he also paid for the sin of unbelief. That means all the sins of unbelief have been paid for and no one should go to hell to pay for those sins themselves. But Jesus himself said that hell will be full of people who are paying for their sins! If Jesus died for all the sins of all people, then we would expect hell to be empty. No one would go to hell for not believing in him, because he paid for their sin of unbelief. When we put it this way, it makes sense. Jesus died for those who believe in him. Those who believe in him are those who have been chosen by God from before the creation of the world. As Jesus says in Mark 10:45, he gave life as a ransom for many.
And there is great gospel comfort in this, because you know as you look to the cross, he suffered there with your name on his heart. He suffered there not for a nameless mass of humanity, but for you. He knew your name on Golgotha and he loved you enough to suffer the wrath of God in your place. I find it so wonderful to know that when Jesus was on the cross he had my name on his heart. “I am suffering and dying to pay for all the sins of Wes Bredenhof, a sinner chosen to salvation by the Father from before the creation of the world. This sacrifice will pay for the price for that sheep, for Wes. I love him so much that I take his place here on this cross.” And he did that not only for me, but for all the elect. This is a far better gospel than believing that Jesus just died to make salvation possible for everyone. The good news is that he didn’t just make salvation possible for you, he actually made it happen for you individually. He did it out of his love for you, you personally. His love on the cross was personal. That’s what we call amazing grace!