A King’s Ransom, Week 3 — The “King Of The Hill” Sermon Rewind

On almost every Sunday morning, I meet with two friends who pray with me at 7:45 and declare with confidence, “Hey guys, guess what?  It’s gonna be great!”  Part of that, I’m sure, is talking myself into that same conviction.

Yesterday, however, was different.  I met my friends and said, “Well, it’s either going to be pretty good or awful; I just haven’t been sure about this one all week long.”

Voicing that indecision (lack of confidence?) actually proved liberating.  The prepared message may have been a bit meandering, yet the delivery felt fluid.  And people responded — especially to the notion of the hell they are living in.

The message also highlights Mark’s art — one of my favorite topics — in a couple of different places.  All in all, the truth that Jesus was crowned king of the hill and king on the hill led to this bottom line, inspired by Jorge Acevedo:

Jesus wants to save you not only from the hell you’re headed to but also from the one you’re living in.


So sometime in the last generation, starting with Homer Simpson, the word DOH! came into being.  Like this:  Homer DOH montage.  When you realize you’ve done something stupid, in the aftermath of injuring yourself, or when caught RED HANDED with your hand in the proverbial cookie jar.  Wrong place, wrong time, talking about the wrong person behind her back just as she walks up, and you’re busted. Might as well admit it.  You, me, all of us have had those DOH! moments.

            And so did Jesus’ first followers, the folks we met a couple of weeks ago as all the president’s men.  As today, as Jesus is headed toward and then impaled upon the cross, there is this extraordinary scene in 10:35-37

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”


READ.  We got this!  He’s gonna be PM, I’ll be secretary of defense, and we will be on either side of you!  STATUS COMES NOT ONLY TO THOSE WHO SEEK IT BUT THOSE WHO CLAIM IT!  And in the understatement of the century, Jesus answers in 10:38:

38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

Why?  Because Mark is a genius.  Look at 15:27 & remember words were both expensive and painful in those days and so none are wasted & none by accident. 

27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left.

Oh, Lord.  THAT’S the king in all his glory.  Tuck THAT away.  Because that little tidbit was free, a little detour that I hope will help you love Marks as much as I do.

            Back to the scene, look at 10:41:

41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.

Doh!  J and J are caught RED HANDED!  These nervy status claimers are hereby busted when their boys, their peeps, find out.  Hand, meet cookie jar!  And jealousy & bitterness is the result. DOH!  And yet all that is set up for and totally connected to Jesus’ next line in 10:42-44:

42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.

OK, OK, were in Roman territory now and their kings are all about splendor and spectacle but this new kingdom is all about serving.  Great correction.  Incredible introduction into the upside down, backwards values of the kingdom.  And then, and then the culmination of the whole thing; in some ways the apex of Jesus’ verbal ministry, in 10:45: 

45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

            Gave his life as a ransom.  Huh.  Do you know what people who need ransom have in common?  They’re kidnapped, they’re helpless, they are hostage.  (And don’t get tripped up by the “many” and ask “who is not included?”  Many contrasts with ONE (Jesus) and is an ancient idiom for “all.”)  But back to people who need a ransom payment made on their behalf … which means in the way Jesus sees the world THEN AND NOW we are being held hostage.  And it’s fair to ask, “who us took us hostage?”   We’re all eager to run and say “Satan!  The devil made me do it!  I knew it wasn’t my fault!!”  Except the devil isn’t mentioned in Mark 10!  And do you remember CIE (AV)?  Context is everything.  What’s the context here?  Not Satan.  People.  Jesus’ inner circle.  Self-centered, status seeking, status CLAIMING followers of Jesus.  It’s clear we hold ourselves hostage with our self-centered rebellion and it’s been going on from the beginning of time! 

            People – THEN AND NOW, THEM AND US – by virtue of rebellion inherited and selfishness chosen, have rendered ourselves kidnapped.  Separated from our Maker.  And God wants us back. Desperately.  We’re tied up, held up by our attitudes and actions.  All  of you are who friends I know who are part of AA, NA, GA, SA know what I’m talking about.  The great advantage that you have over everybody else in the world is that you have no illusion you’re anything but messed up.  Makes you more EVOLVED than the average homo sapien!  Most of us are in denial about our rebellion and therefore oblivious to how we’re held hostage. 

            See, a lot of you are held hostage today and the primary proof of it is that you don’t know it is going on.  Because what I’m talking about is much broader than compulsive behavior.  It’s why many of you right now are OFFENDED.  You’re offended that I’d dare to say your main dilemma in life is NOT a lack of education it IS an abundance of rebellion.  Your issue is not a lack of affirmation.  Nope; you’re held hostage today by forces of your own making, the very forces that make you feel that, naturally speaking, you’re good, you’re OK, you’re sure in the world better than all those folks not in church today.  When in reality, you’re tied up & need someone to pay the ransom and effect the rescue.

            And as offensive as THAT is, the outcome of your hostage status without intervention from beyond is even moreso.  Because all that I have described is separation from God, a debt that can never be paid back, a hole out of which we could never dig ourselves.  A fix we can’t escape.  And if we die in the hostage stage, we remain alienated from God, and that is called hell.  And then Satan very much enters the pictures as the ruler of our wretched realm.  It’s a hell you go to.  But here’s something else I know.  A lot of you are living through a hell right now.  It’s very likely the same kind of oblivious status claiming that James & John were part of.  When you’re all about the recognition, the platform, the status, then more than enough is never enough.  And that’s a hell you’re in.

            And then others of you are in a hell that’s darker than that.  It’s the depression that won’t lift, the addiction that won’t recover, the adult child who won’t call back.  You’re so wrapped in the hell you’re in you can’t even begin to think of the one you’re headed to.  It’s like the woman I knew who came THIS CLOSE to dying & after she got better I asked her if she thought much about the next life.  “Nope.  I’m still trying to figure this one out.”  Years later, she still is.  Before hell is a destination, it seems like hell is an orientation.

            Which is why the King in Mark 10 doesn’t CHARGE a ransom; he IS the ransom.  And notice the revolutionary, mind bending phrase there in 10:45:  not to be served but to serve.  Whoa.  To serve, to pay, to substitute, to be the ransom.  Payment had to be made to satisfy God’s wrath, his desire for holiness, even the embodiment of what God is like.  Our DOHs! usually gloss over how desperate our situation is.  Because you’re not just silly or injured or busted … you’re hostage.  Some of you know it, some of you are clueless, and many of you remember what it was like to realize it.  You can’t fix it up and you’re in a spiral of selfishness.  You can’t pay it down, so Jesus paid it all.  And here’s why, here’s what’s true when you come to grips with our dilemma:  Jesus not only wants to save you from the hell you’re headed to but also from the one you’re living in. Why wait til you die to access all the benefits of the ransom?  Why endure hell just so you can avoid it?  Why not allow the Coming King of tomorrow be your Coronated King of today?  And with that, so much of your life snow snaps into clarity.  Jesus not only wants to save you from the hell you’re headed to but also from the one you’re living in.

            It’s fair to ask, “what about that ONE life covers all the sin and rebellion?  It hardly seems like an equal trade. One for all.  Huh.  We don’t know all the specifics of how substitution works – Jesus takes on wrath, blood shed = sin forgiven, he gets abandoned so we’ll get embrace – but one thing I know (again) is that Mark tells you loud and clear what’s different about this life if you know what to look for.  Like you remember the 10:38 & 15:27 (AV)?  You know what else about that image?  In those days, no Roman Emperor would appear in public without two officials beside him, one on his right and one on his left.  It’s like us talking about the man who enters to the sound of Hail To The Chief – and you know who it is.  Mark’s audience knew:  oh!  He’s saying this is the REAL KING! 

            And the Roman Emperor in his moment of triumph was dressed in purple with a crown on his head and paraded through Jerusalem.  Just like Jesus.  Mark is telling the story so skillfully:  Here’s the real king.  The other one is phony.  And the Emperor’s triumph ended on a hill outside of town; the called the hill Capitoline Hill.  He was king on that hill.  Jesus goes to a different one – Golgotha – but the effect is the same.  Not only king on the hill but king of it. Every step in what some of you may remember as the “Stations Of The Cross” is Mark’s epic way of mocking the Roman kings and exalting the authentic king.  On that hill, not just any ransom was being paid; the only one that came from a life both worthy enough and sinless enough to buy back all those rebellious hostages.  The pretender king is on Capitoline; the real coronation was happening on Golgotha.  As ransom gets poured out the real king is revealed and then displayed in all his bloody beauty. He executes the plan of his own execution and does it flawlessly.  Jesus not only wants to save you from the hell you’re headed to but also from the one you’re living in.

            With just a couple of differences from the pretenders!  Think about it.  Pretender kings demand obedience; Jesus invites it.  And unlike Herod, Caesar, or Nero, Jesus goes through his “triumphant procession” giving not concern as to whether or not we deserve it (we don’t) or will return it (most of us won’t).  Neither our response nor our merit will stop him from pouring out his love.  Yeah, love.  Love that does not count the cost; you could say it is reckless.  Remember?  Not to be serve but to serve?  Will you let him serve you?  Love you?  Listen:  you’ll NEVER be good enough; you will always be loved enough.  The undeserving get life unending.  You embrace your current status as a hostage and your guarantee your future placement in his honor.  Jesus not only wants to save you from the hell you’re headed to but also from the one you’re living in.

            It’s like the three year old who wondered into church one time with his grandad.  And it was one of those churches with the cross and Jesus on it.  Enormous stained glass.  Grandad says to three year old:  “The people put Jesus on the cross.”  Wide-eyed, the boy looked around the sanctuary and asked “these people?!”  Yep.  Those people.  And this people.  In here.  Our desperate place as hostages of ourselves and our alienation is why we didn’t just pay the ransom; he was the ransom.  Oh, let him serve, not because of your performance for him but position in him.  REFRAIN.

            I love that I Stand Amazed with its line “with the ransomed in glory.”   Meaning, what a throng of bought, ransomed, rescued people will be singing in glory.  But why wait til then?  Why not sing it, be it, live it with the ransomed in history!  People who not only aren’t ashamed of being purchased, they celebrate it!

            Because do you know in the ancient world – and Mark knew this – what happened when a greater person ransomed a shackled person?  The ransomed person became the property of the ransom-er.  Huh.  Property of Jesus.  Now and forever.  Jesus not only wants to save you from the hell you’re headed to but also from the one you’re living in.