Sports history is filled with some pretty lopsided trades. Hall of Famers such as Wayne Gretzky, Bill Russell, Babe Ruth, and Brett Favre were all traded early in their careers and went on to win championships for their new teams.
But my favorite lopsided trade occurred in 1964 when the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals made a six-player deal. The Cardinals sent a pitcher named Ernie Broglio to the Cubs; at the time, Broglio was one of the best pitchers in the league. In return, the Cardinals received a young outfielder named Lou Brock, who was hitting .251 at the time. The general consensus was that the Cubs had fleeced the Cardinals. When the trade was completed, Bob Smith of the Chicago Daily News wrote in his column, “Thank you, thank you, oh, you lovely St. Louis Cardinals. Nice doing business with you. Please call again any time.”
The trade turned out to be a historically bad one — but not in the way that Bob Smith predicted. Ernie Broglio would win a total of seven more games in his career while the to St. Louis was the best thing that ever happened to Lou Brock. He would go on to collect over 3,000 base hits while setting the all-time record for stolen bases and helping the Cardinals win two World Series titles.
This idea of a bad trade is helpful for us as we continue our series on the cross. For all the world, the death of Jesus looked like a bad trade. But that “bad trade” turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to us.
Over the course of this series, we’ve looked at several passages of Scripture as we’ve studied the meaning of the cross. This week, I’d like for us examine some words recorded in the Gospel of Mark. These are the words of Jesus as He talks about the meaning of His death.
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”Mark 10:35-45
James and John seem to be envisioning a moment when Jesus validates His “messiahship” by marching into Jerusalem to overthrow the Romans. When such a moment comes, they want to be positioned at his right and left hand. Basically, they are openly asking for prominent cabinet appointments. Matthew adds the detail that their mother came with them and also spoke on their behalf. Her name was Salome, and it is possible that she was the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus. If that’s true, that would mean that James and John were Jesus’s first cousins. Maybe they were hoping that their family connection would grease the tracks for them to receive these prominent positions.
Jesus rebukes James and John for desiring glory for themselves. Naturally, the other disciples are upset when they hear about this and an argument breaks out. But in masterly fashion, Jesus uses this to teach the disciples about humility and servanthood and the nature of His mission. Jesus says, “Gentile rulers lord over and dominate their subjects. They exploit them and use them, but that’s not the way it works in the Kingdom of God. Instead, whoever would be great among you must be your servant.“
This is where James and John got it wrong. And we can understand, because we often get this wrong, too.
We often associate greatness with power or wealth or talent or positional authority. We think the greatest must be the flashiest, the loudest, the funniest, the one with the most toys or the most money or the most athletic kids or the most fashionable shoes or a million other silly things.
But Jesus says the greatest will be the one who serves. In the Kingdom of God, true greatness is found in servanthood.
And then He delivers this mission statement line: For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. We like to be served, to have somebody come along and meet our needs. And sometimes it’s not even our needs; like James and John, we just want people to do whatever we tell them to do. But Jesus says that’s not why He came to earth.
He came to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.