Jesus: The Servant of God

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Each of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) focuses on Jesus from a slightly different perspective. They include or exclude details about His life as they paint their own particular picture of who Jesus is. It has been suggested by many scholars that the picture painted by Mark is of Jesus as the Servant of God, so let’s dive into what that means.

As you read through the Gospel of Mark—and I highly recommend you do so; it will only take about one and a half hours to read it aloud—the picture Mark presents is hardly that of a servant, at least by the way most of us think of servants. I’ll just pick out a few things to make my point, although much, much more could be written. 

Mark clearly identifies Jesus as the Son of God. For example, Mark begins his Gospel by declaring, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.”

Later in the Gospel we hear from God the Father:

  • Mark 1:11 – And a voice came from heaven, “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
  • Mark 9:7 – Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Even the evil spirits recognized who He was: 

  • Mark 3:11 – Whenever the impure spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” 
  • Mark 5:7 – He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!”

And at the end of His life, while He was on the cross, the centurion declared, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39).

Additionally, throughout the first half of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus clearly and repeatedly demonstrated His sovereign power.  The list of events Mark includes could get overwhelming, so we’ll just list a few examples: 

In chapter 1, Jesus heals a demon-possessed man; Peter’s mother-in-law; and a leper.

In chapter 2, Jesus heals a paralytic (and in the process demonstrates that He has the power not only to heal, but also to forgive sins).

In chapter 4, Jesus demonstrates His power over nature (calming the storm) and over death (bringing a little girl back to life).

Little wonder then, that “People were overwhelmed with amazement” (Mark 7:37).

That said, I want to focus your attention on the single verse that, for me, perfectly exemplifies Jesus as the Servant of God. The scene should be familiar to you. Jesus has gone with His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. While there He separates Himself and has a conversation with His Father. Mark 14:36: “‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet, not what I will, but what you will.’” He makes this request three times.

So, was He asking that He not have to bear the pain and humility of death on the cross? Understand that Jesus was not only fully God, He was also fully human. He surely had a very good idea of the absolute physical torture His human body would have to endure over the next few hours. Rather than load you down with details, I’ll let Dr. Erwin Lutzer describe what He would face:

“Imagine Him stripped and bound by the wrists to a column in Pilate’s court, then scourged with thongs containing balls of lead or bone chips. As they pound against His body, beads of blood form that with repeated blows break open into wounds. Then the crown of thorns is pressed into His head and blood mingles with His matted hair. He tries to carry His cross, but when He staggers, Simon of Cyrene is pressed to help Him. At Calvary He is stripped of His clothes and ‘excruciating pain, like millions of hot needles, shock the nervous system.’ Then He is hoisted onto the cross itself as the executioners pound long square nails into His palms. By having the great nerve centers wounded, He experiences ‘the most unbearable pain a man can experience.… Each movement of the body revives this horrible pain.’”[1]

So it would hardly be surprising, from a human standpoint, that Jesus would ask that He be allowed to skip the cross. Except…

Jesus was fully aware that His death on the cross was absolutely necessary: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). This was God’s plan from even before the world was created. This was God’s plan when He substituted the lamb who was slain to provide coverings for Adam and Eve rather than striking them to death immediately, as they deserved (Genesis 3:21). This was God’s plan when He gave the Israelites a sign by preserving the firstborn son if they obeyed and spread blood on the doorposts of their homes (Exodus 12).  (In fact, it was this event the Jews were commemorating at the time Jesus’ crucifixion took place.)

This was God’s plan: “When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law…” (Galatians 4:4-5).

Indeed, on Calvary, “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

And there we see what I believe was the true source of Jesus’ agony, the true experience Jesus pled with His Father to let Him avoid.

What happened when Jesus became sin on our behalf? You see, God is holy: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing” (Habakkuk 1:13). Evil is the very opposite of everything that God is. By taking our sin upon Himself on the cross, Jesus became the very thing that God hates most. Because Jesus became sin for us, the Father turned His face away from Him. 

As a result, in His greatest hour of need, He was totally abandoned by His Father.

Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

I don’t think we can conceive of the utter pain, the overwhelming devastation, of that abandonment. Dr. Lutzer says, “The suffering of the Son was intolerable enough, but to endure it without the Father’s presence magnified the horror.”[2] But He willingly submitted to His Father, endured the cross, and took our sin upon Himself. The apostle Paul explains that Jesus,

“being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8)

That is what it meant for Jesus to be the “Servant of God!” Jesus Himself said in Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

However, that’s not the end of the story! Jesus died, and by dying He made a “once and for all” sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 10), and not ours only but for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).

But death could not contain Him! The same Father who turned His back on His Son while He was bearing our sins raised Him to life once again, declaring Him “with power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). Paul tells us, 

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)

Understand that Jesus could have done as the crowd called out: “come down from the cross and save yourself!… He saved others,… but he can’t save himself” (Mark 15:29, 31). He could have responded by removing Himself from that cross. He had already demonstrated that He had that kind of power. But instead, He responded to a higher call. You see, His death was absolutely necessary for you and me:

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:14-17)

Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Go Deeper

  1. Erwin W. Lutzer, Cries from the Cross: A Journey Into the Heart of Jesus (Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition), pp. 26-27; he quotes Robert Wassenar, “A Physician Looks at the Suffering of Christ,” Moody Monthly, March 1979, 42.
  2. Ibid. p. 93.

1 Comment

  1. Mona Adkins on March 27, 2023 at 5:55 am

    Very powerful to remind us that Jesus was equal with God and could have chosen not to be obedient, but remained obedient for our salvation.

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