32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” 35 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.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 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?” 39 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, 40 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.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 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. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 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.”
At the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, a resolution was proposed by two Southern Baptist theologians and ultimately approved by the Convention. It reads:
WHEREAS, In recent days numerous voices from the Protestant world have boldly attacked the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement; and
WHEREAS, These voices have publicly labeled penal substitution “monstrous,” “evil,” “a terrible doctrine,” and indicative of “the Father murdering a son”; and
WHEREAS, The “anti-violence” model of the cross of Christ weakens the Bible’s teaching by recasting the atonement as a basis for pacifism (in contradiction of Romans 13:4); and
WHEREAS, God is perfect in His holiness (Isaiah 6:3) and perfect in His justice (Deuteronomy 32:4), as He is also perfect in His love (1 John 4:8); and
WHEREAS, On the cross of Christ Jesus the perfect love of God perfectly applies the perfect justice of God to satisfy the perfect holiness of God in order to redeem sinners (Romans 3:26); and
WHEREAS, The denial of penal substitutionary atonement in effect denies the holy and loving God the exercise of His justice, the overflow of which in a sinful world is the outpouring of His just retributive wrath; and
WHEREAS, The denial of penal substitutionary atonement thus displays in effect the denial of the perfect character of the one true God; and
WHEREAS, The denial of penal substitutionary atonement constitutes false teaching that leads the flock astray (Acts 20:28) and leaves the world without a message of a sin-cleansing Savior (Romans 5:6–11); and
WHEREAS, The denial of penal substitutionary atonement necessarily compromises the biblical and historical doctrines of propitiation, expiation, ransom, satisfaction, Christus Victor, Christus Exemplar, and more; and
WHEREAS, The Lord promised a warrior-savior who would crush the head of the serpent to obliterate the enemy (Genesis 3:15; Romans 16:20; Revelation 19:11–16); and
WHEREAS, The sacrificial system of the Old Testament culminated in the blood sacrifice of a spotless lamb on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:11–19); and
WHEREAS, Jesus Himself unveiled the salvific mission that necessitated His incarnation (Hebrews 2:17) when He said, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28); and
WHEREAS, The confession of the Scriptures is that Christ is our passive and active righteousness, forgiving all our sin by His death and imputing to us all His righteousness through faith (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9); and
WHEREAS, An apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ called the shed blood of the Savior “precious” (1 Peter 1:19); and
WHEREAS, The Bible teaches that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” of sin (Hebrews 9:22); and
WHEREAS, Baptist pastor-theologians and scholars with differing soteriological convictions have made the preaching of the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ the foundation of their ministry, heralding the Good News all over this world; and
WHEREAS, Countless missionaries and martyrs of the Christian faith have laid down their lives in order to tell fellow sinners about the death of Christ for the wicked, thus obeying the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16–20); and
WHEREAS, Baptists preach the cross of Christ, sing about the cross, cling to the cross, share the cross, love the cross, and take up their own crosses to follow their Lord, even as the world despises His cross and the proclaimers of His cross; and
WHEREAS, The Baptist Faith & Message was revised in 2000, incorporating for the first time the language of substitution to make plain what evangelical Baptists have long since preached and believed; and
WHEREAS, Around the throne of God into all eternity, the redeemed from every tribe, tongue, ethnicity, and nation will cry out, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain … !” (Revelation 5:12, ESV); now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 13–14, 2017, reaffirm the truthfulness, efficacy, and beauty of the biblical doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement as the burning core of the Gospel message and the only hope of a fallen race.
What is this “penal substitutionary atonement”? Simply put, we might define the “penal substitutionary atonement” view as the view that, on the cross, Jesus took upon Himself the wrath of God that is justly reserved for our sins and, in so doing, paid the price and the penalty for our rebellion by substituting Himself in our stead. To many, this will sound like standard teaching. What lies behind this resolution, however, is, as the resolution states, an increasingly vigorous opposition to penal substitutionary atonement from those who traditionally would have affirmed it.
One rather notorious example is a book by Steve Chalke and Alan Mann that refers to “penal substitutionary atonement” as “cosmic child abuse.” Al Mohler summarizes:
The doctrine of penal substitution–the understanding that, on the cross, Christ died in our place, bearing the penalty for our sin–is described as “a form of cosmic child abuse.” In their words: “The fact is that the cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse–a vengeful Father punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed.” They go further to suggest that “such a concept stands in total contradiction to the statement ‘God is love’.”
The penal substitutionary understanding of the atonement–the doctrine that has stood at the very center of evangelical faith–is rejected as based on a misunderstanding of the cross, described as a “twisted version of events” that is “morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith.”
Lest their point be missed, the authors go further: “If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetuated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies and to refuse to repay evil with evil.”
There is a great deal of intense language all the way around in this debate and, obviously, much is at stake. Given the prevalence of the idea of penal substitutionary atonement, and given that I personally have preached this doctrine for over twenty years, it is important to me that I and that we know the truth about this! Is it right to say that, on the cross, Jesus died in our place and received the punishment and the wrath of God that was due us because of our sins?
In Mark 10:34-35, we find Jesus’ third revelation in the gospel of Mark of what is about to happen to Him. It is the most detailed explanation of the three and it gives us insights into what happened at Calvary when Jesus was crucified.
Jesus came to embrace the cross.
Let us begin by noting that Jesus’ incarnation and ministry was cross-shaped. He came to die on the cross! Of course, He came to do more: to live a perfect life, to demonstrate and preach the Kingdom, and to rise from the dead. All of these are, of course, related. But at the center of all of this is the cross.
32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him,
Jesus has just had His conversation with the rich young ruler. He has explained the nature of the Kingdom yet again to His disciples. Now He begins to move towards Jerusalem. This is the first time in Mark that Jesus says He must die in Jerusalem. What He says about His coming death shocks the disciples, but also the deliberate intensity He shows in moving towards the cross shocks them. James Brooks has noted that while “rabbis usually walked ahead of their disciples” there seems to be something more happening here.
[Mark] pictured Jesus as resolutely pressing toward his goal, as deliberately going to his death. This steadfast determination on the part of Jesus produced the astonishment and fear.
“They were amazed,” Mark tells us, “and those who followed were afraid.” Not only the determination of Jesus to move towards this death shocked them but also His graphic explanation of what was to come.
33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”
Hear the details of His passion:
- Jesus will go to Jerusalem.
- Jesus will be “delivered over” to His oppressors.
- Jesus will be condemned.
- Jesus will be given to the Gentiles (i.e., the Romans).
- Jesus will be mocked.
- Jesus will be spat upon.
- Jesus will be flogged.
- Jesus will be killed.
- Jesus will rise again after three days.
It was to this that Jesus moved with intensity. He walked towards this! Why? Because this was why He came. That the cross was why He came can be seen in His movement toward Jerusalem when anybody else would have moved away from Jerusalem, but it also can be seen in His words at the end of our text.
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.
“The Son of Man came…to give his life as a ransom for many.”
He. Came. For. This.
The cross was not incidental. It was why He came. His eyes were ever towards Jerusalem.
I can be pretty hard on so-called “Christian art.” That is because a lot of modern Christian art is, frankly, pretty weak. It is saccharine and derivative and formulaic and, many times, not very good. But there was a dear lady in our church, Jean Johnson, who loved the Lord and is now with the Lord, who loved the painting entitled “Destiny.” She had this painting in her own home and she gave copies of this painting to others. You have likely seen it.
“Destiny” shows us the inside of Joseph’s workshop. Joseph stands at a table hammering and the little boy Jesus crouches on the floor in the sunlight coming in from the window while picking up a large nail. The shadow that Jesus casts behind Him is the shadow of the cross.
It makes a powerful and crucial point: the shadow of the cross was on Jesus from day one, from moment one! This is why He came!
The work of the cross was something that only Jesus could do though the way of the cross is a model for us all.
He came for this and this was something that only He could do. The disciples James and John, still utterly missing the point, still thinking that Jesus will likely institute a military Messianic kingdom in Jerusalem, still not able to understand that Jesus will conquer through suffering and resurrection, ask for a place of honor in the coming kingdom!
35 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.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
This is astonishing. We have seen the disciples miss the point before, but perhaps never in such grandiose fashion as what James and John pull off here! No sooner has Jesus finished offering the most startling, unnerving, and graphic description of the horrible ordeal He is about to undergo than James and John ask for a place of honor and favoritism! It is as if they have heard nothing of Jesus’ call for them to humble themselves as little children and for them to think and act differently than the powerful people of the world think and act.
Did they not hear what Jesus just said? Did they not understand that He is talking about suffering? Did it simply not compute? Or were they so giddy with kinetic nervousness over their secret plot to achieve places of honor at Jesus’ right and left hand that all that Jesus said was just so much white noise to them?
Jesus’ response is sharp and rhetorical:
38 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?”
The sons of Zebedees’ response is naïve and eager:
39a And they said to him, “We are able.”
Surprisingly, Jesus says that, yes, they will drink the cup and undergo the baptism but He says He cannot grant them the requested places of honor.
39b 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, 40 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.”
In the aftermath of this most astounding and perplexing conversation, the other disciples hear of it and grow indignant and James and John’s audacity. Jesus’ uses the occasion to remind them all yet again that they are all thinking of these matters wrongly, that they are thinking, in fact, like pagan Gentiles who know no better. He points now to His own example and, again, to the coming of the cross, to remind them that the path to true greatness is through humble obedience to the very point of suffering.
41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 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. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 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.”
What does all of this mean? Let me suggest that what this means is the work of the cross was something that only Jesus could do though the way of the cross is a model for us all.
To understand this we must first understand what the central metaphor Jesus uses means: the cup. Let us paraphrase verses 38-39 for review
James and John: “Give us places of honor in your kingdom!”
Jesus: “Can you drink the cup that I drink?”
James and John: “Yes, we can!”
Jesus: “You will.”
What is this cup that Jesus speaks of? “In the Old Testament a cup is sometimes a symbol of joy and salvation…,” James writes Brooks, “but more often it is a symbol of the wrath of God…” Consider:
6 Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
8 For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.
17 Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering.
15 Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.”
28 “And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: You must drink! 29 For behold, I begin to work disaster at the city that is called by my name, and shall you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, declares the Lord of hosts.’
12 For thus says the Lord: “If those who did not deserve to drink the cup must drink it, will you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, but you must drink.
32 Thus says the Lord God: “You shall drink your sister’s cup that is deep and large; you shall be laughed at and held in derision, for it contains much; 33 you will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow. A cup of horror and desolation, the cup of your sister Samaria; 34 you shall drink it and drain it out, and gnaw its shards, and tear your breasts; for I have spoken, declares the Lord God.
16 You will have your fill of shame instead of glory. Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision! The cup in the Lord’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory!
Did you hear that?
These are the words that the scriptures use to describe the cup…and this is the cup that Jesus drinks on the cross! The cup is the wrath and judgment of God against sin. It is the cup of suffering on the part of one upon whom God’s wrath falls. That is abundantly clear from the Old Testament usage of the image.
Maybe you recall the dustup a few years ago over Keith and Kristyn Getty’s song “In Christ Alone.” That song contains these lyrics:
In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev’ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.
A major denomination in our country wanted to include this song in their hymnal but they objected to these two lines:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied
This denomination asked the Gettys to allow them to rewrite these lines so that the song did not speak of the wrath of God being “satisfied” on the cross. The Gettys refused and, as a result, the song was not included in the over 10,000 hymnals in the churches of this denomination! In a rather humorous aside, the denomination in question clarified that their objection to the lyrics is not the word “wrath” but the word “satisfied”! That hardly makes things better!
While we note the irony of so many theologically dubious lyrics making it into modern hymnbooks while these particular lyrics cause offense, we must simply marvel that modern Protestant churches do not even want their people entertaining the notion that on the cross Jesus satisfied God’s wrath by drinking the cup of judgment that was due us to its dregs! But that is exactly what Jesus is saying.
As Brooks noted above, there is a positive connotation for cup in the scriptures, but, in the context of the horrors of the cross to which Jesus points, it is the negative connotation of divine wrath and judgment that is in play here. It is extremely possible, however, that when Jesus asked James and John if they could drink of the cup He would drink of that they were thinking in terms of the cup of glorification and not of wrath at all! They completely missed the point!
Perhaps, then, we could rephrase our paraphrase like this:
James and John: “Give us places of honor in your Kingdom!”
Jesus: “Can you drink the cup of suffering and wrath that I will soon drink on the cross?”
James and John: “Yes, we can! We can drink the cup of glory and of glorification in heaven!”
Jesus: [sigh] “You will drink my cup. You will know suffering, though you clearly do not understand this now.”
Put another way, the disciples would know the way of the cross (i.e., suffering) but they could not accomplish the work of the cross. We can see this in Jesus’ rhetorical question:
38 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?”
William Lane paraphrases Jesus’ response as, “you do not know that in requesting to participate in my glory you ask at the same time to share my painful destiny, and indispensable condition of my glorification.” Lane goes on rightly to stress that “the question of verse 38 calls for a negative reply” and that “the sufferings and death which await Jesus…belong to the unique messianic mission of the Son of Man.”
In other words, while His disciples then and now will and must know the way of the cross, must take up their crosses, they could not truly drink the cup that only Christ can drink for our salvation! They can never truly accomplish the work of the cross that only Christ can accomplish!
The payment of the cross is our ransom from slavery and death.
And what did Jesus accomplish on the cross? He tells us in the final verse of this text.
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.”
Brooks observes that the word for “ransom” was used “to refer to purchasing the freedom of a slave or a prisoner of war,” that “it is also used for the half-shekel tax each male paid to the sanctuary for his own redemption…, the money paid to spare the life of one whose ox had gored another to death…, the price paid for the redemption of the firstborn…, and the payment used to redeem mortgaged property…” Lane agrees with Brooks and notes that “the total ruin which the cup represents is willed by God and constitutes a divine judgment.”
Joel Marcus makes the point that Jesus’ usage of “ransom” should likely be understood in the sense of “ransoming a slave” because of Jesus’ own appeal to servanthood in verses 42-45. “Slave ransom could sometimes take the form of one person substituting for another in servitude,” Marcus informs us.
When all of this is put together we are left with a startling conclusion:
On the cross, Jesus endured the wrath of God against sinners by dying as a substitute for us, taking on our sin, and paying the price that we could never hope to pay so that our debt might be lifted, our chains might be broken, and we might move from slavery to freedom now and forevermore.
This is the gospel: that the one dies for the many, that the innocent dies for the guilty, that the Son dies for slaves, that the dead are given life!
Far from being a modern doctrine, we find this not only in the scriptures but, among other early church writers, in the words of the 6th century hymnist Venantius Fortunatus. He wrote:
See the destined day arise! See a willing sacrifice!
Jesus, to redeem our loss, hangs upon the shameful cross;
Jesus, who but You could bear wrath so great and justice fair?
Every pang and bitter throe, finishing your life of woe?
Who but Christ had dared to drain, steeped in gall, the cup of pain,
And with tender body bear thorns, and nails, and piercing spear?
Slain for us, the water flowed, mingled from your side with blood;
Sign to all attesting eyes of the finished sacrifice.
Holy Jesus, grant us grace in that sacrifice to place
All our trust for life renewed, pardoned sin, and promised good.
Grant us grace to sing your praise, ‘round your throne through endless days,
Ever with the sons of light: “Blessing, honor, glory, might!”
I was pleased to learn that these words were recently arranged into a new hymn by Matthew Merker of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. It is fitting and right that they should be, for the church should always sing of the price that was paid to set us free! The church must never forget that a ransom price was paid! Because if the church forgets, then the good news does not get to the world, and the world desperately needs to know!
God is not a cosmic child abuser. Rather, He is perfectly righteous and holy and His wrath is justly kindled against sin. When His Son, Jesus, takes on our sin, He also takes on the wrath of the Father in our place and for us. What this means is something unbelievable: the wrath that I deserve, that you deserve, was satisfied by Jesus when He took it upon Himself on the cross! My chains have been broken and my prison cell door has been opened because Christ has done my time for me, for you!
We are saved because of this amazing sacrifice, this lavish love!
Christ has come!
Christ has died!
Christ has risen!
All who come to Christ in repentance and faith are now set free!
 James A. Brooks, Mark. The New American Commentary. Gen. Ed., David S. Dockery. Vol.23 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1991), p.166.
 Brooks, 168.
 William Lane, The Gospel According to Mark. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Gen. Ed., Joel B. Green (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p.379.
 Brooks, 171.
 Lane, 380.
 Joel Marcus, Mark 8-16. The Anchor Bible. Vol.27A (New Haven, CT: The Anchor Yale Bible, 2009), p.749.