Here’s an essential truth: To learn true humility, we need more than a redefinition of greatness; we need even more than Jesus’ personal example of humble service.

What we need is His death.

Listen again to what Jesus 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.” The Savior here is clarifying for His disciples the difference between His example and theirs; He’s emphasizing the uniqueness of His own sacrifice. He’s telling them not only that true greatness is attained by emulating His example, but also that true greatness is not even possible for us apart from the Savior’s unique sacrifice.

This is a crucial point. It’s no exaggera¬tion to say that understanding the place of the cross is essential to grasping the principles of humility. So if necessary, read slowly—because we are approaching holy ground.

Jesus alone came to give His life as a ransom for the sins of many—and this separates Him from any other sac¬rificial service that anyone else anywhere could ever offer. Here we find what is completely, utterly, and categorically unique about the Savior and His example. And in true humility, our own service to others is always both an effect of His unique sacrifice and the evidence of it. His sacrifice alone makes it possible for us to achieve and experience true greatness in God’s eyes.

Donald English expresses the point this way in The Message of Mark: The Mystery of Faith: “At the source of all Christian service in the world is the crucified and risen Lord who died to liberate us into such service.” That’s why all Christian service not only reflects the Savior’s example, but should also remind us of His sacri¬fice. Ultimately our Christian service exists only to draw attention to this source—to our crucified and risen Lord who gave Himself as a ransom for us all.

Let’s move in for a closer look at this incomparable sacrifice.

Jesus Leading the Way

In Mark 10 we find Jesus and His disciples on the road, going up to Jerusalem. This is the last journey of Jesus’ ministry, and the final destination is in full view. The hour for which He ultimately came now approaches. The cross is on the horizon.

This long journey to Jerusalem and the cross will apparently be a lonely one for the Savior, for He’s making it without the full understanding and support of His dis¬ciples. They continue to be blinded by selfish ambition, so He must continue to teach and instruct them and confront their arrogance.

And yet, however grieved His heart must surely be at this moment, we see Him “walking ahead of them” (v. 32). No one is prodding Him on; no one is forcing Him. He’s leading the way. And the One leading the way is the only One in this group of travelers who’s aware of what indescribable anguish awaits Him there.

Pause, if you will, and picture Him in your mind. Behold this lone figure out in front, fully aware and informed of what awaits Him in Jerusalem. See Him stead¬fast in heart, determined, setting the pace for His disciples, striding purposefully forward.

Where?

To Jerusalem.

Why?

To die.

He will not be deterred. He’s full of resolve as He keeps this appointment made in eternity past. Relentlessly He proceeds to a place where He’ll be betrayed and arrested, where He’ll be accused and condemned, where He’ll be mocked and spit upon and flogged and ultimately exe¬cuted. And there’s no hesitation, no reluctance in His steps. Though unimaginable suffering is before Him, He’s walking ahead, leading the way.

The Ransom

This then is the background for Jesus’ encounter with the proud words and actions of His arrogant and indignant disciples. And as He confronts their pride—and our own —Jesus for the first time defines the purpose of His approaching death and what it will accomplish: “The Son of Man came…to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).