SYNOPSIS – During his ministry, no one recognized Jesus except the demons cast out by him. Only in his sacrificial death can his identity and messiahship be understood.
In his early ministry, the disciples witnessed Jesus authoritatively heal the sick, cast out demons, forgive sins, and, most spectacurlarly, calmed a violent storm on the Sea of Galilee. Yet, rather than faith in the Son of God, the powerful miracles produced confusion, fear and the question – Who is this man?
Threaded through the gospel of Mark is the ironic storyline – Until his crucifixion, no human being recognized who Jesus was or acknowledged him as the “Son of God,” with the exception of the sole exception of the demons exorcised by him.
At his baptism in the Jordan River, a voice from heaven proclaimed him the beloved “Son.” Several times, when he exorcised a demon, the “unclean spirit” would recognize him and declare Jesus to be the “Son of God.” However, whenever a demon made such an outcry, he silenced it (“For they knew who he was”).
In contrast to the demonic forces, in the gospel of Mark, men and women are without perception – Unable to percieve his identity, including members of his immediate family – (Mark 1:10-11, 1:24-34, 5:7).
After casting out one demon, the crowd “was amazed, one and all, so that they began to discuss among themselves saying, What is this?” Even his closest disciples remained clueless throughout his time in Galilee.
Following his miraculous calming of a storm, terrified, the disciples asked one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?” Even a display of a power of this magnitude was insufficient to open their eyes – (Mark 1:27, 4:41).
Later, “on the way” to Jerusalem and his inevitable death, Peter seemed on the verge of grasping the identity of Jesus, declaring, “You are the Messiah.” However, appearances can be deceiving. When he responded and explained that his Messiahship meant suffering, rejection, and death, Peter “began to rebuke him” – (Mark 8:29-32).
The idea of a Messiah crucified by his “enemies” was inconceivable to a patriotic Jew like Peter. But Jesus responded to him with a sharp reprimand – “Withdraw behind me, Satan, because you are not regarding the things of God but the things of men!” Genuine messiahship meant suffering and death.
Only at the Cross did one man finally recognize Jesus for who and what he truly was, and this one the very Roman centurion put in charge of the execution squad. When Jesus breathed his last, this pagan officer declared, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”
Only when Jesus was crucified did someone begin to understand who he was and, ironically, by a man who was not one of his disciples or even a Jew. Instead, Jesus was declared the “Son of God” by the Gentile Roman officer assigned to crucify him.There is no Christianity without Christ and there is no saving faith apart from Christ Crucified.Christ’s death would have been in vain if God had not vindicated him through resurrection.
When he predicted his death, Jesus also foretold his resurrection (“The Son of Man must suffer many things…and be slain, and after three days arise”). However, resurrection only comes after death. In the biblical scheme, humiliation and unjust suffering precede exaltation and glory.
Years later, when he wrote to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul did not engage in metaphysical speculations about the nature of Christ Instead, he presented his submission even to a shameful death on a Roman cross as the paradigm for Christian conduct within the assemblies of God. Jesus “poured himself out, taking the form of a slave,” and he humbled himself by becoming “obedient as far as death, even death upon a cross” – (Philippians 2:6-11).
To follow Jesus is to configure your life according to his teachings and example. This model goes back to Christ himself when he taught his disciples: “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above his master…He that does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me” – (Matthew 10:24-38).
Near the end of his early ministry, some of the disciples were disputing which of them would be the “greatest” in the kingdom. Jesus admonished them:
“Not so is it to be among you, but whoever shall desire to become great among you shall be your minister, and whosoever shall desire to be first among you shall be your slave: just as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give his life a ransom instead of many.”
“Greatness” in his realm is achieved only in self-sacrificial service to others – Only in this way does a disciple conform his or her life to the pattern set by Jesus. To follow “the Lamb wherever he goes” means a life of humble service, submission to the will of his Father, and a willingness to suffer for his sake.
Only in the Cross of Christ are we able to perceive the true identity of Jesus and the nature of his call. Resurrection and glory will come for all who follow Jesus, but only after they embrace his Cross.