SYNOPSIS – No one recognized who Jesus was except the demons cast out by him. Only in his sacrificial death can his identity be understood – Mark 4:41.
In his early ministry, the disciples had witnessed Jesus heal the sick, cast out demons, forgive sins, and most spectacularly, calm a violent storm on the Sea of Galilee, and all with great authority. Yet rather than faith in the Son of God, these 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 sole exceptions of the demons exorcised by him and a heavenly voice heard by him immediately after his baptism.
At his baptism in the Jordan River, a voice from heaven proclaimed him the beloved “Son.” Several times, when he exorcised demons, an “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, men and women are without perception – Unable to perceive his identity, including even 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 ministry 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 the power of this magnitude was insufficient to open their eyes – (Mark 1:27, 4:41).
Later, “on the way” to Jerusalem, Peter seemed on the verge of grasping his identity, declaring, “You are the Messiah.” However, appearances can be deceiving. When Jesus explained that his Messiahship meant suffering, rejection, and death, Peter “began to rebuke him.” The idea of a Messiah crucified by his enemies was inconceivable to a patriotic Jew. But Jesus reacted with a sharp reprimand – “Withdraw behind me, Satan, because you are not regarding the things of God but the things of men!” – (Mark 8:29-32).
Only at the Cross did one man finally recognize Jesus for who and what he truly was and, ironically, this was none other than the 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.” He perceived what none of the religious leaders of Israel could see. Only when he was crucified did someone begin to understand who he was.
There is no Christianity without Christ and there is no saving faith apart from Christ Crucified.
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 – He “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).
Towards the end of his 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 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 his true identity and the nature of his call. Resurrection and glory come for all who follow Jesus but only after embracing his Cross.