SYNOPSIS – Only in his sacrificial death can the identity of Jesus and the nature of his messiahship be understood – Mark 15:29-39.
Threaded through the gospel of Mark is an ironic storyline – Until his crucifixion, no one recognized who Jesus was or acknowledged him as the “Son of God” – Except the demons that he exorcised. In Mark, the only man or woman who acknowledged Jesus as the “Son of God” was the Roman centurion in command of the execution squad at Calvary.
At his baptism in the River Jordan, a voice from heaven proclaimed Jesus the “beloved Son.” The demons that he cast out recognized him, although when they attempted to identify him to the crowd, he silenced them – (“for they knew who he was”).
In contrast to the “unclean spirits,” the men and women he encountered in Galilee and on the way to Jerusalem were without perception, unable to see or understand his identity, including members of his family and his closest disciples – (Mark 1:10-11, 1:24-34, 5:7).
After Jesus cast 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. Following his miraculous calming of a storm, the disciples were terrified and asked one another, “Who is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” Even a miraculous display of this magnitude was insufficient to open their eyes to see the “Son of God” who was in their midst, the promised Messiah of Israel – (Mark 1:27, 4:41).
When Peter appeared on the verge of grasping his identity when he declared – “You are the Messiah.” However, appearances were deceiving. When Jesus explained that his Messiahship meant suffering, rejection, and death, Peter “began to rebuke him,” and rather aggressively so! – (Mark 8:29-32).
The idea of a suffering Messiah was inconceivable to Peter and the other disciples. Indeed, what devout Israelite could even imagine the long-promised Messiah being executed by the nation’s greatest enemy and oppressor – Rome. But Jesus reacted to Peter with an equally aggressive 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. In fact, Jesus was the “Suffering Servant” portrayed in the book of Isaiah.
“Who believed what we have heard? And the arm of Yahweh, to whom was it revealed? When he came up as a sapling before him. And as a root-sprout out of dry ground, He had neither beauty nor majesty—When we beheld him, there was nothing to behold, that we should desire him; Despised was he and forsaken of men, Man of pains and familiar with sickness—Yea, like one from whom the face is hidden, Despised, and we esteemed him not. Yet surely our sicknesses he carried, And as for our pains, he bare the burden of them—But we accounted him stricken. Smitten of God and humbled, Yet he was pierced for transgressions that were ours, was crushed for iniquities that were ours—the chastisement for our well-being was upon him, And by his stripes there is healing for us.” – (Isaiah 53:1-5 – The Emphasized Bible).
Only at the very moment that he died on Golgotha did one man finally recognize Jesus for who he truly was and, rather ironically, the very Roman centurion in charge of his execution. After Jesus breathed his last, this officer declared – “Truly this man was the Son of God”:
(Mark 15:29-39) – “And the passers-by were reviling him, shaking their heads, and saying—Aha! thou who wast pulling down the shrine, and building one in three days! Save thyself—coming down from the cross. Likewise, the High-priests also, mocking one to another with the Scribes were saying—Others he saved, himself, he cannot save! The Christ, the King of Israel—let him come down now from the cross that we may see and believe. And they who had been crucified with him were casting it in his teeth. And when it was the sixth hour, darkness came on all the land—until the ninth hour; and at the ninth hour Jesus uttered a cry with a loud voice—Eloi! Eloi! lama sabachthanei? which is, being translated—My God! [My God!] to what end didst thou forsake me? And some of the by-standers, having heard, were saying—See! Elijah he calleth! And one, running, filled a sponge with vinegar and putting it about a reed, was giving him to drink, saying—Stay! let us see whether Elijah is coming to take him down! But Jesus, sending out a loud voice, ceased to breathe. And the veil of the Temple was rent into two from top to bottom. Now, the centurion who was standing near out over against him, seeing that, thus, he ceased to breathe, said—Truly, this man was God’s son!” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The chief priests, the scribes, and even the two thieves crucified with him all mocked Jesus as he hung dying on the Cross. Only when he died an unjust and horrific death did someone begin to understand who he was, and by a man who was not one of his disciples, a member of his family, 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”). But resurrection only comes after death. In the biblical scheme, humiliation and unjust suffering precede exaltation and glory.
Later, the Apostle Paul did not engage in metaphysical speculations about the nature of Christ when he wrote to the Philippians. Instead, he presented his submission even to a shameful death on a Roman crow as the paradigm for Christian conduct within the assembly. 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 means to configure your life according to his example. This call 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).
When some of his disciples disputed which of them would be the “greatest” in the kingdom, Jesus corrected 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.” – (Mark 10:35-45).
The call of discipleship is a summons to live life in self-sacrificial service to others and to conform to the pattern set by Jesus. To follow the Lamb wherever he goes means a life of humble service and submission to the will of his Father.
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.