Monday, September 13, 2021

Recognizing Jesus

In the Gospel of Mark, all men in the end prove incapable of recognizing who Jesus of Nazareth is, namely, the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. The only exceptions are John the Baptist, Peter, and the Roman centurion at the foot of the Cross. Peter’s moment of brilliance is very brief and fleeting, and even John begins to question the identity of the Nazarene once he is imprisoned by Herod Antipas.

Mark has threaded this idea throughout his gospel account to make the point: The one true Messiah who was sent by God cannot be understood apart from his sacrificial death on a Roman cross.

Cross at Night - Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash
[Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash]

At the outset of
Mark, Scripture is quoted demonstrating that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel, an identification confirmed by John the Baptist and the “voice from heaven” at his baptism in the Jordan.

In contrast, DESPITE his many miracles, men and women remained confused about who he was. Even his family and closest associates failed to recognize and acknowledge that he was the Son of God. Apparently, he was not the kind of Messiah everyone expected or anyone wanted.

After the heavens were “rent asunder” following his baptism, the voice from heaven declared him to be the “Son of God.” The Greek verb translated as “rent asunder” is schizō, which means to “rend asunder, cleave, split open.” In Mark, it occurs only at his baptism and when the veil of the Temple was “rent” at his death.

In Capernaum, his first act was to cast out an “unclean spirit.” Unlike the men of the village, the demon knew Jesus as the “Holy One of God.” The men present were astounded and asked, “Who is this?” Despite his impressive deed, he remained unrecognized by anyone from the synagogue.

Though demonic spirits recognized the “Son of God,” human beings consistently failed to do so, including members of his own family and inner circle. Proximity to Jesus did not guarantee recognition of who he was - (Mark 3:11-12, Mark 5:1-7).

The “Scribes” from Jerusalem could not deny his ability to cast out demons and heal the sick, yet rather than acknowledge that he did so by divine authority, they charged him with casting out demons by “Beelzebub, the prince of demons” - (Mark 3:21-30).

By his word, Jesus calmed a storm on the Sea of Galilee. In fear, his disciples asked one another, “Who is this, that even wind and the sea obey him?” Even this display of power was insufficient to convince anyone about his identity - (Mark 4:36-41).

When he returned to his hometown and began to teach, many men began to question who he was - “Whence has this man these things…Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” Rather than rejoice that the “Son of God” was in their village, the people of Nazareth were “offended by him” – (Mark 6:1-6).

After Jesus miraculously fed five thousand people, he went alone to pray on a mountain. The disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee by boat, struggling against a contrary wind. He appeared suddenly, walking on the water. They cried out in fear until he identified himself, entered the boat, and caused the wind to cease. Previously, they had seen him calm a great storm, yet this miracle failed to convince them of who he was, because “their hearts were hardened” - (Mark 6:45-52).

On the way to Jerusalem, momentarily, Peter appeared to grasp his identity.  When Jesus asked, “Who do men say that I am,” he answered, “You are the Christ!” He then admonished the disciples to tell no one, explaining that “the Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

To this, Peter objected, and his sudden revelation departed immediately. The very idea that the Messiah would be subjected to suffering and death was beyond the pale. Whatever insight Peter may have gained was lost when he was confronted with the reality of the suffering Messiah - (Mark 8:27-38).

Jesus Crucified - Photo by Wim van 't Einde on Unsplash
[Photo by Wim van 't Einde on Unsplash]


When he was tried, the High Priest demanded of him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” He responded, “I am he. And you will see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven.” Before the priestly leaders of Israel, he identified himself as the Messiah. There could be no doubt, yet rather than recognizing him, the High Priest charged him with blasphemy, and the “chief priests and the whole council” condemned him to death - (Mark 14:60-64).

Ironically, the Roman governor confirmed his Messianic status when he had “King of the Jews” inscribed on a board that was nailed to his cross. Yet, as he was hanging on it, Jewish spectators mocked him - (Mark 15:26).

Likewise, the chief priests and Scribes ridiculed him as he was dying despite the testimony of God, Scripture, his miraculous deeds, and his own sworn testimony before them. It was clear to anyone with “eyes to see” that he was the Messiah.

Paradoxically, demons did recognize him, yet the Temple authorities refused to do so despite the overwhelming evidence of their eyes and ears. Instead, they mockingly challenged him - “Let him come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe” - (Mark 15:26-32).

Only at Calvary did a human voice declare unhesitatingly that Jesus was the “Son of God.” As death overwhelmed him, he uttered a loud cry and died. At that precise moment, “the veil of the temple was RENT IN TWO from the top to the bottom,” and the Roman officer declared, “Truly, this man was the Son of God” - (Mark 15:37-39).

Just as the “rending of the heavens” at his baptism produced a declaration regarding his Messianic status, so the “rending” of the Temple veil produced the same confession, only now on the lips of the pagan centurion. Only as Jesus was crucified did a human being begin to understand just who he was, and paradoxically, by the Gentile officer in charge of his execution.

Thus, only in his suffering and death are men able to grasp who Jesus is, and consequently, what it means to “follow him wherever he goes.” As wonderful as miracles, signs, and wonders are, the true understanding of his identity, nature, and mission can only be realized on and through the Cross of Calvary.