WHO IS JESUS?
© Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2002
STUDY ONE: MARK'S ANSWER
- Jesus is the Son of God: Mark 1:1-15
- Jesus has authority over people: Mark 1:16-20; 2:13-14
- Jesus has authority over truth: Mark 1:21,22
- Jesus has authority over evil spirits: Mark 1:21-28; 3:20-30; 5:1-20; 7:24-30
- Jesus has authority over sickness and disability: Mark 1:30,31, 40-42; 3:1-5; 5:21-43; 7:32-37; 8:22-26; 10:46-52.
- Jesus has authority to forgive sin: Mark 2:1-12
- Jesus has authority over God's law: Mark 2:18-28; 3:1-6
- Jesus has authority over nature: Mark 4:35-41; 6:30-52; 8:14-21, 27-30
- Jesus is the King of glory: Mark 9:2-12; 11:1-10
- Jesus is the Son of God: Mark 14:61-64; 15:39
Most of the books written about Mark's gospel tell us that Mark presents the human Jesus, that in the gospel of Mark we see Jesus the man. But, when we let Mark speak for himself we see from his very first sentence that his focus is very definitely on Jesus as the Son of God: 'The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God' (1:1).
To Mark, the question of the reality of Christ's humanity was irrelevant. Everyone knew he was a man. When Mark wrote no one disputed that. The thing that impressed Mark, the thing which the people of his day disputed, and the thing that he wishes to impress upon his readers, is the fact that this real man was also God. So he presents him to us as 'Jesus Christ, the Son of God.' Having introduced Jesus to us in this way Mark proceeds through his Gospel to give us one demonstration after another to validate Jesus' right to this exalted title.
[Historical note: While many people today are so familiar with Jesus being called 'the Son of God' that its significance is lost to us, this was not the case in the time of Jesus and the disciples. To the Jews, as we will see when we study John's Answer to the question, to be the Son of God was to be equal with God; for a man to claim divine sonship was blasphemy against God. It is into this setting, this mindset, that Mark lays it down right at the beginning: Jesus is the Son of God.]
As we see Jesus striding through the Gospel of Mark with all the power and authority of God we are confronted with the challenge: how will we respond to this one who is God? What will we do when confronted by him? Will we recognise him and submit to him in repentance and faith? Or, will we refuse to admit that this man is God, and reject his right to stand in authority over us?
Let us see what Mark has to say about him.
Jesus is the Son of God
 Mark's first verification of his statement that Jesus is the Son of God is in 1:3. Here the prophet Isaiah is quoted:
'Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight.'
These words from Isaiah explain the ministry of John the Baptist. What John was doing was preparing the way for the Lord .
Who is 'the Lord' ?
The God of the Old Testament, the God of the Jews.
But, who is it that came after John the Baptist? For whom did John prepare the way?
According to the prophecy, the one who comes after the messenger is the Lord. According to history, the one who came after John the Baptist was Jesus of Nazareth. This prophecy, together with John the Baptist's ministry, identifies Jesus of Nazareth as the Lord. In quoting the prophecy, in recounting John's ministry, Mark identifies Jesus as the Old Testament God, the Lord.
[  Further, in John the Baptist's description of Jesus as the one who baptises with the Holy Spirit (1:8), Jesus is again identified as God. Only God can give his own Spirit. If Jesus has the right and ability to baptise with the Holy Spirit, then Jesus can be no one less than God.]
 The third word comes from God himself: 'And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." ' (1:11). This declaration leaves us with no excuse. God himself states clearly who Jesus is - his Son.
 Mark then shows us Jesus going into Galilee and 'proclaiming the good news of God.' (1:14).
[Here that we run into a problem. The church seems to have restricted the meaning of the term 'gospel' to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The gospel, the 'good news', has for the church become 'Jesus died for your sins.' Here in Mark 1 Jesus has not yet died, nor has he made any reference to his dying, yet we are told that he proclaimed the 'good news of God' that is 'the gospel of God' and exhorted his hearers to 'believe the good news!' (1:15).]
Does Mark give us any indication of what Jesus preached that he calls 'the good news'? Yes. He does: 'The time has come. The kingdom of God is near.' (1:15). Obviously this is a summary of Jesus' message. Obviously he did not go around repeating these simple words over and over like a cracked record. In these words Mark encapsulates Jesus' message.
Jesus' first point is the time has come . The Greek text is more powerful: the time is fulfilled. What Jesus is saying here is that in his coming all the expectations, all the prophecies, all the plans and purposes of God, all that God promised, have been fulfilled and remain in a state of completion. In the coming of Jesus, God's time has come. In his coming history reaches its climax, its maturation point, its purpose.
His second point is the kingdom of God is near. Again the Greek text is more powerful, using a verb, not an adverb: the kingdom of God has come, or drawn, near. Jesus is not simply saying that God's kingdom somewhere nearby, but that with his coming the kingdom of God also comes . His coming brings the kingdom of God near to the inhabitants of earth. Why is this? At this point in Mark's record we are not told, but as we read through his reports we realise that this is because Jesus is the King. It becomes increasingly evident that this man Jesus is the divine King who rules over all things with all the authority of God. In him the kingly rule of God confronts every human being.
If we read further in that same chapter of Isaiah which was quoted in Mark 1:2 & 3 we come to these words:
'You who bring good tidings to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem,
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
"Here is your God!"' (Isaiah 40:9)
Just as the words of anticipation in Isaiah 40:3 speak of the coming of John the Baptist, so these words in verse nine speak of the coming of Jesus Christ. Twice they mention 'good tidings', three times they give the command to shout out these good tidings. And what are these good tidings? What is this good news? - 'Here is your God!'
Here is your God!
God has come to us. In this man Jesus, God has come. That is the good news. That is the central basic fact of the gospel.
Why is that so wonderful? Why is this something to get excited about? Why should the prophet say to get up on top of a high mountain and shout it out?
Because, if God did what he ought to do to us, if God treated us as we deserve, he would abandon us. He would condemn us. He would do as he did in the days of Noah. But he doesn't. He comes to us. Just as the prophet said 'Here is your God!' so Jesus says: 'The time has come. The kingdom of God is near.' God is here. In this man Jesus, God is here. Those who stand face to face with this man stand face to face with God.
Jesus has authority over people
Having introduced us to Jesus as the Son of God Mark proceeds to give us evidence of Jesus' identity. The first evidence is the authority Jesus has over people. In his encounter with the four fishermen by the Sea of Galilee Jesus commands them to follow him and they do so immediately. No arguing. No discussion. No weighing up of the pros and cons. They recognise in Jesus one who has the power to command their obedience. (Mark 1:16-20). The same thing happens with Levi the tax collector. (Mark 2:14).
Jesus does not hesitate to call Simon and Andrew away from their livelihood. He does not hesitate to call John and James away from their father. He does not hesitate to call Levi, the despised tax-collector and sinner, rejected by good Jews. Jesus stands over and above these human values and considerations. It is his divine right to command both our allegiance and our obedience.
Jesus has authority over truth
In our familiarity with Mark's record we can easily miss this point. He takes only two verses to mention it (Mark 1:21,22). Jesus goes into the synagogue and begins to teach. Mark tells us two things:
(1) the people were amazed at his teaching. The word translated 'amazed' or 'astonished' literally means 'struck out'. In our current Australian idiom we would probably have written 'struck out of their wits'!
(2) This unexpected astonishment is caused by the fact that Jesus 'taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law'. Unlike the teachers of the Jewish law Jesus taught on his own authority. They did not presume to speak in their own name, with their own knowledge. They took their authority from recognised scholars and teachers from the past, quoting, referring, authenticating their teaching by the authority of reputable, respected names. Jesus taught in his own name, with his own authority, his own knowledge, his own understanding and presentation of the truth.
No one pulls him up and contradicts his teaching. The only response recorded here is utter amazement at his authority.
Yet even this amazement is about to be surpassed.
Jesus has authority over evil spirits
While the people are still reeling under the impact of Jesus' authoritative presentation of truth a demon-possessed man cries out. We might notice in passing that the evil spirit is aware of the true identity of Jesus: he calls him both 'Jesus of Nazareth' - a real man, and 'the Holy One of God' - God's Son. But Jesus does not want the testimony of the evil spirit (see also 1:34b). He commands it to be quiet and come out of the man. Immediately the spirit obeys.
Again Mark tells us the people were all 'amazed'. In our English translations the words are often the same. In the Greek they are different. The word used here holds an element of fear or terror, even to the extent of being rendered immovable. They are completely overawed by this authority of Jesus over the evil spirit. Mark tells us that this reaction was so strong that they asked (and the Greek means kept on asking) each other 'What is this? a new teaching - and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.' (1:27)
[The discussion evoked by this incident and others (see Mark 1:34b, 39) seems to have continued for some time. In 3:20-30 the debate comes out in the open. Jesus finds himself in the middle of a hornet's nest. His family believe he's out of his mind and want to remove him from the public eye. The teachers of the law believe that Jesus himself is possessed by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, and that it is from this source that he has his amazing, terrifying authority over demons.
Jesus responds to this accusation with a parable about a strong man and one who ties up the strong man and robs him of his belongings. The meaning of the parable is clear: the strong man is Satan; the one who comes and ties the strong man up is Jesus. Having tied him up he robs him of his possessions. In this way Jesus explains what he is doing when he commands evil spirits to go out of the people they possess. The reason Jesus can do this is that he is stronger than Satan - in terms of both authority and power. The true meaning of Jesus' authority over demons is that he is the one who has authority over Satan. In other words, he is God. This is why Jesus ends this discussion with the warning about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of God. To attribute the work of the Spirit of God to the power of Satan is to reject God. For one who rejects God there can be no forgiveness.]
In Mark 5:1-20 we find an even more spectacular demonstration of this authority of Jesus over evil spirits.
Again the spirits recognise the true identity of Jesus, this time being even more precise: 'Jesus, Son of the Most High God'. When Jesus asks 'What is your name?' we learn that Jesus is here confronted by not just one, but by a 'legion' of spirits. A legion numbers anything from three thousand to six thousand. Imagine this contest: one man, Jesus, the Son of God, versus as many as six thousand evil spirits. Our minds cannot really grasp hold of that, and this very impossibility is evidence of the greatness of Jesus' power and authority. Alone he stands against this legion. So aware are these spirits of the authority of this one man that they cringe before him begging his permission to go into the herd of pigs when they come out of the man. They know that they have to leave the man, because Jesus has ordered it. They know they cannot enter the pigs without Jesus' permission. We can almost see them cowering with fear in his presence.
The power of this incident is not lost on the people. They hear the report of what has happened. They come to see if it is true. They see the man totally changed. They see, perhaps, the bodies of the pigs floating in the lake. They hear the story again from those who saw it happen.
And they cannot handle it. They cannot bear to have this powerful person in their town. In their fear they keep on begging him to go away. Afraid of his power. Afraid of his authority. He is too big for them - one man against six thousand demons! They would rather have had the mad man. They would rather have had their herd of pigs. They would rather have had the demons. Any of these, but not the Son of God!
The pathos of their choice is over-whelming.
Mark relates two further occasions where Jesus' exercised his authority over evil spirits. In Mark 7:24 to 30 a Greek woman begs Jesus to drive the demon out of her little daughter. In response to her faith in him Jesus tells her that the demon has left the girl. Let us not fail to notice what has happened here. Jesus is in one place. The demon-possessed girl is in another place. There is no face to face confrontation as in the other occurrences. Mark gives us no record that Jesus spoke to the demon from afar. Yet such is the almighty power of Jesus that the demon must and does obey his will. The woman goes home to find the demon gone, just as Jesus said it would be.
The other incident centres on the boy in Mark 9 whom the disciples could not help.
Jesus has authority over sickness and disability
Mark records various occasions in which Jesus healed sick and disabled people: Simon's mother-in-law (1:30,31); the man with leprosy (1:40-42); the man with the shrivelled hand (3:1-5); the woman with the haemorrhage (5:25-34); the deaf and dumb man (7:32-37); the blind man (8:22-26); and Bartimaeus (10:46-52). We can include here also the restoration to life of Jairus' daughter (5:21-24,35-43).
Revelation 21:4 promises us that death, crying, mourning and pain will be eliminated with the final establishment of God's eternal kingdom. When he reigns, having thrown Satan into hell for ever, having removed completely all trace of sin and rebellion, sickness, pain, deformity, disability and death will no longer exist.
These things are on this earth only because of sin. That initial rebellion in Genesis 3 involved the earth in God's curse (Genesis 3:14-24). At that point suffering, pain and dying began. Sin began to reign. Death began to reign. (See Romans 5:12-17; Hebrews 2:14,15). Every human being born into the world is born under the power of these two tyrants. We all suffer. We all get sick. We all die. In our subjection to these two we are under the power of Satan. He holds us captive.
When Jesus healed the sick and the disabled he was confronting Satan just as surely as he confronted him in casting out demons. In these acts of healing Jesus is undoing the effects of our rebellion, he is undoing the power of Satan. By healing the sick and renewing the disabled Jesus demonstrates his superior power which is over and above the power of Satan. [*See note below.] But behind this, at a far deeper level, when Jesus heals and renews he is exercising his divine right to reverse a condition which is here because of a curse pronounced by God. Only God can revoke his own curse. No one else has that authority.
In these miracles of healing we see that this man, Jesus, is God. He did not heal every sick and disabled person in Galilee and Judea, nor did he revive every one who died. He did not seek them out. He was not on a one man healing crusade anxious to do miracles, anxious to make a name for himself, anxious to eradicate sickness and disability. But, when confronted by it, in his great tenderness of heart, with his acute understanding that these things are the evidence of human rebellion against the rightful authority of God, knowing that these things are on this earth because we have believed the ego-building lies of Satan and let him rule us, Jesus opposes that authority and that despotic rule of Satan and reduces it to nothing, removing the sickness, removing the disability, removing even death.
These healing miracles proclaim the good news: 'Jesus is the Son of God.' They proclaim the good tidings of Isaiah 40: here, in this man, is your God. This man, Jesus, has the power and authority to undo and remove the worldwide effect of sin; this man, Jesus, has the power and the authority to rescue people out from under Satan's power; this man, Jesus, has the power and authority to undo and remove the curse of Genesis 3.
[ * It is not the intention three paragraphs back, to indicate that each individual instance of sickness is the result of an immediate and direct action of Satan, but rather to attribute the existence of sickness, disability, and the like on earth to the interference of Satan recorded in Genesis 3. As a result of this interference the first human beings made a choice, a choice which impacts us all. From that choice - the choice of death rather than life - all suffering issues. This will be further addressed in a future study on this site: 'What does the Bible say about Suffering?']
Jesus has the authority to forgive sin
Closely related to the healing miracles, but set apart from them, is the story of the paralysed man in Mark 2:1-12.
Because of the human thoughts that have been laid down in our minds on top of the truth, we stand in danger of misunderstanding this incident. It is quite common for people to draw a straight connection between their individual sins and their sickness. We are told that we are suffering this or that particular illness because we are living with a certain unconfessed, unrepented sin. Another thing we are told is that if we had enough faith, or the right kind of faith, we would enjoy perfect health, and that the illnesses we suffered until we got such faith would now be removed by the exercise of that faith.
In the case of this paralysed man Jesus has ample opportunity to make these two connections; but he doesn't. He makes no such correlation between individual sin and suffering, faith and healing, at all. The only faith we know for sure is present in this incident is the faith of the four men who brought their friend to Jesus, trusting him to help him. Whether or not the man himself had faith is not mentioned.
So the friends come, determined to get the man to Jesus, confident of his help. They expect that Jesus will heal the man, nothing else. They do not see, as Jesus the divine Son sees, that this man has a far more pressing need than physical restoration. Jesus sees past the wretched body to the wretchedness of the man's soul. He sees that this man is far more concerned with the guilt that eats him out inside, robbing him of peace, separating him from God, than he is about his physical disability.
It is to this spiritual need that Jesus addresses himself. Without a moment's hesitation he says to the man 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'
Immediately the teachers of religious law are mentally aggressive. 'Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?'
Why do they say this?
They know the law. They know that all sin is sin against God, and because all sin is sin against God, only God has the authority to forgive it. God is the one offended by sin, only he has the right to remove the offence, and only he can decide and dictate how the offence can be removed. [A study of the book of Leviticus reveals the intricate and specific details of how, according to Law, a person or nation must approach God in order to obtain forgiveness. We also learn from Leviticus how totally our lives are permeated by the sin factor, so totally that it is impossible for us to realise either the magnitude or the multitude of our sins.] God alone knows how sinful we are; God alone can make the blanket statement made by Jesus: your sins are forgiven.
Equally immediate as their mental and emotional reaction to his words is Jesus' knowledge of it. He takes up the challenge. What is easier? he asks. To say 'Your sins are forgiven?' Or to say 'Get up, take up your mat and walk?' If he says 'Your sins are forgiven' no one can prove or disprove that that has actually happened. The evidence is hidden in the mind of God and in the heart of the one forgiven. But to say 'Get up. Take up your mat and walk' has people holding their breath as they watch to see what will happen. If this actually happens it will demonstrate the power and authority of the words of Jesus, and indicate that the first word, the word of forgiveness, also happened. (2:10) The second proves the first, not because the paralysis was related to the sins, but because the words of Jesus are shown to be powerful and authoritative.
The people get the message. They had by this time seen Jesus perform many healing miracles, yet they say in amazement 'We have never seen anything like this!' The healing is amazing, but over and beyond the impact of that is Jesus' pronouncement of the forgiveness of this man's sin, which the authority of his word to heal verified. Because the second word of Jesus healed the man, they must acknowledge that his first word forgave the man. They cannot escape the logic of Jesus' words and actions. They stand confronted by it. This man, who calls himself the Son of Man, has authority on earth to forgive sins. (2:10)
But if only God can forgive sins, who then is this man who has forgiven sin? There is only one conclusion, a conclusion they do not want to think about. Jesus is God.
Jesus has authority over God's Law
When Mark relates for us Jesus' reply to the question about fasting (2:18-22) he is preparing us to recognise the authority Jesus has over the Law.
John's disciples were fasting. The Pharisees and their disciples were fasting. The disciples of Jesus were not. This has the people puzzled. Zechariah 8:19 tells us that the Jews fasted four times a year, in the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months. In addition some of the feast days involved fasting, and individuals fasted for a variety of religious reasons. What is under question in Mark 2 was probably one of those four fasts mentioned in Zechariah. It was a religious, ritual exercise engaged in by people who considered themselves religious. It was part of the piety expected of a good Jew.
But here are Jesus and his disciples not doing the expected religious thing, and the people want to know why. Jesus answers them with three riddles.
(1) The riddle of the bridegroom (Mark 2:19,20). 'How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?' In these verses Jesus teaches that as long as he is with his disciples they cannot fast. It is inappropriate. It is incongruous. It is impossible. To have him with them is an honour that calls for feasting and joy, not mourning and fasting. There will be a time for that, but not now, not while he is with them. Tucked away in this riddle is Jesus' unspoken knowledge of his true identity - an identity that transcends all that human beings see as religious obligation. He, the Son of God, is with them. How can they possibly fast? All the bells on earth should be ringing! All the flags should be flying! All the hearts of men should be overflowing with joy! They cannot fast, for God is with them!
[ (2) The riddle of the new patch on the old garment (Mark 2:21) , and (3) the riddle of the new wine in old wineskins (Mark 2:22) . These two riddles point to the practical impossibility of adding new to old. It can be tried, but it doesn't work: the new is wasted and the old destroyed in the attempt. Ritual fasting belongs to the 'old': the gospel of Jesus is the 'new'. The old focus of ritual observance and external ceremony cannot sustain the addition of the 'new' inner, spiritual life given by Jesus. Nor can this new life of following Jesus survive intact if attached to the 'old'. There is an in-built dynamic of destruction if an attempt is made to combine the two. All of the ritual, ceremonial observances were but shadows waiting for the coming of the reality which is Christ (Colossians 2:16,17). To hold to these old foreshadowings of Christ and to attempt to hold also to Christ, is as foolish and impossible as attempting to remain at the bus stop and also board the bus. Destruction is inevitable. Once the bus has come the bus stop has no more significance. We leave it behind. Jesus knows that he is the one anticipated and prophesied in the Jewish ritual and ceremonial law, and that in his coming all of that is rendered redundant. It pointed to him. Now he has come. It no longer has any purpose.]
These riddles are followed by two incidents in which Jesus openly displays his authority over the law. In Mark 2:23-28 the Pharisees criticize Jesus because his disciples are picking and eating corn on the Sabbath. Jesus refers them to David's action in which he broke the law in order to feed his hungry men. He points out to the Pharisees that, contrary to their understanding, the Sabbath was made to serve man, not man to serve the Sabbath. That which was intended by God to be a rest had been made by their law into a bondage. That which was instituted by God to demonstrate to the Jews that their relationship to him as his chosen people rested entirely on his grace (see Exodus 31:13 and Ezekiel 20:12) had become in their tradition the means by which they merited his approval.
It is as if Jesus said to the Pharisees 'Look! I know what I'm doing when I let my disciples pick corn to eat on the Sabbath. I tell you it's quite okay. I'm not going to bind my men to all your itty-bitty rules and regulations. That's not what the law of God's about at all. I know. It's my law!' But he doesn't say it like that. He simply says: 'So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.' If they accept it, they accept it; if they don't, they don't.
That they didn't accept Jesus' claim to have authority over the Sabbath becomes evident in Mark's next account in 3:1-6. The scene is the synagogue. The Pharisees are there, waiting to find fault with Jesus. The man with the shrivelled hand is there, needing to be healed. Jesus is there, the one who has the power to heal, the one who claims to be Lord of the Sabbath. Will he submit to their Sabbath law? Or will he stand in authority over it? He meets the problem head on, despising the eagerness in which the Pharisees wait to accuse him. He makes the man stand up where all can see him. He shoots a loaded question at the Pharisees: 'Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?'
Silence reigns. Had there been a clock that man standing there would have heard it ticking.
But not the Pharisees. They hear only the anger churning in their hearts towards this man who claimed authority over their law, towards this man who would undermine and cast aside all the beloved traditions to which they were bound.
And not Jesus. He also hears their anger, hard and harsh as heavy metal music, clanging in their unresponsive hearts. And he hears as well his own deep distress, his own heart crying, because of their hardness, because of their stubbornness.
But he will not be subject to them. He will not be bound by their misinterpretations of the law. He knows who he is. He knows the law. By his word he heals the man.
So threatened are the Pharisees by what to them seems like a high-handed disregard of the law, they go out and begin to plan Jesus' death. They see clearly what Jesus is doing, but it doesn't enter their minds that he actually has the right and authority to do it. To them he is just a man, usurping for himself the authority of God.
Jesus has authority over nature
When we read the accounts of Jesus' authority over nature we are confronted by some of the most powerful proofs of his identity. Both Mark and Jesus are amazed at the failure of the disciples to perceive the truth about him.
The first occasion on which Jesus controls nature is recorded in Mark 4:35-41. A violent storm hits the Sea of Galilee, so violent and threatening that even the seasoned fishermen are terrified and believe they're about to drown. They have faith enough in Jesus to hope that he might do something, so they wake him up. Just what they expected him to do is not clear, but they were so obviously still controlled by their fear that Jesus rebukes them for lack of faith. They do not yet realise who he is. This surprises him: 'Why are you so afraid? do you still have no faith?' Do you still not realise who I am? Do you still not believe that I am the Son of God? After all you have seen - demons cast out, sickness and disability removed, sins forgiven, my knowledge of the truth, my authority over the law - after all this do you still not believe?
No. They didn't. It hadn't yet got through to them just who Jesus is. They know he is someone special, but just how special is still beyond them.
Because they hadn't yet realised who Jesus really is his authority over the power of the storm terrifies them. They are now even more afraid of him than they were of the storm. They ask the right question: 'Who is this man?' The massive implications of what he has just done begin to dawn on them. 'Even the wind and the waves obey him!' They have seen it with their own eyes. They have felt it with their own bodies. The word of Jesus stopped the storm. But the Old Testament has taught them that it is God who controls nature (Job 38, Psalm 104). Faced with the thought that Jesus might actually be God they are overcome with terror. It is something they don't want to think about. It is a thought from which they shrink with fear.
We move on to 6:30-44 where Mark tells how Jesus fed 5000 men (as well as uncounted women and children) with five small loaves of bread and two fish. Mark makes no comment about how this miracle affected either the crowd or the disciples. He simply tells us what happened. He leaves us to make our own conclusions. To him it is obvious. To Jesus it was obvious. As we shall see below, this creative miracle should have identified Jesus as God. Just as in the beginning God created the world out of nothing, so here Jesus, the Son of God, creates out of next to nothing more than enough food for thousands of people. Think about it: how many supermarkets would we wipe out of bread, how many fish shops would we clean out of fish, if we had to feed this crowd? The magnitude of the miracle is stupendous, the action of the almighty creative power of God.
Mark goes on immediately to a third nature miracle (Mark 6:45-52). Jesus walked on the water. So unexpected and impossible is this that the disciples don't even believe it is really him. They think it's a ghost or a spirit. Real people don't walk on water. Real people can't walk on water. But it is Jesus, and he is walking on the water. Not only that, but as soon as he gets in the boat the wind stops.
Let us look carefully at Mark's comment about what followed. 'They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; for their hearts were hardened.' (6:51b,52).
They were completely amazed. English translations fail to convey the impact of the Greek. They were beside themselves with amazement to an immeasurable degree. Totally agitated. Totally overwhelmed with the incredibility and implications of what they have seen.
Why? Why were they so surprised that Jesus could do this?
Because, says Mark, they had not understood about the loaves. Or, as the Good News Bible puts it: 'because they had not understood the real meaning of the feeding of the five thousand.' Had they understood the real meaning of Jesus' feeding the five thousand they would not have been surprised that he now walks on the water. Had they believed then that he was God, this walking on the water would not have knocked them for six. But it did, because they hadn't understood that Jesus is God.
Why hadn't they understood this? Because, says Mark, their hearts were hardened. Petrified. Impenetrable. Unresponsive. Insensitive to the truth that had been blazed before their eyes as Jesus performed miracle after impactive miracle. They couldn't grasp the truth. By now they ought to have understood, but they didn't. They have not yet recognised that this man which whom they walk and talk, with whom they laugh, with whom they sleep and eat, is God.
In Mark 8:1-10 Mark records a second feeding miracle. Four thousand men, seven loaves, and a few small fish. One more creative miracle. One more chance to understand. One more opportunity to see the truth.
But this also appears to fail. A little while later the disciples find themselves with only one loaf of bread (8:14-21). Jesus overhears their discussion about this and asks: 'Why are you talking about having no bread? do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?' He reminds them of the two feeding miracles, then asks again: 'Do you still not understand?'
After all they have seen him do, after all they have heard him say, the disciples should by now understand who he is. In their blindness, in their deafness, in their hardness of heart, they talk about their lack of bread. The one who created the earth, the one who commands the sun and the rain, the one who gives life to the seeds and fills the earth with goodness for people to enjoy, sits with them in the boat! And they talk about not having enough bread!
Do you still not understand? he asks. Have you still not put it all together and come up with the right conclusion? Have you still not worked out who I am?
Slowly, slowly the cogs begin to turn.
He asks them some time later (Mark 8:27-30): Who do people say I am?
Oh, they reply, some say this and some say that.
But, what about you? You who have been with me from the beginning. You who have seen all the evidence of my authority. You whom I have taught and discipled. Who do you say I am?
Have they got it together yet? Do they dare to put it into words and say it out loud? Would it be blasphemy if they did, because the conclusion they have reached is not true after all? Or is it actually true?
Only Peter is brave enough to speak. 'You are the Christ.'
Matthew records more of Peter's answer: 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' (Matthew 16:16)
Jesus is the King of glory
It is only after this confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, that Jesus shows his disciples two further things.
He tells them, firstly, of the impending suffering, rejection, death and resurrection that he is soon to experience (8:31). Their understanding is so far from grasping the meaning of this that Mark's comment is that Jesus began to teach them about these things.
Secondly, six days later, Peter, James and John are given a brief glimpse of Jesus' eternal glory (9:2-12). There on the mountain top the brilliant, blinding glory that accompanied God's revelation of himself in the Old Testament (Ezekiel 1:24-28; Daniel 7:9,10; 10:5,6), here shines out from Jesus. Then Moses and Elijah turn up. The three disciples are thrown into a confusion of fear. They don't know how to respond. In his panic Peter suggests they make little shelters - one for Jesus, one for Moses, one for Elijah. As Mark tells us 'He didn't know what to say'!
A cloud comes and surrounds Jesus, Moses and Elijah. While they are hidden a voice speaks from the cloud: 'This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.' The cloud disperses and only Jesus is there.
Why did this happen? Why did Jesus take the three disciples up the mountain to witness this? Peter's thoughtless suggestion is instructive. The disciples had not yet understood the significance of their confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Peter's suggestion ranks Jesus as equal with Moses and Elijah, even though he has affirmed that Jesus is the Christ, even though he now sees him brilliant with the glory of God. The voice of God says 'This is my Son.' The voice of God says: 'Listen to him!' Do not listen any more to Moses, the Lawgiver. Do not listen any more to Elijah, the Prophet. This is my Son. All that the Law has ever told you finds its fulfilment in my Son. All that the Prophets ever told you finds its fulfilment in my Son. He is all you need.
The cloud lifts. Jesus stands alone. The whole significance of the Law and the Prophets is all in this one man, the Son whom God loves.
We move on now to Mark 11:1-10.
Zechariah 9:9 anticipates this scene:
'Rejoice greatly; O daughter of Zion!
Shout, daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'
So does Psalm 118:26,27:
'Blessed is he who comes
in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord
we bless you ...
With boughs in hand,
join in the festal procession
up to the horns of the altar.'
Jesus rides into Jerusalem. The people recognise him as the one who fulfils these prophecies. They see that he is a king, but their thoughts are full of the tyranny of Rome and the expected Davidic king who will re-establish the nation of Israel, rescuing them from their oppressors. Beyond this they do not see. They do not perceive that this king whom they acclaim with shouts and with praises is far more than an earthly king. They do not connect this man with another prophecy from the Psalms:
'Lift up your heads, O you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty,
the LORD mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is he, this King of glory?
The LORD Almighty-
he is the King of glory.' Psalm 24:7-10.
Jesus comes as king. Not as a national king to rescue them from Rome, but as the King of glory, the Lord Almighty. He enters through the gates of Jerusalem, the City of God. He enters through the gates of the Temple, the House of God. But even there, there in the Temple, where everything from the splendour of the High Priest to the repulsion of the blood-stained altar speaks of who he is and what he does, even there he is not recognised. There in the Temple he exercises his kingly authority, and there in the Temple he and his authority are rejected. (Mark 11:11-18, 27-28). The people of Jerusalem, the Pharisees, the priests, do not see that here standing among them is the King of glory, the LORD Almighty.
Jesus is the Son of God
In this way Mark has presented Jesus to us. Having introduced him as the 'Son of God' he has shown us how Jesus acted with divine authority over people, over the truth, over evil spirits, over sickness, disability and death, over the Law and over nature. He has shown us that Jesus has the right to forgive sin. He has shown us that Jesus is the Lord of Glory. In all of these Mark records Jesus doing what only God has the power to do, and doing what only God has the authority to do.
When, during his trial, the High Priest asked: 'Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?' Mark records Jesus' reply as a definite unambiguous 'I am.' 'I am, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.' (14:61b,62). Our minds might not see anything powerful in that. We are too familiar with the words that express the deity of Christ, too familiar with the thought that he is seated at the right hand of God, too familiar with the prospect of his second coming.
Not so the high priest. Not so the members of the Jewish Council.
- A man stands before them, claiming to be the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed One, foretold by the prophets as the One in whom all the purposes of God would be fulfilled.
- A man stands before them, claiming to be the Son of the Blessed One.
- A man stands before them, identifying himself as the Son of Man, that Old Testament prophetic figure clothed with the glory of God.
- A man stands before them, claiming that he will sit at the right hand - the place of equal authority and power - of the Mighty One.
- A man stands before them saying that he will come on the clouds of heaven.
The high priest rips his clothes to express his horror. The verdict of blasphemy is unquestioned. The condemnation falls: this man is worthy of death.
Confronted with Jesus' claim to be the Son of God the Jewish leaders see only a man taking upon himself the rights and the role of God. Had he came as a man to lead them as a man they would have received him. In their rejection and condemnation of Jesus they have given their answer to the central question of Bible, and they have got it wrong. In rejecting Jesus' self-description they are rejecting God.
Mark tells us of one man in the trial/crucifixion scenes, who got the answer right. The Roman centurion, posted at the foot of the cross, hearing the final words of Jesus, seeing how he died, said: 'Surely this man was the Son of God!' (15:39)
As we have walked with Jesus through the pages of Mark's Gospel, a tragedy has unfolded, a tragedy of incredible significance. Not the tragedy of the crucifixion of Jesus, but this: that God has come and walked and talked with us human beings, and we have not recognized him. So fixed in our minds are our own god-concepts, so different, so contrary, to what the real God is really like, that when the real God stands before us we think that he is the fake.
- To hear the voice of God, and not recognize it: that is the tragedy.
- To see the power of God, and not realize it: that is the tragedy.
- To understand the authority of God, and refuse it: that is the tragedy.
- To stand face to face with God, and not receive him: that is the tragedy.
Mark's answer to the question 'Who is Jesus?' is that in the person of Jesus Christ God has come to us. That here, in Jesus of Nazareth, is the Lord of all.
What is our response?
Do we, like the majority of his contemporaries, like the majority of people through the ages of history, reject him?
Or do we, like the centurion standing by the cross, acknowledge him?
The choice is ours.