This lent, Acomb Parish Church and I have been exploring the gospel of Mark in our Sunday morning services and in our home group material. The sermon series has been entitled ‘Who Do You Say That I Am?’ taken from the important verse at the heart of this gospel (Mark 8:29). Each week we’ve been looking at different ‘faces’ of Jesus; Jesus the radical, the teacher, the miracle worker, the healer, the messiah, the prophet king and now we get to the final week, the final day: Easter Day.
I’ve been aware, as we traveled through Mark’s gospel, of some strange and confusing parts of Mark’s account of Jesus. In my role as author of the daily reflections that have been published on Twitter and Facebook I’ve needed to do lots of studying on the text and I’ve needed to wrestle with those moments when you need to stop and re-read what Mark has just suggested or said; The Syrophoenician woman, the ‘loaves’, the spitting, the fig tree and many more. There’s a lot that could be said about these and I’ve wanted, through our daily reflections, to invite and encourage us, as a church, to explore and investigate, to come to some conclusions for ourselves or rather feel comfortable to ask the questions and ‘go deeper’ (a theme we’ve adopted for the year). There has been one major theme that has stood out to me through the reading and exploring of Mark which I feel is very important for us, at this time:
Who does Jesus think He is?
One question that members of my church have been asking me through out the series has been, ‘Why does Jesus tell people to not talk about what they have seen or experienced?’
This, in scholarly circles, is called ‘the messianic secret’ but I feel this may not be exactly right…
If we look at the verses where Jesus explicitly commands people not tell anyone they seem to come after major revelations of who he is. Particularly important, I feel, is the times of exorcism when the impure spirit is wanting to tell people who Jesus is. Have a quick look at all the examples, Mark 1:34, 43, 2:12, 5:43, 7:36, 8:30, 9:9. After chapter 9 Jesus seems to stop telling people to be silent and Mark 9:9 is the transfiguration which is the beginning of the story towards Jerusalem and Jesus’ crucifixion.
This is important. In fact I think it is from Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem itself, on a day we celebrate as ‘Palm Sunday’, that things start to change.
Up until this point we’ve seen a very human Jesus. Yes, he’s able to do special things (healing, miracles, teaching with authority, exorcisms, etc.) but these were not unique. Around this time there were others who were great teachers, others who healed, others who performed ‘miracles’, others who were hailed as the messiah. These ‘faces’ that we’ve been seeing are special but they are not unique to Jesus; they merely tell us that he was a very special human being.
This is where what I’ve been understanding comes into focus. People in Britain are very happy for Jesus to be called a ‘special human being’; “he was a great teacher”, “a prophet” , “a ‘miracle worker’ what ever that means” and Peter, in Mark 8:29 calls Jesus the messiah and he is praised by Jesus as receiving a revelation from God but then, quick as a flash, Peter begins to define what he means by ‘messiah’ and it reverts back to the staple understanding; “the messiah is a human sent by God”… but it was too human for Jesus.
On Palm Sunday Jesus walks into Jerusalem and he is happy for people to hail him their king. Why? Well because Jesus is now focused on revealing who he is and all other titles can disappear. What the crowd meant when they hailed him king is very different from what Jesus is about the reveal himself to be. Even the ‘king’ term is human.
You see, Mark has been hinting at a face of Jesus which has kept eluding the disciples, the crowds and the Pharisees and has alluded us a church up until this week. We, in our sermons, have been talking about Peter’s answer to the question ‘Who do you say that I am?’ We, as Christians, feel like the answer to that question is ‘You are the messiah, the Christ.’ But what do we mean by that and how quickly do we fall back on Peter’s next sentence which is aggressively shut down by Jesus?
Holy week shows, slowly and precisely, Jesus stripping back all the faces and titles and handing over the human parts of who he is to reveal himself as something altogether unique.
Good Friday is the final step as Jesus finds the strength to withstand all the mental, emotional and physical strain that being crucified as an innocent man would put him under. He does this all silently and without the typical human response of, “it’s not fair.” “I’m innocent.” He allows it all to happen. How did he, a mere human being, stay focussed on his task? You see, not even crucifixion is unique; hundreds, if not thousands, of humans were crucified and many of them did so without shouting out their innocence (usually because they knew their guilt).
The Pharisees and Pilate want Jesus to be the radical but Jesus refuses to speak.
Pilate claims him a King and Jesus shuns the title.
On the cross Jesus’ radical teaching of destroying the temple, thrown back at him (Mark 15:29-30). Jesus’ miracles and healings, thrown back at him (Mark 15:30). His messiahship, his kingship, all thrown back at him (Mark 15:31). But as Jesus hangs on the cross a centurion (famously played by John Wayne), who has seen countless crucifixions and death says something which reminds us of the very first verse of Mark’s gospel and some words which have eluded us…
Surely this man was the Son of God!
On Easter Day, Resurrection Day, Jesus reveals himself as the Son of God. For it is only God who can raise people from the dead. This is what’s truly unique about Jesus; not that He was human but that he was divine! It is through this lens that the whole gospel changes from being just some stories about a human being trying to be good and do good things into God coming to earth and dying on a cross. What’s unique about Jesus isn’t what he did but who he was at his very core. God made man. Good Friday makes sense only if we understand Jesus as God. No human being could do what Jesus did on Good Friday; I don’t mean die, nor die a painful death but the very fact that it reveals that God is willing to die to enter into death to defeat it like He did in the resurrection.
No other message is worth celebrating. Jesus’ humanity is only important if it is tangled up in his divinity. Jesus is the Son of God… go now and re read the gospel telling yourself that at each moment.