A Look at the Cross: Mark
Mark’s cross illuminates the identity of Christ.
One of the major questions answered by Mark is: Who is Jesus?
It starts with the opening of the book. “This is the beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1.1) Mark, the author, knows who Jesus is. With the end in mind, Mark takes the reader on a journey of discovery about the identity of Jesus. Through the next 16 chapters, Mark gives an introduction to the person of Jesus Christ. It is not comprehensive, he leaves that job to others, but it is enough to see who Jesus really is.
The Spiritual World knows who Jesus is. Twice in the book of Mark, God will speak audibly about the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. At his baptism (1.11) and at the transfiguration (9.7), God proclaimed him to be the Son of God. Three times his identity was declared by evil spirits. The first were the spirits inhabiting a man in the synagogue. As Jesus was teaching they cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy one of God!” (1.24) The second sounds like a series of encounters. Mark says that every time the spirits saw him during a period of his Galilean ministry, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” (3.11) The final declaration by demons comes from the legion that took residence in the Gadarenes Demoniac. He fell on his knees before Jesus and the demons spoke out: “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you wont torture me!” (5.7) The Spiritual world knew without a doubt who Jesus was and the power he possessed because of his identity.
Humanity is discovering who Jesus is. The verdict is still out on his identity. Whereas Mark knew the ending, and both God and the demons knew the truth, Mark takes the reader, the disciples, and the people on a fast-paced journey of discovery about the real identity of Jesus. Mark shows more of the humanity of Jesus than any other Gospel. Mark also discloses more details about the stories he communicates than any other writer. He is dead set on showing the real person of Jesus and letting us realize in pieces who he is and what he is doing. The journey begins in chapter 4.
The first potential confession begins with the question Mark is getting at. Jesus has been asleep in the boat while the disciples are trying to keep it afloat in a storm. They wake him up as they are about to capsize and ask him to do something. Jesus rouses himself and immediately quiets the storm and the waves with just the words: “Quite! Be still!” (4.39) And from the lips of the disciples comes this question: “Who is this?” (4.41) Is that not the most important question ever offered? Is that not the greatest decision that we will ever have to make? A determination of who Jesus is? Their question comes from the curiosity that “even the wind and the waves obey him!” (4.41) Who is Jesus? A man with power over nature.
The second potential confession comes from his hometown crowd. He has been teaching in the synagogue and the people begin to notice that this isn’t the same Jesus who was running through the narrow streets and playing with the other kids. He has grown up. The problem is meshing the two images: of boy playing in the street with the man-teacher before them. Their amazement leads them to question: “Where did this man get these things? What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn’t this the carpenters son?…” (6.2-3) Their confusion is rooted in their familiarity with him? Could it be that we sometimes get so comfortable with the Jesus next door that we forget that he is the Jesus who Created the Universe?
Thirdly, Jesus had come to the region of the Decapolis, where people again met him with the physically handicapped. He pulled a deaf and mute man away from the crowd and healed him. The crowd was “overwhelmed with amazement” [ekplesso hyperperissos] at the healing that he performed. Their amazement was put into words and the third potential confession as to the identity of Jesus: “He has done everything well…He even makes the eaf hear and the mute speak.” (7.36) He is more than just a weather changer and more than just a miracle worker; now “he does all things well.” The journey of discovery is continuing.
Peter provides the most intriguing of potential confessions in just the next chapter. Jesus asks his disciples point blank: “Who do people say I am?” (8.27) The disciples can handle this question. They just go through a Who’s Who of leaders in response: Elijah, John the Baptist, some unnamed prophet. But Jesus wants to know about them and their hearts. “Who do you say that I am?” (8.29) Peter, always the first with a response, replies: “You are the Christ.” (8.29) That is God’s Anointed…the Messiah and the one sent by God. A great confession. But the thing is, Cyrus was the Messiah (Isaiah 45.1) but he wasn’t the Son of God. There is a difference between being the Ambassador (the one sent) and the Prince (the Son of the King) and discovery still awaits.
Fifthly, as Jesus is walking towards to Jerusalem, as he enters Jericho, they come across a blind man. Bartimaeus is his name. His occupation was begging. Many passed by him every day without a scene, but on this day, as Jesus approached, he confessed, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (10.48) “Son of David” meaning King David of the Old Testament. Jesus has gone from miracle worker to sent one to now King of Israel. Jesus heals him and he begins to follow the kingly parade that would culminate with a title above Jesus head declaring him “King of the Jews.”
Still all these times they missed it. Mark started his book to reaveal Jesus as the Son of God (1.1) and 10 chapters in they are still falling short. That is until a Roman Soldier sees the death of Jesus.
The Centurion knows who Jesus is. He is first mentioned in Mark 15.39 but he has been on the scene for some time. He was in charge of the detail that would ensure the death of Jesus and the two criminals. It was common place in those days, especially for a detachment of soldiers in a backwoods province like Palestine, to perform crucifixions. This man was hardened to the process and had seen it all. But something was different about this one. Mark 15.39 says:
And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
When he saw “how” he died. That word is puzzling. What made Jesus death so different? Could I posit one of probably many answers? Could it be that Jesus death brought together seamlessly his identity and his purpose? The “how” that the Centurion saw could be a man’s death meeting with a man’s identity and purpose.
Not only has Mark been peeling away at Jesus’ identity, but his purpose has been slowly being revealed through out the book. Look at Jesus own statements:
- “I have come to preach.” (1.38)
- “I have come to call sinners.” (2.17)
- “I have come to suffer.” (9.31)
- “I have come to be betrayed and to suffer.” (10.33-34)
- “I have come to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many.” (10.45)
All of these things, Jesus accomplished on the cross. This was not lost, without a doubt through God’s revelation, on the Centurion. The confession that Mark has been searching for since 1.1, is found when Jesus identity, as the Son of God, and his purpose, “to give his life” are brought together in an instant. That is what caused the centurion to confess, the same thing that we can confess today: “Surely, this was the Son of God.” And that is why it took 15 chapters.