The Unexpected Messiah

A theme threaded through the Gospel of Mark is the inability of men to recognize Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel apart from his crucifixion, and even then, and most paradoxically of all, he is called the “Son of God” by the unlikeliest of persons, the Roman centurion in charge of his execution. And so, it remains ever since his death and resurrection. The Suffering Servant of Yahweh continues to confound human expectations.

His self-identification as the suffering “Son of Man” makes him unrecognizable to men and women who lack the Spirit of God. He is the kind of Messiah and Deliverer no one expects, and many do not desire, because his identity and mission cannot be comprehended apart from his sacrificial death.

Steep trail - Photo by Aleksandr Kozlovskii on Unsplash
[Photo by Aleksandr Kozlovskii on Unsplash]

By stressing this, Mark’s Gospel not only establishes his identity as the “
Son of God,” but it demonstrates what it truly means to be the Messiah. Demons recognized him and declared who he was. In contrast, despite his healing miracles, exorcisms, and even his dominion over nature, men and women were baffled about his identity. He was not the kind of Messiah they expected or even desired.

At the Jordan River, the Scriptures, John the Baptist, the voice from heaven, and supernatural signs all attested that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, the “Coming One” who would baptize his followers in the Spirit, the beloved “Son of God” and the “Servant of Yahweh” - (Mark 1:11).

The voice from heaven identified him as “My beloved Son” after the heavens were “rent asunder.” This translates the Greek verb schiz┼Ź, “to rend asunder, cleave, cleave asunder, split open.” The term occurs once more in Mark when the veil of the Temple was “rent in two” when Jesus died.

The description of the heavens being “rent” alludes to the Book of Isaiah when the prophet longed for Yahweh to “rend the heavens” and make His name known “to your enemies, that the nations may tremble at your presence.” That prophecy was fulfilled with the arrival of the Messiah on the banks of the Jordan who came to announce the Good News of God’s Kingdom to the nations - (Isaiah 64:1-2).

Moreover, the declaration by the voice from heaven echoes the second Psalm and another passage in Isaiah. The Nazarene was the promised Messiah, and both passages include references to him bringing justice to the “nations” - (Psalm 2:7, Isaiah 42:1).

DEMONS RECOGNIZE HIM


One of his first acts was to cast out an “unclean spirit.” The demon recognized him as the “Holy One of God,” but he commanded the spirit to remain silent. On no occasion did Jesus give any ground to demonic spirits - (Mark 1:23-27).

The men present were all astounded and asked one another, “WHO IS THIS?” Despite his impressive deeds, Jesus remained unrecognizable to the men of Israel, although the demonic spirits understood exactly who he was and the danger that he posed to them - (“Are you come to destroy us?”).

This pattern is repeated in Mark as Jesus ministers in Galilee. Although unclean spirits recognize him as the “Son of God,” men and women fail to do so, including members of his immediate family - (Mark 3:11-12, Mark 5:1-7).

When his friends heard of his activities, they “went out to lay hold on him, for they said, ‘He is beside himself’.” Proximity to Jesus did not guarantee recognition of him or what his mission was - (Mark 3:21).

The scribes from Jerusalem could not deny his ability to exorcise demons. But rather than acknowledge that he did so by the authority of God, they charged him with casting out demons by “Beelzebub, the prince of demons.” The irony was that demons could recognize the Messiah of Israel, but not the nation’s educated religious leaders - (Mark 3:22-30).

MIRACULOUS TESTIMONY FAILS


By his word alone, Jesus calmed a storm that was raging across the Sea of Galilee and threatening the disciples. In great fear, they asked one another, “WHO IS THIS, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Even a tremendous display of power over nature was insufficient to demonstrate that he was the “Son of Man” - (Mark 4:36-41).

He healed the dying daughter of a local synagogue leader, leaving the crowd dumbfounded but unenlightened. And even his ability to raise the dead did not convince anyone that he was the promised Messiah - (Mark 5:21-43).

When he returned to his hometown, Jesus began teaching in the synagogue. Many who heard began to question, “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 Messiah was present, “THEY WERE OFFENDED BY HIM” - (Mark 6:1-6).

After he fed five thousand men with only “five loaves and two fishes,” plus women and children, Jesus departed to pray on a mountain. To join him, the disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee by boat, struggling against a contrary wind.

But Jesus appeared suddenly, walking on the water. The disciples thought it was a ghostly apparition and cried out in fear. He identified himself, entered the boat, and caused the winds to cease.

Previously, they saw him calm a great storm, yet this most recent display of authority over natural forces also failed to convince them that he was the Messiah - “because their hearts were hardened” - (Mark 6:35-52).

THE SUFFERING MESSIAH


On the way to Jerusalem, Peter appeared on the verge of grasping his identity. When Jesus asked, “Who do men say that I am,” Peter declared, “You are the Christ!” Then he explained how 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 most vehemently. The notion that the Messiah of Israel would be subjected to suffering and death was unacceptable, especially at the hands of the enemies of Israel - (Mark 8:27-38).

Whatever insight Peter may have gained momentarily was lost when he was confronted with the idea of a suffering Messiah. But HIS messiahship meant exactly that - suffering, rejection, and death.

Likewise, as recorded in Mark 9:31-32, Jesus stated that he must be “delivered up into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he shall rise again.” Once more, the disciples did not understand his words and could not perceive who he was.

Again, while “on the way up to Jerusalem,” Jesus explained how he would be “delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death.” To this, James and John responded by requesting to sit at his side when he came into his kingdom. But he responded:

You know not what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with… Whoever would become great among you shall be your servant, and whosoever would be first among you shall be slave of all, for the Son of man also came not to be served, but to serve and TO GIVE HIS LIFE AS A RANSOM FOR MANY” - (Mark 10:32-45).

Thus, the way of his Kingdom is self-sacrificial service, not dominion over others or outward glory, a truth that he demonstrated by giving his own life to ransom a great many others from bondage to Sin and Satan.

When the High Priest examined Jesus, he demanded to know, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” But Jesus 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.”

In the Temple, and before the highest religious authority in the land, he identified himself openly as the Messiah. There could be no more doubt. But rather than recognize and embrace him, the High Priest charged Jesus with blasphemy, and the “chief priests and the whole council” condemned him to death - (Mark 14:60-64).

Unintentionally, the Roman governor confirmed his messianic status when he had “King of the Jews” inscribed on a plaque that was mounted on his cross. As he was dying, Jewish spectators mocked him, declaring, “You who were pulling down the Temple and building one in three days, save yourself and come down from the cross.”

The chief priests and scribes likewise ridiculed him despite the testimony of God, Scripture, his miracles, and his own testimony before the High Priest - (Mark 15:26).

When Jesus came to town, the demons knew who he was before he said or did anything, yet the Temple authorities remained clueless despite all the clear evidence. Instead, they mockingly proclaimed, “let him come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Even the two brigands who were crucified alongside him “were casting it in his teeth.”

TESTIMONY OF THE CENTURION


Finally, and only at his execution, Jesus was declared the “Son of God” by a human voice. As death overwhelmed him, he uttered a loud cry. At that very moment, the “veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom,” and a Roman centurion declared - “Truly this man was the Son of God” - (Mark 15:37-39).

Two related events of great significance resulted from his death: The tearing of the Temple veil and the confession of the Roman officer. This was the veil before the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum - (Exodus 26:31-37, Hebrews 6:19, 9:3, 10:20).

Just as the “rending of the heavens” at his baptism produced a declaration regarding his status, so the “rending of the Temple veil” put the same confession on the lips of the centurion.

And just as the prophet Isaiah hoped, the Gentiles did indeed “tremble” at his presence after his resurrection, only in repentance and submission. The Roman centurion was only the first of many who would submit to him and accept his Gospel.

Only as he was crucified did a human being finally understand who Jesus is, and astoundingly, not a devout Jew, the high priest, or even one of his closest disciples, but a Gentile who was very likely the Roman officer in charge of his execution.

Thus, HIS SACRIFICIAL DEATH DEFINED HIS MESSIAHSHIP. Only in his suffering and death are we able to understand the identity of Jesus, the nature of his mission, and the heart of his Gospel. The proclamation of “Christ Crucified” is the “power and wisdom of God,” but to this world, it is utter foolishness.


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