Calvary

The inability of men to recognize Jesus as the Son of God until after his crucifixion is a key theme of Mark, and the first man who identified him as such was the Roman centurion on duty during his execution. The self-identification of Jesus as the “Son of Man” who suffers for his people made him repugnant to unregenerate men and unrecognizable to Israel (“His own received him not”).

His identity could not be understood apart from his sacrificial death. Nevertheless, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, the proclamation of a crucified Messiah was “God’s power and wisdom,” though it was scandalous and foolish to men. By stressing the necessity of his death, the Gospel of Mark not only defines his identity as the “Son of God,” but demonstrates what it meant to be the Messiah.

Calvary - Photo by ThrowBack Graphics on Unsplash
[Photo by ThrowBack Graphics on Unsplash]

Demons recognized him and declared he was the Son of God. In contrast, despite his miracles and exorcisms, men remained confused about him. He was not the Messiah they expected or wanted.

At the Jordan River, the Scriptures, John the Baptist, the voice from heaven, and supernatural signs attested that Jesus was the Messiah. The Divine voice called him “My beloved Son” after the heavens were “rent asunder.” The term occurs once more in Mark as the veil of the Temple was “rent in two” when Jesus died. - (Mark 1:11, 15:38-39).

The description echoes the passage in 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.” This was fulfilled with the arrival of the Messiah along the Jordan River. Not coincidentally, Jesus afterward began to preach the Gospel in “Galilee of the nations” - (Isaiah 64:1-2, Matthew 4:12-17).

One of his first public acts was to cast out an “unclean spirit.” The demon knew he was the “Holy One of God,” yet the men present that day were astounded and asked one another, “Who is this?” Despite his impressive deeds, Jesus remained unrecognized by men. This pattern is repeated in Mark. Demonic spirits recognized the “Son of God,” but men did not, including members of his family - (Mark 1:23-27, 3:11-12, 3:21, 5:1-7).

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” - (Mark 3:22-30).

By his word alone, Jesus calmed a storm raging on the Sea of Galilee and threatening the lives of the disciples. In great fear, they asked one another, “WHO IS THIS, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Even this display of power was insufficient to convince them 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. His ability to raise the dead failed to persuade anyone that he was the Messiah of Israel - (Mark 5:21-43).

When he returned to Nazareth, he 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 in their village, “they were offended by him” - (Mark 6:1-6).

After he fed five thousand men with “five loaves and two fishes,” he departed to pray on a mountain. The disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee by boat to join him, but Jesus appeared suddenly, walking on the water. They thought he was a ghostly apparition and cried out in fear. He identified himself, entered the boat, and caused the winds to cease. Once again, his authority over nature failed to assure them that he was the Messiah, “because their hearts were hardened” - (Mark 6:35-52).

REJECTED


On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus asked, “Who do men say that I am,” Peter declared, “You are the Christ!” Then Jesus explained 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” - (Mark 8:31. Compare Mark 9:31-32).

Peter objected. The notion that the Messiah would be subjected to suffering and death was unacceptable, and whatever insight Peter may have gained momentarily was lost when he was confronted with this brutal reality. However, his Messiahship meant exactly that - suffering, rejection, and death.

Again while “on the way up to Jerusalem,” Jesus explained that he would be “delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death.” James and John reacted by requesting positions of high honor in his Kingdom. He answered them:

  • You know not what ye 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 minister; and whosoever would be first among you shall be slave of all, for the Son of man also came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and TO GIVE HIS LIFE AS A RANSOM FOR MANY” - (Mark 10:32-45).

The road to his Kingdom was self-sacrificial service to others, not dominion over them, and he demonstrated this by giving his own life to ransom others from bondage to sin, death, and Satan.

When the High Priest examined him, he asked, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 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.”

Before the highest religious authority of Israel, he identified himself as the Messiah. There could be no more doubt or hesitation. Yet 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 royal status when he had “King of the Jews” inscribed and 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 also ridiculed him despite the testimony of God, Scripture, his miracles, and his 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 the 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.” Even the two brigands crucified alongside him “were casting it in his teeth.”

Finally, Jesus was declared the “Son of God” by a human voice. As death overwhelmed him on the Cross, he uttered a loud cry, and the “veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom.” Only then did the Roman centurion declare, “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 of the Temple that separated Israel from the presence of Yahweh - (Exodus 26:31-37, Hebrews 6:19, 9:3, 10:20).

Darkening sky - Photo by ThrowBack Graphics on Unsplash
[Photo by ThrowBack Graphics on Unsplash]

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. Just as the prophet Isaiah hoped, the Gentiles did indeed “tremble” at his presence, only in repentance and submission.

Only as he was crucified did a human being finally understand who Jesus was, and paradoxically, not a devout Jew, the High Priest, or even one of his disciples, but the Gentile who likely was the officer in charge of his execution.

And so, his sacrificial death defined his Messiahship and identified him as the Son of God. Only in his suffering and death can we begin to understand his identity, the nature of his mission, and his message.



RELATED POSTS:
  • The Imperative of the Cross - (Christ crucified is the pattern disciples of Jesus are summoned to follow and emulate, and the test of the genuine apostolic faith)
  • The Cruciform Path - (To follow Jesus necessitates a lifetime of self-denial and sacrificial service for others and a willingness to lose all for the Gospel)
  • Embracing the Cross - (To be the Messiah of Israel meant suffering and death for others, and Jesus summoned his disciples to follow that same path – Mark 8:31)

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