We just finished the Christmas season. One of my favorite Christmas hymns is “What Child Is This?” From his conception and birth there was something different about the one they called Jesus. But who is he? What makes him so special?
-WHO IS JESUS?-
I believe that is the most important question you will ever have to answer. And believe me – everyone has an answer for that question. Every single person in the world has their own answer, even if it’s “I don’t know.”
So who is Jesus to you?
You might give the good Sunday school answers: Savior, Messiah, Christ, Lord, King, Son of God, Holy, Perfect, God with Us, Prince of Peace, Friend, Brother, The Word.
He is indeed all this and more. However, do we really understand what those titles and roles actually mean? Probably not. It’s like when you first began to be curious about your dad’s job. When you were young, you probably asked your dad what he did. And he probably told you, but you as a four-year-old had no idea what a proctologist or a regional manager or a vice president of finances was. But you would tell your friends just to impress them.
Hopefully in the coming weeks we will begin to actually understand what those titles actually mean.
-WHO DO PEOPLE SAY THAT I AM?-
There’s an interesting conversation Jesus has with his disciples right in the middle of Mark’s Gospel. He asked them, “Who do people say that I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” (Mark 8:27-28)
Who is Jesus from a worldly point of view today? If you were to ask the average Joe off the street what they thought about Jesus, what might they say?
He’s a good teacher. He’s a myth. He’s a prophet. He’s a religious zealot who got himself killed. He’s a Jewish rabbi who became a legend. He’s a nobody.
Basically any answer you would get could start with the word “just.” He’s just ________________. But as we take a look through the Gospel of Mark, we will see that Jesus isn’t just anything. He isn’t even just the Savior, the Messiah, the Son of God. He’s all that and more. Jesus is more than we can ever really grasp. That’s why people had such a hard time figuring him out. Even his closest disciples and friends – even his own family – didn’t really know what to make of him.
So who is Jesus? We’re going to dive into Mark’s Gospel to find out. But since Mark isn’t too patient in his writing, he spoils the whole thing right off the bat.
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God…
Every word of that sentence is loaded. “The beginning” automatically takes our minds back to Genesis 1 – “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Mark wants us to know that something new is happening. Creation 2.0 is underway.
“The good news” is a very specific phrase that Mark is using. Our word “gospel” comes from the Old English phrase “good spell,” meaning a good word/news. It’s rooted in the Greek word evangelion, from which we get the word “evangelism.” This was a very familiar concept in the Roman world. Whenever a Roman general was victorious in battle, they would send messengers into the surrounding territories to tell the “good news” about the victory over their enemies. Or if a new emperor took the throne, messengers would go throughout the empire proclaiming the “good news” about the new Caesar, often hailed as a “son of the gods.” Mark uses that word intentionally, signaling that a great victory has been won and a new king is on the throne.
“About Jesus…” Did you know that wasn’t his name? Jesus comes from the Greek-ified (or Hellenized) version of the Hebrew name Yeshua. In English that would be the name Joshua. It was a super common name back then, and it’s still a super common name in our culture. But it’s a powerful name. It means “YHWH saves.” His name is his mission.
“The Messiah” is a term that means “anointed one.” This refers to an anointing ceremony that would set a person aside (sanctify) for a specific purpose – to become king or to achieve a specific task for God and his people, etc. This word is also translated “Christ.”
“The Son of God” is a phrase taken directly from Psalm 2, which was a coronation song in Israel commemorating the crowning of a new king in Jerusalem. In the middle of Psalm 2 God says, “You are my son, today I have become your Father.”
Mark makes it clear from the very beginning who he thinks Jesus is. He’s stating his thesis, and everything to follow is meant as evidence to back up his thesis. This gospel account is crammed full of people trying to figure out who Jesus is, and inviting the reader along on the journey of discovery.
Take the first chapter, for instance. That’s where we will begin. Grab your Bible or Bible app (or click on this link) to read Mark 1:4-39. Try and spot all the times we’re told who Jesus is or what he is doing. There’s also one big question asked about Jesus in chapter 1.
Who is Jesus according to Mark 1?
- One more powerful than John the Baptist, who will baptize with the Holy Spirit (1:7-8)
- God’s Son, with whom God is well pleased (1:11)
- Rabbi, calling his disciples (1:16-20)
- The Holy One of God (1:24)
- Exorcist (1:27)
- Healer (1:30-34)
- Traveling preacher/miracle worker/exorcist (1:39)
What big question is asked about Jesus in Mark 1?
“What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”
When he commanded the demon and drove it out, the people had never seen anything like that. They were completely astonished at Jesus’ authority. You see, it’s one thing to claim to be the Messiah, the Son of God. It’s another thing to back it up with actions that others can see and report on. (We’ll get deeper into that in chapter 2.)
-BE LIKE JESUS-
Mark’s gospel also focuses on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. We are introduced to Jesus’ first disciples in chapter 1 – Peter, Andrew, James, and John. These two sets of brothers were also professional fishermen. Jesus, a rabbi, called them to be his disciples – and they dropped everything to follow him. The rabbi-disciple relationship was quite unique. We don’t really have anything like that in the US. A disciple was a student, the rabbi was a teacher. But the goal wasn’t just to learn what the rabbi knew. The goal was to live as the rabbi lived and to do what the rabbi did.
Disciples of Jesus should strive to BE LIKE JESUS. Not necessarily to perform miracles and drive out demons. But there are things we can learn from Jesus and imitate in our own lives as his followers. Here’s what I see from chapter 1.
Jesus was baptized. His disciples were baptized. He commands others to baptize and be baptized. You should do it, too. In my understanding, the journey of discipleship doesn’t really begin until you commit your life to Christ in the waters of baptism.
KEEP THE MESSAGE SIMPLE.
So often the biggest hinderance in sharing our faith with others is the fear that we don’t know enough. I would disagree with that. Jesus’ first message was as simple as it comes – “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” You don’t have to deliver a doctoral level thesis paper in order to share your faith with someone. Invite them to church. Tell them what God has done in your life. Let them know that Jesus loves them and that they can experience grace and forgiveness. Keep it simple.
TAKE TIME FOR PEOPLE.
Jesus invested in his disciples. He chose them, he called them, and he shared his life with them. He also took time for people like Peter’s mother-in-law who was sick with a fever. Jesus took her by the hand and healed her. Jesus was never too busy, never too rushed, never too hurried to stop and spend time with people who needed him. Take time for the people who matter most to you. Invest in those relationships.
VALUE YOUR ALONE TIME WITH GOD.
Even in the hustle and bustle of his life, Jesus made time to spend with God. He had to get up very early in the morning to do it, but he prioritized it. Jesus knew that he couldn’t make it through the day without spending time in prayer and worship with God. For so many of us, time is our most precious resource. We just don’t have enough of it. So make sure that God and others are getting the “first fruits” of your time.
DON’T GO WITH THE CROWD.
The disciples found Jesus praying alone and kind of told him off. “Everyone is looking for you!” But Jesus didn’t take the bait. He could have gone back to the crowd, amassed a following, grown in his popularity and celebrity status. But he didn’t. He kept his mission small. I can’t help but think of our culture today. If it could be summed up by one phrase, I think “everyone is looking for you” would be a really good one. We are expected to be available 24/7 via text, Snapchat, or DM. If we get a notification, we better check it and respond immediately. Jesus tells us not to take the bait. If you always give in to the notion that “everyone is looking for you,” then you are giving other people way too much control over your life.
For an excellent introduction to the Gospel of Mark, check out this video by The Bible Project.