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28 April 2020

Identity of Jesus - Calvary

SYNOPSISOnly in his sacrificial death can the identity of Jesus and the nature of his messiahship be understood.

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Threaded through the Gospel of Mark is an ironic storyline:

Until his crucifixion, no one recognized who Jesus was or acknowledged him to be the “Son of God,” except the demons he exorcised.

At his baptism in the Jordan River, a divine voice from heaven proclaims Jesus the beloved “Son.”  The demons that he casts out recognize him, although when demonic spirits attempt to identify him to the crowd, he silences them (“for they knew who he was”). In contrast, men and women in the Gospel of Mark are without perception, unable to see or understand his identity, including members of his family (Mark 1:10-11, 1:24-34, 5:7).

After Jesus cast out one demon, the crowd “was amazed, one and all, so that they began to discuss among themselves saying, What is this?” Even his closest disciples remain clueless. Following his miraculous calming of a storm, the disciples were terrified and asked one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” Even a display of this magnitude was insufficient to open their eyes (Mark 1:27, 4:41).

At one point, Peter appeared on the verge of grasping the identity of Jesus when he declared, “You are the Messiah.” But appearances can be deceiving.  When he responded and explained that his Messiahship meant suffering, rejection, and death, Peter “began to rebuke him” (Mark 8:29-32).

The idea of a suffering Messiah was inconceivable to Peter. Jesus responded with a sharp reprimand, “Withdraw behind me, Satan, because you are not regarding the things of God but the things of men!” Genuine messiahship meant suffering and death.

Only at the Cross did one man recognize Jesus for what and who he truly was; the very Roman centurion who was in charge of the execution squad. When Jesus breathed his last, this officer declared, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

Only when Jesus was crucified did someone begin to understand who he was and, ironically, by a man who was not one of his disciples or even a Jew. Instead, Jesus was declared the “Son of God” by the Gentile Roman officer assigned to crucify him.
There is no Christianity without Christ and there is no saving faith apart from Christ Crucified.
Christ’s death would have been in vain if God had not vindicated him through resurrection. When he predicted his death, Jesus also foretold his resurrection (“the Son of Man must suffer many things…and be slain, and after three days arise”). But resurrection only comes after death.  In the biblical scheme, humiliation and unjust suffering precede exaltation and glory.

Later, the Apostle Paul did not engage in metaphysical speculations about the nature of Christ when he wrote to the Philippians. Instead, he presented his obedience unto a shameful death as the paradigm for Christian conduct within the assembly. Jesus “poured himself out, taking the form of a slave,” and he humbled himself by becoming “obedient as far as death, even death upon a cross” (Philippians 2:6-11).

To follow Jesus means to configure your life according to his example. This call goes back to Christ himself when he taught his disciples: “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above his masterHe that does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:24-38).

When some of his disciples disputed which of them would be the “greatest” in the kingdom, Jesus corrected them:

Not so is it to be among you, but whoever shall desire to become great among you shall be your minister, and whosoever shall desire to be first among you shall be your slave: just as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give his life a ransom instead of many.”

The call of discipleship is a summons to live life in self-sacrificial service to others and to conform to the pattern set by Jesus. To follow the Lamb wherever he goes means a life of humble service and submission to the will of his Father.

Only in the Cross of Christ are we able to perceive the true identity of Jesus and the nature of his call. Resurrection and glory will come for all who follow Jesus, but only after they embrace his Cross.

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