Sunday 20th June 2021 – Pentecost 4B
Reflection on Mark 4:35-41 – Who is this (Jesus)?
Who is this man (Jesus) that even the wind and the sea obey him? (Mark 4:41; Matthew 8:27, Luke 8:25)
Who is this Jesus? A not unimportant question. In fact it is recorded 37 times in one guise or another in a range of contexts and situations in the four Gospels and the Book of Acts: and could well be asked of the 37 reported miracles in the four Gospels and the many other references to the healing of large numbers of people and the casting out of demons.
- Who is this man (Jesus) who forgives sins? (Luke 7:49)?
- What is this new teaching, that a man (Jesus) has the authority to give orders to the evil spirits and they obey him> (Mark 1:27; Luke 4:36 and see also Mark 5:1-20; Matthew 8:28-34; Luke 8:26-39)?
- Who is this man (Jesus) who taught the Law of the Talmud with authority and who bested the Pharisees and priests in many disputes about the Law (Mark 1:22; Mark 2:19; Mark 2:27: Mark 3:20-30: Mark 7:1-16; Mark 11: 27-33; Mark 12: 13-17)?
Well, intellectually we know the answer to this question. We have the benefit of nearly 2000 years of scholarship and teaching of the Church based on the Jesus narrative as it appears in the four Gospels to frame our answer. As I remarked during my reflection on Ascension Day, the Jesus narrative, as it appears in the slightly different versions in the four Gospels, was largely the product of a nearly 8 week lockdown in Bethany where the disciples reflected on and talked about the significant events of their journeys with Jesus and put all that in the context of the amazing miracle of his resurrection and his subsequent appearances to them before his ascension (return to his divine state).
Each of the Gospel writers leaves us in no doubt that they believe Jesus to be the Anointed One, the Promised Messiah, the Son of God – the despised, rejected, crucified, dead, buried, resurrected and ascended Jesus the Christ; the healer and teacher who proclaimed the new covenant between God and Man (between all peoples on earth not just the Jews) in the Kingdom of God he proclaimed, which is here now and forever. And the writers leave plenty of clues that this is the answer we are expected to reach. For example, the clues in Mark’s gospel include -:
- At Jesus’ baptism by John (Mark 1:11) a voice from heaven says – “You are my own dear Son…”
- When Jesus confronted the evil spirit of the man in the synagogue (Mark 1:24) the evil spirit declares – “ …I know who you are, you are God’s holy messenger…”
- When Jesus heals the paralyzed man (Mark 2:7) the Pharisees say – “No man can forgive sins, only God can”
- Jesus is reported in Mark 2:28 to say he is both the Son of Man and Lord of the Sabbath (i.e. in direct relationship with God)
- Whenever evil spirits inhabiting humans saw Jesus they exclaimed – “You are the Son of God” (Mark 3:11)
- He gave the disciples the power to heal and drive out demons (Mark 6: 12-13).
- Peter declares Jesus to be the Messiah (Mark 8:29)
- During the Transfiguration God declares – “This is my own dear Son …” (Mark 9:7)
- Jesus himself says – The Son of Man comes to serve and to sacrifice his life to redeem many (Mark 10:45).
- In the triumphal entry to Jerusalem the crowd proclaim – “Praise God. God Bless him who comes in the name of the Lord” (Mark 11:9).
- Jesus’ affirms that his authority to teach and act comes from his direct relationship with God (Mark 11:27-33)
- During his trial in front of the High Priest Jesus answers that he is indeed the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed God (Mark 14:61-62).
- The Roman centurion who declares –“This man was really the Son of God” (Mark 15:39).
The other Gospels contain these and similar clues leaving no doubt about Who this Jesus is.
We turn nest to the question of Messiahship?
Judaism understands the Messiah to be a human being (with no connotation of deity or divinity) who will bring about certain changes in the world and must fulfil the following six criteria.
- He must be Jewish. (Deuteronomy. 17:15, Numbers 24:17)
- He must be a member of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10) and a direct male descendant of King David (I Chronicles 17:11, Psalms 89:29-38, Jeremiah 33:17, II Samuel 7:12-16) and King Solomon.(I Chronicles 22:10, II Chronicles 7:18)
- He must gather the Jewish people from exile and return them to Israel. (Isaiah 27:12-13, Isaiah 11:12)
- He must rebuild the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. (Micah 4:1)
- He must bring world peace. (Isaiah 2:4, Isaiah 11:6, Micah 4:3)
- He must influence the entire world to acknowledge and serve one G-d. (Isaiah 11:9, Isaiah 40:5, Zephaniah 3:9)
All of these criteria for the Messiah are summarized in Ezekiel 37:24-28
Jews argue that apart from being Jewish, Jesus does not fulfill any of the remaining criteria of being the Messiah the Jews were looking for and hoping for. Jews really have a problem with criterion 6 because Judaism is so exclusive – you cannot become a Jew, you must be born a Jew. There is little room or even any attempt at evangelism.
Jesus himself says he is not the Jewish Messiah because of his part in the Trinitarian relationship of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit; he is not (and cannot be) a direct descendent of David. (Mark 12:35-37).
John’s “Signs of the Messiah” in the first 12 chapters of his gospel (sometimes called The Book of Signs) which is based on accounts of seven carefully chosen miracles of Jesus with their associated teaching about the Kingdom of God, plus all of the Jesus narrative in the other three Gospels; point to the Son of God being the Messiah to the whole of creation in the new covenant in the Kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus. All of Jesus’ teaching in parables and miracles; his personal example, and the miracles of resurrection and ascension, plus the 2000 year history of revelation, attest to this.
Finally, what about the purpose of a miracle such as the stilling of a storm.
The 37 miracles of Jesus Christ that were written down in the New Testament serve a specific purpose. None were performed randomly, for amusement, or for show or personal aggrandizement. Each was accompanied by a message relating to life in the Kingdom of God, and either met a serious human need or confirmed Christ’s identity and authority as the Son of God. At times Jesus refused to perform miracles because they did not fall into one of these two categories:
Jesus’ miracles show us who He is. He performed signs and wonders to show us He is the Messiah. They revealed His glory and His power because of his relationship with God. They proved His claim that His Kingdom was not of this world and that He had brought His Kingdom to be for all mankind.
Some of Jesus’ miracles are meant to instill in us a holy humility. When He commands creation and it obeys His voice, eye-witnesses tend to tremble in fear. His power is strong. For example the revelation of Jesus’ authority over the earth as Lord is seen in his miracle of stilling the storm, where the elements—the wind and the sea—recognize Jesus and obey him instantly. Jesus uses this power to calm his frightened disciples, who fear that they will drown. Jews in those times had a mortal fear of deep water because that was seen as the domain of Satan. So when we see the way Jesus uses His miracles to interact with people in need, we see that the character of Christ is filled with mercy, compassion, and generosity.
When He casts out demons, He shows mercy to tormented people living miserable lives. The One who overcomes evil does so to care for those afflicted by it. When Jesus opens blind eyes, or reanimates paralyzed legs, or cleanses lepers, restoring them to community, we see a Messiah who uses His power to heal, comfort, and encourage, rather than smite, dominate, and humiliate.
Jesus’ miracles serve a dual purpose: they call us to fear Him but also to trust Him—to trust that the Kingdom he proclaims is good.
In his essay, What Jesus says of the meaning of his miracles, Karl Beth notes that Jesus was only too aware of the Jewish expectation that a Messiah would produce dramatic signs of his power (and make Israel great again), and, by force coerce faith in God. Jesus knew that such faith would only be short lived because there would always be demands for even more spectacular signs. He referred to the only sign (miracle) which they would be given was his resurrection (The sign of Jonah – Matthew 12:38-45). Interestingly Paul considered the only miracle of any real importance, and which dominated his own teaching and witness, was the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:13-19). Jesus was concerned that the miracles should reinforce the message of the Kingdom, and reflect all the glory to God; not increase his own personal approval rating.
The purpose of the miracles, signs, and wonders was to confirm the Word Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom, affirm his relationship with God and his authority within the Kingdom; give all the glory to God, and to show that God’s love extends equally to all of creation. (Acts Chapter 10). It might be argued that both of those reasons have been fulfilled forever; therefore, miracles are no longer needed for those purposes.
So we know who this Jesus is. The real challenge in the question posed in today’s Gospel in the context of 21st Century life is this: – Do we sincerely believe what the gospel writer reveals to us? Do we model our lives on the example Jesus gave us; of his teaching and live as if the Kingdom of God exists now!!! – and forever.