In the story of Jesus’ life as told by Mark, there’s a dominant question that gets stirred up wherever Jesus goes: Who is this man? Everyone and their dog are trying to figure out what to make of this guy who is going around healing paralyzed people and forgiving sins and telling the weather what to do and casting out demons into thousands of pigs. It’s crazy stuff, so I get why they are flabbergasted.
The way Mark tells the story is fascinating, though, because the responses to Jesus saying and doing all these amazing acts are as wide-ranging as the people who encounter him. For those whose power and influence Jesus threatens, they respond by wanting to kill him, definitively silencing the threat. For those who have become comfortable with evil and sin, Jesus’ removal of it from their lives sparks a fear of his ability and they ask him to leave them alone. For those on the receiving end of Jesus’ healing, they want to follow him.
But the most interesting come from the small group of students — called disciples — that spend the most time with Jesus. As Jesus travels around, these are the people that go where he goes, so they see and hear most everything. Want to know how they answer the question about who Jesus is?
They don’t get him.
Over and over again, they struggle to rightly name who he is and what he’s up to. And when Jesus finally asks them the question straight up, they give the right answer — the Messiah — only to immediately reveal that they don’t have the foggiest clue about what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah.
By the time Jesus dies on the cross, it is one of the Roman centurions who helped crucify Jesus that realizes Jesus’ true identity. Ironically, he’s the first person in the whole book to get it right when he says, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” Funnier still, the oldest and most reliable manuscripts of Mark end the book with a couple of Jesus’ disciples visiting the tomb to anoint Jesus’ dead body, only to find that the tomb is empty, save for a heavenly messenger who tells them that Jesus is alive, which terrifies them and they run away.
The end. No closure or anything.
Mark does this for a reason. All throughout his story, Mark has largely remained silent on the question, choosing instead to offer a range of responses from other people about Jesus. He’s given us access to Jesus’ words and let us peek in at Jesus’ actions, all so that we, the reader, might be confronted with the same question as everyone else: Who is this man?
Because Mark knows that nobody can force their answer to that question upon us. We have to encounter Jesus for ourselves and come to our own conclusion. And it’s an important question. It has the incredible potential to transform our entire lives, and through us, the world.
Joshua Gorenflo and his wife, Kya, are ministers at Kenai Fellowship, Mile 8.5 on the Kenai Spur Highway. Worship is 11 a.m. on Sundays. Streamed live at kenaifellowship.com.