I love the gospel of Mark because of its simplicity. Two threads run through the book: the identity of Jesus and the way of discipleship. Who is Jesus? And what does it look like (or not look like!) to follow Jesus? As we journey with Jesus, through Mark, towards the cross, we’re left with a burning question. What will we do with Jesus? Is he the Lord of our lives?
There’s so many stories in Mark that illustrate the truth about Jesus, but we see specific declarations of his identity in three main sections: the beginning, the middle, and the end.
At the beginning: the very first words of this book:
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”
And when Jesus is baptized the Father speaks from heaven and says
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).
John 5 reminds us what these words actually mean:
“This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18).
At the end: when Jesus dies on the cross we hear not a Jew, but a Roman centurion declare the truth about Jesus.
“And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God’” (Mark 15:39).
Mark is framed with the truth about Jesus. But perhaps the most pressing declaration of Jesus’ identity comes from the lips of Peter, his beloved disciple, in the middle of the gospel.
In the middle:
“And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they told him, ‘John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.’ And he asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Christ’” (Mark 8:27-29).
Jesus’ question is general before it’s personal. First, he asks what other people say about him. The disciples have a lot to say. But then Jesus gets direct. Who do YOU say that I am? We all have to answer this question. But it isn’t as simple as we’d like. People today may not think that Jesus was John the Baptist or Elijah back from the dead. But they can certainly believe he was a good man, a good teacher, a bad man, a bad teacher, a prophet, a myth, a political or social revolutionary, a lunatic with a weird band of promoters, a mere Rabbi and religious leader.
As followers of Jesus, it’s simple for us to reject these claims, look at these three passages in Mark, and say, “No! Jesus is more than that. Jesus is the Son of God. He’s the savior of the world who died for our sins.” Yes and amen. We must declare the truth of who Jesus is.
But here’s a probing question: Is Jesus who you say he is when no one’s looking? Is he Lord at the lunch table in the cafeteria at school? Is he the Son of God with all authority at your child’s baseball game? Is he King when you get cut off on the highway? Is he God, reigning on the throne of your heart, when tax season comes around, when Netflix premiers that new show, when you feel convicted to share Jesus with your neighbor?
Let me boil it down: do we believe that Jesus is God, AND do we live like Jesus is God? To go deeper in our discipleship, we must believe. But we must also live what we believe in every area of life.
Stephen Charnock called it “practical atheism,” when we believe in God but practically live as if we don’t. Research your heart and pray over three areas of your life that you want to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus, perhaps in a way you never have.
Take Jesus’ question personally, “Who do you say that I am?”