Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This is the primary message relayed throughout the Gospel of Mark: Jesus is one with the Father, God in the flesh, full of power and authority over nature, demons, disease, and even death.
For many believers who have put their faith in Christ, Jesus’ power and authority is now made visible to us. Our eyes have been opened to him. We pour over the pages of Scripture, read about Jesus healing Jarius’ daughter and casting out Legion, and we worship along with the centurion, who said at the foot of the cross, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39)
But it’s important for believers to realize that we, too, were once in spiritual darkness, unable to see the glory of Jesus Christ. We used to respond differently to Jesus. Before God kindly and graciously opened our eyes, the Bible tells us that we were blind to the truth. More than that, we were suppressors of the truth. We did not want to see the truth because the truth, we thought, would only condemn us (Romans 1:18).
So what a breath of fresh air when God allowed us to see the light of the knowledge of himself in the face of his Son: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). Christ came and died and rose to be our Advocate, to cover us in his righteousness, if only we would trust his ability to do so by faith.
Many today are still blind and unable to see the glory of Jesus as the Son of God. And this is nothing new; many people in Jesus’ day were also blind to his person and work, his power and authority, his self-revealing holiness and goodness and divinity. In fact, in the middle chapters of Mark alone (3-7), we see various responses to Jesus from five different groups of people. It is important that we be familiar with these responses as we both search our own hearts and walk beside people of every context and background in our day to day lives.
Perhaps the clearest portrait of this group is found in Mark chapter 7, where we read about a confrontation between the Pharisees and the disciples. The disciples had eaten without washing their hands, so the Pharisees decided to use their filth as an opportunity to make Jesus look bad in front of the crowds.
They asked Jesus, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” (7:5) Jesus, in return, calls them hypocrites and says this:
This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. (6,7)
Rather than seeing Jesus as the Son of God, “The Religious” saw a threat to their own pride and power. See, if your pride is in your own morality, like theirs was, then anyone who crushes your attempt at being moral is going to be one of two things: your enemy…or your Savior. For this person will either threaten your own idea of what is right and wrong, as he claims to be the moral standard, or this person will be a refuge for you as you fall into his perfection and cry out for his help! As for the Pharisees, they were threatened by Jesus – so threatened that they plotted with the scribes to try and convict him of breaking the Law of Moses (3:6).
Who do you know who might fall into this category of response to Christ? The person who has a general belief in God but who believes that good works are sufficient for salvation. The person who holds a high standard of living in their day to day and judges anyone who doesn’t follow it to-a-tee…including themselves. The person who gleans more anxiety from spiritual disciplines rather than joy and freedom.
Maybe this is someone you know, or maybe it’s you. Jesus’ message for all of us is this: It is possible to honor Jesus with our lips and have it mean absolutely nothing. He calls it vain worship; we might call it “faking it” or “going through the motions.” Either way, it’s false worship because it’s misdirected worship. It’s about worshiping our own goodness and abilities, rather than God’s goodness. It’s about making ourselves feel better and boosting our own self-confidence through doing the “right things.”
Jesus, the Son of God, doesn’t want our empty, outward actions that are more devoted to ourselves than to him. He wants our hearts, our affections, that are cast upon his own goodness first, being transformed into outward worship as a result.
The next “group” to respond to Jesus includes the demons and the “unclean spirits.” Mark tells us that “whenever the unclean spirits saw [Jesus], they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” And he strictly ordered them not to make him known” (3:11-12).
It’s fascinating that those overtly opposed to Christ’s glory, holiness, and work proclaim him rightly: “You are the Son of God.” This teaches us, again, that it is possible to honor Jesus with our lips and have it mean absolutely nothing.
In teaching about true, regenerative faith, James writes this:
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? (James 2:18-20)
In other words, just because someone titles Jesus correctly as the Son of God does not mean that they have faith; in fact, it could mean the exact opposite, that they attack his deity and perfection out of a hardened, evil heart.
Some of the smartest people I’ve met have known truths about Jesus but bore no fruit of holiness because their knowledge was not rooted in faith. It is only by faith in the Son of God, a belief in his ability to save needy, desperate sinners, that a person bears the fruit of the Spirit. Is your testimony of Jesus, or that of someone you know, an empty label, your heart hardened to his glory?
The next group we meet is extremely common nowadays, and we see its prevalence even in Jesus’ time. “The Resistant” are those people who get a taste of Jesus…but who are offended by him, rather than humbly broken by his love and grace.
The best example of resistance to Jesus is found in Mark chapter 6, when Jesus ministers in his hometown, Nazareth:
On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. (Mark 6:2-6)
This passage makes extremely clear that the teaching of the gospel is the fragrance from death to death for some who hear it (2 Corinthians 2:16). People are resistant firstly because, by nature, their hearts are hardened and rebellious and secondly, because the gospel demands the giving up of their very lives to the Lordship of Jesus. This is deeply offensive to people who insist on believing that truth is relative and that their lives are accountable to no one but themselves.
Notice that Jesus “could do no mighty work there” because of “their unbelief.” A person resistant to Jesus, questioning his truth and denying his power and authority, is rocky ground where the seed of God’s Word cannot take root and grow (Mark 4:4). If this is you today, don’t resist Jesus any longer! He has demonstrated his power and authority by rising from the grave, and he reigns over creation, including your own life. Submit to him by faith, knowing that he desires not to condemn you but to give you life in his name.
Often, the disciples of Jesus cannot seem to understand his identity, even though he is walking right alongside them in the flesh. Mark’s Gospel confirms how perplexed the disciples often were by Christ. But don’t we see ourselves in these men?
When the twelve men get caught in a storm at sea, they are terrified to find Jesus taking a peaceful nap on a cushion in the boat. When they wake him, he rebukes the wind and the sea, saying to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40). We are then told the men “were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”’ (41).
Jesus, the one who called the disciples to himself, for whom they left everything to follow, who had healed a paralytic, a man with leprosy, and one with an evil spirit, is still utterly perplexing to the men! Their questioning reveals to us that it is possible to know Jesus but not to trust him fully.
Even King Herod knew of Jesus and his miraculous powers as demonstrated through John the Baptist (6:14), but Mark tells us that he was perplexed all the same (20).
Faith in this life can be a complicated thing because “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). The disciples did walk by sight, yet even they struggled to trust Jesus with their whole hearts when fearful circumstances arose. How easy it is to take our eyes off Jesus and fix them on what’s happening around us. But Jesus gives us more grace, continuing to reveal his own glory to us, so that we will gaze increasingly upon him and not upon our storms.
Finally, we see a response to Christ in Mark 5 that should deeply encourage us and spur on our own faith. Jarius, a ruler of the synagogue, has a daughter who is dying, and he believes that Jesus can simply lay hands on her and make her well (5:23). While Jesus is enroute to Jarius’ home, some men report that his daughter has died, and they encourage Jarius not to trouble Jesus any longer (35).
But Jarius, by faith, believes in Jesus’ power to heal his daughter after Jesus says directly to him, “Do not fear, only believe” (36). What is stunning about this command is its directness: Jarius is only able to follow Christ by faith because Jesus has first commanded it within him. Lo and behold, Jesus raises Jarius’ daughter to life by a two authoritative words from his lips: “Talitha cumi” (41), which means “little girl, I say to you, arise,” and everyone was “immediately overcome with amazement.”
This account beautifully teaches that faith is a gift from God, imparted to us through the Word of Life, Jesus Christ. It is through our seeking him in the Scriptures, as Jarius sought Jesus, that we come face to face with his power and authority and are changed.
What are you afraid of today? What obstacle seems too cumbersome for you? With whom will you share Jesus? Where do you need to believe Jesus and exercise your faith in him?
Hear him say to you with all power and authority on heaven and earth, “Do not fear, only believe!” Follow him trustingly, no matter the outcome, knowing, understanding, believing he is who he says he is: the Son of God!