[bl]A[/bl]s I approach Jesus in the quiet my hope is to hear him and see him in new and more truthful ways. We all have ideas and images of who Jesus is and what he came to do — inherited from family and religious communities, shaped and distorted by particular influences and experiences, and honed by God. It’s difficult to step outside of these preconceived ideas – some truthful, some not.
But I want to know him. To see him for who he really is. So I open the gospels. For here, living and breathing in these words is his story.
Anticipated by the prophets, revealed by God, questioned by critics, rejected or embraced by religious communities — the identity of Jesus of Nazareth is a core concern to the writers of the four gospels and the communities that interpret them. Each Gospel writer tells the story of Jesus – his life, death and resurrection – shaping their accounts to address their particular audiences.
The writer Mark tackles the questions and concerns, assumptions and expectations, surrounding the person of Jesus. The first eight chapters of his story build up to a defining moment, when Peter confesses Jesus as Christ.
I love this moment in the story. Step into it with me.
Throughout Mark, the people who encounter Jesus wonder who he is, to which Jesus himself was often amazed. But Mark chapter 8 is the first time Jesus brings up the question of his identity.
Who do people say I am?
Mark’s primarily Roman audience had expectations and assumptions about who the Messiah ought to be and what he ought to do. It is thus important for Mark to emphasize the ways Jesus’ ministry and teachings revealed a different view of the Messiah to neutralize the Roman apprehensions that Jesus’ agenda was primarily political.
The disciples also had assumptions about the Messiah that had been cultivated, over time, in their religious communities. Much like we have. The actions and character of Jesus did not match their messianic expectations, which created much confusion.
One of Mark’s primary goals is to address the issue of identity so that his audience might come to see and believe the true identity of Jesus.
The disciples answer Jesus’ question. Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.
Jesus responds. But what about you? Who do you say I am? You, who are closest to me, who’ve walked with me and followed me. Who do you say I am?
This question pierces my heart. As if he’s asking me. Us. The church.
Peter answers. You are the Christ.
This is what Mark wants his listeners and readers to know. It’s the very center moment of his gospel, the very center of his message.
Jesus is the Christ.
Peter ambitiously announces Jesus as the Christ, but we learn that he doesn’t fully know what his confession means. Can you relate? I can. My whole life I’ve proclaimed that Jesus died on the cross for my sins — without fully understanding what it means for my life. How it ought to shape the way I live. How it changes an entire world.
Listen to the rest of the story. Jesus begins to teach his disciples.
The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.
This teaching – Jesus clarifying what it means for him to be the Christ — is disturbing to Peter and he takes Jesus aside to rebuke him. Jesus responds strongly. Get behind me Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.
The things of men…..oh how I’ve been guilty of having in mind the things of men. Of shaping my day according to the things of men. Responding to people with the things of men. Spending my money on the things of men. Raising my children according to the things of men. Using my time in the things of men. Making the image of Jesus in the things of men.
I long to have in mind the things of God. This is what I’m seeking in the quiet.
The person who Peter thinks is the Christ is very different than the true identity of the Messiah. And the new image is difficult to grasp. Peter desperately wants to reject it. He wants to hold tight to his own ideas of who the Messiah is.
I have done this! I have been like Peter. We think we know him, right? After all these years of church going and Bible reading, surely I know the person I believe to be my Lord. And then I adopt. And I realize that all along I’ve been the orphan. The one grafted into an everlasting inheritance. And my image of Jesus changes. His blood unifies me with all people, expanding my definition of family.
And then I move to Uganda. And I see Jesus in the eyes of the suffering. And I realize that my riches have made me poor. My image of Jesus changes again. He becomes a presence among the hurting, rather than simply the reason I am blessed.
And then I enter a mud hut and realize here, not my home, but here in the dirt with the makeshift table and chair is the place Jesus would dine if he returned. And my image of him can no longer be the same. He becomes the One Sent to gather those on the margins of society – to notice and heal, to love and engage the ones who are forgotten or judged, mistreated or rejected, orphaned and widowed, sick and dying. He’s no longer my Savior. He’s the alternative reality to a broken world. He’s the Savior of all people.
I continually encounter people and experience new truths that reshape the way I see and experience Jesus. And it’s happening now as I anticipate his death through my Lenten practice. I’m noticing the cross, and it’s shaping for me a new image.
Mark’s gospel story distinctly shapes the identity of Jesus around the cross. Uniquely, the gospel writer places the temptation of Christ in chapter one of his story, immediately portraying Jesus as one who encounters opposition.
The son of man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for man.
Jesus did not come to be served. This truth went against an image the people had of the coming Messiah. People were excepting an earthly king – someone who would rule, someone they would serve. But Jesus was different. He did not come to rule as man knows it. He did not come as a king to be waited upon and served. He did not come with selfish gain.
Jesus came to serve. He came to enter into people’s life, engaging them with a new and redemptive reality to their brokenness. He came to serve an abundance of love and compassion, truth and forgiveness to a starving people. And in this coming he suffered. He suffered by leaving his Father and entering into a dark world. He suffered through rejection of his own people. He suffered by giving of himself. He suffered by entering into the suffering of those he loved.
And as if that wasn’t enough, he suffered through death on a cross. Jesus came to give his life as a ransom for man. He came to be our sacrifice. This is a hard reality. Why death? Why the cross? Because blood is the only atonement for sin. The only way for a Holy God and a sinful creation to live in a relationship with one another.
This humbling image of Jesus causes me to pause and consider the ways I am called to suffer with him. Being a Christian doesn’t entitle me to blessing and health and wealth. It calls me to radical, intentional living that will lead me to some dark places. In the silence this week, I will be seeking my identity as a disciple. As one called to die with Jesus.
As you enter into a new week of Lent, be gracious on yourself if you feel you failed already. Begin new. The point isn’t to be perfect. It’s to be more focused. To anticipate how this coming Jesus, this suffering Jesus changes your life and those around you. And don’t forget to be thankful. Always, and in everything.
#61 Real living food
#62 Not feeling full, but satisfied
#63 The last snows
#64 Sweet tears of rejection
#65 Heartbeats heard in the quiet
#66 A three year old who tries to be silent
#67 A friend who happened to have 2 boys at the same time as I did
#68 One hour and fifteen minutes of quiet so far
#69 Video games that tempt my children and give us opportunities to teach about truly satisfying activity
#70 Thoughtful words from an older brother to the younger