Sunday, September 9, 2018

Finishing Up Mark

In the last section of Mark’s gospel we discover the final, and most important, identity of Jesus: Son of God. This is where Mark’s story began (1:1) and in these last chapters we come full circle, albeit with very different and a deeper understanding of the significance of those words.

In Jesus’ day calling someone the “son of God” was simply another way of calling them “the king.” Numerous ancient kings took the title “son of god” (including Caesar Augustus), claiming that their rule was ordained by god and that they were the mediators of god’s (or the gods’) will for their people. In Israel this concept was slightly modified, in that the king was not the law-giver or the mouthpiece of God (those positions were held by the Torah and by the prophets). However, the idea that the king was God’s chosen ruler was still there (again, this was connected to the Son of David idea that we discussed in the previous post) and therefore when other Jewish characters (like the High Priest in 14:61) say “Son of God” they basically mean what we said for “messiah.” 

Redefining “Son of God”

At this point you might think we’ve already covered all this territory, but here’s the thing: Jesus redefines what it means to be Son of God. Through Mark’s gospel we learn that the Son of God is…

… the Son of Man, who is persecuted and suffers and is then lifted to victory by God and exalted. In other words, being God’s Son does not simply mean reigning on high apart from the struggle below. Rather, it means sacrificing oneself for the sake of God’s people, and through this sacrifice becoming the instrument of their victory. (Jesus alludes to Daniel 7:13-14, 21-22, and 23-27 in his speech about the destruction of the temple and in his own trial, and these references point to a prophecy of a “Son of Man” who suffers and is exalted by God… Jesus actively seeks this role!)

… the true Image of God (Col. 1:15), who reveals the Father’s heart and character through the passion and love he demonstrated in going to the cross for the sake of humanity. It is at the moment of Jesus’ final agony and death that the centurion under the cross declares him to be the Son of God (Mark 15:39). This indicates that Jesus’ death itself was revelatory; through it the love of the Father was revealed, as was his unique relationship with the Son, which spurred on the Son’s sacrifice (see also Mark 1:11 and 9:7).

… the Resurrected One, who has overcome evil and death and possesses in himself eternal life and the complete authority of God. His kingship is revealed to be eternal, and his call and invitation for people to follow him (i.e. give him their allegiance) continues to go forth after his death and resurrection, with the promise that his disciples will share in his eternal life and kingdom.

Where does this redefinition leave us?

This consideration of Jesus as the Son of God leads us back to the previous post, in which I said Jesus wasn’t about helping us get what we want (“win”) out of life. Rather, I said that he wanted us to renounce our own agenda and interests (“deny ourselves”) in favor of God’s agenda, even if that meant loss and death (“pick up your cross”). That of course then begged the question, “Why be a disciple of Jesus if it might cause me to lose what I want for this life?”

While I partially answered that question by pointing to Jesus’ character and trustworthiness as a leader, it was not the moment to discuss the “incentives” of following Jesus. But now that we have a little understanding of Jesus as the Son of God, it is appropriate to name why we follow Jesus… note that it’s not just about “going to heaven when we die!”

We follow Jesus because in him (in his very being) is the eternal life of the Kingdom of God, which He offers to those who, as disciples, give him their allegiance. This means we can receive that life now (via the Holy Spirit) in part, and look forward to receiving that life fully on the day of the resurrection when the Kingdom is established in power. 

We follow Jesus because he is our champion: the one who willingly and lovingly laid down his life to defeat sin and death, atone for our sins and reconcile us with God our Father. Jesus possesses the true authority of God, who is always giving of himself in love in order that life and blessing might be received by others. His authority does not simply rest on his power (though he has all the power needed) but also on his love. 

Further, as one who struggled and sacrificed as a human like us, he is a faithful and merciful guide as we navigate the difficulties and disappointments of life, including our own sins and errors. We can trust him to lead us because he knows the way of God, the way to God and the obstacles that face us on our journey.

It is hard, and scary, to let go of our own interests and desires and to let Jesus have control over our lives and our full allegiance. But it is a wise trade in the end, because,  in the words of Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” The invitation to follow Jesus, the Son of God, and to receive His love and His life, is the greatest gift we could ever receive. So much so, that it is indeed worth losing everything we could possess or desire apart from Him. I and  And that, in the end, is what the Gospel of Mark is all about.

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