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Who Is That Man?
by Karen Alexander


    You remember the scenes. The cloud of dust that stirred the air as the two horses galloped away, the puzzled, yet reflective faces of those left behind, the pause, the glance from one man to the other. Then, the question: “Who was that masked man?”

    Seemingly, the traditional endings never grew trite. The answer? The masked man was the Lone Ranger. He traveled with an Indian companion, Tonto, and rode through the Wild West on his white horse, Silver. He did good wherever he went, bringing justice where there was none, offering aid in the face of the impossible. Then he was gone, never staying around to be thanked. Having done the good and the right, he and Tonto departed each episode in that cloud of dust, leaving those thankful, amazed faces to contemplate: Who would do such good? What kind of man was this?

    When Jesus Christ enters the New Testament in the book of Mark, the author seems intent on painting a similar scene. One came. He was the Son of God. Isaiah had prophesied about him almost hundreds of years earlier. He was the Christ, the Messiah. He came on schedule, just in time to be introduced by John the Baptist. Yet, he was foreign—inexplicably unfamiliar. Though they crowded around him, the people of Israel could not recognize that Jesus of Nazareth was the one for whom they had waited.

    They were amazed by his teaching, but baffled by his seeming sense of authority. “What is this?” they asked (Mark 1:27).

    Though they sought his healing, they chastised him for his attitude. “Why does this fellow talk like that?” (Mark 2:8).

    His mother and brothers sought to make excuses for his behavior. “He is out of his mind,” they said (Mark 3:21).

He was the Christ, the Messiah.
    His enemies, unable to explain his power, reasoned, “‘He is possessed by Beelzebub!’ By the Prince of demons he is driving out demons” (Mark 3:21).

    His closest friends left all they had to follow him (Mark 1:18, Mark 2:14). They received private tutoring (Mark 4:34) in his presence. Yet they, too, sat on a stilled sea, sharing bewildered glances and whispering among themselves: “Who is this?” (Mark 4:41).

    Mark shows us Jesus’ bumbling apprentices who never truly grasp the significance of the one they followed. Though Peter proclaims “You are the Christ!” (Mark 9:29) he just as quickly pulls the Lord aside to rebuke him for teaching about the upcoming crucifixion (Mark 9:32). At the story’s end, the women are sent to the disciples, “trembling and bewildered,” messengers of a risen Christ Mark 16:8 ).

    Only the demons are convinced of his identity. “I know who you are—the Holy One of God,” cries the evil spirit ( Mark 1:24). When the testimonies of these spirits have become an issue of concern, as Jesus gives them “strict orders” that they should not tell anyone his identity (Mark 1:34; Mark 3:12). Yet they will not be contained: “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” Legion shouts (Mark 5:7).

    With so many demons testifying to his identity, no wonder his adversaries rush to condemn his efforts as the work of Satan. Jesus did not seem to fit within the confines of the established Jewish religion. His message was fresh and new. Any truly religious person knows that God never changes. Something was wrong. In their pride, they chose to condemn truth rather than question their own understanding. This Jesus could not be their Messiah!

    The testimonies concerning Jesus did not make sense. The blind man Bartimaes shouts, “Son of David!” but no one listens to blind men (Mark 10). At Jesus’ baptism, God spoke himself: “You are my son,” but wasn’t that impossible? Near the foot of the cross, the Roman centurion (Mark 15:39) watched Jesus die and testified: “Surely this man was the Son of God!” But he, after all, was a foreigner and who can trust a heathen. With such “poor” witnesses, how could anyone have been expected to understand?

    In the two thousand years since that time, not much has changed. Like those in Jesus’ day, too many of us, knowing what we know, fail to question our own understanding. We are afraid to back up far enough to evaluate the story of Jesus holistically, to seek the truth anew as it relates to our lives. Too often, when life challenges us to do such introspection, we refuse. When we hear his message fresh and new, we are tempted to disapprove of this messenger just as they did. He is a friend of sinners, an associate of the outcast, and definitely a “non Christian.”

    We too can gather around Jesus expecting to see his glory, to receive his blessings, to sit near his side. But long ago most of us determined where he belongs in our lives. There is no room for questions, let alone new answers, new ideas, new insights—it might require a change in things, in us. We can become like the people of Nazareth who knew him too well: “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?”

    Some of us have become so saturated in Jesus knowledge that there remains no room for amazement. The story is old and well-known. Like a worn family anecdote, the tale has grown old and lost its novelty. So be careful reading Mark’s story of Jesus. We tend to be critical of the disciples’ slowness because it is so evident. But surely Mark intended us to take note of this. But for what reason? So that we might feel good that we, almost 2000 years later, can see through the plot? Is there not a sense in which we are to be shamed over them? Is it possible that the disciples and Jesus’ mother and brothers, in their disbelief, were more noble than many of us? At least they continued to ask questions. Jesus was awesome in the strictest meaning of the word. Whatever may be argued concerning their lack of faith, no one can argue that they failed to recognize his distinctiveness. They recognized that his message was foreign. No one missed that point.

    Shouldn’t we reopen the story, read it again, and experience the awe? Or have we grown beyond the experience? Can’t we be honest? Shouldn’t the story leave us with similar wonder? Why not pick up Mark’s story of Jesus and meet him again for the first time. Having heard the message and accepted its truth, shouldn’t we still turn to one another in wonder and ask: “Who was that man?”


HEARTLIGHT(R) Magazine is a ministry of loving Christians and the Westover Hills church of Christ.
Edited by Phil Ware and Paul Lee.
Copyright © 1996-97, Heartlight, Inc., 8332 Mesa Drive, Austin, TX 78759.
© Copyright 1998, Karen Alexander. Used by permission.
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