The Four Faces of Jesus: The Suffering Servant (Part 7) (4-23-17)

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45)

On his way back home to Ethiopia from Jerusalem, a eunuch was asked “Do you understand what you are reading?” to which he replied, “How can I unless someone guides me” (Acts 8:26-40)? Luke reveals that the passage puzzling the Ethiopian was Isaiah 53:7-8 and the question burning bright in his mind was “does the prophet say this, of himself, or of some other man” (Acts 8:34)? This enticing question asked by the eunuch manifests the veiled understanding Jews had concerning the true identity and mission of the long awaited Messiah. It is wise to observe that this Ethiopian was a Jew since he “had come to Jerusalem to worship” (Acts 8:27). This pericope of Scripture bewildered the eunuch because it described the suffering of a man described by God through His prophet simply as “My righteous Servant” (Isaiah 53:11). Certainly, being a Jew, the Ethiopian eunuch was fully aware of the Messiah and of the prophecies concerning His arrival. Yet, this prophetic description of the Messiah eluded his comprehension. His question to Philip revealed that perhaps this portion of Scripture that he was

studying was not accepted by any Jew as a prophecy pertaining to the Messiah. He could not make the connection to God’s chosen One because this Scripture was describing God’s suffering Servant; not a conquering King. When the Master began to speak of His crucifixion to the disciples, Peter responded “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You” (Matthew 16:21-22)! Peter had just confessed that Jesus was God’s Christ, but was under the impression that this meant that He would literally free Judea from Roman oppression. This misconception of a warrior and heroic king as their Messiah was very common and popular amid all the Jews. It was also the reason why they missed Isaiah’s lesson concerning the Christ’s mission as the suffering Servant. For them, accepting that their conquering Hero would attain their salvation through a tragic death was neither convenient nor favorable. Hence, the root of the Ethiopian’s and Peter’s confusion that Isaiah 53 was a direct link to the Christ. The face of the Messiah as King is established beyond a shadow of a doubt in Matthew’s Gospel account; Mark’s masterpiece, however, is the one that resonates and confirms Isaiah’s illustration of Christ as a Servant. Biblical erudites have often referred to the book of Mark as the Gospel of action due to the scribe’s primary focus on Jesus’ works, more than His words. Although the shortest of the four, it distinguishes itself from the other three by providing vivid pictures with his majestic descriptions of Jesus’ gestures, attitudes, and emotions. With the artistic stroke of his quill, Mark invites his audience to allow their mind’s eye see the reaction of the crowd to Jesus’s teachings or miracles, the facial expressions of those who engaged the Lord in a conversation, and even the private declarations made by those who vehemently opposed Him. Scholars have long disputed that this Gospel account should in truth be called “the Gospel according to Peter” due to these vivid illustrations. According to those who support this theory, only an eye witness could provide such a realistic account of the works of Christ. His wonderful use of descriptive language has also led other scholars to believe that Peter was Mark’s primary source of information for this project. Historians agree, however, that this Gospel book was penned by John Mark, son of Mary (Acts 12:12) and cousin to Barnabas (Colossians 4:10). It is also widely accepted that this book could not have been written by the pen of Peter since it was published shortly after his death. Ecclesiastic tradition hints that Peter was martyred by the Cesar Nero during his infamous persecution of the Christians for “burning” Rome. It claims that the apostle Peter was sacrificed by Nero approximately in A.D. 67, therefore erudites suggest that John Mark wrote his version of the Gospel in between A.D. 67 to A.D. 70. His target audience and his representation of Jesus are also attributed as strong support for these approximate dates. His need to explain Jewish customs (i.e. Mark 7:1-4, 12:18), translate Aramaic words (i.e. Mark 3:17, 5:41), and exclusion of the genealogy of Christ, confirm that Mark constructed his manuscript for the understanding of the Gentile mind. Furthermore, John Mark also makes use of Latin words that are only found in his treatise. For example, when speaking of the beheading of John the Baptist, Mark writes “immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded his head to be brought” (Mark 6:27). The word used by the scribe for executioner in this passage is the Latin word spekoulatór. His use of Latin words, similar to this one, have led Biblical scholars to the realization that John Mark was writing for a Roman audience. Specifically, the Gentile Christians living in Rome during Nero’s abhorrent persecution. Thus, due to the heinous hostility created in Rome by the emperor against Christianity, Mark elected to encourage his fellow brethren by reminding them of the example evinced by Jesus’ accomplishment of Isaiah’s prophecy as the suffering Messiah. Mark wisely judged the importance of echoing Peter’s exhortation to his persecuted brethren to “not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (1st Peter 4:12). Undoubtedly, his words reminding his Roman brothers and sisters of the Lord’s willing sacrifice for us all were a refreshing breath for their battered souls. Yet, to illuminate how they were emulating the Master in His devotion to God by suffering for His cause as He did, was a necessary injection that refortified their faith. With this revelation, the value of understanding the purpose for the Messiah to be God’s suffering Servant makes its presence felt. This Gospel book reinforces the subject of persecution by demonstrating in detail the Savior’s prophetic sufferings, but also in His anticipation to His followers that “everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt” (Mark 9:49). Thus, Mark’s portrait of the Messiah as a Servant, transforms itself into a pattern for Christ’s faithful disciples to follow. To be continued…

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