I don’t need a theology degree to figure out what the New Testament is all about. In fact, I only need a little 4th grade math to do the job. The New Testament mentions Jesus’ name 990 times (that’s just “Jesus,” not including the other names used for our Lord). On average, from Matthew chapter 1 to Revelation chapter 21 every 8th verse contains the name of Jesus. Funny, I didn’t find my name once. So often we come to the New Testament for answers, comfort, direction, confirmation, what to believe, how to act, and on and on. Don’t get me wrong – we’ll find all those things there, but that’s not what it’s about. We easily slip into what comedian Brian Reagan describes as the “me monster,” a state of self-absorption in which I attribute to my self sun-like gravity that everyone else succumbs to. But, it’s not about me, it’s about Jesus. If it's all about Jesus, we ought to read it with any towards the question "who is Jesus?" The gospels are a great place to start.
I typical fashion, Mark (considered the first of the four evangalists) doesn’t hold back and starts with “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Quick answer to our question – Jesus is the Son of God. However, the answer is much bigger than we think and we need to look at how Jesus interacted with those around Him to begin putting it together. In Mark 4:11 Jesus tells His disciples “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables.” The outsiders saw Jesus, listened to Jesus, became the benefactors of His miracles, but had a relationship to Jesus separate from what He shared with His disciples.
Commentators often note the active nature of Mark’s gospel: everything happens immediately (39 times) and people are constantly amazed (11 times) or astonished (5 times). By the 14th verse in chapter 1, Jesus had alredady begun “preaching the gospel of God.” But often, those who heard had a fuzzy understanding of what Jesus talked of. They knew they had encountered something important, but couldn’t quite put a finger on it. To some, Jesus was Lord (a respectful address like “sir”), Son of David (in hope of a messiah-king who might free them from the oppression of Rome), or Teacher. The combination of His public ministry of healing and miracles with His astonishing teaching caused many others to cast Him as a prophet. Most of the general audiences probably saw Jesus this way – a man with the special ability to apply the power of God to certain situations, but only a man.
To these Jesus spoke in parables, declaring the gospel of the God, but without the private explanation reserved for the disciples. He almost appears to be searching for people like those who came to John the Baptist with repentant hearts, expecting something more from God. People who could see more than a big event or a free meal or an opportunity to have themselves or relatives or friends healed. Jesus found such a man on one occasion, a Scribe who hearing Jesus answer the Sadducees and their disingenuous question about marriage in the afterlife (they did not even believe in the afterlife, but sought to trick Jesus). When this scribe acknowledged that the double law of love – loving God and loving neighbor – exceeded the importance of burnt offerings and sacrifices, Jesus responded that “you are not far off from the kingdom of God.”
But even to those who were still left scratching their heads, Jesus spoke in a context they could, if they would, understand. Though the Hebrew Scriptures do not use the phrase “Kingdom of God,” they clearly communicate ideas about God’s rule. Spend but a few moments in the Psalms and you know that God is King. “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom.” Yet, first century Jews would have interpreted God’s Kingdom as a literal rule of His people Israel, mirroring their history. Though He veiled His teaching in parable, Jesus and those who heard Him had a common understanding to work with. However, just as the Passover lamb provided only a historical representation of the timeless and boundless work of Jesus , so too, the historical idea of the Kingdom of God familiar to Jesus hearers only provided a glimpse of His announcement of the Kingdom of God.
Next, Jesus will address two other groups of outsiders and His combined treatment of these three groups will begin to give us part of the answer to our question, "who is Jesus?"