There are four gospels in the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, that were written for one purpose – the purpose of knowing who Jesus is as the crucified and risen Savior of the Christian faith. While each gospel was written for this same purpose, each gospel also has its own unique emphasis in the achievement of this purpose. This is why each of the four gospels bear the same title of “The Gospel According to” and the individual name of each person honored in the name of that gospel. This is why the name of each gospel (which means good news) is recorded as The Gospel According to Matthew, The Gospel According to Mark, The Gospel According to Luke, and The Gospel According to John.
Before considering today’s scripture reading, I invite us to a quick summary of each gospel’s emphasis in knowing who Jesus is:
- The Gospel According to Matthew witnesses to who Jesus is through the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and the religious law of Israel known as the Torah.
- The Gospel According to Mark witnesses to who Jesus is as the suffering Son of God who is ultimately recognized through his crucifixion.
- The Gospel According to Luke witnesses to who Jesus is through Jesus’ ministry with those who were considered to be among the least of his day.
- The Gospel According to John witnesses to who Jesus is as the Word of God becoming flesh.
I personally find it helpful to understand the emphasis of each gospel by considering the questions that are asked in that gospel. For example, today’s scripture reading from Mark 1:21-28 contains the first question that is asked in The Gospel According to Mark. It is a question that is different from the initial question found in the other gospels where:
- In Matthew, the magi ask King Herod, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?”
- In Luke, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, responds to an angelic message that his son will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. Upon receiving this news, Zechariah asks, “How will I know that this is so?”
- In John, priests and Levites from Jerusalem ask John the Baptist, as he preaches about preparing the way for Jesus, “Who are you?”
The first question in The Gospel According to Mark is asked by a man with an unclean spirit following Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue on the sabbath, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”
To understand the significance of this question, it is important to be aware of a commonly held belief in the ancient world that the act of naming or identifying someone granted power over the person or object who was named. An example of this belief is found in the opening biblical account of creation in Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a as God speaks order to chaos by identifying and naming what God speaks into existence.
Listen to these verses from Genesis 1:1-5 that witness to the ancient understanding of the power of naming:
1 When God began to create the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was complete chaos, and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
With each passing day of the week, God claims power over creation by naming what God is creating each day:
- On the second day God claimed power over creation as God said let there be a dome in the midst of the waters and God called the dome Sky (1:6-8)
- On the third day God claimed power over creation as God caused dry land to appear by gathering the waters under the sky together into one place. God called the dry land Earth and the waters that were gathered God called Seas (1:9-13)
- On the fourth day God power of creation as God said, “Let there be lights in the
forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth through the dome of the sky (1:20-23)
- On the sixth day God claimed power over creation as God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” (1:26-31)
The second creation account, found in the second chapter of Genesis, also witnesses to the power of naming as found in Genesis 2:19-20a:
19 So out of the ground God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air and brought them to the man to see what he would call them, and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20a The man gave names to all cattle and to the birds of the air and to every animal of the field.
Keep in mind the ancient world’s belief about the power of naming as you consider the question the unclean spirit asked Jesus, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” Then, keeping in mind the ancient world’s belief in the power of naming, listen to the unclean spirit’s follow-up question and statement to Jesus, “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” In this confrontation with Jesus, the unclean spirit is attempting to claim power over Jesus’ identity as the Holy One of God by defining and limiting Jesus’ ministry to that of an exorcist who casts out demons as it asks, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth.” Knowing that exorcism was not the purpose of his ministry as the Holy One of God. Rather than allowing the unclean spirit to claim power in stating his name, Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit and as he has the last word in saying, “Be silent and come out of him.”
Only Jesus would define his identity as the Holy One of God as he taught in the synagogue on the sabbath. Only Jesus would define his identity as the Holy One of God as the path of his ministry would lead him from the synagogue in Capernaum to be the suffering Messiah who is known through the cross of Calvary. It is through this journey that The Gospel According to Mark will witness to Jesus as the crucified and risen Lord. It is through this journey that followers of Jesus are named by the Holy One of God as they know who Jesus is.
Knowing Who Jesus Is
by Pastor Marc Brown
January 28, 2024
Accompanying Scriptures: Mark 1:21-28
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for January 28, 2024
Scripture Lesson Mark 1:21-28
The Good News “Knowing Who Jesus Is”
Music “Oh, How I Love Jesus” Hymn #170
Closing Music “Face to Face” by James Denton