I’m currently studying the content and setting of the Gospels, and the first Gospel we’re looking at is Mark (mainly because it is widely acknowledged as being the earliest gospel).
One of the striking features in Mark’s Gospel is how often Jesus tells people not to spread the word of what he has done. Why does he do this? Isn’t ours a missionary faith? Weren’t the 12 told to go throughout all the world and make disciples? Indeed they were, but it was only after Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection that they were told to do this. And that is the whole point of what Mark is trying to get across. Listen to what Hurtado says:
One of [Mark’s] major points is that Jesus’ crucifixion was his key work and that all else—even the exorcisms, healings, and other miracles—was only an incomplete hint of Jesus’ true nature and meaning. This is why no one is allowed to acclaim Jesus openly as Son of God or Messiah, for any acclamation uninformed by the crucifixion is misleading and invalid. This is why, also, the people and the disciples are presented in Mark (much more than the other gospels) as bewildered and even stupid. In Mark’s view, no one could understand the true meaning of Jesus and his work until Jesus had actually completed it by his death as a ransom for others (10:45). Thus, there is a theologically profound reason for the emphasis on secrecy, mystery, and the dullness of crowds and disciples.
L. Hurtado, Mark (Hendrickson, 1989), p. 10
Jesus’ miracles (or mighty deeds) cannot be understood apart from the context of his suffering. His mighty deeds were not the main point of his ministry. There were many other wonder-workers in those days, and Jesus was emphasising that he was different, because the main point of his life was suffering and death, and then resurrection.
Jesus’ point was not that he was the Son of God because he worked these amazing deeds, but that he was the Son of God because of his suffering and death, and then his rising to life.
And that is where it relates to us. In a day when there is still much emphasis on the feel-good factor in worship, we need to hear the call of Jesus again through Mark – that “if anyone would follow me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me”. Any worship of Jesus cannot be done apart from the context of his suffering. There is no resurrection without death. Alan Cole says it well:
Part of the reason for Jesus’ reluctance to reveal his true identity was that he did not wish to be known as a mere wonder-worker. Perhaps this is a word of warning for us today, in the midst of times of spiritual renewal in which we all rejoice, for such times bring their own danger. Jesus saw his task rather as that of bringing the good news about God and his rule, and that is why he warned healed people not to tell of their healing. It also explains why he escaped the crowds when there was a danger of his mission becoming a mere ‘healing campaign’ and no more.
Alan Cole, ‘Mark’ in D. A. Carson et al, New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition (IVP, 1994), p. 948
We live in a society where life is all about comfort and avoiding pain. But the way of Jesus is the way of the cross. Read Mark’s Gospel right through in one sitting and you will understand this. As Hurtado again says:
Mark was concerned to emphasise that the cross was not only the key work of Jesus but also the pattern of discipleship
L. Hurtado, Mark (Hendrickson, 1989), p. 11