And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mark 4:41
When Jesus stills the storm, the first question of the disciples was not “could this be the a prophet?” or “could this be the promised Messiah?” What had just happened was completely beyond what was expected from either a prophet or the Messiah. It was not just that the wind suddenly died down, which could be chalked up to coincidence, but that the sea went into a “dead calm” (Mark 4:39). The sea does not respond to a drop in wind in that way. Who simply speaks and nature responds? Well there is Genesis 1 which is our first clue.
The question “who then is this?” is one that reverberates throughout the Gospel of Mark, including the passages that follow in Mark chapters 5 and 6.
Who then is this in 5:1-20 when Jesus casts out a legion of demons?
And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3 He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; 4 for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Mark 5:2-4 (emphasis added)
No one could ever subdue this man, and no chain could ever restrain him. Jesus does something far better than just subdue him. He frees the man. Who then is this who can do far beyond what anyone else only hoped to do?
Who then is this in 5:21-43 when a girl is raised from the dead?
He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. Mark 5:41-42
Who can restore to life except the One who gives life in the first place?
Who then is this in 6:7-13 when Jesus sends out the disciples?
He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. Mark 6:7
It is amazing enough that Jesus has authority over unclean spirits. It is even more amazing that Jesus can give authority to others also. Who then is this who has even the authority to grant authority?
Who then is this in 6:30-44 when Jesus feeds five thousand people with five loaves and two fish?
And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. Mark 6:32-33 (emphasis added)
The fact that Jesus will provide for such a great people in the wilderness takes us back to God’s provision of manna in the wilderness following the Exodus from Egypt. Who then is this who is acting out a scene from Israel’s story of being rescued by God?
As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. Mark 6:34 (emphasis added)
This brings to mind another chapter from the history of God’s people. In Ezekiel 34 God points out the failure of Israel’s leaders to shepherd the people. He has a plan to correct this:
I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. Ezekiel 34:14-15 (emphasis added)
Who then is this who shows himself to be the good shepherd?
And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. Mark 6:38-39 (emphasis added)
Here we have another reference to the Old Testament:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures . . . Psalm 23:1,2 (emphasis added)
Not only can the 5,000 relate to “I shall not be lacking” thanks to Jesus, but we should not miss the reference to being made to sit down on green grass. Who then is this who reflects Psalm 23?
Who then is this in 6:45-52 when Jesus walks on water? There is a rather odd moment with this miracle:
When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. Mark 6:48 (emphasis added)
Though Jesus sees the disciples struggling, he intends to “pass them by”. That may seem quite un-Jesus like. However, I recently heard an insight from a Jewish scholar who saw the connection with the Old Testament. Moses had asked to see God’s glory but because of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of Moses, God protected Moses, then
The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . . Exodus 34:6 (emphasis mine)
Who then is this who recalls how God passed by Moses at Mount Sinai in Exodus chapters 33 and 34? There is another point of contact with Moses:
But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Mark 6:49-50
While it is difficult to see in the English, in the Greek is as plain as day. Jesus in calling out to the disciples says more literally, “Take heart. I am. Do not be afraid”. The “I am” reflects the identity of God:
God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ” Exodus 3:14
“I Am” sent Moses. “I Am” is present in Jesus. Who then is this who reflects the identity of God?
Mark answers the question “who is Jesus” all the way through his Gospel. Jesus himself is the answer to the question “Who is God?”. He is the One Who calms the storms, Who destroys the demons, Who raises the dead, Who shepherds and provides, Who comes to us by the cross and says “Take heart, I Am, be not afraid”.
(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)