Mark’s “Messianic Secret” & “Platforms” for the Gospel

This will be the final post in which I consider well-known Christians—especially athletes—using their well-knownness as a “platform” to speak about Christian faith.

For evangelical Christians raised on the song, “Be a Missionary Every Day,” and who’ve been exhorted to use every opportunity to testify about Christian faith, Mark’s “Messianic Secret” comes as quite a shock.

Throughout Mark’s Gospel, Jesus exhorts everyone to keep quiet about him.

After he heals a leper (Mark 1:40-45), Jesus “sent him away at once with a strong warning: ‘See that you don’t tell this to anyone’” (vv. 44-45).

When unclean spirits identify Jesus as the Son of God (Mark 3:7-12), he “gave them strict orders not to tell others about him” (v. 12).

Jesus raises Jairus’s daughter from the dead to the astonishment of those gathered to mourn her passing (Mark 5:35-43).  Jesus, of course, “gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this” (v. 43).

Even after Peter’s great confession of faith, identifying Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus warned his disciples “not to tell anyone about him” (Mark 8:27-30).

What’s going on here?  Didn’t Jesus realize he was supposed to be a missionary every day?  Why isn’t he exploiting these opportunities, using the excitement he’s generating to get the word out?

As I said yesterday, Jesus was well aware of the messianic misconceptions that were up and running in his Jewish culture.  He knew that the great excitement would turn to disappointment and rejection when he began talking about self-giving love, servant-hood, non-retaliation, and how his mission was to culminate with his death on a Roman cross.

Jesus wanted to avoid generating too much “momentum” while perverted messianic notions persisted.  He wanted to keep his identity a secret in order help his disciples truly understand what his mission and identity were all about.

Just to make the point that throughout his ministry, Jesus was carefully attentive to his culture and its perversions.  This discernment kept him from using his growing well-knownness as a “platform” for his ministry.  In fact, he rejected this strategy altogether.

9 thoughts on “Mark’s “Messianic Secret” & “Platforms” for the Gospel

  1. Dan Jr.

    “This discernment kept him from using his growing well-knownness as a “platform” for his ministry.”

    This is great. 20 years ago when I was a kid our youth pastor told us that we needed to wear Christian t-shirts to school to get the truth out there. Really all it did was alienate me, so kids kept their distance from me making missionality close to impossible.

    I’m not sure why we don’t let the scope of the incarnation of God inform how we bear witness. God could have come with fanfare but he came quietly and humbly.

    1. timgombis

      I think that scenario is all-too common, Dan, and it ends up laying loads of guilt on young kids to act badly toward their friends (“manipulate your daily conversations so that you can bizarrely inject the gospel, and when they make fun of you for doing that, you’re being persecuted for Christ”) and confuses the adoption of kitchy items (T-shirts, bumper-stickers, etc.) with witnessing, evangelizing, or testifying to the reality of Christ.

      Those techniques are not too different from those of motivational speakers hired to pump up the tired sales troops, it’s just that God is attached to them so that when people get a clue, they reject God.

  2. Heather Colletto

    This part of Jesus’ message has always confused me up until. A) I know have a better understanding of what Jesus meant and B) I have a better understanding of WHY it was so confusing to me! I was trained to wear the t-shirts and wait for my friends to seek salvation because I didn’t use swear words. That plan was always foiled by the Mormons at my school who were so holy they didn’t even drink soda!

    1. timgombis

      Heather, that’s hilarious and, sadly, all-too familiar. It’s like middle-class passive-aggressive strategies applied to evangelism: “Keep it clean at school and have that joy on your face (i.e., don’t stop smiling), kids, and your friends will be so drawn to you and wonder how you could be so happy without swearing!”

      Consider the peril: When “they” don’t come knocking on your door because they’re so amazed by your non-swearing example, you feel like a failure, and when you actually don’t feel joyful, or you end up being a complicated and mixed up kid, you’re a double-failure for not being a super-magnetic poster-child.

      No wonder the counseling offices at evangelical undergraduate institutions are overwhelmed!!

  3. Jaime Hancock

    I think Evangelicalism has missed the Gospel, has missed the Kingdom, and is seriously misunderstanding Jesus. Which partially explains why so much of the world has such a negative opinion of Christians. We’re not hated for following our beliefs, we’re hated for not being true to Jesus. If we were being true to Jesus, we would probably be hated for other things, but being hypocritical would not be one of them. The ironic thing is that so many Christians hate the Pharisees, all the while being ignorant of the fact that we are often more “Pharisaical” than the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. I often wonder if Jesus would even want to come into our churches, if he walked the earth today.
    We don’t need to keep repeating the betrayal of selling Jesus for the world’s silver. We need to start living Jesus, his death and his resurrection. That is what the world needs.

    Grace and Peace,

  4. S Wu

    “He [Jesus] knew that the great excitement would turn to disappointment and rejection when he began talking about self-giving love, servant-hood, non-retaliation, and how his mission was to culminate with his death on a Roman cross.”

    I think this point is crucial, Tim. Living in a holy life (plus a friendly smile) is not sufficient to bear witness to the love of Christ. But if we live our lives as servants with self-giving love, then people will see what it means to be the truly image-bearers that God intends us to be.

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