Who Is Jesus? Who Is Christ?

Worship Ideas for Lent from the Gospel of Mark

Every few years it happens, often around Easter. Questions about the life and ministry of Jesus are still so interesting to so many people that one, two, or even three of the major weekly newsmagazines in America will run cover stories about him. Few celebrities get their faces on the covers of such magazines all in the same week. Yet centuries after his death and resurrection, Jesus still generates a lot of press—not only for what he did or said but for the core question of who he is.

Whether they know it or not, the editors of these secular magazines have hit on a vital truth: the only reason to pay any attention to what Jesus said and did is if—and only if—he is the Son of God, the Christ, the Messiah sent to save the world. If that is who Jesus is, then everything he ever said and did takes on eternal significance.

On the other hand, if Jesus was just a good man who now and then said clever things that people still find inspiring two thousand years later, then it is surely legitimate to ignore his words, his deeds, and his entire existence at will.

Who Is Jesus? Who Is Christ?

The gospel of Mark knows that the key to answering that question lies in the cruciform shape of Jesus’ life. All through the gospel of Mark people wonder who Jesus is. A few people hit on the right answer but are repeatedly told to keep it quiet. Only when Jesus dies on the cross is someone allowed to say publicly, “Surely, this was the Son of God!” Once Jesus has given the last full measure of his life, it’s safe to identify him.

Even so, Mark includes clues to the identity of Jesus throughout the gospel. These Lenten passages will help us see who Jesus is and how knowing his true identity shapes and influences our Christian living every single day.

Week 1

You Are My Son

Scripture

Mark 1:9-15

Sermon Notes

Who is Jesus? Who is Christ? Mark 1 begins to answer these vital questions in a rather startling way. As this passage is the first reading for the season of Lent, it may be appropriate to focus on the remarkable thing that happens to Jesus immediately following his baptism. Without missing a beat, the same Holy Spirit who lighted on Jesus’ head like a gentle dove in verse 10 transforms in verse 12 into a far fiercer bird that grips Jesus in its talons and hurls him out into the desert wastes.

The typical English translation that the Spirit “sent” Jesus to the wilderness is a pretty weak rendering of a Greek verb that literally means to throw, to expel, to hurl someone with force. The Spirit picks Jesus up like some bouncer at a nightclub and throws him through the front window. When Jesus picks himself up and dusts himself off, he finds himself in an ugly, spiritually dangerous place—in the company of the devil out in the middle of the wilderness, the biblical symbol for all that is wrong with this fallen creation.

That’s just what you would not expect as you pivot from verses 10-11 to verse 12. After all, Jesus is no sooner baptized than God immediately showers him with love and favor. But if there’s any question as to the nature of this particular anointing, it becomes immediately evident: when the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus and God expresses his love for him, the first order of business is a blunt, brutal engagement with evil. Why was Jesus baptized and, furthermore, anointed by God? It certainly wasn’t step 1 to a comfortable life of fame and glory.

“He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” The animals in question here aren’t squirrels and raccoons—they’re threats to life and to human flourishing: lions, jackals, and other predators. In the Bible the wilderness is shorthand for chaos, the precise opposite of the cosmos God created “in the beginning.” God was careful to carve out a safe haven where life could flourish undisturbed and unthreatened; in chaos threats to human life slip out of place and life becomes precarious.

When Jesus shows up, shalom follows. Even so, precisely because Jesus is the Christ, the true Son of God, his first order of business is to engage evil, to go to the places where ministry is most needed.

As we journey with Jesus in Lent, we too have been called to be Christ to this world. So where should this new identity send us first?

Call to Worship

God calls us to worship during this season of Lent.
We worship Jesus Christ, the beloved Son of God,
who came from the Father and was anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit.
God loves us and anoints us too.
Let us praise God for his great gifts to us in Christ, his Son.

Prayer of Confession

Holy God, you declared your love for your Son, Jesus Christ, and anointed him with power through the Holy Spirit. He was thrown into the wilderness and tempted. We too are tempted. Forgive us for the times we submit to temptation and for the times we have avoided the chaos of our world instead of showing your grace. Forgive us for forgetting that when we do face temptation, you are with us. Help us to depend on you when the world frightens us or lures us to do things we know are wrong. In the name of Christ our Savior and the power of the Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

Hear these words of salvation from 1 Peter 3:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
Christ, the Son of God, has saved us from all our sins.
Thanks be to God!

Song Suggestions

“Throughout These Lenten Days and Nights” (stanza 1) SNC 129, WR 250
“See Christ, Who on the River’s Shore” SNT 14 (see p. 16)
“Behold the Lamb of God” SNT 15
“O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High” PH 83, PsH 364, TH 155

Week 2

You Are the Holy One of God

Scripture

Mark 1:21-28

Sermon Notes

Who is Jesus? Who is Christ? The demons knew. But the people sensed something about Jesus too. True, Jesus was no John the Baptist. There was no arm-waving or shrill-pitched antics when Jesus preached. Still, there was something about this Jesus from Nazareth (of all places) that arrested the attention of the people in Capernaum.

Jesus had a way of talking about God that distinguished him from the teachers of the law. He spoke with authority and intimacy. It was like hearing a mother intone the names of her own children; Jesus’ personal involvement with and love for his subject matter made it clear that he was speaking not so much from his head as from his heart. Small wonder the people in Capernaum were “amazed”—again and again. They had never met anyone like Jesus before. And they never would again.

Likely the people in Capernaum did not anticipate anything earth-shattering to happen that day when they went to the synagogue. But then Jesus showed up, and he made all the difference. In his presence a living form of teaching was on display that left people breathless with amazement.

How often do we come to worship expecting to encounter the living Christ, and hence to be amazed at what could happen? If Jesus is who the demons knew him to be, our every encounter with him has the potential to surprise, to shock, to provoke renewal and amazement. Yet sometimes we who claim to know Jesus best seem to expect amazement the least. This blasé attitude is one of the sins of which we ought to repent in this Lenten season.

Call to Worship

God calls us to worship during this season of Lent.
We worship Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God,
who was one with God but became human to share his wonderful life with us.
God comes to us too with amazing life.
Let us praise God for his great gifts to us in Christ, the Holy One.

Prayer of Confession

Living Christ, we are sorry for not expecting great things when we encounter you. We become distracted and come to worship out of habit. Help us to be amazed by your presence. Renew in us a sense of your glory and holiness. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

Hear these words of salvation from 2 Corinthians 5:
If anyone is in Christ, the new
creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.
Christ, the Holy One of God, has saved us from all our sins.
Thanks be to God!

Song Suggestions

“Throughout these Lenten Days and Nights” (stanzas 1 and 2) SNC 129, WR 250
“God Himself Is with Us” PsH 244, TH 382
“Be Still, for the Presence” SNC 11
“Holy, Holy, Holy, My Heart” SNC 19, SWM 27
“Holy God” SNC 139

Week 3

You Are a Son and Brother

Scripture

Mark 3:13-35

Sermon Notes

Who is Jesus? Who is Christ? He is the founder of a new community. In Mark 3 Jesus takes his disciples up to a mountain and creates a new community that would ultimately become the Church.

In the Bible, mountaintops are typically places of revelation and new creation, and Mark 3 is no exception. This new community would eclipse all other communities and all other commitments Jesus’ followers have, including blood ties of family.

Jesus makes it clear that, important though our families of origin are, they must not get in the way of the more important bonds we share as co-disciples of Christ. That becomes all the more poignant in Mark 3, because Jesus’ mother and brothers have apparently not yet become members of Jesus’ band of disciples. They have been following Jesus in one sense, but not in the more important sense. They have followed Jesus to check up on him, to observe what he has been up to. As a result, they’ve come to a dire conclusion: Jesus is off his rocker! He has become something of an embarrassment. They want to whisk Jesus out of sight, keep him quiet for a while, and then see if all this talk about casting out demons and the kingdom of his Father abates.

The true humanity of Jesus is on shining display in this passage. How human is Jesus? He is so human that those closest to him could not believe he was also the eternal Son of God. But Jesus’ true humanity must also have meant that his feelings were hurt when his own family turned on him. Let’s not make Jesus so divinely serene that we forget his vulnerability to hurt and pain, including emotional pain.

If Mark 3 makes one thing clear, it is that the work of God in the kingdom trumps all else, no matter how painful a reality that may be. In recent years we’ve heard a lot of talk about “family values” from religious people in the public square. And of course the church must promote strong families. But Jesus knew that being the Christ of God meant that he could not make an idol out of his own family.

Few of us like to think about what we would do if we had to choose between faith and family, between ministry in God’s Name and maintaining happy relations with our loved ones. Yet Lent is a time for hard questions. We know Jesus’ answer. What is ours?

Call to Worship

God calls us to worship during this season of Lent.
We worship Jesus Christ, our brother,
who loved his earthly family but created a heavenly family that we can be a part of.
God accepts us too as brothers and sisters of Christ.
Let us praise God for his great gifts to us in Christ.

Prayer of Confession

Lord God, we confess the times we become so preoccupied with our goals, dreams, and obligations that we lose sight of others. Forgive us for putting ourselves above the needs of those we love. We are sorry for forgetting that we are part of your family. Forgive us for neglecting your family in our church and around the world. Help us to love and serve each other as brothers and sisters. May we work to build your kingdom here in our community and around the world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

Hear these words of salvation from 1 Peter 2:
You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Christ, our brother, has saved us from our sins.
Thanks be to God!

Song Suggestions

“Throughout These Lenten Days and Nights” (stanzas 1-3) SNC 129, WR 250
“If You Then Want to Follow” SNT 53
“It Was Not Peace I Came to Bring” SNT 55
“Christ, Who Is in the Form of God” PsH 227, SNT 196

Week 4

You Are the Messiah

Scripture

Mark 8:22-9:1

Sermon Notes

Who is Jesus? Who is Christ? As far as we can tell, Jesus asked this question about himself only once. In Mark’s gospel, it comes smack dab in the literal, the literary, and the theological center of the book. Jesus had been doing ministry long enough that opinions were being formed both in the wider crowds dogging his every step and within his inner circle of friends. So he asks, “Who do you think I am? Who do others think I am?”

Although the disciples have it right—Jesus is indeed the Christ—they still want to dictate the definition of the term. They want to follow Jesus, they really do. But here Jesus seems intent on taking a path in the opposite direction of where they want to go.

Jesus knew that to be the Christ was to suffer, to die, to take on the sorrows of the world so as to unmake them from the inside out. The disciples were hoping that politics as usual could win the day for Jesus. That’s why Peter rebukes Jesus for his negative talk. “You won’t win any political campaigns with that kind of talk, Master.” Of course Peter was right.

Jesus had come to reveal a new world—a world that would come only through sacrifice and love, through suffering and death, through service and humility.

As we ponder the choices Jesus made, we ponder also what all that means for the church today. Can we pair our confession that Jesus is the Christ with a willingness to follow Jesus down the difficult paths that lead to abundant life?

Call to Worship

God calls us to worship during this season of Lent.
We worship Jesus Christ, our Messiah,
whose sacrifice and love teach us how to be humble and to serve.
God shows us how to live through Christ.
Let us praise God for his great gifts to us in Christ, our Messiah.

Prayer of Confession

Messiah, we say we know who you are. We join in declaring that you are the Christ, but we want you to make all the pain and sorrow in the world disappear. We don’t want to suffer. We confess the times that we have doubted you in the face of trouble. We are sorry that we don’t always remember that you are in control. Forgive us for trying to make the world work our way. Enable us to be willing to sacrifice for you. Teach us how to serve you even when the way is hard. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

Hear these words of Jesus from Matthew 11:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Christ, our Messiah, has saved us from our sins.
Thanks be to God!

Song Suggestions

“Throughout These Lenten Days and Nights” (stanzas 1-4) SNC 129, WR 250
“Will You Come and Follow Me” SNC 267
“O Jesus, We Adore You” PsH 472, TH 255
“What Fabled Names from Judah’s Past” SNT 61 (see p. 18)
“The Son of Man Must Suffer” SNT 52
“If You Want to Follow Me” SNT 53

Week 5

You Are the Son of David

Scripture

Mark 10:46-52

Sermon Notes

Who is Jesus? Who is Christ? He is the Son of David. That title for Jesus doesn’t have the same meaning and punch for us as it did for people in Jesus’ day, when the mere mention of the word “David” brought a flood of hope. David represented the golden era of Israel’s glory days. David stood for all that had come before the dark times, the exile times, the times of living under one foreign oppressor after another.

Invoking the phrase “The Son of David” was a bold move intended to instill joy in all who could believe it. So maybe it is no coincidence that we hear Jesus identified this way by a man who needed hope, who needed an infusion of healing, a man whose past was one long string of miseries.

As “the Son of David,” Jesus brought hope and healing to marginalized folks who needed it most. Mark gives us the name of a poor beggar whom Jesus healed as a reminder that we who continue Christ’s ministry today must offer healing and hope among the poor, the disenfranchised, the powerless, and the invisible.

Christ, the Son of David, is the incarnation of hope, of restoration, of joy—especially to those who need such precious commodities the most. Yet so often we in the church seem content to celebrate all that hope by ourselves, not allowing the overflow of gospel abundance to leak much past the walls of the sanctuary and out into the streets—where so very many invisible people cry out for the “Son of David” and all the signals of hope and joy that that name can bring.

Call to Worship

God calls us to worship during this season of Lent.
We worship Jesus Christ, the Son of David,
who gives hope and restoration to those who are hurting.
God gives us hope through Christ.
Let us praise God for his great gifts to us in Christ, the Son of David.

Prayer of Confession

Almighty God, you offer us hope in Jesus Christ, the Son of David, yet we are obsessed with our concerns and ignore the hope you promise. We worry about our families, our work, our possessions. We lose hope in ourselves and our world. Calm our fears; help us to recognize that all hope comes from you. May we be so overcome with the hope and joy that you offer through Christ that we eagerly seek opportunities to share it with everyone. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

Hear these words of hope from Psalm 130:
Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.
Christ, the Son of David, has saved us from our sins.
Thanks be to God!

Song Suggestions

“Throughout These Lenten Days and Nights” (stanzas 1-5) SNC 129, WR 250
“Son of David, Be Merciful” SNT 79
“Amazing Grace” CH 343, PH 280, PsH 462, SFL 209, TH 460, WR 422

Palm Sunday

The One Who Comes in the Name of the Lord

Scripture

Mark 11:1-11

Sermon Notes

Who is Jesus? Who is Christ? He is the one who comes in the name of Yahweh, the Great “I Am,” the Savior of Israel. But despite the color and spectacle and apparent joy that surrounds the events we now observe on Palm Sunday, all that exuberance is not the final word on what it means to be the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

What is Palm Sunday, and what does it reveal about the identity of Jesus? Maybe another way to approach that question is to ask, What if the gospel story ended with Palm Sunday? Like the disciples, we might like it if the gospel could conclude right there. After all the disciples had been through, they must have seen Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and thought, “That’s more like it!”

But there is no salvation on Palm Sunday. That festive atmosphere, in one sense befitting the true, deep-down royalty of Jesus as God’s Son, just doesn’t fit our world. It doesn’t address the problems that need solving.

Palm Sunday often seems like the one bright spot in the otherwise dark season of Lent—a brief celebrative reprieve before we plunge into the darkness of Holy Week. But on this day, as always, we need to look deep into the eyes of the man who is bumping along on a donkey’s colt. We need to see in them a reminder that the one who “comes in the name of the Lord” needs to do the difficult work of that Lord. Before Mark is finished, we’ll know that the work of the Lord is bloody and ugly and raw.

We in the church won’t help the Holy Spirit save anyone if we never get past the exterior glitz of Psalm Sunday. For that to happen we need to bring people to a Savior who will cry out to that Lord in whose name he has come, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me!?”

Call to Worship

God calls us to worship during this season of Lent.
We worship Jesus Christ, the one who comes in the name of the Lord,
who rides in humility to do the saving work of the Lord.
God gives us a victorious king through Christ.
Let us praise God for his great gifts to us in Christ.

Prayer of Confession

King of Glory, we confess that while we want to celebrate your victory, we often turn on you as quickly as those who worshiped you as you approached Jerusalem. Forgive us for offering you empty praise, for not remembering where the road to Jerusalem will take you. We are sorry for losing sight of your humility, your sacrifice, your true strength and power. Help us to proclaim your praises wholeheartedly as the One who is victorious over sin and death. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

Hear these words of salvation from Psalm 118:
I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me. The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever.
Christ, the one who comes in the name of the Lord, has saved us from our sins.
Thanks be to God!

Song Suggestions

“Throughout These Lenten Days and Nights” (stanzas 1-5) SNC 129, WR 250
“All Glory, Laud, and Honor” CH 300, PH 88, PsH 375/376, SFL 161, TH 235, WR 265
“Filled with Excitement” SNC 133, SNT
“Ride on, Ride on in Majesty” PsH 382

Good Friday

The Son of God

Scripture

Mark 14:35-15:47

Sermon Notes

Who is Jesus? Who is Christ? That’s him over there: the one with the split lip and puffy face, the one with the black-and-blue eyes and blood-matted hair.

Small wonder the prophet predicted that God’s Christ would be one “from whom people hid their faces.” We’d turn away too. We’d cover the eyes of our children. And we’d be in good company. Most of the people who knew Jesus in his lifetime had left him and averted their eyes by Mark’s fifteenth chapter.

Back in Mark 8, when Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” we’re told that the crowds were getting huge. Jesus had founded a movement that was taking off. He was a rock star. This continued right up until he started talking a lot about sacrifice and suffering and death. Then the crowds started to thin. Even the disciples eventually abandoned him.

Jesus dies utterly alone; in the end even his Father in heaven puts a veil between the two of them. For the first time in all eternity there was a breach among the three Persons of the Trinity. For a brief time the Son was shut out.

Until he died. And then one unlikely man—a soldier at the cross—looked up and saw something more: “Truly, this was the Son of God.” And for the first time in Mark’s entire gospel, this public declaration of Jesus’ identity did not elicit a call for silence and secrecy. Up until now, if a demon or anyone else identified Jesus as the Christ, that person was told to keep it to himself.

But now it was safe to say it. Now that the true meaning of being the Christ had been revealed in the death of God’s own Son, it could be declared with confidence.

This is where Mark has been leading us all along. This is the answer to everyone’s questions about who Jesus is. Don’t look away. Don’t hide your face. Uncover the eyes of your children. This is the Christ of God. And although it isn’t pretty, his death really does bring life!

Call to Worship

God calls us to worship during this season of Lent.
We worship Jesus Christ, the son of God,
who was abandoned, beaten, humiliated, denied, and died alone.
God so loved the world that he gives us his Son.
Let us praise God for his great gifts to us in Christ, the Son of God.

Prayer of Confession

Jesus Christ, Son of God, we confess that we have abandoned and denied you. Those around us do not always see that you live in us. We are sorry for mocking you by choosing our own ways instead of honoring yours. Forgive us for not speaking up when others speak poorly of you or of those who follow you. Forgive us for the callous attitude we often have toward our sins. We are sorry for the suffering our sin causes you. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

Hear these words of salvation from Philippians 2:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Christ, the son of God, has died for us and saved us from our sins.
Thanks be to God!

Song Suggestions

“Throughout These Lenten Days and Nights” (stanzas 1-5) SNC 129, WR 250
“You, Lord, Are Both Lamb and Shepherd” SNC 182
“When the Son of God Was Dying” SNT 104

Easter

Who Do You Say That Christ Is?

Scripture

Mark 16:1-8

Sermon Notes

Who is Jesus? Who is Christ? In the end Mark tells us that Jesus is the Risen One, but to see him you have to get over to Galilee and bring others along with you. Jesus is not where you’d expect to find him. He’s on the move. He’s ahead of you.

The gospel of Mark ends as abruptly as it began. In Mark 1 Jesus emerges from nowhere to be revealed as God’s beloved Son. In Mark 16 Jesus disappears into thin air and we’re left with a handful of terrified women who silently flee the tomb in great fear. This is no way to end a gospel! Apparently someone felt that way too, and so tacked on verses 9-20 in an attempt to give Mark a decent conclusion. But near as we can tell, Mark ended his gospel at 16:8 with the quirky silence of the women. The first missionaries sent out into the world said not a word at first.

Of course, if the women had stayed as silent as they were in verse 8, we would not be reading the text this very day ourselves. If the women had remained silent about the empty tomb, Mark would never have had a story to tell. The fact that he does indicates that these women found their voices eventually, and the other three gospels fill us in on the details.

Mark’s ending forces us as readers to say, “That’s ridiculous! The gospel can’t end in a silence! The so-called ‘Greatest Story Ever Told’ can’t become the greatest story that is never told!” No, the gospel cannot end in silence.

But does it ever end that way in our lives? Do we keep the greatest news ever told to ourselves because we’re afraid or indifferent or we worry what people will think?

Who is Jesus? Who is Christ? We believe that we know the answer. And it’s not something to keep quiet about.

Call to Worship

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
We worship Jesus Christ, the Risen One
who has conquered sin and death and has risen from the grave.
God has given us new life and new hope through Christ.
Let us praise God for his great gifts to us in Jesus Christ, our risen Lord and Savior!

Prayer of Confession

Almighty God, you raised Christ from the dead and gave us eternal life through him. You have completely transformed our lives. We should be shouting your good news to everyone who will listen. Forgive our silence. In your mercy, make us intensely aware of the life you give us, and may we proclaim it in all that we do and say for your constant glory. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

Hear these words of triumph from 1 Corinthians 15:
Death has been swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?
The sting of death is sin,
and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God!
He gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Christ, our Risen Lord, has conquered death for us.
Thanks be to God!

Scott Hoezee is director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Carrie Steenwyk (cls24@calvin.edu) is the Coordinator of Special Projects at the CEP.