The other day my wife and I went to the mattress store. The saleswoman began telling us about her clairvoyant abilities. She claimed she had predicted the sex of her first child and even how tall he would be. She also told us that after only one encounter with a very charming potential business partner, she had a strong impression that he was underhanded and warned her husband not to do business with him. The man eventually defrauded her husband. She also said that her dog became extremely agitated when her daughter brought a friend home. The young lady had a practice of communicating with the dead and the dog could sense the spirits around her. This woman is a modern mystic.
I told her that as Christians we can have discernment between good and evil through the Holy Spirit, but that is different from clairvoyance. As for communicating with the dead, that is strictly forbidden in the Bible. Her thought was that the prophets got their information from dead spirits. I told her it was the Holy Spirit who inspired them and she said, “I love Jesus. I think He was absolutely amazing!“
Jesus was absolutely amazing, but not because He was a mystic. His actions and words prompted fear, astonishment, and amazement in people because of His divine power and authority.
There are many passages in the book of Mark that describe the troubling and even terrifying effect Jesus had on people. Words such as “amazed,” “overcome with amazement,” “astonished,” “exceedingly astonished,” “astonished beyond measure,” “alarmed,” “afraid,” “terrified,” “astounded,” “marveled,” “filled with great fear,” “marvelous in our eyes,” and “came in fear and trembling,” are used to describe people’s reactions to Him. (Mar 1:21-27, Mar 2:1-12, Mar 4:35-41, Mar 5:1-20, Mar 5:24-33, Mar 5:35-42, Mar 6:2, Mar 6:45-52, Mar 7:31-37, Mar 9:2-8, Mar 9:14-15, Mar 10:23-26, Mar 10:32-34, Mar 11:15-19, Mar 12:13-17, Mar 15:1-5, Mar 16:6-8).
So what were the circumstances surrounding these events and what types of responses did all this astonishment and fear produce? Well, it certainly wasn’t a sort of benign admiration. In one case, the assembled crowd was so frightened that they asked Jesus to leave immediately. This was when Jesus cast out a legion of demons from a possessed man and commanded them to enter a herd of two thousand swine that then went squealing over a cliff and into the sea. The man who had been healed wanted to follow Jesus, but Jesus sent him back to his own village to proclaim what He had done for him (Mar 5:1-20).
People were also astonished at Jesus because he spoke as though He had first-hand knowledge of Old Testament events, personal connections with people like Moses and Jonah, and held counsel with God Himself. The fact that He performed miracles and cast out demons authenticated His words (Mar 1:21-27, Mar 6:2). Because of the power of His words, His fame spread far and wide.
In the second chapter of Mark, people flocked to Jesus bringing their sick and disabled friends and relatives. The press of the crowd was so great that those bearing a paralyzed man on a stretcher could not get near enough to touch Him. So they went up on the roof of the home Jesus was in and cut a hole big enough to lower the man into the room. Seeing their faith, Jesus pronounced the man’s sins forgiven. The religious leaders in the crowd considered this blasphemy since only God can forgive sins. So Jesus proved his authority over sin by healing the man right in front of their eyes. The people responded in amazement and gave glory to God. (Mar 2:1-12)
In the fourth chapter of Mark, Jesus and the disciples got in a boat to cross the sea of Galilee. Jesus went to sleep in the stern even as a great storm threatened to capsize the boat. The disciples, afraid for their lives, woke Him and asked Him to do something. Jesus rebuked the wind and waves and a dead calm immediately ensued. Mark says the disciples “...were filled with great fear and said to one another, Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mar 4:35-41).
On another occasion Jesus sent the disciples off in a boat while He stayed behind to pray. In the middle of the night as they were struggling to make headway against a stiff wind, He came to them walking on the water. They were terrified because they thought it was a ghost. Jesus assured them it was Him and then stepped into the boat with them. The wind immediately died down. Mark says the disciples were “utterly astounded” even though this was the second time Jesus had calmed a storm (Mar 6:45-52).
Later on in the same chapter a crowd was pressing in on Jesus when a sick woman came up behind Him and touched the hem of His garment. He suddenly felt power go out from Him. Turning around, he said, “Who touched me?” His disciples said, “What do you mean? People are crowding all around you!” The woman, trembling in fear, came forward and Jesus told her to “go in peace” because she had been healed (Mar 5:24-33).
Again in the same chapter Jesus overheard some people telling a ruler of the synagogue who had come seeking help not to trouble Jesus because his sick daughter had passed away. He told the man, “Do not fear, only believe,” and then accompanied him to his home. There he dismissed the mourners and took the man and his wife with Peter, James and John into the room where the little girl lay lifeless. He told her, “Little girl arise,” and she got up and started to walk. Mark says those who witnessed the event “were immediately overcome with amazement” (Mar 5:35-42).
In Mark chapter seven Jesus healed a deaf man who had a speech impediment. Mark says the assembled crowd was, “astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak'” (Mar 7:31-37).
Peter, James and John were Jesus’ inner circle. Whenever he wanted to manifest Himself in some extraordinary way, He would leave the others behind and take just the three of them along. Just days before His crucifixion, He took them to the top of a mountain where He was suddenly transfigured so that He shone with a brilliance that must have almost blinded them. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared alongside Him and spoke with Him. Mark says the three disciples were terrified (Mar 9:2-8).
Upon returning to His disciples, Jesus encountered a crowd embroiled in controversy with them. Without explanation, Mark says, “And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him.” In all likelihood, Jesus still had an “afterglow” like the one Moses had after speaking with God on Mount Sinai.
In the tenth chapter of Mark, a wealthy young man approached Jesus with a pointed question, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.” The young man, seeking to justify himself, said, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” Jesus said, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But the young man couldn’t comply because he was too attached to his wealth. So he went away full of sorrow. Turning to his disciples, Jesus said, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God“(Mar 10:17-31). Mark says the disciples were “exceedingly astonished” and said to Jesus, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus was turning their whole understanding of salvation on its head. The Old Testament taught that temporal blessings accompany obedience and curses come with rebellion. Turning that axiom around, it made sense to them that anyone who had temporal blessings also had eternal life. But Jesus was telling them the converse was not always true and it troubled them greatly.
Continuing on in the same chapter, Jesus set out for Jerusalem knowing that he would be betrayed by Judas, condemned by the Jewish leaders and sentenced to an excruciating death by Pilate. But He wasn’t dragging His feet. He was marching very deliberately, driven by a powerful resolution to fulfill the Father’s eternal plan to redeem mankind by offering Himself up as a sacrifice for sins. He was walking ahead of the disciples, leading the way. They were the ones dragging their feet. Mark says simply, “And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid” (Mar 10:32).
The very first thing Jesus did when He got to Jerusalem was to provoke a confrontation. He went straight to the Temple and began to drive out the money changers who had set up shop in the courtyard so they could convert Roman coins to Jewish shekels for payment of the temple tax and overturned the tables of those who sold pigeons for poor people to offer as sacrifices. Mark comments, “And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching” (Mar 11:15-19).
The religious leaders hated Jesus because He had a way of humiliating them in front of the crowds. So they frequently concocted schemes to trap Him with His own words. Having watched Him cleanse the Temple of money changers, they sent a contingent to ask Him whether He supported Roman taxation. He said to them, “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it. And they brought one. And he said to them, Whose likeness and inscription is this? They said to him, Caesar’s. Jesus said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’” And Mark said, “And they marveled at him” (Mar 12:13-17).
The chief priests finally got their hands on Jesus and brought him before Pilate to stand trial. Mark describes the scene this way, “And the chief priests accused him of many things. And Pilate again asked him, Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you. But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed” (Mar 15:3-5).
So they crucified Jesus and buried Him in a tomb sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers so that no one would come and steal the body and then claim He had been resurrected. But after three days, Jesus arose. When three women went to anoint the body, they found the tomb open and an angel sitting where the body had been laid. He said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And Mark says, “they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mar 16:6-8). And that is where the story ends in the original manuscripts, with three women fleeing in terror from an empty tomb. Verses 9-20 were later editions added to make the ending more palatable, but Mark’s original intent was to leave the reader with a strong impression of the unsettling nature of the Man who came from heaven to earth to conquer sin and reconcile men and women to their Creator.
Jesus was amazing. He was terrifying. He was astonishing, astounding and marvelous. Some people ran from Him. Others ran to Him. Still others begged Him to leave. His disciples stayed with Him even though He continually frightened them and dragged them into the most terrifying situations. Some people held Him in awe and marveled at His authority and power. Others considered Him a threat and resolved to eliminate Him. But no one thought He was just a good man with an important message to share. You must either hate Him or love Him, but you can’t remain indifferent.