BY PASTOR GLENN PEASE
There is an old story called the magic mask. It is about a powerful lord who ruled over a great domain who became so hard and cruel that ugly lines deepened into his face. On a tour of his country one day he saw a surprisingly beautiful girl, and he longed to take her as his wife. But he was appalled as he looked into the mirror and saw the hard and cruel lines in his face. He could never win her love with such a face, and so he called for a magician to make him a mask of thin wax that would make him look kind and loving. The artist agreed to do it if he promised to pray daily to the God of love to change his heart and make him loving toward his subjects. He said he would and the mask was made. The lovely girl became his wife, and they enjoyed a remarkable period of peace and prosperity. He became a truly loving ruler, and the people marveled at the change in him.
He finally became so bothered by his deception of the wife he loved so dearly that he begged the magician to remove the magic mask. It was with fear and trembling that he then went to the mirror. But to his delight he did not need the mask any longer because the ugly lines on his face were gone. His changed heart and spirit had changed his face, and he had a loving face even without the mask.
We all have to wear a mask at times to hide the ugliness of our negative spirit. If we let people see all that we are all of the time, it would not be a pretty sight, and so we mask ourselves and put on a good front that is pleasant and acceptable. In contrast to many Halloween masks that are put on to scare people with their grotesque faces, we put on a mask to protect people from the real scariness in us. Only God can see us totally naked in our soul and still love us. We need to mask some of who we are to be acceptable on the human level. So wearing a mask of some sort is very common.
The proof of this is that Jesus Himself, the sinless Son of God, wore a mask. Jesus hid His identity as long as He could, and did so in a very conspicuous manner. The first thing we need to do to get to the bottom of this mystery of the Master's mask is to establish that there is, in fact, a mystery. Let's begin by looking at-
1. THE REALITY OF THE MASK.
The first hint we have of this mask is the encounter Jesus has with the demonized man in the synagogue. When the evil spirit in this man cried out at Jesus, "I know who you are-the Holy One of God," Jesus did not say, "Speak up, this is just the kind of publicity I need right now." Instead, He said, "Be quiet!" Other translations have it, "Shut up!" He stopped this positive testimony to His identity, and cast the evil spirit out. Now if this was just an isolated incident we could ignore it and not try to read anything into it of significance. But this was just the beginning of a pattern Jesus followed.
Notice verse 34: "And Jesus healed many of various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but He would not let the demons speak because they knew who He was." I can see if He would not let them speak because they didn't know what they were talking about, but it says He would not let them because they did know what they were talking about. The demons could identify Jesus, and so He stopped them, for He was not ready to take off His mask and be known for who He was.
Even two such mysterious incidents could be over looked as a possible idiosyncrasy of Mark, but when we see Jesus going out of His way many times to protect His identity, then we have to face up to the reality of His mask. Look at verses 43-45. Jesus had just cured a man of leprosy. It was a marvelous miracle, and one that could bring a lot of publicity. But note the response of Jesus. "Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning." Note, it was not a polite suggestion, it was a strong warning. And the warning was, "See that you don't tell this to anyone."
You would think that whatever His reason for trying to keep His identity a secret, that those whom He healed would be grateful enough to cooperate with Him. But one of the paradoxes of the Gospel account is these very people that Jesus warned and begged to keep His secret were the biggest blabber mouths in His life. This man went out and spread the word and the result was Jesus could no longer enter a town openly. He had to stay out in lonely places it says. His life was negatively affected by this very man who received new life from Him. Jesus did him life's biggest favor, and in return he made life miserable for Jesus.
But the mystery is, why did Jesus want to keep His identity a secret so bad that He worked at it overtime? We will try to solve this mystery after we demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt the reality of the mystery of the Master's mask. We have only looked at the first chapter. What if we can show that Jesus kept up this battle to hide His identity over and over again? Let's look at chapter 3:11-12. "When ever the evil spirits saw Him they fell down before Him and cried out, you are the Son of God. But He gave them strict orders not to tell who He was."
Jesus was perpetually trying to keep evil spirits from telling who He was. Evil spirits were especially a threat because they knew His identity perfectly. The mask did not fool them at all. His whole incarnate body did not hide from them the reality that He was the eternal Son of God. He had to use His authority as Lord over the spirits to keep their mouths shut and maintain His secret. People were guessing all sorts of things about Jesus. Some said He was John the Baptist, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. In spite of all the blabber mouth spirits Jesus was succeeding to fool everybody with His mask.
Jesus has just raised a little girl from the dead, and all who saw it were astonished and we read in 5:43, "Jesus gave them strict orders not to let anyone know about this.." In this case Jesus was able to suppress His wonder working power. It is one of the few occasions where He succeeded to get the cooperation of others. But look at 7:36, where after He healed a deaf man, it says, "Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more He did so, the more they kept talking about it."
Jesus had a terrible time trying to keep His mask on. But in spite of almost consistent disobedience to His wishes, He was able to keep people guessing. They did not really know who Jesus was. Elijah or one of the prophets were popular guesses, but then one day Jesus asked Peter who do you think I am? Peter gave his great confession in Mark 8:29: "You are the Christ." Peter was the first to acknowledge that Jesus was the Messiah. He saw beneath the mask of this wonder worker, and knew this was the Messiah. You would think Jesus would then end His masquerade, but not so. In the very next verse Mark 8:30 we read, "Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about Him."
This was no game with Jesus. He has been very seriously avoiding exposure of His true identity through His whole ministry. One of the greatest mysteries of the life of our Lord is that He was the primary hindrance to people knowing He was the long awaited Messiah. Don't blame the devil for this or his demons. Don't blame the Pharisees or the fickle masses. The facts are clear: Jesus wore a mask and prevented the knowledge that He was the Messiah from spreading. What few people did come to that conclusion, He warned to keep quiet. All the demons that would have proclaimed it, He silenced. The number one cause why Jesus was never received by Israel as their Messiah was Jesus Himself. His disciples were instructed to keep it quiet. Now if this is not a mystery to beat all mysteries, I don't know what a mystery is. There can be no question about the reality of the Master's mask. But now we need to seek an answer to this mystery, and look at-
II. THE REASON FOR THE MASK.
It is real all right, but why in the world would the Messiah Himself be the primary suppresser of the good news that the Messiah had arrived? He was the answer to millions of prayers, and now that all these prayers were finally answered, Jesus would not let the people know by taking off His mask and proclaiming, "Look! It's me, the Messiah!" He never did that, and it was all clearly a part of a pre-conceived plan.
It was His intention that only a few would ever see behind His mask and know without a doubt that He was the Messiah. He only took Peter, James, and John up to the Mt. of Transfiguration where they saw Jesus glow with the light of deity, and talk with Moses and Elijah, and hear the voice of God saying, "This is my Son whom I love. Listen to Him." None but these three had such clear evidence of who Jesus was, but they were not allowed to share this unique experience with anyone. Mark 9:9 says, "As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead." The next verse says they kept the matter to themselves. The secret of Jesus was to be kept until after His resurrection, and so His own disciples were muzzled.
Obviously we are dealing with a major strategy in the whole purpose of Christ coming into this world. Keeping His identity a secret is a vital part of the plan of salvation. And it really does make sense when you think about it. If Jesus would have taken off the mask and let the whole world know the truth of who He was, there is no way He could have ever been sacrificed for our sins. No Jew could ever dream of killing the Messiah. If He had permitted this message to be broadcast over the land, He would have been followed with such enthusiasm that there would be no chance of Him being despised and rejected of men, and offered as the Lamb of God for the sin of the world. Even the Pharisees and Saducees would have been willing to die for Him.
So Jesus had to do what the Messiah was to do and fulfill the Old Testament prophecies. Yet, at the same time keep it hidden that He was, in fact, the Messiah. What we have here is the mystery of concealed revelation. He was ever revealing that He was the Messiah by doing what only the Messiah could do, yet ever keeping it a secret that He was the Messiah. He was like the Lone Ranger, and people were always wondering, who is that masked stranger. Jesus never took off the mask, and so there was always the mystery in people's minds: Yes He seems like the Messiah, yet we do not know if He really is. He does not say I am the Messiah. He seems like He might be, yet maybe He isn't. This was Jesus succeeding as the popular, yet hidden Messiah.
Why such a strange strategy? It was the only way Jesus could have it both ways. He could be the Messiah, and yet be also the suffering servant who would die for the sin of the world. It was cleverness on the highest level. Jesus had to work hard for the chance to die for us. The demons sought to destroy the plan of God by trying to expose Jesus. Disobedient people also tried to foul up His plan by their spreading the news that He must be the Messiah. Fortunately, His disciples did cooperate with Jesus, and they went along with the secret. This seems so crazy. The demons were preaching the deity of Christ, and the disciples were suppressing it, and it all makes sense. If Jesus would have become only the Messiah of Israel, He could not have become the Savior of the world.
So what we have here is Jesus sacrificing the good for the better. He had to wear His mask and keep His identity as Messiah a secret in order to achieve a far greater goal of being the redeemer of the whole lost race of man. If Jesus had had the limited goal of saving only Israel, then none of this mystery would have been necessary. He would have proclaimed Himself Messiah, and the story would not have ended in death and resurrection, but in an earthly kingdom for the people of Israel with Jesus as their king.
I have read some authors who say the reason that did not happen is because the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah. But the facts are, that did not happen because Jesus rejected that limited kingdom. The scope of His salvation was not limited to Israel, but His love went out to all the world. He had no intention of being a king of the Jews only. He intended to be kings of all kings, and be Lord of all peoples. That was His goal all through His life, and that is why He wore the mask and refused to settle for anything less than being the Savior of the world.
No wonder the demons would have loved to derail His salvation plan by getting the Jews to go wild over Jesus as their Messiah. If they could have limited Jesus to one segment of the human race, they would have won the largest portion for hell. Jesus refused to allow them to interfere, and so the first thing He did with demons was to shut them up when they exalted Him for who He really was. They tried to take off His mask, but they did not succeed. Jesus was able to remain hidden enough so that He made it to the cross. The cross was the reason for all the mystery of the mask.
The failure of the leaders of Israel to receive Jesus as their Messiah was not a frustration of the purpose of Christ, but a fulfillment of His purpose. The cross was the goal of Jesus in all that He did. It takes the very mind of God to figure out how to become amazingly popular, and yet still be hated enough to be crucified. It takes divine cleverness to be able to fulfill all the prophecies of the Messiah, and yet still keep people in dark about it so you can be rejected and fulfill an even greater plan.
When Jesus prayed on the cross, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do," He was expressing the success of His mask. Nobody but a few disciples knew that He was really the Messiah. Those who crucified Him did not know even though Jesus clearly fulfilled all prophecy. He revealed that He was the Messiah, yet He also concealed it, and, therefore, they never realized they were crucifying their own Messiah.
None but the wisest can both reveal and conceal a thing at the same time, but that is what Jesus did. It was essential to His plan of salvation. Paul confirms this in I Cor. 2:7-8. "...we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." In other words, without the mask Jesus wore He never would have made it to the cross. Your salvation and mine, and that of the whole family of God depended upon this mysterious mask of the Master. We have been saved by a masked man.
Jesus fought through His whole ministry to prevent the good from robbing Him of the best. If He became too popular, and if too many people would have acknowledged Him as the Messiah, it could have ruined His greater goal. He had to avoid fulfilling the dreams of the Jews in order to fulfill His own dream of being the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. Sometimes that dream was hanging by a thread as the people tried to take Jesus by storm and make Him king. He had to use His supernatural power to avoid that kind of popular uprising.
Don't ever waste your emotional energy feeling bad that Jesus was never accepted as Israel's Messiah. The reason He wasn't was He fought it with all the cleverness and power of His divine mind. He masked His Messiahship, and all the power of hell could not rip that mask off, try as they did. Satan's only hope of maintaining control of the earth and mankind was to prevent the cross. This is the hidden battle that is going on all through the life of our Lord. Satan was trying to get Jesus limited to a earthly lordship where Satan would still be in control. Satan wanted Jesus to be the most popular man in Israel. Leap from the temple and let the people carry you to power. Bow down to me and receive power over the nations. Satan wanted Jesus to take off the mask and let it be known He was the Messiah. This was the point of all the temptations, and Jesus had to fight constantly to keep His mask on.
This explains those mysterious sayings of Jesus about His parables. Jesus had a paradoxical purpose in His teaching with parables. He told them in order to make truth simple to understand, and at the same time make truth so obscure that people could not understand. The parables were part of His mask. Listen to Mark 4:11-12."He told them the secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding..."
Jesus explained His parables to His disciples so that they could understand them, but they were puzzles and riddles to the leaders of Israel. This was not by accident, but by plan. Had they understood, they would have make Him their Messiah. Jesus kept them confused and puzzled on purpose to fulfill His greater plan for the whole world. Whose fault was it that Jesus was not accepted as Israel's Messiah? It was His own fault, for this was His plan. Anybody who hates Jews for rejecting Christ and crucifying Him has a screw loose somewhere, for this is the way Jesus planned it. You just as well hate Jesus for getting Himself crucified, for He planned it, and then cleverly orchestrated His whole ministry to make sure it happened. If you want to blame anybody for the cross, blame Jesus, for He had a thousand chances to escape it by removing His mask. But He kept it on to be our Savior.
Which would you rather have Jesus be: The Messiah of Israel or the Savior of the world? By means of His mysterious mask He became both, and the result is both Jews and Gentiles can forever say, Thank God for that masked man who outwitted the subtle serpent and the wisdom of men to be our Savior. He avoided the limited destiny that others would have forced on Him to fulfill that greater destiny His Father had planned for Him, that He might be King of kings and Lord of lords with a name above all others.
So much of the life of Jesus is explained by solving the mystery of the mask. I use to look at Jesus before Pilate and wonder why Jesus did not speak up in His defense. Why be silent when you can speak out and do a miracle and reveal your power? It never made sense to me that Jesus would be so passive when so much injustice was happening. But now I see, for Jesus would not let all the power of hell make Him remove His mask, for that was the key to His getting to the cross.
Jesus could have made Himself King of Israel with no problem. He could have had the Pharisees and Saducees bowing to Him and swearing allegiance. If Jesus had wanted no higher goal than to be the Messiah of Israel, He could have easily achieved that ambition. But Jesus chose to sacrifice that goal to be the Savior of the world.
He had one last chance as He hung dying on the cross. He could have called legions of angels to come to His rescue. He could have ripped His mask off and said, "Look you blind sinners. I am the Son of God. Nobody does this to me and gets by with it." And He could have wiped out the whole lot of them. But Jesus refused to remove the mask. He died looking like a common criminal. One Roman Centuriongot a peak under the mask and saw who He really was and said, "Truly this was the Son of God." But it changed nothing, for the rest saw only the mask and they crucified Him.
To the end He wore His mask because of His love for all mankind. If saving men meant so much to Jesus, there is certainly something missing in our love for Jesus if we are not motivated to share this good news of His love. Paul said he would become all things to all men that he might win some. Paul would wear any mask and be what he had to be to win men. Are we willing to play different roles in life to touch others for Christ? Jesus paid an awful price to wear His mask for us. Are we willing to wear a mask for Him? We need to learn how to relate well to anyone God brings into our lives that we might in some way touch them for Christ. This was a goal Jesus had in mind all along, and it will help us cooperate in fulfilling the ultimate purpose of the mysterious mask of the Master.