By Justin Rossow
BAM! Jesus shows up on the scene!
KA-POW! The Son of God takes out another unclean spirit!
WHOOSH! The Enigma from Nazareth is off on another strange adventure!
The Gospel of Mark is the shortest—and most action-packed—of the four gospels. Mark’s story starts abruptly, ends abruptly, and doesn’t slow down in between. It’s no wonder that “immediately” is one of Mark’s favorite words!
Matthew gives us a clear picture of how the story of Jesus aligns with God’s Word in the Old Testament. Luke gives a well-researched account from a Gentile physician’s perspective. John is writing later and concerned with some theological questions regarding Jesus and His eternal relationship with the Father. Mark, well, Mark gives us the graphic novel version before there were graphic novels …
Mark assumes you have read, or at least know of, either Matthew or Luke, so he skips some important parts of the narrative. The result is a conflict-ridden gospel that highlights the failure of the disciples and the absolute trustworthiness of Jesus’ promises—even when everything else falls apart.
Starting in January and running all the way through Easter, our St. Luke congregation will be tracking the incredible story of an incredible Savior in Mark. As we walk through the events and teachings of this fast-moving action feature, watch for some of these themes:
Jesus in Mark
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is a kind of enigma, a phenomenon let loose on the earth. While Jesus is fully and at times almost embarrassingly human, He is also amazingly divine. Jesus says and does some strange things in this Gospel, but ultimately, anything Jesus says about what’s going to happen next *always* comes true.
In Mark Jesus is powerful, fearful, at times confusing, and always a force to be reckoned with. If you open Mark’s pages, buckle up! The action is driven by this God/Man on a mission and He will not be denied!
Conflict in Mark
From the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is opposed, and this conflict only grows. The opposition takes the form of unclean spirits, whom Jesus directly confronts and conquers in spectacular ways. And of course there are the religious leaders who call Jesus demon-possessed and begin plotting his destruction almost immediately.
But Jesus’ family is part of the opposition, too! They think He is crazy and want to put Him in a nice home somewhere for people with God-complexes. Even the disciples end up getting in the way more than they help Jesus on His mission. Mark is full of conflict, and the trouble shows up early and often.
The Disciples in Mark
OK, so the way Mark portrays the disciple isn’t all bad … They do respond to the call and follow Jesus. At least until the going gets tough and they run away and hide. But even before that major fiasco, the disciples just don’t get it. Again and again Jesus has to tell them what He is all about; again and again, they just don’t understand.
It’s not that they are stupid or evil, but the conflict, confusion, and ambiguity of the story leave even those closest to Jesus scratching their heads and trying to figure out what He’s all about. If it were up to the disciples, the mission of Jesus would fail. But it isn’t. So it doesn’t. Jesus is the hero who can overcome all odds, even when His closest companions let Him down when He needs them most.
The Message of Mark
Ironically, the failure of the disciples is part of what makes the Gospel of Mark such a comfort for us. We can sometimes be caught wishing things were easier or clearer or less difficult to believe or understand. The way Mark tells the Jesus story helps us see it was always like this: the message was always hard to believe; the evidence was always ambiguous; the opposition always almost wins, and sometimes even looks like it did.
But the words of Jesus can be trusted even in the face of opposition and ambiguity. Mark’s Gospel ends not with proof or evidence, but with words of promise from Jesus. Then, as now, the promise of Jesus is enough.
The promise of Jesus is enough.
Mark may be the shortest—and the strangest of the Gospels, but getting to know Jesus through the lens of Mark is a real blessing to all disciples. Mark gives us permission to experience ambiguity in our own faith lives. And then Mark points us to the promises of Jesus, the One you can always count on, for His Word is always sure!
Coming soon to a congregation near you: The Incredible Gospel of Mark! Don’t miss it!
If you want some more resources, check out N. T. Wright’s book Mark for Everyone or the more academic commentary by James W. Voelz (the second volume is not yet in print). Some of Voelz’s work provided the background for the article, above.