By Justin Rossow
The lion is an ancient symbol for the Gospel of Mark, and with good reason.
The early Church read the angelic beings in the visions of Ezekiel 1:10 and Revelation 4:7 as a way of talking about the four Gospels. That left each of the four aspects of these divine messengers–a human face, an eagle, an ox, and a lion–to be assigned to an Evangelist. But which aspect of these heavenly messengers went with which version of the story of Jesus? In the end, the early Church made these connections:
- Matthew, with his portrayal of a very human Jesus, gets the human face.
- John, who has a distinctly high view of Jesus and His divinity, is characterized as the soaring eagle.
- Luke expressly talks about the plodding work he went through in order to get the complete and orderly account of Jesus down in writing, so he gets the ox.
- And Mark? Mark’s version of the Jesus story is represented by a lion, a fitting way of describing both the Gospel itself and Mark’s portrayal of Jesus.
Mark starts the beginning of the Good News about Jesus, Messiah and Son of God, with the roaring voice of John the Baptist in the wilderness. No manger. No wise men. No Mary, Joseph, Bethlehem, baby Jesus; just John, in the wilderness, with the clarion call: “Prepare the way of the Lord!”
Jesus, in Mark’s Gospel, is also very lion-like. He is strong, somewhat wild, at times ferocious, ready to pounce, and definitely untamable. Jesus roars onto the scene, prowls the seaside and mountains of Galilee, casts out unclean spirits, heals the sick, raises the dead, teaches with authority, and bring the very reign of God into the lives of ordinary people.
The Jesus in Mark is powerful and beautiful. But you might not be comfortable if you met Him in a dark alley at night….
Since January–throughout the part of the church year called Epiphany, where Jesus shines forth–we have been following this lion-like Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. From His baptism to His confrontation with unclean spirits, from the rising storm of opposition to the failure of the disciples, from the healings to the parables, we have watched and listened as this phenomenon and enigma turns the world upside down. In and around the region of Galilee and even into the territory of Enemy Nations, Jesus has been bringing the Ultimate Rule of God, and nothing is going to stop Him!
As we enter the season of Lent–the time of repentance before the great celebration of Easter–that story of Jesus and the Kingdom continues. Now Jesus leaves Galilee behind and enters the capital city of Jerusalem. The conflict, already high from the opening chapters of Mark, reaches fever pitch. As soon as the disciples are able to affirm that Jesus is the Messiah, the Great Deliverer of God’s people, Jesus immediately starts teaching about His coming suffering, death, and resurrection. And once we hit Jerusalem, the Lion is on the loose….
The Sundays in Lent will cover the last half of Mark’s Gospel, just as the Sundays in Epiphany covered the first half. Starting with the entrance we usually celebrate on Palm Sunday, all of the readings in Lent take place in Jerusalem in the last week before Good Friday. Sundays in Lent will be an extended look at the events and teachings of Jesus in Holy Week. And buckle up, because the Lion is roaring something fierce!
During our Wednesday midweek Lenten worship, the St. Luke community will have two related options. At the St. Luke-Ann Arbor site we will be unpacking readings from Mark in a verse by verse, Bible-study fashion in the context of Lenten worship.
At the University Lutheran Chapel site, we will looking at the book of 1 Peter as we walk towards the cross. The earliest and best sources point to Peter as the primary source of Mark and his Gospel. In fact, early Christians held that the people who heard Peter preach and teach in Rome asked Peter’s close friend and disciple Mark to write down what Peter taught so it wouldn’t be lost. So studying Mark and 1 Peter together is a natural fit.
At both sites, worship begins at 7:00 p.m. with a Lenten meal preceding. Please join us as we continue to ask what Jesus is speaking into our lives this Lent, and what response He is shaping in us. Jesus, the Lion of Judah, is not safe; but He is good. Hope to see you there!