There is an incredible fascination with Jesus–not so much with Christianity–but people are obsessed with reading about Jesus.
For example, the library of congress houses 17,000 titles about Jesus. The next closest figure is Shakespeare at 9,000. One statistic suggests there were 65,571 books about Jesus in 1997 and books about Jesus were being written at a rate of 4 per day. That is 1500/year. At that rate we are now well over 100,000 books about Jesus.
Even in my own story, during the rockiest season of my faith, I was devouring books about Jesus. I was obsessed with reading about the identity of Jesus, especially as a historical figure.
This all leads me to wonder, what are we as the church getting wrong that people are fascinated with Jesus but want nothing to do with his people? Shouldn’t we have the corner market on knowledge about Jesus?
In this new series, I would like to dig deep into the Gospel of Mark this year. Mark was the earliest Gospel, and both Matthew and Luke drew from Mark as a major source for their own Gospels. We will dig deep in order to better understand Jesus’ identity and purpose.
I would like to start with the story of Mark the Evangelist himself [Evangelist meaning “gospel writer”].
Mark travelled with the apostle Peter for years. During that time, he heard Peter preach the message of Jesus numerous times. Eventually Mark put the message to paper in what we now have as the Gospel according to Mark.
KATA MARKOV = According to Mark
Each of the Gospels is titled KATA Matthew, KATA Mark, KATA Luke, KATA John in order to distinguish them. None of the authors or “evangelists” put their name on them. All of the Gospels are technically anonymous.
Authors are determined based on evidence inside the Gospel (called “internal evidence”) and outside the Gospel (called “external evidence”).
The primary evidence that this was by Mark is external and what the early tradition of the church communicated about it.
Bishop Pappias some time before 130AD- “Mark became Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not, indeed, in order, of the things said or done by the Lord. For Mark had not heard the Lord, nor had he followed him, but later on, as I said, followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles, so that Mark did nothing wrong in thus writing down single points as he remembered them. For to one thing he gave attention, to leave out nothing of what he had heard and to make no false statements in them.” (Hist. Eccl. 3.39.15)
Mark writes down this Gospel because at some point in his life this message of Jesus intersected with his life in transformative ways.
The Gospel according to Mark is the account of the life of Jesus as it intersected with his life. In particular, how the suffering of Jesus transformed Mark’s own experience of suffering.
Mark begins with this simple introduction: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1)
When a Jewish author writes the word “beginning,” we do well to pay close attention. We ought to think, “Oh! Like BEGINNING beginning. Like Genesis 1:1. This is rooted in that. This story connects all the way back to that.”
As a Jewish author writing to a Jewish audience, Mark wants us to think, “When I say this, I want you to think that—”
We still do something similar today. For example, In 2004, the rapper turned minister, Mase, returned to the music scene with a new album and the title track “Welcome back.”
Much of the album is about the changes that have taken place in his life since leaving the music scene, like getting married, having self-control, not partying. He has a lyric in the song, “livin la vida without the loca.”
I reference this lyric because Mase explicitly references something that would immediately be recognizable to us in American culture. It is a reference that helps paint a picture of what his life is NOT now… Ricky Martin’s song, living la vida loca.
The Beginning is Mark’s cue to say, hey, this connects all the way back to that, this picks up that story.
To understand the identity of Jesus we must understand that Jesus is completing what God intended in the beginning.
In the beginning God intended for Adam and Eve to rule the world—when that failed, God came in flesh to restore that original vision and intention. This was the mission behind the incarnation (incarnation meaning “in the flesh”).To understand the identity of Jesus we must understand that Jesus is completing what God intended in the beginning. Click To Tweet
The incarnation of Jesus and the story of his life was the Gospel. It was not reduced to three sentences or a tidy formula. The gospel was the whole life of Jesus.
I am concerned that the word “Gospel” sometimes gets overused without explanation. In such cases, it becomes a catchphrase without clear meaning.
It can be helpful, then, to understand its origins:
“Gospel” was a significant concept in both pagan and jewish cultures. For Romans it meant “joyful tidings”. It was associated with the cult of the emperor, whose birthday, as well as his initial rise to power, were celebrated festival occasions for the whole world. The report of such festivals were called “evangels” in the inscriptions of the imperial age.
An inscription from 9BC says of the emperor Octavian (Augustus): “The birthday of god was for the world the beginning of joyful tidings [gospel] which have been proclaimed on his account.”
This is remarkably similar to Mark 1:1 “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” This clarifies the essential contents of an evangel or gospel in the ancient world: “an historical event which introduces a new situation for the world.”
William Lane concludes this: “In this perspective the Roman would understand Mark’s proclamation of Jesus the Messiah…as an event that brings about a radically new state of affairs for humanity” (Lane, The Gospel of Mark, 43)
However, the way in which Jesus would bring about this radical new state of affairs for humanity was greatly unexpected: through suffering.
The Suffering Son of God
42 Jesus called them over and said to them,“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions act as tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you will be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first among you will be a slave to all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
— Mark 10:42-45 (CSB)
37 Jesus let out a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 Then the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 When the centurion, who was standing opposite him, saw the way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God! ”
— Mark 15:37-39 (CSB)
This Gospel of the Son of God was not just any Son of God, it was the suffering Son of God.
The truth is, we are so reluctant to accept that the hard thing in front of us could produce good fruit inside of us.
As followers of Jesus, the inclination is one of two things. 1) Either we feel like we have to pretend like its not hard because then we are weak or we do not love and believe God enough.” Or, 2) We spiritualize it and take it as a sign that we aren’t called to be here anymore, to do this thing anymore because it isn’t happening with a ‘divine flow’.”The truth is, we are so reluctant to accept that the hard thing in front of us could produce good fruit inside of us. Click To Tweet
Jesus, the suffering Son of God blows these categories. He is God and man. He is both the man who suffers and the God of the suffering. He is God and the sufferer. They coexist. They are one in the same. God himself does not eschew suffering.
Can we both admit that this thing in front of us is hard and also say “I will keep walking through it?”
The temptation is always to teach a gospel that makes your life “better” in all of the comfy, American dream ways that we want our lives to be better. It seems more appealing. It seems so much more attractive, but it sets us up for awful confusion.
When suffering comes our way, our response is not as it should be: “suffering son of God, sustain me through this as you sustained suffering and resurrect this as you were resurrected.” Our response is, “God, why have you abandoned me? I thought you were going to make my life better, easier, happier. What is this?”
To follow the way of Jesus is to follow the way to the cross. There is no other way. But, the good news is, it is only as we follow him into the tomb that we follow him out of it.
What happens is, we understand this, but only to a degree. Therefore, we let parts of our lives before Jesus die. Or we let the parts die that we think, “if I let this die it will really lead to the success I want!”
However, because it is too hard to let all of it die, we remain in this really gross state where we proclaim, “Look, I am alive in Jesus!!!!” and everyone else is like, dude, your foot is literally rotting off, you’ve got awful gangrene, you smell a little, like seriously, get away.’’
And we are like, “what?! Look at me, I am alive!” Ooookay, but you’re mostly dead…
You are standing outside the tomb pretending like it’s Easter morning when deep inside you know it’s Friday night.
If Jesus had not died but “almost died” and just resuscitated, then dragged himself out of the tomb, nobody would have mistaken that for resurrection. They would have been like, dude, we need to get you to the dr. ASAP.
We refuse to let things die because it’s too hard and in turn we settle for resuscitation not resurrection.To follow the way of Jesus is to follow the way to the cross. There is no other way. But, the good news is, it is only as we follow him into the tomb that we follow him out of it. Click To Tweet
The Conclusion of Mark’s story
Towards the end of Mark’s life, he is arrested during the passover when he travels to take the message of Jesus to Egypt.
The account explains, “While there seizing him, they threw a mooring rope around his neck and dragged him… but while the holy Mark was being dragged along, he offered up thanksgiving to the savior Christ, saying, “I thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, that I have been counted worthy to suffer these things on behalf of your name.” being dragged as skin and flesh is being torn from him by the stones…
When evening had fallen, they threw him in prison, and deliberated upon the manner of death by which they should destroy him. But in the middle of the night, after the doors had been shut and the guards stationed at the doors, behold, a great earthquake occurred. For an angel of the Lord, coming from heaven touched him saying, “O Mark, slave of God, chief of the saints in Egypt, behold your name has been inscribed in a book of eternal life and counted along with the holy apostles. Behold, your memorial shall never be forsaken. You have become a companion of the powers above in heaven.
Having seen this vision, the blessed Mark, his hands outstretched, said, “I thank you, my Lord Jesus Christ, that you did not desert me, but you have numbered me with the saints. I beseech you, O Lord Jesus Christ, to welcome my soul and not reject me from your grace.”
This Mark had written down the Gospel, had heard the stories. But he now experienced the Gospel of the Son of God himself. This was the suffering Son of God who was not far off and incapable of understanding his suffering–This is a God who underwent the same suffering.
Jesus was the suffering son of God. His crucifixion was not only for our justification, but also our sanctification. We are made like Christ when we conform our lives to the meaningful suffering of Christ’s own cruciformity.