Every once in a while I like to remind you that we are in a three year lectionary cycle. Big church word there, lectionary. It simply means that the lessons that we focus on at worship – week after week – are not selected by me – but by some group of scholars years ago. That’s why we have an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a New Testament reading as well as a reading from one of the four Gospels. Now, I am free to choose other readings – and I have done just that, especially on those rare instances when I have done a sermon series. But the idea behind the lectionary is that over the course of three years, we will have a broad selection of readings from the entire Bible.
SO during this three year cycle, we have the year of Matthew, the year of Mark, and the year of Luke. The fourth Gospel – John’s Gospel – is interspersed throughout all three years. We are currently in the year of Mark.
Mark is the shortest of the four Gospels, and the first of the four to be written. It can easily be read in one sitting – in fact – it is the only one of the four Gospels that I have read in one sitting – and that was years before I was a pastor.
Right now, I am reading a novel by Nelson DeMille called “The Panther.” It is 625 pages long, and it is taking me forever to get through. So I think there’s something to be said for shorter works – and the Book of Mark is certainly one of them. But don’t let the shortness of Mark fool you.
I want to suggest to you today that what Mark tells us about Jesus – and what all the Gospel writers tell us about Jesus – is enough. Mark doesn’t tell us everything – but what he tells us is just enough for us to come to faith in Jesus Christ. AND – by reading and studying this short Gospel between now and the beginning of December – it is my hope and prayer that the power of the message will somehow change us – and help us to grow in who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ.
In Mark, we first encounter Jesus as a man – just beginning his earthly ministry. So there is nothing in Mark about the birth of Jesus. No angels or shepherds or wise men. No. Mark begins with Jesus announcing why he has come. Mark 1:15. “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the Good News.” Short and to the point. And Mark spends the rest of his Gospel telling us just what that means.
In 16 brief chapters, Mark tells just enough about who Jesus is, and what it is that he came to do. So for those of us who don’t like to read long novels – let me tell you that what Mark tells us is just enough.
A man by the name of Stan Purdum, identifies six points about Jesus that Mark makes. I want to share those six points with you here.
First, Mark identifies Jesus as “the Son of God.” In Mark's day, “Son of God” – a reference to a person who had come from God in order to do the work of God. So the very first sentence of Mark, Mark 1:1, lets us know that. Mark proclaims Jesus as the Son of God, and thereafter he allows others to confirm that identity. For instance, at Jesus' baptism and at the Transfiguration, a heavenly voice announces it. When Jesus drives unclean spirits out of people, demons recognize him and call him “the Son of God.” After Jesus' arrest, the high priest asks Jesus directly if he is the “Son of the Blessed One,” and Jesus responds, “I am.” Then, after Jesus dies on the cross, a Roman centurion declares, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” So in Mark we have all these other voices telling us who Jesus is –that he is indeed the Son of God.
You see, Mark is not just telling us a story of some great man, some prophet or teacher who we just happen to know about. No. Mark is telling us that Jesus is indeed the Son of God who comes to us – calling us to repentance – because the Kingdom of God has come near.
Second, Mark declares that Jesus is the Messiah. Again, Messiah is a Hebrew word meaning “The Anointed One,” – the one long expected by the Jewish people to restore Israel as a nation once again. In Greek, the word is Christos, from which we get our word Christ. For Christians, the understanding of Jesus as Messiah or the Christ connects Jesus to the Old Testament with its promise of a redeemer. So for us, it is enough to know that Jesus – as the Redeemer – is the One who sets us free from sin, death and the power of the devil.
Third, Mark recognizes Jesus as a unique teacher who instructs “as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”
Fourth, Mark understands the ministry of Jesus as calling us to discipleship. In Mark 8:45 Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Now we talk a lot about discipleship here at Zion. And it is a process of following and learning what it means to become more and more like Christ every day. And you’ve heard me say this before. The problem with being a disciple is that it is so daily. It is an everyday thing. But we dare not miss this call to become disciples.
Fifth, Mark shows Jesus' death on the cross as the will of God. It's Mark who first tells of Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane, where he bows himself to the Father's will about the crucifixion. Remember? “Not my will, but yours be done.”
Sixth, Mark understands Jesus' death as an atoning act. Now there’s another big church word. Atoning. Atoning is the act whereby we are reconciled to God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. SO Mark understands Jesus’ death to be an atoning act – in other words – because of Jesus our sins are forgiven, and we are reconciled to God. Mark quotes Jesus saying, "For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many" (10:45). Clearly, Mark views Jesus' death as the one and only way that makes forgiveness by God possible for us. So these are the things that I want you to be listening for over the next six months.
Then Purdum states, “It is good for us to remember that all four gospel writers share one common goal – to bring their audience to faith in Jesus. To that end, Matthew and Luke started with the baseline of testimony about Jesus that Mark provided and added additional testimony to it.” [What he's saying here is that when Matthew and Luke wrote their Gospels, they had a copy of Mark sitting if front of them. They plagiarized – I mean they borrowed from what Mark write. We know this because with the exception of maybe two sentences, everything that is in Mark is in either or both Matthew and Luke. And then, Matthew and Luke add their own unique contributions to our understanding of who Jesus is.] John declares the deity of Jesus [in other words, that Jesus is Himself God] and broadens our understanding of who He is. [So all four Gospel writers have something unique to tell us about who Jesus is.] But Mark was the first, and his gospel is an excellent place for anyone to begin to learn about Jesus.”
SO what does our Gospel reading today from the third chapter of Mark contribute to all of this? Might I suggest that the crowds we read about always seem to realize that there is something different – something special about Jesus. Whether at this point they yet recognize him as the Son of God or as the Messiah – we don’t know. But he certainly was a curiosity.
The religious leaders accuse him of being demon possessed. The man must be crazy! A lunatic! The neat thing about this episode in the life of Jesus is that because Jesus has been healing and precisely because he has been casting out demons – we learn that Jesus is NOT in league with the devil as his accusers would want us to know. NO. This episode in the life of Jesus reinforces for us that Jesus is indeed the One sent from God. He is not a liar, he is not a legend, he is not a lunatic, but he is indeed Lord – the Son of God.
AND – what we see here is not only who Jesus is and who he is not – he is not in league with the devil. And we also see what it means for us to be disciples. Those who want to be his disciples – those who do the will of God – are his mother, and his brothers, and his sisters. In other words – as disciples of Jesus Christ – we become part of God’s family.
So over the next few months, we are going to be looking at Mark’s Gospel. And what I want to say today is that what Mark has to say is enough. We know that Mark does not tell us everything that happened in the life of Jesus. We don’t have all of his teachings here – all of his miracles – and certainly nothing about his childhood. But what we have is enough.
And the enough we have is this. Who is this Jesus? He is the Son of God. He is the Messiah. He is a unique teacher – albeit more than a teacher.
What did he come to do? He came so that we might be forgiven – and be reconciled to God forever.
Therefore – since this is true – Jesus is calling us – calling you – calling me – to follow him and be his disciples.
Well, I know this has been more of a lecture than a sermon, but what we need to remember – what we need to pay attention to and listen to over the next few months – is that Mark’s purpose was not to write an all-inclusive life story of the man Jesus. This is not a biography. But what it is is Mark’s effort to share the Good News message of God in Jesus Christ – in order to bring you – in order to bring me – to faith in Jesus Christ.
And that my friends – that is enough!