Imagine a context where communities of Christians were living in a challenging, even hostile environment. Their loyalty to God was called into question by a cultural expectation by duty to the government and commitment to Jesus was compromised to the ruler of the nation. And perhaps most difficult of all, the idea of being a Christian, was like hanging a sign around your neck that announced that you were a real loser who did not have the sense to know that you were a loser.
This is the context that Mark writes in. He writes to remind Christian people that God is God and the government is not. He writes to affirm that God’s rule in the world is supposed to be different that cultural norms and expectations. And he writes to say that following Jesus will look weird and different than what others are doing. Why are these things both important and true? Because, and this is the other thing Mark is saying, Jesus Christ is no country bumpkin carpenter; he is the real Son of God (not the guy who happens to be calling the shots in the capital city).
The way in which Mark addresses these issues is really quite remarkable. No one had ever done quite what Mark does. Rather than writing a theological treatise or a Sunday School lesson or a lecture to say what he wanted to say and teach what he wanted to teach, Mark tells a story.
Mark lets his story doing the talking and the teaching. And those who have ears to hear, will hear!
Part of what makes Mark’s work special is the particular story he tells. From what we can gather from early Christian sources, Mark spent a lot of time with Peter in Rome the capital of the Empire. I imagine Peter as Mark’s mentor in ministry in that bustling, exciting and sometimes dangerous place.
And when Peter is martyred during a brief, but intense time of persecution in the mid-60’s, Mark knows that Christian communities need be reminded of what really is important. For it is in times of crisis that we can either hold on more tightly to what is true, or we can lose our grip on what is real!
So Mark tells the story of Jesus in order to remind people about God’s rule in a crazy mixed up world, to prompt Christians to stay devoted to Jesus as his followers, and to recognize that following Jesus is no picnic. After all, the real King is lifted up on a cross, not a throne!
So why listen to Mark today? I know we don’t live in the Roman empire anymore, but we do live in an empire. The empire we live in assumes that meaning in life comes through power and that power comes through wealth and control. The empire we live in assumes that the rule of God is not nearly as important as the rule of self and the pursuit of personal happiness.
The question is how well does those sorts of assumptions line up with the truth? And, what then, could we learn by hearing Mark’s story? What might we discern if we entered into the world that Mark imagines when he introduces us to the power of Jesus?
I invite you to enter Mark’s world this fall. Through Bible classes each Sunday morning, through the sermons in our assemblies, through the devotional guides that are being published, you are invited to listen and to respond.