So how should Mark inform, persuade, and encourage his congregation? Does he preach a sermon to call people to be disciples? Should he offer a series of lectures or teachings that elaborate the power and authority of Jesus as the Son of God? Does he write a letter and in personal terms seek to influence people to adopt a devotion to the way of Jesus in the face of the cultural challenges they face? All of these approaches are certainly valuable and good. In fact, we can find examples of all of them in Scripture.
But Mark takes a different approach. He takes brief, little stories about Jesus and arranges them in such a way that as they are told, something happens. A point is made, a principle is made clear, and the possibilities of persuasion emerge. The gospel of Mark is a narrative—a crafted story whereby the listeners are drawn into stories about Jesus and about his disciples in such a way that the listeners are challenge to consider their own discipleship to Jesus.
Mark gives us lots of markers that guide along the way. He uses geography to give shape to the themes he presents. The opening chapters all take place in Galilee where the stories—what scholars call “pronouncement stories”—focus on illustrating the power of Jesus and the nature of the God’s rule that Jesus brings into the world.
The middle sections of Mark are designated as stories that occur while “on the road to Jerusalem.” In this section of Mark, the particular focus is on the disciples. They have come to recognize Jesus’ real and true identity, but they have loads of misconceptions about what Jesus is up to and how they are to participate in God’s rule in the world.
The third section takes place in Jerusalem itself. The story of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection puts the spotlight on Jesus as the powerful king and on his final preparations with the disciples as a new age dawns.
Mark wants us to follow along through these three movements. I like to think of them as three acts in a play where we observe the development of the characters and are drawn into the storyline. For Mark, he wants us to be impressed with the wonder of the kingdom and grow in our appreciation for Jesus’ identity. He wants us to practice some self-reflection about how we may fail to fully understand the nature of the kingdom and have some half-baked ideas about what being a disciple of Jesus really looks like. And Mark wants to pay very close attention to Jesus’ commitment to an obedient life that includes the way of the cross—hoping that we might come to understand that our life experience will include suffering as well. Of course, the good news of the good news is that the wonder of the resurrection gives hope through it all!
Mark tells us a story. And it really the first of its kind in history! Other ancients wrote biographies and gave accounts of heroes. But Mark tells the story of our hero not merely so we can admire Jesus. He tells the story so that we might choose to emulate him—to follow him.
I hope that you will join the conversation this fall and choose to follow Jesus as well!