Throughout history people have tried to tame and belittle Jesus by saying that he is nothing more than a good moral teacher. He was simply a man that lived in Jerusalem a few thousand years ago, who said and did some interesting stuff and died a strange death on a cross under the Roman regime.
It was only later that the church blew him out of proportion by saying (making up!) that he did all kinds of remarkable things, including being raised from the dead. But this is just pure fiction, and no-one with half a brain, in modern day society, takes that seriously any more. And so very quickly Jesus is sidelined and his followers are said to be deluded.
But when you take a close look at Jesus’ life you realise you cannot tame or belittle him, and that when Jesus himself walked the earth the reactions to him were much more forceful than the modern reaction to sideline him. Some people hated him (and tried to kill him) whilst other people loved him (and devoted their lives to him). But no-one pretended he was just a good moral teacher… and few people remained neutral towards him. Everything he said and did was so revolutionary that he provoked a response. He regularly offended people and frequently did the unexpected. Not even his disciples could get a handle on who he was (which is one of the big themes of Mark’s Gospel).
So between September and November we will be looking at Jesus the revolutionary, from chapters 1 to 8 of Mark’s Gospel, and seeing if we can come to understand more of who he is and what it means to follow him. The series will be for sceptics and believers alike – ironically, as we’ll see when we journey through Mark’s Gospel, it was very often the sceptics who understood Jesus better than the believers did! As ever we’ll go to the pub after each service to chew over any questions people have from the talks. And you can join us at the Intro Course if you have lots of questions about Jesus.
Who was Mark?
Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis until 130 AD tells us that Mark had been a secretary and translator for Peter, one of the first disciples. Papias lived from 60-135 AD and there is evidence that he knew John, another one of the disciples. And this external source makes sense of the internal evidence as there is not a single thing that happens in Mark where Peter is not present. So the entire Gospel of Mark is almost certainly the eyewitness testimony of Peter.
As with what we know about Peter himself from the gospel accounts, the book of Mark is fast-paced, abrupt and always in a hurry. The word ‘immediately’ is used dozens of times and the narrative has a relentless flow. Since the gospel was written around 64-65 AD many scholars think that Peter was in a hurry to record all he knew about Jesus as he knew his days were numbered. Nero was on the rampage, Christians were being killed; soon many of the early disciples and eye-witnesses would be wiped out with the great fire of Rome in 64 AD and the Jewish War between 66-70 AD, which led to Jerusalem and the temple being destroyed. The truth of who Jesus was had to be written down. So it’s no surprise that Mark is written with a breathless speed, as the early church faced persecution and soon Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed.
Mark’s Gospel is nicely divided into two parts, chapters 1-8 and chapters 9-16. The hinge verse in the middle is Mark 8:31: “he then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things… and that he must be killed.” So chapters 1-8 are all about the deeds and actions of Jesus, that reveal who Jesus is (the king, the messiah). And then chapters 9-16 are all about Jesus coming to suffer and die, and what it means to follow him. So chapters 1-8 are about his identity (who is he?) and chapters 9-16 are about his purpose (why did he come?). For this series, we’re only going to focus on Mark 1-8; we’ll come back to 9-16 another time.
Mark’s aim, and therefore the aim of our series, is to come to see Jesus clearly (which is what the hinge passage in Mark 8 is all about) and what it means to follow him. You see the disciples repeatedly miss who Jesus is and what he is about, and we too need to realise that we do the same as the disciples. We’re as blind and dull as they are. We miss how revolutionary Jesus is. He is stronger and more powerful than we think; he is more loving and compassionate than we have hoped; he is more angry and righteous that we dare believe; he is more wise and discerning that we have dreamt. As one author put it:
I trust that you will find the figure of Jesus worthy of your attention: unpredictable yet reliable, gentle yet powerful, authoritative yet humble, human yet divine. I urge you to seriously consider the significance of his life in your own*
So with a few one-off Sundays**, this is what we’ll be looking at each week, which will take us into our Christmas series in December.
4 Sep – The King (Mark 1:1-11) – the one anointed world ruler who has come to rescue his people
11 Sep – The Leader (Mark 1:14-20) – the one who calls us to follow him and become fishers of men
18 Sep – The Temple (Mark 2:1-12) – the one who can offer forgiveness of sins
25 Sep – The Lord Of The Sabbath (Mark 2:23-3:6) – the one who came to give us rest
2 Oct – The Teacher (Mark 4:1-20) – the who wants to open our minds to spiritual reality
9 Oct – The Lord Of The Storm (Mark 4:35-31) – the one who has power over storms, in nature and in our lives
23 Oct – The Exorcist (Mark 5:1-20) – the one with power over evil
30 Oct – The Healer (Mark 5:21-43) – the one with power over sickness
6 Nov – The Cleanser (Mark 7: 1-23) – the one who wants to clean the inside of us, not the outside
13 Nov – The Tester (Mark 7:24-30) – the one who wants to draw out our faith
27 Nov – The Christ (Mark 8:22-38) – the one who asks us to take up our cross and follow him
The series starts on Sunday 4th September, 4.15pm at Synge Street Secondary School. I hope to see you there.
*From Tim Keller’s ‘Kings Cross – The Story Of The World In The Life Of Jesus’ which we’ll refer to regularly in the series.
**We have a ‘Vision and Giving’ Sunday on 16th October and a ‘Weekend Away’ on 20th November.