Bible Experiment Mark
We are heading into the Christmas season. And over the next 3 weeks I will do Mark (you are reading it now), Luke & John and finish out the gospels as we come to Christmas. Audacious really. Seeing as though I’ve been averaging one Biblionomicron post a quarter?! Ah well. But the Gospels, (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) are the four books that have given us our modern Christmas season.
no. Christmas isn’t about another purchasing holiday. I promise you.
So if Christmas isn’t about Target, Macy’s and Starbucks read mugs – then what is all about? Well, we covered it some last time when I went through Matthew but thankfully the Disciples (and a couple assistants) wrote the gospels for us a few times to tell us about the amazing things they saw that changed the world forever. Yes, I am a fan of hyperbole. But I am not being hyperbolistic this time. Literally, changed the world. Changed our calendars. Changed our politics. Changed kingdoms and rulers.
If you’ve ever been to church during Christmas, no one reads from Mark. Why? Well, cause Mark skips the birth, the angels, and the donkeys. Mark skips all that and jumps right to the fireworks. Sure, the virgin birth is cool. Sure the miracle of John the Baptist and his conception is cool. As is the shepherds and the angels proclaiming the massive things to come. But Mark goes right to the things that came. The story Mark jumps in with is that of John the Baptist declaring that the Christ is coming and that we should all prepare our hearts for his arrival. And then BLAM! 12 verses into chapter one, John the Baptist is in prison (he kinda pissed off Harod, but that’s a different story for a totally different day – but if you’ve seen Hamlet, John the Baptist played the spoiler of Hamlet) Jesus has been baptized, and Jesus’ ministry has begun. Which begs the question – what is Mark doing here? What is the point of his writing his book?
The Point of Mark
It is 100% clear which Mark wrote the book of Mark. But 98% of scholars agree that he was a traveling companion of Peter’s. Mark had spent tons of time listening to Peter tell the stories that he was lucky enough to have experienced first hand and shared them with Mark. So Mark is actually the story of Peter’s first hand experience of God. I personally think the reason that the reason we don’t have 4 gospels named Matthew, Peter, Luke, and John is because Peter probably didn’t know Greek which was a bit of an important skill to have in order to communicate throughout Europe at the time. Right? But Mark understood the importance of Peter and the things that he had seen and the stories he was sharing with the churches. And so Mark wrote down Peter’s perspective in order to keep them.
But who the heck is Peter, and why should we care about this guy 2 millennia later? Peter saw and did some of the most amazing things the planet ever experienced. He was unlearned – slow – and a bit idiotic. And he was also a fire brand and completely knee-jerky in his responses. I relate to Peter more than any other person portrayed in the Bible. I am an idiot at times. A firebrand at others. And ultimately care passionately… about pretty everything I point my brain at.
Peter saw the feedings of the thousands. He was there at the mount of transfiguration. He saw cripples walk again. He watched as Jesus cured lepers and made the blind see again.
Um, what else, oh, yeah, he walked on water.
But most importantly, Peter was the with John as the entered the tomb and saw that it was empty. Peter saw some really really crazy stuff. So YES it is obvious that someone would write down everything that Peter had seen. And the book is so centered on the amazing things that Peter had seen that there are more miracles here in Mark than in any other book. (27, depending on how you count them… are prophesies miracles? Right.)
An Overview of Mark
So as I was reading the book from a remove and what really struck me this time around was the progression of the disciples over the course of the book. For the first 8 chapters of the book Jesus is heading away from Jerusalem and it seems like each of the disciples is squirrely confused about this guy. Here’s what normal interactions with the God of the universe was like from the perspective of the first eight chapters of the book of Mark…
Paralytic: “Comin’ down through the roof, watch your head!”
Jesus: “Your sins are healed.”
Scribes to disciples: “HE CANNOT DO THAT!”
Disciples to Scribes: “I KNOW! WHAT IS THAT ABOUT?!?”
Disciples to Jesus: “Um, sir… could you fill us in on this sins and forgiveness thing? I’m unclear.”
Jesus: “Hey there Mr. Paralyzed man… just because it’s simpler to heal you than to explain the whole sins thing… can you just get up? Oh good great.”
Disciples: “well. ok then.”
I totally made that up. Please don’t come with stones in tow ready to kill me. They literally didn’t understand what Jesus was all about. These kinds of interactions were happening all the time. Which is funny, because these embarassingly bad interactions are all right there in black and white. And if we had the disciples here with us today to chat a bit about the current state of affairs in the church and how we venerate them they would be the first to tell you – oh no… really? Michelangelo? No no no. That’s not it at all. I saw but through a glass darkly.
And when we hit chapter eight, Jesus does an about face and starts heading back towards Jerusalem and the cross. So if I am right, and the book of Mark is broken into two blocks eight away, and eight towards, then we start the book with the setup of who Jesus is, and we conclude the book reaffirming who it is that Jesus is. In chapter eight Jesus even asks the disciples who the people think he is, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
And who do you say that I am?
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
And that? That was the greatest thing Peter did. Declaring Jesus the Messiah. He would even go on to preach my favorite sermon of all time in Acts at Pentecost. Such a fantastic sermon. There had been a great wind, and chaos, and people speaking in a million languages, and foreigners listening to non-natives praise God in their language. Fire sat on the heads of those there. And Peter steps up and grabs the attention of the thousands assembled there. And he basically walks everyone through the Old Testament and points out how they had missed the coming Christ and how that they had just crucified the one man that they could put their hope in. And then he calls everyone to repent. This guy… this amazing orator, and yet clueless country bumpkin, his most amazing accomplishment was this… “You are the Messiah.” With those words he declared Jesus was the son of God. That he wasn’t John the Baptist reincarnated, that he wasn’t a prophet, like Elijah, or Elisha or Moses maybe. That Jesus was The Christ.
And this is the definition of Christmas. The coming of the Christ. The introduction of salvation through Jesus. Christmas is decidedly NOT Christmas trees and presents. Sure, that is how we celebrate. Not what it is.
So now I have a question for you. Especially those of you who have stumbled here on accident, who don’t believe in God, and have somehow made it down to the end of this page – why do you celebrate Christmas? If you do not believe that a baby born of a virgin came to save you from your sins in the greatest gift to man that was ever given, then what is it that you are partaking in? I am not trying to be hostile… or inflammatory. I’m just curious. Like honestly curious to hear from you what the big fuss is all about.
The gospel of Mark is one more testament to God’s perfect grace for you and for me. God came down and took on the form for a baby solely for the purpose of living and then dying on your behalf.
Peter screwed up a ton as a young young disciple (he was probably in his early teens). He was brash. He was constantly pulling his foot out of his mouth. He was untrained, and unlearned. He was a complete mess. And he was just like me. He needed salvation and hope just as much as I do. And eventually Peter became one of the greatest men to live on planet earth of all time. (Even to be co-opted by the Catholic church to become their first Pope – which I would love to hear what he thinks of that some day.) Eventually even to die on a cross himself – upside down, because he thought himself unworthy of dying the way Jesus died. Peter was so impacted by his encounter with the Christ that he chose to die speaking out on his behalf.
What in your life is worth dying for this Christmas season? Anything? Maybe you should read through Mark and see what Peter thought was worth dying for. Better yet, maybe you should read through Mark to find something worth living for.