At church this morning, the pastor preached about Mark 1:9-15. Allow me to post this passage in the King James Version (which is in the public domain):
9 And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.
10 And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him:
11 And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
12 And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.
13 And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan;
and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.
14 Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,
15 And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.
The pastor’s sermon was entitled “Reading More Than the Headlines.”
The title relates to how my pastor was characterizing the Gospel of
Mark: Mark’s Gospel is like the headlines of news stories because it
does not tell us the rest of the story. In Mark’s story of Jesus’
temptation, for example, we read that Satan tempted Jesus in the
wilderness, but the Gospels of Matthew and Luke tell us more of the
story by detailing what Satan actually said to Jesus.
I was thinking about the scholarly view of Markan priority, which
states that Mark’s Gospel came first and the other synoptic Gospels
relied on Mark (among other sources). What the pastor was saying
influenced me briefly to question Markan priority. Why would Mark, as
the first to write a Gospel, simply write that Satan tempted Jesus,
without detailing the contents of that temptation? Maybe Mark was
intended to be a more succinct version of the other Gospels, and Mark
expected readers to know the rest of the story that he was not telling.
At the same time, Mark’s version of the story is distinctive in its
own right, so it may have come first, or it may not have been a
shortened version of what Matthew and Luke have. Mark says that Jesus
was in the wilderness among wild beasts, whereas Matthew and Luke do not
have that detail.
The pastor was preaching about the temptation story as it appears in
Mark. The Holy Spirit has gently descended on Jesus like a dove, then
the Spirit drives Jesus out into the wilderness! What a remarkable
contrast there is between the Spirit’s behavior at Jesus’ baptism and
the Spirit’s behavior right after Jesus’ baptism, my pastor was noting.
Jesus is among wild beasts for forty days and is tempted by Satan, but
angels ministered to him. The pastor likened that to our experience:
things happen in our lives that scare us and that lead us to question
God’s care, but God is still with us in the wilderness.
After his temptation, John the Baptist is put into prison, but Jesus
preaches the good news of the Kingdom of God. The pastor asked us what
exactly that good news was. My understanding is that the pastor was
seeing the Kingdom of God as God’s presence. Jesus was proclaiming that
God is near, even when we are suffering. The hymns that we sang after
the sermon reinforced that particular theme.
I’m one of the readers of the Lenten liturgy. This morning’s liturgy
was contrasting the hopefulness of Advent with the solemnity of Lent.
The liturgy said the following in reference to Advent:
“During the weeks before Christmas we celebrate the anticipation of
the coming of the Christ child with candles. One by one during Advent,
we light the candles of peace, hope, joy, and love, all in preparation
for the beginning of Christ’s life on earth. All this culminated on
Christmas Eve when we light the Christ candle itself. It represents the
light of Jesus Christ’s shining in the world, living in our midst,
coming forth to save us, inviting us to its warmth. That is a joyous
Jesus, in a sense, was bringing the Kingdom of God near to people.
But did Jesus bring something that was not present before? God is
faithful to people even when they’re suffering? That was true before
Jesus came. Our Old Testament reading was Psalm 25:1-10, which
essentially says that. Of course, there are times when that does not
seem to be the case. The Psalmist often acknowledges that, which is why
he wants God to act concretely and make it the case. In Jesus’ day,
evil made some triumphs, such as the imprisonment of John the Baptist.
Yet God was on the move, as Jesus healed people and people repented and
became reconciled with God. I think, though, that my pastor may have
been saying something a bit different: that, even when we are suffering
and we doubt God’s faithfulness, God is faithful. I guess my question
would be this: Is God’s faithfulness with us during the suffering, or is
his faithfulness the fact that he will step in and alleviate that
suffering, as Jesus was doing by healing people?
A number of scholars would say that Jesus was predicting the imminent
arrival of the Kingdom of God: God would soon step in, overthrow evil,
and set up his kingdom of goodness. Jesus was setting the stage for
that by healing people, casting out demons, and making converts to God.
Is there another viable way to understand the Kingdom of God being
near? Suppose it is near in proximity, through the ministry of Jesus.
Why, though, was it near at that time? How was it good news? Jesus
came and embodied the Kingdom, then went back to heaven to wait
thousands of years before coming back? What was the point?
Well, he did need to die to bring about the atonement. For
Christianity, the atonement had to take place at some point in actual
history, and that occurred when Jesus was crucified. Jesus was also
exalted after his resurrection. What, though, is the practical
difference between the time before Jesus came and the time afterwards?
Did Jesus bring anything different? What was his good news?
These are scattered ramblings. I’ve written scattered ramblings in the past, but these are extremely scattered ramblings.
Overall, I enjoyed my pastor’s sermon this morning because it allowed
Mark to speak in its distinct voice, and because it was rather
expository—-it focused on interpreting the text. Usually, my pastor
preaches from Matthew, perhaps because it is the first Gospel in the New
Testament. I’ve sometimes wondered if he sees Mark as a shortened
version of the same story that Matthew tells. He may, but he was also
allowing Mark to speak with Mark’s distinct voice, and that was good.