In the run up to Easter this year we produced copies of Mark’s Gospel along with the testimonies of people in our church. The idea was to encourage the congregation to invite their friends to read the Gospel with them. Last week I posted the ‘What To Look Out For’ section which I write to orient readers to the Gospel. Here’s my overall introduction. It’s written with unbelievers in mind, but I thought it might be of interest.
Whatever you make of Jesus Christ, he has had a massive impact on history. Today millions of people follow his teachings. Christians believe he is the Son of God. They believe came to earth to reconcile us to God. They believe he rose from the dead to offer us eternal life.
You may not be persuaded by these claims. But you cannot ignore Jesus.
We want to invite you to take a look at Jesus. You don’t have to believe. We’re not asking you to suspend your critical faculties. We’re simply want to give you the opportunity to meet the person of Jesus and make up your own mind.
And there’s no better way to do that than to read one of the first accounts of Jesus.
Mark’s Gospel was written just a few years after the death of Jesus. Mark was an early Christian and a friend of Peter, one of the very first followers of Jesus.
There are four Gospels in the Bible. They’re named after their writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Gospel writers were concerned to write historical accounts of Jesus. Luke, for example, describes how he ‘carefully investigated everything from the beginning’ and drew on eye-witness sources.
But the Gospels are not quite like modern biographies. The word ‘Gospel’ means ‘good news’. The writers of the Gospels wanted to convey something of the message of Jesus. So, while they wanted to describe the facts of his life, they also wanted to describe the significance of his life.
Mark’s Gospel is one of the sixty-six other books in the Bible. That’s because the story of Jesus is part of a bigger story – the story of the world. The Bible claims that God made the world. And the world that God made was good. It was a kingdom of peace and plenty. But humanity rejected the kingdom of God. We chose to live our own way without God. The result has been conflict as we each compete with one another for control. But our biggest problem is God’s judgment. God is implacably opposed to evil and evil runs through the hearts of us all. But God in his love promised to send someone who would rescue us from our rebellion and his judgment. He chose the people of Israel (the Jews) to model his kingdom. The problem was the evil in our hearts was in their hearts as well. They, too, rejected God and so they were exiled from the land God has given them. But God in his love promised a king who would rescue God’s people. When the story of Mark’s Gospel begins the Jews had returned to their land (the land of Palestine), but they were under the rule of the Roman empire. They hoped God’s king would come and restore God’s kingdom.
But Christians believe this big story is part of an even bigger story. Christians believe God is not a solitary ruler, but an eternal community of three persons, Father, Son and Spirit. God is an eternal Father. God the Father has eternally loved God the Son in the power of God the Spirit. God created the world and rescued the world to share his love and to share his joy in his Son. We get a hint of this at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel. As Jesus is baptised, a voice from heaven says: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ Mark’s Gospel is an invitation to be part of this big story.
You will notice big numbers and small numbers scattered across the text of the Gospel. The big numbers refer to ‘chapters’. Mark’s Gospel is divided up into 16 chapters. The small numbers refer to ‘verses’ which divide up the chapters. The chapters and verses were added later to help readers refer to specific extracts. A reference to ‘Mark 10:45’ means verse 45 of chapter 10.
I’ve written two Bible study guides to Mark’s Gospel which are available here in the UK from ThinkIVP and here in the US from Amazon.