On August 6th our good friend Dave Kitchen led our morning worship. He informed us that as his ‘reading’ was going to be long the sermon would be short! As is our practice Dave was asked if he would allow us to ‘post’ his sermon to the website……unfortunately this was not possible, BUT his version of Marks gospel is well worth sharing!
The Gospel of Mark
: lots to do, must dash
Mark’s book: text in a hurry with ‘immediately’ stamped all over it – not pretty, but essential. This is where the gospels begin. The number one source for both Matthew and Luke, put together by a certain John Mark, whose mum had a big house in Jerusalem with an upstairs room that Jesus used and whose uncle was Barnabas, the missionary.
Books get written for a reason and here it seems to have been Nero. Once the emperor started throwing Christians to the lions or using them as torches at his barbecues, no one was safe. What people like Peter had seen and heard needed to be down on paper.
So Mark picks up a pen and the good news starts here with a voice like thunder in the desert, getting the world ready. John is baptising people, straightening up their lives because someone is coming who will turn them inside out. When John baptises Jesus you know who that someone is because the Spirit comes like a dove to rest on him and a voice declares: ‘You are my son. I love you and I’m so pleased to be your father.’
Forty days in the desert prepares Jesus for the temptations ahead. Then the first disciples get called, the healings start and the message spreads like wildfire. So fast, in fact, that he’s soon forced to hide out in quiet places just to have a chance for prayer. With all this busy-ness, not everyone is convinced he’ll have time for them. A man with leprosy asks to be healed ‘if you are willing’.
‘Of course I’m willing,’ Jesus tells him. And the miracle happens. Now, the healings hit the spot, but the messages get mixed reactions. A man who appears through the roof of a house needs forgiveness as well as the ability to walk. Jesus offers him both but the religious bosses hate it. ‘Who does he think he is?’ they complain, ‘God?’
You can understand the religious bureaucrats not liking him. He creates a team of fishermen and tax inspectors instead of politicians and insiders; he socialises with the wrong sort, is easy-going about regulation and frankly doesn’t seem anywhere near as serious as John the Baptist. So the nit-pickers start looking for a way to catch him out. He challenges them about their narrow-mindedness and, after he heals a man on their day off work, they want him out of the way. He’s beginning to look like a threat to their whole way of managing God.
For the moment, though, it’s crowds so large so that he nearly gets crushed and uses the first century equivalent of a car at the rear door: escape by fishing boat. The Big Twelve get chosen, not so that they can feel important but so they can do some of the work. The celebrity-style fuss results in Jesus’ family trying to get him safely back home. You can have too much attention.
However, he’s definitely not about to slip away quietly. There are stories to tell like the one about a farmer who always gets mixed results with his seeds. That’s what it’s like with people and God, Jesus explains to the twelve. Many grow up to become something but others…well, they go their own way. But remember: you can be the small light that brightens a dark place.
The words are paralleled by actions. In the middle of a stormy night on the lake, Jesus calms the waves. Later, he heals a man who seems to be drowning in an army of dark spirits. Next, he cures a woman, even as he makes his way to help a synagogue leader’s daughter. So much is happening so fast that Jesus asks for the miracles to be kept quiet. He knows that not all headlines are good headlines.
And reaction is mixed especially in his home town. You see, they remember him as Mary’s boy, the builder. Time passes, teaching continues, the twelve go out to spread the message. Talk gets back to King Herod who has beheaded John. The gossip is that Jesus is John returned from the dead. The reality is even stranger. This is someone who walks on water and feeds 5,000 by blessing a few loaves and fishes. Even his closest followers don’t quite grasp what is happening.
Now, while the disciples don’t get it, the Pharisees don’t like it. They are the equipped-to-be-strict people who maintain the old standards at all costs. Jesus tells them that their priorities are wrong. The minor stuff, that makes them look good, they do. The heart of the faith – helping each other – they avoid.
Jesus heals a Greek woman’s daughter, helps a man to hear and to speak. He wants this all kept low key, but people love to talk. The result is headlines for his miracles but blank faces for the message.
The second half of the book deals with the long journey to Jerusalem. Up north, out of the way, Jesus has been teaching the twelve. Eventually he asks the crunch question: who do you think I am? Peter goes: ‘You’re the one we’ve been waiting for, the Messiah.’
At last, Jesus feels he can deal with the hard stuff. But when he talks of his suffering and death, they aren’t ready and Peter’s response sounds more like the devil than the angels. Nobody likes hearing about pain but sometimes, Jesus tells them, that’s what you’ve got to face. What good would it be, if you saved your life and lost the one thing that made you truly human, your soul?
On a mountainside, Peter, James and John see Jesus changed utterly and a voice rings out telling them to listen to him. Like so many great moments, it’s followed by a problem. The other disciples have failed to cure a boy of his fits and there’s an argument about who is to blame.
‘Please help him, if you can,’ says the boy’s father. ‘If?’ says Jesus. ‘There are no ‘ifs’ where people really believe.’
Dad’s reply is simple. ‘I do believe,’ he says, ‘but I need your help with my doubts.’ The boy is healed and the message to the disciples is ‘more prayer required’.
In spite of this, they’re soon squabbling about who will be the greatest. Jesus tries again. Trust me like a child would – with your whole heart. If you want to be first, be last; if you want to lead, be there to serve everyone.
There’s teaching on not thinking you’ve got exclusive rights to God’s work, a sharp reminder of the sanctity of marriage and a sombre warning not to make the way difficult for others by what you do. Stay friends – it matters. A rich young man discovers how money can get in the way and the road to heaven suddenly seems hard so Jesus has to remind his team how God makes all things possible.
The final stop before Jerusalem is Jericho where he heals a noisy beggar called Bartimaeus who joins the group as they head for a big entrance in Jerusalem. Jesus rides in on a young donkey and the crowds come out shouting that he’s the one they’ve been waiting for. When he gets inside the city, he takes a look around and returns to the suburb of Bethany for the night.
The real action starts next morning when he clears the Temple traders, the people making a rotten profit from the House of God. He tells them: this is Prayer Central not Crooks Corner. That’s what causes his death: the challenge to vested interests. It doesn’t happen immediately. He’s too popular. But the die is cast.
The leaders try to catch him out but it’s not all disputes. One teacher asks him what matters most. ‘That you love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength,’ he replies, ‘and love others just as much as you love yourself.’
Jesus often doesn’t think like other people. When a widow puts two tiny coins into the offering box, he can see it matters more than all the big donations. For her, it’s all she has.
Each evening Jesus stays safely out at Bethany but on Thursday he slips secretly across to Mark’s house to celebrate the Passover Supper in Jerusalem itself. It’s a dark time. He knows that someone close will betray him. ‘My body is given for you,’ he tells them, ‘my blood seals God’s promise to you.’
The meal is followed by a walk to a quiet garden, called Gethsemane, for evening prayer. It’s an ideal spot for betrayal. One of the twelve, Judas Iscariot, leads the soldiers to the spot and hands him over with a kiss.
Everyone runs except Jesus and a young boy in his nightwear who escapes naked when a soldier makes a grab for him but only gets a grip on his clothing. It’s a detail that makes little sense until you remember who is writing. Peter may be the main source of information but sometimes a young boy called Mark was there, even if he shouldn’t have been.
A trial is cobbled together, the witnesses are bogus and the verdict is guilty. Jesus is blindfolded, beaten and sent to Pilate, the Roman governor. Meanwhile Peter has slipped back into the city to follow his master only to panic when he gets close and is challenged by a servant girl. The man who prides himself on his bravery is devastated by the ease with which cowardice overwhelms him.
Pilate’s first morning job is to deal with a gaggle of Jewish leaders baying for someone’s blood and the calm dignity of the man in question. He’s puzzled and tries to release him. The manoeuvre fails, so he has him flogged and sent for execution. Jesus is nailed to a cross at the Place of the Skull. His reward for being a healer and teacher like no other is to be scorned and mocked in an agonising death. No wonder he feels forsaken and lost as he hangs there but he sees it through to the end. And the way he dies shakes the soldier in charge to the core. For him, at least, Jesus truly is the Son of God.
The death of Jesus forces one Jewish leader to stop being a secret supporter. Joseph from Arimathea cannot bear to see the great healer’s dead body left out to be ripped to shreds by dogs and vultures so he requests permission for burial from Pilate. The body is placed in a linen cloth and the tomb entrance is sealed with a large stone.
It looks done and dusted, except there’s one further twist. The next day is the Sabbath, a work-free 24 hours, but on the morning after that, several women return to the tomb to complete burial duties. What they find is a stone rolled away, no body and a young man in white. They are terrified and bewildered, even more so when he tells them that Jesus is risen and will meet them in Galilee.
And that’s where it stops, even more abruptly than it began … in the middle of a sentence. No one can be certain why. People clearly thought the ending had disappeared because they added bits to finish it off. As the early church preferred Matthew and Luke to Mark, it’s easy to see how the last page might have gone missing.
Perhaps that’s actually how it finishes. Or, perhaps, in a dusty library somewhere, is a missing fragment of manuscript from John Mark – the one who kicked it all off with the promise that the good news starts here.
© David Kitchen 2017
from Word on the Move