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Minister’s Letter, Feb 2017
‘The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God….’
So begins Mark’s gospel, thought to be the first gospel ever written.
Over the next couple of months we are focusing in our church services on Mark’s gospel. We’re hearing a chapter or two each week, and the sermons are helping us to reflect on Mark’s message about Jesus and what it means for us today.
It’s the shortest of the four gospels, and it jumps straight into the action. Mark seems to have invented the idea of a ‘gospel’, though he was clearly writing down stories that had been circulating by word of mouth about Jesus. It was probably written down between AD 60 and AD 70, so only about 30 years after the events it describes leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Who was Mark? Scholars think he may well have been the John Mark that is mentioned several times in the New Testament. If so, he was a younger co-worker with Paul, Barnabas and Peter at various times, and would have known many of the people who had followed Jesus in his lifetime. Mark would have been too young to have known Jesus himself, but he definitely seems to have had close familiarity with many eye-witness accounts of what went on.
Mark’s gospel has four main aims:
- To make the good news about Jesus accessible to non-Jews. Rome was a multi-faith, multi-cultural city, and Mark is careful to explain and translate Jewish words and customs.
- To encourage those facing persecution. Roman writers tell us of the great persecution of Christians that took place under the Emperor Nero in AD 64, about the time Mark was writing. Mark tells of Christ’s suffering and how he foretold similar suffering for his followers, to help his readers understand that the fact they were suffering didn’t mean they had got things wrong.
- To defend the faith. Mark wants to show the true nature of the Christian faith and remove false ideas about it that might get in the way of people accepting it.
- To explain the significance of the cross. Mark is very clear that Jesus’ death wasn’t a tragic accident, but part of God’s plan. He emphasises that Jesus knew what was coming and taught his disciples about it, to prepare them. Mark also is clear that Jesus wasn’t just a teacher or prophet, but was the Messiah, the Son of God.
These are still things that we need to address as Christians today. Today’s society is in some ways quite similar to the Rome of Mark’s day. People believe all sorts of things, or are sceptical about everything; people misunderstand who Jesus was and what he came to do. In the Church, we are both aware of persecution of Christians around the world, and sometimes feel that nobody is interested in what the Church has to say.
So its good to focus in again on what the Good News about Jesus really is. There are free copies of Mark’s gospel at the back of church; feel free to come and get one, or ask us to deliver one to you, and read it.
And in the first weekend in March, from Thursday 2nd to Sunday 5th, the Diocese of Durham is holding a county-wide event called Talking Jesus. There will be all sorts of events and gatherings to find out more about Jesus, including several in our own parishes which are advertised in this Grapevine.