December 21, 2014

Why Mark?

MichaelSpencerWhile doing some Internet searches about a year and a half ago I realized that Michael Spencer had left us a treasure trove of material that he had compiled on the gospel of Mark. There were many written Bible studies and blog posts that he posted online on the topic of Mark, some dating back to the 1990s. Denise Spencer was able to add to this set of resources through a collection of audio Bible studies/sermons that Michael had recorded. The time to transcribe these looked to be pretty daunting, but Internet Monk came to the rescue, and a team of over 30 volunteers helped to produce text versions of all the sermons and studies. When this process was complete we had nearly 1000 pages of source material. I have to tell you, there is some pretty amazing stuff in there.

Our plan is to turn this into a devotional commentary on the gospel of Mark. I am taking the lead in this, but it would not be possible with out the support of Denise Spencer, Jeff Dunn and the Internet Monk team. Scott Lencke will be playing a major role, helping with the compiling and editing over the next few months.

Each week we are going to give you a “sneak peak” from “Reconsider Jesus“. We will post a chapter or section of the commentary starting with the introduction Why Mark? We are not going to post everything, but you should be able to get a pretty good sampling of the entire book. And of course, if you would like to be contacted when Michael Spencer’s book is available for purchase, drop us a note at michaelspencersnewbook@gmail.com.

The following is an excerpt from Michael Spencer’s upcoming book:  Reconsider Jesus – A fresh look at Jesus from the Gospel of Mark

Why Mark?

Out of all the books in the world, why read this one? With a hundred other activities and interests to pursue, why devote your mind to some religious text out of the Bible? How is it going to help you?

Obviously the reasons to study Mark are many, but let me suggest what persuades me. Hopefully it will persuade you as well.

The most influential person in history is also the most misunderstood and misrepresented. Two thousand years later, Jesus of Nazareth is still a mystery to most people. When your name is common enough to be both a curse-word and a word of worship, then it’s safe to say many people who talk about you are missing what you were all about. Whether you admire Jesus, worship Jesus, despise him or simply don’t know about him, you can’t deny that no single person has more continuing influence on our world than Jesus. But is there any way to get beyond the misunderstanding to a true understanding?

You could turn on a religious television or radio channel. You could listen to Christian music where people talk about Jesus. You could listen to Christians that you know — some of them talk about Jesus all the time, even in ways that seem a lot more real than the way I talk about Jesus. What you do have to do is make sure that the Jesus you know is the Jesus of the gospels, because the only real Jesus is the Jesus of the gospels. The only way to know the real Jesus is to meet him in the books that are there to bring him to us.

The gospels claim to be records of the life and words of Jesus. The gospels themselves are tremendously misunderstood. After hundreds of years of intense study, they puzzle the experts. Neither biographies nor news reports, neither mythologies nor scientific explanations, the gospels are records of what the first Christians believed was significant about Jesus and what must be preserved and communicated into the future. They are both records of Jesus’ life and words and records of the response of those who experienced him.

What you will discover, when you undertake to know and appreciate Jesus in the gospels, is that he is the most surprising person you’ve ever met! Jesus doesn’t do what normal religious people do. Jesus doesn’t act like normal religious people act.

You will also find that Jesus is the most attractive person you’ve ever met. Jesus is not somebody that you can meet in the pages of the Bible and find him to be dull. He’s not. When Jesus does the things he does, and when the character and the personality of Jesus begins to come out of the pages, you will, like everybody else, say, “That’s somebody that I wish I could be with.” You’ll start to understand why crowds followed him, and why people dropped their jobs and went after him.

Yet, you’ll also find that he is the most disturbing person you’ve ever met. Jesus will say things that will distress you, and things that will haunt you. Jesus will say things that will shock you, and make you uncomfortable.

You’ll find that undertaking the study of Jesus in the gospel of Mark is like going on a trip that you never anticipated; a trip where every day the itinerary is new and there’s a whole new world to see. You will find that sometimes you’re awestruck, and sometimes you’re laughing, sometimes you’re weeping, and sometimes you will feel like hiding, but it’s never, ever dull, and it’s never small. This is part of the reason why we have four gospels in the Bible. God inspired the writing of these four by these particular people to begin to give us just an introduction to this incredible person from four different perspectives. One perspective would never suffice.

So of the four gospels, why look at Mark? Well, let me give you five quick reasons:

First, the author of Mark was probably not the first person to write about Jesus, but he was the first to produce what we now call a gospel. We owe a lot to those who decided to finally write down the story of Jesus so that we would have it. Most of the scholars of the past 30 years accept Mark as prior to Matthew, Luke and John. It seems possible that there was a collection of oral or written stories about Jesus that may have preceded Mark, but it was the writer of this gospel who first put the words, works and last week of Jesus’ life into a coherent whole. Matthew uses almost every verse of Mark verbatim in his gospel, and Luke uses over half of Mark in his gospel. But Mark is the first, and the other gospel writers felt he was dependable.

Second, Mark is the closest in time to Jesus himself. Jesus was crucified in the early thirties, and the current dating of Mark in the late sixties means that, of the New Testament writers, only Paul was writing before Mark. The early church believed, and there’s good evidence to support this, that the gospel of Mark was written by a young man named John Mark, who was the companion of the apostle Peter. John Mark wrote down the remembrances of Peter that he heard in his preaching, as well as collecting other stories and sayings of Jesus. So what we have in the gospel of Mark is the closest, humanly, we can get to standing and hearing the voice of Jesus.

Third, the gospel of Mark is the rawest of the gospels. It is the most unpolished, with a lot of rough edges. The emotions of Jesus, like anger and compassion, are still found within its pages. Jesus makes surprising and shocking statements that puzzle his listeners. Mark has not been polished and fancied up so that it is acceptable without any questions. It gives us the real deal. One commentator said that it is Mark who gives us Jesus as a character, as a whole person that we can understand as a person, and not just as an object of belief. We study Mark to take in this portrait of Jesus at the source, to get as close to Jesus as the New Testament can take us.

Next, it is the most focused of the gospels. It is obvious that Mark wants to emphasize the crucifixion of Jesus. Everything he says in his gospel about Jesus is said in the shadow of the cross, as if Mark was standing in the Roman world saying: “Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, yet all the world knows about him is that he was a crucified criminal. How can that be? What does that mean?” The gospel of Mark is meant to show us how Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but he’s not the Son of God in the way the Roman world thought. He’s the Son of God who came to die for sinners.

Finally, Mark is the shortest gospel. It ends, I believe, in chapter sixteen verse eight . You may not think itís the shortest when you finally get through this book, but it is much shorter than the others!

The difference that Christianity makes in your life depends entirely on how well you know Jesus. So this is why I have undertaken the biggest assignment of my life, because what I want for you, what I want for your family, what I want for our children, and for our churches, is for us to simply know Jesus. What I want for my own life, and my own faith, and my own service, is to know Jesus.

So I’m going to ask you to immerse yourself and invest yourself in something huge and wonderful that will absolutely change you. I want you to engage with me as you read this book, but I also want you to engage day by day, and week by week in reading this gospel and the other gospels so that you become personally and deeply acquainted with this person of Jesus Christ.

Here is my prayer for us as we begin this journey together:

Father, as we begin this journey, we begin in real humility knowing that there’s so much in front of us that is wonderful, but so much in front of us that is beyond what our human minds can understand. Give me as your servant the ability to communicate this book of Mark in a way that is interesting, and a way that’s passionately real. Our great prayer today, Lord, is that we would come to know this person who makes everything different, that we wouldn’t just be people living in the house of religion, but we would be people who know the Lord of Glory—Jesus, who came for every person of every culture, of every time, in every place, to be the savior of all, by living a perfect life, for everyone, and dying a death for every one of us. Help us to believe this good news, to receive it, and to be deeply changed by it, and to begin to live it out. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

——————————–

If you would like to be contacted when Michael Spencer’s book is available for purchase, drop us a note at michaelspencersnewbook@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. Rick Ro. says:

    I led an adult Sunday school class through a four-year side-by-side study of the gospels of Mark and Matthew (we finished a year ago) and it was fascinating. I loved Mark’s account. Looking forward to seeing the finished product.

  2. A huge thanks to Mike, Denise & Jeff for helping head up this project!

  3. Ali Griffiths says:

    This sounds a brilliant idea. So when do we start?

    • Ali –

      Wasn’t sure exactly what you meant by – When do we start? With posting excerpts of the book? If that was your question, then above is the first posting, beginning with, “Why Mark?”

      Cheers!

  4. Here’s a good online commentary on Mark, by Michael Turton:

    http://www.michaelturton.com/Mark/GMark_index.html

  5. ” what I want for you, what I want for your family, what I want for our children, and for our churches, is for us to simply know Jesus. What I want for my own life, and my own faith, and my own service, is to know Jesus.”

    now and ever and unto the ages of the ages, amen

  6. This looks like it’s transcribed from audio. Some bits read a tad awkward:

    “You could listen to Christians that you know some of them talk about Jesus all the time, (…). What you do have to do is you have to make sure”

    • Ben –

      Thanks for pointing that out. It looks like we posted what was not the final edited draft. I’ll pass along the final.

    • Thanks for catching that Ben,

      What you will be reading over the next weeks will be extracts from what we have edited so far. “Why Mark”, for example, came from a merger of a written introduction with an audio introduction, Other sections will also include some blog material. We do edit all the material to make is appropriate for a devotional commentary. For obvious reasons the transcribed material gets the most editing, but we do miss the occasional bits. The book will go through additional rounds of editing before it is released. The question I had to ask myself was: Do I let the imonk community get a taste of the whole as it is still a work in progress, knowing that it is not yet quite perfect, or do I wait, and let people wonder about what the status of the project? I chose the former approach as I thought it would help build interest in what we were doing, and would also help to fill in as Chaplain Mike had to step back a bit from the site.

      If you feel that you have a good eye for this and would like to contribute, then feel free to send me an email and we could discuss further.

    • Mystery solved! It appears that when I copied the text into notepad, some of the “extended character” punctuation got dropped. Add it back in, and the line makes a lot more sense.

      Mike

  7. David Cornwell says:

    This is very exciting. Thanks for doing this.

  8. It’s for these reasons I’ve been going through Mark myself—more than once. I look forward to seeing more of Michael’s take on the book.

  9. dumb ox says:

    The gospel of Mark gives the true sense of the fullness of time; adverbs such as, “immediately”, and “quickly” are used frequently. I think this also is reflected in the length of the text: the time is fulfilled; the Kingdom of God is here!”

  10. I am looking forward to this very much! As someone who has been hearing about this project for some time, it’ll be wonderful when it is finally brought to completion!

  11. On a sad note, my Father-in-law passed away last Saturday. He memorial service was today. I will have more time to comment on some of these comments tomorrow.

  12. Thanks again, Mike, SO much for doing this. I wish all of you could have been in Michael’s verse-by-verse Bible study of Mark. It lasted forever — and we all loved every minute of it!

  13. Dennis Oliver says:

    I would love to listen to that collection of audio Bible studies/sermons, is it possible to get those audio files?