Darkness covered the face of the known world.
The Roman Empire, in all its power and majesty and terrifying grandeur, reigned supreme. Demons were perceived to be everywhere — in the incessant warfare, in the dire poverty, in the presence of incurable bodily illnesses, in the mental struggles that completely baffled everyone.
Many believed that all this suffering and sorrow signaled the beginning of the “end times.”
And then, something astounding happened … something seemingly miraculous … something that pointed to an end to the near despair that had become pervasive.
It was a story.
A riveting story told by an obviously impassioned preacher — a preacher who knew well how to tell a captivating tale. Originally spoken in a dramatic form to an audience largely incapable of reading, it became a new form of literature — a new “biographical” genre.
Unlike many biographies at that time, this story was not imaginary. It was told by one who had been there, one who had seen and heard and couldn’t wait to tell the world.
The storyteller was Simon Peter, the apostle given the name “Rock.” His interpreter, his scribe, was to be the first to have his name connected with this new form of biography called a “Gospel.” It was a telling — in the midst of all the surrounding darkness — of “good news of great joy.”
The name of that scribe was Mark.
The story Mark tells is a simple one. But it is also one that could only be described as groundbreaking and radical.
Told in vivid detail, Mark’s purpose was twofold: to tell the story about a man named Jesus from the tiny village of Nazareth in Palestine, and to describe what it means to follow him as a disciple.
Put into writing some 30 years after the death of Jesus, the story tells, in compelling fashion, the impact of this prophet from Nazareth on those around him and his mighty deeds that caused people to say in utter astonishment: “We have never seen anything like this.” His teachings startled people with their authenticity and their invitation to commit to a whole new vision of allowing God to rule over their lives.
And, there was more — much more.
It was a story that made the ultimate claim that this man Jesus was not just a prophet, or even a miracle worker. He was a man chosen to be so filled with the Spirit of God that he became God’s beloved Son. Crucified by the Romans, the Son of God was raised from the dead! Vindicated! Triumphant overall evil!
Perhaps, as remarkable, Mark contended that this same Jesus continues to be alive in and through his community of disciples, commonly referred to as Christians.
Word of this “beloved Son” and his radical vision of a new way of living in and through God, spread like wildfire throughout the entire Mediterranean region of that time.
His impassioned followers, inflamed by their never-before-heard-of experience of witnessing Jesus after his resurrection from the dead, traveled the roads and the seas bringing this message of hope and love and peace to all who would listen – from Palestine to Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) to the great city of Rome — to “the end of the world.”
Among those thoroughly on fire with the news of this revolutionary event was one of the most important figures in the history of this new community of Christians: Peter.
Mark himself was obviously enthralled by the power and the originality of Peter’s message. So much so that he left the gift of passing the story on through the ages.
Unfortunately, for centuries Mark became the “forgotten Gospel.” Overshadowed by the importance of the Gospel of Matthew due to its emphasis on a hierarchy of bishop, presbyter and laity — as well as its strength as a treasure of Jesus’ teachings. Mark’s deeply valued contribution lay unrecognized until the 19th century. It was only then that Scripture scholarship was able to understand that Mark was the original Gospel upon which both Matthew and Luke based their accounts.
The Gospel of Mark is a spiritual treasure chest all of its own. Mark accepts the widely accepted belief at the time that a great cosmic battle was being fought between good and evil. The seeming champion was Satan, disguised in the form of Caesar, the ruler of the Roman Empire.
Mark acknowledges, evil is powerful, but Jesus is more powerful. Mark admits, Caesar is strong, but Jesus is the stronger one.
Look, he says in his Gospel: Hunger is everywhere. But Jesus can produce food to feed multitudes. Nature is awesomely terrifying. But Jesus can calm the seas. Mental disturbances are baffling. But Jesus can heal the demoniac. Sickness is disabling. But Jesus cures the blind and the lame.
Jesus, Mark’s story concludes, is more than just another great man. He is the miracle worker. He is the teacher. He is the healer. He is the rescuer.
He is the “Son of God,” the face of God in time.