On Sunday I introduced the author, and if you missed it, you can find that message here.
Here’s my Cliff’s Notes version of how the Gospel of Mark came into being.
The early Christians were not in a hurry to write anything down. You can understand why. To begin with, very few people like to write, and we tend to put things in writing only when we are forced to. You can’t blame the first members of the church for not writing anything down. They didn’t expect to be around long enough to need detailed written accounts of Jesus’ life. “I am going to return,” Jesus had explained. “When I come back, history will draw to a close, and God will usher in the fulfillment of creation.” First century Christian leaders assumed that Jesus’ promise was going to be fulfilled very, very soon. Next Tuesday maybe. Or in a month perhaps. Within a year or two for sure.Writing wasn’t on anyone’s agenda in those early days of the church.
When the first Christians gathered to worship, the message consisted of someone sharing an experience they personally had with Jesus. There were 11 apostles who had lived with Jesus night and day for 3 years. There were 120 followers who retreated to the upper room after Jesus ascended into heaven. All of them were eyewitnesses to his ministry. The sermon for those earliest worship services was someone standing up and saying, “Do you remember the time that Jesus healed the young boy, the time he fed the 5000, the time he taught the beatitudes?” It was exciting. It was authentic. It was alive.
But weeks of waiting for Jesus to return turned into years. Years became decades. And still Jesus had not returned. By the year 60, about 3 decades after Jesus’ resurrection, leaders of the church in Rome were concerned. Simon Peter was their pastor, and he was a great storyteller. He had been one of Jesus’ inner circle, and his memory had remained sharp. But he was around 60 years old. While 60 is the new 40 today, in the first century the expected lifespan was closer to 40. Simon Peter was living on borrowed time. What would the church do without his eyewitness accounts? Some of the leaders approached John Mark with an idea: Mark had become very close to Peter. Why couldn’t he use his experience and skills to put down on paper Peter’s eyewitness account of Jesus’ life? Then if Jesus’ return was delayed further, the church would have Peter’s message long after his death. And so the gospel of Mark came into being.
See you on Wednesday evening.