The last time I met with my Spiritual Director, he gave me a little version of the Gospel of Mark. It is an attractive looking little publication, meant to be given as a tract. My SD had picked a couple of them up in the local Bible Society office and was telling me of how he had enjoyed reading Mark’s account of the life of Christ. He gave it to me and commended it to me. I duly placed the copy in my satchel and brought it home. It did make it out of my satchel immediately when I got home but I did not begin reading it at that point. In fact the little tract made it up to my bedside table where it gathered a bit of dust over the next couple of weeks. Then one night just after I had climbed into bed I reached across and lifted it and decided that I would begin to read it. I have read Mark’s gospel before, probably several times, which is most likely the reason that I had let it sit on my bedside table, gathering dust! So as I opened it up I uttered the following prayer (or something like it!!)
You know that I have read this book many times before and you know that it is good to read the accounts of the life of Jesus to learn from his words and ways.
But as I lift this book, I can’t help but feel a little complacent that I maybe know the story too well.
So Lord, as I read this would you, by the power of your Holy Spirit, refresh my reading. Would you help open my eyes to the wonder of the story of your Son again.
And I started to read at chapter one. What happened next was what you might call an immediate answer to prayer. I have read the opening chapter of Mark many times in my life as a believer. I have heard the stories from the opening chapter of the Gospel of Mark since I was a little boy. But as much as I have read those stories and preached on them and sung about them over the years, this time as I read, I began to see them all afresh as I read them in the context of one chapter.
Mark starts out telling us about John who had come to prepare the way for Jesus’ arrival. It was John who said that while he baptized with water, Jesus would baptise with the Holy Spirit. Then Jesus is baptized and led immediately by the Spirit into the desert, where he is tempted. Then begins the ministry of Jesus as he announces that he has come to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God. Then there is a series of calls, healings, outcastings of demons, and some quiet prayer in a lonely place. All this was in the region of Galilee. When Simon came to get Jesus in that quiet place of prayer and said that the people were gathering and looking for Jesus, Jesus said that they should go to the other villages of the region and proclaim the good news, because that is what he had come to do.
As I read this, I was first of all struck by the amount of ‘Holy Spirit activity’ that was going on. Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert. The disciples when called left the nets and followed immediately – this could only have been a move of the Spirit. Jesus healed Simon’s mother in what could only have been the power of the Holy Spirit. demons were cast out in what could only have been an act of the power of the Holy Spirit.
I found myself being amazed afresh by the early ministry of Jesus in the account of Mark.
But I was also struck by something else. Twice in this opening chapter Mark has Jesus saying aloud that he has come to proclaim the good news. First as he is beginning his ministry after the baptism and temptation and then second after Simon comes to get him while he is praying. As I noticed this, I started to get an image in my head of these two statements being like a set of bookends in which everything else was contextualised. The context of Jesus ministry was the proclamation of the good news. That is what everything was about. In the 21st century western world, proclamation has become almost completely identified as a ‘words’ only act. We proclaim the good news by telling the good news. However, in Mark 1, while Jesus does state that he is there to preach the good news, that is using words, he also models it by the working of powerful miracles and healings in the lives of individual people. Thus, I was starting to see that in the context of Mark 1, proclamation is something that is not just words, it is both words and confirming acts.
As I started to put this together in my brain there was only one question coming to my mind: Why does this not appear to be the case today? Of course there are churches out there in these days for whom the preaching of the word is backed up by ‘signs and wonders,’ but in the context of my own church (locally and denominationally) why does it not appear to be the case? I suppose the other thing that I was asking was this: Why do we not even seem to have the faith and boldness to prayerfully ask God to work in this kind of way any more? Have we become so rational in our thinking that we are afraid to ask for something that might not be explainable in the long run?
I posted recently about being hungry for more of God and more of God’s Spirit in my life. Reading this text also made me more hungry for the work of God’s Spirit in my life and ministry. God, please grant me the courage, boldness and faith to pray humbly and with hope that your Holy Spirit’s power will move and work through the words and actions of my ministry.
Lord, pour out your Spirit upon us.