Five Reasons You Should Read the Gospel of Mark Straight Through

4543063042_6fdfde32e4_mMillions of Christians around the world are celebrating the season of Lent by denying themselves something — chocolate, a daily coke, or even one or more entire meals each week.

I have a different suggestion. Instead of going without something for 40 days why not add something? For example, why not read the Gospel according to Mark–the shortest of the four gospel accounts–in one sitting each of those 40 days?

Or, if reading the whole is too much, read four chapters at a time for a four-day read-through or, if not that, whatever fits your reading span. But, whatever the amount at a sitting, make it a point to keep the whole account together as a unit in your thoughts. In my Bible, Mark takes up 25 pages, the length of one chapter in a good novel.

Here are five reasons for reading so.

I. Mark is the first of the gospel accounts to be written. Matthew, Luke and John followed. Put into writing in the early 60s AD, the gospel of Mark is the story recorded closest to the actual events that took place when Jesus was on earth. According to tradition John Mark got his information from Peter when they were together in Rome toward the end of the apostle’s life. Peter had been one of the inner circle of our Lord’s disciples. All of this makes Mark’s account compelling.

II. Mark is the most action-packed of the four gospels. It reports more of what Jesus did than what he said, which means you move smoothly from one incident to another. The stories of Jesus’ ministry are vivid, told simply, and engaging to the heart. The story is fast-paced. That means even if you say you are not a reader the story is told so as to make it interesting to you.

III. Mark was steeped in early Christian history. His mother was a woman of means whose house in Jerusalem was a center for the early church (Acts 12:12). He was also cousin to Barnabas, one of the first missionaries (Colossians 4:10). Peter’s sermons, heard by Mark when Mark was with Peter in Rome in the latter days of Peter’s ministry, supplied the content for Mark’s gospel account.

As one might expect, given the above background, Mark wrote from the perspective of a personal faith. There’s no fluff and no “perhaps,” or “maybe” in his writing. He opens his account with this simple declaration: “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). He closes his gospel with the affirmation, “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to (the disciples) he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19).

IV. The gospel by Mark can support a stable faith in God during troubled times such as ours. According to early church tradition, Mark was written in Italy, very close to the time (64 AD) when Rome experienced the fire that Nero had likely set and then blamed on the Christians. Persecution ensued. Then or now, this gospel, assembled with its economy of words, can be a stabilizer to the troubled heart.

V. Reading Mark’s account in the straight-ahead fashion I’m recommending will bring you to the core of the gospel with each reading — Christ’s death and resurrection, and his call to belief and discipleship. After the stories of Jesus’ healing presence and his power over evil, we learn about our Lord’s crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. Without them there is no gospel.

Thanks to Mark’s account, as disciples living today, we have a trustworthy message for this life and an eternal hope for the life to come. How better to observe Lent and prepare ourselves for the celebrations of Easter?


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Photo credit: Ryk Neethling


3 thoughts on “Five Reasons You Should Read the Gospel of Mark Straight Through

  1. Thanks for this excellent recommendation! I will never forget the class called “Basic Christianity” taught by Professor Jim Reinhard at Greenville College my freshman year. The first assignment was to read through Mark, in one sitting if possible, giving our own title to each chapter. We next spent two or three weeks going through it in greater depth, and it was life-changing! Since then, I was introduced to Neighborhood Bible Studies (now Q-Place) and their inductive Bible study discussion guides designed for new inquirers who are not yet believers. I have had the privilege of taking perhaps 30 different groups of people through the Gospel of Mark using these guides, often with remarkable results. I heartily second this recommendation!

  2. The idea of adding something rather than subtracting something for Lent is very positive.

    I get a lot out of careful fasting ,only because it seems to help me unclutter my mind and focus on Lenten study.At least for me it works. For those who lead a more active life and need more energy,I’m not sure it’s good to fast.Anyway,food is a blessing .Also,Jesus said it’s what comes out of our mouths not what goes in that counts.

    Lent is a special time for self examination ,reflection ,thought and bible study which seems to pass too quickly ,though it’s culmination is wonderful.I want to be as alert and aware as possible during Lent.Stillness , awareness ,prayer and focussed bible reading seem the best way to meet Lent.

    Mark is the perfect gospel to read in a sitting , short and concise and clear for everyone both jew and gentile. Some,even most scholars I think, say it was the first gospel to be written.

    My feeling is that the Gospel of John may be the first ., but that’s just a hunch informed by the fact that his account seems so fresh,as of someone who was always there,seeing Jesus’ life first hand as an eye witness. I can’t prove my feeling that John’s was the first GospelI t’s just that John’s gospel has a vivid sense of place,as of someone who knew these places from direct experience

    John’s gospel has a vivid sense of place,as of someone who knew these places from direct experience.

    Only in John’s Gospel does the raising of Lazarus appear.John was obviously there to see it and for some reason Matthew was not.Mark and Luke were not with Jesus then,I’m sure John’s Gospel was written by John ,the disciple Jesus loved’,who leaned against Jesus’ breast at supper ,to hang on His every word.I’m not convinced by those who say it was another John who wrote this gospel..

    Surely the raising of Lazarus was one of the most memorable things Jesus did,a great turning point .After this it was clear as day that here was the Son of God.After this Caiaphas and his supporters on the Sanhedrin were determined to kill Jesus.

    It may be that John passed his Gospel on by word of mouth very early on and then commited it to writing later.All the incredible things Jesus did and His memorable words would remain clearly remembered in John’s heart and mind.

    John’s Gospel is of the most supreme importance,essential .But then so too are the Synoptic Gospels.And Mark’s is a perfect concise summary of Jesus’ life and mission.the perfect concise Synoptic Gospel for Holy week.

    I’ve read some scholars who say Matthew and Luke’s Gospel were derived from Mark’s.I don’t believe that.For a start Matthew and Luke have nativity gospels in them ,one focussing on the visit of the shepherds ,the other on the visit of the Magi.

    I believe each of the four gospels is a separate witness and account of Jesus’ life,either eye witness of thiose present.How lucky we are to have not just one account,but four.But then God would have made sure to provide good reliable accounts of such momentous deeds as those of Jesus,God’s very incarnation.

    John is essential because tThe raising of Lazarus was one of the most memorable things Jesus did,a great turning point .After this it was clear as day that here was the Son of God.After this Caiaphas and his supporters on the Sanhedrin were determined to kill Jesus. Only in John do we learn of the raising of Lazarus. This great turning point makes John’s Gospel essential reading.

    But then there is a different great turning point in Mark,which makes his Gospel essential reading too.

    One of the most interesting Christian thinkers of the last century I ever read was Paul Tillich,professor of Divinity at the Chicago University at the time of his death.In his monumental ‘Systematic Theology volume 2 : Existance and the Christ’,in ‘The Reality of the Christ’ chapter ,Tillich said

    ’Christianity was born not with the birth of the man we call Jesus,but but n the moment one of His flowers was driven to say to Him ‘’Thou art the Christ’’ ‘.

    Tillich goes on to say

    ‘’This event is reported in a story at the center of Mark ; it takes place near Caesaria Phillipi ,and marks the turning point in the narrative’’

    I’ve always considered the Christian church was born at Pentecost,as told by Luke in Acts..But I can see that the moment Simon Peter declared Jesus to be the Christ, was the moment the first human being realized the Divinity of Jesus.In that sense it was the beginning of Christianity.Cephas ,the rock ,was the first ,to fully see ,by a leap of faith or by a sudden epiphany ,the true nature of Jesus.Though I sometimes wonder – did not Mary know during His infancy..

    Jesus asked ‘And who do you say I am’.At last someone saw the truth.And this great turning point is Mark’s centre ( center North Americans spell it ) .The great turning point in John,the raising of Lazarus,is when Jesus reveals his Divinity beyond doubt,for all to see clearly.Who but God has the power to reverse death.And this was but a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own resurrection.Both the cause of His crucifixion and a foreshadowing of His resurrection , ,for those with eyes to see.So both Mark and John are essential accounts of our Saviour.

    Mark is certainly an essential book for Lent,Holy week and Easter.,Rowan Williams was the previous head of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury,primate of all England, last but one in a long line since the first primate , Augustine,in 597. In his book ‘Meeting God in Mark’ 2014,Rowan Williams calls Mark the Cinderella Gospel,which has not attracted the great commentaries of say John and Matthew.Nor is it used so much in Church of England liturgy

    .But I’m pleased to say that at Coventry Cathedral on Palm Sunday ,our long Passion scripture reading was from Mark.From just before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to when after his death Joseph of Arimathea gets permission from Pilate to bury Him.A long moving scripture read by three readers.

    .It’s simple and unadorned narrative,without apparent complexities, have made Mark underestimated in Rowan Williams’ eyes.For Rowan Williams is a great admirer of Mark.He says

    ‘‘It is true that Mark’s brevity and intensity set it apart ; but it’s a mistake to think that this means it is naïve and ‘ primitive’Mark is shot through with deeply theological perspectives,at least as much as the other G ospels,but the evangelist manages to embody these insights in a whole range of skilful storytelling techniques. And turns of phrase.Putting great depth into apparently into apparently simple stormous skill,and Mark is a great artist in this respect’’. Rowan Williams ‘Meeting God in Mark’ 2014

    Rowan Williams goes onto say there is an unmistakeable sense of a living presence within Mark , and though it is not used in Church of England liturgy as much as say John Luke or Matthew, it often has an exceptional impact on those who read it. The Gospel of Mark is a truly transformative book.It evangelizes.

    Jurgen Moltmann was a German prisoner of war in Scotland in 1945.He and his fellow prisoners had just been shown photos of the atrocities in Belsen and Buchenwald.They were devastated.An army chaplain distributed a bible to them.Jurgen said

    ‘’I read Mark’s Gospel as a whole and came to the story of the Passion: when I heard Jesus’ death cry.’’My God ,my God,why hast thou forsaken me ‘’ I felt growing within me the conviction : this is someone who understands you completely,who is with you in your cry to God ,and has felt the same forsakenness you are feeling no.I summoned up the courage to live again’

    Another man,a sceptic ,is quoted.Determined to prove for himself the emptiness and stupidity of Christianity hy reading the Gospels ,he started with the shortest.Every Christian will know what happens next ,of course.Before he reached the third chapter he felt someone looking at him,felt a presence.Anthony Bloom realized it was Christ standing before him alive,the living Christ. Another epiphany while reading Mark.The Gospels are alive.

    Again and again one hears accounts of the remarkable effect the Gospel of Mark has on sceptics.Whether or not Mark was the first Gospel written,it’s a good Gospel to read first, right through, in one sitting.

    I believe each of the four gospels is an essential separate witness and account of Jesus’ life,.How lucky we are to have not just one account,but four.But then God would have made sure to provide good reliable accounts of such momentous deeds as those of Jesus,God’s very incarnation.

    All 4 Gospels are a treasure tove ,essential reading for everyone.But Mark is an ideal Gospel to start with ,to read straight through.It’s a life changer.What better time than this ,Holy week,culmination of Lent .


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