Millions 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?
Photo credit: Ryk Neethling