Thursday, December 12, 2013

Advent Evening Prayer - Wednesday of Populus Zion (The Second Sunday in Advent)

Theme: "The Origins of Jesus According to the Four Evangelists" - This week, St. Mark.

Mark 1:1-11; Romans 5:12-21; Malachi 3:1-7a

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Gospel according to St. Mark is the briefest of the four Gospels, and that is due, in no small part, to the Evangelist’s supremely efficient style of writing. Accordingly, the narrative he tells moves quickly, and selectively through the life and ministry of Jesus, hitting upon our Lord’s major teachings and works.
In fact, because of the brief and to the point nature of Mark’s Gospel, many biblical scholars have surmised that Mark was the first Gospel written and that the other Synoptics, Matthew and Luke, each borrowed from Mark and from an unknown, hypothetical source containing the sayings of Jesus known as “Q.” While this theory of Markan priority merits serious consideration, it is founded upon, I believe, a couple of dubious presumptions.
First, it is presumed that narratives evolve from the simple to the complex. This is essentially Darwinistic evolutionary theory imposed upon the text. Since, in comparison to Matthew and Luke, Mark’s Gospel is decidedly shorter, and the other Synoptics contain most of the material in Mark, along with additional material not included in Mark, it is surmised that Mark came first, and that Matthew and Luke are second generation improvements upon Mark’s Gospel. However, despite the fact that Darwinistic evolutionary theory has many sizeable holes in it and, despite what the popular media and culture would have you believe, it is anything but conclusive, there is very little reason to presume that older means simple when it comes to ancient texts. Each of you here tonight could easily name at least five ancient texts that are as complex and intellectually profound as the best writing today – likely, even better: Confucius, Aristotle, Plato, Homer, Augustine, just to name a few.
Second, Mark’s Gospel stands alone, having it’s own unique perspective and purpose. Even if it does not provide all the information that Matthew and Luke do, Mark’s Gospel accomplishes the purpose for which it was written – to demonstrate that Jesus is the “Proclaimer and the Bringer of the almighty grace of the kingdom of God, as the anointed King in whom man can trust, the Son of God in whom man can believe.”
This is to say that, in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is clearly in control of His destiny, submitting willfully to the evil thoughts and intents of His enemies in order to bring about God’s purpose, the salvation of mankind. When He speaks, Jesus speaks with recognizable authority, unlike the scribes and the Pharisees. Moreover, His words are borne out in His actions; He brings God’s Kingdom as He heals the sick, cures the lame and the blind, casts out demons, and raises the dead. When He confronts the devil in the wilderness, He defeats Him by the authority of God’s Word and by His faithfulness and obedience. He submits to John’s baptism for sinners, though He has no sin of His own, and His Father declares Him to be His beloved Son, with whom He is well pleased. This truth is confessed by the Roman centurion at Jesus’ death, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”
Mark begins His Gospel with the ambitious statement, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Surprisingly, he then continues, not with the birth narrative of Jesus as do Matthew and Luke, but thirty years later, with the appearance of John the Baptist at the Jordan. This has lead some commentators to conclude that this first verse is not a verse at all, but, rather, the title of the Gospel. Regardless, be it verse or title, Mark’s purpose is not to tell the entirety of the narrative of Jesus’ life and ministry, but to convince you, His hearer and reader, who Jesus is and what He has come to do. Thus, immediately Jesus is understood as the fulfillment of prophecy, acknowledged by the Baptist to be so, and confirmed by the Father and the Holy Spirit as the Son of God with whom the Father is well pleased.
Jesus is the one of whom the prophets prophesied. Jesus is the New Adam come to do battle with the serpent, the devil, and defeat Him by the Word of God in faithfulness, and obedience. Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb of God who will lay down His own holy and innocent life, willingly, to redeem mankind from sin and death. Jesus is the one who will baptize into the Name of the Triune God and who will bestow the promised Holy Spirit.
The Gospel According to St. Mark is a Gospel of action. As compared with Matthew, Mark emphasizes the deeds of Jesus. The deeds of Jesus are by no means isolated from His words; the word is Jesus’ instrument in His deeds too; He speaks, and it is done. However, if Mark is an Evangelist of few words, the words he includes are meaningful and full of authority and action. In fact, the Gospel According to St. Mark contains more direct quotations of Jesus than the other three Gospels.
The iconographic symbol for St. Mark’s Gospel is a winged lion. Mark’s Gospel begins with John the Baptist preaching like a roaring lion. As it was believed that lions sleep with their eyes open, the lion became a symbol for Jesus’ resurrection. The lion also represents Jesus as the “lion of the tribe of Judah” and the “King of the Jews.” And, as St. Mark’s Gospel plainly teaches, Jesus’ disciples will face suffering and tribulation on account of their faith and obedience. Therefore, the lion symbolizes for them the courage required of Jesus’ disciples to follow Him on the path that leads through death to eternal life. As the Gospel in its earliest form ended with verse eight in which the women at Jesus’ empty tomb “said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid,” the exhortation to courageous faith is both warranted and necessary. In this regard, the Church continues to take the Good News of Jesus’ victory over sin and death to the ends of the world. Let us not be afraid to go and do likewise, trusting in our Savior, God’s Son, with whom the Father is well pleased and who has done all things well.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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