Tuesday, November 25, 2008

To Help You Prepare for Worship This Sunday (November 30, 2008)

This Sunday, we begin a new Church Year, the first week in that season called Advent. (For more on Advent, see here.)

This Sunday's Gospel lesson is Mark 13:24-37.

Mark is the shortest of the four New Testament books called gospels. The word gospel descends from an Old English compound word, God's or good (the word good comes from the word God) news or message. This directly translates the word in the original Greek of the New Testament, euangelion, the good news that all with faith in Jesus Christ have eternal life (John 3:16). In the strictest sense, Jesus is our good news. Christian faith is about a person, more specifically a relationship with a person, God in the flesh, Jesus of Nazareth.

As a genre of Biblical literature, the four New Testament books called gospels tell the story of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. But they're not really biographies. Their interest is limited to Jesus as the bringer of the good news. They tell us that He lived and ministered, did signs verifying Himself to be humanity's Savior and God-enfleshed, refrained from sin, voluntarily took death on a cross as the perfect sacrifice for our sin, and rose from the dead. Only two of the gospel books--Matthew and Luke--tell of Jesus' birth. Only one--Luke--mentions His boyhood.

Each of the four Gospels have their own characteristics and emphases.

Matthew is often seen as a Christian version of the ancient scribes. Some even see his book as being divisible into five "books," echoing the first five books of the Old Testament, referred to as the Pentateuch.

Luke uses more sophisticated Greek, sometimes even creating his own compound words in the language. Luke can best be described as an historian, quick to show the specific places in history when Jesus acted. His book includes the greatest number of parables, including the Good Samaritan and the most exquisite portrayal of God's grace, the Prodigal Son. In both his gospel and in the other New Testament book he wrote, Acts, Luke shows the link between prayer and events on earth.

John is the artist and the philosopher, an evangelist--a good newser--who most clearly originally addressed a mixed Hebrew and Gentile audience. He was steeped not only in Hebrew Biblical faith, but also Greek philosophy. John most clearly emphasizes the God-ness of Jesus. He is an exquisite writer and in any given section of John's Gospel, there are between three and ten themes running at the same time.

If Matthew is the scribe, Luke is the historian, and John is the artist, I would say that Mark is the reporter. He tells the story of Jesus with the same sort of breathlessness you can hear from CNN's Wolf Blitzer. (I often wonder when Blitzer is going to come up for air.) Emblematic of Mark's rapid-fire style is his frequent use of the word immediately (eggus or engus in Greek). The point of this word is twofold: It demonstrates the action of God in Jesus Christ and the immediacy of God's presence through the Savior.

Scholars often describe the four Gospels as "extended passion narratives," passion being the word for Jesus' sacrifice of Himself on the cross. (The word passion, also from the Greek, originally referred to a person loving another so desperately that they're willing to die for them.) "Extended passion narrative" is especially descriptive of the Gospel of Mark, which tells the story of Jesus so quickly.

For a good discussion of this Sunday's Gospel lesson, check out this overview by Pastor Ed Markquart.

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